A striking 16-metre-high mural commissioned by Christian Aid is grabbing the attention of passers-by in London – with a critical message.
In the heart of Clerkenwell’s design district, and created with the help of urban artists Undercover Arts, the painting depicts a young Yemeni boy with a gift bag full of guns, seemingly a Christmas present from the UK.
Why? To send a provocative message to the UK Government for its part in fuelling the civil war in Yemen which has pushed 1.8 million children to the edge of famine.
‘This image is not designed to send a warm and fuzzy Christmas feeling,’ said Chine McDonald, Christian Aid’s media and PR lead. ‘Because the story of war in Yemen is not a pretty one; and sadly our government is complicit in it.’
The mural coincides with the release of Christian Aid’s new report, 'Resourcing war and peace: time to address the UK Government’s double standards.'
It was launched today by Christian Aid’s chair and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and ties in to a wider debate on British foreign policy being held in the House of Lords by the current Archbishop, Justin Welby.
As the report highlights, while there is much to celebrate about the UK’s role in aid, development and peacebuilding, undermining these efforts are areas of double standards and complicity.
Of particular concern is the UK’s willingness to sell arms to Saudi Arabia despite these being used to wage war in Yemen – a direct violation of the UK’s international commitments to regulate its arms exports to states acting illegally and repressively.
The UK is on track to be one of the world’s biggest arms dealers. Over the past five years, it has sold over two-thirds of its major arms exports to Arab states in the Gulf. Saudi Arabia accounts for 49% of all such exports.
But selling arms into a war zone is an unpopular policy. A ComRes survey commissioned by Christian Aid found that 61% of the British public think the UK Government should stop selling military equipment to Saudi Arabia.
The report points out other double standards. Given the link between poverty and conflict, the UK allocates at least 50% of its development spending to conflict-affected states and regions. Yet more than 50% of its arms exports are now sold to countries in these same regions, which use their armed forces to wage war abroad or repress their own people.
Additionally, the UK is part of a global trend of increasing militarisation. It spends about £37 billion on its military, or nearly £600 per person per year – three times the amount that it spends on aid.
Our report highlights the urgent need for a renewed focus on peacebuilding globally. It calls on the UK Government to address its foreign policy double standards and lead as a peacemaker.
Through Christian Aid’s work on the ground in places of violence and conflict, we know that while peace is broken every day, it is also built every day through the tireless work of local peacemakers.
As part of our Christmas appeal, we’re inviting people to stand together with these frontline peacemakers. In light of our report findings, we’re extending this call to the UK Government.
Christian Aid supporters have already started sending Christmas cards to the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. These cards call on him to be a peacemaker by suspending UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia immediately, and work with all parties to cease hostilities in Yemen.
While the UK continues to sell arms, it increasingly casts a shadow on its attempts to profile itself as a values-based international actor committed to tackling global conflict.
Globally, around two billion people live in countries affected by fragility and conflict. The world’s poorest communities are disproportionately affected by violence. Now more than ever, we need peace.
Rowan Williams, Christian Aid’s chair and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said:
‘We can’t pretend that British involvement in war is a thing of the past. We may not have experienced the direct effects of war in this country for a lifetime, and we can be thankful for that; but our overseas policies are still helping to support violence and injustice elsewhere in the world, among those least able to defend themselves.
‘This Christmas, we are challenging our country and our government to take a long and critical look at its record, and to find the courage to become a leader in conflict resolution and peacebuilding by way of society-building.
‘We know that the vast majority of this country’s citizens want to see an end to arms sales to countries engaged in wholesale slaughter; and a similar majority wants to see our development programmes guided by the needs of people on the ground, rather than security priorities alone. We are urging our government to listen to these voices and to act.’