A serving British soldier, Lance Corporal Ahmed Al-Babati, of 14th Signal Regiment, has been arrested for opposing the ongoing war in Yemen outside of Downing Street. During his protest he blew a whistle for every child killed by airstrikes in which the UK is fully complicit – until he was hauled away by Royal Military Police. He has also made statements denouncing the role the UK has had in supplying Saudi Arabia with munitions.
In the past 5 years the Saudi air campaign against the Houthi population in Yemen has slaughtered and injured many thousands of men women and children and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Britain not only supplies weapons for this war, it provides the personnel and expertise required to keep the war going. The British government has deployed RAF personnel to work as engineers, and to train Saudi pilots and target finders, and subcontracted the UK arms giant BAE Systems to provide weapons, maintenance and engineers inside Saudi Arabia.
According to John Deverell, a former MoD mandarin and defence attache to Saudi Arabia and Yemen, “Saudi Arabia couldn’t do it without us.” A BAE employee put it more plainly to Channel 4’s Dispatches Program “If we weren’t there, in seven to 14 days there wouldn’t be a jet in the sky.”
Yet after legal action by CAAT, British arms sales to Saudi Arabia were ruled unlawful in June 2019 by the court of appeal in a critical judgment that also accused ministers of ignoring whether airstrikes that killed civilians in Yemen broke humanitarian law. Three judges said that a decision made in secret in 2016 had led them to decide that Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and Liam Fox and other key ministers had illegally signed off on arms exports without properly assessing the risk to civilians. Later, Fox was understood to have privately told at least one MP that he expected that the review process called for by the court would take about 10 weeks – and would not lead to any of the previous licensing decisions being overturned.
On 7th July 2020 it was announced by the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, that the UK Government will resume the granting of new licences for arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the other countries in the coalition that are bombing Yemen. How can the brave action by Lance Corporal Ahmed Ali be condemned when a Minister of the Crown acts in contempt of the spirit of the courts. Direct action by the public, which includes serving soldiers, would seem to be the only option.
Ahmed Al-Babati is one of very few serving men and women who have had the courage to defy military protocol in order to speak out against war crimes committed by the British Government. As fellow serving and former soldiers, we have the power to act both to provide direct support for Al-Babati and to explain and publicise the atrocities that he has exposed. The time is now for the immediate cessation of military support and arms sales by the UK to Saudi Arabia.