A leaked draft of the United Nations report recommends that the Saudi-led coalition be placed on the U.N.’s list of countries that kill and maim children, but its exclusion from last year’s list shows the power of wealthy Gulf States to blackmail the U.N., says Codepink’s Medea Benjamin
Sharmini Peries: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Just this week another air raid in Yemen killed 35 civilians in the city of Sanaa. A draft United Nations report seen by Foreign Policy Magazine is calling for Saudi led coalition to be placed on the U.N. list of child killers. The confidential report apparently blames the Saudi led coalition for three quarters of attacks on schools and hospitals in Yemen, and killing more than 680 children. The United States and the UK are the main suppliers of weapons to Saudi Arabia and have supported the Saudi regime’s war in Yemen both politically and militarily since the Saudi led aerial bombardment began in the March of 2015. The Saudi led coalition has been documented to have bombed schools, hospitals, shipping ports, marketplaces, weddings, and funerals. The war has pushed millions of Yemenese to the brink of starvation and created the worst cholera outbreak in the world. Joining us today to discuss the current situation in Yemen and the leaked draft report is Medea Benjamin. She is the co-founder of the peace group Code Pink. Her latest book is Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection. Welcome Media. Medea Benjamin: Thank you Sharmini. Sharmini Peries: Medea, give us more details of what is in this report that caused the U.N. body who is usually very cautious to put Saudi led coalition on the U.S. child killer list? Medea Benjamin: Well these are reports that come out every single year called children in armed conflict produced by the U.N. And there was a report that was done last year that had Saudi Arabia on the list for precisely the same thing. Its bombing campaign in Yemen that has destroyed so many schools and hospitals and has led to the killing and maiming of so many children. Last year when it came up there was a big brouhaha because the Saudis threatened to pull out money, millions and millions of dollars form much needed aid programs that the U.N. runs and blackmailed Ban Ki-moon. Ban Ki-moon, he caved to the disgrace of the United Nations. He even openly said, “I hate to do this but I can’t afford to lose the money for programs that support children around the world.” So here we are a year later. The Saudis were supposed to have cleaned up their act and stopped killing so many children so they wouldn’t be on the report this year, but they haven’t done so. And so here we are again in exactly the same situation where the U.N., according to its own rules, is supposed to come out with this report and put Saudi Arabia on a rogue list of nations that kills and maims children. And once again the new Secretary General is going to be faced with the decision of whether to release this report or not. Sharmini Peries: Speaking of secretary generals, Medea, António Guterres, the current U.N. Secretary General earlier this year suppressed a U.N. report that concluded that the state of Israel was guilty of the crime of apartheid. Do you have any faith that Guterres will do the right thing according to the U.N. charter, protect children according to children’s convention and the rights of children, or bring any force to bear on the guilty parties here? Medea Benjamin: I don’t know what the Secretary General will end up doing because he’s put in a lose-lose situation. If he puts out the report he risks losing a lot of money, not just from the Saudis but also from other Gulf states, and this year as opposed to last year, the U.S. is part of the pressure campaign to not release the report as it stands now. On the other hand if he doesn’t release it and include the Saudis in the list of rogue states then he is really jeopardizing the reputation of the United Nations. So I’m not sure which road he will take but either one of them is a bad road. And it shows the power of the Saudi and Gulf states in terms of they are wealthy and wealthy states have a way to blackmail the U.N. Why else would Saudi Arabia be allowed to be on the Women’s Commission of the United Nations? Why else would Saudi Arabia be allowed to be on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations? Unfortunately it’s all about the money that they can use as a stick. Sharmini Peries: Okay. And Medea in January this year the U.N. released a report stating that a child dies in Yemen from preventable causes every 10 minutes. Even if only half of those deaths are a result of the war, that still places the potential number of dead children in the tens if not hundreds of thousands. Why do you think that only deaths that are direct result of armaments are being counted in this war? Medea Benjamin: I think that’s absolutely the key issue to talk about Sharmini because first of all the count of children who have died as a result of the bombing is way under