Destroying Yemen

The hidden war in Yemen is reaching its genocidal climax

 

So effective is the suppression of knowledge about the war in Yemen by the mainstream media that 42 percent of the people in a recent poll had not heard of the three and half year war. The bare minimum coverage in the British media has focused on the humanitarian crisis particularly children starving, the cholera outbreak or when a terrible atrocity has occurred such as the bombing of a bus full of school children on 24 August. In any report or analysis, there is a disciplined narrative remarkable for its consistency. The body count is reported as over 10000, a figure estimated by the UN in August 2016, as if it had remained unchanged over two years in spite of the escalation in the conflict. As I write, the major news channels like the BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera continue to quote out dated statistics without taking in account the massive attack launched by the two leading powers Kingdom of Saudi Arabia(KSA) and United Arab Emirates(UAE) on the port city of Hodeida with a population of 600,000 in June this year.

The blame for the conflict is attribute to the Huthis who are projected as proxies of Iran. This spin has been the great success of the millions of Saudi dollars spent for a highly professional public relations campaign out sourced to Western PR corporations. Many news providers who have accepted Saudi and Emirati lucre have been corrupted. Additionally, the enormously lucrative arms deals of billions of pounds entangling myriad of Western nations has bought the silence shrouded in complicity.

The atrocious killing of 44 children in August when their school bus on the way to a picnic was blown apart in Sadaa province got widely reported. As usual, they were not named and the grief of their families was unheard. The Saudis initially denied it by asserting that it was a legitimate military target and a month later said that is was a mistake. The UN duly called for an independent investigation, a futile gesture which is yet to be accomplished. Then the usual silence that has hidden the mass atrocities against Yemeni people from the public view by our media and politicians since 2015, descended. We just need to contrast the rolling coverage on the conflict in Syria especially around Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta to the insignificant reporting of the mass atrocities in Yemen.

It isn’t easy to keep track of the numerous war crimes in Yemen. Saudi royals, diplomats, media owners and elites own substantial shares in many media outlets to have a significant impact on coverage both in terms of quantity and quality. If you watch TV reports and read an article about the war in Yemen western media chances are that the information came from Saudi media, diplomats, or military members. To top it off, Riyadh has a history of  using extortion at the United Nations to stop independent inquiries, keeping itself off child maiming blacklists, and avoiding charges in the ICC.

The absence of credible figures on the death and injuries caused since the invasion of Yemen in March 2015 seems deliberate and convenient for the Gulf Cooperation Council(GCC) governments and also enable the foreign powers US, UK and France supporting the war to give diplomatic cover for their allies. Access to journalists and impartial witnesses has been made extremely difficult and independent investigations have been replaced by reporting from press releases. News outlets receiving Saudi largesse of any kind are unlikely to send out journalists to report on the issue.

A more accurate estimate of deaths has come from Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) which tracks conflicts worldwide. It found that nearly 50,000 people, including combatants, died between January 2016 and July 2018. Given that this does not include data from the first nine months of the Yemen conflict, when fighting was most intense, the figure is likely higher in the range of 70000 to 80000. We have no idea about the number injured but they must run in tens of thousands. Their suffering in the backdrop of lack of hospital care which has been destroyed is too heart rending to contemplate. As Patrick Cockburn has shown the catastrophic death toll and injuries in Yemen has been downplayed by the media, politicians and governments.  What is more that since the attack on Hodeida, the death toll has increasing at the rate of 1000 to 2000 per month.

The high civilian casualties are the result of the Saudi Air Force targeting residential districts, markets, mosques, weddings, funerals, cars, buses, civilian boats and even medical facilities amongst many other civilian sites. This is contrary to International Humanitarian Law under which the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977, civilians and all persons not taking part in combat may under no circumstances be the object of attack and must be spared and protected. In spite of mounting criticism by international bodies and human rights groups of the GCC targeting of civilians, Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, certified to Congress that the two gulf states were taking sufficient steps to protect civilians. By such falsehood, he cynically whitewashed the bloody slaughter of innocents in Yemen. What a clear proof that American exceptionalism disregards international law when it chooses to.

Even before the conflict, Yemen was already one of the poorest country in the world with a per capita GDP (IMF estimate 2017) of $551. The Legal Centre for Rights and Development in Yemen, a non-governmental organisation, recorded that coalition airstrikes have resulted in the destruction of 15 airports and 14 ports, and damaged 2,559 roads and bridges, in addition to 781 water storage facilities, 191 power stations, and 426 telecommunications towers. This has laid waste to the infrastructure of its economy. Simultaneously an insidious economic war was launched which exacted a far greater toll from the civilians. Within three months of the GCC launches the ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ in March 2015, it was apparent that the blockade has a dramatic effect by leaving twenty million Yemenis, in urgent need of food, water, fuel and medical supplies pointing to the approaching humanitarian disaster. Only 15 percent of the pre-crisis volume of imports were let through in a country that imported nine-tenth of its food. Furthermore, in 2016 the Saudi backed Yemeni government moved the countries central bank from Sanaa to Aden and issued a vast quantity of new money which created an inflationary spiral and destroyed people’s savings. Withholding the salaries of a million civil servants and other public servants plunged the middle classes into poverty. In Yemen this economic warfare has taken an extreme form. A recent study analysis of coalition airstrikes by Martha Mundy of the London School of Economics found that the attacks on bridges, factories, fishing boats and even crop fields were aimed to destroy food production and distribution in the Huthi controlled areas. A country where water was scarce has millions are without access to clean drinking water because of targeting of water supplies. The sewage system and garbage collection has collapsed because of the disintegration of public services.

This has resulted in mass starvation in Yemen which has been ignored by the world at large. The pictures of the wasted bodies of children suffering from acute malnutrition and of adults who can barely walk are deeply shocking. The war has left three-quarters of Yemen’s population, more than 22 million people, in need of urgent humanitarian aid. More than 8 million Yemenis are on the brink of severe famine, and 1.1 million are infected with cholera. In June 2017, the UN warned a famine was looming in Yemen. Yet more than a year later, there has been a reluctance on the part of UN bodies to declare a famine in Yemen and identifying the blockade by the GCC as a major factor. The continual repetition by the UN agencies and humanitarian agencies at the end of 2018 that famine is imminent is disingenuous when mass starvation is rampant in Yemen. 

