British police look at allegations of Saudi war crimes in Yemen
British investigators at Scotland Yard are examining allegations of war crimes by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, a possible diplomatic row with Britain on the eve of UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to the Arab state.
The London Metropolitan police confirmed that their war crimes unit was assessing whether criminal prosecutions could be brought over Saudi Arabia’s devastating aerial campaign in Yemen.
The force’s SO15 counter-terrorism unit revealed to a London human rights lawyer that it had launched a “scoping exercise” into the claims before Saudi Major General Ahmed al-Asiri’s visit to the British capital last week.
The revelation comes as May plans to underline Britain’s close relationship with the Saudi royal family on her visit to the Arab state this week, in which tackling the terror threat from Islamic State will be a key factor.
Speaking in advance of the trip, in which she will also visit Jordan, the prime minister said she wanted to “herald a further intensification in relations between our countries and deepen true strategic partnerships”.
But the trip comes under the shadow of a war in Yemen that has killed more than 10,000 civilians and displaced more than 3 million people. The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of killing thousands of civilians and triggering a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the region’s poorest countries.
The UK, which along with the US supports the Saudis , has been urged to reconsider its arms exports to Saudi Arabia in light of the bloody air campaign.
In a letter from a detective inspector in SO15, which has been seen by the Guardian, Scotland Yard said: “I can confirm we have commenced a scoping exercise into the allegations you have raised regarding potential crimes in Yemen, committed by the international coalition who have intervened in the conflict between pro- and anti-government forces.”
The letter, dated March 31, goes on to say that if detectives believed Asiri was in the UK “we will consider any opportunities to arrest or interview any individual, should we deem the action to be proportionate, legal and necessary as part of the scoping exercise”.
Officers are carrying out the scoping exercise to assess whether a full-scale investigation is justified into the war crimes allegations. It is understood that detectives are to examine whether there is an identifiable suspect and, if not, whether there is a realistic prospect of identifying one.
Daniel Machover of Hickman & Rose, the London-based law firm that received the Scotland Yard letter, said: “The prosecuting authorities are legally obliged to seek out and, where the evidence permits, prosecute (or extradite for prosecution) those in their jurisdiction who are suspected of war crimes.
“Given the serious allegations against him, the Foreign Office should confirm that it will not stand in the way of due process and the rule of law by granting him special mission immunity in any future visit to this country.”
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “On Thursday, 30 March 2017 the Metropolitan police service (MPS) received a referral of an allegation of war crimes, made against Saudi Arabia committed in Yemen.
“Following receipt of the referral, the MPS war crimes team (part of the counter-terrorism command) began a scoping exercise and contacted those making the allegations. There is no investigation at this time, and the scoping exercise continues.”
Asiri, who regularly appears in the media to defend Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen, was pelted with an egg by protesters and subjected to an attempted citizen’s arrest before a seminar in London on Friday.