By Lottie Massey, Oxfam Constituency Campaigner in York
As a student in the UK, I enjoy freedoms and rights that most Yemenis can only dream of and this injustice is unbearable to me. According to the WHO, over 46,000 people have been killed or injured since the escalation of the conflict in Yemen. Out of a population of 27.4 million people, 70% of people are reported to be in need of humanitarian assistance. It is this lack of security and basic human rights for civilians in Yemen that motivates my campaigning with Oxfam.
The conflict in Yemen escalated almost 2 years ago, in March 2015, with President Hadi and former President Saleh (spearheading the Houthi rebels) both fighting for control. The conflict quickly degenerated into a “humanitarian catastrophe” and a UN level three emergency, (Statement to the UNSC on Yemen, O’Brien, 2016). The Saudi-led military intervention codenamed ‘Operation Decisive Storm,’ has been characterised by airstrikes and the imposition of aerial and naval blockades, killing and cutting off food supplies to Yemenis.
On one hand the UK Government is providing essential humanitarian aid, but on the other however, they are simultaneously allowing the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia. UK, EU and international law on arms sales say that if there is “clear risk” that weapons “might” be used in violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), they should not be supplied. Evidence for IHL violations against civilians is mounting. In response to this, Oxfam is calling on the UK government to suspend British arms exports to the Saudi-Arabian led coalition and to call for an urgent independent UN-led investigation into allegations of breaches of International Humanitarian Law.
Oxfam’s Constituency Campaigners have been writing to their MPs and to their local press across the country to raise awareness of this arms sale, to publicise the Yemen Crisis and ensure our government is acting in a responsible way.
As a Constituency Campaigner for Oxfam, I have become very engaged with local MPs. I live in York where Labour MP and Shadow Environment Secretary Rachael Maskell represents my views in parliament. After writing to Rachael, I received a really positive response expressing her concerns about arms exports to Saudi Arabia and detailing the work she had already done in writing to the Minister, Tobias Ellwood MP. Rachael plans to continue to press the government on both requests and I look forward to meeting her in the new year to discuss how York and the University can develop their involvement. I also look forward to teaming with STAND – a new anti-genocide movement – to continue campaigning, broaden our network, and hopefully get our voice heard in UK policy.
The US has recently announced that it will limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia over concerns for civilian casualties linked to airstrikes in Yemen. Whilst it is not the complete halt that we are calling for in the UK, it might just be the example the UK needs to gather more support for stopping arms exports. What is more, it has been admitted by the Saudis that British-made cluster bombs have been used in Yemen. This is in violation of IHL which damages the credibility of the UK government and thus will hopefully spark further investigations.
I would like to see more MPs providing an authoritative and confident voice in challenging the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, to take a stronger stance in international discussions regarding violations of IHL. The politics of the Yemen war and the various coalitions creates a hugely complex web of intertwining interests and aims. However, civilian protection should be at the forefront of any solution. It is essential that common humanity is put ahead of political gains and an end is brought to arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.
If you would like to get involved in this campaign, please write a letter to your MP.
For more information about Oxfam’s Constituency Campaigner Programme go to www.oxfam.org.uk/ccp.