The brutal war in Yemen that has left the country on the brink of a catastrophe seems at last to be getting more attention. Now we know what is happening we have little excuse not to do everything we can to end, or at least reduce, the human suffering caused by this appalling conflict.
All sides in this war stand accused of committing serious violations of the rules of law. However, of the thousands of children who have so far died as a result, two thirds of deaths are attributed to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition air strikes, according to the UN.
That is why Oxfam has launched its “Red Line for Yemen” campaign, asking people in Scotland and throughout the UK to call on the Government to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
We are asking for your help to stop British-made bombs falling on Yemen, and fuelling the crisis for millions of people living in the Middle East’s poorest country.
We know the British people care. They have generously supported the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Yemen Crisis Appeal. More than £17 million has been raised across the UK with over £1.5m of that coming from Scotland. We are very grateful to the people of Scotland for the generosity and compassion they have once again shown.
The human cost of this terrible war is enormous. Since it escalated in March 2015, more than three million people have been forced from their homes and over 11,000 civilians have been killed or injured.
Oxfam colleagues working in Yemen speak of people eating only one meal per day to make sure there is enough food for their children. Some people say they are going without food for days.
Markets have been bombed and essential services like water plants, roads and even hospitals have been destroyed. More than half of Yemen’s healthcare facilities are no longer functioning, leaving 7.5 million children with very limited health care.
Yet last year more than £3 billion worth of British arms, including bombs and missiles, were sold to Saudi Arabia – these arms are helping to fuel the conflict in Yemen. There are reports that some components of those weapons may have been produced in Scotland.
Oxfam’s campaign talks about a red line with good reason. There is always a line that must never be crossed – and, in this case, it’s called the International Arms Trade Treaty. Oxfam supporters campaigned for many years for this Treaty, which should help stop massive human suffering by banning irresponsible arms sales.
When the UK Government draws a red line, as it did helping to set up the Arms Trade Treaty, it loses all credibility and moral authority if it then crosses that red line itself.
By allowing the sale of British bombs to the Saudi-led coalition, the UK undermines its own ability to urge other countries to uphold their obligations under the Treaty and other similar international agreements.
So far in our campaign on Yemen, more than 21,000 of our supporters – including many in Scotland – have e-mailed the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, asking him to immediately stop these sales until there is no risk they will be used against civilians.
We are grateful to the Scottish MPs who are pushing hard for an end to arms sales that fuel the Yemen crisis. We are now asking our supporters, and anyone who agrees with us on this crucial issue, to write to their MP asking them to demand that the UK Government suspends arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
My colleagues in Yemen are working hard to ensure those most in need get the essential help they require. Delivering assistance is difficult and dangerous because of the intense conflict – this is causing, at times, life threatening delays. Despite this, Oxfam has provided assistance to more than a million people in the past year, with clean water, food vouchers, cash, hygiene kits and other essential aid, in both the north and south of the country.
This will continue, but we would be failing the people we are helping in Yemen if we did not also send the strongest possible message that the UK must stop being an arms-broker and start becoming a peace-broker.
You can take part in Oxfam’s Red Line for Yemen campaign here: http://oxfamapps.org/redline/
Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam, Scotland.