By the end of 2016, according to UNICEF, 2.2 million children acutely malnourished and required urgent care. Another 1.7 million children suffered from Moderate Acute Malnutrition. A year ago, in Nov 2017, based on their caseload of 400,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), Save the Children calculated that 50,000 children under the age of five will die of hunger and disease in one year– an average of 130 per day or one child every ten minutes. Symptoms include jutting ribs and loose skin with visible wasting of body tissue, or swelling in the ankles, feet and belly as blood vessels leak fluid under the skin. Malnourished children also have substantially reduced immune system function and are many times more likely to contract and die from diseases like cholera and pneumonia than healthy children. This was before the attack on Hodeida and the situation is a catastrophe now. There is a severe risk that a whole generation of 8 million of Yemen’s children who for most part have no access to schools, health services and food are going to be lost.

The bombing raids have brought about a large displacement of households. The current estimates at June 2018 suggest that 2.3 million were internally displaced (IDPs), of which 345,000 were from Hodeida which came under attack in June 2018. Displacement puts families in very vulnerable position in terms of food availability and habitation. Previous research shows that the majority of IDP households live within host communities, placing strain on limited resources during an ongoing conflict.

The Yemeni have become an Unpeople – those whose lives are deemed worthless, expendable in the pursuit of power and commercial gain of Saudi Arabia, Emirates, UK and US. The Royal Saudi Air Force has conducted more 100,000 bombing sorties in Yemen. The GCC have a formidable arsenal of state-state-of-the art tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, high performance jet aircraft and attack helicopters. The Saudi navy—backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and other states—controls access to Yemen’s ports. The UAE has led the ground force occupation of South Yemen using militias and mercenaries. In contrast, the Huthis are a militia with no air force or navy. Their ground forces are equipped with small arms primarily. They have acquired tanks, some missiles and other heavy weapons from the depots of the former Yemeni army. They are no match in weapons but have still resisted the onslaught to bring the war to a stalemate.

The immense amount of weaponry that has been sold by the Western Powers to the Saudis and Emiratis clearly demonstrates that the international system that relies on militarism and warfare to sustain itself. The Saudis with a third largest military expenditure in the world of $70bn in 2017 The Emirates are also high spenders in military and well equipped. Britain has a historical shameful alliance with the Saudi Arabia supporting internal repression and external aggression with weapons made in UK. Besides the weapons sales the US and the UK are involved in training, intelligence, targeting logistics, air refuelling and the naval blockade. The U.S. provides Saudi-led forces with satellite intelligence and satellite-guided radio navigation technology. With US serviceman in the control room targeting strikes, this is also an American war involving war crimes

Then there is the diplomatic support that Britain has given the GCC at the international level. Britain as the penholder at the UN security council takes a naked pro-Saudi position in the conflict. But the complicity deeper than that at the strategic planning at all levels. The four main power, the US, the UK, the KSA and the UAE set up a “Yemen Quartet” in late 2016 to co-ordinate their strategy on Yemen. The quartet met continually since then and at critical junctures just before the operations in Hodeida province and subsequent attack on Hodeida port presumably for a consensus of the four governments on any strategic development which can then be implemented by the military civil service and intelligence. When the US, UK and French government supported the assault on Hodeida, the complicity was all the more glaring.

One of the most inglorious episodes in British politics was the defeat of the motion moved by the shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry demanding that the government should stop backing the brutal Saudi-led campaign in Yemen on 26 Oct 2016. Jeremy Corbyn who has a faultless record of opposing foreign wars one of the largest bank bench rebellions with more than 100 Labour MPs voting against the motion. It would not be an exaggeration to say that all the MPs who voted against the motion have Yemeni blood on their hands.

Genocide and crimes against humanity are not single events that happened overnight but processes passing through different phases with varying intensity to have a cumulative effect on the victims over time. Article 2  of the UN Genocide Conventions defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”. Whether genocide is being committed in Yemen was a question addressed by Randi Nord. Her answer is affirmative This poses a subsequent question as to why this genocide is ignored when compared to other genocides such as Darfur which received immense public outcry and led to a rapid indictment of President Bashir of Sudan for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. Here is a clear case of double standards in the Western politics, media and intellectual circles which was forensically dealt with by Herman and Peterson in their ‘Politics of Genocide‘. Yemen according to their scheme falls under ‘constructive genocide’ committed by Western allies hence subject to erasure, obscurity and impunity.

The disinformation about the causes of the Yemeni conflict is widespread and routinely repeated in our media. The conflict is located in the Yemeni’s own pathologies, their social and economic backwardness that leave them open to violence and thus “civil war”. The proxy element of Iran backing the Huthis with arm supplies is played up with every news item. Since there has been an air and port blockades in place over three years, there is not the slightest possibility of Iran supplying Huthis with arms. Iran political and diplomatic supports the Huthis who share a common Shia faith with Iranians is a far cry from military involvement. The claim of a linkage between Iran and Huthis relies heavily on assertion by the Saudis and Emiratis which is peddled uncritically by Western media.

