Wednesday, November 22, 2017
By MEGAN SPECIA
Looming famine. Rampant disease. Deadly airstrikes.
This is the daily reality for the residents of Yemen suffering a staggering humanitarian crisis driven by a fierce civil war.
United Nations experts have warned that some of the actions carried out by the warring parties — the Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels — could amount to crimes against humanity because of their systematic and widespread execution.
The calls for accountability have been heightened since a Saudi-led coalition tightened a blockade of sea, air and land ports earlier this month after a missile fired by Houthi rebels was intercepted near the Saudi capital. The blockade has since been loosened, but it is still cutting civilians off from desperately needed humanitarian aid and food.
Which aspects of the war could amount to crimes against humanity? And what, if anything, can be done to hold the perpetrators accountable?
When food is a weapon
Many Yemenis are starving as a direct result of the war, which has inflated food prices, leaving most unable to afford the supplies.
Since Saudi Arabia joined an offensive against the Houthi rebels in 2015, an estimated 17 million people in Yemen have been classified by the United Nations as “food insecure.” Put simply, that means they do not have reliable access to food and are at risk of hunger.
Even before the latest blockade, Yemen was on the brink of famine.
All ports under Houthi control are still blockaded, and the majority of food that enters the country comes through these ports.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, a monitoring group founded by the United States Agency for International Development, warned Tuesday that in three to four months, much of Yemen will be suffering from famine. And the Houthis, too, have been accused of blocking food suppliesin the past, though on a smaller scale.
On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia, under intense pressure, announced plans to reopen the port of Al Hudaydah, a major lifeline for residents of Houthi-controlled areas and to reopen the airport in Sana, the capital, to United Nations aid planes.
Famine can amount to a crime against humanity if food restrictions are used as a weapon of war, according to United Nations officials.
“It is an international crime to intentionally block access to food, food aid, and to destroy production of food,” the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, told journalists in October, speaking generally on the topic. “Such acts are crimes against humanity, or war crimes.”
When disease is no accident
The war has also decimated the health care sector. Destroyed infrastructure has left many without clean drinking water and set off a cholera epidemic. It was the largest single-year outbreak of the disease ever recorded.
Dozens of hospitals were intentionally targeted, according to a report from Save the Children, by Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition.
The cholera outbreak has disproportionately affected areas controlled by the Houthis, in part because more public water systems, hospitals and residential areas have been destroyed there, forcing people into crowded and unsanitary conditions.
And yet with health care more important than ever, dozens of hospitals have been intentionally targeted by both Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition, according to a report from Save the Children.
The spread of cholera had been waning, but the World Health Organization warned that if the current coalition blockade was not lifted, it would flare up again. Much-needed chlorine tablets that sanitize water have been blocked from delivery to the country, as have hundreds of tons of other medical supplies.
And several cities have been cut off from supplies of fuel for pumping in fresh water and for processing sewage. The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Monday that the new blockade put 2.5 million people at risk of a renewed cholera outbreak and other waterborne diseases.
The International Criminal Court considers “inhumane acts” that are “intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health” to be crimes against humanity.
When civilians are targeted
A panel of United Nations sanctions monitors in 2016 warned that Saudi-led coalition airstrikes were targeting civilians in a “widespread and systemic manner.”
A United Nations Human Rights Council report from September detailed more than 5,000 civilian casualties from March 2015 to August 2017. Children accounted for more than 1,000 of the victims. Not all of them were killed by airstrikes, and some died at the hands of Houthi rebels, but the report made clear that the vast majority of civilian casualties were from coalition strikes.
Some 3,233 of the civilians killed were reported to have been killed by coalition forces, and in some cases were directly targeted.
“In many cases,” the report says, “information obtained … suggested that civilians may have been directly targeted, or that operations were conducted heedless of their impact on civilians without regard to the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack.”
