London (GPA) – In the first day of testimony in the U.K.’s high court hearings on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, it’s been shown that many of Britain’s top civil servants warned the government to at least freeze sales.
Today in England’s high court, emails were reviewed from civil servants such as the head of the Export Control Organisation (ECO), Edward Bell. Many of the emails showed incidents in the recent past where the ECO, the department in charge of arms exports, warned government leaders that they should at least consider a temporary halt on doing business with the Saudis.
In an email from Mr. Bell, read before the court today, he stated that he had given multiple warnings to government higher ups such as the Secretary of State where he said things like “my gut tells me we should suspend [arms sales].” Bell’s email showed that his opinion was that “This would be prudent and cautious given the acknowledged gaps in knowledge about Saudi operations. I put this directly to the Secretary of State in these terms.”
Bell also admitted that he felt “there is a lot at stake here politically”(in relation to the Saudis). Yet what apparently all the leaders of the U.K. are ignoring is the fact that the arms deals with totalitarian regimes like the Saudis are becoming increasingly unpopular with their own citizens. This is something they may want to acknowledge if they wish to keep their jobs in a democracy instead of appeasing Wahhabis.
It was also revealed in other evidence heard today head of policy at the ECO was recorded as boxing “significant concerns regarding the acknowledged gaps in knowledge about Saudi targeting processes and about the military objectives of some of the strikes.” The policy division also said they expressed concerns at the Ministry of Defense’s inability to identify a number of “valid military targets.”
What the policy office basically meant was that the amount of bombings the Saudis were recorded as carrying out in Yemen seemed excessive compared to the actual number of military targets. It was this discrepancy and the “knowledge gap” concerning the Saudi campaign in Yemen that made the policy department concerned that at least of the strikes could have been in violation of international humanitarian law.
It’s not clear exactly what there is to debate on concerning whether or not Saudi Arabia has committed war crimes in Yemen. The Saudi’s war has contributed to at least 10,000 Yemeni deaths and it is estimated that a child dies every ten minutes due to the devastation caused by the war.
As for the question of whether or not British weapons have helped this tragedy play out, the Saudis have admitted that they have. They’ve even admitted to using cluster bombs supplied by the U.K. in the 1980s, then illegally stockpiled after the passage of a United Nations convention in 2008.
The west has been increasingly complicit in Saudi crimes and if the court in Britain wants to maintain its legitimacy its time to acknowledge the evidence clearly visible to the public. It’s time for the U.K. (and the US) to do more than just emptily reprimand the Saudis; as well as stop completely ignoring their mercenaries on the ground (such as Al Qaeda) and actually do something about the mass murder in Yemen.
Also published on Medium.