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A flawed report that hinders the fight against racism and injustice

“Anti-Racism Kensington 44” by thivierr is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Sewell report cancels institutional racism and erases black struggles for justice and equality.

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Diversity Report (the Sewell Report) is to set the ‘new race agenda’ for the Johnson administration. Central to this is its politics, rather than the plethora of data it marshals.

Institutional racism cancelled

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, after the launch of the report, Dr Sewell said that while there was anecdotal evidence of racism, there was no proof that there was “institutional racism” in Britain.

The entire right wing media received this news with glee. The Daily Mail ran a front page “BRITAIN’S RACE REVOLUTION – Landmark report says UK is ‘a model to world’ on diversity- and finds NO evidence of institutional racism”. For the Sun it was the final proof that no structural and institutional racism exists in Britain and the dividing line of social inequality is class.

The publication of the report in 1999 of the Stephen Lawrence Enquiry chaired by Sir William Macpherson was a landmark in British legal and social history.  Macpherson, after much deliberation, discarded earlier shibboleths of countering racial disadvantage through cultural compensation by funding ethnic projects recommended by the 1981 Scarman report and forced the establishment to accept that institutional racism needed to be tackled in the police force.

The commission argues that the Macpherson definition has been devalued through “linguistic inflation” and it should be “applied only when deep-seated racism can be proven on a systemic level”. It is difficult to understand this. Can’t allegations against an institution be made before proof?

This distorts the elegant clarity and directness of the Macpherson definition which states that

“It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping.”

Furthermore, the report makes the astonishing claim that one of the key justifications for Macpherson’s findings of institutional racism was the under-reporting of racist crime and the problem has been solved.

In fact, the Macpherson report confirmed that the Met was “institutionally racist” because there was gross misconduct on the part of the police during the Stephen Lawrence case, primarily due to racism. Their misconduct included failure to administer first aid to the victim as well as failing to follow obvious leads and failure to arrest subjects. What was revealed over the years through investigations and reviews was that undercover police had undermined the Lawrence family’s campaign and there was corruption in the police force.  Doreen Lawrence, who campaigned for 18 years for justice for her son’s murder, said that the claim that the system was no longer rigged against minorities could give racists a green light.

This would give government institutions, both central and local, the health service and the educational services a green light to periodically review their policy and practice to ensure that there is no institutional racism.  There was great resistance against Macpherson’s proposal when it was published in 1999, and before it could be turned into a policy across institutions, the tabloids and right virtually killed it off.  There is still massive resistance to tackling institutional racism that is woven over centuries of colonialism and slavery into the structures of society and into the instruments and institutions of local and central government, as Sivanandan put is so powerfully.

Windrush state racism condoned

The way in which the report deals with the Windrush scandal illustrates this well. Apart from the token gestures to the Windrush generation, their heroism, their experience, etc., the report does not recount how the lives of Black British citizens, who joined their parents legally as children but were deemed illegals as they became adults, were destroyed. Thousands lost their jobs through employment bans, lost pensions, lost homes because of lack of income to pay their mortgage, or through eviction if they rented, were denied access to health care, unlawfully deported as adults, refused re-entry to the UK and left traumatised and impoverished for years.

When these injustices were exposed by campaigners, a token ‘Windrush Day’ was declared by the perpetrator Theresa May and a fund set up to compensate the victims. Even then, the system failed to respond with urgency with just a trickle of money being awarded if they survived the ordeal. The report has the gall to say that that, “Outcomes such as these do not come about by design, and are certainly not deliberately targeted.”

It is widely accepted that this injustice was the direct result of the hostile environment created by the Home Office. This is quintessentially state racism arising from the Immigration Act 1971 which defines citizenship of two types, giving unrestricted right of abode to ‘patrials’ who were British citizens by birth or immigrating citizens who had an ancestral connection to the country, and a second class citizenship for ‘non-patrials’ who are largely Citizens of Commonwealth such as the Windrush generation and who no longer have the automatic right of abode. 