Houthi rebels and their allies have also reportedly indiscriminately shelled residential areas in the city of Taiz and have fired artillery indiscriminately across the border into Saudi Arabia, killing and wounding civilians.
The International Criminal Court lists several acts “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack” as amounting to crimes against humanity.
Will anyone be held accountable?
Even if the violence playing out in Yemen and the humanitarian disaster it has set off are determined to amount to crimes against humanity for any of the parties involved, the process of holding anyone accountable could be a long and winding one.
In September, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva appointed a group of experts to examine rights abuses and potential crimes by all parties to the conflict in Yemen. The experts will report to the Human Rights Council next year.
But that move fell short of a formal International Commission of Inquiry, which would have the power to refer a case to the International Criminal Court. Saudi Arabia and its allies blocked more severe measures.
So justice may be far down the road.
In the short term, humanitarian organizations warn of a far more urgent need: freeing up the flow of food, medicine and other supplies.
On Wednesday, the International Rescue Committee issued a statement saying that just two weeks of the blockade had had a “direct and dire impact” in a country already in crisis. “We are far beyond the need to raise an alarm — what is happening now is a complete disgrace,” Paolo Cernuschi, Yemen country director at the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement. “The responsibility of failing to act to prevent collective punishment is on us all.”
BY TOM O'CONNOR
"It's the world's biggest funder of terrorism. Saudi Arabia funnels our petrodollars, our very own money, to fund the terrorists that seek to destroy our people," the billionaire real estate tycoon wrote in his 2011 book titled "Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again."
When asked about this comment by NBC News in August 2015, two months after announcing his candidacy for U.S. president, Trump told presenter Chuck Todd that "the primary reason we are with Saudi Arabia is because we need the oil," but that the U.S. didn't need the kingdom's oil as much, so "Saudi Arabia is going to be in big trouble pretty soon, and they're going to need help."
Since taking office, however, Trump has mostly aligned himself with the oil-rich ultraconservative monarchy, which has long been a close ally of the U.S. in the Middle East, and, while he has yet to disavow his prior statements, Trump has apparently pointed the barrel of his administration's foreign policy fury elsewhere.
Besides its enthusiastic devotion to Salafi-Wahhabism, a particularly austere strain of Sunni Islam that has fueled a number of militant organizations across the Middle East and beyond, Saudi Arabia's murky relationship with Al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks in 2001 have raised concerns as to what extent the monarchy aided and abetted the world's deadliest act of terrorism. Out of the 19 militants who hijacked planes and crashed them in New York City, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, 15 were Saudi citizens.
In the months after the attacks, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence opened the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001. When the findings were released in December 2002, they included a partially-redacted 28-page section referring to foreign state sponsors of Al-Qaeda that would remain mostly classified for years to come.
Meanwhile, the 9/11 Commission Report established a little over a year after the attack and issued in 2004 "found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded" Al-Qaeda, but at the same time acknowledged "Al-Qaeda found fertile fund-raising ground in the kingdom, where extreme religious views are common and charitable giving is essential to the culture and, until recently, subject to very limited oversight."
The 28 pages of the prior inquiry were ultimately released by the administration of President Barack Obama in July 2016. While it did not reveal any direct links between Saudi officials and Al-Qaeda, it stated that the U.S. intelligence community deeply suspected there were such connections at the time and found that "while in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi government. "
It also noted a November 1999 incident in which two Saudi men, Mohammed al-Qudhaeein and Hamdan al-Shalawi, were detained after attempting to gain entry to the cockpit of an America West Airlines flight and speculated that the two men, whose tickets had reportedly been paid for by the Saudi embassy in Washington, may have been practicing for a future hijacking. Saudi Arabia has vehemently denied any role in the hijackings and said it welcomed the release of the full 28 pages as a chance "to respond to any allegations in a clear and credible manner." Riyadh has responded more aggressively, however, to the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), against which Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said earlier this year he hoped "corrective measures will be taken" by Trump. The act has opened a pathway for the families of those who died in 9/11 to sue the Saudi Arabian government.
Saudi Arabia continued to be a leading ally of the U.S. and other Western countries in fighting militant groups in the region, but other leaked documents showed that U.S. officials maintained the belief that Saudi Arabia was assisting violent, fundamentalist movements such as the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).
"We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIS and other radical groups in the region," a State Department memo dated August 2014 and released October 2016, according to The Independent.
The U.K. has also refused to release a report that many suspect implicated Saudi Arabia in funding Islamic militant groups across Europe and possibly in the U.K. as well. Still, many officials and experts in the West saw Saudi Arabia as more of an ally than a foe.
"I don't think anyone's ever seriously considered Saudi Arabia a state sponsor of terrorism. Nothing has ever been established along those lines," Gerald Feierstein, director for Gulf affairs and government relations at the Middle East Institute, told Newsweek. Feierstein said that Saudi Arabia's relationship to ultraconservative Islamic movements and support for militant groups in Syria, while "murky," did not conform to the State Department's criteria for a state sponsor of terrorism, which he said needed to display a clear "motivation" and "relationship to support for terrorism." He also questioned whether North Korea fit the bill either and whether the Trump administration's decision to add North Korea was more politically motivated than based on evidence.
Since Trump swapped Twitter wars with Saudi princes for taking on North Korea and supreme leader Kim Jong Un, fears have risen among U.S. allies and rivals alike of a nuclear conflict. North Korea has the potential to carry out an attack against the U.S. countless times more deadly than 9/11, but it has maintained that its weapons of mass destruction were only intended to deter a U.S. invasion, as was seen in 2001 Afghanistan, 2003 Iraq and the NATO-led effort to topple Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
BY AMY R. PARTRIDGE
ust a few miles away from her Chappaqua home, former Presidential candidate and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke before a sold-out and highly energetic crowd at the Business Council of Westchester’s annual fall dinner on Monday night. Clinton displayed both optimism and concern as she discussed the current state of the nation, and shared funny and poignant details about her journey through the aftermath of the tumultuous 2016 presidential election.
Clinton joked about her much-publicized attempt at a private walk in the Chappaqua woods that made headlines shortly after her loss to President Trump, and mentioned her hometown as the place where she holed up to write her new book, What Happened — an experience she said was “admittedly a somewhat painful process, yet, cathartic and invigorating.”
Dr. Marsha Gordon, president and CEO of The Business of Council of Westchester — and 2017 recipient of the 914INC. Editors’ Award for Transformative Achievement — presented Clinton with the Westchester Global Leadership Laureate Award, praising her leadership and ability to accomplish so much for our country and community, and for “galvanizing a global movement for women’s opportunities.” Gordon described Hillary’s attendance at the Annual Dinner as a “personal highlight of my long career.”
Returning the praise, Clinton lauded the BCW and its members for their successes in job creation and economic development in our region, before turning to discuss national matters and her own personal experiences.
In front of a record-setting 900 attendees at the Hilton Westchester in Rye Brook, Clinton admitted that she felt concern over the country’s current status as a harshly divided nation.
"People often ask me, since the election, how I am," said Clinton. "And I say, as a person, I'm good. But as an American, I'm concerned."
She also took aim at the impact of new Republican policies and shared her fears about the ongoing impact of Russian interference in American affairs. In a long and warmly received speech, Clinton also touched on hot-button issues like the opioid crisis, the impending tax bill, and the failure of Congress to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
She reiterated the importance of staying involved in the political process, stressing the need for women, in particular, to run for office. “The only way to get sexism out of politics is to get more women into politics,” she said to rousing applause.
Displaying a charismatic softer side — the purported lack of which has dogged her on campaign trails throughout her career — Clinton joked about what got her through the aftermath of her tough loss, quipping, “Chardonnay, yoga, and some alternate-nostril breathing.”
