This article by Michael Brull and published in New Matilda (19 March 2017), raises Australia’s involvement in the war going on in Yemen that is largely directed against civilians, by Saudi Arabia and backed with western support.
Yemen is being destroyed. Perhaps half a million children face severe malnutrition. Almost seven million people are on the brink of famine. This is happening with Western support. The Australian government quietly announced its support for the war about two years ago. Meanwhile, the opposition, and even the Greens are silent, as Australian mercenaries contribute to the destruction of Yemen.
The scale of the horrors in Yemen
On Thursday, the Guardian issued a new report on the scale of the crisis in Yemen. It said:
“Aid agencies have warned that Yemen is “at the point of no return” after new figures released by the UN indicated 17 million people are facing severe food insecurity and will fall prey to famine without urgent humanitarian assistance.
A total of 6.8 million people are deemed to be in a state of emergency – one step from famine on the five-point integrated food security phase classification (IPC), the standard international measure – with a further 10.2 million in crisis. The numbers reflect a 21% increase in hunger levels in the Arab world’s poorest state since June 2016.”
Save the Children’s Yemen spokesperson Mark Kaye said, “for me these numbers highlight that we’re at the point of no return. If things are not done now we are going to be looking back on this and millions of children will have starved to death, and we’ll all have been aware of this for some time. That will shame us as an international community for years to come.”
This follows numerous other warnings of the catastrophe in Yemen. On 31 January, UNICEF put out an urgent appeal for funds to help children in crisis zones around the world. This included about 7.5 million children facing “severe acute malnutrition”. They estimated that this included about half a million children in Yemen.
UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programs explained that the damage of malnutrition “can be irreversible, robbing children of their mental and physical potential. In its worst form, severe malnutrition can be deadly.”
In December, UNICEF warned that a child in Yemen died every 10 minutes. Al Jazeera reported that
“More than 400,000 children are at risk of starvation in Yemen, with nearly 2.2 million in need of urgent care, according to the UN children’s agency UNICEF.
New figures indicate that hunger among children has reached an “all-time high”, with at least 462,000 suffering from severe acute malnutrition – a drastic increase of about 200 percent since 2014.
In a report published on Monday, UNICEF said at least one child dies every 10 minutes because of malnutrition, diarrhoea and respiratory-tract infections.”
“This is an entire generation that’s at risk here,” said Erin Hutchinson, Yemen director for the aid agency Action Against Hunger.
As I noted in September last year, the war was already catastrophic. The excellent Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn reported that before the war, Yemen was already “the poorest Arab nation and its people are now starving or malnourished. OXFAM estimates that 82 per cent of Yemen’s 21 million population are in need of humanitarian assistance”. At least 10,000 had been killed by the war already, and UN analysis found that most deaths were caused by Saudi coalition air strikes. In August, the New York Times warned that the war had “pushed one of the world’s poorest countries from deprivation to devastation.”
Save the Children’s spokesperson explained that “This crisis is happening because food and supplies can’t get into the country. Yemen was completely dependent on imports of food, medicine and fuel prior to this crisis”. He criticised both sides, saying the Saudi coalition should let aid in through the ports, and the Houthis “need to ensure that aid can get to hard-to-reach areas”.
This is a false parity. The blockade is responsible for the famine, and there is no mystery who bears responsibility for the blockade.
Before the war, 90 percent of food in Yemen was imported. 80 percent of it came through the port at Hodeida. Jamie Stern-Weiner helpfully documents the story of Hodeida.
In August 2015, Saudi Arabia announced it was blockading the port. They then bombed the bridge connecting Hodeida to Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, on four separate days that month.
About 90 percent of food aid travelled across that bridge.
The port has reportedly been bombed nine more times since then. For example, it was destroyed again by the Saudi led coalition in August last year. Oxfam complained that “This road is the main supply route for Sanaa as it conveys 90% of World Food Program food coming from Hodeidah to the capital. Its destruction threatens to leave many more people unable to feed themselves, worsening an already catastrophic situation in the country.”
That is, the famine in Yemen is not the result of some strange confluence of factors, or an act of god. It is a conscious war policy adopted by the Saudi-led coalition. Yemen academic specialist Sheila Carapico observed that “for more than a year the objective seems to be to starve Yemen into submission. The naval blockade, supplemented by bombing of hospitals, ports, bridges, and other infrastructure, has prevented imports of essential foods, fuels, and medicines and stunted delivery of basic social services like electricity and water”.
The New York Times: “Experts say the coalition would be grounded if Washington withheld its support.” This war would end overnight if the West stopped supporting it.
