Article @ Morning Star, published 23 May 2016
Human rights campaigners are demanding an urgent investigation into evidence that banned British-made cluster bombs may have been used to slaughter children in Yemen.
Amnesty International demanded “full government disclosure” over whether any British personnel were involved in dropping the BL-755 bombs from British-supplied Tornado jets.
The campaign called on Prime Minister David Cameron to review Britain’s alliance with Saudi Arabia, which is leading attacks on Yemen and still receives British arms licences despite an EU embargo.
Amnesty UK arms control director Oliver Sprague said: “Cluster bombs are one of the nastiest weapons in the history of warfare, rightly banned by more than 100 countries, so it’s truly shocking that a British cluster munition has been dropped on a civilian area in Yemen.
“Given that this type of cluster bomb is very likely to have been used in combination with Tornado war planes which the UK has also sold to Saudi Arabia, there’s even a possibility that British support personnel might have been involved in the cluster bombing of Yemen.”
Amnesty inspectors found a partially exploded BL-755 near a farm in the Hajjah governorate. The bomb was originally manufactured in the 1970s by Bedfordshire’s Hunting Engineering Ltd.
BL-755s are banned under international law and can contain up to 147 bomblets designed to burn through tank armour, which scatter on impact but often don’t detonate until picked up.
Cluster bombs and their bomblets often take the lives of civilians unaware of their dangerous nature.
In one recent incident on March 1, an eight-year-old was killed after unwittingly playing with some discarded bomblets while herding goats with his older brother.
In the explosion, the 11-year-old brother lost three fingers and suffered severe shrapnel injuries.
He said: “We go down every day to the valley to herd goats, where there are many small bombs.
“We found four of them in the morning, they were cylindrical with a red ribbon.
“We carried them with us while herding. At around 1pm, I started to take the red string with my right hand and pull and [my brother] pulled on the other end of it and then it went off and I fell back.
“[My brother] was hurt in his stomach and he had fallen down too. We didn’t know it would hurt us.”
According to Campaign Against Arms Trade, the British government has made £2.8 billion in arms sales to the Saudi monarchy since March 2015 — when its attacks on Yemen began.
A Foreign Office spokesman told the Star that “the government is satisfied that extant licences for Saudi Arabia are compliant with this export licensing criteria.
“British personnel are not involved in carrying out strikes, directing or conducting operations in Yemen or selecting targets and are not involved in the Saudi targeting decision-making process.”
But Stop the War’s Lindsey German said: “This is the latest example of Saudi Arabia’s dirty British-backed war in Yemen.
“British military advisers, British planes and British bombs are killing civilians including children there.
“We should break all links with Saudi now and stop supporting this ultra-reactionary regime.”