I’ve Seen How Arms Sales Fuel Deadly Suffering in Yemen. We Must Stop Them
Countries supplying arms to the parties in Yemen are in violation of the arms trade treaty. This week's global conference must make take action
Today I will be speaking at an international conference full of people who have the power to stop the sale of arms that bring so much suffering to so many people. And I hope the participants will really listen to me. I want to make them realize just how important this power is.
I am from Yemen, which for more than two years now has been in the process of being destroyed, fueled by large flows of weapons... Landmines, mortars, ballistic missiles, fighter jets, cluster bombs, Kalashnikovs - the range of weapons used against civilians is wide. According to the UN, 10,000 people have been killed and more than 40,000 injured - so many of them women and children. No one is safe. Almost 3 million people have been forced to flee their homes.
My organization, Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, has documented hundreds of serious violations of international humanitarian law by the various parties to the conflict. It's heartbreaking to see people severely injured as so many hospitals have been bombed and many of those that are left standing have barely any equipment or drugs, few staff and no electricity or running water. The Saudi coalition shut down the main airport in the capital, Sana'a, over a year ago, blocking vital medical and aid supplies from coming in.
Yemen is now experiencing dubious accolades such as the world's worst-ever humanitarian crisis and the largest-ever cholera outbreak in the world. More than 17 million people face starvation and 2,000 people have died of cholera so far, with over 600,000 suspected cases. I don't know anyone in Yemen who hasn't been affected by the crisis. People say if you don't die from the bombing you will die of hunger or cholera.
So where are all these weapons coming from? Saudi Arabia is one of the largest arms importers in the world and 19 countries that have supplied weapons to Saudi Arabia have signed and ratified the arms trade treaty. That means that they are obliged not to supply arms where there is an overriding risk that they will contribute to serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law. How much evidence do they need? Why do the brutal killings and the starvation of my fellow citizens resonate so little?
It sadly reflects the triumph of economic interests over the blood of innocent people. Since the beginning of 2015 when the war in Yemen began, the UK has approved arms sales worth £3.7bn to Saudi Arabia. And this will continue. A delegation from Saudi Arabia will be looking to further boost their stocks of British-made weapons at Defense and Security Equipment International [one of the world's largest arms fairs] taking place in London this week. Sir Michael Fallon, the secretary of state for defense and Liam Fox, secretary of state for international trade, will be delivering key note speeches at the arms fair. Why are they not attending the Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty [CSP] instead, and pushing for the implementation of the treaty.
I was deeply disappointed in July this year when the UK high court ruled that the UK government had not acted unlawfully by continuing to sell arms to Saudi Arabia. This sends the horrible message that it's fine to send arms to brutal regimes that will use them to carry out horrific human rights abuses.
Other countries supplying significant arms to Saudi Arabia that have also signed and ratified the treaty include France, Italy, and Spain. The US, which has signed but not ratified the treaty, sealed a deal with Saudi Arabia in May this year to supply $110bn-worth of military equipment. How many more lives will be cruelly taken as a result of these lucrative trade deals?
The representatives of the countries attending the CSP may not know the civilian victims, or what is happening to Yemenis in the daily ongoing war. Sadly many ordinary Yemenis have come to know these countries through the heavy weapons that destroy their homes, kill their families and tear their country apart.
My story from Yemen is a terrible one, but sadly it is far from unique. I will be sitting alongside colleagues from Africa, Asia, the Americas, Caribbean and the Pacific who will all have stories of immense suffering caused by the supply of arms. That's why the CSP cannot be business as usual this week. All states should immediately stop the transfer of weapons to Saudi Arabia and all other countries where they are being used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law. There should also be an international independent commission to investigate the violations by all parties in the conflict in Yemen as a first step towards accountability and the end of impunity.
Last year, too much time was spent on petty, bureaucratic issues at the conference. But time is running out for people in countries such as Yemen where the death toll is rapidly rising and a child dies every 10 minutes of hunger or disease. The treaty has the potential to save millions of lives and reduce suffering around the world - but it can only do that if states actually adhere to it. It's time for that to happen.
• Radhya al-Mutawakel is the chairperson and co-founder of Mwatana Organization For Human Rights, an independent Yemeni organization aiming to defend and protect human rights. She will be addressing the opening ceremony of the third annual Conference of States Parties of the Arms Trade Treaty on behalf of the Control Arms coalition.
Source: The Guardian, Edited by website teal