The root causes for the conflict lie in the complex history of Yemen in the modern period with a more that a century of British occupation of Southern Yemen with Aden as the centre, which ended after a liberation struggle in 1967. Northern Yemen was ruled by an Imamate after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and always in conflict with the powerful northern neighbour, the KSA, which annexed three Yemeni provinces in 1934 and spread its brand of Wahhabism in Yemen which led to the revival of the Shia Zaidism of Huthis to resist Saudi encroachments. Yemen was also affected by the larger development in the Arab world especially the Egyptian Nasserite revolution with the North becoming a part of the wider United Arab Republic in 1958. The South established a socialist republic after liberation. Yemeni leaders off and on flirted with anti-Western ideologies like Nasserism, Pan-Arabism, Non Alignment, Baathism, Communism and various forms of Islamism. The conflict between the two statelets ended in a union in 1979 under the authoritarian leadership of President Abdullah Saleh for 30 years who played realpolitik during the cold war and moved in the US fold after 9/11 to join the war against terrorism after the decision in 1990 to oppose the gulf war against Iraq for which Yemen was punished severely by the US and the Saudis who expelled 800,000 Yemeni workers. The presence of Al Qaeda in Yemen and its attack on US targets led to continual drone strikes in Yemen by the US exacting a civilian toll since 2002. The economic shock of structural adjustments imposed by the IMF and World Bank drove the larger part Yemeni population resulted in a sense of despair due to rising poverty. The winds of the Arab Uprising of 2011 swept the Yemeni masses onto the streets demanding a change of government, greater democracy and an end to corruption. To counter the uprising, the GCC with the US manoeuvred a transitional period with Saleh leaving in return for immunity and Yemen’s vice president Mansour Hadi assuming power legitimised through a referendum for a two year period from February 2012. Hadi steamrolled the country into the membership of World Trade Organisation (WTO) that required egregious amount of economic austerity and liberalisation hitting the poorest and the most vulnerable hard. Besides budgetary cuts threatening the livelihoods of tens of thousands of state employees, Hadi rushed through the biggest wave of privatisation of the major sectors of the economy. This met widespread resistance from different sectors of Yemeni society. The three key members of the GCC- KSA, UAE and Qatar were already in competition against each other in terms of taking over Yemeni real estate and other assets and Hadi exacerbated this by favouring KSA and Qatar to reverse UAE ascendancy in the region. With Qatar being blockaded by KSA, the UAE collaborated in the invasion of Yemen to control and plunder its resources. Behind these stood the US and UK with their corporations and finance keen on controlling the strategic region and its assets. Hadi failed to end the two year transitional government with a new constitutional arrangement well into 2015 creating a political crisis. The slashing of fuel subsidies in the summer of 2014 prompted angry protests and brought thousands onto Sanaa’s streets. Hadi’s policies resulted in uprising led by Huthi-Saleh alliance taking over Sanaa and then moving towards Aden, forcing Hadi into exile in Saudi Arabia. For a full expose of the complex political economy of Yemen, the power struggles and the geopolitics I recommend Isa Blumi’s meticulous critique encompassing the past and present to understand the underlying causes of the devastation visited on the Yemeni people.

The UN Security Council (UNSC) passes the resolution 2216 in 2015 which was biased in the favour of the GCC. The resolution in Chapter VII demanded the restoration of the Hadi power in Sanaa and for the Huthis to withdraw and had over heavy weapons. It also imposed an embargo on the Huthis but none on the coalition. This gave a free pass to the Saudis and Emiratis to organise a coalition and attack Yemen. It is evident that the UNSC has become an instrument of geopolitical power rather than peace making. In order to break the stalemate, the GCC launched an attack on Hodeida the lifeline for Yemenis survival in June 2018. Sweden called for a simple ceasefire resolution but the UNSC rejected it.

Leaving the special UN envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths to bring the two sides together through bilateral consultation is not going anywhere. Given the horror of the humanitarian catastrophe, The UNSC needs to replace UNSCR 2216 with a more balanced resolution to set the stage for political reconciliation, declaring a ceasefire and lifting the blockade. It should hold all the parties accountable for their actions, not just the Huthis. The restoration of President Hadi faces opposition across Yemen with a separatist movement emerging in the South. But recent developments have shown that the US is the real power broker and has excluded the UN from taking control of the situation in the Middle East. On October 31, Mike Pompeo called for a cessation of hostilities within the next 30 days. What happened immediately after this was instructive. The UAE rushed 10,000 fighters to Hodeida and the KSA started its bombing of the city in spite of the appeal from a large number of humanitarian organisations. His announcement and the way it was presented by the MSM was that peace would descend on Yemen but this was a deception giving the GCC an opportunity to break the stalemate and take the city of Hodeida and choke the supply of food to the bulk of the Yemeni population. Seeking the Huthis to surrender will perpetuate the cycle of violence in a country that is already fragmented for generations. Yemen has already been reduced to a fragmented failed state like Libya with long term consequences to the stability of the region.

The callous murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate at Istanbul on October 2 has brought in the limelight the violence of the Saudi state. Yemen got greater attention as some journalist made linkages between the killing of one individual and the killing of tens of thousands in Yemen. On October 25 the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of an imposition of an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia. Germany followed by imposing a ban on weapon sales to Saudi Arabia. The appeal by Jeremy Hunt during his recent visit to the KSA and UAE for an end to Yemen war was rather supine and lacking in any grave concern about slaughter of innocents and mass starvation in Yemen. Yet again the deference of Saudi Arabia prevails and whatever resolution we see in the near future from Britain will play to Saudi advantage. What is needed is the immediate cessation of bombings and lifting of the blockade to save Yemeni children, women and men from death. The whispers of the dying Yemeni children and the sighs of their mothers are not being heard in the filter bubbles of power brokers. 

The silence about the barbaric violence is illustrative of the selectivity of Western empathy and the necessity to keep the war obscure to the wider public. There are social forces ensuring that Yemen is off the headlines in spite of the humanitarian catastrophe. The erasure of information, spin and disinformation about Yemen has successfully shut down debate, expression of outrage and solidarity. The GCC and the US and UK are resorting to violence to obtain their objectives of economic, cultural and political hegemony over Yemen. The imprint of the US empire is writ large because the GCC countries are American protectorates.

Our hope lies in the conscience of ordinary people who have often shown their unwillingness to tolerate unspeakable violence and cruelties due to policies of nation states and international geopolitics. The organisation of compelling protests on significant foreign policy issues from the Vietnam war, apartheid and Iraq war by activist coalitions showed determination and resourcefulness. Yemen is crying out for such protests urgently against the complicity of Britain and US to stop its descent into a terrible genocide.

 

 

In memory of Sarah O’Connor, a victim of the Windrush scandal.

