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Conflict and Complicity: 11,000 Civilian Casualties Caused by Saudi Coalition’s Use of Explosive Weapons in Yemen Since 2015

New data shows the extent of the death toll that can be placed at Saudi Arabia’s door, as Boris Johnson seeks closer energy ties with the Gulf state

Campaigners from Amnesty International carrying a batch of five giant dummy missiles to Downing Street. Photo: Photo: Yui Mok/PA Archive/PA Images

CONFLICT AND COMPLICITY11,000 Civilian Casualties Caused by Saudi Coalition’s Use of Explosive Weapons in Yemen Since 2015

New data shows the extent of the death toll that can be placed at Saudi Arabia’s door – as Boris Johnson seeks closer energy ties with the Gulf state

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Almost 11,000 civilian casualties have been caused by the Saudi-led coalition’s use of explosive weapons in Yemen since its military interventions began in 2015, data from Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) reveals.

AOAV has recorded 15,905 civilian deaths and injuries from the use of explosive weapons in Yemen since 2015, accounting for 70% of the total recorded casualties in the country from explosive weapons (22,843). Of the civilian casualties, 68% (10,854) have been caused by the Saudi-led coalition’s and Saudi Arabia’s use of explosive weapons.

Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition have been the primary weapon of harm to civilians, accounting for 9,881 civilian deaths and injuries.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is visiting Saudi Arabia today in an effort to ramp up energy exports to the West – following the decision to divest from Russian oil and gas due to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

AOAV data reveals that Saudi Arabia has killed or injured almost 800% more civilians in Yemen over the past decade from explosive violence than Russian forces (and Russian-backed separatists) have harmed in Ukraine.

Taking data from English-language media sources, AOAV has evidence that, over the past decade, the Saudi led air-campaign over Yemen has killed or injured almost 11,000 civilians – compared to the more than 1,200 civilians reported to have been harmed by Russian-backed operations in Ukraine.

This is not to diminish the casualties suffered in Ukraine, which are likely to markedly increase in the coming weeks. Rather, the comparison shows the double-standards of Johnson’s Government, in pursuing closer energy ties with Saudi Arabia.

Both figures are likely to be conservative estimates owing to the limitations of reliable reporting in conflict zones. Russia has also been responsible for countless deaths in Syria.

The UN has estimated that the war in Yemen had killed 377,000 people by the end of 2021. More than 150,000 of these deaths were the direct result of the armed conflict, while a greater proportion have died due to hunger and disease as a result of the humanitarian crisis caused by the war. 

This morning, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Sky News that although she does not agree with all the policies of the Saudi Government – questioned in particular about its public execution of 81 people in recent days – “the reality is we are facing an aggressor in Vladimir Putin, who is wantonly destroying a neighbouring sovereign nation and we do need to work with countries across the world to find alternative sources of oil and gas”.

But is Saudi Arabia not also – as Truss described Russia – a country that is “wantonly destroying a neighbouring sovereign nation”? 

‘Dictator to Dictator’

Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen are only outranked in harm caused to civilians from explosive violence since 2011 by Syrian regime forces (25,074 civilian casualties), and ‘unknown’ state users of explosive weapons (17,317).

Though the leading perpetrator of civilian casualties from explosive weapons use so far in 2022, Russia ranks sixth as a perpetrator since 2011 (4,685) – though Russia may well be part of the ‘unknown’ belligerents in Syria.

Russia’s status as the leading state perpetrator of civilian casualties from explosive weapons this year is down to Putin’s indiscriminate bombing of populated areas in Ukraine.

According to AOAV data, the Russian state has caused at least 582 civilian casualties from explosive weapons use in Ukraine. Saudi Arabia is the second-worst perpetrator, causing 390 civilian casualties to date this year.

However, as Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen enters its seventh year, the average number of civilian casualties per incident of explosive weapons use is nearly double that of Russia’s average in Ukraine.

In Ukraine, there is an average of seven civilian casualties per explosive weapon strike by Russian armed forces. In Yemen, the average number of civilian casualties killed and injured per strike by the Saudi-led coalition is 15.

The UK has approved arms export licenses worth £8.2 billion to the Saudi-led coalition since 2015. In June 2019, the Court of Appeal concluded that the Government’s decision-making process for granting export licences to Saudi Arabia was “irrational” and therefore “unlawful”. However, the UK announced a year later that it was resuming sales to the country.

Byline Times has previously revealed that £56 million worth of export licenses for military goods have been approved to Russia since 2010 (not including the current crisis) – £18 million more than the value of military export licenses approved to Ukraine.

The Government’s attempt to expand ties with Saudi Arabia also fits an economic pattern, with trade increasing markedly since the 2016 EU Referendum with countries listed on the UK’s human rights watchlist.

“Going cap in hand from dictator to dictator is not an energy strategy,” Labour Leader Keir Starmer has said of Johnson’s Saudi Arabia trip. “Saying we are not going to rely on Russia and then going to Saudi Arabia is not an energy strategy.”

Additional reporting by Emily Griffith

Iain Overton, executive director of AOAV, also leads the Byline Intelligence Team

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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