Tuesday, October 6, 2015
By Ian Black
Amnesty calls for suspension of arms transfers as group says it has evidence of war crimes in Yemen conflict.Britain is being urged to halt the supply of weapons to its ally Saudi Arabia in the light of evidence that civilians are being killed in Saudi-led attacks on rebel forces in Yemen.
Amnesty International has warned that “damning evidence of war crimes” highlights the urgent need for an independent investigation of violations and for the suspension of transfer of arms used in the attacks.
Amnesty said it found a pattern of “appalling disregard” for civilian lives by the Saudi-led coalition in an investigation of 13 air strikes in north-eastern Saada governorate during May, June and July: these killed some 100 civilians – including 59 children and 22 women and injured a further 56, including 18 children.
“In at least four of the airstrikes investigated … homes attacked were struck more than once, suggesting that they had been the intended targets despite no evidence they were being used for military purposes,” it said.
The complexities of the war in Yemen – overshadowed by the larger and more familiar conflict in Syria – were underlined again on Tuesday when a new affiliate of Islamic State claimed responsibility for four suicide bombings in the port city of Aden that killed at least 15 people including Saudi, Emirati and Yemeni troops.
The UAE and other Gulf states are also taking part in the campaign against Yemeni Houthi rebels of the Zaydi sect who are widely seen as being supported by Iran, Saudi Arabia’s strategic rival. The declared aim is to restore the internationally recognised government of president Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is currently in Aden, having fled the capital, Sana’a, when the Houthis took over.
Since last March coalition air strikes have hit homes, schools, markets and other civilian infrastructure, as well as miltiary objectives. Saada, a Houthi stronghold, has been badly hit. Thousands who remain in the governorate “live in constant fear of the airstrikes and dire humanitarian conditions”, Amnesty says.
UN efforts to broker negotiations between the combatants are due to resume in the next couple of weeks, while NGOs warn of a looming disaster in the poorest country in the Gulf and the wider Arab world.
According to the UN, the Yemen conflict has killed about 5,000 people and wounded 25,000, among them many civilians. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said more than 114,000 people had fled and predicted the figure could reach 200,000 by the end of 2016.
“The conflict and restrictions imposed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition on the import of essential goods have exacerbated an already acute humanitarian situation resulting from years of poverty, poor governance and instability,” Amnesty says. Currently 80% – or four in five of all Yemenis – need some form of humanitarian assistance.
The call to the UK is made because it is a major supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia, including a recent consignment of 500lb Paveway IV bombs, used by Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets, which are manufactured and supplied by the UK arms company BAE Systems. Both aircraft have been used in Yemen. UK ministers have said that Saudi Arabia has provided it with assurances of their proper use.
“The UK government has previously claimed its arms are being properly used in Yemen, but what on earth is it basing this on?” said Amnesty International UK’s arms control programme director Oliver Sprague. “It seems to be no more than claims from the Saudi Arabian authorities themselves. With mounting evidence of the reckless nature of the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign in Yemen, the government must urgently investigate whether UK-supplied weaponry has killed civilians in places like Saada.”
The US is also a major arms supplier to Saudi Arabia. Amnesty also said coalition forces have repeatedly launched strikes using internationally banned cluster bombs.
In a shocking decision, Saudi Arabia has reportedly warned social media users that spreading rumors about the government could face an Internet ban – or execution.
Russian jets hit 12 Islamic State targets in the course of nearly 20 combat flights carried out in Syria on Tuesday, the Defense Ministry said. Command centers and training camps were destroyed in the attacks which threw the extremists into panic.
"Su-34, Su-24M and Su-25 have launched air strikes on 12 objects of logistic infrastructure, command posts, training camps and facilities of militants belonging to terrorist groups allied with Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL],” Igor Konashenkov, Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Russian jets destroyed an Islamic State army munitions plant outside Damascus as well as two command centers in Deir ez-Zor, according to the ministry’s statement. In the Idlib Governorate, a training camp for IS militants was eliminated, while several IS strongholds came under attack where ammunition depots were blown up.
Russia’s Su-34 fighters attacked an Islamic State stronghold near the Gmam settlement in Latakia, where “militants’ fortifications were completely destroyed,” according to Konashenkov, who also reported “numerous blazes caused by the detonation of ammunition and fuel supplies.”
Russia’s targeted airstrikes have caused “panic” among the militants, Konashenkov said, also stressing that the attacks are not conducted in residential areas or places containing landmarks.
Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry does not rule out the possibility of Islamic State preparing provocative acts in Palmyra and other Syrian cities, such as bomb attacks on mosques, to put the blame for it on Russian aviation, Konashenkov said.
The ministry published a fresh video said to show extremists positioning their hardware near a mosque.