Those who have suffered and those who campaigned to get justice for the Windrush victims are appalled by the report. There is no recommendation in the report to amend the immigration acts and remove the hostile environment which is still operated by the Home Office.

Slavery sanitised

Sewell wrote in the foreword that there was a new story to be told about the “slave period” not just “about profit and suffering”, but about how “culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain”. It is best to read the excoriating criticism of this distortion of history from David Olusoga and other historians who found the report poisonously patronising and historically illiterate.  Olusoga was shocked that the report deployed a version of an argument used by the slave owners in defence of slavery 200 years ago, the idea that by becoming culturally British, black people were somehow beneficiaries of the system.  The report reduces slavery’s racial terror and Britain’s racial capitalism to a simple exchange of cultural ideas. The report fails to make clear that slavery entailed hundreds of years of crimes against the African people and the deaths of millions of African men, women and children justified on the basis that they were sub-human.

Deracinated, torn from their communities, their native languages and traditions, under immense odds slaves went on to create their own culture in song, dance and art. On many occasions they rebelled and fought for their freedom even though they were defeated by the slave owners who were backed by superior arms. The story of the Black Jacobins who successfully overthrew slavery in Haiti in 1791 to claim liberty and equality needs to be celebrated.

This is what the movement for toppling statues such as that of Edward Colston in Bristol is all about. It is about the removal of the memorial statues of slavers and the colonial history they represent. We live in a country where the crimes of slavery have not been recognised by the establishment which has refused to make any reparations. The report argues against reparations and considers ‘decolonising’ the curriculum to be negative. 

Systemic racism in education and health underplayed

The report’s approach on educational achievement uses the evidence to highlight the significant differences between ethnic groups. Its analysis shows that using the threshold of strong GCSE passes in English and Maths as a measure, Chinese and Indian ethnic groups outperform the White British group on this measure by wide margins. Its new evidence indicates that attainment is closely related to socio-economic status – once this is controlled for, all major ethnic groups perform better than White British pupils except for Black Caribbean pupils (with the Pakistani ethnic group at about the same level).  It also revives the argument that has been promoted by the right that ‘white working class’ people are disadvantaged by policies intended to help ethnic minorities to succeed.

From this it concludes that educational achievement is affected by different social, economic and cultural factors: parental income levels, parental career and educational achievement, geography, family structure, and attitudes towards education within the family and wider community. Hence racial bias in schools has limited effect on achievement.

Attempting to “control” for different factors is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how racism works. Often, various statistical factors, such as people’s socioeconomic status or geographic location, are themselves products of racism. For example, if a survey into educational attainment controlled for poverty, it might look, on paper at least, as if racism played less of a significant role. But this ignores the reality that poverty is often inherently related to racism, and is disproportionately experienced in the UK by ethnic minorities, with 50 percent of BAME households living in poverty compared to 19 percent of white households.

The findings of the report have been contested strongly by more than 400 academics and researchers on the ground that it “completely overlooked the substantial base of evidence in educational research that has shown how structural, institutional and direct racism works in and through schools, universities and other sites of education.”

Black Caribbean pupils are five times more likely to be excluded in some areas in England compared with other groups, and teachers consistently fail to address the overt racism that many Black pupils experience in schools. Last week it was reported that more than 60,000 incidents of racism were recorded over the last five years in UK schools. The latest research in London shows that government policies promoting Pupil Referral Units (PRU) and zero tolerance policies have resulted in a ‘PRU to prison pipeline’, criminalising black working class youth.

The report claims that “for many key health outcomes including life expectancy and overall mortality… ethnic minority groups have better outcomes than the White population.” The report also concludes that deprivation, “family structures,” and geography — not ethnicity – are key risk factors for health inequalities.

