Chris Cooper, Senior Curator, Contemporary Conflict
Friday 11 October 2019

This satirical work, a new acquisition by the Contemporary Conflict team for IWM’s collections, vividly illustrates the public debate in Britain surrounding the Government’s position as both a major funder of humanitarian response and as a source of the weapons used by Saudi Arabia in carrying out the war in Yemen.

The Contemporary Conflict team works at the cutting edge of collecting around live conflicts and are always ready to respond to events as they unfold. Each acquisition is considered for its ability to reveal key issues about the causes, course or consequences of conflict together with its potential to reflect different angles, perspectives and voices. This poster allows the museum to engage in live issues and ongoing debates about a currently unfolding conflict significant to Britain in a number of ways.

Satirical poster depicting UK humanitarian funding to Yemen and sale of UK arms to Saudi Arabia.
Art.IWM PST 21653

The poster was produced by artist and political cartoonist Darren Cullen and copies were placed on London tube trains in February 2019 by the ‘anti-capitalist collective’ Special Patrol Group.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has been described as the worst in the world. Almost 80% of the middle-eastern state’s men, women and children are in desperate need of help. The crisis has been entirely man-made, a consequence of an ongoing conflict that has devastated the country since the collapse of the internationally recognised government in 2015.

The British government plays a leading role in the humanitarian aid response to the crisis. It is one of the world’s largest donors to the United Nation’s Humanitarian Appeal for Yemen, providing enough funding to feed more than 2.5 million people in Yemen for a month.

However, lucrative British arms sales to Saudi Arabia are also contributing to the Saudi/UAE-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen, escalating the conflict. According to a United Nations expert panel report in 2018, ‘coalition airstrikes have been and continue to be the leading direct cause of civilian deaths and destruction of civilian infrastructure in the conflict.’ There are groups, including the Campaign Against the Arms Trade and Amnesty International, calling for an immediate halt to arms exports to Saudi Arabia as a result. They assert the British Government is in breach of international humanitarian law.

The British Government has described Saudi Arabia as a ‘long standing ally and key partner in a complex and volatile region.’ Whilst Britain is not a member of the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition involved directly in the conflict in Yemen, Saudi armed forces are using British built and licensed arms in Yemen, including Typhoon aircraft, missiles and bombs. Saudi Arabia is Britain’s largest arms buyer in the Middle East region. In selling arms to Saudi Arabia, the Government has asserted that it is narrowly on the right side of international humanitarian law.

Britain’s relationship with Yemen and its role in the current crisis is complex. After four years of persistent fighting the conflict is ever bloodier with attempts to reach a political settlement increasingly complicated.

Explore these issues and find out more by visiting Yemen: Inside a Crisis at IWM North.

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IWM North

Until 26 January 2020