In August last year, the State Department “approved the potential sale of $1.15 billion more in tanks and other equipment to Saudi Arabia to replace items destroyed in the war.” Over the course of two terms, the Obama Administration sold $115 billion worth of arms to the Saudi government, which has been used to destroy Yemen. This includes “Apache helicopters and missiles. Mr. Obama has also supplied the coalition such indispensable assistance as intelligence, in-flight refueling of aircraft and help in identifying appropriate targets.”
Obama even supported the destruction of Yemen without formal authorisation from Congress.
In December last year, nearing the end of his 8 year tenure, and having sold more arms to Saudi Arabia than any other President, Obama suspended a weapons sale to the Saudi government. Donald Trump is already trying to reverse that suspension.
The former Exxon CEO and current Secretary of State approved resuming the weapons sale in early March. Regardless of his anti-Muslim rhetoric, the Trump government is shaping up to restore every US government’s traditional role of being extremely pro-Saudi. The Saudi government has reciprocated the affection – witness this hilarious and almost unbelievably pro-Trump declaration by Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
The United Kingdom has similarly embraced the barbarism in Yemen. Rafat al-Akhali observed that the UK has “shown unwavering support for the Saudi-led coalition, to which it supplies arms (Britain has sold more than £3.7bn of arms to Saudi Arabia since the airstrikes began), military advisors, and an umbrella to shield its activities from any international inquiry into human rights violations. A motion to withdraw support from the Saudi coalition until an independent UN investigation has examined whether its bombing campaign is in breach of international law was defeated yesterday in the House of Commons by 283 votes to 193.” That vote failed because about 100 MPs from British Labour abstained from voting.
Aside from material support, the British government has adopted Saudi propaganda and issued gross apologetics for its war crimes. Asked about civilians bombed in Yemen and British support for the Saudi-led coalition, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson responded that “We don’t think there are breaches of international humanitarian law.”
As I noted in my previous article, our Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has issued only two media releases commenting on the war in Yemen. The last one was in April 2015. It more or less backed the Saudi invasion, having characterised it as a response to a call for “protection” from the government that Bishop recognises as legitimate. She has also signed up to the UN Security Council sanctions, targeting the insurgent coalition fighting the Saudi-led coalition.
Furthermore, Australian mercenaries are fighting as part of the Saudi-led coalition, occupying senior roles in the élite force. Whilst Muslims who fight for ISIS and jihadi groups in Syria face severe sanctions in Australia, our government has shown zero interest in preventing Australians from helping Saudi Arabia destroy Yemen.
It is hard to even write about Yemen in Australia, because it is more or less completely off the national agenda. The most important exception has been Sophie McNeill’s excellent reporting on the war at the ABC.
The present ALP Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Penny Wong, has said nothing about the war on Yemen.
Neither has Greens spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Scott Ludlam. The previous ALP spokesperson, Tanya Plibersek, mostly ignored Yemen.
To be entirely fair, she did comment on Yemen a few times. The substance of those comments each time was criticising Iran for exporting weapons to Yemen. Veteran correspondent Patrick Cockburn commented that “Despite Saudi allegations, there is little evidence that the Houthis get more than rhetorical support from Iran and this is far less than Saudi Arabia gets from the US and Britain.”
This wasn’t as bad as the Australian National Imam’s Council, which released a shocking statement, solely condemning the Houthis for an unproven attack on Mecca, whilst urging all Muslims around the world “to stand in solidarity and support with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.
Keysar Trad from Australian Federation of Islamic Councils had an even more obsequious press release. It concluded by announcing that, “We will always stand staunchly alongside his Majesty King Salman al Saud, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the people of Saudi Arabia to confront and condemn the terrorists and protect the safety and security of the Kingdom and its great people.”
Not a single word of sympathy for the people of Yemen, or a word of criticisism for the Saudi forces. In fact, the only comment on the Saudi forces is to praise them for “intercepting and destroying a missile” and “saving lives”. That is AFIC’s position on the destruction of Yemen.
Let me return to the words of Save the Children: “If things are not done now we are going to be looking back on this and millions of children will have starved to death, and we’ll all have been aware of this for some time.”
At this point, words fail me. Almost two years of President Obama took Yemen most of the way to catastrophe. Trump is eager to resume full-scale support for the Saudi war, even as it threatens to amount to genocide.
And here in Australia, the government is quietly supportive, Australian mercenaries help the Saudi war effort, progressive politicians are silent, and peak Muslim bodies stand with the Saudi government.
Sana’a backstreet (Yemen)