By Jack Wilson
It’s a year since fighting escalated in Yemen between a Saudi-led coalition and Houthi opposition forces. In that time, children have suffered hugely, with 856 killed and 1,249 maimed. Millions more have had their lives torn apart.
Our staff on the ground report trauma is widespread. And a de facto blockade, which has only recently begun to ease, has left 21.2 million people – almost half of them children – in need of humanitarian assistance.
Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, but you wouldn’t know it. Media coverage is scant and public awareness low, which makes trying to change the situation very hard.
Speaking out to end the blockade
Our early campaign efforts focused on showing the impact of the shipping blockade at Hodeidah port which was in place for much of 2015.
Since Yemen imports the majority of its food, fuel and medical supplies, the blockade pushed much of the country to the brink of famine.
We raised the issue with 70% of MPs, thanks to the efforts of a small group of highly engaged campaigners from across the country. By the end of 2015, the blockade had begun to ease following international pressure on Saudi Arabia, from the UK government and others.
However, in spite of this progress, food insecurity remains at the highest level the country has yet seen. Things are likely to deteriorate further unless the conflict ends.
Highlighting a contradictory position
The way in which war has been waged is also a cause for concern. There have been mounting reports of indiscriminate attacks targeting civilians and non-military buildings. Hundreds of schools and hospitals have been closed, and close to 2.5 million people have been displaced.
Despite peace talks in December, violence has continued to intensify. Just last week, a coalition airstrike hit a crowded outdoor market in Mustaba, in the northwest of the country, killing 106 civilians – including 24 children. This is the deadliest incident of the conflict to date.
The UN has identified Saudi-led coalition airstrikes as being responsible for a disproportionate number of child casualties, as well as damage to civilian infrastructure. But all sides face credible allegations that they have violated international law. In some cases, these may amount to war crimes.
Our campaign set out to highlight the UK government’s contradictory position: on the one hand delivering aid to Yemen, and on the other supplying arms to the Saudi government.
Progress on UK arms exports
Throughout the campaign, the UK government has defended the actions of its ally, Saudi Arabia, refusing to acknowledge any wrongdoing. This position has become increasingly isolated.
January this year saw a breakthrough. Following an inquiry, the International Development Committee called on the Government to immediately suspend arms sales and support the establishment of an independent international investigation into alleged breaches of international law in Yemen.
Then, in February, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia – despite alleged lobbying by Saudi officials.
NGOs commissioned a legal opinion by lawyers at Matrix Chambers which argued the UK government is breaking laws and policies – including the Arms Trade Treaty – by transferring arms to Saudi Arabia. The Campaign Against the Arms Trade and solicitors Leigh Day are now pursuing legal action against the UK Government in the High Court.
And earlier in March, an influential committee of MPs launched an inquiry into the use of UK-manufactured arms in the conflict in Yemen.
Join our call to suspend arms sales
Despite mounting momentum, there is still a long way to go. For as long as children continue to suffer in Yemen, Save the Children will fight for their protection, with the help of our passionate and committed supporters.
We are now calling on the UK government to support an international investigation into violations of the rules of war, and immediately suspend the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.