UK Parliament Committee Calls for Halt to Saudi Arms Sales

February 28th, 2016 - by admin

Felicity Arbuthnot / Dissident Voice & Patrick Wintour / The Guardian & Sharona Schwartz / The Blaze – 2016-02-28 23:47:14

UK Parliamentary Committee Calls for Halt to Arms Sales

UK Parliamentary Committee Calls for Halt to Arms Sales
Moots International Inquiry into Alleged International Law Abuses

Felicity Arbuthnot / Dissident Voice

“Subject to sudden or unpredictable changes of mood or mind.”

LONDON (February 5, 2016) — In a woefully belated but welcome initiative the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee, the influential cross party oversight body which scrutinizes the Department for International Development, has called for a suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

In context, the reason for the Committee’s stance is related to the black farce of one arm of the UK government providing aid to Yemen, as other arms are providing the advice, aircraft and weaponry to Saudi Arabia to assist in the destruction of the ancient nation whose shores are lapped by the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.

Saudi Arabia has been decimating southern neighbor, Yemen, since March 2015, inflicting devastating destruction. By September last year, former UN Assistant Secretary General, Nigel Fisher wrote that 93% of the deaths and injuries were civilian.

Moreover, quoting from the Report “State of Crisis: Explosive Weapons in Yemen”, he pointed out that: “The intensity of explosive violence in the country has meant that more civilian deaths and injuries from explosive weapons were recorded … during the first seven months of 2015 than in any other country in the world.” Given the Western generated carnage in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria alone, it is a chilling record.

In spite of this, according to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) which is currently threatening the government with legal action over arms sales: “The UK government has licensed £6.7 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia since David Cameron took office in 2010, including £2.8 billion since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015.”

CAAT has welcomed the International Development Committee’s stance on arms sales with the fact that it has now also ended opposition to an international inquiry into allegations of alleged abuses of international law in Yemen.

“The humanitarian situation is getting worse and the UK government has been complicit in it. We agree that arms sales need to stop, but they should never have been allowed in the first place. Saudi Arabia has a terrible human rights record and has been supported by governments of all political colours for far too long”, commented CAAT’s Andrew Smith.

In January 2016, London Law firm Leigh Day, representing CAAT, issued a pre-action protocol letter for judicial review challenging the government’s decision to export arms to Saudi Arabia despite increasing evidence that Saudi forces are violating international humanitarian law (IHL) in Yemen. At the time of writing the government is yet to respond.

Mr Smith added: “The government is always telling us how rigorous and robust its arms export system is. This is further evidence that nothing could be further from the truth. The UK has continuously armed some of the most abusive regimes in the world.”

Nigel Fisher pondered on the “horrifying trend in twentieth and twenty first century warfare” with “massive air force bombings of a defenceless civilian population.”

He cites Guernica, the incendiary bombings of Dresden (Hamburg must also never be forgotten) those of Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka and, of course, the nuclear attacks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

However, rather than these unimaginable horrors acting as an absolute “never again” commitment, in defiance of a swathe of international laws, the fine founding words of the UN, the International Declaration of Human rights, the Geneva Convention, they might all never have been written, signed, ratified.

Each unimaginable crime has simply been a siren call for bigger, more apocalyptic, humanity incinerating, scorched earth policy weaponry, created, ordered, and sold for use against countries posing no threat to the decimators but which have oil, gas, minerals which they wish to steal, not buy. Policies equivalent to thieves in the night, murdering their victims to steal the car, television and jewellery box. Simply criminality on a massively larger scale.

Fisher writes of the “willful brutality of our world” and asks: “Is it only occasionally that photos of young children like Alan Kurdi will rouse us to action? I hope not. Our fellow citizens caught up in the horror of armed conflict deserve better.” Indeed. But Britain’s approach under the Cameron regime is not only evil, but schizophrenic.

Last September, ironically on September 11th, Oxfam stated on an anniversary bringing Yemen, as other countries attacked since, its own ongoing 9/11s:
There is a paradox at the heart of the government’s approach to Yemen. On the one hand the Department for International Development is funding efforts to help civilians caught up in the conflict, while on the other the Government is fuelling the conflict that is causing unbearable human suffering.