According to the British Medical Journal, this contradicts several decades of irrefutable peer-reviewed research which show that ethnic minorities have the worst health outcomes on almost all health parameters. The BMJ authors found that the report cherry-picked data to support a particular narrative in its conclusions and recommendations. Their data used was not externally peer-reviewed by independent health experts and scientists. There was no health expert amongst the commissioners.

The report ignores the overwhelming evidence that systemic racism, in particular residential segregation, which is rising in the UK, is a major driver of ethnic differences in socioeconomic status. Consequently, this segregation also affects health, due to poorer quality education, employment opportunities, and poorer access to resources to enhance health. The concentration of poverty in these areas leads to exposure to higher levels of multiple chronic and acute psychosocial stressors, greater clustering of these stressors, and greater exposure to undesirable social and environmental conditions.

The report is indifferent to empirical analyses that show that ethnic differences in health persist even after adjustment for socioeconomic status. In the UK, for example, Black women are five times more likely to die during pregnancy than White women and Black people have a greater risk of detention under the Mental Health Act than White people.

Black and South Asian men are respectively 4.2 times and 3.6 times more likely to die from Covid-19 as their white counterparts. According to the report, these Covid-19 disparities are due to “genetic risk factors” along with “cultural” and “behavioural” factors.  There is no evidence of “genetic risk factors”.  Sufficient evidence exists showing that these disparities are partly due to high risk public-facing jobs, living conditions such as multigenerational households, poverty, chronic co-morbidities, as well as racial discrimination and the effects of structural racism such as residential segregation.

Hate Crimes, Stop and Search, Knife Crimes, Drugs and Gangs

Using police record and crime survey data, the commission find that during the 2018-2020 period there about 142 racially motivated hate crimes per day. There were over 10,000 incidents of violence without injury and about 4,500 incidents of violence with injury. But the commission fails to put hate crime in a wider social and political context of racial violence which has become normalised. 

As Liz Fekete has convincingly argued, in reality hate is not an abstract category, and cannot be delinked from the material act, whether it is discrimination or physical violence. And hate is not merely the prejudice shown in individual encounters, but the verbal and physical working out in aggression of racist ideas imbued in individuals by a wider political framework that demonises minorities. Racially aggravated hate whether verbal or physical, is most often accompanied by violence, ranging from a public order offence on the street or on buses or trains to physical assault on individuals and criminal damage to religious and community centres.

Stop and search has been a major issue for the black community for years causing great resentment against the police amongst black youth. In almost every police force area, Black people had the highest recorded stop and search rate. In the Metropolitan Police force area where 60 percent of the black population resides, 80 percent of the searches target black people. The commission takes the view that Stop and Search is “a critical tool for policing when used appropriately and lawfully” – which is in agreement with the police who justify it for drug possession and knife crime. 

The commissioners feel that is important to acknowledge other factors, in addition to racism, when considering disproportionality between ethnic groups in policing. So as an example, instead of asking the police why black young men in London are up to 19 times more likely to be stopped and searched, it wants the focus on why so many black children are brought up by single parents.

On ‘knife crime’, drug offences and gangs, the report does not offer us any ground-breaking analysis. It does not set out to analyse the extent to which the media and politicians distort the public perception and trigger panic. Such crime cariesy heavy racial connotations, with politicians linking it to the gang, drug and music culture of black youth.

Teenage knife crime is an episodic obsession with the tabloids’ front pages, blaming the ‘feral youth’ who run riot in our cities. For each family, it brings a tragedy. Vigils follow for the victim and public indignation rises.  There are appeals from the police, mayoral statements, knife amnesties, a new charity in the name of the fallen and interventions by the politicians.  All these efforts have little effect because positive interventions are dwarfed by austerity-driven decisions to cut youth services, underfund child mental health services and swingeing cuts to education and policing.