Sarah’s death should not pass without us condemning the horror of the ‘hostile environment’ policy set up by Theresa May
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Sarah O’Connor, one of the most prominent victims of the Windrush scandal, was found dead at her home on Sunday 16 Sept. She was just 57 year old- by all accounts this is a life cut short in this day and age when females from all ethnicities on the average live well into their seventies or eighties. With its pre-occupation with Brexit, her death has gone largely unnoticed by the main stream media except for the report in the Guardian whose correspondent Amelia Gentleman has assiduously followed the Windrush cases and brought the whole issue to the forefront only to be buried politically by clever public relations by the government in declaring an annual national Windrush Day on 22 June and the replacement of Amber Rudd by Sajid Javid as Home Secretary.

The coroner’s finding are expected to report death by natural cause but the key question is the extent to which her cruel treatment affected her health leading to an early death. Many would argue that this question is unanswerable and to an extent this is true but let us just consider the facts of her case. She migrated to Britain from Jamaica in 1967 at the age of six. She attended primary and secondary school here, worked continuously, at times for Ford in Dagenham and in retail, paid her taxes and national insurance, held a driving licence and voted in general elections. Having been married for 17 years to a British citizen, she has four children all of whom have British passports.

Her difficulties began in the summer of 2017 when she lost her job in a computer shop where she had worked for 16 years. She applied for a number of new jobs and was successful but unable to take up the posts because her employers asked her for a British passport, which she did not have. Having no other choice, she applied for benefits at the job centre to meet her needs but she was told that she was not eligible. She was asked by the benefits agency to prove she was in the country legally.

Conversely, an official decision was taken to categorise her as someone who was in the country illegally. In March this year, with no income from a job or any social security benefits, she was facing bankruptcy. She had to sell her car and ask her daughter for financial help to pay the rent and buy food. From the beginning of this year, she was so worried that she was afraid to open her front door for fear that bailiffs arrive to remove her possessions or immigration enforcement arresting her for deportation. She told Amelia Gentleman that “I can’t get another job without proving I’m legal and I can’t get the documents to do that. The stress of it is making me ill. When the doorbell goes I worry if it’s not the debt enforcers it’s going to be the immigration people, telling me I don’t belong here and trying to send me back to a country I don’t know”.

Her daughter, Stephanie O’Connor, saw how badly the immigration problems had affected her mother. She said “It made her very unhappy. I saw a complete change in her. She wasn’t the same mum any more. She felt like she wasn’t getting anywhere, and she was deflated. I was trying to keep her upbeat; she said she just wanted to give up”.

These testimonies show that the stress and anxieties that she was subjected to was tearing her life apart. She admitted being depressed. At this critical time, as an illegal, she had no access to NHS to seek help for her medical and mental condition. It is not difficult to imagine the immense insecurity and fear that bore down upon her. On top of this, in the weeks before she died, her landlord had given her notice of eviction and she was having great difficulty finding a new home. This could have been the last straw that broke her spirit and health.

There is a compelling body of medical evidence on how emotional stress can cause a range of illnesses. In our society, medics tend to shy away from linking life experiences such as unemployment, debt, evictions to illnesses because health is seen as isolated from the social context. Some scientists have found that heavy workloads, job insecurity and living in poverty can result in increased stress, leading to depression and higher risk of acute cardiovascular episodes. It is not outside the realm of our imagination to see that what Sarah under went damaged hear health irretrievably.

She had courage enough to speak out publicly against the injustice she had suffered and joined others who had similar experience at a meeting organised in Parliament by David Lammy MP on 1 of May. The immigration minister Caroline Nokes apologised to the half a dozen Windrush victims who were targeted by immigration enforcement. Soon after that she went through a naturalisation ceremony at the end of July and formally recognised as British. But the final year of her life when she tried to extract herself from a spiral of problems caused by the official decision to categorise her as illegal had taken its toll. It is now clear that no compensation was paid to her by the time of her death because her friends are crowd funding for the expenses of her funeral. This shows how reluctant the government is to pay compensation promptly to the Windrush victims.

Here was a working class black woman reduced to utter desolation. In the end, it all took a heavy toll. In Sarah’s case, the instrument was not a knife, a gun, violent assault or poison pill. It was a system of immigration enforcement, a ‘hostile environment’ for illegal immigrants set up under the Immigration Act of 2014 by Theresa May when she was the Home Secretary. The wielders were the bureaucrats in the home office, in social security, her prospective employers and her landlord. They exercised their powers with a chilling normality and cruelty without the slightest concern for her well being. Such dehumanisation is only possible when we have a political climate and culture which normalises the denial of jobs, housing, benefits, health to individuals who are labelled as illegal.

But for those who want racial justice, the politicians who put these cruel policies in place should be held to account. The hardline ‘hostile environment’ system is still in place. Theresa May who is now the Prime Minister still defends the system and wants to maintain it. Sajid Javid’s renaming the system as ‘compliant environment’ does not make any difference. We have immigration controls not on the borders but within civil society with checks carried out by private citizens such as doctors, teachers, landlords through fear of penalties. Black and ethnic minority people are disproportionally affected by it. Here we see state racism embedded in law extending through regulations to all other institutions in our society- hospitals, schools, work places, rented sector and banks. To reverse the policy, Theresa May would have to repeal her landmark legislation. This is not likely in spite of the Windrush scandal. The apologies and the gesture of declaring an annual Windrush Day are good public relations to bury the issue.

The hostile environment that entangled the Windrush victims is the same as that which has led to the detention of 3000 asylum seekers and refugees at any one time in 12 immigration removal outsourced to private companies which process nearly 30000 people every year. These vulnerable people are detained indefinitely without any judicial intervention under the executive power exercised by the Home Secretary. Almost fifty percent of the people detained are released because they have a justifiable claim for asylum. Amnesty found that this system causes serious harm to the detainees and their families.

To fight for justice for the Windrush generation, we have to fight this system of injustice. It is a fight on many fronts- for human rights, against unjust laws, against the immigration enforcement, against detention and deportation requiring a coalition of activists, journalists, lawyers and organisations to work together. We have to join those like Liberty who launched a campaign against indefinite detention to those like the Movement for Justice are continually demonstrating to close Yarl’s Wood and opposing any deportation. Regrettably the wholly unjustifiable weaponisation of anti-semitism against Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran anti-racist campaigner has diverted us away from the fight against racism and fascism. Only a labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn will be in a strong position repeal the legislation underpinning the ‘hostile environment’ policy and dismantle its infrastructure. It is imperative that we redouble our effort to fight racism at every level- popular, newspaper led, institutional and state. Anti-racism is inclusive and will bring all communities together to fight for justice. We should do this in memory of Sarah O’Connor to ensure that her memory does not die.

