Thursday, August 17, 2017
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.
By Shi Feiran
The U.S. Department of State issued its report on International Religious Freedom for 2016, once again using human rights as a political tool to interfere in the internal affairs of China, tarnish its international image, and promote U.S. strategic interests.
In response to the report, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China fully respects and protects freedom of religion and belief in accordance with the law. China slammed the report for maliciously criticizing China’s religious freedom situation in disregard of the facts, and urged the U.S. side to mind its own business and stop interfering in other countries’ internal affairs in the name of religion.
As in any country, there is always room for improvement, but freedom of religious belief is a basic right enjoyed by all Chinese citizens. China protects normal religious activities, but no country allows illegal or harmful activities to be carried out in the name of religion. As a sovereign country, China has every right to guard against what it sees as foreign infiltration through religion and to take appropriate measures to stop extremists from spreading their poisonous ideologies in the country.
As a major country with great influence, the U.S. has an important role to play in advancing the protection of human rights and religious freedom around the world. But the U.S. should also realize that America is not a human rights paradise, nor the world’s moral leader. It thus has no right to use human rights or religious freedom as an excuse to undermine the authority of other countries for its own strategic purposes.
In fact, the U.S. itself is awash in terrible human rights abuses—not only against its own citizens, but the citizens of other countries. For example, hate toward Muslims is growing. According to a report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), reported hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. rose dramatically in 2016. “Islamophobic bias continues its trend toward increasing violence,” the report found. In 2016, CAIR recorded a 57 percent increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents over 2015, accompanied by a 44 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the same period. From 2014 to 2016, anti-Muslim bias incidents jumped 65 percent and hate crimes targeting Muslims surged 584 percent.
The U.S. government continues to treat Muslims as terrorists-in-waiting, spying on Muslim Americans because of their religious belief and practices, and stealthily trying to ban Muslims from entering the country. The U.S. government has also killed a large number of innocent civilians in Muslim countries in its controversial targeted killing program, and the CIA’s brutal interrogation program is the very definition of torture. In a report last year, the International Criminal Court said the U.S. may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan. Taken together, it is wildly hypocritical for the U.S. to point the finger at China and in the same breath claim the world’s moral high ground, when there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.
But it is not just hate toward Muslims that is on the rise. As the recent deadly racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, have shown, hate and terror are on the rise in America, and such problems are expected to increase. In its eagerness to claim the moral high ground, the U.S. government has ignored the facts of its own situation, showing its bias against China. Rather than place America on top of all other nations as the world’s moral authority and undermine other countries’ efforts and hard-won achievements, the U.S. government should focus more on making America “great again,” and less on making other countries more like America.
By Murtaza Haider Khan Khakwani
Sleep escaped me last night after reading about a young boy, a few years short of adolescence, hit and trampled to death by the cavalcade of Pakistan's ousted Prime Minister. According to witnesses and news reports, this child's body was driven over by a multitude of vehicles escorting the PM. There was a 'mobile health unit' in this motorcade too, which sped away without a care. The boy's father overcome with grief and horror, fainted as he witnessed this scene. Some say he suffered a heart attack.
Following the incident, the PM's stooges rebranded the murder of this child as 'a sacrifice for Pakistan'. They had the audacity to call him their 'little worker' in an attempt to dupe the masses into believing that this innocent bystander died for their cause. Their cause? Trying to reinstate a man who was disqualified by the country's Supreme Court for having amassed wealth (>$1 billion) beyond his means and following his rise to political power. They used the death of this child as a slogan to perpetuate their nefarious reign. If you think ousting this PM was an attack on democracy, allow me to burst your bubble of ignorance. No democracy would stand for this. Pakistan however, conducts a countrywide election to bring in self-proclaimed monarchs. Supported by a swarm of greed-ridden locusts that have sold their souls for a step up in society, wave after wave of such plagued individuals have been at the seat of power. The rot has set in, and nothing highlights institutional and moral failure more than the death of this child, and what followed.
The man whose parade trampled this child drove on to address a crowd of loyalists. During his speech, amongst other things, he uttered the following words, "Let's write a new history for our country.." Let's not. Let's hold you accountable for this death. Anyone with the slightest idea of how things work in Pakistan understands that every civil institution is subservient to the ruling party. The negligent drivers following this civilian acted this way because they did not have a choice to do so otherwise. Their oaths were to serve their masters over their country (evidenced by the saluting policewoman not too long). This dwindling loyalty is forced out of them as different governments serve their terms, and a failure to do so is a failure to provide for their families. A common trend nowadays, the collective West is immediately blamed for not covering the suffering of humans in the third world. Just the thought of it provokes fear and fury in complexed minds, forever thirsting for validation while pointing fingers, yet eternally blind to the value placed on human life and human suffering by these third-rate 'leaders'. It's easy to find glorified scapegoats when you are unable and unwilling to find the root cause of the problem.
True Western democracies will hold you accountable for taking the life of an innocent animal, let alone a human being. Try campaigning for political office after a hit and run that caused the death of a 9-year old in Canada, if the people don't rip you a new one the legal system certainly will.
If you don't find this to be one of the most damning and shameless acts in Pakistan's history, I implore you to revisit your moral values. Redirect your support, take it away from these inhumane clowns, and preserve the future of your country by educating yourselves and educating the masses. Only literate and critical minds can sIft through the mockery that has been made of your institutions, and it falls upon us to design a system of education that is enlightening, far-reaching and perpetual.
While Pakistani media was busy with the rally in the twin cities and a frustrated Nawaz Sharif was sounding war drums, Pakistan’s female Edhi was quietly breathing her last on a bed in Agha Khan Hospital, Karachi.
