Friday, August 11, 2017
By Vijay Prashad
One year ago, on August 9, 2016, Saudi Arabia’s air force bombed the Sana’a International Airport in Yemen. This salvo came as part of a broad assault on Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, which the Saudis have been bombing since 2015. The Ansarullah movement, the umbrella group that is dominated by the Houthis, holds Sana’a. The day after the bombings, Saleh al-Samad, who heads the Political Council of the Ansarullah movement, said that the Saudi strikes would create a catastrophe. Sana’a International Airport provided an essential lifeline for the civilian population of northern Yemen. Food and medical supplies came through the airport. These would now be halted as a result of the strikes.
A year later, 15 relief agencies joined together to condemn the destruction of the airport. ‘The official closure of Sana’a airport,’ they note, ‘effectively traps millions of Yemeni people and serves to prevent the free movement of commercial and humanitarian goods.’ Yemen’s Ministry of Health estimates that at least 10,000 Yemenis died from lack of access to the international medical treatment that they had sought. Each year, before the conflict, about 7,000 Yemenis traveled abroad annually for medical treatment. Many of them used Sana’a International Airport as their point of departure. They have now been trapped to die.
The 15 relief agencies note that more people have died because they have been denied access to international medical care than those killed by the fighting. These numbers, they point out, represent the 'hidden victims of the conflict in Yemen.’
One of these hidden victims is the father of Mutasim Hamdan, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s country director in Yemen. This relief organization was one of the 15 that signed the letter. Hamdan’s father, Mohammed, needed urgent medical care, which was not available in his wartorn country. ‘The only way to save my father’s life was to take him abroad,’ Mutasim Hamdan says. They traveled by road for 24 hours to Seiyun Airport to Sana’a’s east. ‘The doctors said that it was dangerous for him to travel all the way there, that he might die on the way, but it was our only option.’ Less than a day before he was to board his flight and after the terrible journey, Mohammed Hamdan died. ‘The journey was too much for my father,’ his son said.
Wael Ibrahim of Care International, another one of the signatories, said that the blockade is ‘collective punishment for people in Yemen.’ Ibrahim pointed out that the road to the other airports are dangerous, with armed men at checkpoints and with Saudi aircraft liable to bomb civilians in their cars. ‘It’s a rough journey,’ he said. Why has the airport remained closed for the past year? ‘There is no justification for the airport to close,’ said Care’s Ibrahim.
Matters are grave. Yemen is at the brink of cholera and famine driven mass death. There is little Western media coverage of this atrocity. Dr. Homer Venters of Physicians for Human Rights said that Yemen is the frontline for the ‘weaponization of disease.’ War crimes abound.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council has been mute on the medieval siege that has throttled the lives of the Yemeni people. The U.N. has passed several Security Council resolutions, but none of these have condemned Saudi Arabia for its war and embargo, for essentially sending Yemen into genocide. Only in June 2017 did the president of the Security Council—Bolivia’s Ambassador Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz—encourage the installation of the cranes at Hudayadah port (bombed by the Saudis) and the reopening of Sana’a International Airport. There was no mention that the embargo against Yemen’s people is a violation of the free movement of people (article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
In January 2016, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said of the condition in Syria, ‘The use of starvation as a weapon of war is a war crime.’ No such statement has been made against Saudi Arabia’s siege.
The U.N.’s Yemen humanitarian coordinator, Jamie McGoldrick, said recently that he is in touch with the Saudi government and its Yemeni allies. He has personally asked the Saudis to allow the airport to open to full capacity (currently only a few flights are allowed into the airport). The U.N. has asked the Saudis to allow one or two humanitarian flights to leave Sana’a each week. The airlift would go through Saudi Arabia, allowing the kingdom’s intelligence agents surveillance of the passengers. Even this was too much for Saudi Arabia. It was not allowed. ‘It’s like being caught up in a fortress mentality,’ McGoldrick said. ‘This has become a tactic of war in itself and I think it is really unfair.’ But it is more than unfair: It is a war crime.
In March, Ambassador Michele Sison, the U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations, who is a career State Department officer, pointed directly to the war and the siege as the reasons for the civilian deaths and the impending cholera as well as famine. ‘Constraints on access’ through the Hudayadah port and the Sana’a International Airport, she said, ‘contribute to the risk of famine. The closure of Sana’a airport, along with checkpoints on the ground, complicate relief efforts even more. Obstructions to aid in Yemen must be lifted.’
