Rights groups making uncorroborated claims regarding Yemen war: UK MP
LONDON - Human rights organisations are making dangerous and uncorroborated accusations that could hurt British-Saudi relations and lead to the destabilisation of the Middle East, British MP Daniel Kawczynski said.
“There is a huge number of organisations in this country — Amnesty International is one of them — which are trying to make the most serious allegations possible against the Saudi-led coalition… They are actively trying to prevent Britain from selling weapons and aeroplanes to Saudi Arabia,” said Kawczynski.
“I think, if this succeeds, it will be cataclysmic for both the Middle East and ourselves and we are entering into a very dangerous position.”
Kawczynski, along with other members of the Foreign Affairs and Trade and Industry Select Committees, is sitting on the Committee on Arms Export Control, which is hearing evidence about the use of British-manufactured arms in Yemen. A Saudi-led Gulf coalition has been fighting alongside the internationally recognised government of Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh since March 2015.
Amnesty International has accused the coalition — led by Saudi Arabia and including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Morocco, Jordan and Sudan — of deliberately targeting civilians and called on the government to stop selling arms to Riyadh. Amnesty International said there have been at least 30 air strikes since the start of the conflict in March 2015 that appear to have violated international humanitarian law.
Many analysts, citing deficiencies in intelligence gathering, have sought to express caution regarding allegations of civilian targeting. Given the volatile situation in Yemen, it is difficult for investigators to reach sites of alleged war crimes. Many reports rely on satellite images, photographic evidence and witness accounts taken by third parties.
“No report can be taken seriously if its authors weren’t even in Yemen to conduct investigations,” Saudi analyst Mohammed Alyahya said earlier this year, commenting on a leaked UN investigation.
“What proof do they have? Specific, technical proof… that a pilot has deliberately avoided the trajectory of where he has been sent, seen a civilian target and deliberately dropped bombs on civilians?” Kawczynski asked, calling for stricter corroboration process.
Kawczynski said there was a “disjoint” between those making the allegations and the Gulf coalition, offering to serve as an intermediary between the human rights organisations and the military alliance.
“If Amnesty International or any other body has a specific allegation that they want to put to us on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee — real evidence, not hearsay, something tangible, photographs with eyewitness accounts — we will take that directly to the Saudis and challenge them about that and call for a formal explanation,” he said.
“The onus should be on those people who are seeking to cast these aspersions to come up with credible evidence that they can bring to us that we can challenge them directly. Rather than continue by peddling these allegations through the media. We [the Foreign Affairs Select Committee] can act as an interlocutor between the two — and a very public one.”
Kawczynski said he has been in touch with Saudi officials, including the head of the Saudi Air Force, who told him it has nothing to hide and would welcome the opportunity to dispel allegations surrounding the issue.
Amnesty International acknowledges that it has not received a formal response from Saudi Arabia or the coalition regarding its allegations, Oliver Sprague, Amnesty UK’s arms control programme director, said.
“Yes, we more than welcome this… and if he wants to take the material to get the answers that we haven’t been able to get, then absolutely,” Sprague added.