‘Why is the world looking away’? Gisela Hofmann on Yemen

Gisela Hofmann is a German friend who, literally, lives for Yemen. Throughout the years, she lived in the country, learnt Arabic and has become a peace advocate.
Gisela sent me a letter asking to publish it. It is her cry, the cry of a woman who has loved ones under constant bombs and castrated by a siege. Gisela cannot visit her ‘family in Sanaa’ and dreams of the day she will be reunited with them.
In the meantime, eight-hundred days have passed since that first bomb dropped on Yemen in the night of March 26 2015. The country has been totally destroyed, official figures estimate over ten thousand casualties, a child dead every ten minutes succumbing to preventable diseases, over fourteen million food insecure, three million internally displaced, a third cholera outbreak which has claimed lives of over six hundred people with a skyrocketing seventy thousand suspected cases.
Yemen has collapsed, Gisela dreams of peace and writes:

”For more than fifteen years, we have been personally associated with Yemen enjoying a close friendship with a family in Sanaa.
Throughout these years, we were able to stay with our friend-family twice a year, every year. We also lived for several months in Sanaa in a rented a flat.
Our visit in November 2014 would be the last for a long time. We did not suspect this at the time. Since then, we are only connected via internet, though this is not continuously possible for a variety of reasons but, basically, our friends have no electricity and have no money.

We are suffering, we feel helpless: we cannot do anything for our beloved family.
Since the beginning of  the Yemen-war and the suffering of the population, this country has been in the shadow of all other political “proxy wars”.
I would like to talk about my friends and family members, I want to describe their current life situation.
My heart is heavy when I think of them. Especially the children and my warm-hearted women-friends. I know how they feel, although I never hear complaints despite the very difficult situation. The humility and pride of these generous people does not allow it.
The following lines are dedicated to Mohammed, Latifa, and Safia and their families (how much I miss them):

“Why  is the world looking away?
I’d like to write  about the current life of the citizens in Yemen. I can report what I am constantly being told by my friends as, for myself, it is not possible in the current situation to return to Yemen: Sanaa airport is under  Saudi-led Coalition imposed blockade and it has also been partially destroyed by airstrikes..
The biggest problem posed by the siege is that for Yemenis there is no way to let vital relief supplies and aid be brought into the country.
If you run a finger on the map, throughout the whole country, you realise that the important main roads, transport routes and sea ports have been destroyed. This means that the urgent transport of aid and relief supply to the suffering people, to hospitals and distribution of safe, drinking water to villages is impossible or extremely difficult.
People outside the cities are abandoned and can depend exclusively on themselves.
Nobody looks, takes care of the population as military strategies are in the foreground. With few exceptions, there are no foreign embassies and/or diplomatic representatives in the country.
It is close to impossible for the  people of Yemen to  flee elsewhere. Even for families living abroad it is difficult to care for the loved ones gripped in the famine-cholera-aggression- torn homeland. Flights to and from Yemen are virtually close to zero and escaping to neighboring countries requires money which Yemenis do not have.

It is neighboring Saudi Arabia leading the war on Yemen. Since 26 March 2015, the Saudi led Coalition has kept Yemen under continuous military attacks.
Like in any given war, the simple, common people are those suffering the unthinkable.
Primarily children, sick people and the elderly.
The children of our friends-family have been out of school for months in a row out of fear of air-raids, or because schools were closed or teachers on strike having received no salary for over eight months.
A friend’s daughter contracted hepatitis caused by contaminated water. In order to receive immediate medical treatment, the family had to sell the last personal possessions. The treatment lasted longer than normal because the child was malnourished. Malnutrition maims the immune system of weakened children making them more prone to diseases.
The father of the little girl  had to donate his own blood to treat her and has, since then, been donating regularly to help others in need.The current situation allows many families to virtually just vegetate, exist, nothing else. A graceful life is no longer possible.
Schools, hospitals have shut down: government personnel have been out of salary for eight – nine months.
In the meantime, prices are soaring. A bottle of gas costs five times as much as compared to the beginning of 2015. Most people cannot afford it any longer: they use what they can to make a fire.
Speculation is rampant: some much-needed items must be bought exclusively in dollars cutting off most of the population.

There are those who have lost everything because of an airstrike: home and loved ones. Yemen is in a constant mourning.