It is all very well to say so. But what comes next? Will the U.S. openly pressure the Saudis to allow humanitarian flights into and out of Sana’a International Airport? Will the U.S. decline to rearm Saudi Arabia as it continues to pummel Yemen, including Sana’a International Aiport and Hudayadah port? What does it mean to recognize that the siege is a war crime or at least ‘unfair’?
It is unlikely that the U.S. will stop its active support for the Saudi war. Paranoia about Iran’s role in Yemen stills the hand of the Trump administration. It has been suffocated by its one-dimensional view of Iran. A dramatic operation by Saudi and UAE-backed Yemeni forces against al-Qaeda strongholds in Yemen’s Hadhramaut region this week gives the war a new lease on life. It is as if the Saudi-backed forces are fighting not only al-Qaeda in Yemen, but also Iran. Trump—who strangely believes that Iran and al-Qaeda are on the same side—must view this with pleasure. Reality is far from his assessment. Saudi Arabia will get off scot-free. The monstrous anger of the guns will not cease.
Increase in Executions Since Leadership Change..
Fourteen members of the Saudi Shia community are at imminent risk of execution after Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court in mid-July 2017 upheld their death sentences from an unfair trial for protest-related crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. Courts convicted the 14 based on confessions they had repudiated in court, saying that they were coerced.
Saudi Arabia’s execution rate has accelerated since the country’s leadership change on June 21. Since that date, Saudi Arabia has executed 35 people, compared with 39 during the first six months of 2017. Nine of the people executed since June 21 were convicted for nonviolent drug crimes.
“Saudi Arabia’s public relations firms and management consultants have recently sold a reform narrative, but executions have only increased since Saudi Arabia’s leadership change, and many more could be on the way,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Executions are never the answer to stopping crime, especially when they result from a flawed justice system that ignores torture allegations.” Saudi Arabia’s leadership change coincided with the transfer of many security powersand the prosecution service to new entities reporting directly to the king. The Interior Ministry carries out executions approved by Saudi courts and the king.
Authorities transferred the 14 Shia men without explanation from Dammam to Riyadh’s Ha’ir prison on July 15, and have held some of them in solitary confinement and without contact with the outside world since then, family members told Human Rights Watch.
The 14 were among the defendants in a mass trial known as the “Qatif 24” case, as all defendants were from that Shia-majority area. The Specialized Criminal Court convicted all of them on protest-related crimes, and some faced charges of violence including targeting police patrols or police stations with guns and Molotov cocktails. Saudi media have described the 24 men as members of a “terrorism cell” that carried out over 50 armed attacks targeting security forces that killed “a number” of them and injured dozens.
The court convicted nearly all defendants based on confessions they later repudiated in court, saying the authorities had tortured them. The Specialized Criminal Court sentenced 14 to death in June 2016, and an appeals court upheld the verdict in May 2017. The court sentenced 9 others to prison terms between 3 and 15 years, and exonerated one defendant. The Justice Ministry defended judicial authorities’ handling of the case in a Saudi Press Agency statement on August 4, saying that the sentence was reviewed and approved by 13 separate judges. But it did not address the allegations that authorities obtained confessions by torture or that judges dismissed these allegations without investigating them. The 14 men include Mujtaba al-Sweikat, whom authorities arrested in August 12, 2012, as he was trying to board a plane for the United States to attend Western Michigan University, as well as Munir al-Adam, who Saudi activists say lost hearing in one earfollowing beatings by interrogators.
Human Rights Watch analyzed 10 trial judgments that the Specialized Criminal Court handed down between 2013 and 2016 against men and children accused of protest-related crimes following popular demonstrations by members of the Shia minority in 2011 and 2012 in Eastern Province towns. In nearly all these judgments, defendants had retracted their “confessions,” saying they were coerced in circumstances that in some cases amounted to torture, including beatings and prolonged solitary confinement. The court rejected all torture allegations without investigating the claims. It ignored defendants’ requests to demand video footage from the prison that they said would show them being tortured, and to summon interrogators as witnesses to describe how the “confessions” were obtained.
Saudi activists told Human Rights Watch that in July 2017, authorities also transferred to Riyadh another 15 men sentenced to death as part of an “Iran Spy Trial,” and local media reported that an appeals court had upheld their death sentences in July. The verdict now requires approval by the Supreme Court and the king’s signature.
