CAAT – Campaign Against Arms Trade – for Yemen

”I work for Campaign Against Arms Trade and this morning we have won the right toCA take the UK government to court over the sale of British weapons that have been used by Saudi Arabia in the bombings of Yemen”.

 

The message was followed by the article of The Guardian ‘British arms exports to Saudi Arabia to be scrutinised in high court’

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The article clearly states :
‘A UN report leaked to the Guardian in January found “widespread and systematic” targeting of civilians in the Saudi-led strikes, and identified 2,682 civilians killed in such strikes.

The report found 119 strikes that it said violated international humanitarian law, including attacks on health facilities, schools, wedding parties and camps for internally displaced people and refugees.

The high court case calls for the government to suspend all current export licences and refuse all new licences to Saudi Arabia where it is possible the weapons could be used in Yemen, while the business secretary, Sajid Javid, reviews whether the sales are legal.’
CAAT – Campaign Against Arms Trade – issued a press release , immediately:

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  • High Court grants judicial review into arms exports to Saudi Arabia, following unprecedented case brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade
  • Extensive evidence suggests Saudi Arabian forces have committed war crimes in Yemen
  • UK has licensed over £2.8 billion worth of arms since the Saudi-led bombing of Yemen began

The High Court has today ruled that Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), represented by human rights lawyers Leigh Day, can bring a judicial review against the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills’ decision to continue arms exports to Saudi Arabia. The arms sales came despite serious allegations and compelling evidence that there is a clear risk Saudi forces might use the equipment to violate international humanitarian law (IHL) in their ongoing bombardment of Yemen.

Over 6000 people have been killed in a bombing campaign that has created a humanitarian catastrophe; destroying vital infrastructure and leaving 80% of the population in need of aid. Despite this, the UK has continued to arm the Saudi regime, with over £2.8 billion worth of arms having been licensed since the bombing began last March, including licences for bombs and air-to-surface rocket components and a £1.7 billion licence for combat aircraft.

The claim follows reports from a range of prestigious international organisations including a UN Panel of experts, the European Parliament and humanitarian NGOs, which have accused Saudi forces of serious breaches of IHL. These include:

  • A failure to take all precautions in attack as required by IHL
  • Attacks causing disproportionate harm to civilians and civilian objects.
  • A failure to adhere to the principle of distinction and/or the targeting of civilians and civilian objects and those not directly participating in hostilities.
  • The destruction of Cultural Property and/or a failure to adhere to the immunity to be afforded to such property during armed conflict.

Despite this, the UK government has licensed over £2.8 billion worth of arms since the bombing of Yemen began. The weapon categories included for arms exports since the bombing of Yemen began include approximately:

  • £1.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
  • £1.1 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)
  • £430,000 worth of ML6 licences (Armoured vehicles, tanks)

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said:

This is a historic decision and we welcome the fact that arms exports to Saudi Arabia will be given the full scrutiny of a legal review, but they should never have been allowed in the first place.

The fact that UK aircraft and bombs are being used against Yemen is a terrible sign of how broken the arms export control system is. For too long government has focused on maximising and promoting arms sales, rather than on the human rights of those they are used against.

Successive governments have pulled out all stops to keep the arms deals flowing. Recent years have seen Tony Blair intervening to stop a corruption investigation into arms exports to Saudi, David Cameron flying out to to Riyadh meet Saudi Royalty, and Prince Charles sword dancing to secure sales for BAE Systems.

The claim, which will now progress to Judicial Review, calls on the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills to suspend all extant licences and stop issuing further arms export licences to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen while he holds a full review into if the exports are compatible with UK and EU legislation.

Andrew continued:

The arms export controls do not work, but how can they when the government is actively promoting arms sales and working hand in glove with regimes like Saudi Arabia?

The Saudi Royal Family’s influence is imprinted all over Whitehall’s approach to arms sales and the Middle East.

If the government cares for the human rights of those in Saudi Arabia, Yemen or the wider region then it must end its support for the Saudi military and its complicity in Saudi state violence.

Rosa Curling from the human rights team at Leigh Day, which is representing CAAT, said:

It is crucial that the courts consider whether the ongoing sales of arms from the UK to Saudi Arabia is unlawful. The overwhelming evidence from those who are, or have been, working on the ground in Yemen is that the Saudi coalition is acting in breach of international law, killing thousands of people and destroying vital infrastructure. To continue to grant licences in such circumstances, is unlawful. We hope the Court will now intervene in this matter and order the government to reconsider without further delay.