A world of pain, suffering and dispossession – remembering Sri Lankan Tamil ethnic cleansing and genocide

In the week beginning 23rd of July 2018, Sri Lankan Tamils across the world marked the thirty-fifth year of the horrors of the anti-Tamil pogrom of Black July 1983 (Kaṟuppu Yūlai). By all account what happened was a horrific bloodbath when Tamils were killed by Sinhala mobs in Colombo and across the country.

In the western press and elsewhere these atrocities are often presented as race riots. But according to A.Sivanandan who left Colombo after an attack on his family home during the widespread pogrom in 1958, there have been no race riots in Sri Lanka since independence. What there has been a series of increasingly virulent pogroms against the Tamil people by the Sinhala state.

The turning point was the 1956 election, when Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, launched a new party, Sri Lankan Freedom Party(SLFP), with a racist platform of Sinhala-Buddhist first to win the majority of Sinhalese Buddhist vote and on winning a landslide,swiftly legislated to make Sinhala the official language and Buddhism the state religion. This attacked Tamil livelihoods and achievement because English education had been a passport for social mobility into the professions and administrative services. Peaceful protests were crushed by the police; any attempts at reconciliation were suppressed by the Sinhalese reaction. This set off a vicious political race to the bottom when the defeated United National Party (UNP) adopted the same platform in competing for power.

Sivanandan succinctly summed up five decades of developments thus: “From then on the pattern of Tamil subjugation was set: racist legislation followed by Tamil resistance, followed by conciliatory government gestures, followed by Opposition rejectionism, followed by anti-Tamil pogroms instigated by Buddhist priests and politicians, escalating Tamil resistance, and so on – except that the mode of resistance varied and intensified with each tightening of the ethnic-cleansing screw and led to armed struggle and civil war”

Successive Sinhalese governments have carried out demographic changes in the Tamil homelands. State-aided colonization has settled Sinhalese, specifically placed between the Northern and Eastern provinces of the Tamil homeland, in order to break up the contiguity between them.

In 1971 the university system abandoned admission based on merit and substituted ‘standardisation’ through examination results – with lower marks required for Sinhalese than for Tamil students. In a single move, this blighted the future prospects of the Tami youth. Non-violent protests and political actions had reached into a blind alley. Their language demoted, their land increasingly grabbed, their educational and job opportunities curtailed and their culture marginalised, Tamil youth turned to arms in the 1970s responding to pogroms with counter-violence.
 
In 1979 the government passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act and sent the army to Jaffna with instructions to “wipe out terrorism within six months”. The imprisonment and torture of innocent Tamils that followed in the wake of the PTA drove the civilian population further into the arms of the emerging militant groups, all demanding a separate Tamil state, Eelam, the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) the most militant of them.

In June 1981 the security forces set fire to the Jaffna Public Library destroying 95,000 volumes and rare manuscripts of historic Tamil literature, considered to be the epicentre of Tamil cultural heritage.  In the same year, the police attacked a peaceful refugee camp, Gandhiyam, set up by Tamil doctors to give refugees succour and killed or imprisoned its organisers.

On 23 July 1983 the Tigers ambushed a Sri Lankan army unit killing thirteen soldiers in Jaffna to avenge the killing of Charles Anthony (nom de guerre ‘Seelan‘), now of the LTTE’s top commanders. Their bodies were put on public display in Colombo by the government to provoke Sinhalese fury which resulted in the killing of Tamil prisoners in Welikade jail by Sinhalese prisoners with the collusion of the guards.

A widespread pogrom against Tamils commenced immediately and over a week reached genocidal proportions. Abductions, torture, rape, killings, disappearances and arbitrary arrests became widespread. Many attackers used electoral registers to destroy Tamil homes, shops, factories, etc built by Tamils over generations thereby destroying their capital assets accumulated over generations. These planned abuses were carried out with impunity by the armed forces, special task forces, police, home guards and paramilitary forces.

A cruel ethnic civil war of attrition followed over more than two decades with violence and counter-violence on both sides. The Sri Lankan armed forces with an airforce and navy, well equipped with advanced weapons acquired from the UK and US had always had an upper hand. The North East Secretariat on Human rights (NESOHR) documented more that 150 massacres of Tamils between 1956 and 2008. The LTTE resorted to suicide bombings, assassinations and skirmishes with Sri Lankan armed forces.

In July 1987 India signed a pact with Sri Lanka to end the conflict by sending peacekeeping troops (IPKF) to disarm LTTE. As soon as the Tamils realised that India would never support a separate Tamil state, the showdown between the IPKF and LTTE resulted in thousands of deaths. The disaster led to withdrawal of IPKF in March 1990 and the bitterness on the part of LTTE resulted in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May, 1991.

Apart from the peace talks in October 1994 which ended when Jaffna the main city in the north in December 1995, a major effort mediated by Norway in February 2000 led to a 20 month long fragile ceasefire agreement and talks only to be scuppered by President Chandrika Kumaratunga declaring state of emergency on 5 November 2003.

Meanwhile, the LTTE was already designated as a terrorist organisation in Britain, Europe, India and US, giving a greater confidence to the Sri Lankan government to go on the offensive to seek a final solution militarily. Geopolitical machinations ensured that the Sri Lankan government would have diplomatic and material support from UK and US. There is sufficient evidence that behind the scenes Britain provided training for the Sri Lankan armed forces to improve their performance and the modern weapons to defeat Tamil nationalism.

The election of Mahinda Rajapaksa in April 2005 brought in a regime which conducted a ruthless war not only against the Tamil Tigers but against innocent Tamil civilians. This parliamentary dictatorship tilting to fascism, instituted blanket censorship, abducting and killing any critical journalists and activists and feeding the Sinhalese public with government manufactured propaganda. In 2009 it intensified the military campaign and cornered the Tamil Tigers in Wanni with tens of thousands of civilians. The north of Sri Lanka was destroyed field by field, street by street, hospital by hospital. The UN failed to protect civilians, because it showed a lack of political will to stop atrocities when it could, mainly under pressure from the United Kingdom, which was preserving its strategic interests.