The UK successfully lobbied hard over many years for a UN Arms Trade Treaty to regulate the arms trade, which came into being last year. This Government has incorporated the treaty into national law, yet at the first test of the new law it has turned a blind eye to mounting evidence of potential misuse of its weapons and support.

In 2013, David Cameron hailed the Arms Trade Treaty as a landmark agreement that would ‘save lives and ease the immense human suffering caused by armed conflict around the world.’ He said Britain should be proud of the role it had played in securing an agreement that would make the world safer for all.

It can only be hoped that the International Development Committee’s initiative bears fruit, that other countries follow and that it also results in David Cameron’s mercurial mind shifts transforming into the responsible, steady gravitas which should be a given for one of his position.

Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist with special knowledge of Iraq. Author, with Nikki van der Gaag, of Baghdad in the Great City series for World Almanac books, she has also been Senior Researcher for two Award-winning documentaries on Iraq, John Pilger’s Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq and Denis Halliday Returns for RTE (Ireland.) Read other articles by Felicity.

Ban Ki-moon Adds to
Pressure on UK to Stop Arms Sales to Saudis

UN secretary general accuses Saudi Arabia of indiscriminate bombing in Yemen and says Britain has duty to stop weapons flow

Patrick Wintour, Diplomatic editor / The Guardian

LONDON (February 5, 2016) — Britain has come under renewed pressure to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia after the UN secretary general accused the Saudis of indiscriminate bombing in Yemen and said countries such as the UK had a duty to stop the flow of weapons to Riyadh-led forces.

Speaking in London, Ban Ki-moon said: “Yemen is in flames and coalition airstrikes in particular continue to strike schools, hospitals, mosques and civilian infrastructure.”

He claimed that Yemen “was awash with weapons”, adding: “We need states that are party to [the] arms trade treaty to set an example in fulfilling one of the treaty’s main purposes — controlling arms flows to actors that may use them in ways that breach international humanitarian law”.

Ban said permanent members of the UN security council, including the UK, had a special responsibility to secure peace in intractable conflicts.

The normally mild mannered Ban made his pointed remarks in a speech in which he bemoaned the failure of major powers to live up to their promises to prevent massacres and human rights abuses on the scale of Syria, Rwanda, Srebrenica, Cambodia and Yemen. The promises of “never again”, he said, have become more muted.

A special UN panel report, leaked a fortnight ago, accused Saudi Arabia of making numerous breaches of international humanitarian law by conducting an indiscriminate bombing campaign in Yemen.

The UK’s international development select committee, supported by the Labour party leadership, this week called on the government to suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia and set up an independent international inquiry into the allegations made by the UN panel.

Partly under pressure from the UK Foreign Office, Saudi Arabia has set up its own inquiry into the allegations, but the committee said an inquiry conducted by the Saudis into their own actions was unacceptable.

The UN panel documented that the coalition had conducted airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law. These included:
* Camps for internally displaced persons and refugees

* Civilian gatherings including weddings

* Civilian vehicles, including buses, and civilian residential areas

* Medical facilities, schools, mosques, markets, factories, food storage warehouses and other essential civilian infrastructure, such as Sana’a airport and domestic transit routes

Britain has denied allegations that it has influence over the Saudi targeting, but admitted being involved in training some of the pilots involved in the airstrikes. The UK has granted close to £3bn of arms export licences to Saudi Arabia in the past six months.

It is the first time that Ban has commented on the scale of the alleged atrocities in Yemen. The secretary general was speaking at an event organised by the United Nations Association UK and Chatham House at Central Hall in Westminster, where the UN first met 70 years ago. He was in London as the UN was acting as the co-sponsor of the international fundraising conference that generated nearly $10bn (£6.9bn) for Syrian refugees over the next few years.

Ban also gave a broad hint that he wants a woman to succeed him as secretary general later this year, saying that the whole landscape is changed when there is a woman at the top of political organisations.

“It is proven [that] companies with large numbers of women on their boards are more successful and profitable,” he said. In another broad hint, he said the empowerment of women was at the top of his agenda at the helm of the UN.

