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.
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.