Others currently on death row include four Saudis whom courts found guilty of offenses committed when they were children – Ali al-Nimr, Dawoud al-Marhoun, Abdullah al-Zaher, and Abdulkareem Al-Hawaj. Of the 74 people executed so far in 2017, 52 were Saudi citizens. Among the foreigners executed were 12 Pakistanis who had been convicted on drug smuggling charges. International standards, including the Arab Charter on Human Rights, ratified by Saudi Arabia, require countries that retain the death penalty to use it only for the “most serious crimes,” and in exceptional circumstances. In 2012, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions stated that in countries that still use the death penalty, it should be limited to cases in which a person intentionally committed murder, not to punish drug-related offenses. Article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits capital punishment for children or child offenders in all cases. The Death Penalty Worldwide Database, which collects information on executions across the globe, shows that Saudi Arabia has one of the highest execution rates in the world, and applies the death penalty to a range of offenses that do not constitute “most serious crimes,” including drug offenses and “sorcery.” In the Middle East, only Iran executes more people: since the start of 2017, Iran has reportedly executed at least 357 prisoners, according to Boroumand Foundation, a human rights group that documents executions in Iran. Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and under all circumstances. Capital punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error. In 2012, following similar resolutions in 2007, 2008, and 2010, the UN General Assembly called on countries to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, progressively restrict the practice, and reduce the offenses for which it might be imposed, all with the view toward its eventual abolition. The UN secretary-general at the time, Ban Ki-moon, called on countries in 2013 to abolish the death penalty. “If the new leadership is serious about reform, they should immediately step in to stop these executions and put an end to sham trials in which defendants may have been convicted using torture-tainted confessions,” Whitson said. Show More Services
Despite India's continuous pressure on Bhutan to openly take India's side, Thimpu's passive resistance has embarrassed New Delhi.
Indian media reported Thursday that anonymous sources in the Bhutanese government told the media to refer to the Bhutanese foreign ministry's June 29 statement for its position on the Doklam issue. The statement said the construction of the road in Doklam was a direct violation of agreements.
A few days ago, a Chinese diplomat told a visiting Indian media delegation that Bhutan had conveyed to China through diplomatic channels that the area of the standoff is not its territory.
Due to the fact that Indian troops crossed into Chinese territory on the ground to "protect Bhutan," Thimpu's stance is catastrophic for India.
India has stationed troops in Bhutan and controls the country's defense and foreign affairs.
Senior Bhutanese officials have never openly said the area of standoff is Bhutan's territory and never acknowledged they requested India's intervention in China's road construction. New Delhi took the liberty to speak on Bhutan's behalf.
On Friday, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj met her Bhutanese counterpart Damcho Dorji. Dorji said "we hope the situation in Doklam will be resolved peacefully and amicably."
Bhutan obviously wants to remain neutral in the standoff. It does not appear like a country that had been "invaded" by China and desperately wants India's protection.
India is bullying Bhutan and its fabricated excuses are groundless in front of international laws.
India's overall strength is far from that of a major power, but its hegemonic ambitions are world-class. It forcefully annexed Sikkim in the past and continues to violate Bhutan's sovereign rights and to interfere in Nepal's foreign policies. Because India has always been courted by the West, many of its practices were tolerated by the US and its allies.
India's regional hegemonism has expanded to harm China's national interests, forcing Beijing to take action. China has advocated that all countries are equal despite their size. It's necessary for China to spread this initiative to South Asia, which will surely be welcomed by countries under India's pressure. China is also capable of influencing how India is perceived by these countries. It's time for India's hegemony in South Asia to come to an end.
China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. We can also condemn India's violation of South Asian nations' sovereign rights through UN platforms. The Doklam standoff is just the start. The world needs to see what India has done in South Asia.
By Curtis Stone
The military border standoff between China and India in the Dong Lang area (Doklam) reveals India’s geopolitical ambitions and motivation to use “protecting Bhutan” as an excuse for its own superpower dream. To defuse the crisis, India should immediately withdraw its troops from the area.
The current standoff began in mid-June, when hundreds of Indian border troops crossed the boundary in the Sikkim Sector of Doklam and advanced into territory claimed by China to obstruct the construction of a road. The assumption that China is the aggressor is just plain wrong. “We have repeatedly stated that Doklam has always been part of China’s territory,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Jul. 5. “There is no disagreement on the fact that Doklam belongs to China,” he added.