Ban is due to stand down at the end of 2016 after nine years in the top job, and the jostling for succession for the most important diplomatic post in the world is already under way.

His criticism of Saudi Arabia comes after the country began bombing Yemen last March in an attempt to push back Houthi rebels who had managed to take control of the capital, Sana’a, and force the president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to flee. Hadi is backed by the Saudis, while the Houthi rebels are aligned, at least loosely, with Iran.

Britain is under some diplomatic pressure to loosen its ties with Saudi Arabia since Iran, the kingdom’s arch rival in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, is making overtures to the west in the wake of the historic nuclear deal that led to the lifting of sanctions against Iran last month.

The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, met the UK foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, in London on Friday to discuss Syria and the possible role Iran could play in bringing about an end to the civil war. Iran clearly believes that Saudi Arabia is behaving as a disruptive force in the peace talks and will not accept that Iran has a legitimate role in acting as one of the international partners responsible for guaranteeing any peace deal in Syria.

Faced by a brutal Russian air bombardment that is strengthening the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, by the day, western powers are becoming less vocal in their demand that he must go at the end of the process. The UK is exploring the extent to which Iran could press Assad to remain in situ, either in a ceremonial role or by dispersing power within Syria, possibly along the lines of the Iraqi constitution.

Neither Iran nor Russia will accept a power vacuum in Damascus, arguing that this would mean Syria being handed over to Islamic State.

Saudi Arabia Hints It Could Pursue Nuclear Capability Timed to Expiration of Iran Deal
Sharona Schwartz / The Blaze

(January 20, 2016) — An editorial in a pro-Saudi government newspaper as well as the words of Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister suggest that the Sunni kingdom may be considering aiming to develop a nuclear capability timed to coincide with the expiration of the international nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia’s archrival Iran.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir gave an interview to Reuters Tuesday, during which he avoided ruling out the possibility that the Saudis could pursue developing a nuclear bomb.

Reuters reported:
Asked in an exclusive interview if Saudi Arabia had discussed seeking a nuclear bomb in the event Iran managed to obtain one despite its atomic deal, he said Saudi Arabia would do “whatever we need to do in order to protect our people”.

“I don’t think it would be logical to expect us to discuss any such issue in public and I don’t think it would be reasonable to expect me to answer this question one way or another,” he said.

A Sunday editorial in the Saudi pro-government daily paper Al-Riyadh set out a “road map” for constructing nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes timed to the expiration of the Iran deal.

The Middle East Media Research Institute published excerpts of the editorial titled, “What Will Happen in 15 Years?” which pointed to the year 2031 when the Iran deal’s restrictions are lifted and Iran might be free to pursue nuclear weapons.

A Saudi nuclear program would be one way of countering Iran’s potential future progress in nuclear weapons, the editorial suggested.

“In 2031, [this] nuclear agreement will be consigned to the U.N. archives, and Iran will be free to do whatever it pleases regarding its nuclear program,” the editorial said. “This, because most of the restrictions imposed [on Iran] by the articles of this agreement expire in 15 years. In the interim, Iran will enrich uranium to a level of no more than 3.67 percent, which is the safe level. But what happens after 15 years?”

“What we need to do, even today, is begin preparing a nuclear program for peaceful purposes so as to gain the necessary knowledge about the nuclear fuel cycle and build nuclear reactors for producing electricity and desalinating water, [thus] varying our energy sources,” the editors wrote.

“A brief review of the nuclear programs in the region leaves us confident of Saudi Arabia’s ability to begin building nuclear reactors and complete them before 2031,” the editors added, saying that Saudi Arabia should “set out a timetable or a clear road map for a civilian nuclear program to meet Saudi Arabia’s goals.”

They added, “2030 will be set as the date for activating the first nuclear reactor.”

The paper observed that President Barack Obama had offered Iran a “lifeline” by lifting nuclear-related economic sanctions.

“The fact is that the American president has thrown the Iranian regime a lifeline that will ensure its survival, and North Korea is an example of how nuclear power can constitute a shield for diseased regimes,” the editorial read. “This philosophy [of Obama’s] should not interest us at all.”

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