Common duty to end bloodshed, destruction & famine in Yemen
Father Laurence Hillel**
Dr Riyaz Karim***
The famine in Yemen has lasted too long and claimed an abundance of casualties including the basic human dignity and feelings. Recent images of famine and destruction have shaken the world with humans turning into moving skeletons as the famine takes root in the poorest of the Arab countries. The Saudi-led alliance has imposed a blockade and sanctions unseen in recent memory. War crimes on a t gigantic scale have been committed as the world stood in deafening silence. If material assistance is not possible as the US and UK insist on backing the Saudi aggression, words of sympathy are the least that can be afforded by decent people in the efforts to end this nightmare.
Tuesday 8th November 2016
Kim Sharif: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very for being here tonight to hear about the horrors that have been taking place in the Yemen during the last 18 months. I want to explain briefly something very important. I think it is very important to understand how this war has been planned, carefully and structured and how it has been carried out and why.
I want to take you back 1430 years when our prophet was leaving Mecca and immigrating to Medina because the people got together and wanted to assassinate him. The plan of the assassins was to get a representative of each tribe to come and go to his house and each one of them had to stab the propeht so there would not be a backlash from Bani Al Hashim his clan against any particular tribe and there would not be a war against the people of Mecca.
This plan, the narration states, comes from satan himself. So they did go ahead and wanted to carry out that plan but by the grace of God they just never got to carry it out because he just left his house and the people who were surrounding his house did not get to see him. He went to Medina.
That kind of plan reminds me, as a lawyer, of how the war in Yemen was structured because I am by profession a solicitor and my specialisation is civil law, charities, commercial property and general civil litigation. Human rights law is not my area. It is something I had to learn very quickly during the last 18 months due to necessity.
Much to my horror when I looked at the law I found that this war was structured in much the same way as the night of the assassination or attempted assassination of our prophet. Saudi Arabia is not a party to the Treaty of Rome. The Emirates are not a party to the Treaty on Illegal Weapons and you will find others used to be members and then left, like the Sudan.
When I saw the problem starting I could see that it is so wrong and bad from the morning of 26th March when they started pounding the Yemen 2015. I wanted to take legal action so I looked into the law and this is what I found. To my horror it meant that I could not pick one country and take them to court – go to the ICC and say there is genocide and war crimes against humanity in this country because of these legal complexities.
So you can see how this war was devilishly and satanically structured. Fourteen countries, some of the strongest and richest countries of the world come to attack one of the poorest countries in the Arabian Gulf using cluster bombs and uranium enriched bombs constantly targeting civilian areas like schools and hospitals.
The UN is playing games not agreeing to carry out an independent investigation to see what is really going on there. We are being sold lots of lies about why the Saudis have felt it is appropriate for them to come into the Yemen. One of the reasons given is that they want to restore the legitimate president, the man they claim is the legitimate president.
Legally there is no legitimacy to that man in international law or in Yemeni law. And then they go on to say they are trying to prevent Iranian expansion in the region. We did not find one single Iranian in Yemen. What we found was Columbian and Sudanese nationals – they were killed in the Marib area. There were also Mexican, Israeli, American, British and Australian nationals. In the 18 months that I have been carrying out investigations we did not find one single Iranian national.
There are a lot of independent NGO’s working with me consisting of journalists, lawyers and doctors all very respectable members of society. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that my countrymen and women are very well educated. Most of them hold doctorates and do speak many languages. It has been a privilege for me to work with them.
These other nationals made their way to Yemen via the notorious Black Water Company, the notorious death squads and mercenaries. Time and time again we go to the UN to ask for an independent investigation and time and time again the UAE and US and their allies force the issue and refuse an independent investigation. Why?
I will tell you why. The death toll is well over 15,000. It could be up to 20,000 by now. The majority of them are women, children and the elderly. They love attacking people in hospitals. Medicines sans Frontiers was attacked four times. A market place in Mahrib was attacked 20 times. A Quran school for children was attacked several times in the Sada area. Chemical bombs are being used everywhere. In the Hodeida area we are now beginning to witness grotesque birth defects of the kind we recall from the Chernobyl incident years ago – horrific evidence. Anyone who wants to come and talk to me, I am happy to provide copies of photos showing the defects.
