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September 18, 2009

While UN Human Rights Council Blasts Israel, Council Member's Neighbor Yemen Blasts its Own Citizens

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During the same week the UN Human Rights Council issued its report condemning Israel for using disproportionate force and attacking civilians, Yemen, backed by fellow Council member and co-sponsor of the Gaza report, Saudi Arabia, stepped up its bombing offensive against its own citizens in the countries rebellious northern region.

Reports of the violence describe an unfolding humanitarian crisis of major proportions with over a hundred thousand displaced people, mostly women and children, and thousands of civilian dead. Just yesterday, on Sept. 17, an air strike killed 87 people, mostly women and children, in a displaced persons camp.

Media coverage to the extent that western sources have covered the conflict at all, has been muted. For example, in contrast to the confrontational and accusatory tone that accompanies most BBC coverage of Israeli military action against Palestinians, a BBC interview with a Yemenite government minister discussing the air strike was non-confrontational.

Yemen's government has refused to negotiate with the rebel groups. The uptick in violence is part of a continuing conflict spanning many years that has killed tens of thousands and dwarfs the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its human toll. The plight of Yemenite civilians is far more desperate according to World Health Organization data than that of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Human rights groups have also tread lightly, a marked difference in tone from their heavy-handed one-sided approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Human Rights Watch's Middle East specialist, Joe Stork, who routinely issues harsh condemnations of Israeli military operations against Palestinian armed groups, was restrained in his criticism of the Yemenite government and applied criticism equally between the government and the rebels, urging both sides to abide by international conventions. The group's recently published statement made a point of admonishing rebel leaders that they are bound by humanitarian law.

A rebel web site accuses Yemenite government forces of using White Phosphorus against civilians. Considering the scathing criticism levelled against Israel for using White Phosphorus by various organizations and in the Goldstone report, this charge against Yemen is ironic. Especially in light of mention given to Yemen as participating in the Gaza report.

The UN Human Rights Council, not surprisingly in light of its composition, has been ineffectual and mostly silent with regard to longstanding human rights catastrophe in Yemen. A recent UN flash appeal for funds to aid Yemenite civilians, the poorest and most deprived people in the Middle East, has met with no response, again sharply contrasting with the gushing response for aid to Palestinians in Gaza.

Some recent reports on the fierce conflict and the unfolding humanitarian disaster are included below:

Associated Press - Sept. 18

Nearly 90 civilians were killed in an airstrike by government warplanes this week that hit a makeshift camp for people fleeing fighting in northern Yemen. Sheikh Mohammed Hassan, a tribal leader from the area who attended a mass funeral for the victims Thursday, put the death toll at 87, most of them women and children.

Every day, warplanes screech over the capital San'a heading for the front in the northern region of Saada, on the border with Saudi Arabia. Tens of thousands of Yemenis have fled the fighting, cramming into camps, schools and even barns, as aid groups struggle to get supplies to them.

Middle East On-line - Sept.1, 2009 "UN warns of 'humanitarian crisis' in north Yemen"

The United Nations warned Tuesday of a humanitarian crisis in northern Yemen's Saada city, where 35,000 have fled fierce fighting between the military and Shiite rebels in the past three weeks.
"A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Saada city where the situation is deteriorating by the day," Andrej Mahecic, spokesman for the UN Refugees Agency said.
The UNHCR estimates that some 150,000 people have been displaced since 2004 by persistent instability in and around Saada city.
Some 100,000 of the displaced are "now on the move desperately seeking sanctuary in safer areas of Saada governorate or in neighbouring governorates," said World Food Programme spokeswoman Emilia Casella.
"The fighting is preventing humanitarian workers from having access to the wounded and civilians who need help in Saada city," added Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman from the UN Bureau for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

On Tuesday, Yemen's security chiefs refused a truce offer made by Zaidi rebels who are under attack by the military in a three-week-old "Scorched Earth" offensive in the north of the country, a report said.

A report by UNICEF speaks of 75,000 children in desperate need of assistance. 60 percent are malnourished. 55,000 children are displaced and more than half are suffering from acute respiratory infections.

Richard Meares, Civilians' plight worsens in north Yemen war zone, (Reuter's Sept. 9. 2009)

Whole villages are on the move in north Yemen, fleeing a widening conflict that is creating a shameful and worsening emergency, aid workers say.
People in the area's main town, Saada, may be worse off still, trapped by shelling and street fighting in homes with barely any water, power or communications and facing food prices spiralling out of reach -- if they can make it to market.
"The situation is getting worse and worse and worse. We're not confronted with a humanitarian crisis, it's becoming a humanitarian tragedy," Gian Carlo Cirri, country director for the U.N. World Food Programme, said by phone on Tuesday from the capital Sanaa.
A month ago a new wave of fighting -- the "sixth war" in an intermittent five-year-old conflict -- erupted in the mountainous north between rebel Shi'ite Muslims and government forces trying to impose central authority.
U.N. agencies estimate this has added another 50,000 people to 100,000 or so left homeless earlier by fighting in the poorest Arab nation. Most are women and children.

World News - Sept. 14, 2009

OCHA has already voiced alarm at the lack of donor response to the crisis, which has seen some 150,000 people driven from their homes by fighting between Government forces and rebels in Sa'ada and Amran governorates. As of today, the $23.7 million emergency 'flash appeal' the UN launched 12 days ago has not received a single cent.

Posted by SS at September 18, 2009 11:09 AM

Comments

Spot on about the studied absence of reporting on the horrors in northern Yemen.

Further, the courageous Yemeni editor, Mohammed al Maqaleh, who first published the news of the Yemeni military's bombing the refugee camp has been kidnapped by Yemeni security forces, and most likely is undergoing intense torture, as occurred during prior Yemeni editors' kidnappings.

It was a predictable response to his unbowed reporting. This man deserves international support as do the 700,000 civilians in the Sa'ada governorate subject to collective punishment much worse than is occurring anywhere in the world.

Posted by: Jane Novak at September 18, 2009 06:42 PM

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