Lopsided peace talks collapse, Saudis resume bombing Yemen and U.S. sells more weapons

The Intercept reports: The Pentagon announced an additional $1.15 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia this week, even as a three-month cease-fire collapsed and the Saudi-led coalition resumed its brutal bombing campaign of the Yemen capital Sana.

The U.S. has already sold more than $20 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia since the war began in March 2015, defying calls from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to cut off support. The Saudi-led coalition is responsible for the majority of the 7,000 deaths in the conflict, which has left more than 21 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Saudi Arabia has been accused of intentionally targeting homes, factories, schools, markets, and hospitals.

On Tuesday, the coalition targeted and destroyed a potato chip factory, killing 14 people. The Yemeni press has since reported that coalition has conducted hundreds more airstrikes across the country, killing dozens of people. [Continue reading…]

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The Saudi bombardment of Yemen — worse than Russia’s assault on Syria — has been lucrative for the West

The Economist: Ninety years ago Britain’s planes bombed unruly tribes in the Arabian peninsula to firm up the rule of Abdel Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of the Saudi state. Times have changed but little since then. Together with America and France, Britain is now supplying, arming and servicing hundreds of Saudi planes engaged in the aerial bombardment of Yemen.

Though it has attracted little public attention or parliamentary oversight, the scale of the campaign currently surpasses Russia’s in Syria, analysts monitoring both conflicts note. With their governments’ approval, Western arms companies provide the intelligence, logistical support and air-to-air refuelling to fly far more daily sorties than Russia can muster.

There are differences. Russian pilots fly combat missions in Syria; Western pilots do not fly combat missions on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Nor are their governments formal members of the battling coalition. Their presence, including in Riyadh’s operations room, and their precision-guided weaponry, should ensure that the rules of war that protect civilians are upheld, insist Western officials. But several field studies question this. Air strikes were responsible for more than half the thousands of civilian deaths in the 16-month campaign, Amnesty International reported in May. It found evidence that British cluster bombs had been used. Together with other watchdogs, including the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam, it has documented the use of Western weaponry to hit scores of Yemeni markets, medical centres, warehouses, factories and mosques. One analyst alleges that the use of its weapons amounts to Western complicity in war crimes.

The war in Yemen has certainly been lucrative. Since the bombardment began in March 2015, Saudi Arabia has spent £2.8 billion ($3.8 billion) on British arms, making it Britain’s largest arms market, according to government figures analysed by Campaign Against Arms Trade, a watchdog. America supplies even more. [Continue reading…]

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As the Saudis covered up abuses in Yemen, America stood by

Samuel Oakford writes: The United Nations has long been bullied by its most powerful members, and U.N. secretaries-general have usually been forced to grit their teeth and take it quietly. But few nations have been more publicly brazen in this practice than Saudi Arabia, and earlier this summer, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon managed to get in a dig at the Kingdom over its blackmail-style tactics. Ban openly admitted that it was only after Riyadh threatened to cut off funding to the U.N. that he bowed to its demand to remove the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, where it has launched a harsh military intervention, from a list of violators of children’s rights contained in the annex of his annual Children and Armed Conflict report. “The report describes horrors no child should have to face,” Ban told reporters. “At the same time, I also had to consider the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously if, as was suggested to me, countries would defund many U.N. programs.”

But the secretary-general wasn’t done. “It is unacceptable for U.N. member states to exert undue pressure,” Ban added. The removal of the Saudis from the list was also, he claimed, “pending review.”

