Letter #2

I am in the process of writing a letter to my local MP, Andrew Jones – this time about British Cluster Bombs being used against civilians in Yemen. Cluster bombs are an illegal weapon, banned under international law since 2008. Amnesty International uncovered a British-made BL-755 – a particularly nasty model, which consists of a large bomb that opens mid-air to scatter 147 smaller explosive bomblets across a wide area.

What is a cluster Bomb?

The below is the final draft of a letter I intend to send to Andrew Jones.


Dear Mr. Jones,

In this letter I am writing to you – well, I am almost embarrassed: The UK is fueling the deadly conflict in Yemen through reckless arms sales to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition – these sales break UK laws and the global Arms Trade Treaty it once championed. I was prompted to write this letter by the information I found on Amnesty’s website – I figure rather than sign a one-size-fits-all petition to the Prime Minister, I would write to you as a human and as a concerned constituent.

Amnesty International’s research team recently visited Yemen to collect evidence of human rights abuses. What they discovered was a UK-made cluster bomb, used by the coalition in a series of strikes on civilians.

At least 16 civilians, including nine children, have been maimed, and two children killed. Many more people are still at risk from thousands of un-exploded cluster bombs left in their neighbourhoods.

On 16 April 2016, in a village around 10km from the Saudi Arabian border, two brothers aged nine and twelve were herding goats in the valley nearby. The nine-year-old boy found two un-exploded cluster bombs and gave one to his brother.

‘I found the bomb and I went and gave it to my brother so he can have one and I had one. He hit them against each other and they exploded and I found myself lying on the ground.’

He survived but his 12-year-old brother was killed on the spot, his abdomen torn open and his arm severed.

On 1 March, “Walid” (children’s names have been changed for their security) another 11-year-old from a nearby area, was also hurt by a submunition, losing three of his fingers and breaking his jaw. His brother, “Samih,” an eight year old, was killed.

Walid told Amnesty International that he and Samih were near the village of Fard, al-Safra directorate in Sa’da, on 1 March when they encountered multiple submunitions while herding goats in a valley. He said that he and Samih were carrying around and playing with submunitions for several hours when one eventually exploded around 1pm, killing Samih instantly and injuring Walid. Amnesty International observed that Walid lost three fingers on his right hand and that he had had an operation to insert steel plates in his left jaw, which was broken in the blast. He also sustained shrapnel injuries to his chest and legs.

“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 [Samih] pulled on the other end of it and then it went off and I fell back. [Samih] was hurt in his stomach and he had fallen down too. We didn’t know it would hurt us.”

Based on the description, these appear to be ground-launched “ZP 39” DPICM submunitions, which have been documented by Human Rights Watch in northern Yemen in May 2015.

Cluster bombs are an illegal weapon, banned under international law since 2008.

Amnesty International uncovered a British-made BL-755 – a particularly nasty model, which consists of a large bomb that opens mid-air to scatter 147 smaller explosive bomblets across a wide area. The bomblets eject a stream of molten metal as they detonate, which is designed to pierce metal armour. After this, they explode into more than 2,000 fragments killing and maiming all in the vicinity.

Even if they don’t explode on impact, they become ticking time bombs for civilians on the ground, with hundreds of live, lethal devices left scattered across the drop zone. The bombs are known to be in the stockpiles of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

This type of cluster bomb was originally manufactured in the UK in 1970/80’s and likely sold to a member of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition some years ago. But regardless of when this was sold the UK has a responsibility, under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, to ensure these weapons are never used.

How many more people must die? I am asking if you can raise a point in the House Of Commons calling on the UK government to stop selling arms to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition carrying out illegal and indiscriminate airstrikes in Yemen.

So far, they’ve ignored Anmnesty’s calls. When pressed on the matter, UK ministers have said that Saudi Arabia has provided it with ‘assurances’ of their proper use.

This is unacceptable. Parliament must not ignore the deaths of civilians.

Demand an urgent investigation into the use of cluster bombs and an immediate end to these weapons sales.

Yours faithfully,

Andrew W. Backhouse


As ever, I am not expecting a reply from my MP – although this is democracy in action and in the interests of democracy I will publish his reply up here if I get the opportunity. I have created a category for my correspondence with Andrew Jones MP  – if you want to dip your toe in ill-thought-out policies and leftist rebuke then that is the place to head.


  1. The reply –

    “Dear Mr. B_________

    Thank you for contacting me regarding the conflict in Yemen.

    The Government is committed to pushing for a ceasefire in the short-term and for a long-term diplomatic resolution to the conflict in Yemen. I know that Ministers in Foreign Affairs are using diplomatic pressure and the Department for International Development (DFID) continues to lead global efforts in providing emergency assistance. The Government recently committed a further £75million in humanitarian aid to Yemen which will provide vital assistance to those caught up in the conflict.

    The UK Government is in regular contact with the Saudi authorities regarding the situation in Yemen through our Embassy in Riyadh and our Yemen Office based in Jeddah. The Foreign Minister, Philip Hammond MP spoke to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir at a recent UN General Assembly. Mr. Hammond underlined the importance of a political solution to the current crisis as soon as possible and reinforced the necessity of compliance with international humanitarian law.

