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UK must halt arms sales to Saudi as new evidence shows schools targeted in Yemen airstrikes

  • 1,000 schools out of operation - 254 completely destroyed
  • Report published ahead of peace talks scheduled for next week
  • UK and USA should suspend all transfers of weapons which are being used to commit violations of international law

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces have carried out a series of air strikes targeting schools that were still in use, in violation of international humanitarian law Amnesty International said in a new briefing published today. The coalition forces are armed by states including the UK and the USA.

The briefing investigates five air strikes on schools which took place between August and October killing five civilians and injuring at least 14 people, including four children. While students were not present inside the schools during the attacks, the strikes caused serious damage. In some cases the schools were struck more than once, suggesting the strikes were deliberately targeted. Amnesty is calling for the five attacks to be independently investigated.

Yemen’s entire education system has suffered as a result of the conflict. The Sana’a based Ministry of Education shared data with Amnesty which shows that more than 1,000 schools are out of operation: 254 have been completely destroyed, 608 are partially damaged and 421 are being used as shelters. According to UNICEF at least 34% of children in Yemen have not been to school since the air strikes began in March.

Although there have been occasions where schools in Yemen have been used for military purposes by the various parties to the conflict, in all five of the cases highlighted in Amnesty’s briefing no weapon remnants, evidence of secondary explosions or any other evidence was found to indicate that the schools had been used for military purposes.

The UK, as a party to the Arms Trade Treaty and one of its key supporters, is prohibited from authorising any arms transfer if it has knowledge that the arms would be used to commit attacks against civilians or civilian objects or in other violations of international humanitarian law.

Lama Fakih, Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty, recently returned from Yemen, said:

“Deliberately attacking schools that are not military objectives and directly attacking civilians not participating in hostilities are war crimes.

“Regardless of the outcome of planned peace talks next week it is crucial that independent investigations into these and other unlawful strikes are undertaken and that those responsible are held to account.

“It is simply appalling that the USA and other allies of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition have continued to authorise arms transfers to members of the coalition, despite the clear evidence that they are not complying with the laws of war – international humanitarian law. All such transfers must halt immediately.”

Last month the US State Department approved an arms transfer worth US $1.29 billion to Saudi Arabia, which includes the transfer of general purpose bombs from the Mark/ MK89 series, despite the fact that Amnesty has documented their use in unlawful air strikes that have killed scores of civilians.

The UK and the USA should suspend all transfers of weapons which are being used to commit violations of international law, including war crimes, to those carrying out attacks. In particular, states supplying arms to coalition forces should suspend transfers of general purpose bombs, fighter jets, combat helicopters and their associated parts and components.

UN Security Council Resolution 2225 on children in armed conflict adopted earlier this year calls on all parties to conflict to “respect the civilian character of schools” and expresses serious concern that the military use of schools may render them legitimate targets of attack under international law endangering the safety of children.

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