Hidden deaths, starvation and human rights abuses – as Hadi obstructs the proposed peace talks. Update 3rd December 2015

Hayat, aged 3, lost her leg, her home, and her sister in a Saudi bomb



This week the war on Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition has passed 250 days; some areas have suffered bomb attacks every one of those days.  Saada city and much of Saada governate no longer exists – it has been wiped off the face of Yemen.  Much of the capital Sanaa is similarly destroyed by the Saudi-led coalition.  I have been saying this for months; a country like Yemen cannot survive a blockade of food and other goods – now on-going for nearly 9 months.  I have been extremely touched by some posts from Yemen today. One is an interview with Fatema Al Ajal, Save the Children’s director in Sanaa, who describes the ongoing lives or ordinary people in Yemen, who are barely surviving now.  Another short video by the ICRC  called “Hayat walks again” shows a little girl – three years old -who lost her leg , her relatives and her home in a bomb raid, now learning to walk on an artificial leg, such an inspiration – and a credit to the ICRC.  And a touching short essay by the human rights activist Abdulrashid Alfaqih to his yet to be born children; about his life in Yemen, and why he is forced to live it as he does.

Save The Children also put out a statement that “UK appears to put weapons sales above the lives of Yemen’s children”.  Whilst Amnesty asks “Does the UK have blood on its hands?” stating British made bombs are hitting civilian targets, and that they are not keeping to the rules of the Arms Trade Treaty, in which UK was a leading member only two years ago.  Human Rights Watch also issued similar criticism of the UK government policy. ICRC has suffered another disaster with their staff; a kidnapped international employee, following the murder of four of their workers in two incidents earlier this year.  MSF have had another clinic bombed this week by the Saudi-led coalition, this time near Taiz, only two weeks after their hospital was bombed in Saada governate.  I read that 51 hospitals have been destroyed, and many more have had to close because of the blockade, which is not only reducing medical aid and medicines that enter Yemen at this critical time, but also the desperate situation is forcing staff to move as their homes are destroyed and their lives put at risk due to starvation.  As deaths are only counted in official statistics if registered in a hospital, this skews the death statistics as many who die are simply not counted.

In the worldwide news, the bombing of Syria has occupied many in the media, more interested in the leadership of the Labour Party that was split on the vote in the House of Commons than the consequences of the bombs.  I went on a Stop the War demonstration in Bristol this week, and I spoke to 30 groups of about the war in Yemen whilst I was there; despite the fact that these were people interested in Middle East issues, only two people that I spoke to had significant knowledge of the war on Yemen; for most it was the first time they had heard of it.   This war has been kept quite secret.  In Yemen ISIS and Al Qaeda have been fighting openly with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen – unlike Syria, rarely mentioned by our selective British media.  This week Al Qaeda gained more ground, taking control of most of Abyan governate in the southwest, including the cities of Zinjibar and Jaar, although they relinquished Jaar back to local control the following day.  At the same time Islamic State and Al Qaeda have made inroads into the rest of the southwest corner of Yemen.

As the struggle for Taiz continues, there are signs that the Saudi-led coalition is developing cracks at the top as they fail to make the rapid progress they expected.  Hadi and his deputy Bahah, the Prime Minister of Yemen are apparently not getting on, and Hadi tried to change members of the cabinet whilst Bahah was out of the country, in order to shore up his own support.  There were also reports of Saudi Arabia not liking UAE’s plan to replace its own troops in Yemen with around two thousand mercenaries from South America; yet Saudi already has its own mercenaries in Yemen from Columbia and Sudan – a united nations at war with Yemen. The UAE mercenaries are necessary because of the high death toll amongst UAE soldiers and the lack of support for continued warfare amongst the UAE public.  The new mercenaries are being trained by Columbians; USA declined to do so as it didn’t want to be implicated when atrocities come to light – as I guess they will be.  One article asked if this was how wars are to be waged in the future – rich nations paying poor nations to fight their wars for them.  How immoral can war get?

Meanwhile, it has being reported from some media outlets that Hadi is the obstacle that is hindering the start of the much heralded UN peace talks – due to take place in November and already put back till December, with no start date yet announced.  Of course, when Yemen is at peace Hadi is so unpopular that he has no hope of remaining as President. So the destruction goes on.

The reports of two battle arenas vary widely depending on who is reporting them; Taiz and the Najran area in southwest Saudi Arabia, where the Yemen army loyal to Saleh is attacking southwest KSA in retaliation for their assault on Yemen.  Both ‘sides’ claim to be killing a lot of those on the other side, and both claim satisfactory progress themselves.  There are undoubtedly atrocities on all sides in this gruesome war, and there is little chance of either side winning in the near future, whilst civilians suffer horrendously.  Especially from the blockade; 85% of Yemenis are now suffering ‘acute severe food insecurity’. Most governates have been described as on level 4 starvation for several months; I have spoken to people in Yemen who think they are witnessing famine already, with starving populations already on the move in the Tihama region.

