Taking sides in Yemen

Sunday 19/02/2017

Many Yemeni citizens are aware that some international organisations head to the country with political agendas. Often these aims make life more miserable for Yemenis, particu­larly when the organisations buy the discourse of armed groups that are guilty of the worst crimes against human rights in the country.

By their behaviour, such or­ganisations, unfortunately, give a concrete example of how to betray the principles of neutrality and independence in humanitar­ian work.

The British organisation Oxfam, for instance, has taken it upon itself to be a defender of the armed Houthi militias. Oxfam’s latest questionable move was supporting Andrew Mitchell, for­mer British secretary of state for International Development and a Conservative member of parlia­ment, on a trip to Yemen. Mitchell tried to polish the Houthis’ politi­cal image in Europe. The issue of the Houthis’ crimes against the Yemeni people obviously was never brought up.

I worked with Transparency International in Yemen and I believe the corruption exercised by the Houthi militias since they took control of Sana’a in Septem­ber 2014 was unprecedented in Yemen’s modern history. Yemen ranked 170th out of 176 countries and territories in Transparency International’s Corruption Per­ceptions Index for 2016.

The Houthis’ actions brought the central bank to the brink of bankruptcy and, UN reports said, 80% of the population became distressed. The Houthis plun­dered humanitarian aid and used the resources of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health to buy weapons. They went as far as enrolling children in their militias. And yet, Mitch­ell declared that the Houthis improved the situation in regards to corruption.

Even Houthi supporters would not dare say something like that. They know quite well that corrup­tion worsened under the Houthis.

Mitchell also declared that “the Houthi rebels should not be seen negatively or as agents of Iran” and that “Britain and the interna­tional community should avoid demonising the Houthis and refrain from referring to them as Iranian agents”. This goes against international and UN reports that have documented Iran’s political, military and financial support of the Houthis. Mitchell bashed Britain’s military support to Saudi Arabia and its allies and accused the latter of laying siege to “a sovereign state”.

The honourable member of parliament working for Oxfam could have consulted UN reports about foreign humanitarian aid to Yemen. The reports detail the number of ships allowed inside Yemeni ports after being searched by the Arab coalition forces. Mitchell would have been right if he had decried the slow speed with which search operations were conducted but to call that “a tight blockade” is distorting reality.

Mitchell has called for a replace­ment for UN Security Council Resolution 2216.

Ignoring this resolution means that the armed militias would thrive in Yemeni towns and institutions and that the plundered weapons would not be returned to the Yemeni Army.

A new UN resolution would legitimise crimes committed by these militias and guarantee more violence.

The Yemeni government and its allies must launch media and diplomacy campaigns to counter­act Oxfam’s defamation cam­paign. Already, there are signs of Oxfam’s pernicious influence on UN institutions in Yemen. The lat­ter’s leadership has begun to deal directly with the rebels in clear violation of Resolution 2216.

By going along with Oxfam’s biased agenda and providing official cover for Mitchell’s visit, UN organisations in Yemen are jeopardising their own neutrality.