The complete failure by the commission to investigate how joint enterprise has been used by the police to arrest and imprison youth, not on the basis of committing a crime but solely for being associated it. A survey of 250 serving prisoners in 2016 found that three-quarters of the black and minority ethnic prisoners reported that the prosecution claimed that they were members of a ‘gang’, compared to only 39 percent of white prisoners. This apparent ‘gang’ affiliation’ was used to secure convictions, under joint enterprise provisions, for offences they have not committed. This searing injustice is one of the most intolerable for the nearly 4,500 families whose sons have been locked up without committing a crime.

The commissioners want us to recognise that the challenges the police face when dealing with both victims and perpetrators of crime are complex as the causes are beyond their control. In their view great strides have been made by the police towards becoming a service that can fairly police a multi-ethnic society.  There is no attempt made to suggest how the police service should be made democratically accountable to the community, apart from the need for clarity and consistency in police communication for communities to understand the drivers of police activity.

Past injustices forgotten

The report observes that past injustices still loom large in perceptions of the police for some ethnic minority Britons, especially Black Caribbean people.  Yet it does not recount what these injustices have been, nor that they are still going on.

There has been a deadly silence over black deaths in police custody over decades. There is a roll call produced by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) of deaths from 1978 to 2002. Their most recent covers the cases of 509 people from BME, asylum seeker and migrant communities who have died in custody, in suspicious circumstances, between 1991 and September 2014.  Such violence occurs on many sites – on police patrol, home raids, on arrest, at the police station, in prisons, in hospital custody, etc. The families of those killed have formed a coalition to fight for justice and have reasonable demands that have still to be addressed by the government.

Britain’s industrial decline in the 1970s led to an increase in racist violence on the streets, including the deaths of Gurdip Singh Chaggar in Southall (1976) and Altab Ali in London’s East End (1978). This led to the establishment of the Asian Youth Movement (AYM) to defend communities from racist attacks. Recently, the memories of the cruel killing of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 at Stockwell station are still fresh in people’s mind. The shooting of Azelle Rodney in 2005 was later found to be unlawful by an enquiry in 2013. The shooting of Mark Duggan in 2011 by the police in Tottenham led to widespread riots in London and beyond.

This year we mark the 50th anniversary of the Mangrove Nine trial on charges arising from violent clashes with the police during a protest march. After 55 days at the Old Bailey, the Mangrove Nine were acquitted and forced the first judicial acknowledgment that there was “evidence of racial hatred” in the Metropolitan police.

The report mentions the significance of events such as the Bristol Bus Boycott in 1963 which shaped race relations legislation in the United Kingdom but fails to recognise that black struggles went from resistance to rebellion to change British society. From 1958’s Nottingham riots to 1981’s St Paul’s riots, followed by Brixton and five cities during Thatcher’s rule, these drew attention to the discontent of black people. There were more to follow 1985 (Handsworth, Brixton and Broadwater Farm), 1987 (Chapeltown), 1989 (Dewsbury), 1995(Brixton), 2001(Bradford), and 2011 (English cities following the shooting of Mark Duggan).

Great Britain the beacon

The commission’s eagerness to sell ‘Britain as a beacon’ is peppered throughout the report. It begins with the well-rehearsed Olympic opening ceremony as a metaphor for the unity and diversity of British society. Accordingly, Britain has fundamentally shifted from the past and has become a more open society entering a new era of ‘participation’.  It has become a more ‘open’ and inclusive society.

This serves the government’s agenda after Brexit to portray the British nation as a beacon of good race relations and a diversity model for ‘white majority countries’. It claims that incremental progress has been made beyond doubt and that building on this progress is more important than refighting the battles of the past.

For this it is prepared to distort, sanitise and erase the history of black people’s struggle for justice and equality in the country which transformed it into a multicultural society. It finishes the job started by the Scarman Report of ethnicising minorities, with different ethnic minorities having nothing in common. In doing so, it seeks to advance the state’s drive to detach ethnic minorities from their history and prevent them from uniting.

