A former cabinet minister has called on the UK government to stand up to Saudi Arabia after an air strike in Yemen hit a school bus, killing and injuring dozens of children.
Andrew Mitchell, the former international development secretary, told BuzzFeed News that Britain needed to move to a “far more neutral position” at the United Nations and had a duty to ensure the country did not breach international humanitarian laws.
He spoke out after a Saudi-led coalition air strike hit the northern province of Saada in Yemen on Thursday, killing 51 people including 40 children, and injuring 79 including 56 children, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The Labour party and campaign groups have accused the UK government of being complicit in the attack by selling Saudi Arabia billions of pounds worth of arms and embedding UK military liaison officers and advisers in the country.
But UK ministers have long insisted that Britain has no role in executing air strikes or in setting the policy of the Saudi-led coalition.
Mitchell said: “I think the attack on a school bus should provide all parties to this conflict with a wake-up call to just how catastrophic on all fronts it is.”
He called on the UK government to condemn the Saudi-led attack “with the same vigour” that it condemns attacks by Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement on Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh and other targets.
Mitchell added: “I think the government should move to a far more neutral position at the United Nations: as the pen-holder at the UN [the state in charge of drafting statements on Yemen], the government is not adequately exercising its duty to secure a peaceful negotiation.”
He said the UK must give “every possible support” to the UN initiative led by the UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, who has been “impressively successful at nudging all the principled parties in the Yemen conflict towards talks”.
“He deserves the complete support of the British government – and efforts such as the bombing of the children on the bus which could derail these embryonic talks should be condemned outright,” Mitchell said.
As of mid-afternoon on Friday, the Foreign Office had not yet issued a statement on the air strike in Yemen – more than 36 hours after the attack in Dahyan.
Asked whether Britain should stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia, Mitchell said: “It’s clear that the sale of British arms into this conflict is becoming an increasingly important issue.
“But everyone should recognise that the Saudis are a wealthy country surrounded by enemies and they will buy these arms, and therefore for the children murdered on that bus, the sale of the arms is a second order issue. The first order issue is weaponry being used in breach of international law.”
Via: Buzz Feed