For the United States, it was another reminder of what an uncomfortable ally the Saudi kingdom can be (as was the July release of a hitherto classified section of a 2002 report into the 9/11 attacks that suggested, among other things, that the wife of then-Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan gave money to the wife of a suspected 9/11 co-conspirator). No one has become more familiar with this awkwardness than the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, the erstwhile human-rights icon (author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell) who has been forced to look the other way as a powerful U.S. ally does as it pleases in Yemen with political, logistical and military cover from Washington. Since news broke of Ban’s decision, I have asked Power’s office for a direct response to Saudi funding threats. Neither she nor her staff has ever replied. [Continue reading…]

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‘Trapped by all the sides’ in Yemen’s largely ignored war

The Washington Post reports: The streets are eerily ­silent in this front-line enclave near Taiz’s Freedom Square, where thousands of protesters rose up against Yemen’s government five years ago.

The presidential palace nearby survived the demonstrations but not the war that followed. It is now a concrete carcass, pummeled by airstrikes. Shops are shuttered and homes are empty. The only people who remain cannot afford to go anywhere else.

By day, snipers strike down residents. At night, the gunfire and artillery shelling start.

“We’re trapped by all the sides,” said Ghulam Sayed, a former bus driver.

For weeks, Yemen’s warring factions have held peace talks to end their 16-month civil war, bringing a sense of calm to much of the country. But in the southwestern city of Taiz the conflict rages on, defying a U.N.-backed cease-fire. Civilians are indiscriminately killed or wounded daily. Thousands languish in ragged displacement camps. Humanitarian groups are blocked from adequately helping victims.

On one side of the war is an alliance of Shiite Houthi rebels and loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. They have seized the capital, Sanaa, and control the northern half of the country.

On the other side is the government, backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia and other regional powers. It controls only portions of the south, including the port of Aden. The rest is lawless or ruled by radical Islamists. [Continue reading…]

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HRW and Amnesty call on UN to suspend Saudi Arabia from Human Rights Council

Human Rights Watch: The United Nations General Assembly should immediately suspend Saudi Arabia’s membership rights on the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. A two-thirds majority of the General Assembly may suspend the membership rights of any Human Rights Council member engaged in “gross and systematic violations of human rights.”

Saudi Arabia, as the leader of the nine-nation coalition that began military operations against the Houthis in Yemen on March 26, 2015, has been implicated in numerous violations of international humanitarian law. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented 69 unlawful airstrikes by the coalition, some of which may amount to war crimes, killing at least 913 civilians and hitting homes, markets, hospitals, schools, civilian businesses, and mosques. The two organizations have also documented 19 attacks involving internationally banned cluster munitions, including in civilian areas. Saudi Arabia should be suspended from the Human Rights Council until it ends unlawful attacks in Yemen and conducts credible investigations that meet international standards or agrees to and cooperates with an independent international inquiry. [Continue reading…]

 

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Severe food insecurity widespread in Yemen

FAO-WFP reports: Vast swathes of Yemen – 19 out of 22 governorates – are facing severe food insecurity according to a new joint assessment by the UN and partners, which warns that the situation within affected areas is likely to deteriorate if conflict persists.

The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis confirms that over half the country’s population is living in “crisis” or “emergency” levels of food insecurity, with some governorates seeing as much as 70 percent of their population struggling to feed themselves.

At least 7 million people – a quarter of the population – are living under Emergency levels of food insecurity (Phase 4 on the five-tiered IPC scale). This reflects a 15-percent increase since June 2015. A further 7.1 million people are in a state of Crisis (Phase 3). [Continue reading…]

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Saudis used financial threats to coerce UN in effort to cover up war crimes in Yemen

The New York Times reports: The United Nations secretary general is supposed to answer to every nation on earth — and no nation at all.

So the unusually frank admission by the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, on Thursday that he had essentially been coerced into removing a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen from an ignoble list of armies that kill and maim children was a rare window into the limits of his moral and political authority — and an object lesson for whoever succeeds Mr. Ban next year.

On Thursday, Mr. Ban told reporters that he had been threatened with the loss of financing for humanitarian operations in the Palestinian territories, South Sudan and Syria if he did not temporarily delete the Saudi-led coalition from the list.