The world is wrapped in silence, passively supporting these eight-hundred days of war crimes against the Yemeni population. Syria and Iraq have overshadowed the plight of Yemenis.
In spite of pain and suffering, there is life, though. There are tireless people, fighting with heart and intelligence for the future of Yemen. These people fight  with peaceful means vehemently against Yemen’s unjust, forgotten war.

A termination of the aggression is imperative. If I look at the situation of Yemen I feel anger along with an inexpressible sadness, because I see what  this country has become.

In the 1980s, at the time of  Ali Abdallah Saleh’s leadership, perhaps the country began slowly to open and move forwards. Yemenis saw progress in their own land and enjoyed international recognition.  After the Unification of South and North Yemen in 1990, a flourishing period began, starting from tourism. People from all parts of the world visited the long closed, untouched, historical country. Tourism became the largest employer of Yemen. Now even archaeological sites have fallen victim of indiscriminate air-raids, even towns and monuments protected by the UNESCO. Treasures of mankind have been lost, forever.

An immediate halt to the inconsiderate arms deals and sales to those aggressing Yemen, would represent a huge step towards the end of the war  on my second home. It would push the sides involved in the conflict to find solutions, involving only diplomatic means.
Had it happened before, many Yemeni children would still be alive and the homes of countless Yemenis would not be in rubbles.

Last February there was a defence and arms exhibition, ‘only’ 2500 km from Yemen. Weapons worth billions of dollars were sold while back in Yemen a nation was and is starving to death.
This forgotten country needs more attention. It is important tell to the world about the suffering of Yemenis who are at their limit. They cannot take it any longer.
The first article of our German basic law states: “Human dignity is untouchable”.
It should apply also to Yemenis. ”

Gisela Hofmann

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Yemen, where schools are bombed ‘just because’

A friend writes: ‘Before war, Yemeni children were still studying here. They had a place to study at, a tree, a straw bale house or just whatever it was.  9
After Houthi came to libe
rate us from corrupt and incompetent government and after Al Saud came to help us build a better country without militants, our children lost everything schools, trees, caves etc. Dangers are surrounding them everywhere. Go to hell, all of you.’

 

 

The war on Yemen, commenced by the Saudi led Coalition has brought us all to provide numbers, like automatic machines: 3 millions internally displaced, 9 million with no access to water, 21 million underfed and with no access to food, 10.000 killed (mainly civilians), 16.000 maimed for life: there is a number for everything and a name to accompany each case. And numbers skyrocket from one week to the other.

 

According to Unicef, over 3000 schools had to close doing to the ‘ongoing conflict’  (why no one calls it an aggression is still beyond comprehension) leaving almost 2 million children with no education.

12

On Saturday, August 13, a school (private home-school) in Juma Bin Fadhel  area of Saada was purposely airstruck by the Saudi led Coalition, leaving 10 children dead and over 20 injured.
Saada, declared military zone by the Saudis, has been a target of every single bomb available in the 21st century. Everything has been dropped on its soil, something close to nothing still stands.
Saudis claim there was no school there: only a children-soldiers recruiting and training centre, hence, bombing justified.

In a week filled with Saudi’s war crimes – at a rate of 1-2 per day – we just want to reitarate that Kudos go to the population: those teachers who never gave up on Yemeni children and parents who continue to send their kids to ‘school’ (whatever that means now).
What the world does not get is the vastitude of this war: schools are considered recruitment places for child soldiers, hence, bombed.
Schools are bombed just because everything else has already been bombed. Schools are bombed because the uncle of the cousin of someone whose relative teaches in the school is Houthi or has a drop of Iranian blood in his veins.
Schools are bombed as collateral damage.
Schools are bombed because the carnage of the innocent hurts more and there is a pleasure in breaking the spine of Yemen.
Schools are bombed because the ‘taking of Sanaa’ the media keeps on filling its mouth with, passes through war crimes. One after the other, one filthier than the other.
The vast majority of Yemeni children goes to school empty stomach because 80% of the population is food insecure (famined), still, teachers are there and children walk to whatever stands as a school.
A paranoid urge to bomb has pervaded Saudis: something unseen before in history. Satanic.
But Yemenis continue to teach and children being educated. What is left of them, that is.
Resilience and courage are Yemeni.
The rest is understood.
AFP4478954_Articolo

 

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