June 20, 2019- Scotland– International United Nations Watch (IUNW) attended the APPG on Yemen’s 2nd Inter-Parliamentary Conference on Yemen, which took place in Edinburgh and Glasgow, while a court of appeal rules UK Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen unlawful. The Conference’s speakers were comprised of UK parliamentarians and representatives from the Norwegian Refugee Council, Médecins Sans Frontières, Yemen Data Project, Mercy Corps, Islamic Relief, the French Assemblée Internationale, and an online appearance by UN Special Envoy on Yemen Martin Griffiths. The APPG on Yemen is a cross-party parliamentary group, which organizes regular meetings in parliament. An Inter-Parliamentary Conference in Yemen is due to take place every 6 months until the war has ceased.
The Conference had a recurring focus of stopping international arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition. The screening of the documentary film “War Crime Dealers,” directed by Alexandra Jousset, presented the narrative of a father who lost his 11-year-old son in a bombing of a school bus in Yemen, labeled a “mistake” by the Saudi-led coalition. The film stated that while officially the use of European weapons is compliant with international law, the reality is “murkier” and the supply of weapons for the use of crimes against Yemeni civilians would make the UK and France complicit. An independent representative of the French Assemblée Internationale drew parallels between the UK and France in their role in the Saudi arms supply, declaring that France is one of the most “lobbyist arms export regime” in Europe. He challenged the French government’s narrative that since France does not pick the targets, then its is not the weapons who kill people, but rather the people who use them. He quoted President Macron’s view that without the arms sales, France would make itself irrelevant in the region, and France must honor its contract with Saudi Arabia. The representative called on parliamentarians and governments to do their duty and stop the arms exports to the Saudi-led coalition.
A representative from the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Center concluded that the arms sales are “unlawful and irrational,” and stated that the Saudi-led coalition had “worked their way down” from the “terror bombing” of Sana in 2015 to targeting bridges, water treatment plants, and medical facilities. He stated that, if true, such attacks would amount to “clear violations of international law” and mentioned the unprecedented possibility of the UK being prosecuted for its “contributions to war crimes” as the second largest arms exporter to Saudi Arabia, and stated that the UK “must cease all assistance to Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.” He announced the same-day ruling of the court of appeal that declared UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia unlawful. The ruling prompted the UK government to suspend new arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and three judges furthermore accused key ministers, such as Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and Liam Fox, of having illegally signed off on arms exports without properly assessing the risk to civilians. The case against Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox had been brought to court by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.
In contrast, the former UK ambassador to Yemen stated that the UK government stands by its sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and that stopping the arms sales would not stop the war. He expressed that the UK government is 100% committed to supporting the UN process, which along with a political settlement is the only solution to the conflict. Furthermore, speaker and researcher Kate Nevens stated that discussions on Yemen should not ignore crimes committed by Houthi forces against Yemeni civilians, citing Houthi sniper attacks against civilians seeking medical care.
From the perspective of humanitarian data, the Yemen Data Project, which began collecting data since March 2015, reported an inverse relationship between airraids and casualty numbers, finding that while airraids (which may include many individual airstrikes within a certain time period) are falling, casualties are rising. Since the ceasefire in Houdeidah, there had been a significant drop in airstrikes there, but increased airstrikes elsewhere. The Norwegian Refugee Council had arrived at a similar conclusion from their data analyses, highlighting the risk of Houdeidah being used as a “smokescreen to conduct business as usual,” and emphasizing the big increase in daily civilian casualties in the first 5 months since the ceasefire. The Norwegian Refugee Council screened a short documentary about the individual impact of the war, interviewing a Yemenite who lost his four daughters in an airstrike on his house: “The only people who pay the price are those who can barely make a living.” A representative from Médecins Sans Frontieres cited the difficulties in reaching people in need of aid, and the difficulty of the people in need to reach MFS due to the war. She stated that members of parliament should call on the Prime Minister to form a detailed strategy on how to handle these issues in order to increase the effectiveness of the work of MFS. A representative from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) highlighted the plight of Yemeni women in responding to the conflict, and emphasized the need to promote education among girls and to actively involve Yemeni women in the peace process, since “there will be no peace without Yemeni women at the table.” Researcher Kate Nevens stated the role of grassroots, youth and community activists, and the difficulties activism faces due to the war
One audience member stated the importance of Yemen from a strategic and geopolitical perspective and declared that prolonging of the war, and prolonging discussions, will lead to a “vaccuum,” and instead the war must be brought to an end immediately. He cited decentralization and the delegation of power to different areas as critical to the solution, and expressed concern about whether foreign aid manages to reach the people who need it. An MP for Edinburgh, who was present in the audience, stated that her constituents frequently raised questions to her on the issue of UK arms sales to Yemen. An audience member and representative from the DC-based Arabian Rights Watch Association stated that “you cannot talk about peace in Yemen and stopping the war in Yemen is you keep selling arms to the country that is Yemenis every single day,” and stated that the initiative to end the war should come from the international community.