So Yemen has become a playground for the most powerful and richest nations in the world to test out nuclear weapons and come back to tell us that North Korea is a rogue state. I am afraid North Korea is not a rogue state compared to what is going on in the Yemen. It is mayhem. It is a holocaust. Why do I use this word? Not just because of the number of people being killed. A holocaust is the nature of the activities that are being carried out. It is actually happening now, after WW2 and all that we have learned from the Nuremberg trials and all the laws that have been set up to protect humans from this kind of inhumane and evil treatment.
Genocide is taking place, war crimes are taking place, a crime against humanity has taken place. There is no legal justification for that, no UN mandate authorising the use of force under any circumstances. Resolution 2216 was passed three weeks after the atrocities started to happen. In any event there is serious material legal flaw in that document – 2216 is a joke. It is as useful as a newspaper that I finished reading and can use for my other purposes.
We call ourselves civilised. I grew up in this country. I have been brought up under British values: democracy, civil rights, human rights. A lot of people when I talk to them and they talk to me about the system I do tell them that I have faith in the system because I know my system. I have been in the law for 25 years. Our great values have been severely undermined. Our system has been brought into disrepute. We are worse than North Korea. As far I know and this has not been denied even though parliament has been lied to six times over the use of the weapons that we have been supplying to the Saudi regime. We need to make more noise about this.
We do not have a written constitution. If our system does not work properly, continually we are in danger. We are at risk of the breakdown of the system and I do not like the sound of that. I do not like it when Tony Blair interfered with the investigation of the serious fraud office in the same way I find it disgusting when they use the gutter press to go and attack our judiciary.
At the end of the day I know, and you can ask any lawyer in this country, our judicial system does function and our judges can be trusted. They are not dodgy like some people think. But it is a very sensitive process and it can take a long time. It is worth it.
I remember the Stephen Lawrence campaign. If it had not been for the solidarity and tenacity of that family we would not have had to identify the serious disease that we have: institutional racism that was eating us from inside. We have done a lot to try and overcome that.
Now the only way to solve this problem in Yemen is to take legal steps, whether it is in this country or elsewhere. In pursuance of that, I am pleased to say that we have done something. We got a great guy who has given us an excellent opinion. We are going to be testing British law that has not been used ever and this law is under the UN charter and there is a UK statute incorporating it into our law. So we have made a complaint against three main countries who are involved in this war: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE. We have direct evidence of their involvement.
There will be many other cases coming but this is the starting point. We have submitted our request to the attorney general to ask to issue proceedings. We are not expecting him to say yes of course. At the end of the day this is a Tory government. We know that. We also know our procedure and we are confident that we are going to get somewhere. We know that. I have seen it with my own eyes and I am pleased to say we started the process and we are not going to stop it until we get justice for the people of the Yemen.
Justice as I was saying is very expensive. It is there but it is very expensive. And it takes a lot of money. We have to find many different sources of funds. At the moment the situation is so bad that millions are facing starvation. The 1980s famine in Africa is nothing compared to what is going on in Yemen now. The whole country is under siege. There is an air, sea and land blockade. Nothing is allowed to come in and nothing is going out to the world. We need financial help and support.
I know a lot of people believe that investing in legal proceedings is not worthwhile because we are going to lose. I think that is a very dangerous apathy. I am speaking here as an experienced lawyer who knows the system very well. We need your help and support. We are setting up a fund for the legal steps to be taken. I am a trustee and director of the organisation Human Rights for Yemen. I do not earn any money from that as it would be a conflict of interests for me. My work for this cause if pro bono and I have the bank account details of our organisation which I am going to give to you today and I would be most grateful for any help and support that you can give us in this direction. I am sure your contribution, even if it is by way of a £2, £3 or £10 monthly donation – anything like that we would very much appreciate.
What is the plan then? We also have an international team of lawyers working together on these cases so that proceedings can be brought elsewhere as well: in America, at the International Criminal Court, in Belgium. Many other countries are slowly joining us. I think Lebanon is the other country that has recently indicated interest in this direction.
Justice must be seen to be done. This is a basic British value that I grew up with. What I am finding is happening in reality now is that we have just become a nation of hypocrites. We use the democracy stick to whip certain countries whose regimes we do not like. But we are hypocritical because how on earth do we support a most brutal regime that is committing untold genocide in Bahrain, in Syria, in Iraq, in Somalia, in Nigeria, in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.
