We stand with the Yemeni people

March 6, 2017

Yemen was already the poorest country in the Middle East before the intensification in early 2015 of a proxy war between rival powers plunged the Yemeni people into even more horrific circumstances. Now, the United Nations is warning that urgent action is needed to avert famine. As part of its war strategy, Saudi Arabia, with military and political backing from the U.S., has imposed a siege on Yemen, which depends on imports for 90 percent of its food supply. As a result, more than 7.3 million people today need food assistance, and 460,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Yemen needs $2.1 billion in to meet the humanitarian and protection needs of its population, according to Stephen O'Brien, the UN's Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. So far, only $63 million to provide these necessities has been received. The U.S. alone could easily provide all the funding needed to avert a humanitarian disaster in Yemen. Donald Trump has pledged to increase military spending in the next U.S. budget by $50 billion--nearly 25 times more than is needed to fully fund the programs needed to address the food and medicine shortages in Yemen.

In addition to the 10,000 killed in fighting since the conflict began, thousands more have died as a result of preventable disease and starvation. "A child dies every 10 minutes of preventable causes," O'Brien said.

"Over 17 million people are currently unable to adequately feed themselves and are frequently forced to skip meals--women and girls eat the least and last," said Jamie McGoldrick, the top UN humanitarian official for Yemen. "Seven million Yemenis do not know where their next meal will come from and are ever closer to starvation."

Such barbarism is tragically familiar to Syrian revolutionaries and activists, who have watched their own country plunged into war and starvation since 2012. The Russian-backed regime of Bashar al-Assad has been condemned for using siege and starvation as tactics of war--though the mainstream media in the U.S. and Europe don't level such accusations at the U.S. and Saudi Arabia for their conduct of war in Yemen.

Here, we reprint a statement by Syrian revolutionaries in solidarity with the people of Yemen similarly caught in a vise between outside powers who have turned their country into a battlefield for geopolitical dominance.

WHILE WE bond first and foremost over our pursuit of justice, our shared, painful reality also brings us together. Civilians in both Syria and Yemen have borne the brunt of the violence; our schools, hospitals and markets bombed by Assad, Russian, Saudi and American aircraft; our communities withering under siege, dying a slow and painful death; and the delivery of our humanitarian aid politicized by international actors. For almost two years, Yemen has suffered under a naval, air and water blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia, restricting the flow of food, medicine and, importantly, information to and from the country. Our demands for the Assad regime to lift its sieges on Madaya, Daraya, Al-Waer and countless other towns and neighborhoods ring hollow unless we make the same demands of Saudi Arabia and Ansar Allah (hereafter referred to as Houthis). End the sieges now.

We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with the people of Yemen and their aspiration for freedom, democracy and social justice. Like other communities and cities in the region, thousands of Yemeni protesters took the streets in mid-January 2011 to protest peacefully the corruption and authoritarianism of the governments and Ali Abdullah Saleh's rule. As Syrian revolutionaries, we fully support the Yemeni people's struggle for freedom, social justice, safety, health and dignity.

An emergency response team searches for victims in the rubble after a Saudi air strike in Sana'a
An emergency response team searches for victims in the rubble after a Saudi air strike in Sana'a

We as Syrians who seek democratic and genuine secular change in Syria see how regional power dynamics between Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) have had catastrophic consequences on both Yemen and Syria. Without drawing false analogies between the Yemeni state and the Assad regime, the Houthis and the armed Syrian opposition, it does not escape us how the power struggles for Syria and Yemen include the same regional actors and a mounting civilian death toll.

Specifically, KSA commits war crimes in the name of supporting the state in Yemen while Iran is responsible for large-scale destruction in Syria through its support of the Assad regime. Furthermore, both KSA and Iran are responsible for supporting armed non-state actors (certain armed opposition groups in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen, respectively) without a strategy for de-escalating violence, ensuring accountability measures, and protecting civilians and their basic human rights. It is clear to us as Syrian revolutionaries, who took the streets peacefully--not as Muslims or Christians, Sunnis or Alawites, Kurds or Arabs, but as people attempting to claim their citizenry as Syrians--that these countries' interference does not stem from their support of the people's demands for social change, but rather from the exploitation of the people's struggle, and the consumption of local human capital and natural resources to exercise control, maintain power, and build power.

Like in Syria, the international community's inaction has failed Yemen. The UN has become a mechanism to uphold systematic violence, and the rising military presence of regional and international powers has contributed to prolonging the conflict and hindering the process of finding just and sustainable solutions.

FOREIGN INTERVENTION in both countries has caused the people more sorrow than justice. We fiercely condemn KSA's use of internationally banned weapons, use of cluster bombs, targeting of schools, hospitals, weddings, and funerals among many other civilian inhabited neighborhoods. On this point, it should be clearly stated that KSA's relationship with the U.S. has also been fueling war crimes in Yemen. Likewise in Syria but on a different level, the KSA and other Gulf countries' support to some undemocratic groups and warlords in Syria, like Jaish Al-Islam in Ghouta, enhances counterrevolutionary forces that have been accused by several families, activists and writers of kidnapping and assassinating activists in besieged Ghouta. In addition, the Iranian-backed Houthis have been disrupting the political transition process and went against the popular Yemeni wish to remove Ali Abdullah Saleh. We equally condemn their mass atrocity crimes against civilian and minority communities in Yemen.

We echo the demands of Yemeni civil society activists to implement UNSC Resolution 2216, which calls for an end to violence by all parties in Yemen, Saudis and Houthis alike. The cessation of hostilities in Yemen is the first step to peace in the country; it will allow space for Yemeni-to-Yemeni negotiations.

So, too, do we stand with the people of Yemen in their quest for accountability and justice, a necessary step on the path to reconciliation and stability. Yemeni civil society and international human rights groups have repeatedly made calls for an independent investigation into war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict. This is a critical first step toward accountability. Saudi Arabia last year successfully blocked a UN Human Rights Council resolution to establish an international commission of inquiry, which would have undoubtedly primarily incriminated the Gulf state. Syrians are no stranger to the politics of such demands--although the Human Rights Council established a commission to investigate war crimes allegations in Syria dating back to the start of the revolution in March 2011, Russian and Chinese UN Security Council vetoes have blocked meaningful action in the form of a referral to the International Criminal Court. All state and non-state actors in Yemen and Syria should be held accountable according to the dictates of international law. No exceptions.

To see a full list of the statement's signatories or to add your name to the list, go to the original post of the statement. If you are not Syrian, please add the word "ally" after your name when you sign.

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