UK-armed airstrikes part of a ‘pattern of violence against civilians’ in Yemen

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More than four armed attacks on civilians were carried out daily during 14 months of the war in Yemen, according to an Oxfam report published today.

The new analysis counted more than 1,700 attacks on civilians who were killed, injured or forced to flee their homes and found that air raids by the Saudi-led coalition, using weapons solely supplied by the UK and US, accounted for a quarter of all attacks.

Oxfam’s report comes ahead of a legal challenge brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) against the UK government about the supply of weapons to the war, taking place at the High Court in January. Oxfam is intervening to provide expert witness in support of the legal challenge.

While all parties to the conflict have repeatedly harmed civilians during the eight years of war, the research found that between January 2021 to the end of February 2022, in addition to widespread destruction of infrastructure that is vital to the civilian population, Saudi-led coalition air strikes were responsible for at least:

  • 87 civilian deaths and 136 injuries
  • 19 attacks on hospitals, clinics and ambulances
  • 293 attacks that forced people to flee their homes – 39 per cent of all attacks causing displacement

Martin Butcher, Oxfam’s Policy Advisor on Arms and Conflict and author of the report, said: 

“The sheer number of attacks on civilians is stark testament to the terrible tragedy the people of Yemen have suffered. Our analysis shows there is a pattern of violence against civilians, and all sides in this conflict have not done enough to protect civilian life, which they are obligated to do under International Humanitarian Law.

“The intensity of these attacks would not have been possible without a ready supply of arms. That is why it’s vital the UK government and others must immediately stop the arms sales that are fuelling war in Yemen.”

Since the Saudi-led coalition began its intervention in Yemen, the UK has licensed at least £7.9 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia across 547 licences. Researchers at CAAT have estimated that the true value of arms sales is over £23 billion when additional ‘open licenses’ are taken into account.

An earlier court hearing about the UK’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia in June 2019 forced the government to suspend new arms licences and review its arms licensing decisions. The government later announced it had carried out a review and resumed issuing new licenses.

Butcher said: “One of the reasons the government gave for restarting arms sales was its view that attacks that breached or potentially breached International Humanitarian Law were isolated incidents that did not display a particular pattern.

“Our report reveals a very different picture, a large number of attacks that harm civilians every day. These daily events require proper investigation and while there is a risk that serious human rights abuses could be taking place, arms sales must be immediately discontinued.”

The war has caused tens of thousands of civilian casualties and forced over four million people from their homes, contributing to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.  Over 21.5 million Yemenis are in need of assistance and 17.3 million people suffer from acute hunger, including over two million children with acute malnutrition.

Hanan and her family were amongst those forced to flee Al Hudaydah, which has come under severe Saudi aerial bombardment during the war. A single mother with two young daughters, she spoke to Oxfam in February 2021 from the Ammar bin Yasse camp for internally displaced people. 

She said: "I was living in Al Hudaydah. My children were going to school. We fled our home because of war, as we were vulnerable to the bombing and hearing its roar over our heads from inside the house. We were living in constant fear.”

She described her life in the camp, saying "I beg door-to-door and on the streets. I beg restaurants and grocery stores to provide lunch for my children.”


Notes to editor

  • Download Oxfam’s report - Fuelling Violence: analysing the human impact of the war in Yemen
  • The report is based on analysis of data provided by the Civilian Impact Project (CIMP) in the period from January 2021 to the end of February 2022, when negotiations for the subsequent truce were taking place.  The truce came into force on 2 April 2022 and ended on 2 October 2022.
  • The Campaign Against the Arms Trade’s legal challenge over the supply of UK weapons for the war in Yemen will proceed in the High Court in London on 31 January until 2 February 2023. Background to the court case can be found on CAAT’s web site
  • The latest figures for the humanitarian context in Yemen come from OCHA’s Yemen Humanitarian Needs Overview 2023 

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