The Australian government must ensure that its military exports are not contributing to violations of international law by the warring parties in Yemen, Save the Children, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch said in a joint letter today to the Australian ministers of foreign affairs and defence.
The Australian government should cease supplying military assets to Saudi Arabia until it halts unlawful airstrikes and other unlawful attacks and credibly investigates alleged war crimes, the letter says.
Australia recently made clear its intention to become one of the world’s largest military exporters; however, the nongovernmental organizations warn this comes with a responsibility to ensure these exports are not being used in violation of international human rights and international humanitarian law.
Yemen’s armed conflict has worsened, to become the world’s largest humanitarian emergency, with 22.2 million Yemenis, including 11.3 million children, in need of aid. The country is on the brink of famine with many facing starvation and deadly diseases. The warring parties have committed numerous unlawful attacks and mistreated people in custody. Since the war began in March 2015, at least 6,600 civilians have been killed, including 2,398 children, according to the United Nations human rights office.
“Australia should use its place on the world stage to end human rights abuses, rather than supplying means to potentially prolong them,” said Save the Children director of policy and international programs Mat Tinkler.
“Australia has been a generous donor to the Yemen humanitarian response, giving A$23 million since April 2017. But, at the same time, the government needs to ensure that Australia is not inadvertently facilitating the killing and maiming of children through the export of military assets. We are seeking an urgent guarantee from the government that Australian assets are in no way contributing to unlawful attacks on children,” he said.
The Australian government has been unwilling to disclose the details of its military exports to Saudi Arabia and other coalition members, despite repeated requests by human rights organizations since 2015. Save the Children, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch are now seeking guarantees that Australia’s military exports to Saudi Arabia are not being used to commit or facilitate violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.
"The Australian government needs to stop sidestepping our calls to publicly report on the exact nature of all military exports to Saudi Arabia to date and to its coalition partners in the war in Yemen, and to cease any future military transfers while there remains a substantial risk these arms could be used to commit war crimes against civilians," said Amnesty International Australia national director Claire Mallinson.
Alarming attacks on civilians in Yemen continue. On August 9, a coalition airstrike hit a bus in Sa’ada that was carrying dozens of children for a summer school trip. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported that 51 people died, including 40 children. On August 23, an airstrike killed 22 children and four women in Al-Durayhimi, the UN relief chief reported. The women and children were fleeing fighting when their vehicle was struck.
“The Saudi-led coalition has bombed weddings, hospitals and markets, failed to credibly investigate war crimes, and offered empty promises of redress to civilian victims,” said Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson. “Australia should stop supplying Saudi Arabia with arms or risk complicity in future unlawful attacks.”