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Yemen: our government must help protect children

Raja’a*, seven, was injured and her mother, brother and sister were killed when an explosive missile destroyed their home. She is receiving emotional support at a child-friendly space run by Save the Children.

For over one year now, children in Yemen have been caught in the crossfire of brutal conflict.

Thousands have been killed or injured as conflict rages between the Saudi-led coalition, the Houthis and other armed groups. In recent months, the UN has put a disproportionate number of child casualties down to coalition airstrikes.

Yet, as tragedy unfolds in the Gulf of Aden, the UK government has stayed silent about the conduct of its close ally, Saudi Arabia, in the conflict.

It’s simply not good enough. That’s why we’ve spent the last few months calling for an independent, international investigation into alleged violations of international humanitarian law, and calling on our government to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia when they could be used to contravene these laws.

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Shameful acts

This week presented a window of opportunity to apply some pressure. Over the weekend, the UN’s Children and Armed Conflict report, which highlights countries’ armed groups responsible for the killing of children, placed the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis on its so-called “list of shame”. Then on Wednesday, MPs were due to debate sales of arms to Saudi Arabia.

Thousands of our supporters got in touch with their MPs to call on them to attend but, by the time the debate was held, we’d had some disturbing news. The Saudi-led coalition had disappeared from the UN report. It has been reported that Saudi Arabia had been leaning heavily on the UN, and their lobbying seems to have paid off. It’s shocking that political pressure can lead to such a move – especially when children are the victims.

Pressure builds

The turnout for the debate was much better than we expected, and included a number of MPs who hadn’t previously been involved in debates on the issue. MPs from across different political parties spoke out and raised our specific calls and concerns.

The government’s response? They didn’t budge. It was hugely frustrating, but unsurprising.

We know that it’s going to be a slow process to get the breakthrough we want on Yemen, but the strong turnout shows that, with our supporters, we’re managing to steadily build pressure.

We’re not going to stop calling for the UK to stand up to its friend and call for an independent, international and transparent investigation into the conduct of the Saudi-led coalition. And the events of this week show exactly why, for the sake of Yemen’s children, it’s so important that we keep the pressure on.

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* Name changed to protect identity


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