It is sobering to think that with this level of catastrophe, that a large proportion of people in UK have not yet heard of this terrible war.  Shame on our media.


Peace talks delayed as Saudi stocks up on bombs – update 21st November

taiz devastation
Taiz today



This week has been the same never ending reports of death and destruction in Yemen. And the UN is saying today that they peace talks – due to start next week – are now delayed until December. I guess Hadi and his powerful neighbours want to make more progress in the ground war before entering the talks, but as usual – the ground war is at stalemate. Everyone says this war can only be ended by negotiations, so why oh why do they have to kill more Yemenis before they talk, for God’s sake?


Taiz is a ferocious battleground, with both sides hoping to use any progress there as a bargaining chip in peace negotiations. I read in one paper that the Houthi-Saleh alliance are using mercenaries from Ethiopia – I don’t know if it is true – and the Saudi-led alliance is definitely bringing in mercenaries and allies from all over the Middle East, Africa, and South America. If you read newspaper articles in papers from members of the Saudi led coalition, they are winning.  On the other hand, if you read Iranian or Houthi papers and news agencies, then you would also read that they too are winning.  When I hear from ordinary Taiz people with no political affiliations, they only state that they are being killed and starved.

Hadi – who ran away from his country and responsibilities at the beginning of the war has moved back to Aden at last – he says permanently.  I guess he’s left his family safe and comfortable in Riyadh. I hope this development means that more effort will be put into security matters in Aden.  Al Qaeda is driving around openly and the Houthi-Saleh alliance are said to be approaching the city – again.  Adenis have been asked to leave their weapons at home – but with gun-toting militias around and no effective police or army, that’s a big ask.  Hadi’s return may indeed draw the fight to Aden, as he is himself a divisive figure with limited popularity and many enemies.

The Saudi bombing raids are as fearsome as ever, killing and destroying all in their wake, especially in the northwest of Yemen.  They obviously have used up lots of their bombs (they dropped 40,000 in the first seven months of war); they have now ordered another 25,140 air to ground missiles from US, including 1,500 penetrator warheads (usually nuclear tipped) and 2,000 of the huge Mother Of All Bombs, each over 1000 pounds. Total cost said to be 1.3 billion US dollars. Human Rights Watch have called on the US not to send weapons to Saudi Arabia, but I guess no-one is listening.  An Italian news outlet said the weapons are on their way already. There is the usual round of dire warnings about the Yemeni humanitarian situation – this week ICRC has put out an appeal about the crisis – as has UNICEF.  The two recent cyclones have added to the disastrous situation in Yemen. But it’s one thing making a plea and wringing your hands.  Yemenis actually need action now – they are already dying.

Hadramaut had so far has been spared from the war, but the news today is that the war has been taken to them, with suicide bombs and attacks in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Shibam and nearby Al Qatn. A home video of the attack shows it is no mini matter – some of the explosions were horrendous.  As ISIS has claimed responsibility, in the week after the Paris attacks, at least this is getting some media coverage.

The UK media this week has really focused on Paris and the events there, and I guess for people like me who are trying to get empathetic coverage of a much bigger disaster elsewhere this is frustrating.  For example, on BBC Radio 4 a man said that after two lots of bombs in 10 months, he is wondering whether Paris is a good place to bring up his children.  HELLO!!!!  People in Yemen have had massive destructive bombs every single day for over 237 days in some cities like Saada; their homes, schools, hospitals destroyed and perhaps they too think that this is not a good place to bring up children.   Some cities such as Taiz have had ground war every day for over four months, their city looking as damaged as cities in Syria after 5 years.  Don’t Yemenis and Arabs want to protect their children too?  Surely this is the reason why there are so many refugees in Europe today.

Last but not least, there is an important inquiry in UK into the government’s response to the crisis in Yemen.  Written submissions are being invited.  I shall send a submission on behalf of Yemen News Today, but other charities and organisations linked to Yemen should also send their own observations.  It may not change anything, but those of us who love Yemen must do our best to assist Yemen and Yemenis in every way we can.





Yemen update 11th November 2015.

What makes me most sad about this Yemen war is the waste of lives, the waste of talent, so badly needed in Yemen. This week there was another report of about Abduallah Al Sanbani, the talented 15 year old who had won a coveted science prize – his reward was a 5 day visit to NASA.  His ambition was to be the first Yemeni astronaut. When a wedding party was bombed by the Saudi-led coalition in his village a month or so back, he was unfortunate enough to be there.  The village was thought to be safe, as the villagers had a pact not to take any ‘side’ in this war, but to remain neutral; they had no militias or weapons there.  It was not to be. Abdullah is now in Jordan receiving medical care for severe burns affecting 75% of his body, and this week surgeons have amputated his foot and his fingers of his right hand.  Many of his relatives died.

abduallah Al Sanbani

He is one example amongst many talented children who have lost their homes, their parents and siblings, their friends, their health, their lives, their right to education, and their futures in this disgusting war. Schooling in wartime is challenging and for some, non-existent, and also many have had their university degree courses forcibly terminated due to the hostiltiies.   Every day I get requests for help – the most heart-breaking cases are those who thought they would be taking their university finals this year, only to have their colleges bombed or otherwise destroyed after four or five years of study, with no possibility of verification of their existing studies, and no money to pay course fees to start their studies all over again overseas.  There is so little I can do, except to offer encouragement, or maybe check any applications for overseas courses if they have enough money to pay for it.