 

For further information please contact Andrew at media@caat.org.uk or call 020 7281 0297 or 07990 673232.


This is only the beginning, hopefully, of a new chapter.
The final lines of the message are a request, for everyone, to get involved and speak up.
It is our chance to say what it is like to be at the receiving end of unlawful airstrikes, of what this war meant to the entire country:
”On Monday 11 July we are organising a protest as it is the 50 years since the UK government set up its department for arms sales. We wondered if you might have a message we could give to the government about why we shouldn’t sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, or about what is happening in Yemen? Solidarity and strength from London”

You may contat CAAT with your thoughts at: action@caat.org.uk

 

The photo was taken this morning, 30 June 2016, in front of the High Court

The War Stories Collector

‘I made a website called Uncloak that shares the stories of people living in war zones and the incidents and experiences they had. Until now I’ve published four stories. And I’m looking for more.
Uncloak was made to share the incidents and stories that happened to people in all war zones. Not just Yemen.’
If you grew up in Europe, you had your grandparents and relatives telling you how WWII was. What it felt like to be under bombardments, to be cold, have family members being deported, neighbours killed.
Stories ran in the family, circle of acquaintances.
The oral handing of personal stories was as effective as your history books. As if history made sense because it was hitting home.
It hit home for the war in Lebanon, Sri Lanka, the Viet Nam war, Afghanistan,  Iraq, Chechnya and an endless list which knows no borders.Salah is a young Yemeni, hurt by the war. He agrees – like many Yemenis I talk to these days – that there is no side to take any longer. Just the side of peace.
I tell him I unfortunately have many stories from so many places from Africa to Middle East but have little time to collect them and he replies:
‘If there is any need, I’m willing to help. In any possible way. Also, I still haven’t updated the site to specifically say this due to power outages, but even if these stories happened to people who don’t speak English that won’t be a problem. I’m willing to speak to them to understand their experience to be capable of writing it down and publishing it. Another option would be if they can write their experience in Arabic, I will translate it to English and post it.’

Ali

He has commenced a  sensitive project.
‘I want Uncloak to share the experiences and incidents that happen to normal, ordinary civilians living throughout the world away from the manipulation of media and politics, because if you notice, every group only talks about the hardships and problems of people who are ON their side.. This is a huge problem that creates a big rift between people of the same country or nation. Civilians, no matter what their views on politics/religion are, are the main victims of these war and shouldn’t be prioritised according to their views. I hope this war ends soon. Too many people died for nothing.’

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We must never forget and Salah is willing to collect the survivors’ stories.
I am afraid his will be an endless project. Somewhere, it will always hit home

 

For further information: https://uncloak.github.io/

Yemen: the flowers gone

I am finding out many of my neighbours have become ‘martyrs’.
All the young ones. The happy ones. The ones who wanted to travel, get engaged.
The ones working in the family corner shop, the taxi drivers, the students, the ones who helped me when I had the accident and maybe the ones involved in it; the ones who had no plans at all but did make a choice to go and fight. ‘It’s our duty’ they always tell me while I feel my duty is to protect them. At the end, we gave them this world, the fertile ground of wars included.
They started leaving on small buses in April 2015 (the war started on March 26 of the same year) from the Old City of Sanaá full of hopes. With a Kalashnikov and a small copy of the Holy Quran in hand.
They are heading north, They are going South my neighbours would tell me.
Don’t worry, Dear, Allah is with them.

They died in Mareb, Bab el Mandab, at the border, in places you have rarely heard of
The flowers are all gone.
They continue dying.
I hate social media. I hate WhatsApp messages in the middle of the night.
I could say it politely ‘Down with wars’. I won’t. FUCK WARS