The report fails to fully explore the intersection between class and race in Britain because for the commissioners these are invisible. It is blind to the exploitation of the labour of ethnic minorities who are vulnerable and occupy the lowest rungs in the labour market.

Hence all the all the contradictions that exist in British society are brushed under the carpet – the increasing social inequality, the class divisions between bosses and workers, the racial tensions fostered by the media, the existing institutional and popular racism, the warehousing of refugees, the unbridled executive power, the lack of democracy at local level, the draconian police powers, and the criminal justice system that does not provide justice for the many.

In its “Making of Modern Britain”, the report argues that black students should reclaim their British heritage. Yet when Black people do recover the contributions of their ancestors to British history and culture through struggles by bringing marginalised black communities and figures into mainstream history, the report patronisingly labels these as “tokens of black achievement”.

It envisages that the stories of different ethnic groups could be linked to create a unifying sense of ‘Britishness’. Further, it could contribute to a wider understanding of how the UK with its regions and four nations, as well as the Commonwealth and former colonies, are mutually connected in defining ‘Britishness’. Such a preoccupation with ‘Britishness’ would place limits on learning about the histories of the Caribbean, African countries, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc., in the making of the interdependent world which we share.

 Astonishingly, the only “great example” it comes up is “a dictionary or lexicon of well-known British words which are Indian in origin.” For such a history to be truthful, it would need to include the history of resistance against oppression by colonial powers, of national liberation, of independence struggles, of insurgent politics, of the men and women who led such struggles, of the works of fiction that capture these.  Such understanding seems to be beyond the commissioners.

Black struggles made invisible

The commission finds the biggest challenge for our age is not overt racism but building on and advancing the progress won by the struggles of the past 50 years. Yet, at no stage, does it include the experience, resistance and struggles of black and ethnic minorities which produced the multi-cultural society here.

There were struggles against fascists attacking communities, struggles to make the police protect people against such attacks, struggles against the ‘Sus’ laws that criminalised black youth, struggles against deaths in police custody, struggles against Afro-Caribbean students classified as Educationally Subnormal, struggles for children not to be bussed out of schools, struggles to include other histories in the educational curricula, struggles to teach the roots of racism and much more. Ignoring such a rich history of struggles as a foundation cannot take us forward in building policies.


The commissioners deserve contempt in the way they portray anti-racism as “bleak new theories about race that insist on accentuating our differences” and an “increasingly strident form of anti-racism thinking that seeks to explain all minority disadvantage through the prism of white discrimination”.  Anti-racist campaigns and intellectual ideas over the last 50 years made a real difference. There would not have been an inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s murder without the relentless six-year campaign to force the government to set it up.

There are giants of anti-racist analysis whose legacy continues to influence black activists – C.L.R. James, George Padmore, Claudia Jones, Stuart Hall, Darcus Howe, Sivanandan amongst others. They did not fight “white discrimination”, they fought the embedded systemic racism in unity with many white activists. They wanted to create a plural tolerant society for the common good of all where black and white working classes are united. There are activists like Cecil Gutzmore (Brixton Defence Campaign) who witnessed the Brixton uprising, Suresh Grover (The Monitoring Group) who was involved in defence of Southall against National Front attacks in 1979 when Blair Peach was killed, and many more who are still alive to tell stories of resistance and self-defence.

There is a remarkable absence of calls for the accountability of institutions, of those who exercise power, including the government. Instead the report is an instrument for providing the narrative to mould social reality. It is essentially a conservative manifesto to manage ethnic minorities in the years ahead and maintain the status quo.

Its anodyne recommendations about trust, fairness, partnership and transparency are in the government’s comfort zone. They may be useful but are largely regulatory and do not touch fundamental issues such as the hostile environment, racist immigration laws and regulations, injustices under counter-terrorism laws, police accountability, injustices in the criminal justice system or the free play of media racism.