The defeat of the LTTE brought to end the attempt to establish a Tamil state. A survey showed that in 2016, seven years after the end of the war, 96 percent of Tamil land was occupied by the army. There has been little change since then, with many people still unable to return to their lands and access to water resources so that they can farm and fish to sustain their livelihood.

After the massacres in Wanni, On May 18, 2009, Colombo declared the end of the 26-year civil war and presented this as the beginning of a new era of peace, national reconciliation and development. But the PTA still remains in force enabling the security forces to detain people and subject them to torture, bypassing due legal process. There are many who are still looking for disappeared relatives. Nine years later the Sri Lankan government has set up an Office of Mission Persons (OMP) which has yet to gain the confidence of the Tamil community. Whilst the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena has promised to stop abductions and censorship of journalists, the national security state and the fundamental strategy of the ruling class to divide and rule remains unchanged. The political will to look back at the past and bring about reconciliation between the different communities is absent. Little progress has been made to implement The UNHCR resolution 30-1 passed in 2015 to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights. For this to happen, the fundamentalist Buddhist monks must return to their monasteries and army to the to its barracks.

The Permanent People’s Tribunal on Sri Lanka held in December 2013 upheld the charge of genocide against Sri Lanka government and of complicity by the UK and US governments. Like the Palestinians and Kurds, the Sri Lankan Tamils have suffered ethnic cleansing and dispossession over the last seven decades. In none of these cases have the Western powers and the United Nations designated this as genocide. These are good examples of the prevailing politics of genocide. For the US and UK, ethnic cleaning by its allies such as Israeli, Turkey and Sri Lankan governments are benign genocides. It is only those committed by their enemies that are considered to be nefarious and requiring rapid intervention. In Kosovo, the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia) was briskly set up to indict the Yugoslav President Milosevic for genocide. The strategic interest of UK and US ensured immunity to the President Rajapaska for war crimes. Such double standards are with us and undermine the credibility of the current world order dominated by the US. All attempts to use international institutions to hold the Sri Lankan government to account retrospectively, worthwhile as they are, are not likely to result in any significant action.

Every community has to draw lessons from the history of their struggles. The Tamil liberation movement suffered a crippling defeat. The Sri Lankan Tamils have entered new phase. They have to regroup and radically innovate new strategy and tactics. They face a dual challenge- one at home in Sri Lanka and the other in the diaspora in the UK and elsewhere. Wherever they are they need to build strong civil society organisations with solidarity to fight against injustice legally and politically. They have no choice but to reconstruct their lives. In Sri Lanka holding on the land they have and recovering the lands they have been displaced from is the utmost priority. They must develop strategies for this. More importantly, they need to bring to an end the domination of the Sri Lankan military in civil society and public spaces such as schools. For this, they must build communities of resistance based on participatory democracy. Tamils in the diaspora should set up organisations and funding to support reconstruction of the communities in Sri Lanka, beyond mere charities. They will need to build their political organisations to contest any opportunities electorally at local and national levels.

They came for Tamils and now they are increasingly going after the Muslims. Given the triumphalism of Sinhalese nationalism and the increasing attack on Muslim community, the Tamil community must make common cause with all minorities and oppose injustices. This would show a principled position on defence of dignity, security, justice and human rights based on their experience. It will win them respect and friends at home and across the world.

In the UK, the Tamil community are still intimidated by the fact that the Terrorism Act 2000 banned LTTE and by association, any Tamil political activity can be linked to terrorism. They need to resist this by making common cause with the Kurdish and other communities facing a similar problem. Organisations such as CAMPACC have supported the Tamil community over more that a decade. The Tamil community must learn from the Kurdish experience. Kurds under the guidance of their imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan have abandoned nationalism as their aim and have attempted to build grass root democratic institutions uniting diverse communities in Rojava. They face formidable obstacles and geopolitical machinations but their strategy is both visionary and right.

Inevitably we confront the question of why the Sinhalese polity descended into barbarism with Buddhist religious bigotry having a sway contrary to Buddhist tenets of truth, virtue, morality, non-violence etc. The roots of this lies in the colonial past when the British colonial authorities imposed a unitary central state without regard to Tamil territorial claims and invented the ‘Sinhala Buddhist Aryan’ national identity privileged to rule the island in 1833. In sharp contrast to its brutal treatment of the Indian people across the water the British awarded universal suffrage in their model colony coupling it with an island wide census to instil the Sinhala identity with a majoritarian consciousness. They developed a narrative that the Tamils were not indigenous to the island but invaders. Despite the repeated demands by the Tamils for constitutional safeguards that would preserve their collective rights as a nation, the British transferred the power to the Sinhala elite in 1948 leaving Tamils at the mercy of the sectarian state.

This beautiful island still described as ‘the jewel of the Indian Ocean’ in tourist brochures is tarnished. Maybe sometime in not too distant future, coming generations of Sinhalese and Tamils will look back at the last 70 years with horror and seek to build a multicultural, multi-faith and multilingual society where all will flourish and none will be left behind, none will be marginalised and demonised. In a turbulent world they will face urgent challenges of climate change and economic survival. Hopefully it will dawn upon them that the inhabitants of this island have a history and geography so intertwined that ethno-nationalism can only be destructive and an inclusive politics and culture will enrich all of them. Without such hope, how can one face the future.

How can one remember all the victims of this carnage. Innocent children, women and men who were slaughtered for nothing but for the demigods of nationalism. Perhaps it is best to leave it to Faiz Ahmad Faiz who witnessed such the carnage in Bangladesh in 1971 by the Pakistani army and reacted to it with this poem:

This is how my sorrow became visible
its dust, piling up for years in my heart,
finally reached my eyes,

the bitterness now so clear that
I had to listen when my friends
told me to wash my eyes with blood.

Everything at once was tangled in blood-
each face, each idol, red everywhere.
Blood swept over the sun, washing away its gold.