    The UK operates one of the the most rigorous and transparent export control regimes. All UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia are scrutinised in detail through established processes and against the EU and national consolidated criteria. This process takes account of all relevant information at the time of the application. A license will not be issued, for any country, if to do so would be inconsistent with any provision of the UK Licensing Criteria. This includes includes if there is a clear risk that it might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

    However I understand your concern on this matter. I have therefore written to the Under Secretary of State in the Foreign Office, Tobias Ellwood MP, to ask that he also respond to the points raised in your email. When I receive a response I will contact you again.

    If in the meantime there are any other matters with which I can be of assistance please do not hesitate to contact me again.

    Yours sincerely,
    Andrew Jones MP


  2. I would point out that these weapons have been used in human rights law violations, against civilians, and that many arms sales are arranged at UK expos but actually conducted outside UK borders.


  3. Dear Mr B_________

    Further to our correspondence regarding the conflict in Yemen I have received a response from the Under Secretary of State in the Foreign Office, Tobias Ellwood MP. Please find enclosed a copy of Mr Ellwood’s response.

    If you have any questions or queries about the contents of the letter please let me know.

    Thank you again for your correspondence.

    Yours sincerely,
    Andrew Jones MP


  4. [The letter from Tobias Ellwood MP to Andrew Jones MP]

    Thank you for your letter of 8 June on behalf of your constituent, Mr Andrew B__________ of Flat X, XX Dragon Parade, Harrogate, HG1 5XX, about the arms trade with Saudi Arabia and the conflict in Yemen.

    The UK Government takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. All export licence applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria (the “Consolidated Criteria”), taking account of all relevant factors at the time of the application. A license will not be issued, for any country, including Saudi Arabia, if to do so would be inconsistent with any provision of the mandatory Criteria, including where we asses there is clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

    The Consolidated Criteria were updated in March 2014 to make them both consistent with the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and the Common Position. Criterion 2c provides that a licence must be refused if there is a “clear risk” that the equipment might be used in the commission of a serious violation of IHL. All relevant information is taken into account as part of any assessment under the Criteria.

    I share your constituent’s concerns about the crisis in Yemen and the impact it has on civilians, particularly children. As I stated in my evidence to the International Development Committee on 27 January, the situation in Yemen remains of deep concern to the UK Government. We agree on the need for urgent action to prevent a further deterioration and to provide life-saving assistance to the Yemeni population. The UK has played a leadership role withing the international community, in particular with regards to humanitarian and commercial shipping access to all of Yemen’s sea ports. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defense will continue to work closely to improve the humanitarian situation and support peace and stability in Yemen.

    The UK supports the Saudi Arabian-led Coalition’s military intervention in Yemen, which came at the request of President Hadi, the head of the legitimate Government of Yemen, to deter aggression by the Houthis and forces loyal to the former President Saleh, and allow for the return of the legitimate Yemeni Government. Saudi Arabia and the Coalition have played a crucial role in reversing the military advance of the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Saleh.

    The UK has supplied munitions to assist the Saudi Air Force under existing arrangements. The Government of Saudi Arabia faces a number of security challenges, with concerns arising from the fractious regional situation and external sources, and so has a legitimate requirement in the performance of its sovereign defensive responsibilities.

    I would like to reiterate that the Government can and does respond to changing circumstances and is able to review, suspend or revoke licenses when required. On the basis of the information currently available, we are satisfied that all extant UK licenses for the export of arms to Saudi Arabia are compliant with the Consolidated Criteria. All available relevant information, including reports from Non-Governmental Organisations, our overseas network and the media is taken into account as part of the assessment and this is under regular review. I can assure your constituent that the conflict in Yemen is being monitored closely, and relevant information from that monitoring is taken into account as part of the careful risk assessment for the licensing of exports to Saudi Arabia.

    Your constituent calls for an investigation in to the use of cluster bombs and an immediate end to these weapon sales. The UK has not supplied cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia since the 1980’s. The UK ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions on 4 May 2010 and we no longer supply, maintain or support these weapons. We have not done so since we signed the Convention in 2008. We are aware of reports, including from Amnesty International on 6 June, of the alleged used of cluster munitions in the Saudi-led Coalition campaign in Yemen. The government takes such allegations very seriously. We are analysing the case and seeking clarifications from the Saudi-led Coalition.

    In line with our obligations under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, we have already made it clear to the Suadi Arabians that we cannot support the use of cluster munitions in any circumstances. We have raised the issue with the Saudi Arabian authorities and, in line with our obligations under the convention on Cluster Munitions, we encourage Saudi Arabia, as a non-party to the Convention, to accede to it.

    The most effective way to achieve a lasting solution to the crisis in Yemen is through political negotiation. We welcome and fully support the UN facilitated talks which began on 21 April in Kuwait. We work closely with the UN to encourage parties to engage in good faith, without preconditions, and to respect the ceasefire which started on 10 April. A political solution to the conflict remains he best way to bring long term stability to Yemen and avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.

    Yours sincerely
    Tobias Ellwood.


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