If you google “Yemen blockade”, not a single article appears this year. This is incredible given that Save the Children had said at the end of last year that 85 000 Yemeni children under the age of 5 had starved to death over the past three years as a result of the civil war. This is considered a conservative estimate.
The UN says acute malnutrition has afflicted more than 1.3 million children in Yemen since the conflict began. It estimates that 14 million Yemenis (half the population) are at risk of famine largely due to the Saudi border blockades, which have strangled civilian access to food, fuel, aid and commercial goods.
The deaths are caused by a man-made conflict which is being fuelled by countries that have the power to bring the suffering to an end.
The UN concluded that the blockade had “devastating effects on the civilian population”, as Saudi and Emirati airstrikes also targeted Yemen’s food production and distribution.
The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled) released its latest findings on fatalities. It says more than 90 000 have been killed over the past four years.
As Acled’s summary states, the Saudi coalition is “the actor most responsible for civilian deaths,” and in some parts of Yemen, the Saudi coalition responsibility for civilian deaths is even higher than 67%.
The Yemen Data Project says Saudi and Emirati aircraft have conducted more than 19910 air raids. It is estimated that nearly a third are targeted at non-military sites. They have bombed schools, hospitals, homes, markets, factories, roads, farms and historical sites. Tens of thousands of civilians, including thousands of children, have been killed or maimed by Saudi airstrikes.
Violations against civilians have been carried out by all parties to the conflict. The Houthis have killed and injured hundreds of civilians through their use of landmines and indiscriminate shelling, while militias backed by the United Arab Emirates, Yemeni government-backed militias and Houthi militias have arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared and tortured civilians.
What is being dubbed the greatest humanitarian catastrophe in the world desperately needs to end. But with the support being provided to countries that are part of the Saudi-led coalition, the carnage continues unabated.
The Saudi-led coalition is backed by the US and the UK, among other Western nations, with the US providing intelligence and logistics support, and the UK supporting the coalition in every practical way short of engaging in conflict. Since the war began, the UK has sold arms worth at least £4.7 billion (R82bn) to Riyadh.
A UK court ruled, however, that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia were illegal, and that the relevant ministers had illegally signed off on Saudi arms exports because they had failed to properly assess the risk to civilians.
The court also found that there were no assessments on whether the coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law, and made no attempt to do so. British arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been put on hold.
Amid the backdrop of collusion came the controversy in South Africa last year about the possible collaboration between the State arms manufacturer Denel and Saudi Arabia Military Industries (Sami). Sami was particularly interested in Denel’s intellectual property in order to build its own military capacity and manufacture its own armaments. But Denel has made it clear that it will not sell equity stakes to Sami, which made a $1bn bid for partnership last year.
Under South Africa’s National Conventional Arms Control Act, “the Republic is a responsible member of the international community, and will not trade in conventional arms with states engaged in repression, aggression or terrorism”. The National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), which oversees our arms sales, is obliged under law to forbid the sale of arms that could aggravate military conflicts, or be used for repression or to commit human rights abuses.
Given these constraints, and the involvement of Saudi Arabia in the devastating war in Yemen, Denel arguably made the right decision.
But Sami is seeking alternative co-operation agreements with private South African arms manufacturers in order to develop its domestic defence industry. On July 3, Sami and South African defence company Paramount announced they were signing a defence co-operation agreement which would see the development of technologies and capabilities across land, sea and air domains, as well as systems integration. This is in support of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s economic development plan, the objective of which is to increase the domestic share of military equipment expenditure to 50% by 2030.
Sami chief executive Dr Andreas Schwer has said: “Collaboration between Sami and Paramount will contribute to further enhancing the capability of the Saudi Armed Forces and increase their local content.”
The NCACC will need to approve any transfer of technology for any weapons system. Given the potential for certain intellectual property to be used to develop lethal weaponry that could be used in the war in Yemen, the committee will need to make a determination based on the constraints set out in the Act. The NCACC is to be reconstituted for the sixth administration and has not met since May 10.
Given South Africa’s human rights-based foreign policy, our genuine concern for human security and civilians in armed conflicts, we cannot afford for any of our arms manufacturers to be providing lethal arms or intellectual property to any country involved in a brutal civil war where tens of thousands of civilians are dying.
As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, we must lead by example and ensure that no more South African military hardware will be found in the ruins of devastating bombardment in Yemen.
We also have a responsibility to ensure that South African intellectual property does not contribute to building the military capacity of the countries prosecuting this war.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's Foreign Editor.