Most Brits aren’t aware of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia. A group of students hopes to change that.

A Yemeni child running through a bombed building
John McEvoy

Most people in the UK aren’t aware of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia. But a group of students is hoping to change that.

Fuelling “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”

Saudi Arabia is presiding over what the UN has called “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis” in Yemen. And since the war on Yemen began in 2015, the UK government has supplied the Saudi dictatorship with over £4.6bn worth of weapons. Britain also provides political, technical, and logistical support; and UK officials – who are often in the Saudi command room – “have access to lists of targets” in Yemen.

An International Relations Select Committee recently assessed what’s been clear for years: that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are “on the wrong side” of the law. But thanks to a compliant media, 58% of Britons – according to a 2018 YouGov poll – aren’t aware that any of this is happening. Only 2%, moreover, claimed “to know a lot about the conflict in Yemen”.

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In this context, The Canary spoke to Adhiyan Jeevathol of London Students for Yemen. The group is organising a vigil opposite Downing Street on 21 February. And it’s aiming “to spread awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and protest the UK government’s arming of the Saudi-led coalition”.

“Join us”

Jeevathol told The Canary:

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As part of our regular demonstrations, our next event is a vigil outside Downing Street on 21 February from 7pm. I would invite everyone, whether they are students or not, to come and join us.

The more people that can join us on the 21st, the more people will pay attention to this issue – which is the first step towards ending the suffering of the Yemenis.

Yemen’s people need help – urgently

The Canary asked Jeevathol about the current status of the crisis in Yemen. He said:

The most recent report I have read… states ‘currently, the people of Yemen are more vulnerable and hungrier than at any time since the escalation of the conflict in March 2015’ with approximately 70% of Yemen’s 333 districts at risk of famine.

All this underlines the urgency and the responsibility of an able British citizen – that is, one who has enough freedom and opportunity to take constructive action.

Jeremy Hunt must ‘ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia’

Despite the UK’s military and diplomatic support to Saudi Arabia, UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt claims that the government supports a “political process” in Yemen. Jeevathol said that support for a UN resolution and ceasefire is welcome, but he insisted:

If Hunt is serious about this, the first step he would take to solve the conflict ‘as rapidly as possible’ would be to support a ban on British arms to Saudi Arabia which would ‘promote a political solution’ as opposed to a military one.

He continued by talking about Hunt’s meetings with war criminal Henry Kissinger, saying:

Kissinger was someone who put American interests first, with a special disregard for humanity.

It seems to me that, unsurprisingly, Hunt and the Foreign Office are doing the same thing – putting British interests and its public image first, which means pretending that we have little to do with the catastrophe in Yemen.

And he concluded by insisting that:

It is imperative that British complicity in Yemen’s war is brought to the public’s attention, if not at least to change the culture around the British arms trade. This is one of the many reasons it’s so important to have as many people as possible joining us on the 21st of February.

‘Change the arms-trade culture’!

Jeevathol is right. The first stage of resistance is raising awareness. And that’s why it’s important that people who are able go and support London Students for Yemen’s vigil on 21 February at 7pm opposite 10 Downing Street.

Featured image via Felton Davis/Flickr

Get involved

  • Follow London Students for Yemen on Facebook and see the events page for details on how to join them on 21 February.
  • Write to Theresa May and your MP to tell them to cancel and stop approving arms sales to Saudi Arabia. You can also support Campaign Against Arms Trade to help make that happen.
  • See more of The Canary‘s coverage of Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen.

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