Furthermore, the report is remarkably consistent with the historical amnesia and vicious historical revisionism of colonialism pedalled by the far right. In line with this, the report mischaracterises the demands of ‘decolonising’ as the ‘banning of white authors’, a crude attack line often used in the culture war agenda. This also promotes the idea of white victimhood and discounts race inequity as a lesser problem.  It adds credence to the false binary that the nation faces a choice between addressing racial inequalities or class disadvantage.

The report is deeply marred by its misuse of data to pursue polemical points to push its own agenda.  It castigates those who see institutional racism as a significant factor and promotes an illusory meritocracy, where individuals are wholly responsible for their own success and Black and ethnic minority students must simply work harder and pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they are to succeed.

Developments have already left this report behind. Racism does not stand still but changes according to the economic, social and political framework. Globalisation has fuelled the displacement of people, both through war and economic capture of the global South through neo-liberalism. The racism that is meted out to asylum seekers and migrants who may also be white, particularly from Eastern Europe, is an amalgam of xenophobia and the existing racism, a xeno-racism as defined by Sivanandan.

The last two decades have seen the rise of a new racism, that against Muslims across Europe, the US and elsewhere. This new racism sees the two trajectories of the war on asylum and the war on terror converge. It is, in the words of Sivanandan,

“a racism which cannot tell a settler from an immigrant, an immigrant from an asylum seeker, an asylum seeker from a Muslim, a Muslim from a terrorist. We are, all of us blacks and Asian, at first sight, terrorists and illegals. We wear our passports on our faces or, lacking them, we are faceless.”

As far as the struggle against racism goes, the report is irrelevant but we have to fight its pernicious underpinning ideas which would set us back by 20 years.  We have to fight the existing racism at all levels and the far right that is continually raising its ugly head. Whether it is the control of borders, the immigration laws or the terrorism laws, the state is behind this racism which shows its different faces in the form of the institutional racism of government ministries, local government, the media and the popular racism they foster.

We need to support all campaigns fighting against racism and for justice such as the Black Lives Matter UK, the United Families & Friends Campaign, Stand Up To Racism and many others. We need to support those campaigns and organisations that are monitoring and researching racism and collating data to provide us the material to fight with.

We need to oppose the stigmatisation of communities by the newspapers and join campaigns for media reform and accountability. We need to build a broad coalition of activists, students, academics, lawyers and artists to fight against racism, against the demonisation of migrants, against deportation, and to defend human rights, the fundamental rights to protest, freedom of association, freedom from state surveillance, the right to fair trials and much more.

First publishes on Labour Hub on 14 April 2021

A long march to freedom

The Myanmar coup shows that the military is an existential threat to democracy in many nations

Protestors in Yangon

The latest overthrow of a democratically elected government in Myanmar on February 1st, 2021 shows dramatically how the military can set back democracy. The Myanmar military, known as Tatmadaw, has declared a one year “state of emergency” and taken full control of the country’s government and infrastructure. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Chairman of the State Administration Council, is now exercising supreme power over the country.

Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and several dozen other senior officials were arrested in early morning raids in the capital, Naypyidaw. The charges laid against Ms Suu Kyi allege that she illegally imported and used communications equipment -walkie-talkies -found at her home in Nay Pyi Taw. The military repeatedly claims that there was fraud in the elections of November 8th 2020 which the National League of Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide.

The party backed by the military, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) performed dismally. Given that the military holds a quarter of all seats in both the House of Nationalities and House of Representatives in accordance with the 2008 constitution devised by the military, giving the military a veto over any change, the claim of fraud is contrived. The deeper reason is the anxiety of the military that its monopoly of political, social and economic power has come under serious threat by the electoral popularity of NLD and the demand for constitutional reform.

