"... Dieser Krieg muss in die deutsche Öffentlichkeit, wir müssen ihn in die Talkshows bringen, er muss in die Diskussion, er muss in unser Bewusstsein erst einmal rein, [...] Wir müssen etwas dagegen tun! ..."
(Jacob Reiman - JusticeNow) (Dauer: 28:51 - The complete translation as text to read in English below)
Diana Chico Alvarez - Moderation
Produziert am 17.05.2018 bei Nijinski Arts Internacional - Verein zur Förderung des internationalen Austauschs von Kunst, Kultur und Bildung e. V.
Samee Ullah (Produktionsleitung), Katharina La Henges (Film und Ton), Waseel Jumazada (Schnitt)
Translate by Jakob Reiman
Talk about Stop the WAR in Yemen Jemen
Produced 17.05.2018 in Berlin / Online 25.07.2018 (28:51)
„…And we have to do something about it. We have to discuss it. We have to bring it into the talk shows, we have to get it into politics. …“ (Jacob Reiman - JusticeNow)
Hello and welcome to SpeakOut Community talks! Our topic today is the war in Yemen. This year marks the third anniversary of a lawsuit filed by 3 Yemenis against the German state and the use of the Ramstein military base in the US drone war. On 27 May 2015, the lawsuit was rejected by the Constitutional Court of Cologne. The plaintiffs survived a drone attack in Yemen on 29 August 2012 in Khashamir, Eastern Yemen. Two family members died while attending a wedding. The US military base in Ramstein played a central role in this drone attack.
The role of the US Air Base in Ramstein and Germany's responsibility in the US drone war in Yemen is only a small aspect. Today's show wants to provide an overview of the war in Yemen – its emergence, the backgrounds, the actors, their interests and the consequences for Yemen. To this end, we invited two guests who intensively studied the Saudi Arabian war in Yemen, which sadly began on March 26, 2015.
So, you are welcome to introduce yourself. Who are you?
My name is Jakob Reimann. I achieved my master's degree in chemistry in summer 2014, at the Dresden Technical University (Germany). Then I went to Palestine, to the West Bank. I worked there in Nablus at the An-Najah University, as a chemist. Our main project there was studying the impact of chemical industrial plants in Israel on nature and people in the West Bank, the environmental impact and the impact on the people’s health.
That was my main project. After that, I lived in Israel for a while, I lived in Tel Aviv and lived in Haifa. And now I am back in Europe working as a freelance journalist and author.
In February 2015, I launched my blog, JusticeNow!, on which I deal with a variety of topics, mainly the wars in the Middle East, but also beyond that, the refugee issue, the crisis in Greece. Yeah, that's what I do.
I'm Mathias Tretschog. I am the founder of the German peace initiative Stop the WAR in Yemen, which was founded in February last year. I worked in the field of migrant and refugee care. And in 2015 I founded a welcome initiative in my hometown of Königs Wusterhausen, Zu Gast in KW (Being a guest in KW).
And it echoes to this day, by me talking about subjects like refugee care, causes of flight, wars, trade agreements, the question of ‘What influence does the Western way of life have on the refugees, the millions of refugees who come to us?’ Ultimately, what are the consequences and results from them?
Stop the WAR in Yemen, what is behind this initiative?
First of all, it started with having personal experiences with Yemeni students from my childhood on. My father studied in Cottbus in the mid-1970s. He had a guest student at our house, who was often at our home for over three years. And there are some beautiful childhood pictures that never left me down to the present day.
In 1978, the last time I saw Shameli, that student, he brought me a huge photo album as a gift. This has been a constant companion at home for me for 40 years. And since then, born from these experiences, this topic has never left me. In February 2017, last year, I was in Berlin and by chance, I joined a Berlin conference – “The forgotten war crimes in Yemen”. And there I learned for the first time what current Yemen is about, what conflicts are there. And I was surprised that in the media, for decades, nothing could’ve been heard about Yemen, although currently, according to the UN, “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis” is raging there.
Why is this initiative located in Germany or in Berlin?
That's a classic question. Because I live and work here in Germany, in Berlin. And Germany also has a distinct responsibility for this humanitarian crisis in Yemen. In this respect, it has been especially important for me to argue for peace not only with my contacts and friends in Yemen but to bring this commitment quite pointedly into German politics as well.
To what extent can German politics intervene in the events in Yemen, and to what extent is Germany involved in this war?
Yes, that's not easy to answer. You can really tell a lot about it. I think the most important thing is if Germany – or rather our political decision-makers in Germany, that's the crux of the matter, since Germany as such is not a war party, but it is our political decision-makers who are involved – if these guys recall the Two Plus Four Agreement, whose Article 2 reads that only peace will come from German soil.
And arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the other war parties, obviously, are not an act of peace. And also in the Two Plus Four Agreement, formulated in 1990, it was ruled out that German weapons will be used anywhere, except in conflicts that have been legitimized by the UN. And these conflicts are not, neither in Syria, nor in Iraq, nor in Yemen. There, German arms exports play a very crucial role, because eventually they fuel all the conflicts and prolong the wars and, of course, have a massive impact on civilians in the respective war zones – including Yemen.
There is indeed a study by Terre des hommes and the International Children’s Fund, that says that globally every 14 minutes a person is killed by a German weapon. At rest, you have to think about that, what is truly behind that figure. Germany massively supplies the war parties like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and other states like Qatar, like Jordan, like Morocco, Egypt, that have an unspeakable military dictatorship, where human rights, where freedom of the press and freedom of speech do not play any role at all – these are the main arms contract partners in the Middle East.
With Rheinmetall, with Heckler & Koch, you name them, Germany plays a very important role in the act of killing. But, one has to say: Germany is not the main supplier of arms. These are mostly the US, France and the UK. And all other NATO countries too. Germany has about 2 percent in total share of arms exports.
Yes, just under 2 percent. From the US to Saudi Arabia, it is just about two thirds, the United Kingdom about 15 percent. And many other countries, including Germany, France, Switzerland, Canada, in the bottom area, but significantly.
So, you have to see: It seems the whole Western world has conspired against this little Arab country, which is one of the poorest Arab countries already.
Why doesn’t this get any media attention?
Well, it's difficult to say. Have a look at Syria: There is a great deal of reporting about Syria in the German media. The reason for this: it has utterly global repercussions. There is an infinite number of actors in Syria. Russia is involved, USA of course, Iran, Saudi Arabia. It draws global attention. And Yemen is, yes, “down there” in the Arabian Peninsula. Only few people are interested. Yemen simply does not have these global repercussions like Syria. And above all, as Mathias said, before the war it was already the poorest country in the Arab world. There are no big business partnerships or anything like that. Unlike in Syria or Iraq, for example, where economic interests play a role, that is hardly the case in Yemen.
I think these are the main reasons why Yemen does not appear in the Western media, especially not in the German media. It’s a little better in the US. The New York Times, for example, reports relatively much on Yemen. But in German media it is hardly an issue.
That is why on JusticeNow!, I want to counter that. The war must enter the German public. It has to get into the discussions. First of all, it has to get into our consciousness, where it has no room at all. Changing that lack of coverage, I turned into my challenge. I wrote my first article on Yemen in 2015. And since then, I just cannot let go of this war. It is so absurd. I am under the spell of that war, so to say. The suffering in Yemen is just so massive. And we have to do something about it. We have to discuss it. We have to bring it into the talk shows, we have to get it into politics. That’s why in March, I have written a six-part special on Yemen on JusticeNow!, where I deal with a specific aspect in six articles each. For example, with the humanitarian crisis, with the various actors who are waging war in Yemen. Simply to bring this topic to the public. It has to reach the public.
Why, especially in Western countries, the Yemen issue is so poorly positioned in the media, in my view, is related to the fact that especially in Yemen, the West’s cynicism is so blatantly obvious here. Take the reporting on Syria, on the conflict in East Ukraine, on Crimea, on the Iraq war, and so on, and compare it with the reporting on Yemen, what's happening there and the West’s obvious complicity in the genocide committed there by the Saudi war coalition.
I think that's the reason why so little is said about it in our media. You might know about Yemen: In terms of size, Yemen is about one and a half times the size of Germany. But there are only 27 million inhabitants on this vast area. We have a poorly developed infrastructure. We have a lot of desert. We have relatively little land suitable for building. This means that Yemen all along has had to import 80 percent of its food from the outside, in order to feed its population somehow. Yemen itself has 27 million inhabitants. From these 27 million, 22 million depend on humanitarian aid, i.e. aid from the UN, donations, etc. 8 million people are facing acute starvation scenarios because of the blockade on land, sea and even in the air, that is maintained by the Saudi war coalition and by the whole air weapons. And among other things, by the US drone war as well. So, it is very, very difficult to bring outside aid to Yemen.
The bad part is that the Saudi war coalition now has no targets as such, but mainly makes up targets – children, schools, hospitals, gas stations, shops, farms, the cattle in these farms, the cars, too. When I read in the statistics, this and that number of cars have been bombed or destroyed, then this sounds for us like us: “All right, now a car is destroyed.” But you have to know that in the villages, sometimes there are only one or two cars in total and people have to drive kilometres to get food or get medical help. And of course, when you destroy a car, it’s a crime on civilization. That means Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Egypt and so on, they are waging a war against international humanitarian law. Every day they violate international humanitarian law.