India has long sought to dominate Asia. “India considers China, which crushed India in the 1962 war, as its most serious security threat,” an unclassified document on India’s strategic interests concluded. In an intelligence assessment, the US argued that India’s key objectives have remained largely unchanged since independence in 1947. “Preeminent among these objectives is the desire to obtain recognition from its neighbors of India’s status as the region’s leading power,” the document said, adding, India seeks to curb the influence of others in the region.
Making territorial claims on Bhutan’s behalf suggests that these long-held objectives remain as important today as they were years ago. According to an editorial in the People’s Daily by Zhong Sheng, or “Voice of China,” India’s intrusion into the area under the pretext of helping Bhutan not only violated China’s territorial sovereignty, but challenged Bhutan’s sovereignty and independence. Now, Bhutan is stuck in the middle of a geopolitical conflict that could spiral out of control and lead to a wider regional conflict.
All this suggests that the conflict started by India is not about “protecting Bhutan,” but about India trying to realize its superpower dream.
Fortunately, the two countries can and need to cooperate in many areas. For example, India benefits from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a multilateral financial institution founded to help increase connectivity across Asia. Three projects have been approved to date, including a power project and an infrastructure development project. Most recently, the bank approved a $329 million loan to build access roads to approximately 4,000 villages in all 33 districts of Gujarat. In addition, another six projects are being considered by the bank. At the same time, more Chinese companies are investing in India, and Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for closer cooperation.
India is also a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which means India has a voice on the important regional political, economic, and security issues that directly affect it. Furthermore, China and India are members of the BRICS association, an important platform for cooperation among major emerging economies, as well as members of the G20, the premier forum for international economic cooperation and global governance. In addition, China and India could always further enhance cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, which India is still reluctant to join in.
This is to say that the relationship is complicated, but China and India do not need to see each other as rivals for leadership in Asia. There is always the strategic dimension to relations, but emphasis should be placed on strengthening cooperation. For example, China and the Philippines are working out their differences on the South China Sea issue, and China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) endorsed a framework for a maritime code of conduct, an important step to ease tension in the strategic waterway. This shows that conflict is not inevitable. Steps can be taken to lower tensions and peacefully resolve differences, and India should follow suit.
But China has made it clear that its patience is wearing thin and is not endless. “If the Indian side truly cherishes peace, what it should do is to immediately pull back the trespassing border troops to the Indian side of the boundary,” Geng said on Aug. 3. Given the high stakes and the importance of good relations with China, the best strategy for India is to stop playing geopolitical games and turn its attention to finding ways to prevent future conflict between two growing neighbors.
Chinese military primed for battle, military sources say; Indian troops ‘prepared for any eventuality’.
Chinese and Indian troops are readying themselves for a possible armed conflict in the event they fail in their efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution to their border dispute on the Doklam plateau in the Himalayas, observers said.
Sources close to the Chinese military, meanwhile, said that the People’s Liberation Army is increasingly aware of the possibility of war, but will aim to limit any conflict to the level of skirmishes, such as those contested by India and Pakistan in Kashmir.
“The PLA will not seek to fight a ground war with Indian troops early on. Instead it will deploy aircraft and strategic missiles to paralyse Indian mountain divisions stationed in the Himalayas on the border with China,” a military insider told the South China Morning Post on condition of anonymity, adding that he believes Indian troops will probably hold out for “no more than a week”.
Another military source said that officers and troops from the Western Theatre Command have already been told to prepare for war with India over the Doklam crisis.
“There is a voice within the army telling it to fight because it was Indian troops that intruded into Chinese territory in Donglang [Doklam],” the second source said. “Such a voice is supported by the public.” Both sources said that China’s military believes any conflict will be controlled, and not spill over into other disputed areas, of which there are currently three along the 2,000km border between the two Asian giants.
However, Indian defence experts warned that once the first shot is fired, the conflict may escalate into full-scale war. That in turn could result in New Delhi blockading China’s maritime lifeline in the Indian Ocean. “Any Chinese military adventurism will get a fitting reply from the Indian military,” Dr Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, a research associate at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, told the Post. “Certainly, it will be detrimental for both, but if Beijing escalates [the conflict], it will not be limited. Perhaps, it may extend to the maritime domain as well,” he said.
