‘Yemen war crimes’: BAE evicts shareholders from AGM over human rights criticisms

Roger Carr, Chairman of BAE Systems. © Toby Melville
BAE Systems evicted a number of shareholders from its AGM on Wednesday who decried the firm’s sale of deadly arms to Saudi Arabia that may have been used to commit war crimes against innocent Yemeni civilians.

Two of the shareholders-come-activists, who are affiliated with Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), staged an early intervention after the arms giant’s chairman Roger Carr took the stage.

Just five minutes into his address, the pair stealthily walked to the front of the room carrying placards denouncing BAE’s complicity in Saudi Arabia’s brutal military campaign against Yemen.

The posters, which were visible for all present to see, bore the caption: “900 children killed in Yemen. Stop arming Saudi Arabia!”

'Blood money'

Hannah Brock, 30, who was dragged out of the AGM by security staff soon after the political act of protest, told RT the actions of herself and her fellow campaigner were justified.

“BAE Systems is one of the biggest arms dealers in the world. The firm doesn’t just profit from war, it incentivizes it,” she said.

“The only time that BAE are legally obliged to face public scrutiny is at their AGM. It is our only chance to question the firm.”

Brock, who is a Right to Refuse to Kill program officer at global antimilitarist network War Resisters’ International, went on to explain she felt compelled to draw attention to BAE’s complicity in grievous violations of international law.

“It’s particularly vital BAE is challenged on Saudi Arabia’s horrendous human rights abuses, as it continues to bombard Yemen, causing an enormous death toll,” she said.

The peace activist accused Britain’s majority conservative government of protecting and supporting the arms giant. She called on MPs to implement an “outright embargo” on UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia and to begin an inquiry into Britain’s role in facilitating possible Saudi war crimes against Yemeni civilians.

BAE’s AGM kicked off at 1100 BST and was held at a conference center in Farnborough, Hampshire.

Roughly 30 activists linked to CAAT had purchased shares in the arms firm to gain access to the annual affair. They reportedly brought in a range of banners bearing quotes from people who had experienced airstrikes in Yemen, which they displayed to other shareholders.

Some peace campaigners were dressed in black, and donned red gloves and black veils for theatrical effect. Others questioned BAE representatives heatedly over the firm’s complicity in Saudi-led human rights abuses. As the day progressed, further activists were reportedly removed from the venue. 

'Serious breaches of international law'

Leading a coalition of nine Arab nations, Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes in Yemen in late March 2015 and also imposed an aerial and naval blockade on the crisis-ridden state. The Saudi-led coalition had hoped to influence the outcome of Yemen's bloody civil war.

The military campaign, which has caused large-scale bloodshed and human suffering, targeted Yemen’s Houthi population and a number of allied insurgent groups who support former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The intervention has been described as a humanitarian catastrophe by human rights experts, including key United Nations (UN) officials. By July 2015, the UN had described the humanitarian situation in the war-torn state as a “Level 3” emergency – the highest emergency ranking it ascribes.

A report published last September by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) found that close to two-thirds of Yemeni civilians killed since the military operation was launched had perished as a result of Saudi-led airstrikes.

The following August, the UN special representative of the secretary-general for children and armed conflict said that 73 percent of Yemeni kids killed since the military assault began were victims of Saudi-led airstrikes.

Britain's cross-party international development committee demanded an independent international inquiry into serious human rights breaches committed by all sides in the Yemen conflict on Wednesday.

The move will likely anger UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who previously rejected global condemnation of Saudi Arabia. The Gulf state is a close British ally.

BAE's stake in Saudi arms market

Saudi Arabia is BAE's third biggest market, according to CAAT. Large-scale arms sales date back decades and include BAE’s Tornado and Typhoon combat planes, which are being used in Yemen.

This year alone, 22 BAE Hawk aircraft were contracted to Saudi Arabia. The arms giant also brokered a mammoth £1.6 billion deal with the Gulf kingdom in 2012, involving the supply of 22 Hawk aircraft and 55 PC-21 Pilatus training combat planes.

BAE also employees 5,300 staff in Saudi Arabia, who support the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) and the Royal Saudi Naval Force (RSNF).

RT asked BAE Systems to comment on why shareholders had been removed from the AGM. A spokesperson for the arms giant initially declined to confirm or deny the incident had occurred.

A second spokesperson for the firm later said: “There were a number of protesters removed from the meeting today. The AGM is the one time in the year that shareholders have the opportunity to hear from the board and ask questions about the business and we welcome all those who want to do that in a way that is courteous to other shareholders.”

BAE Systems chairman Roger Carr and CEO Ian King used the event to review the firm’s financial performance in 2015.

“Whilst economic and geopolitical conditions remain volatile, we have started the year with good momentum and the business is performing well,” King said.

“In 2016 and beyond, we are well placed to continue to generate attractive returns for shareholders.”