The moon erupted with blood, its silver extinguished.
The sky promised a morning of blood,
ant night wept only in blood.

The trees hardened into crimson pillars.
All flowers filled their eyes with blood.
And every glance was an arrow,

each pierced image blood. This blood
-a river crying our for martyrs-
flows on in longing. And in sorrow, in rage, in love.

Let it flow. Should it be dammed up,
there will only be hatred cloaked in colours of death.
Don’t let his happen, my friends,

bring all my tears back instead,
a flood to purify my dust-filled eyes,
to wash this blood forever from my eyes.
(translated from Urdu by Agha Shahid Ali)
Continue reading A world of pain, suffering and dispossession – remembering Sri Lankan Tamil ethnic cleansing and genocide

It is about time to have an honest conversation about migration

In the wake of the European summit on migration, it is time to debunk myths and speak out some truths.

A spectre is haunting Europe. This time it is fear of hordes of dark skinned people swamping its shores. Often it is the Muslim within and without whose alien culture is about to threaten Christian Europe. The so called ‘populist’ movements have become a euphemism for right wing nationalist political movements who are setting the xenophobic political agenda.

In June we marked 25 years of refugee crisis with a salutary reminder that at its most conservative 34,361 migrants and refugees died trying to reach Europe. Many more have drowned and many scorched to death trying to cross the Sahara. They will remain uncounted with no memorials.

Following the two day European summit to resolve the migration crisis towards the end of June, the Evening Standard editorial addressed some of the issues on 29 of June. However the arguments put forward reinforced some of the myths that are widespread.

Firstly, to argue that migration is driven by rapidly increasing population in Africa is to succumb to a long held Malthusian myth of population as the main driver of social ills. The truth is that globalisation over the last thirty years as a means for greater prosperity has in fact increased poverty across Africa. Research carried out by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative showed that across the 24 Sub-Saharan African countries, about 200 million people were destitute in 2014. The imposition of Structural Adjustment Programmes by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank on African countries enforcing economic liberalisation, free trade and privatisation to service debt increased poverty and inequality.

It is popular to argue that generous benefits are attracting migrants to Europe, more so now because of access to social media and mobile phones in Africa which show how better life is in Europe. Researchers who gathered information over 1000 interviews with migrants and refugees found that there was no evidence to support this view. Claims are often made by many politicians that most refugees are economic migrants. Another survey of migrants showed that only 20 percent leave there countries for Europe for economic reasons. The majority of migrants who reach European shores are fleeing wars, violence and persecution.

The US declaration of the generational global war on terror following September 11 was a turning point. Beginning with Afghanistan in 2001, moving to Iraq in 2003, then to Libya in 2011 and followed by Syria, the war involved direct invasions, ensuing counterinsurgencies and proxy wars. As in other modern wars, bombing and airstrikes were the major cause of internal displacement and cross-border refugees. Further afield, the civil war in Southern Sudan, the ongoing war on terrorism in Somalia, the war in Yemen, the repression in Eritrea, the war on terrorism in the Sahel including Nigeria have all contributed to producing refugees. Of the 62.5 million refugees 85 percent find shelter in their neighbourhood and 57 percent of all the refugees come from three countries, Afghanistan, Syria and South Sudan.

The other myth that has been promoted has been that Europe has a liberal migration policy. Frontex, the European Border and Coastguard Agency was set up in 2005 and its mandate was reinforced in 2016 in the wake of the 2015 migration crisis. It has enormous powers to intercept, control and deport migrants without any regard for their human rights. The conditions in the existing refugee camps are inhumane, cramped, and insecure leading to trauma amongst refugees.

The political fault lines that were there much earlier widened across Europe with the 2015 migration crisis. The courage of Merkel to open German borders nearly a million fleeing Syrian refugees in 2015 should never be forgotten. Other politicians in Europe began building fences. Viktor Orban Prime Minister of Hungary led the charge proclaiming himself as the defender of Hungary and Europe against Muslim migrants. East European leaders of Austria and the Visegrad four, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia have all taken his anti-immigrant politics. Since then, she has been under attack in Germany and across Europe. The rise of the AFD in Germany poses a threat to the centre and left in Germany. The refusal by Matteo Salvini the Interior minister in the populist Italian government to allow MV Aquarius carrying over 600 African refugees to dock in an Italy port was historic and equally a portent.

The migration agreement reached by EU leaders after 12 hours of night long acerbic talks was a compromise to contain the tensions within the EU. One of key proposals is screening migrants for their eligibility to apply for asylum before they reach the EU. Countries in North Africa and the Middle East would be offered EU financial aid in exchange for agreeing to set up screening centres. This is a deeply worrying extension of the outsourcing of refugees that is currently in place in Libya and Turkey.

In Libya, thousands of refugees and migrants are currently detained in camps where they suffer torture and other ill-treatment and arbitrary detention in appalling conditions, extortion, forced labour and killings at the hands of Libyan officials, militias and smugglers. Amnesty International’s findings reveal how member states of EU – and Italy in particular – have pursued their own goal of restricting the flow of refugees and migrants across the Mediterranean by outsourcing using financial incentives with the slightest concern for the vulnerable people.

In creating a hostile environment for refugees and migrants, there is a growing tendency to use laws that are directed at people traffickers and smugglers to harass humanitarian organisations and individuals who are trying to save lives and support vulnerable refugees. Hungary is again at the forefront of enacting laws whereby individuals and organisations providing advice and assistance to asylum seekers could on conviction face imprisonment of one year and a tax of 25% respectively.

Policies have consequences in determining who lives and who dies. Europe can change its policies to address the concerns of the electorates and win over a new political consensus. The populist narrative must be challenged. The public needs to be persuaded that Europe can manage migration if all government work together to develop effective asylum systems. This would include honest explanation of the benefits and challenges of migration, making legal migration a credible prospect, creating a system of proper integration, and creating a system for the safe return of rejected asylum seekers. If voters understand that most people who flee their homes are hosted in developing countries and Europeans need to do their bit, they might take pride in the reduction of human suffering.