Suu Kyi’s pact with the military has unravelled. The youngest daughter of the Burmese father of the nation, Aung San, assassinated in 1947, her rise began on the back of the 1988 democracy uprising when she became the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD). When the NLD won a landslide victory in the 1990 elections, the military nullified the results, and kept her under house arrests off and on for 15 years from 1989 to 2010. She became an international icon and won many awards including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

When Myanmar opened up to liberalisation, there was a protracted move to democracy and the NLD won the 2015 elections when she assumed the post of State Counsellor (equivalent to Prime Minister). Her image was tarnished when she appeared before the ICC to deny the allegations of genocide against the Rohingya by the military.

In Myanmar, people have been protesting against the coup in large numbers. The response has been water cannons and rubber bullets and even live ammunition. Amnesty’s crisis evidence centre has reported that there is evidence of use of machine guns and live fire on protestors. The first victim of police shooting was a young woman, Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, shot on February 9th. On February 20th, reports came that security forces opened fire on protestors wounding 40 and killing two in Mandalay. A large number of people have been arrested and detained.

So far the protestors are not deterred. All sections of civil society have joined in civil disobedience to demand the restoration of democracy. What is significant is that workers have taken action. Rail workers, civil servants, bank workers have come out on strike against the coup. Unions have taken a leading role in organising the strikes.

The coup is poised to deliver a major blow to the $6 bn garment industry reeling from the pandemic which has reduced working hours. Garment workers have joined protests. Front line health workers in more than seventy medical facilities have walked out in response to the coup. It has cut off telephone lines and internet connections across a large part of the country to stop protestors from communicating for organising and also with the outside world. Witnesses describe the level of violence as ‘a war zone’ in Mandalay and other locations away from the main city Yangon where most embassies, the UN and international journalists are based. The general strike on Monday the 22 shut down businesses in defiance of the military’s threat of violence is a harbinger of the coming heightened struggle between the masses and the military.

At this stage it is hard to say how severe the military repression will be and what will be the costs to civil society. The military has a history of terrible violence in1988, during the massive democratic uprising known as 8-8-88 (acronym for August 8,1988), when thousands of protestors were massacred and again in 2007, when protests were suppressed with killings and arrests. In 2017, the military unleashed violence against the Rohingya with more than 600,000 fleeing to safety in Bangladesh.

Our hope should lie with the mobilisation of the people united in a common front. The demand for democracy must include the Rohingya in the North West of the country if there is to be meaningful democracy for all. The ethnic cleansing must stop and those who sought refuge in Bangladesh must be allowed to return.

We have to go back to Burma’s colonial period to understand how modern Burma developed as a nation. British colonisation of Burma began in 1824 and after three Anglo-Burmese wars spanning over 60 years, it consolidated the annexation of Burma in 1888, sending the last king of Burma, Thibaw Min, into exile in India. Of those years, George Orwell who spent five years in Burma, wrote in 1929 that that the British were robbing and pilfering Burma quite shamelessly. They seized the mines and the oil wells, controlled timber production and acted as all sorts of middlemen, brokers, millers and exporters, making colossal fortunes from rice without the peasant producers getting anything out of it. The get-rich-quick businessmen make their pile from rice, petrol etc., and sent the money to England, rather than investing it in the country.

Secondly, Orwell said that the British government was at pains to give the people only summary instruction, merely sufficient to produce messengers, low-grade civil servants, petty lawyers’ clerks and other white-collar workers. They were unwilling to develop a well-educated Burmese class which could assume the leadership of the country in the future.

The Second World war was a turning point. Burmese independence fighters set up a Burmese Independence Army (BIA) to free the country from British rule. They initially forged an alliance with Japanese forces to obtain training and weapons. The British, on retreating, followed a scorched earth policy to thwart the Japanese advance. They destroyed the major government buildings, oil wells and mines for tungsten, tin, lead and silver to keep them from the Japanese. When the Japanese occupied Burma and refused to give independence, the BIA switched allegiance to the British and rebelled against the Japanese by deploying its units across the country. It became the first truly national organisation in Burma which is still honoured by its people.