photo: Reuters

Addisallem: I know everything now

‘Tomorrow is my birthday’ she says.
‘Look, you were born in July, now it’s only May.’
‘My life has started the day I met you.’
Addisallem, New World, was born in July, 29 years ago.
This is not her real name though it suits her perfectly. Addisallem has lived more than one single life can bear during her skinny three decades. Equally true: she has come to life again.
Her parents were not in love, lest married. Her father never wanted any wife and Addisallem simply got in the way, she happened, in their lives.
She grew up in Bahir Dar (Ethiopia) with her mother and an Auntie, a sister of her mother. Her father was living in Addis Ababa, far from any potential wife. But he did have another family; the important was: no wives.
He had no permanent job and, according to the fluctuations of the touristic season, he was a bus driver. Fluctuantly, he was sending money to Addisallem’s mother.
Addisallem claims her life was normal up to when she was 7.
Maybe it’s just that she does not remember much prior to going to school because at 7, she says, she was already working. The days were all consistently the same: wake up early in the morning, no breakfast, the rush to a neighbour´s home to do house chores, the long walk to the well to fetch water, a faster rush back home to prepare coffee for her mother before she would wake up . And the rush to school.
Categorically empty stomach. Empty stomach even when there was no school.IMG_0052
There are no memories of school, just a whispered ‘I was not good at it.’
The afternoons were simply a photocopy of the mornings: the rush home and, before lunch, the cleaning of the kitchen, the usual mess her mother used to make.
Addisallem’s mother was not any mother. She was a heavy drinker: a seller and consumer of Areki, a homemade alcoholic fermented drink. She was even running her own Areki House in town, working at night and consuming large quantities of alcohol.
The Areki came with the joints and the qat – locally called khat – the mildly stimulant leaf chewed in Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen, mainly.
Addisallem’s memories overlap: her mother never home or home and nervous.
Money was never enough.Until, one day, Mother was gone. That day lasted 5 years. Without a letter, without a word, without a phone call. She had moved South, almost on the border with Kenya.
It is  Auntie to take care of Addisallem until Mother decides to return. She is in a bad shape. Skeletal, nervous, with peaks of cruelty and paranoia.
Addisalam spies on her: she sees her mother injecting something- most likely drugs, but the girl is too young to know – in her arms or sticking cotton up her nostrils after having soaked it in something the girl cannot understand what it is.
It is silence which engulfs Addisallem. The fear the police might eventually abduct her mother, the fear to be left alone after the Auntie decides she cannot handle the situation any longer.
In silence. Because the day she decided to ask her mother why she could not have a new dress considering the father, occasionally, sends some money, the mother finds nothing better to do than grab the kettle boiling on the coal and pour the water on Addisallem’s back.
She still bears the scars.
Or the night they were walking home and two dogs started barking at them. The mother, scared, upset, paranoid, most likely high on Areki and drugs, pushes the daughter in front of her, towards the dogs. Addisallem is bitten on the leg, falls on her head and cracks the skull.
DSCF0443Auntie is gone, Addisallem is sore. She decides her only way out is to go to her grandmother – from her mother´s side –  to Addis Ababa. 600 km is nothing when you are fleeing for you life.
She will return a year after when informed that Mother is bed ridden. It will last only 1 month. Mother dies on an anonymous day weighting 20 kg.
Now Addisallem is totally alone. If she wants to survive, she needs a job. School is for the fortunate. She finds a job cleaning homes.
This is when her Father reappears. He helps her enrolling in an evening school. Hotel Management. At the end, he knows that with its fluctuations, tourism can bring money.

Addisallem earns her diploma and lives on her own. She has always been alone, at the end. ‘Had it been my father instead of my mother to die, I would be dead too. I am happy and strong now. Because, now, I know everything.’

Addisallem is still afraid of dogs. But she knows everything now. She dreams of a family and a son. She knows how a real mother should be.
Yes, she knows everything. A New World awaits her and when she meets a new friend, it’s like a birthday to her. Earned.

 

 

with Danilo Vallarino in Bahir Dar
photos: © Danilo Vallarino

The Nile Blues of Danilo Vallarino

 ”I live in Ethiopia in Bahir Dar in the region of Amara. I have been here for 26 months, my first working experience abroad, apart from a summer I spent working in a hotel in France.
Bahir Dar is a tourist destination, ranked among the 10 most beautiful cities of Africa, being near to the waterfalls and the source of the Blue Nile.”

Danilo Vallarino is humble,  timid almost. At times he seems to be carrying an ancient melancholy in him.
He arrived to Africa more than two years ago, following his job call. He is a Chef and when asked how can an Italian cope with the difference of ingredients available on the market, the tastes of the different latitude, – Ethiopia is not Italy, his home country – he makes no fuss: ”Not easy, but I manage. And every chef up to his job simply goes to the market!’.

