Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My Speech at the UN Human Rights Council

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During a side-session on Yemen war and attacks on public freedoms, yesterday at
the UN Human Rights Council 35 Session in Geneva, Switzerland. Panel was co-run my the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Gulf Center for Human Rights and other organizations. 

Thank you, Khalid. And thank you for the Committee to Protect Journalists organisation for the invitation. I appreciate taking part in this event, despite how difficult the topic is for me. It was very difficult to gather my thoughts for this talk; not only because the situation in Yemen for my family, my friends and my people is beyond any worse humanitarian situation you can imagine of but also because how can I talk about public freedoms without focusing much on the humanitarian catastrophe. As we speak now, the numbers of killed people in Yemen coz of the consequences of the devastation and damage of the war is on a constant rise - cholera alone is killing one person per an hour - and thus we have one funeral per an hour. And still, the tears and pain at these funerals are not heard by those who have the decision to end the war.


Before I speak further on the inhuman and absolute dire situation in Yemen, and also while keeping in mind that we are here today to understand how the war impacted public freedoms, I would like to start by sharing a short story of a young man called Amjad Mohammed Abdulrahman. With his thin and crispy body, Amjad, the 23 years old young man who was a law student in Aden, he had the vision to make a change in his city. Amjad was well-known for his cultural initiatives in town and his critique against extremism; especially the thriving extremism out of the ongoing multi-fronts war in Yemen.


According to Amjad’s close friends, Amjad received repeatedly death threats and was abducted earlier this year by some extremist group on the pretext of Amjad was promoting atheism. Following some intervention by influential armed political leaders, Amjad was released. After this, Amjad got back to the cultural scene and held a public event titled “accepting the other”. Not long after this, last month, a couple of veiled and armed men stormed into an internet cafe where Amjad was at and shot him both in the chest and the face. Amjad was killed, immediately. Following day, the extremists didn’t only ban holding a funeral for Amjad supposedly coz he was an atheist but also they detained four of Amjad’s friends -who mostly work as journalists - as they were about to leave Amjad’s house. One of these four young men who got detained is a colleague of mine. The friends were detained for one day in which they were exposed to severe physical torture. And I had the chance to hear the heartbreaking details of that torture from my colleague. The young men were released after, again, the intervention of influential armed political leaders.


I can go on and continue telling other heartbreaking stories of killed and survival victims but time is tight. Amjad’s story is a one drop in an ocean of horrendous attacks and killings against journalists, activists and ordinary citizens who happened to be at the wrong place & the wrong time. This is my third year to speak at the Council on the crackdown on freedom of expression and press in Yemen, in light of Yemen war. And I can assure you that the crackdown has new faces today after we used to know that the Houthis were the greatest abuser or how the Saudi-led coalition was leading a media blackout on Yemen war. Today, the three years long war in Yemen has produced new armed militias and extremists who are also leading the crackdown.


So - Now, today’s event is much focused on public freedoms and I get a headache when I think of that – because how can we talk about freedoms when the public is in a life or death situation; actually, it’s in a death or death situation. By the UN humanitarian chief’s account; today, the largest humanitarian crisis worldwide is in Yemen. I would also say that the largest disgrace for humanity today is what’s happening to millions of people in Yemen. How could we, mankind, in 2017, allow a man-made disaster rip the lives of thousands and thousands of people? The inaction by the international community and the world’s silence to the suffering of millions of human beings in Yemen is baffling to me.


Sadly, millions of Yemenis’ options are limited; they are trapped in war, with no access to flee the conflict. With no food, no water, no medicine, no shelter and no nothing; they are left to die in a slow death. As you probably know, Yemen has been the poorest Arab country for many years before the war started. That means today that almost the entire population are too poor to flee, too weak to shout, too exhausted to plead.


The war has devastated the already poor country. The war has also devastated everything you can imagine of; freedom of expression, freedom of press, the right to food, the right to live in dignity, the right to dream for a better tomorrow - and above all it has devastated Yemenis’ trust in humanity. As the warring sides; meaning the Saleh/Houthi wing and the Saudi-led coalition and President Hadi wing, as they are all still fighting on who will have the biggest chunk of the cake, death is ripping Yemeni lives in multi-ways; In Yemen, today, if the Saudi-led coalition's airstrikes, or the Houthi & Saleh’s bombs and mines or the extremists’ bullets, or the torture at prisons or the epidemic diseases or food scarcity; if all these did not kill you, in Yemen today people are committing suicide. Three weeks ago, a lady in Ibb city, in my late grandfather’s city, the lady poisoned herself and her two daughters and committed suicide as the mother had nothing and could not go begging for help.


Midst of all this death madness, I sometimes wonder; if these warring parties are fighting over who gets the biggest share of the cake, I wonder what is it that they’d rule if the nation is totally wiped out, eventually. I also wonder how all these reports don’t make weapon supplier countries like the US, UK and others rethink or investigate how their weapons sold to the Saudi-led coalition are used in Yemen war?


To sum up, I am not here today to give you the statistics and numbers of how many journalists or activists or civilians were killed, injured or expected to be killed. I am here to tell you that Yemeni people are so tired. Tired of the international community’s broken promises of sending aid which only 10 or 20 percent only were sent. Yemenis are so tired of the international community’s inaction in speeding up any peace talks that could end the war. And more importantly, Yemeni people are so tired of this piece of cake which the warring parties fight over at the expense of innocent Yemeni lives and future.


But am not tired. And I speak now, not as a journalist or Yemeni citizen or an activist. I speak as a human being who is enraged by the amount of injustices Yemenis have to endure. I am enraged seeing how in some countries animals are better treated than my fellow Yemenis. I am not tired of speaking up and so must this council - unless the Human Rights Council want to be at the wrong side of history and betray every value it proclaims to advocate for. I refuse to be tired because even if I were not Yemeni, I will speak up for these people because I think Yemenis deserve justice and live in dignity, just like me and you.