Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK’s main opposition Labour Party, has called for a halt in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and a ceasefire in Yemen.
Since the start of war in Yemen, the UK has approved arms export licences to Saudi Arabia worth $4.1bn, according to London-based Campaign Against the Arms Trade.
In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, Corbyn said: “We have constantly condemned the use of these weapons by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and called for the suspension of the arms sales to Saudi Arabia to show that we are wanting a peace process in Yemen, not an invasion by Saudi Arabia.
“We’ve made that very clear.”
Yemen has been devastated by a war between forces loyal to the internationally recognised government, led by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and a Houthi rebel movement.
Concerned by the rise of the Houthi rebels it believes to be backed by regional rival Iran, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Sunni Arab states launched an intervention in 2015 in the form of a massive air campaign aimed at reinstalling Hadi’s government.
More than 10,000 people have been killed and at least 40,000 injured in Yemen since March 20, mostly from Saudi-led air strikes, according to the United Nations.
The Saudi-led air campaign and subsequent blockade has created a humanitarian disaster in the Arab world’s poorest country. Cholera is on the rise and nearly 70 precent of the population is dependent on aid.
“I’m totally shocked by the war in Yemen. Totally shocked, by the bombardment that’s taken place, by the killings that have happened, by the cholera outbreak that’s now rife. And the numbers who are affected, the numbers who have already died,” Corbyn said.
More than 1,300 people have died of cholera since late April, in the second outbreak of the infection in less than a year.
In March, the UN’s World Food Programme said that nearly half of Yemen’s 22 provinces were on the verge of famine.
Corbyn said the Labour party had called on the previous British government to suspend its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and would continue to do so in the next.
“We have already put that resolution to parliament in the last parliament. We’ll continue to do that when there’s a new parliament formed after this general election. Our policy of the Labour Party is unchanged,” he said.
The Labour leader also touched on alleged instances, revealed in two separate investigations last week, of forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and abuse by troops backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Yemen.
“All of those allegations have to be investigated, and the evidence has to come forward,” said Corbyn.
“And arms sales policy has to reflect that we do not believe those countries that commit abuses of human rights or kill civilians with the use of those weapons should continue to receive British arms.”
Last week rights groups and activists called on the UK to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its allies, warning that continuing to do so may be a violation of international law.
A statement issued by the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR) said British manufactured weapons sold to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt were being used to carry out abuses in Yemen and Libya.
“[AOHR] is calling on the UK government to review its role in the sale of arms to a number of Arab governments that are known for gross human rights violation,” the statement read.
“A Saudi-led coalition has killed hundreds of Yemenis, destroyed scores of homes in addition to obliterating most of Yemen’s core infrastructure,” the AOHR said, adding: “Saudi Arabia has also turned a blind eye to the atrocities committed by UAE in southern parts of the country.”
In Libya, the UAE has transferred British-produced arms to the renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, who is also accused of a raft of abuses, including indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and summary executions.
Source: Al Jazeera News
Nearly half a million displaced Syrians have returned to their homes since the beginning of the year, mainly to find family members and check on property, the UN refugee agency said.
The agency said it had seen “a notable trend of spontaneous returns to and within Syria in 2017”.
Since January, about 440,000 people who had been displaced within the war-ravaged country had returned to their homes, mainly in Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus, Andrej Mahecic, a spokesman for the agency, known as the UNHCR, told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
In addition, around 31,000 refugees in neighbouring countries had also returned, he said, bringing to 260,000 the number of refugees who have returned to the country since 2015.
But Mahecic said this is a mere “fraction” of the five million Syrian refugees hosted in the region.
He said the main factors prompting the displaced to return home were “seeking out family members, checking on property, and, in some cases, a real or perceived improvement in security conditions in parts of the country.”
He said it was too early to say if the returns might be directly linked to a palpable drop in violence since Turkey agreed at talks in Astana in May with Russia and Iran, allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to establish four safe zones across Syria to ban flights and ensure aid drops.
But this week, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told the Security Council that since the May 4 deal, “violence is clearly down. Hundreds of Syrian lives continue to be spared every week, and many towns have returned to some degree of normalcy”.
Mahecic nonetheless cautioned that “while there is overall increased hope linked to the recent Astana and Geneva peace talks, UNHCR believes conditions for refugees to return in safety and dignity are not yet in place in Syria”.
“The sustainability of security improvements in many return areas is uncertain, and there remain significant risks of protection thresholds for voluntary, safe and dignified returns not being met in parts of the country,” he said.
“Access to displaced population inside Syria remains a key challenge,” he added.
But “given the returns witnessed so far this year and in light of a progressively increased number of returns”, the agency had begun scaling up its operations inside Syria to better be able address the needs of the returnees, he said.
Syria’s war has killed more than 320,000 people and forced millions from their homes since it began in March 2011.
Source: News agencies