He tells me this is not the Africa of the safaris, the Africa people generally have in mind.
His is the Africa of the Blue Nile river which, within Ethiopia, runs over 800 km and is the longest river of the continent. But it is in Ethiopia it holds its heart running up to Khartoum to meet the White Nile and give life to the entire Egypt.
The Blue Nile Falls are about an hour by car from Bahar Dar and then there are all the Orthodox monasteries on the Lake Tana, where the Blue Nile originates. In its own way, this is a very special tourist destination.

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For the past 15 years, Danilo has a companion. Better, two: an Olympus and a Nikon. He always carries them along. Even when he goes out just for two hours.

Sometimes, even when he is cooking. He does not photograph food – there is plenty of that in the net – he takes shots of people working with him. The smiles at the end of a difficult evening, the vapours and the aprons. Sometimes a hug, when a dish has come out particularly well.
From the kitchen of the hotel where he works, he looks outside. Ethiopia is there.
The Blue Nile chanting its blues. It´s a call he answers once a week, on his day off.

 

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”I always carry the camera with me, even when I go out for just two hours. Even before Ethiopia, when I was in Italy. The nature, nature itself, in its most savage – or natural – form, or people, daily life, the ordinary, are mind blowing to me. The lights at the end of the day when all these people have is a piece of bread, to share. The markets where people sell anything and fix anything. The workers, the basket weavers, the farmers.. virtually anything  which is natural.” 

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Do you manage to talk to people? To discover their stories?
”It is not easy to photograph them. At times people do not like it; at times someone asks for money. But I do not buy a photo. It would not be natural. So I have some patterns I follow  tricks – that help me.” 

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”A real Chef goes to the market” Danilo believes. It it also a way for him to know people and be close to them

 

He adds that a picture is obviously not merely a picture: there is always a story behind it.
”Sometimes I venture out alone and find myself in a crowd, surrounded by so many people. Each one of the men, women I meet bears on the face, hands and feet a databank of endless information. It is up to us to decode it, read it.”
”The women at the market, for instance, always remind me of delicate ceramic creations. They face the scorching sun all day long, selling little to earn even less. These women are a delicate equilibrium of its own kind. I always fear they might break. Yet, they are so strong.”

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 I happened to read a couple of poems of Danilo. Delicate, angry, sometimes sharp.
When I try to tell him, he distances himself from the concept of being a poet of any kind.
”I do not consider myself good at writing, but thank you anyway. I use angry words, true. Because anger is a part of me. I am often pissed. But it is a form of struggle I engage in, always, in order to never accept anything which is being served in front of me. But it is from that very same anger inside me that love grows. If only I could rely on more inner peace, then I think I would be a better person. Especially for those around me. Human relations are all we have. They should always come first.”

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Ethiopia is already a part of him. Ethiopia has changed him. He is one of the few people I  met who does not use the experience abroad as a platform to move on in life.
” I see the gap now. It happens when I return to Italy. I may be talking to my family, or anyone, and people pay attention to what you have to say for no longer than 5 minutes. I realise at a certain moment no one is listening. Someone interrupts me just to mention the Champions League.. just while I was trying say Hey, I was telling you about the women who every single day walk for hours carrying 15 litres of water on their head, bare feet. They look like mules…”
”I really do not know if people are not interested or prefer to ignore there is another reality, uncomfortable one. Maybe it’s a way to keep the conscience at bay.”

His conscience is not at bay.
”I do have a project, you know? It´s a big word, can I say it? It´s PEACE, in its broadest sense. Starting from inner peace. But relating to Ethiopia, I would like, one day, to publish a photographic book and try to help a small community. With no institutional help, no association involved. I think the biggest danger we run in places like this is darkness when it comes to historical memory. I will try to explain it: here, as in many other countries, there has never been an ‘age of the camera film roll‘. Nowadays people take pictures with their smartphones. Selfies and alike. Horrible. They think they are giving a sense of modernity and progress. But if you do not print, you are most likely going to lose everything. Pages of history and memory. What we received, as a society, has always been transmitted to us by stone, wood and paper. We need to print. A digital file is nothing. This is what I am planning to do: preserve for the future. Transmit. I do this also for my children who represent my bridge to the future. They might understand who their father was.”
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Danilo, most likely, will leave Ethiopia at the end of the year. His children await him.
”I love this people. There are times I get so angry when we work together but there is a fundamental attraction, a sense of belonging. Otherwise I would not have stayed. Fact is my children need me.”