When you see terrorism rest assured that it is coming from the Saudi/Wahabi regime. We also suffered from that here in London but we do not look into it. Our best ally, the US regime, has come out and said we are going to pass a law to get compensation for the victims of 9/11. There is a connection between the Saudi ruling regime and 9/11 blaming Mr Badar Al Sultan.
I say that is not good enough. Compensation is not the issue here. Over 3,000 lives have been lost there. What you want is indictment for terrorism. Simple. You have taken such drastic measures to take away liberties from countries such as Britain and elsewhere. There is a concentration camp called Guatanamo Bay. To ask for compensation is an insult to the people of America. It is an even greater insult to what is going on here because it is taking the micky out of the law.
As a solicitor it is my ethical duty to uphold the rule of law. That is why I am sitting here today to say this. We need to uphold the rule of law. I alone can’t do it. I need your help and support and I would be very grateful for any support you can give me. Thank you very much.
Chairman: Thank you Kim for this excellent presentation. It was emotional but it had a lot of facts whether we agree with them or not is a different matter but I think the case for stopping the war is strong. The case of taking whole case to the ICC is strong although unfortunately the ICC is impaired by the fact that countries which have not ratified the Rome Statute are exempt from the ruling and jurisdiction of the ICC and this is one of the most difficult problems. America until now has not ratified the Rome protocols. Kim said you may go there but unless the secretary general of the UN takes the case himself and the Security Council decides to refer any country to the ICC, if that country has not ratified the Rome protocols he cannot do so. We should put our efforts into getting the United Nations to take action. If the Security Council takes the case it is a very complicated issue. There is the domination of the petro dollar which is preventing this. It is freezing international law. International law is frozen because there are lobbies which are supported by petro dollars. It is a very difficult situation but the least we are asking for and hoping for is to have a ceasefire and to have the blockade removed.
If we look at the war and the destruction morally, ethically and religiously, how do we see it, how do we view it as people of religion, people who have principles. How do they see it and how do they view the exit from this crisis?
Father Laurence Hillel: Good evening. When Sayed Shehabi rang me last week to ask me if I would be available to speak tonight, I pointed out to him that I have absolutely no expertise whatsoever in the situation in Yemen. Moreover it would not be right for me as an outsider to make any comment on the political situation there. However, I did say I was willing to share Christian insights on injustice and the humanitarian consequences of conflict, and I also want at the end to make a general comment regarding the situation for the minority Christian community living in the Yemen.
Of course I have personally been shocked by the images of the suffering in Yemen, and I am conscious that this is a conflict which does not attract the same news attention as Syria/Iraq and the Middle East in general. It is as many conflicts are globally a forgotten one. Indeed when I pray daily about the world and its suffering, I tend increasingly to pray not about specific situations, but about all those places where the innocent are suffering, where injustice is present, where people are not free. By doing this I am including in my prayers not just the places of headline news, but all places where God’s light and love is impeded by human sinfulness.
As a human being I share with my sisters and brothers of all faiths and none a concern when I see people suffering. The religion, gender, ethnicity and social background of those who suffer is irrelevant in my reaction. Suffering especially of the innocent goes against everything I hold dear about human dignity, about opportunity and about promise or hope. Perhaps that explains why human beings recoil when they see in particular the suffering of those who are children. Children symbolise most deeply the plight of the innocent. Their suffering brings before us directly the challenge “How have we failed them?” “Why have they not been given a proper chance in life?” “Why have we failed to protect them”
But I come today to speak as a representative of the Christian religion which holds very clearly before it a vision and hope of God’s kingdom, where as it says in the Book of Revelation, the final book of the Christian Bible:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’
Moreover Christians believe that Jesus fulfils the promise spoken of the Old Testament of a Prince of peace. The kingdom of God is portrayed as a kingdom of peace. Peace implies more than the absence of violence. It encompasses all that is meant by the Hebrew word, shalom, namely well-being and includes health, prosperity, security, friendship and salvation” It is this vision which drives my sense of outrage and compassion at any suffering which is the consequence of man-made wars.
For most Christians (and indeed our Jewish brothers and sisters) this vision which inspires us is one we hope for in God’s time, but it is also indicative upon us to use our God-given gifts and resources to work towards this goal. Importantly in Christian theology, there is the idea that the Kingdom is both with us now, but not yet wholly fulfilled or complete. In a well known parable from Jesus’ teaching, Jesus tells his listeners that those who will be judged as worthy at the time of judgement are those who have actively sought to do something to bring that vision nearer
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
And in a beautiful prayer by the Christian Saint, Theresa of Avila, she writes
“Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world.
