Thank you for contacting me recently about the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and the British arms exports to Saudi Arabia that are helping to fuel it.
As you know, I have for the last five years been one of the leading voices in Parliament raising the plight of the millions of innocent Yemeni civilians, caught in the middle of this dreadful war, and living in constant fear for their lives, whether through the terror of indiscriminate bombardment and air strikes, or through the slow killers of malnutrition and disease, which have been allowed to ravage their lands.
I have urged the government repeatedly over those five years to take three simple steps to help bring this suffering to an end:
• First, to use their role as the ‘pen-holder’ on Yemen at the UN Security Council to draft a resolution demanding an immediate, nationwide ceasefire by all parties to the conflict, and allow the delivery of sufficient humanitarian aid to reach all those in need;
• Second, to use that same role to demand a comprehensive, independent, UN-led investigation into all alleged war crimes in Yemen, and bring an end to the indiscriminate air strikes on civilians and the use of starvation as a weapon of war; and
• Third, to suspend all UK arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition for use in Yemen until that investigation is complete, and urge others around the world to do the same, so that we can work together to stop the conflict, not continue selling the arms that support it.
I have fought relentlessly for these objectives over the past five years, confronting Minister after Minister in the House of Commons with the human costs of their inaction, and I promise you that I will continue to do so as long as I have that voice. But in the meantime, as you rightly point out, the tragic suffering in Yemen goes on.
As you know, Yemen remains the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis. 80 per cent of its people need humanitarian assistance, 4.3 million people have been forced from their homes, and 2 million children face acute malnutrition. And now, on top of everything else, an already shattered healthcare system – with medical facilities, supplies and staff all a scarcity – has to deal with the scourge of the Covid-19 pandemic.
I say again what I have said a hundred times, and I know that you and other concerned individuals will agree with me. In the face of that enormous and escalating humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, it simply beggars belief that our Tory government can think it is appropriate to continue selling arms to Saudi Arabia for use in the conflict.
Their decision on 7th July – in the face of last year’s Court of Appeal ruling – to dismiss the risk of Saudi Arabia committing war crimes, and resume selling them arms, was I believe not just morally but legally wrong, and as I have pointed out to them, the conclusions on which that decision was based are directly contradicted by the damning findings of the latest report from UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen.
Yet while the Group of Experts has published its findings in full, the Government has refused to publish even a redacted version of the investigation and assessment upon which it based its decision to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The Campaign Against the Arms Trade are again challenging that decision, and the secrecy behind it, through the British Courts, and they will have my full support as they do so.
I will continue challenging the government through all the Parliamentary means at my disposal, and chipping away at the wall of silence surrounding their decision-making process. I have also been at pains to build cross-party support for these efforts, and you can read here one of the letters I wrote and co-signed along with representatives of the opposition parties demanding greater transparency and accountability from Liz Truss.
With regards to the humanitarian crisis, earlier this year, my colleagues in the Shadow Development team warned the UK Government that a shortfall in aid funding would lead to an irreparable exacerbation of the humanitarian and health crises in Yemen. Despite these warnings, international funding at the 2020 Yemen Pledging Conference in June fell $1 billion short of the UN’s target, with the UK government’s contribution of £160 million falling £40 million short of the amount they pledged in 2019.
In the midst of the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Yemen, it is vital we do not give in to despair or treat this as a problem too big or intractable to solve. Ultimately, it is a man-made crisis which can only be resolved with a long term political solution, and by taking the concrete steps towards that solution which I have been demanding since 2016.
As I have said, I can assure you that I will continue to keep that pressure on the UK government and never rest until we have achieved the lasting peace and humanitarian relief that the people of Yemen so desperately need.
If there are any further points or queries you would like to raise, please do not hesitate to get back in touch.
The Rt Hon. Emily Thornberry MP
Islington South and Finsbury