Yemen civil war: Poll shows most Britons oppose Saudi Arabia arms sales, as MPs call emergency debate

Survey reveals majority of Conservative voters now against the UK selling weapons to Kingdom

Harriet Agerholm
Tuesday 11 September 2018 13:29 BST
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Starvation is also being used as a weapon of war in the country, according to Save the Children, which says 400,000 children are at risk of malnutrition
Starvation is also being used as a weapon of war in the country, according to Save the Children, which says 400,000 children are at risk of malnutrition

MPs are to hold an emergency debate on the desperate situation of civilians in Yemen, as a new poll suggested a majority of Britons opposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom is the British government’s largest arms customer, with the UK licensing more than £4.6bn worth of arms to the country since the beginning of its bombing campaign in Yemen in March 2015, according to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT).

A poll by YouGov for Save the Children and Avaaz published on Tuesday found that 13 per cent of the British public supported the sale of weapons to the Saudis, while 63 per cent opposed them. It also indicated less than one in six people (14%) think that the UK’s role in supporting the Saudi/UAE-led coalition reflects British values and interests.

Malnutrition centre in Mukalla, Yemen provides care for children suffering hunger and famine

For the first time, a majority of Conservative (52%) voters oppose arms sales to the coalition, the poll taken on 29-30 August showed. This marks an increase from 25 per cent who said they were opposed in June. Conservative support for arm sales remained largely unchanged, at 24 per cent, compared to 25 per cent in June.

The parliamentary discussion comes after it emerged August was the bloodiest month in the country so far this year, with the United Nations (UN) finding that 981 civilians, including over 300 children, had been killed or injured.

Starvation is also being used as a weapon of war in the country, according to Save the Children, with some 400,000 children under the age of five so severely malnourished they are fighting for their lives. A further 1.8 million children are also starving, according to United Nations children’s agency, Unicef.

Labour’s Stephen Twigg, chairman of the International Development Committee, said more than 10,000 people had been killed in the three-year-long civil war as he made an application for a debate. He said MPs would consider the latest developments in the conflict and press for diplomatic, humanitarian and political progress.

Images of starving children with skeletal frames flooding out of the Gulf’s poorest country have continued to elicit horror around the world.

Last month, The Independent reported from a hospital in Mukalla, south Yemen, that was struggling to cope with an influx of acutely malnourished children. Hospital doctor Abha Abdalla said: “The problem is not funding but space – we have only six beds and can treat a maximum of 35 people a month. We are forced to turn people away.”

A one-year-old at the medical centre was so thin she appeared half her age and could not sit up. Hanan, a mother-of-three, said her child was so malnourished he had uncontrollable diarrhoaea. “My husband doesn’t have a job. He works day by day to try to get money to feed his kids, but it is not regular,” she said.

Since the bombing started, the Saudis have bought from Britain £2.7bn worth of aircraft, helicopters and drones; £1.9bn of grenades, bombs and missiles; and £572,000 worth of tanks, CAAT figures showed. Last month, UN experts said there was evidence indicated both sides in the Yemen war had committed crimes under international law.

“There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimise civilian casualties,call on them to prioritise human dignity in this forgotten conflict,” said Kamel Jendoubi, chairperson of the Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen.

According to United Nations Human Rights Office, between March 2015 up to 23 August 2018, 6,660 civilians were killed and 10,563 injured, although the real figures are likely to be significantly higher.

The Saudi-led coalition has imposed severe restrictions on travel to Yemen, including on the delivery of aid, since March 2015 and there were “reasonable grounds” to believe this constituted a violation of the proportionality rule of international humanitarian law.

The effective closure of Sana’a airport was a violation of international humanitarian law protection for the sick and wounded. Such acts together could amount to international crimes, the UN experts found.

Speaker John Bercow said the emergency debate would run for three hours on Tuesday.

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