By Randi Nord
This writer had the honor of amplifying the voice of Yemenis at the 39th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, held on September 10-18.
Non-governmental organizations that have gone through the process of applying for U.N. status had the opportunity to deliver oral interventions to the council and hosted side panel events throughout the session. I was invited to attend as a guest on behalf of the Iraqi Development Organization and Arabian Rights Watch Association.
Prior to the September UNHRC session, the United Nations released a report from a “group of eminent experts” about violations against civilians in Yemen called the GEE report. The report is very damning in many respects; it details various instances of airstrikes on civilian targets over the past three years, including the massacre on a funeral in 2016 that killed 155 civilians and injured over 500 as well as the August 9 attack on a school bus that killed more than 40 children.
The report very clearly states that since the coalition used precision-guided munitions — and often carried out “double tap” airstrikes against the same target in rapid succession — it could reasonably be concluded that these bombs did, in fact, reach their intended targets of women and children.
A deeper look at the U.S. role
For my participation in the first side panel, I chose to discuss the U.S. role in these airstrike casualties. I pointed out several instances that proved these bombs were manufactured by U.S. companies such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. I also challenged the official line that Washington plays a passive role by merely supporting their Gulf allies, pointing out U.S involvement on the ground training troops and providing logistical support for selecting airstrike targets.
Washington approved more than $20 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia in 2015 alone. Three U.S. arms sales in 2015 and 2016, worth nearly $3 billion, involved replenishing Saudi weaponry specifically for their campaign in Yemen.
According to the Center for International Policy, U.S. companies Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Dynamics were involved in 80 different deals with Saudi Arabia as of 2017. These deals included over 7,000 precision-guided missiles, 4,700 air-to-ground missiles, 7,800 general-purpose 2000-pound bombs, as well as countless attack helicopters and fighter jets to facilitate the bombings.
The GEE report also covered instances of rampant daily systemic sexual abuse against countless men, women and children by members of the Saudi coalition.
However, the report fell short in many respects. That’s where we (myself and the organizations I worked with) came in. Although we supported the detailed airstrike investigations, we had a lot of questions, comments and concerns regarding the report, which we voiced in written and oral statements to the council as well as in our side panels.
Some of these demands and questions included the following:
● These massacres still take place on a daily basis in Yemen. In fact, coalition airstrikes continued to target civilians throughout the duration of my participation in the UNHRC session. What will be done to stop the carnage from happening right now?
● The report provided no tangible accountability mechanisms to transfer these blatant war crimes to the U.N. Security Council or International Criminal Court. Many crimes detailed in the report took place over two years ago. The report assigns a clear perpetrator and victim. Why is no one held accountable and why is the coalition allowed to continue investigating their own war crimes?
● Women and children are the main victims of this war in several ways (airstrikes on homes and schools, famine, lack of access to nutrition for lactating mothers and pregnant women). What measures will be taken to ensure their safety and health?
Though the report claims that the airstrikes have produced the largest number of civilian casualties, this wasn’t our biggest concern.
Our main complaint was that the report did not manage to address the devastating, coercive and unlawful blockade, which has effectively turned Yemen into an open air prison.
The unlawful land, sea and air blockade severely limits Yemen’s access to food, medical supplies and basic goods average people usually take for granted. Plus, civilians are not allowed to flee the country even for medical treatment because the Sana’a International Airport remains closed as part of the blockade. In fact, the coalition has bombed the Sana’a airport over 160 times — seemingly in an expensive act of spite.
The human toll of war
We used our opportunity at the UNHRC to draw attention to the millions of civilians impacted by the blockade — an action that has also damaged Yemen’s economy beyond recognition. We highlighted some facts and statistics, reminding people through videos and personal experience (thanks to our Yemeni attendees) that each of these numbers contains a very real life with a name, family, hopes and dreams.
It’s difficult to explain the comprehensive suffering and oppression Yemenis face because this blockade affects literally every aspect of life: skyrocketing fuel prices as you fill your car for your work commute, searching for overpriced insulin on the black market, digging for your son’s limbs under the rubble of your home, wondering (as a young adult) how you will support yourself and lead a normal life in a country completely shut off from and ignored by the rest of the world.
We decided to highlight a few of the most dire facts and statistics that the U.N.’s GEE report chose to ignore:
● Over 27,000 civilians died because they could not get medical treatment abroad due to the coalition’s ban on flights to and from Sana’a International Airport — while another 200,000 continue to suffer, awaiting a similar fate.
● A child is dying every 10 minutes, amounting to 247,000 children deaths over the past three and a half years.
● Ten million other children face starvation imposed on them as a weapon of war.
● The unlawful blockade on food, medical and fuel supplies — combined with airstrikes on health facilities, power plants, and water and food networks — has caused mass suffering among the civilian population, particularly the most vulnerable: the injured, children and the elderly.
● Cholera affects roughly 1 million people in Yemen with children under the age of 15 constituting 41 percent of suspected cases and 25 percent of fatalities.
● Targeting of spaces where children are most likely to be present, such as in the home or at school, has resulted in about 4.5 million children not attending school.
● Some 22 million people in a country of 29 million face famine and starvation.
At the end of the Iraqi Development Organization’s statement I read to the council, immediate action was demanded: “We call on the Council to take urgent action. Yemen needs accountability NOW!”
Randi Nord is editor of GeopoliticsAlert.com and a Detroit-area writer and activist.
First side panel on how the U.S. facilitates war crimes in Yemen; video courtesy Al-Masirah:
Second side panel on the effects of the blockade on women and children; video courtesy Al-Masirah: