War crimes and ethnic cleansing in Yemen: the weaponization of silence

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Catherine Shakdam

Sha'ban 14, 1436 2015-06-01

Opinion

by Catherine Shakdam (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 4, Sha'ban, 1436)

While the Najdi Bedouins continue with war crimes in Yemen, the Western corporate media project it as the restoration of “democracy” by a regime that considers calls for reform as “terrorism.”

Within a month of its unilateral military aggression on Yemen, Saudi Arabia appears to have lost most of its composure, finding itself in a quagmire it never thought it could fall into — especially not in the most impoverished and instability-racked nation in the Arabian Peninsula.

Strong on its imperial might and petrodollars, the Kingdom miscalculated its intervention in independence-minded Yemen, assuming that the country would offer but a meek resistance to its over-powering hegemonic will. And indeed, this war in Yemen hardly appears balanced when a homegrown militia finds itself facing a mighty military coalition of both Western and Arabian powers, an alliance of some of the richest and militarily most powerful countries in the world against an indigenous Yemeni representative resistance.

And yet Yemen has held true. As the Houthis have often warned, “You might one day break our bones but you'll never see us fall.” If such a challenge was dismissed as misplaced bravado pre-March 25, when King Salman chose to unleash his warplanes onto an unsuspecting Yemen, four weeks of intense and bloody fighting have given this one sentence an entirely new meaning.

Just as David faced Goliath over two millennia ago, the Houthis of Yemen are wont to show Bani Saud what metal they are made of. However one might feel about the Houthis’ political inclination or even the school of thought they adhere to, there is a great deal of dignity in the loyalty and dedication they have demonstrated in holding their pledge to their leadership. For some men still — God and country, are values worth standing up for and fighting for.

But what started as a desire to restore a Saudi stooge in Sana‘a — in this case, once resigned, twice runaway President ‘Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi — has devolved into a sinister campaign against Yemen’s Zaydi community, who are malevolently typecast as an Iranian fifth column so as to justify the aggression.

Labeled by Riyadh as both a political and religious threat because they dared aspire to liberate themselves from the feudal Bedouins of Najd, the Houthis have been discriminated against on account of their affiliation to Zaydi Islam, one of the oldest branch of Shi‘ism. The Zaydi School of Thought emerged in Yemen in the 8th century CE, and is rooted in the teachings of Imam Zayd, the grandson of Imam Husayn. Declared a “heresy” by Wahhabi Arabia at the turn of the 18th century, Bani Saud has long tried to exterminate Zaydi Islam from southern Arabia, where it was determined to assert its own ascetic, violent, and reactionary reductionism of Islam — Wahhabism.

Even if King Salman sold his war on Yemen to the Western media as a project to restore democracy in this corner of the world, the facts on the groud belie his claim. His intentions are much more sinister as it appears his military has systematically and indiscriminately targeted heavily populated areas in northern Yemen, where Zaydis (Houthis) happen to be the majority.

To believe that the world’s fiercest hereditary monarchy would ever want to promote democratic values, let alone support their inception, would be laughable if the world governments had not repeated the mantra. Together, they have twisted the narrative of war so much on its head that ordinary people have been led to believe that Yemen, like a temperamental child, should be made to heed the calls of its masters in the running of its affairs. When all failed the old specter of sectarianism was raised, a proven formula aimed to rationalize what cannot be justified.

By all accounts, and under international law, any military aggression against another country can never be sanctioned. And yet the world bowed to Saudi Arabia with so much enthusiasm that even the United Nations had to withdraw in silence. But Saudi Arabia’s crimes have become too grand and too disturbing for the world to want to brush it under the rug.

Unknown to the public, thousands of Zaydi Muslims have been murdered or died of their injuries since March 25, most of them in northern Sa‘ada, the Houthis’ main stronghold. Those men, women, and children were civilians, not soldiers or militia men. They were mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, Yemenis with aspirations and dreams. Their lives were deemed nonessential in Riyadh for they dared to cling to their forefathers’ tradition of Zaydi Islam.

To ensure maximum efficiency to its campaign, the Kingdom has resorted to using cluster bombs. Interestingly this particularly vicious weapon of war was solely used in Sa‘ada and neighboring regions, at the heart of Yemen’s Zaydi community. But of course the world media have kept silent on such tragedies.

According to Cluster Munition Coalition, a rights group campaigning against the use of cluster bombs, such weapons have been proven fatal to civilian populations. Actually 98% of all cluster-bomb victims are civilians, of which 27% are children. Could it be that Saudi Arabia is merely conducting a covert ethnic cleansing south of its borders?

And while “genocide” might not be the right word to define the type of campaign the Kingdom is running, an investigation should be launched to establish whether or not war crimes have indeed been committed. On that, many Yemenis are rather clear on the answer! Money, powerful friends, and oil do not absolve one nation from abiding by the standards and rules of international law.

One rights group has already sounded the alarm this April. Speaking to the press on a report about Yemen, Human Rights Watch arms director, Steve Goose, stressed, “These weapons should never be used under any circumstances. Saudi Arabia and other coalition members — and the supplier, the US — are flouting the global standard that rejects cluster munitions because of their long-term threat to civilians.” He added, “Saudi-led cluster munition airstrikes have been hitting areas near villages, putting local people in danger.”

Cluster munitions have been banned by the international treaty called the Convention on Cluster Munitions, signed in 2008 in Dublin by over 100 governments. Saudi Arabia, the US, and the recently deposed US- and Saudi-backed Yemen government were among the small number of ultra-militarist governments that refused to sign this agreement between 118 countries seeking to ban cluster bombs.

As the Houthis and their supporters have moved forcefully against the Saudi coalition, advancing further into southern Yemen where al-Qaeda militants have disguised themselves as pro-Hadi forces, to covertly seize control over yet more territories, there have been signs the Saudis and the Gulf monarchies are further escalating their savage military actions against Yemen. Aid convoys have been bombed, food warehouses have been burned to cinders, while food and medicine have been prevented from entering the country. Over 26 million Yemenis are being held hostage by Saudi Arabia while the international community idly looks on.

There is only one real question people need to ask themselves. How many more Yemenis will need to die for the concept of justice to regain substance? Yemeni lives matter!

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