By ALAN BERLOWAN angry and exasperated President Obama, speaking to the nation last Thursday after the slaughter in Roseburg, Ore., made one oblique reference to the National Rifle Association, asking gun owners to question whether their “views are properly being represented by the organization that suggests it’s speaking for you.” It’s a fair question, and not only because the N.R.A. has single-handedly dictated the shape of the debate over guns for decades. Whether they own guns or not, Americans should understand the outsize role the N.R.A. plays, not only in thwarting sensible gun safety laws but also in undermining law enforcement by abetting gun traffickers, criminal gun dealers and criminal gun users. The N.R.A., which claims some 4.5 million members, often professes to speak for all gun owners — hunters, sportsmen, collectors and ordinary Americans who keep guns for self-defense. But on some issues, most gun owners clearly reject the party line. In 2012, the Republican pollster Frank Luntz found that 87 percent of gun owners supported criminal background or “Brady” checks for all gun purchases. Following the December 2012 massacre of 20 children in Newtown, Conn., another poll showed that 92 percent of Americans supported background checks for all buyers, including those buying on the Internet and at gun shows. But by April 2013, when the Senate considered a bill to do just that, the N.R.A. campaign to defeat it was in full swing. The N.R.A. tagged the bill as a top priority and made clear that senators who opposed it risked receiving a low N.R.A. rating, which many of its single-issue supporters use in deciding how to vote, or a flood of negative television ads. Licensed gun dealers slated to run the new background checks would have reaped millions, as thousands of new customers would have been sent to their stores. But like many members of Congress — who cower in fear of the ratings system and negative campaign advertising — the dealers knew not to cross the N.R.A. So the measure went down, with opponents arguing that criminals don’t bother submitting to background checks. That story wasn’t quite accurate, though. Since some background checks were first implemented in 1994, gun dealers have turned away more than two million felons, drug users, unauthorized immigrants and other “prohibited persons,” according to a report by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. When the organization’s chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, calls the N.R.A. “one of the largest law enforcement organizations in the country,” nothing could be further from the truth. Consider, for example, the federal law requiring licensed gun dealers to notify the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a single purchaser buys two or more handguns within five days. The A.T.F. knows that multiple purchases are an indicator of trafficking, and that traffickers can evade the law by making a single purchase from five, 10 or 20 different gun stores. So why doesn’t the A.T.F. crosscheck those purchases? Because Congress, under pressure from the N.R.A., prevents the federal government from keeping a centralized database that could instantly identify multiple sales. Gun sale records are instead inconveniently “archived” by the nation’s gun dealers at 60,000 separate locations — the stores or residences of the nation’s federally licensed gun dealers, with no requirement for digital records. Rather than preventing crimes by identifying a trafficker before he sells guns to potentially lethal criminals, the A.T.F. has to wait until the police recover those guns from multiple crime scenes. Then law enforcement officials can begin the laborious process of tracing each gun from the manufacturer or importer to various middlemen, the retail seller, the original retail purchaser and one or more subsequent buyers. Meanwhile, dealers who work with traffickers are protected by another N.R.A.-backed measure that ensures that firearms dealers do not have to maintain inventories. Think about that: A car dealer keeps an inventory to know when cars go missing so the police can track them down as quickly as possible. Why the lack of curiosity among gun dealers? Well, gun dealers must report lost and stolen guns to the A.T.F. because large numbers of missing weapons are a red flag for trafficking. Without an inventory requirement, it’s easier to sell guns off the books. Do most gun owners want the N.R.A. to protect criminal dealers? I doubt it. The A.T.F., which has helped convict tens of thousands of gun criminals, has of course been a perennial target of the N.R.A., and the lobbying group has worked relentlessly to limit the A.T.F.’s budget and strangle its operations. Today’s A.T.F. operates with about the same number of agents as it did 40 years ago, fewer than the number of officers in the Washington, D.C., police force, yet it is charged with investigating violations of federal gun, arson, explosive and other laws nationwide. Since the N.R.A. seems to loathe the A.T.F., one might think it would work to disband it or have its mission performed by an agency like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with its more polished and professional public image. But the N.R.A. prefers the hobbled A.T.F. just as it is, and every year it helps ensure that Congress approves legislation banning the transfer of A.T.F. operations to any other agency. You don’t get much more cynical than that. Since his daughter, the journalist Alison Parker, was shot dead in August while presenting an on-air broadcast, Andy Parker has been on a campaign to “shame” lawmakers whom he says are “cowards and in the pockets of the N.R.A.” Some of those lawmakers might prove to be less cowardly if they understood that the N.R.A. was no longer the voice of law-abiding gun owners, but rather a voice for criminals.