The Blue Nile is chanting and returning to Italy will not stop it.11755909_507054052781119_1058695893138987668_n
Danilo will never, really, leave Ethiopia. He will come back, not only for the book.

 

all photographs: © Danilo Vallarino

 

Socotra, a distress call

Beyond the headlines, the sides and the personal interests, the various factions, those who care and those who couldn´t care any less, those who always have the answer and know who is ultimately to be blamed.
This is a message from Socotra island, isolated from the world and forgotten in the middle of the Indian Ocean, 400 km ca, off war-torn Yemen.

”A distress call.
Dozens of critical medical cases on the island, including a case of coma and kidney failure.
We need help, regular boats coming to the island and flights to/from Hadibo.
Flights to Socotra have stopped months ago and, due to the monsoon season, there are no more boats to our shores.
Students, families, patients are stuck in Mukhalla now. It has been so for 2 months.

We lack  Baby Formulas, food, medicine.
Our lives are being sacrificed. We are under a forgotten siege.
The situation is worsening.
We need help within the next 48 hours.”

The kidney failure case was a prior message received:
”My friend…he had a kidney failure. It is the first time it happens to him. His health is deteriorating. There are no medicines at the hospital. Imagine: they cannot do anything at the hospital.
There are no flights to mainland. He is stuck here, in Socotra, and his condition does not allow him to travel by boat to Mukhalla. 
He is under the mercy of God.
The war in Yemen deprived people of everything. If you are sick, there are not even emergency flights from Socotra.
Can you please write about him and his case? Hopefully someone can send an airplane to get all the patients out. He is not alone. There are many like him.
His name is Abdullah Salem.”

The name Socotra is derived from a Sanskrit word with its meaning  close to “The Island of Bliss”.
That was before the senseless war. Before lives started being sacrificed in the name of power.
50.000 people, amongst the kindest on the planet, await to be remembered.
Beyond the headlines.

 

photo: © Time

 

George Harrison´s original lyrics of ‘Here comes the Sun’.

I travelled to India, first time in my life, in October 1995 with a friend and few other strangers to witness the total solar eclipse.
First time in India, first solar eclipse.
There were many firsts during that trip: the Taj Mahal at sunset with people writing poetry on the marble, praying and crying. All for love.
Witnessing an Italian elderly writer falling in love with the handwriting of a message someone passed him under his room door somewhere in Rajastan, without ever meeting the person. He had fallen in love with the calligraphy .
There was the first time I spent a night matching the colours of bangles with a seller in Khajurao, the first time I witnessed a teacher travelling from village to village to teach children who looked like toddlers to me in the living room of someone´s home.
The first time of a rickshaw and an elephant ride (which I now terribly regret), the first real fear of catching malaria and a building paranoia of monkeys.
The first time I saw what abandoned children – toddlers, again – looked like, how they moved, lived.
The first time of X-ray hung on laundry line in an afternoon transformed into a little, temporary, tragedy.
There were the first encounters with sadhus, India’s wandering holy men. Everywhere. In railway stations, market places, in the middle of nowhere. Some gazes are still with me. First and everlasting.
There were all those temples and mosques to write about and photograph because the trip was the first time of abundance at eyesight. Along with the Namaste: I honour the soul I recognise in You. 

Truth is I did not want to be part of that trip. It was the first time I was not ready to pack and go.  ”I am not ready for India” I used to tell myself and others.
The total solar eclipse was worth all the firsts of the world, even if the eclipse, itself, lasted only 40 seconds at the end of which the team of National Geographic documenting next to me  blasted one, just one, song: Here Comes the Sun.
It was 1995. Many trips followed, friends changed. The Italian journalist passed away and other co-travellers remained strangers.
I changed jobs, many countries of residence and returnt to India other times. I would always return to India.
That day in October 1995, while we had all just honoured the sun being covered by the moon, George Harrison was telling me ‘Little Darling, it´s alright’.
Today, seeing the original lyrics, I say the same, It´s Alright.