I think this blockade that exists with respect to medicine and so on, there is a blockade in principle. Is this not also a blockade for the press? So that the press itself cannot get there. What can you say about that?
To the blockade, which Mathias has addressed, of course, a press blockade comes on top. It is not that it is actively implemented. But simply because of this state of war, there are very few reporters on the ground. There is, for example, Iona Craig of The Intercept in the USA who has been a correspondent for years there. Again and again, she’s in Yemen, exposing war crimes. So, there are a few exceptions.
But that's really, you know, I can count them on the fingers of one hand how many international reporters there are on the ground. That’s minimal. But there’s grassroots journalism on the ground, where people just report with their cell phone cameras or simply tell stories on Facebook, tell about the crimes. How are we in Yemen?
There is something like a small internet journalism. But this big media coverage, as you see it in the Syria war, that relatively many reporters from outside are still inside the country, that is not the case in Yemen, not at all. There are few individuals, this is it.
So, it’s very hard to get reliable information about Yemen. In this context, for example, in order to get my information for the press site, I work with some NGOs that are based in Sana’a. Where we exchange information. There is an overview, a list of international media organizations such as Al-Jazeera, Yemen Extra, Iranian television, Syrian television, Turkish news outlets, which, unlike in Germany, publish numerous articles on Yemen. But you always have to check carefully, compare the news, check if you get the news confirmed from other sources too. Figure out where you can really get a coherent picture from. Jakob knows from his own research, that this is of course an enormous amount of time to produce backed up information.
There are also some NGOs. For example, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International. At least in the past, they were very active in Yemen. They have uncovered Saudi war crimes in Yemen. For example, Human Rights Watch has done a lot about cluster bombs. They did a lot of research on that, with on-site examinations. So, there are also two or three players from the NGO universe who are very active there. But, as Mathias said, journalism is at a very low level.
The UN describes the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”. You wrote a six-part special on that issue. What can you tell us with your background knowledge about the humanitarian crisis?
First of all, I would like to say once again that this is ultimately the central question. We can spend hours discussing politics. We can discuss the role of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Germany, USA, we can talk about it for hours. But the central question is: How are the people on the ground? And the people are suffering horribly. They live ... It is absolutely justified that the UN speaks of “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”.
We have other crises: We have the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Of course, we have Syria. In Syria, we thought: Ok, Aleppo, ISIS in Syria, humans cannot inflict any greater suffering on other humans. We thought that’s the maximum. But here comes Yemen which is accurately dubbed the “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”. There is the famine, there are millions of people who are starving. And that is done deliberately.
In Yemen, hunger is used as a military weapon by the Saudi-led coalition. There is a naval blockade where ships cannot enter the ports. Before the war, 80-90 percent of food arrived by ship. And if no ships can dock, no more food will come in. 9 million people do not know where they get their next meal. If you apply that number to Germany, that would be 25 million Germans who do not know where to get the next piece of bread. Hunger is one aspect of the crisis. Then there is the cholera. Yemen is crippled by the world’s largest cholera outbreak. There have never been greater numbers of cholera infections.
Over 1 million.
Over 1 million, exactly. Just before the turn of the year 2017-2018, the number of infected people crossed 1 million. Now it’s even more. Thousands have already died. We have to watch, the bare number of war dead, which are those killed by force of arms. The official figures are about ten thousand, just over ten thousand. But that’s just the tiny tip of the iceberg. There are many aspects that drive up this number of people killed. Just the famine and the cholera are the biggest items on this list.
Regarding the civilian casualties, there is the Legal Center for Rights and Development, which is also based in Yemen. And they keep a daily statistic on the war crimes of the Saudi-led coalition in the first three years. To this very day 36,628 civilian casualties were counted. Among them injured people, half of them approximately, and the other half killed. Women, men, but also 6,000 children among the victims. But you have to ask yourself, who bears the actual responsibility for this war?
We have a historical development in Yemen. For decades, Yemen has been involved in civil wars or armed conflicts. But the catastrophe started in 2011, in the wake of the Arab Spring, which spilled over in 2011 from Tunisia, and Algeria, and so on.