The biblical tradition which I share emphasises from the very beginning that God’s people have a duty to be concerned about the needs of the vulnerable and to resist injustice. God is portrayed as a just God
“But the Lord of hosts is exalted by justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy by righteousness. “ and God’s people are expected to be just in their dealings. “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6.8) “But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everlasting stream.”(Amos 5.24)
In the Old Testament this call for justice is particularly focused on the needs of the widows and orphans and of the responsibility to care of them. In the New Testament Jesus consistently talks about God as a God of love and of the call for compassion and concern for the needs of the vulnerable. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” says Jesus in the Sermon of the Mount.
Peace encompasses the ideal of complete justice where each person is treated as made in the image of God and as one of God’s children. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells of how a Jewish man left for dead by robbers is cared for by his supposed enemy, a Samaritan.
“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.” The parable of the Good Samaritan is a response to a question on “Who is my neighbour”. The implication is that my neighbour is both anyone who is in need, and my carer irrespective of background.
There is one comment I would like to finish with concerning the situation in Yemen and that is the situation of the very small minority community of Christians who have to worship in secret and face persecution. In March of this year a Roman Catholic care home in Aden was attacked and 16 were killed including four religious nuns. It is not acceptable that any religious community should be targeted because of their beliefs. Sadly we know that thousands of Christians have had to leave the Middle East because of a threat to their safety.
Rowan Williams the last Archbishop of Canterbury wrote on religious violence in his response to “A common Word”, a Muslim overture to Christians to find common ground in our two faiths. In this Muslim document the emphasis is on what Muslims and Christians share together “Thus the Unity of God, love of Him, and love of the neighbour form a common ground upon which Islam and Christianity (and Judaism) are founded.” “Thus also God in the Holy Qur’an confirms that the same eternal truths of the Unity of God, of the necessity for total love and devotion to God (and thus shunning false gods), and of the necessity for love of fellow human beings (and thus justice), underlie all true religion:”
Rowan Williams writes in his response to this overture “So we can conclude that the more we as people of genuine faith are serious about the truth of our convictions, the more likely we will be to turn away from violence in the name of faith; to trust that God, the truly real, will remain true, divine and unchanging, whatever the failures and successes of human society and history. And we will be aware that to try and compel religious allegiance through violence is really a way of seeking to replace divine power with human; hence the Qur’anic insistence that there can be no compulsion in matters of religious faith (al-Baqarah, 2:256 ) and the endorsement in “Common Word” of “freedom of religion”.
Chairman: Thank you to Father Hillel for his kind words which would also resonate with what Muslims would say. The essence of religions is the same. They are supposed to be and they are considered to be the message of God. The message to human beings is that war is the last resort not to end conflict and not to indulge in blood letting as we see today. Human beings have invested heavily in the field of armaments.
Only three or four days ago we were attending the trial of a man who was arrested for standing up against the purchase of arms. They had a conference some months ago at the Science Museum and he happened to be there and he stood against those who were inside and was charged with obstruction and taken to court. The argument in his favour was strong: that he is objecting to the sale of arms that are used against civilians. These weapons were used against him when he was protesting in his country.
This business of arms is becoming serious to human beings. Today when you ask why is Britain against an international investigation of the war in Yemen and the war crimes that may have been committed by any side in the war we will not receive an answer. What we heard in the last few days was that the Saudis were given the duty of appointing someone to investigate what has happened there. The person who was appointed to carry out this investigation is a judge who had sentenced tens of Bahrainis to jail for protesting against torture in Bahrain. So he is the person who is going to investigate war crimes in Yemen.
So why don’t we have an independent international investigation under the patronage of the United Nations. Why do we have to ask the Saudis to go and investigate themselves? Can you see anybody incriminating himself? So there is a problem. Today our world is facing a serious problem of morality. What we see is that there are huge amounts of petro dollars at play in the world. This is hindering the international work. Yemen today is blockaded from all sides. That is something that nobody talks about. Yemen is blockaded on land, from the sea and from the air. No aeroplane can go into Yemen. No aeroplane can come out. No ship can go to any of the ports. All the land borders are closed so the humanitarian aid is hindered. Sometimes it was targeted and we heard what happened to Medicines Sans Frontier. Their hospital was bombed so they said they cannot operate under these conditions.
