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WITH the deteriorating situation in Yemen due to the “worst man-made catastrophe” in the world today, we say it shames us as a nation greatly if we are to receive the architect of this catastrophe, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman, on a state visit.
We have a legal and moral duty, however, to summon him to our courts to answer charges of war crimes under British law.
The law is very clear on this point: there is jurisdiction to try in British courts anyone who commits war crimes anywhere in the world, whatever their diplomatic status.
Will the rule of law prevail or will “political expediency” debase our legal system and undermine the independence of our judiciary? That is the critical question that our application for an arrest warrant for Mohammad bin Salman will answer.
That the Saudi coalition has committed thousands of war crimes in Yemen is indisputable.
The vast evidence collected by the Legal Centre for Rights and Development, based in Yemen, for over 1,000 days since the start of the unlawful military intervention proves beyond reasonable doubt that these crimes have been committed by the Saudi coalition. Further evidence of war crimes is being recorded daily.
Reports from various reputable international NGOs such Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and UN agencies all confirm the commission of war crimes by the Saudi coalition.
As a matter of law, any strike on any civilian area amounts to a war crime, even if it is later discovered that such places were used for military purposes.
The evidence shows that the Saudi coalition has targeted thousands of schools, homes, hospitals, farms, food storage depots, airports, seaports, water plants, electricity plants, weddings, funerals, leisure centres, refugee camps, ancient heritage sites — even moving civilian cars did not escape air strikes.
Children are often killed by air strikes on their schools or as they are playing football in the streets.
There is frequent use of prohibited weapons — such as cluster, chemical and uranium-enriched bombs, which are continuing to claim civilian lives, including causing severe birth defects of the type that we saw following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
These prohibited weapons are often used in densely populated areas. It’s as if the Saudi coalition’s war is being waged on Yemeni civilians rather than anyone else. Why?
The answer is simple: to prevent and suffocate the democratic movement in Yemen that kicked off with the Arab Spring in 2011 and to force the people of Yemen to reject their chosen government based in Sanaa.
Frequently, millions of people from all over Yemen come to the streets of Sanaa to show support for the government, but the Saudi coalition and their allies don’t want that.
They want the people of Yemen to accept the puppet cabal of Saudi Arabia, led by Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi — who is currently based in Riyadh hotels. It has neither legitimacy under international law nor under the Yemen constitution, and is receiving substantial payments for services from the Saudis.
If, as the Saudis and their allies claim, their total destruction of Yemen and killing of thousands of civilians is “to restore” Hadi to power, then why has he not returned to the south of the country, which the coalition claims has been “freed” since late 2015?
Instead, the south is currently occupied by a hotchpotch of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and Isis elements, plus United Arab Emirates forces which have opened 18 secret detention centres used to torture Yemenis to death and have wreaked a havoc on the world heritage site of Socotra.
As a result of the near total destruction of the country’s infrastructure by bombing, there has been a rapid and shocking spread of cholera and over a million people have been infected with the disease.
This has never happened anywhere else in the world. It is absolutely despicable and a very dangerous situation for the world.
This could happen to any other country. We must reject this type of violation of the sovereignty of any nation. It is in our collective interest to do so.
There is a very strict blockade on Yemen, arbitrarily enforced by the Saudi coalition by sea, air and land. The country depends on imports for 80 per cent of its consumables. Thus, vital food and medicine cannot arrive in the country.
Up to 17 million people face famine. Up to 130 children under the age of five die per day due to malnutrition, according to Unicef figures. This doesn’t include those of all ages who die from daily bombardment and those who die of malnutrition over the age of five.
Sanaa airport has been closed for over two years. Victims of air strikes and the blockade who require urgent medical attention cannot travel abroad and die as a result.
Kidney disease and cancer sufferers are worst affected and are dying at alarming rates due to a lack of medicine and medical centres to care for them.
The blockade is illegal and amounts to a use of hunger as a weapon of war, a practice used by the nazis in World War II. That is the kind of action supported by all those who back the Saudi coalition.
The blockade is collective punishment, and is leading to genocide — all this a grotesque violation of international law.
So to receive Mohammad bin Salman, a notorious dictator, on a state visit to Britain is gross insult to all the values the British government claims to hold dear.
We say he must be summoned to answer war crimes charges, not dignified with stately decorum.
Kim Sharif is the director of Human Rights for Yemen.
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