Omer Aziz says the Saudis are blocking an inquiry into one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent times
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. As Yemen faces a major humanitarian crisis, violent clashes between pro-government fighters and Houthi rebels continue. Latest among the fighting was Yemen regaining control of Perim Island, known as Mayun in Arabic, from the Houthis, considered strategic for oil transportation through the 20-kilometer wide Bab-el-Mandeb strait which links Saudi Arabia to the Red Sea, to the Gulf of Aden. And less than two weeks ago air strikes hit the city of Taiz, killing 131 people who were attending a wedding. According to UN officials the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for the majority of civilian deaths in Yemen, amounting to over 2,300 people in the last six months. Despite military and diplomatic support for the coalition from the United States, White House officials are shirking responsibility for the death toll. White House spokesperson Ned Price said the United States has no role in targeting decisions made by the coalition in Yemen. Now joining me to discuss these developments is Omer Aziz. He’s a writer fellow at Yale Information Society Project and student at Yale Law School. Omer, thank you so much for joining me today. OMER AZIZ: Thanks for having me. PERIES: So Omer, given the escalation of violence in the country clearly targeting civilians, a human rights inquiry was being set up by the United Nations for Yemen. But it was quickly abandoned. Why did this happen? AZIZ: Well, the inquiry that was supposed to be set up by the United Nations was to investigate war crimes done by both sides. Most of those war crimes have been done by Saudi Arabia and the coalition, of course, by bombing civilian areas. Saudi Arabia was able to at the UN last week to strong arm, or at least let’s say to charm, members of the Human Rights Council to basically water down and silence the inquiry. Essentially their ally in the Hadi government is going to put out some kind of report at some point that won’t be worth the pieces of paper that it’s written on, because it’s going to exculpate or exonerate the Saudi regime and the allies for the indiscriminate bombing attacks against Yemenis that have left 5,000 people dead, over 20,000 wounded. You know, Yemenis are dying at a rate of 30 per day. This is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East and in the world that’s being bombarded from the sky. And it’s not as though the Houthis are any better. They’ve been accused of war crimes, of disappearances, of all kinds of indiscriminate attacks. But the preponderance of the war crimes and the violence right now can be attributed to Saudi Arabia and the coalition. And there’s not going to be an independent investigation of the kind that we’ve seen elsewhere, and it really behooves one to ask what is the purpose of an international institution like the UN if it can’t even open an inquiry. Where it attempts to open an inquiry into one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent times, only for one country, the aggravating party, to block it. PERIES: Now, do you think the U.S. had a role in killing the establishment of this inquiry? AZIZ: I think that the United States and its relationship with Saudi Arabia is–well, first of all they’ve made a deal with the devil to support the Saudi regime for a wide variety of human rights abuses and massacres. I think the U.S. made the calculation that Saudi Arabia had gone along with the nuclear deal on Iran and that it was best for this to be quietly pushed aside and for it to go away. Because up until very recently no one was paying attention to what was happening in Yemen because of the carnage in Syria. I think that that was their political calculus. They’ve been providing intelligence and logistic support to the Saudi regime. And we know that they are at least in the final stages, if it hasn’t been finalized already, of selling the regime in Riyadh $1 billion worth of aid. And one can only surmise what that billion dollars worth in military aid will be used against, and for what purposes. PERIES: Now, Aziz, describe for us the kind, the consequences of all of this in terms of the number of refugees internally displaced and the crisis that this has created for the people. AZIZ: The people right now are basically stuck between–the civil war has been going on for at least since 2011, 2012 between the Houthis, who are a Zaydi Shiite political group with at least loose backing from Iran and from the Hadi government. They’re supported by Saudi Arabia and the coalition. What people need to understand is that ordinary Yemenis like the ones who were attending a wedding this past week, and they had a missile dropped on them and 130 people died. And there were many more wounded. They’re caught between air strikes and indiscriminate attacks from both sides. Now again, the preponderance of that is attributed to Saudi Arabia. But for ordinary people we’ve seen refugee numbers increase dramatically. We’ve seen the number of wounded individuals increase dramatically. Maybe 80 percent of the country now is malnourished. There’s going to be many public health crises in the country. There isn’t enough food. There isn’t–it’s already a poor country. And so what we’ve basically done now is to guarantee that the ordinary Yemeni, when they see what’s happening, their first response is going to be they need to protect themselves by getting guns or by turning to one of the groups in the country. You should remember that Al-Qaeda has had a very active presence in Yemen, and ISIS does, too. What Yemen is going to turn out to be if this continues, and in fact this is already happening, is it’s going to be another Syria in the heart of the Gulf. And that’s going to be another humanitarian and political disaster that we are going to have to, we’re going to have to rectify. Because it’s not something that’s sustainable. The sheer carnage and violence that’s been visited upon these people for nothing other than Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Sunni states’ geopolitical and sectarian interests. Let’s remember, this is not a war that can be won. Because for Riyadh and for its partners in the region this war has been going on for hundreds if not thousands of years, and it will continue to go on until they have established dominance. PERIES: I thank you so much for joining us, and please come back, because we’re going to continue this discussion with Omer Aziz in our next segment.
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