Naked Politics Blogger
Unless you’re in the company of Donald Trump or Nigel Farage, you’re probably in a majority if you say 2016 has been a very torrid year. The news has been dominated by terrorist atrocities in the West and elsewhere, Brexit, the US elections (which I am still waiting to wake up from in the hope that it was all a bad dream) the deaths of countless national and international treasures and of course the ongoing wars in Syria and Iraq. However, there is arguably one of the worst humanitarian disasters in our time unfolding before us that has failed to make the headlines and grasp our attention.
Before Yemen was enveloped by a brutal Civil War it was already the poorest nation in the Arabian Peninsula under the regime of Dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been President of Yemen in one form or another since 1978 and criticised for his lack of democratic reform, widespread corruption and the claimed human rights abuses carried out by him and his allies. After attempting to cling onto power, Saleh was eventually ousted in 2012 during the Whirlwind Arab Spring that has swept the region.
Painfully Yemen’s torment was nowhere near from over. In 2013 a brutal proxy began between Shia Iran, backing the deposed President Saleh along with the Shia Houthi rebels, and Sunni Saudi Arabia, supporting the internationally recognised Sunni Government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Both have poured billions of pounds worth of arms and assistance to either side, resulting in the deaths of 10,000 people, nearly half of which are civilians, including over 1,300 children. By no means is an end in sight for the foreseeable future.
What makes this conflict so brutal is that Saudi Arabia, the nation that the UK and USA have publicly supported in its efforts, has been responsible for the majority of these deaths through indiscriminate airstrikes, using British made planes and British made bombs and effectively starving the population of Yemen in a campaign of terror. The figures paint a dark picture. Over 18 million people, 69% of Yemen’s population, are in need of some form of humanitarian or protective assistance, including over 10 million who need acute life-saving treatment; most worrying of all around 3.3 million children and pregnant or breast-feeding women are acutely malnourished, including 462,000 children under five who face severe acute malnutrition. That represents a 63% increase since late 2015 and threatens the lives and life-long prospects of those affected, according to the UN. So why are we not more concerned about Yemen?
The overwhelming answer has got to be the UK’s delicate relationship with the gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia. For the British Government it seems that human rights concerns are now of secondary importance to trade. In return for us shutting up about their lack of democracy and appalling human rights abuses the Saudis have granted us trade contracts worth billions of pounds. In this situation, I rather unusually (and embarrassingly) find myself agreeing with gaffe-prone millionaire buffoon/Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in perhaps what was the only thing that he had said all year that made any real sense. As well as highlighting the fact that Saudi Arabia is a ‘puppeteer’ in a brutal proxy war in Yemen, Johnson also claimed that there are Politicians within Saudi Arabia ‘who are twisting and abusing religion and different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives’. This is all of course before Johnson was gagged by his own Government in order not to cause any further damage. Knowing the extent of our Government’s immoralities it is a small wander that even after it has been shown 1/3 of all Saudi Airstrikes were on civilian sites we haven’t even heard the smallest peep of an official condemnation from the British or American Governments.
We as a country need to decide what we stand for in this day and age: upholding basic human rights and preventing the needless deaths of thousands more innocent civilians, or silence whilst money is exchanged between blood-soaked hands. The situation in Yemen is just as concerning as that in Syria and Iraq, with arguably even more potential to turn into something even bigger and even nastier and so that is why we must not turn our backs away from the suffering and the carnage and ultimately take a stand against our Government that seeks to put profits before people to ensure that it is not the voices of a bumbling few of our political representatives that highlights these issues.
I can understand that this country is still reeling from the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and yes that should make us warier of our own purviews and more orientated around the consequences of our actions. However, this should nevertheless not make us so introverted that we cannot even speak up to condemn the slaughter and the war crimes and see the logic in not providing Cluster Bombs to the Saudis, who have even admitted themselves that this type of bomb, which has been banned by over 100 countries (with the notable exception of the Saudis) due to the indiscriminate risk they pose to civilians, has been used, made and sold in the UK. If anything, we can learn from the mistakes of the recent past to right the wrongs of our current record in this civil war and thus avert further catastrophe.