The coalition has been accused of indiscriminately bombing civilian and nonmilitary targets in its battle against Houthi rebels in Yemen for more than a year. The coalition, which is backed by the United States, has consistently denied the accusations.

Mr. Ban’s office issued a report last week on violations of children’s rights in war zones, and it cited deadly coalition attacks that had hit schools and hospitals. By Monday, however, the coalition was taken off the list, after lobbying by Saudi Arabia and some of its wealthiest allies who help finance United Nations humanitarian operations. [Continue reading…]

Human Rights Watch: “The secretary-general’s decision flies in the face of overwhelming evidence that violations by the Saudi-led coalition have killed and maimed hundreds of children in Yemen,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Allowing governments that commit abuses against children to bully their way off the list makes a mockery of the UN’s children protection efforts.”

The UN has verified that at least 785 children have been killed and 1,168 injured in Yemen during fighting in 2015, with 60 percent of the casualties attributed to the Saudi-led coalition, the secretary-general’s report said. The UN also verified 101 attacks against schools and hospitals, attributing nearly half of the attacks to the Saudi-led coalition. Nongovernmental organizations have made similar findings. [Continue reading…]

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Global violence worsens, driven by Middle East conflicts

Reuters reports: The world has become increasingly violent with deaths from conflict at a 25-year high, terrorist attacks at an all-time high and more people displaced than at any time since World War Two, the 2016 Global Peace Index showed on Wednesday.

The annual index, which measures 23 indicators including incidents of violent crime, countries’ levels of militarisation and weapons imports, said intensifying conflicts in the Middle East were mostly to blame.

But beyond the Middle East, the world was actually becoming more peaceful, researchers behind the index said.

“Quite often, in the mayhem which is happening in the Middle East currently, we lose sight of the other positive trends,” said Steve Killelea, founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), which produces the index.

“If we look in the last year, if we took out the Middle East … the world would have become more peaceful,” Killelea told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. [Continue reading…]

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UN includes — then removes — Saudi coalition from list of child violators in Yemen

At Human Rights Watch, Kristine Beckerle writes: Every year, the United Nations secretary-general releases a “list of shame” of government forces and armed groups that have committed grave violations against children during armed conflict. This year, the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen was listed for the first time, identified as being responsible for killing and maiming children in Yemen and for attacks on schools and hospitals.

There was a six-fold increase in the killing and maiming of children in Yemen during 2015, with at least 785 children killed and 1,168 injured, according to the secretary-general’s report. The Saudi-led coalition was responsible for 60 percent of these child deaths and injuries.

The UN recorded 101 attacks on schools and hospitals in Yemen, double the number of attacks recorded in 2014. The Saudi-led coalition was responsible for nearly half of these attacks. Almost all caused the partial or complete destruction of facilities. [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press reports: Following a vehement protest from Saudi Arabia, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday removed the Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen from a list of government forces that committed grave violations against children last year, pending a joint review of cases.

Saudi Arabia’s U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi insisted “the removal is unconditional and irreversible,” explaining that the government has no problem with a review and is confident it will conclude that the coalition was “wrongly placed on the list.”

Earlier, he asked for an immediate correction saying Saudi Arabia’s inclusion on the list was based on “inaccurate and incomplete” information. [Continue reading…]

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Peace talks in Kuwait: Will they solve Yemen’s crisis?

Helen Lackner writes: Thirteen months into the full scale war which has encompassed the country, negotiations started in Kuwait on 21 April between the Saleh-Huthi alliance who control the Yemeni northern highlands and the capital Sana’a and the internationally recognised government of president Hadi who was elected in 2012, and has been in exile in Riyadh for most of the last year.

A month into the talks, their main achievement is that they have not definitively broken down. Insofar as any negotiations are taking place, it is thanks to the systematic interventions from the Shaikh of Kuwait or other senior figures from different countries to bring one or the other side back to the table after their routine almost daily walk outs. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN special adviser and his team do their best and this time, at least, have real support from the international community.