In the longer term the root causes of migration must be dealt with. The wars and conflicts should be brought to an end with systematic conflict resolution. The economic policies of the highly developed Western countries must be changed to allow the transformation of underdeveloped African countries to meet the material needs of their people for jobs, homes, food, education and health.

A response to Mike Pompeo’s 12 demands on Iran- what the US must do to bring peace and stability to the Middle East

Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state who set out 12 demands on Iran in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, in Washington D.C. on Monday, 21 May 2018. It is urgent that the unending wars and destruction in the Middle East are brought to an end for the sake of its peoples, their right to life and security. The US is a paramount military power in the Middle East and it should carry out its moral responsibilities by doing the following:

1) Deal with the issue of nuclear proliferation honestly and equitably by including Israel in the process of denuclearisation. Ensure that both Israel and Iran provide an unqualified access to all nuclear sites through their respective countries to the IAEA. Supervise the denuclearisation of the region by removing the shadow of nuclear threat hanging over the people of the Middle East.

2) Prevail on Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza and abandoning its policy of violence against unarmed Palestinian civilians. Prevent the establishment of new settlements on occupied Palestinian land and help end all the administrative laws that choke Palestinian lives. Ensure that Israel releases all political prisoners. Bring all parties including Hamas together to establish peace by an equitable and just settlement for Palestinians which ensures the security for both Israelis and Palestinians.

3) Restore the US funding to UNRWA which provides the basic needs of millions of Palestinian refugees in the neighbouring countries. Seek in collaboration with the regional powers a long term solution for to address the needs of these refugees for homes, food, health and education and their return to their homeland.

4) Ensure the security and integrity of Lebanon and stop Israel from violating its air space. Recognise that Hezbollah is a legitimate political force with historical roots in Lebanon and involve it in establishing peace in the area. Bring Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran together to ensure political stability and security in Lebanon.

5) Abandon the policy of regime change in Syria. Work with Russia and other regional powers for a political solution to the Syrian conflict. Stop the Saudi and Gulf states arming and supporting proxy groups and ISIS in Syria. Respect the integrity of Syria and stop any break up of its territory. With the other regional powers, Russia and the European Union, set up a mechanism for the reconstruction of Syria and for Syrian refugees to return home in the coming decade.

6) Prevail on Turkey to stop its occupation of the Kurdish region in the North of Syria and oppose any ethnic cleansing of the towns and villages of its Kurdish population. Recognise the aspirations of the Kurdish people as legitimate and urge Turkey to release all political prisoners in particular, the leader of the Kurdish people Abdullah Öcalan. Assist Turkey to find a political solution which is inclusive of its Kurdish citizens.

7) After the defeat of ISIS, take urgent steps with the Iraqi government to reconstruct the destroyed villages, towns and cities of Iraq with the use of the receipts from Iraq’s oil exports. Support the Iraqi government to build its non oil economic sectors, infrastructure, health and education systems. Stop the political fragmentation of Iraq and end the occupation of Iraq.

8) Bring an end to the conflict in Afghanistan since its invasion and occupation in 2001 by declaring ceasefire and agreeing a peace process with all parties including Taliban and the regional neighbours of Afghanistan such as Pakistan, India, Iran, Russia and China.

9) Prevail on its allies in the Gulf Coalition to stop the bombing in Yemen and lift the blockade of Yemen to enable humanitarian aid to reach quickly to millions who need it. Ensure that a ceasefire is established and set up a process to bring all parties to reach a political solution leading to the withdrawal of foreign forces. Help with the regional powers to reconstruct Yemen’s destroyed infrastructure and economy.

10) Understand the anxieties and fears of Iran in terms of its national security. Stop demonising Iran and recognise it as a regional power which has legitimate security interests. Lift all sanctions on Iran and let the Iranian economy have full access to the world market. Involve Iran with the other regional powers such as Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Gulf States and Egypt to secure peace and stability in the region

11) Prevail on Egypt to stop attacking peaceful protestors and release political prisoners and allow the freedom of expression and association for the opposition. Ensure that there is freedom from torture and security force violence in Egypt. Work towards restoring political freedoms in Egypt.

12) Work with the UN, Europe, Egypt and other relevant regional countries to implement UN plan to reconcile the different factions Libya to establish a unified democratic government in Libya. Help with the reconstruction of Libya’s infrastructure and economy.

Continue reading A response to Mike Pompeo’s 12 demands on Iran- what the US must do to bring peace and stability to the Middle East

Submission to the Chakrabarti Inquiry, with Sue Lukes

lizdaviesblog

SUBMISSION BY LIZ DAVIES AND SUE LUKES

About the authors

 

We are Labour Party members. Liz was an active member between 1979 and 2001, serving eight years as an elected Labour councilor in the London Borough of Islington, and two years as an elected constituency representative on the Party’s National Executive Committee. She left the Labour Party in 2001 but rejoined in 2015 following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader. She is a member of Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP. Sue has been a member of Islington North CLP since 1982 and has held many offices in her ward, Highbury East: she is currently vice chair and GC delegate.

Sue is Jewish and on the board of trustees of her local synagogue, Kehillah North London.  She has campaigned and worked against anti semitism and other forms of racism for many years, partly inspired by her family story: her father…

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HOW TO DISMANTLE THE NHS IN 10 EASY STEPS

youssefelgingihy

 

HOW TO DISMANTLE THE NHS IN 10 EASY STEPS by DR YOUSSEF EL-GINGIHY – The story of how your NHS was sold off to private healthcare & why you’ll have to buy insurance soon – PUBLISHED BY ZERO BOOKS

http://www.zero-books.net/books/how-dismantle-nhs-10-easy-steps

Over the past 30 years, the NHS has been insidiously converted into a market-based healthcare system. This process is accelerating under the Coalition government and the very existence of a National Health Service is in danger. How did it ever come to this for Great Britain’s most cherished institution?

1)      Create an internal market

Speaking at the 60th anniversary of the NHS in 2008, Kenneth Clarke remarked that “In the late 1980s I would have said it is politically impossible [to do what we are now doing.]”It being the conversion of the NHS into a market-based system. After 30 years of neoliberalism, the impossible has become…

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