Yemen: ‘We cannot survive another four years’

March 29, 2019
A bombed out school bus at the site of a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in August 2018.

On March 6, the Yemeni human rights organisation Mwatana for Human Rights, the US-based University Network for Human Rights and PAX for Peace released a report documenting the role that United States and European arms sales have played in the deaths of hundreds of civilians in the Saudi-UAE-led war on Yemen.

It included an account of when Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE) forces bombed the al-Honood residential neighborhood in Hawak District, Al-Hudaydah Governorate in Yemen, during a funeral for one of the neighborhood’s residents in September 2016. The attack killed 23 civilians, injured twice that number and destroyed multiple homes — 15, according to one witness. A remnant of what appeared to be a US-made GBU-16 laser-guided bomb was recovered at the scene of the strike.

The report claims that between April 2015 and April 2018, 27 Saudi-UAE coalition attacks killed 203 civilians and injured at least 749 people. It found that 22 of the attacks likely involved weapons produced in the US. The other five attacks were carried out either with weapons produced in Britain or with parts produced in both the US and Britain.

PAX General Director, Jan Gruiters wrote in the introduction to the report: “In a country already among the poorest and most fragile in the region, 14 million people are now threatened by famine and even more depend on humanitarian assistance.

US and Britain profit from war

“While often cited as ‘the forgotten war’, the war in Yemen could also be described as the ignored war, in which allies of Western countries commit atrocities with Western-supplied weaponry.

“Whereas some states have curbed or stopped arms exports because of the conflict in Yemen, the biggest arms suppliers — mainly the United States, the United Kingdom, and France — have so far applied a ‘business as usual’ attitude. In fact, they have accelerated arms sales because of the war.”

According to Mwatana for Human Rights, in an April 2018 Coalition attack in Hajjah Governorate, a US-made bomb exploded in the middle of a wedding, killing at least 21 and injuring at least 97, including nearly 60 children. In a December 2016 attack on a house also in Hajjah, a US-made cluster bomb killed at least 15 civilians — nine of them children — and wounded at least seven.

Radhya Almutawakel, co-founder and Chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights told the US Congress Committee on Foreign Affairs on March 6: “Twenty-four million Yemenis need humanitarian aid … 10 million are on the brink of famine … It is a man-made crisis. Yemenis are not starving, they are being starved. The humanitarian crisis cannot be addressed without addressing the human rights situation.

“Since 2015 the US has supported Saudi and Emirati attacks on Yemeni civilians by selling billions in bombs and other weapons and providing military and political support.

“Since 2015 the Saudi and Emirati coalition has used US weapons recklessly to kill and maim Yemeni civilians. Mwatana has documented hundreds of attacks killing and maiming thousands of civilians and destroying key infrastructure. We found US bomb remnants at dozens of these airstrikes. Many are likely war crimes. Every single one destroyed innocent lives.

“The 2016 Saudi bombing of the Sana’a funeral hall, using US munitions, killing and maiming hundreds should have been a turning point. Congress should have stopped arms sales until unlawful attacks ended and war criminals were held accountable. Instead, [the] US accepted Saudi and Emirati promises to end violations and investigate. Two years later there has been no accountability and air strikes on Yemeni civilians continue. Yemen cannot survive another four years.

“If US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates continue, American bombs may reach Yemeni civilians before American aid will.”

The US Senate approved a War Powers resolution on March 13 that would end US involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Seven Republicans crossed the floor to vote with the Democrats. The resolution was co-sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders and Utah Republican Mike Lee.

The resolution, which passed 54 to 46, requires US President Donald Trump to cut off military support for the war in Yemen — unless US troops are directly involved in fighting al-Qaeda.

According to Democracy Now! the US Senate passed a similar War Powers resolution on Yemen late last year, but it died after then-Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan refused to bring it to a vote.

The new Democratic-controlled House is expected to finalise approval of the measure, however the White House has signaled Trump will veto it.

Australian connection

Richard Tanter, Senior Research Associate with the Nautilus Institute and Honorary Professor in the School of Political and Social Sciences at the University of Melbourne, wrote in Arena magazine last August about Australia’s connection to the war in Yemen.

Tanter describes former ADF personnel engaged as mercenaries for the UAE, the role of Australia’s military base in the conflict and the Australian government’s plan to become a world player in arms exports, including to Saudi Arabia.

“The most immediately shocking aspect of Australia’s connection to the war might be the fact that the commander of the most important UAE military unit, deeply involved in fighting in Yemen, is the former senior Australian army officer Michael Hindmarsh,” wrote Tanter.

“Hindmarsh retired from the ADF as a major general in June 2009 after a career in the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR), serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and as head of the Special Operations Command.

“There are reportedly dozens of former ADF personnel working with or as part of the UAE armed forces, including a number of senior former officers whom Hindmarsh brought with him.”

On Australia’s plans (announced under former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull) to increase Australian arms exports from $2 billion a year to $10 billion a year over 10 years, Tanter wrote that the former Minister for Defence Industry, Christopher Pyne “identified the UAE as a particularly important partner for this plan”.

He “reportedly had discussions with the UAE about a long-term partnership that would lead to a defence plan that includes more than $1 billion in arms sales to the UAE and the transfer of Australian technology to bolster the UAE’s military production capacity”.

“Pyne’s dark fantasy of a billion-dollar arms agreement with the UAE and revelations of a previously unknown expansion of arms orders from Saudi Arabia come at a time when a number of countries have reconsidered their previous policies of weapons exports or defence cooperation with the UAE and Saudi Arabia because of their conduct in the Yemen war.”

March 26 marks four years of devastating war in Yemen. An estimated 50,000 people have been killed as a direct result of the war and 85,000 children may have died of hunger and preventable diseases.

In the words of Radhya Almutawakel, “Yemen cannot survive another four years”.

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