While naïve observers might think that the ongoing and worsening suffering of 25 million Yemenis might have brought the warring parties to their senses to seek a solution without imposing further starvation, thirst, destitution and death, it would seem they consider this irrelevant.

Ensconced in their luxury hotels in Riyadh or their protected environments in Sana’a, living conditions of the population appear to be the least of their concerns. Instead, their petty rivalries, long-standing feuds and greed for power and control determine their tactics. Any planning they may be doing for the future may well focus more on how they will appropriate future external humanitarian and development funding.

So, why are these negotiations taking place? Answering this question may also help to understand their likely outcome. In addition to the military stalemate, and the collapsed economy, the role of external actors is as relevant today as it was to reach the Gulf Cooperation Council Agreement of 2011 and the transitional regime which followed it. [Continue reading…]

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As war strangles Yemen, many fear the grip will never break

yemen-bombing

The New York Times reports: The familiar thud of shelling echoed off the mountains that cradle this besieged and ravaged city. For a few terrifying minutes, a warplane circled over neighborhoods and humming afternoon markets before dropping a bomb that momentarily silenced the guns.

But the fighting never stops for long in Taiz, or across Yemen for that matter, a country that has endured 14 months of shattering civil war.

Yemen’s government and its main opponents, the Houthi rebels, have been negotiating for weeks to end the conflict, under intense pressure from the United States and from other Western nations alarmed that Al Qaeda’s local affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is gaining recruits, weapons and money in the midst of the country’s collapse.

A frenzied escalation of violence over the last few days is threatening a nationwide cease-fire that was supposed to build confidence for the talks. The bloodshed has laid bare the furious rivalries — between aging warlords, tribes, Islamist groups and regional powers — that are making Yemen’s hostilities almost impossible to stop.

Even if the negotiations somehow succeed, Yemenis scarred by the vicious fighting, past broken promises and deepening divisions say they fear that any truce would just be a prelude to an even uglier war, fought between regions, religious sects — even neighbors. [Continue reading…]

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Court papers reveal Anwar al-Awlaki’s work as trainer and bomb expert

The New York Times reports: The Qaeda bomb-making instructor carefully demonstrated for his student how to mix the chemicals to make a volatile powder, then supervised a test explosion and added a sinister final tip: tape bolts around the homemade bomb to produce lethal shrapnel.

The explosive expert’s identity, revealed by a Qaeda operative facing sentencing next week, came as a surprise: He was Anwar al-Awlaki, the American imam who had joined Al Qaeda in Yemen and become the terrorist network’s leading English-language propagandist.

Mr. Awlaki had long been known for public oratory on behalf of Al Qaeda before he was killed in a drone strike in 2011 on President Obama’s orders, making him the first American citizen killed without criminal charges or trial in the campaign against terrorism.

But new court filings in New York offer the most detailed account yet of a hidden side of Mr. Awlaki’s work inside Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen — as a hands-on trainer who taught recruits how to make bombs, gave them money for missions and offered suggestions about how to carry out suicide attacks.

The papers, part of a sentencing memorandum submitted by the government, were filed Tuesday in Federal District Court in Manhattan in the case of Mr. Awlaki’s former bomb-making student, Minh Quang Pham, a Vietnamese-British convert to Islam. He has pleaded guilty to three terrorism-related counts and is to be sentenced Monday.

In their papers, federal prosecutors suggested that 50 years would be an appropriate sentence for Mr. Pham, who is in his early 30s and traveled secretly to Yemen in 2010, where he swore allegiance to Al Qaeda’s affiliate there and worked on the group’s online propaganda publication, Inspire.

The court papers make it clear that Mr. Pham admired Mr. Awlaki. He “visibly teared up” when discussing Mr. Awlaki, and he repeatedly referred to Mr. Awlaki with the honorific title “sheikh,” prosecutors wrote. [Continue reading…]

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