counted because journalists from the outside are not allowed in. The Saudis control who even gets on the U.N. flights. You cannot get into Yemen if you are an independent reporter that really wants to verify what’s happening on the ground. But more important is what you bring up because the deaths from direct bombing are a small fraction of the number of children who are dying in Yemen because of the Saudi bombing campaign. When the Saudis bomb dozens and dozens of healthcare facilities the children have nowhere to go to get even a basic rehydration. When the Saudis are bombing the sewer system, the water system, there is not clean water to drink, and so they’re getting sick from the dysentery. When the Saudis have so destroyed all of the basic infrastructure in the country and reduced people’s ability to make a living to even feed their children there are, as you said, a child dying every 10 minutes. And so if you put those together, yes, the number of children who are dying as a direct result of the Saudi intervention in Yemen would be in the hundreds of thousands. Sharmini Peries: Medea, I want to play a clip from a video released by Human Rights Watch in March of 2016 that many people probably haven’t seen yet. So let’s watch. Speaker 3: [foreign language 00:07:43] Woman: I’m standing here in the remains of Mustafa markets. This is one of 12 marketplaces that we’ve seen bombed by the Saudi-led coalition since the beginning of this one year war. Sharmini Peries: That was nearly one and a half years ago and things have gotten much worse. Why do you think the establishment, Medea, and corporate media coverage of this war has been so poor? Medea Benjamin: Well one of the reasons is that Saudi Arabia is a close ally to the western countries, that the U.S., the UK, Canada, France, Germany, all of these wonderful democracies have been selling massive amounts of weapons to Saudi Arabia, enriching their domestic industries, and they want to keep that gravy train going. And so this war is really in the interest of these large corporations. And the other is, as I said earlier, that the Saudis control who is getting into the country. I know personally, I’ve been trying to get into Yemen for months now and it is so difficult. The U.N. has flights but those flights are vetted by the Saudis. So I would say those two things together mean that there is almost no coverage in the mainstream media about the most devastating war that is going on right now, and no talk about the U.S. complicity in this war. Sharmini Peries: Right. And Medea the Middle East Eye is reporting that based on emails it has seen that the Saudi crown prince wants out of this war in Yemen. How seriously should we be taking this revelation, and what’s stopping him from actually just doing that right now if that’s … Medea Benjamin: Well what’s stopping him from doing it is he doesn’t want to leave without “winning.” And I think now they are trying to create a conflict within the conflict, getting the very strange bedfellows that the Houthis and [inaudible 00:10:00] the last president, that coalition is now fighting among itself. And I’m sure there’s a lot of Saudi bloody hands within that as well. So the prince wants to end the conflict but he wants to end the conflict with a win. And that is going to be very difficult. So I think that what the international community has to do is put pressure on all of the parties involved in the conflict to come to a political solution. You know that there is no winning in these kinds of situations, there is just a depletion of the people and the fighters. And I think also economically the Saudi ruling classes understanding how with the low price of oil and the tremendously high cost of this war in Yemen, as well as the cost that the Saudis are paying for Saudi intervention in other countries that they are trying to look at a way to cut down on that flow of financial resources. So this would be a time for the U.S. if we had a functioning state department and a government that wanted to settle conflicts, it would be a time to step in and really put the pressure on to come to a political solution. Sharmini Peries: Right. And what can they do? How can they go about doing a political solution at this time? Medea Benjamin: Well it’s not that complicated. It’s a power-sharing agreement that has to be reached between the government of Hadi and the Houthis. And this is something that should have been done from the very beginning. This war shouldn’t have gone on for the last two years. And it’s the only way that the war is going to end. I think the U.N. should be stepping in to do this but there really has to be, and perhaps there is right now, a willingness on the part of the Saudis to find a way out. Sharmini Peries: All right Medea, I thank you so much for joining us today. I know it’s a busy weekend for you out there in California and I appreciate your time. Thank you. Medea Benjamin: Thanks for having me on, bye bye. Sharmini Peries: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.