At the time, we had President Saleh, who was killed by the Houthi rebels last December. Saleh ruled Yemen for over 30 years with an iron fist. The people of Yemen had no work. They had very low living standards. Lack of water, lack of food was the order of the day. Yemen is still criss-crossed with corruption. Back then, Saleh accumulated about $ 60 billion worth of assets in his 30 years of reign. And Saleh brutally crushed the uprisings that escalated in the end of 2011, in 2012. He had resigned in order to get away with this repression. People simply demonstrated for more participation, for better living conditions. And there was a new election which brought Hadi to the top, he was the vice-president.
Under Saleh, Hadi was the vice-president and now he was made president.
Exactly. But now you have to know that this Presidency was limited from the outset to two years only. In February 2012, the election took place and his presidency lasted until February 2014.
And in those two years, [Hadi] was supposed to draft a new constitution. He should initiate a peace process with all the opposing groups that existed in Yemen, all the tribes and so on, and initiate new elections too. Or at least prepare them in such a way that fair, democratic elections could take place. He did not do any of that, he was unable do it. He assumed that, like Saleh, he may extend his presidency until kingdom come.
By the way, there is an exciting study, an exciting documentary on WDR (German television). It’s called “On death row at age 14”. It’s from 2014, exactly the time when Hadi was president. And this president is recognized as president by the international – How do you say? – community of states. Still. Although his term has expired. Although he himself resigned after his overthrow in the fall of 2014 in Sana’a. He then moved to Saudi Arabia and asked the Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman to bomb Yemen. To set up a military coalition to fight the Houthi rebels, which is the only military and institutional force that, on the one hand, fought al-Qaida – they were the most successful fighters against al-Qaeda in Yemen.
And, on the other hand, is the only force that fought against foreign invaders like Saudi Arabia who are extremely supported by the US, against the United Arab Emirates, Senegal, Sudan.
The New York Times speaks of “systemic obliteration” of the Yemeni economy. What could be the consequences if the Yemeni economy, indeed, completely collapses?
Again, before the war, Yemen was already the poorest country in the Arab world. Then came the war. And Saudi Arabia is explicitly and intentionally targeting Yemeni infrastructure. It bombs industrial plants, food plants. Ports are being bombed. Due to the sea blockade no goods come into the country. The Yemeni economy is systematically wiped out.
The consequences of this are: If the war is over sometime, which hopefully will be very soon, the Yemeni economy is on its knees. To rebuild these processes, to ensure at least some basic food security, that’s a mammoth task. As mentioned earlier, 80 percent of the food came in via imports. To simply rebuild these structures, which were already ramshackle before the war, to rebuild them halfway at least, is a massive undertaking.
We need the international community, we need the UN. We need donors in Europe, in other parts of the world, who invest in Yemen, who provide assistance. That's what matters. Yemen cannot make it alone, destroyed as it is, with its infrastructure vanished. And it is, yes, it is a mammoth task to achieve that. And I sincerely hope that they will be able to get that done, to get the world community to get that done. So, Yemenis will get anything resembling an everyday life. That’s the big job. That will take years. Unfortunately, this will take years.
Is there a possibility that the US government and also Saudi Arabia (especially regarding the Yemen war) will eventually be indicted due to its war in violation of international law?
I think the most important thing now is that the arms embargo, which was currently imposed by the UN only against the Houthi rebels, is imposed against all the war parties involved. It does not matter if it’s the USA or if it’s Germany or France – no matter which country is flooding Saudi Arabia and its war coalition with guns, as if there were no tomorrow. International condemnation needs to be brought about by the UN, that no one can deliver arms to Yemen or the other war parties with impunity.
It is also important – because you just asked earlier: What role can Germany play? – that Germany uses its position to call the UN Security Council as soon as possible to scandalize and condemn these day-to-day war crimes.
And of course, we need massive support from the international community for the UN, and for the new UN envoy in Yemen, who will now prepare a new peace plan for Yemen. According to statements of UN news, it should be presented in mid-July.
And if the international community agrees here – and, above all, the Western community that always likes to uphold their highly acclaimed values at any given opportunity, and indeed remembers these values only once – I believe that then we have a chance to get peace in Yemen in a relatively timely manner.
What resentment or what punishment against the war parties who have made the decision to deliver arms exports or who are responsible for letting these planes go over Yemen. 160,000 bombs have been dropped in the last three years over Yemen, according to Al-Jazeera. There are people who made these decisions. Whether they will eventually be punished or not, that is not, I think, the most urgent topic.
As we have learned, the Yemeni war is a very complex matter with many different aspects, opinions and participants. In the course of the year, there are many other peace events, organized by numerous peace initiatives throughout Germany. The related data and links are shown below and in the description of the talk show. Many thanks to Mathias and Jakob. We hope that we were able to provide a little bit of insight and information with this round of discussion and we thank you for watching and for your interest in this topic.
Thank you and see you next time.