Western governments have prioritised profit over principle but a reversal of policy can help bring the Yemen war to an end
The selfishness that the West has shown in maintaining economic ties with authoritarian regimes has damaged its image. For many in the Global South, and particularly the Arab world, the West is, or was, looked upon as the home of human rights protections.
By contrast, Arab leaders are more often than not viewed as repressive, prepared to undermine any individual liberties. Western governments are destroying their reputation as defenders of human rights, however, as they continue to make compound their complicity in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, where the Saudi-led coalition is prolonging Yemen’s war.
Last month, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) noted that two million children are out of school in Yemen, and another 3.7 million are at risk of dropping out. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that 35,000 cancer patients are being deprived of treatment and are in danger. The United Nation’s (UN) International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that 350,000 people had been displaced by the ongoing conflict so far in 2019.
Despite these dreadful figures, the West refuses to make any meaningful policy changes or take any steps to end the conflict.
The Saudi-led coalition is responsible for more than two-thirds of the killings since the start of the war in Yemen, and the West continues to sell arms to the Saudis – with the notable exception of Germany.
If the devastating war in Yemen is to end, the first step must be for the West to withdraw support for the coalition. The Saudis seem to have taken the West’s silence as a carte blanche. When Western leaders meet someone like Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), they would instead smile and shake his hand than make it clear to him that what is happening in Yemen is unacceptable. This is deeply hypocritical.
Ironically, some Arab countries—not seen as comparable to Western governments when it comes to human rights—joined the coalition in 2015, no longer seem to be active participants. Meanwhile, countries such as the US, Britain, and France, which purport to be champions of human rights, are still selling arms to the coalition.
On September 3, the UN asserted that the US, Britain, and France might be complicit in war crimes in Yemen by arming and providing intelligence and logistics support to the Saudi-led coalition, which is starving civilians as a war tactic. These Western governments may have thought that merely selling arms would distance them from direct involvement, but that is not the case.
The conflict in Yemen demonstrates that Western governments are insistent on backing the Saudi-led coalition regardless of consequences. US President Donald Trump has used five vetoes since taking office, four of which were related to halting arms sales where either Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were included in the resolutions.
In doing so, the White House increasingly appears to be Saudi Arabia’s only friend in the US as Congress, alongside others, have expressed their frustration for Washington’s support to Riyadh.
The French government called for an end to the “dirty war” in Yemen, but figures released in June show weapons sales by France to Saudi Arabia rose by 50 percent last year.
Moreover, the West has not provided adequate civilian aid. According to The Observer, a report by Oxfam found that Britain has earned eight times more from arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other members of the coalition fighting in Yemen than it has spent on aid to help civilians caught in the conflict ($7.2 billion generated by arms sales vs $945 million spent on food, medicines, and other assistance to civilians in Yemen over the past five years). This is a disgrace and an insult to Britain’s human rights record.
It was reported last week that the UK international trade secretary, Liz Truss, has apologised for the second time for approving arms sales which could be used in the war in Yemen after it emerged the government made two further breaches of a pledge not to do so.
Ministers promised in June to stop green-lighting export licences to Saudi Arabia and its military coalition allies for use in Yemen, after a challenge by campaigners at the Court of Appeal.
Shamefully, the UN, on its turn, announced in August that it is being forced to close down several humanitarian programmes in Yemen because money pledged by member states has “failed to materialize”.
The West must stop helping Saudi Arabia destroy Yemen. The two-faced actions of Western governments, particularly the USA, Britain, and France, suggest that they are not serious about ending this war. If they are serious, then they should show more concern for their national reputations, take immediate action to cease arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition, and unite in working on a political solution to this conflict instead of competing to generate billions in profit from weapons being used to kill innocent civilians.
We also must bring more attention to this forgotten war and pressure these governments to change their incomprehensible behaviour toward the Saudis. Otherwise, neither the Yemenis nor history will forgive us as our silence will be looked at as no different from the silence of the West.