“If China engages in a military offensive against India, New Delhi will take all necessary measures ... [and will] respond to Chinese actions in its own way. Why only a border war? It could escalate to a full-scale India-China war,” he said. Rajeswari Rajagopalan, a defence analyst from the Observer Research Foundation think tank in New Delhi, said that “in the event of a full-scale war, definitely India’s navy will prevent the Chinese navy from moving into the Bay of Bengal or the Indian Ocean.” China is heavily reliant on imported fuel and, according to figures published by state media, more than 80 per cent of its oil imports travel via the Indian Ocean or Strait of Malacca.
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said that India in 2010 established a naval base in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, close to the Strait of Malacca, where the narrowest sea channel is just 1.7km wide. “Since 2010, India has also upgraded two airstrips on the islands to serve fighters and reconnaissance aircraft,” he said. “All these moves pave the way for India to be able to blockade Chinese military and commercial ships from entering the Indian Ocean in the event of a naval conflict between the two countries.” In July, India, the United States and Japan completed their 10-day Malabar 2017 naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal, while around the same time the US approved the US$365-million sale of military transport aircraft to India and a US$2-billion deal for surveillance drones.
As a result, the Indian navy now has eight Boeing P-8A Poseidon submarine hunters patrolling in the Indian Ocean. Chinese and Indian troops fought a war in 1962 after a series of skirmishes heightened tensions on the border. That conflict ended largely in a stalemate, despite China’s large military advantage. However, Chaturvedy said that India has learnt lessons from its past mistakes and is now better prepared to defend itself against China. Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong said that both sides have underestimated each other. “If the border conflict expands to the sea, it will be very difficult for the PLA to defeat the Indian navy, whose capabilities are much stronger after the purchase of the P-8A Poseidon submarine hunters,” he said.
The government of Pakistan will accord a state funeral to Sister Ruth Katharina Martha Pfau, a German-born member of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary who devoted her life to eradicating leprosy in Pakistan. Sister Ruth, dubbed the Mother Teresa of Pakistan, died Aug. 10 in Karachi. She was 87. "Sister Ruth was a model of total dedication. She inspired and mobilized all sections of society to join the fight against leprosy, irrespective of creed or ethnic identity," Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, president of Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference, told Catholic News Service Aug. 11.
"We are happy that the government is according her a state funeral on Aug. 19," the archbishop said, noting it would be at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Karachi. Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said Sister Ruth would be remembered "for her courage, her loyalty, her service to the eradication of leprosy, and most of all, her patriotism." "Pfau may have been born in Germany, her heart was always in Pakistan," he said.
Born in Leipzig, Germany, in 1929, she went to France to study medicine and later joined the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary. Archbishop Coutts said she arrived in Karachi in 1960 due to some visa problems en route to India and was touched by what she saw at the leprosy colony off Macleod Road in Karachi. She decided to join the work Mexican Sister Bernice Vargasi had begun three year earlier, Archbishop Coutts said. In 1962 Sister Ruth founded the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre in Karachi, Pakistan's first hospital dedicated to treating Hansen's disease, and later set up its branches in all provinces of Pakistan. She spent the rest of her life in the country and was granted Pakistani citizenship.
In 1996, the World Health Organization declared Pakistan one of the first countries in Asia to be free of Hansen's disease. The Dawn daily reported in 2016 that the number of those under treatment for leprosy fell to 531 from more than 19,000 in the 1980s.
The Pakistani bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace called Sister Ruth a "national hero of Pakistan." It said her services for humanity "were nothing less than a pure manifestation of God's divine love."
Pakistan's decorated female squash player, Maria Toorpakai, on Friday responded to the ones vilifying her lately, saying that sports should not be dragged into politics. Speaking to newsmen here, Toorpakai said people casting aspersions on her make no difference to her. "We are soldiers of sports having our own uniform, our own style," she said, adding that she does not care about politics. Toorpakai, who happens to be former Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) member Aisha Gulalai's younger sister, came under bitter verbal attacks by several PTI leaders following Gulalai's allegations against PTI chief Imran Khan. The vilification campaign against Toorpakai had also prompted Khan to ask his supporters not to target the decorated squash player. Commenting further, she welcomed the PTI chairman's tweet asking his supporters to refrain from targeting her. "I do not mind even if someone abuses me; all heroes including Imran Khan are my ideals," she said. https://www.geo.tv/latest/153332-sports-should-not-be-dragged-into-politics-maria-toorpakai-to-critics