UK 'boosting' Yemen aid, while continuing Saudi arms sales

UK 'boosting' Yemen aid, while continuing Saudi arms sales
London is to continue its schizophrenic policy on Yemen, providing aid while selling weapons to those bombing it and fuelling its humanitarian crisis with the other.
5 min read
25 February, 2019
British Prime Minister has ignored calls to end UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia [Anadolu]
UK Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to boost humanitarian assistance to Yemen at a controversial European-Arab summit in Egypt, but insisted on continued arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition which has been raining down death on the Arab world's poorest country and even destroying UK aid.

As she arrived in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh for the summit on Sunday, May announced the UK will pledge this week a £200m ($261 million) boost to humanitarian aid to Yemen to "help millions of people at risk of starvation in Yemen....[who] edge ever closer to famine every day that the conflict continues".

"We are playing our part and will continue to do so but there is still more that we as an international community can do," she said.

"At the summit in Egypt, I will call on our partners in Europe and the region to continue to provide the aid that is so desperately needed," she added.

The pledge will be made Tuesday when the UK will host a side-event at the UN pledging conference in Geneva, "bringing together leading donors and UN agencies for a renewed international effort to ensure aid reaches the most vulnerable Yemenis", according to a press release by the British government.

The new UK aid "will feed millions of people and provide water and sanitation to those most in need...(and) brings the total that the UK has committed since the start of the four-year conflict to £770 million", the press release claimed.

"Yemen is suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Millions of people edge ever closer to famine every day that the conflict continues. Today’s UK aid package will feed millions of Yemenis who face constant uncertainty over when they will next eat," said Alistair Burt, minister for the Middle East.

"But aid is not enough. We are also doing all we can to support the UN-led peace process... The only way to end this crisis and the suffering of the Yemeni people is for both parties to agree a political settlement," he added.

"How much longer will Theresa May claim she wants peace in Yemen while arming and advising the Saudi coalition on its indiscriminate bombing campaign?" Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British opposition

'UK committed to Saudi security'

The new pledge, however, comes less than two weeks after the UK House of Lords international relations select committee condemned government for supporting the continued sale of British weapons to the Saudi forces leading a devastating intervention in Yemen, fuelling the same conflict May and Burt said they want to end.

"The humanitarian situation in Yemen is unconscionable. That the UK is the second-largest exporter of arms to Saudi-Arabia, and the fifth-largest donor of humanitarian aid in Yemen is a contradiction which the Government must address as a matter of urgency," said Chairman of the Committee, Lord Howell of Guildford, at the time.

"We do not agree with the Government's assertion that it is narrowly on the right side of international humanitarian law in the case of licensing arms exports to the Saudi-led coalition," he added.

"It is narrowly on the wrong side: given the volume and type of arms being exported to the Saudi-led coalition, we believe they are highly likely to be the cause of significant civilian casualties in Yemen, risking the violation of international humanitarian law. The Government must address the root causes of the suffering - the conflict itself -and be prepared to suspend some key export licences to Saudi-Arabia and members of the coalition."

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British opposition, on Sunday also condemned continued arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

"How much longer will Theresa May claim she wants peace in Yemen while arming and advising the Saudi coalition on its indiscriminate bombing campaign?" he tweeted.

Theresa May, however, has rejected the call for ending arms exports to Riyadh and pledged continued support for the kingdom.

"I will also use this summit to reiterate to King Salman... the UK's ongoing commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia and the region," she said on Sunday, as she was due to meet a Saudi delegation.

The UK and Saudi Arabia are close allies. Despite recent human rights scandals, the Saudi state sanctioned murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi aerial bombardment of Yemen, London has refused to downgrade cooperation with Riyadh.

London claims lucrative multi-billion-dollar defence exports allow continued influence and leverage, protects British jobs in the arms industry and secure cooperation against terrorism.

Responding to a query by The New Arab, an FCO spokesperon said: "The UK is committed to a strong and collaborative European defence industry. We take our arms export licensing responsibilities very seriously and all export licence applications for Saudi Arabia are assessed rigorously against UK and EU Arms Export Licencing Criteria."

"The UK’s priority is to find a sustainable political solution to the Yemen conflict, which is at a critical juncture. We continue to play a leading role in diplomatic efforts, supporting the UN to bring together key Yemeni and international actors to deliver a peaceful solution."

But in an email to The New Arab, Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "Any aid that reaches people in need must be welcomed. But that can't disguise the role of UK-made arms or the complicity of the UK Government in the bombardment".

"The best thing that May and her colleagues can do for the people of Yemen is to stop the arms sales and call for an end to this terrible war," he added.

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Follow Karim Traboulsi on Twitter: @kareemios