But not only has future talent has been taken from Yemen; the educated sections of its population are like everyone else in Yemen starving, ill, stressed – and unemployed. There is the man who wrote to say he was a journalist with many years of experience working for an English language on line newspaper – now unemployed at the very time news needs to get out of Yemen – and more to the point, without a salary.  There is a long list of engineers who have contacted me– civil engineers, mechanical engineers, whose employment was curtailed by the war, and now, have no hope of getting employment anywhere inside Yemen.  One, who has worked in a senior project manager for many years, said “I must go overseas or we will die – we can’t get enough food. I have no money. I am willing to work at cleaning cars, anything.” I have heard this so many times – if we don’t go, we will die.  When the war first started and people lost their jobs, they lived on their savings. Now their savings are diminished or have gone, and the costs of living are escalating.  Getting out of Yemen – so difficult and so expensive to do – is the only option left for them.  There are so many refugees, and with such a movement of people from the Middle East, there is less chance of finding work anywhere – but they still see this as their only chance of staying alive.

The list goes on. An experienced teacher, with a Master’s degree and a doctorate – he has no work. Another English teacher, excellent language skills, with a Master’s degree – working but fearful of her life due to the ferocity of the bombs – she wants to leave. An  economist, just the skills that Yemen will need after the war to help its recovery  – now no employment –  his uncle has an English passport and asked if that would entitle him to bring his nephew to UK.  An army officer, seriously depressed because of the fighting, wants to leave because he fears for the safety of his two small children – and also for their educational prospects if he stays in Yemen.  A successful Yemeni businessman, his business closed due to the war, is now trying to find work in Kuala Lumpur.  A Yemeni doctor, now working in Amman, Jordan; she used to work in a hospital in Sanaa that was closed down. A businessman who had a British passport in 1967, but lost it over forty years ago; he has not felt the need to apply for another passport until now, but wonders if he could get it renewed after such a long gap.  The list is endless. They are all people that have been educated in Yemeni universities, who now see their only chance of staying alive is to somehow leave the country of their birth, and try their chance overseas.  This waste of talent, of education, is more than Yemen can bear to lose; it is in addition to the loss of its infrastructure and its industries.

The rest of the news – as all warring parties are preparing themselves for the peace talks that are scheduled for next week, they are all trying to make big gains to put themselves into a better position at the start of those talks. The Saudi-led coalition is throwing everything they have at trying to capture Taiz from the Houthi-Saleh alliance, which in turn is trying to recapture towns and cities in the southwest that it had previously lost to the Saudi-led coalition, and has also captured a town in southwest Saudi Arabia. Of course, in Yemen that means that civilians are suffering from bombs from overhead, shelling on the ground, and the effects of the blockade. Dhale in the southwest for example has seen 95 people killed in the last five days.

Unique and endangered Dragon’s Blood trees uprooted

As well as the war, Yemen has suffered its second cyclone in ten days – an unprecedented occurrence. Cyclone Megh followed Cyclone Chapala, both of them striking the Island of Socatra most severely.  This island, used to fierce winds, has now suffered massive loss of housing, and also has lost some of its unique vegetation that draws in tourists as well as scientists that help boost its economy.   And apparently, the excessive moisture is likely to cause desert locusts early next year in Yemen; a small swarm of them consume as much as a town of 35,000 people.  Is there any other disaster that can befall this troubled land

For those in UK who like me hate war, the news that will make you totally aghast are the recent statements by Phillip Hammond, the defence secretary. He states that he wants UK to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia (that is clear because we are) and goes on to say there needs to be ‘proper investigations’ into misuse of weapons and added “…we need to work with the Saudis to establish that humanitarian law has been complied with…we regularly intervene with the Saudis to encourage them to be transparent with us.”   I find this incomprehensible.  There have been reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and others claiming that Saudi Arabia has used illegal weapons in this war, detailing when and where and with photographs, and also these organisations claim the Saudi-led coalition is guilty of war crimes.  But it seems that the UK government is going to take the word of the Saudis that they are behaving legally and humanely.   Hammond does not object to weapons being used to kill Yemeni people – he says that is what weapons are for.  This makes me ashamed of my own government – are these the ‘British values’ we want people in our communities to aspire to?

Another week in Yemen. More sad news. I hope that I can report positive outcomes from the peace conference next week, but I am not optimistic.  And I guess few in Yemen are.