Her peaceful departure during the loud hullabaloo of the rally reminded me that Pakistan’s strength resides in the work done by heroes like Edhi and Dr Ruth, who spent their life for humanity and the poor and disenfranchised people of Pakistan, and not in the selfish politicos screaming on top of their voices to prove that they hold our destiny in their hands.
Dr Ruth Katherina Martha Pfau NQA, HPk, HI (born 9 September 1929) was a German-Pakistani nun and a member of the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary who devoted the last 50 years of life to fighting leprosy in Pakistan. In 1996, Pakistan was declared by the World Health Organisation to have controlled leprosy, one of the first countries in Asia to achieve this goal. Dr Pfau was born in Leipzig, Germany on 9 September 1929.She had four sisters and one brother. After World War II when the Russians occupied East Germany, she escaped to West Germany along with her family and chose medicine as her future career. In 1949 she studied medicine at Mainz. She was not satisfied with her life. She wanted to do something more: She joined a Catholic order and eventually landed in Pakistan.
In the early days of Pakistan, leprosy was considered a taboo rather than a disease and it was almost impossible to open any treatment centres as lepers were generally ostracised. Four determined people with their own initiative pioneered the work in the slum quarters on McLeod Road Karachi; these included Dr Anne Rochs, Mrs Beatrix Menezes, Sr Bernice Vargas and Sr Mary Doyale. The squalid condition of the Lepers Colony, lack of proper drugs, absence of electricity and water were daunting challenges, but thanks to this small group working for humanity, a small dispensary built by using wooden crates came up.
As per her parent mission’s plan, Dr Ruth was supposed to go to India; however, she landed in Karachi by default in 1960 due to a technical visa problem. She was told to get to Karachi first and then India. In Karachi, she met the Mexican origin sister Bernice Vergas, who was a pharmacist. Sister Vergas invited Ruth to visit the leprosy patient’s colony.
When Dr Roth visited the leprosy patients’ colony, she felt dejected with the situation and took the decision of her life, which would make her the champion of the poor and rejected lepers of Karachi and Pakistan. Having little knowledge about leprosy, she studied leprosy before leaving for India for short courses. Her return from India saw the conversion of the hapless dispensary into a small functioning hospital.
As discussed earlier, leprosy was taboo in Pakistani society, Dr Ruth saw the appalling condition of lepers, people believed leprosy as an evil predicament ordained by God, would leave the patients to Dr Ruth and never visit them. Dr Ruth displayed exemplary care and affection by personal touch and love. She would even make arrangements for the last rites, janaza and burial of abandoned lepers after their death.
Her humanitarian work gradually attracted people of God and some volunteers started becoming part of her team. These included the famous dermatologist, Dr Zarina Fazelbhoy, who till 1997, remained associated with Dr Ruth’s programme and centre. Due to her serious illness, she was unable to continue and expired in February 1999. The small plant planted by Dr Ruth in form of a clinic became a shady tree, an eight story hospital. The programme was expanded to other parts of Pakistan as well. Dr Pfau would tirelessly travel to far-flung areas of Pakistan for the cause of humanity; managing donations from Germany and Pakistan and expanding the programme at a national level. In 1968, Dr Pfau persuaded the Government of Pakistan to undertake a National Leprosy Control Programme in partnership with MALC (Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre) and began setting up leprosy-control centres across the country.
Gen Zia appointed her as the President’s advisor on leprosy control, an appointment which she held till 2000. In 1988, in recognition of her services, she was awarded Pakistani citizenship. According to Pfau, her suggestions were taken seriously and the government of Pakistan cooperated with her. In recognition of her work for humanity she was awarded with a number of national and international awards including; the Order of Merit (1969, Germany, Sitara i Quaid i Azam (1969), Hilal-e-Imtiaz, Hilal-i-Pakistan, Ramon Magsaysay Award (2002), the Jinnah Award (2002) and the Doctor of Science (DSc), honoris causa, Aga Khan University, Karachi (2004).
By 1989, Dr Ruth expanded her work to Afghanistan, targeting leprosy patients. Her efforts made it possible for Pakistan to be declared leprosy free in 1996.She immensely contributed to the alleviation of hardships of earthquake and flood affected people of Pakistan and Sindh during 2005 and 2010.
Always identifying herself as a Pakistani, she would proudly wear shalwar kameez and live a very simple life. She always maintained that if she were to be born again, she would want to be born in Pakistan.
A glance at the website of Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre shows the message of the founder Dr Ruth Pfau, I will conclude the piece with an extract from her angelic message:
Another year has passed, a year with much worry and suffering and defiant and determent continuation of our service, a year in which Pakistan and with it Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre has struggled amidst all law and order problems, refusing to lose hope.
As much as we welcome these developments, one question arises: How should we utilise our remaining facilities, the infrastructure, the knowledge of our professional staff? Seeing all the unmet needs in Pakistan, the services not yet rendered, the shortage of trained and motivated manpower leaves us with the conviction that leprosy control is not the last calling. Especially as leprosy patients are suffering from disabilities which are not cured with simple anti-leprosy medication, and in the same area where they are living, hundreds of other patients are suffering from general disability as well; children, old people, and victims of street accidents. It was only logical to extend our disability service to general disabled people and try to improve their quality of life as well, enabling them to move, to communicate, and to find a meaning in their lives. Thus, “CBR” Community-based Rehabilitation has developed as the second calling of MALC, bringing relief and happiness to hundreds of disabled patients. My message, my prayer and my request of last year has taken concrete shape. May MALC do for the disabled patients what it did for the leprosy patients, change their life from misery to meaning and happiness.”