The U.K and the U.S. governments, concerned about being implicated in war crimes with Saudi Arabia, are expected to table a motion at the United Nations Security Council in the next 48 hours aimed at restarting the stalled Yemeni talks.
The new diplomatic initiative follows the death of 140 people, mainly civilians, in a bombing raid on Saturday in the war-torn capital Sana’a. The strike is thought to have been carried out by Saudi Arabian planes but the Saudi government has denied responsibility. Diplomatic pressure has intensified over the weekend as the civilian death toll from the two-year conflict reached 6,000.
London and Washington fear that calls for Saudi Arabia to face war-crimes could also implicate the two countries that have supplied the Kingdom with weapons to the tune of billions of dollars in arms sales. US government lawyers are concerned that British and American military personnel could be subject to prosecution, at least in theory.
The Saudi government has called allegations of civilian casualties fabricated or exaggerated and has resisted calls for the independent investigation. According to the United Nations human rights office, Saudi airstrikes are thought to have hit markets, hospitals, and schools accounting for 60% of the death toll.
Last months the medical charity MSF announced it was withdrawing from six hospitals in northern Yemen after strikes hit one of its facilities four times in less than a year
In October 2015, the US State Department acknowledged that Saudi airstrikes lack the necessary precision. A number of reasons for this have been given including the inexperience of the Saudi pilots with dropping munitions and firing missiles, the weakness of intelligence and the situation being compounded on the ground the Houthis not wearing military uniforms but freely mixing with the general population.
In the past couple of years, Washington has authorised more than £20 billion in weapon sales, which includes £1 billion in the sale of precision munitions intended to replenish the stocks used in Yemen. The U.K. has made licenced sales of around £3.3 billion which includes £2.2 billion worth of aircraft, helicopters, and drones.
British and American military officials are also in the command and control centre for Saudi airstrikes and have access to the list of targets. Critics say the two western governments are operating double standards by assisting Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen which appeared to be in breach of international humanitarian laws.
The UK government said its sales were under careful and continual review and added that it was satisfied the current exploit licenses for Saudi Arabia met its regulations, which it described as some of the most robust in the world.
The war has left more than 21 million people in need of humanitarian aid, More than in any other country according to Oxfam. More than 6,000 people have been killed, more than 3 million displaced and more than 14 million suffer hunger and malnutrition.