Large speakers played verses from the Quran as hundreds of mourners filed through the fanciest reception hall in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, to pay their respects to a prominent family after the death of its head. Then there was a roar, the ground shook, and the guests were flung to the floor. “It was like a movie, when all of a sudden the roof started falling on the gathering,” Mr. Emad, 27, said from his bed in a Sanaa hospital. Six of his friends and one cousin were amongst the 140 people killed in the attack in early October this year, which also seriously injured almost 600 civilians. This is a description of just one of the countless massacres carried out by the Saudi regime against the Yemeni civilian population, a revolting war that has ravished the impoverished country for nearly 2 years now.
Rights groups and UN officials report that the US-backed Saudi coalition has often deliberately or recklessly depended on faulty intelligence, failed to distinguish between civilian and military targets and disregarded the likelihood of civilian casualties in mostly all of their attacks in Yemen. Nearly 4,000 civilians have been killed since early 2015 with around one in three strikes hitting civilian targets, according to the Yemen Data Project, an independent group of researchers that has put together a database of more than 8,000 strikes. But the scope of the air campaign has not only displaced nearly 3 million Yemenis, it has brought widespread destruction to the land too. Medical centres, hospitals, schools, factories, infrastructure and roads, as well as markets, weddings and residential compounds have been indiscriminately targeted. In addition to violating Yemen’s national sovereignty and killing civilians ad lib, the Saudi regime has imposed a naval blockade on Yemen and has also prevented planes carrying medical aid from landing at Sanaa, a fact confirmed by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Its extensive abuse and complete obliteration of Yemeni basic rights has led to Saudi acts falling within the classification of war crimes, yet their actions still go largely ignored.
The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) formally reported that since taking office in January 2009, the Obama administration has offered over $115 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia in 42 separate deals, more than any US administration in the history of the US-Saudi relationship. In 2015 alone, Saudi Arabia purchased $25 billion in arms from America, Britain, France and other countries. However, the US and its allies have not only been active in supplying the Saudi regime with arms but have also protected Saudi Arabia from criticism. In September, a number of EU countries tried to pass a resolution for the UN Human Rights Commission to order an international probe into civilian deaths in Yemen, but the provision failed to get US, British and French support. In June, the UN blacklisted Saudi Arabia because of child deaths in Yemen, but that move was revoked after the regime’s allies threatened to cut funding for UN programmes.
While the mainstream narrative would have us believe that the conflict in Yemen is one driven by sectarianism, democracy, legitimacy and national security, a closer look at the geopolitical situation surrounding Saudi and Yemen will quickly expose these verbose terms to be extravagantly crafted lies. “What we see unfold in Yemen is the new oil rush, a bitter battle for control over the world oil route Bab al-Mandab”, says Ahmed Mohamed Nasser Ahmed, a Yemeni political analyst. The Saudis, with the blessing of America, have moved against Yemen to reclaim control over the very strategic and very crucial Bab al-Mandab, one of the seven “choke points” in the worldwide delivery of oil. The Bab al-Mandab strait separates the Arabian Peninsula from East Africa- most ships using the waterway have come from, or are going to, Egypt’s Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean. Indeed, Bab al-Mandab is of absolute importance when it comes to the stability of the world oil market, and Riyadh is determined to exert control over it, or at least over the government which oversees its. Oil being one of the foremost reasons, Saudi is keen to exert its influence as a powerhouse in the region as well, and we see innocent civilians pay the ultimate price as power hungry leaders consume the region with brutal warfare.
As Yemen strains under the violent and unprecedented aggression toward its sovereignty under cover of a justification which even the United Nations is finding difficult to articulate, Saudi Arabia enjoys full support of the US, the UK and its allies- countries who claim to be champions of human rights and democracy. However, it would appear as if the human rights of the Yemenis, as of those of so many of the oppressed people in the world, land an easy second place when there is economic and political power at play.
Dr. Aayesha Soni is the Vice-Chairperson with Media Review Network, a Johannesburg-based advocacy group. Find her on Twitter: @AayeshaJ