Clinton ended her address on a hopeful note, saying she was determined to remain involved in the political process, and stressed her belief that we can still come together as citizens to improve our nation. “I come to you tonight with great hopes and confidence that America’s best days are ahead of us,” said Clinton. “We have to work together to make it happen.”
Author Shah Meer Baloch
An increasing number of Pakistanis are learning the Chinese language, hoping to land a job in one of the multi-billion-dollar CPEC projects. Some experts see the trend as China's cultural onslaught on Pakistani society.
"In the past few years – mainly after the announcement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project in 2015 – there has been an unprecedented surge in the number of students wanting to learn Chinese," said Misbah Rasheed, a Chinese language instructor at the Islamabad-based National University of Modern Languages (NUML).
"Prior to CPEC we had some 200 students learning Chinese. Now we have over 2,000 in our different programs," Rasheed told DW.
Rasheed said the university established a Chinese language department in the 1970s solely for the purpose of familiarizing Pakistani military officials with Chinese culture. Later, the department was opened to common citizens also.
There has been a sudden interest in learning Chinese – mainly the most-spoken Mandarin variety in China – in the Islamic country. Experts say it is a result of the multibillion-dollar CPEC initiative, which is mainly a trade route, but will also generate jobs in Pakistan.
In 2015, China announced CPEC worth $46 billion (41 billion euros). With the project, Beijing aims to expand its influence in Pakistan and across Central and South Asia in order to counter US and Indian influence. CPEC also includes plans to create road, rail and oil pipeline links to improve connectivity between China and the Middle East.
Pakistan is grappling with an acute economic crisis. Experts say that CPEC can certainly stir the much-needed economic activity in the country.
As a result of an increasing demand for knowledge about China, many private institutions have also started offering Mandarin courses.
"We are offering diplomas for Chinese language programs. Our institute is working in collaboration with Chinese authorities. In the past few years, we have also offered scholarships to more than 1,000 students," Muhammad Haseeb, the project manager at Islamabad-based Confucius Institute, told DW.
"We have branches in the cities of Lahore, Karachi and Faisalabad. The project will help China and Pakistan overcome communication gap. It will also help our students to land jobs as interpreters and translators in various China-Pakistan joint projects," elaborated Haseeb.
Sana Bashir, who is studying Mandarin at Confucius Institute, says that after getting her diploma, she would like to go to China.
"I believe the promotion of Chinese language is a good move because it will increase employment opportunities for Pakistani students," she told DW.
Maria Akhtar, a NUML student, says she got motivated to learn Chinese while working as an intern at Huawei's Islamabad office.
"The company encouraged its employees to learn Chinese language as those with better Chinese language skills have a better chance of excelling in the organization," Akthar told DW.
For Pakistan, China has become more important than ever before, says development analyst Maqsood Ahmad Jan.
Jan goes on to say that Pakistan has sold out to China for $46 billion. "I think the Chinese aid is not for free. Pakistan's economy is not that big, so Beijing will now take over most of our income-generating sectors."
Some Pakistani experts even see a Chinese "cultural colonization" of the country.
"It is true that learning languages broadens our worldview. But China is also extending its cultural dominance through economic projects," Mir Muhammad Ali Talpur, a cultural analyst, told DW.
"It will have an impact on Pakistan's already diminishing languages. The economic activity will spread Chinese culture to our society. This will harm indigenous cultures," Talpur added.
Asim Sajjad Akhtar, a political analyst and columnist, concurs: "Our society has been greatly influenced by English culture. Now it will be influenced by Chinese culture and civilization. Chinese influence is visible not only on our culture but also on our economy and politics," Akhtar told DW.
Akram Dashti, former speaker of Baluchistan's provincial assembly, says China is applying the tried and tested method of colonization in Pakistan.
"First introduce your culture, then language, and then invade domestic economy by increasing trade and commerce activities. Behind all this, China has an eye on Pakistan's untapped natural resources. China is also looking for new markets and trade routes," Dashti told DW.
Published on November 14, 2017