When you target medical staff and the aid agencies you get the images that we have seen. What strikes me is that those images which I saw in front of the tanks were there only for one day. The issue of famine in Yemen was only mentioned for one day. I don’t know what happened. All the papers forgot about the whole thing on the second day. Usually when you have famine anywhere you will see the issue being repeated day and night and you will see many programmes.
In the case of Yemen we only saw it for one day. Probably it is a reminder to the Saudis that people can see what they are doing – but no more. There is a need to expose what is happening in Yemen. There is a need to call for an immediate halt to the war and to implement a ceasefire and there is a need to remove the blockade of the ports and airports and there is a need to investigate any war crimes that have been committed by any side. This is the only way you can ensure that no such war will ever be launched again outside the limits of the United Nations.
Kim Sharif: the third speaker, Dr Riyaz Karim Director of Mona Relief; Yemen Organization for Humanitarian Relief and Development has just sent me a text to say that my mother has just been admitted to hospital. I can say a few things about Dr Karim. I work very closely with him.
Dr Karim is an amazing man. He is a psychologist by profession, retired now and has worked in Somalia for about eight years during the height of the conflict there. He has set up an organisation called Moan Relief which does an incredible amount of aid work in the Yemen. How he does it is just his way. He is an amazing man and he has so many friends and he has become my best friend just through the work we are doing.
His organisation has managed to feed up to three million people so far from the time they started their organisation with one thousand pounds. The Saudi regime attempted to bribe him to stop him from working. He is breaking the blockade by getting food into the country. From time to time he calls me and tells me I just got two tons of rice in. How he does it I don’t want to know.
So the Saudis got Aramco people on his back and they offered him about two million dollars to work for Aramco because their workers have psychological stress and they need the experience of Dr Karim.
He breaks the blockade and he brings food and medicine into Yemen. His organisation is called Mona Relief, he is a gem to work with. I hand some of the money I collect to him because he does great work, his sincerity and incredible skills ensured he has volunteers on the ground in Yemen everywhere. He does access most places.
When doctors in Yemen phone me and tell me they are running short of certain medicines Dr Karim sorts it out. It is a shame that the blockade is there. Dr Karim is preventing, stopping or minimising the extent of the genocide being committed in the Yemen by means of the illegal blockade.
There is nothing under the sun that allows or entitles these people to control Yemen’s air, sea and land. It is an independent country under the UN charter. Its sovereignty must be respected. And the suggestion that Yemen is being controlled by a bunch of Houthi militias is nonsense. How did they manage to defend their country despite all that has been going on for 18 months and continue to govern. Yemen does have a government under its own constitution and it must be respected. Thank you for listening and I encourage you to work with Dr Karim in feeding and clothing the needy in Yemen. He also takes care of orphans. He takes disabled children from the street into his centre and they get taken care of.
*Kim Sharif a prominent lawyer and rights defender in the UK, has been most vocal in her denunciation of Saudi Arabia’s unlawful war against Yemen. She is a solicitor with a large law firm in London.. She is director of the Human Rights for Yemen. Since the Saudi-led war on Yemen started in March 2015, she was at the forefront of campaigning against the war, calling for a ceasefire as well as international investigation of war crimes against the civilian population.
** Father Laurence Hillel has studied at four British Universities, predominantly in History and Theology, and holds an MA in South Asian Studies from SOAS and an MA in Christianity and Interreligious Relations from Heythrop College. He is an ordained pries in the Church of England and is currently serving at St Anne’s Brondesbury. In his current role as Co-Director of the London Inter Faith Centre and the Bishop of Willesden’s Inter Faith Adviser, he has contacts with a range of Muslim institutions. He was previously Chaplain at Bishop Ramsey Church of England Secondary School Ruislip.
*** Dr Riyaz Karim is Director of Mona Relief; Yemen Organization for Humanitarian Relief and Development. Dr. Karim holds a PhD in Developmental Psychology and a Masters in Visual Communication. He worked for the UN for a number of years and was posted in Somalia during the war. He acted closely with a number of International Charities in a collaborative capacity, which granted him excellent experience. Dr Karim is responsible for fundraising, promotions, communication, logistics and collaboration with other charities and organizations. He is currently based and coordinates Mona activities from London, England.