Myanmar was bombed extensively by the Allies. At the time of independence, the country was in ruins with its major infrastructure completely destroyed. Independence began badly with many of its best leaders assassinated. Over the next decade, the fragile democracy struggled to rebuild the country, a task that should not be underestimated in an underdeveloped colonial country where there was no Marshall plan to reconstruct it.

The military guns first crackled in 1962, when Gen. Ne Win overthrew a fragile government. The Revolutionary Council centralised state power, established the Burmese Socialist Programme Party with anti-communism as its motto and banned all other parties. Myanmar also turned away from the outside world when it came to economic policies. During the military’s 49-year direct hold on power, the country declined economically until it opened up to liberalisation in 2011.

In the wake of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, the UN set up an independent fact-finding mission to assess the economic interests of the military in Myanmar with a view to recommending how these needed to be brought under the control of civilian authorities. In its report in 2019, the mission revealed a business empire is so vast and secretive that there is no transparency and accountability over the military budget. The Tatmadaw uses its web of commercial interests, established through military-linked companies and subsidiaries, relationships with state-owned enterprises and private crony companies, to secure financial resources to support its activities and personnel.

Furthermore, there were reasonable grounds to conclude that China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Israel, the Philippines, Russia, and Ukraine allowed arms and arms- related transfers and assistance to Myanmar which posed a direct and foreseeable threat to human rights to the people of the country. The military that were the champions of independence have become parasitical, treating the country as their fiefdom.

There has been a swift international response against the coup. The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution calling for support for Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials, and to refrain from using violence on people protesting against the military coup. The US government has imposed sanctions on some military officers but it remains doubtful if that would provide key leverage for change. What is needed is corporations investing in Myanmar to begin to pull out their investments. That would worry the military deeply because it holds substantial shares in its joint ventures with corporations. However this response at its best has been rather timid. It is hampered by a legacy of seven decades of impunity when the international community failed to take any significant action when the military was violently repressing the minorities like the Karen and expelling the Rohingya muslims.

When the Burmese military took power in 1962, neo-fascist military dictatorships were in power South Korea, Guatemala, Iran, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Philippines, Indonesia, Zaire and Thailand among many others. Through the cold war period until 1979, the USA supported these regimes, generally viewing them as promising stability in an unstable Third World. These regime intensified the use of organised terror in the name of ‘modernisation’.

American policy changed when the Shah’s dictatorship in Iran, installed after he coup against Mossadegh in 1953, was swept away by the Islamic revolution in 1979. It encouraged a new wave of democracies, albeit managed in its client states through electoral manipulations. However this promotion of democracy is not consistent as we saw in Egypt, after the uprising of 2011, when the first elected government of President Morsi was overthrown and replaced by one of the most brutal dictatorships under General Sisi, fully supported by the USA and many regional powers.

Liberal news and editorials in the media have rightly condemned the coup in Myanmar and demanded the return of democracy. It’s a pity that they have not been consistent over the decades and even today condone other neo-fascist and authoritarian governments across the world. Myanmar’s strategic position in the region puts it at the mercy of Chinese and American interests.

Western intervention in the name of freedom, human rights and democracy has been a dismal failure across the world. Progressive movements have rarely been supported by the dominant powers. In fact these powers have done everything possible to destroy such movements and have supported reactionary forces. The war on terror launched almost 20 years ago erased the boundary between terrorism and freedom struggles, hence all resistance movements across the world were labelled terrorists.

Military coups are not aberrations but integral to the imperialist system. Geopolitical interests play a significant role in the turn of events in any nation. Military aid by the most powerful countries create a class of privileged military officers with guaranteed pensions and business investments. They are linked to the dominant countries. They are a marked feature of uneven development when the gap between the highly developed countries and the undeveloped countries is so vast that it drives some classes to believe that a strong authority will lead to development. That is why the military remains an existential threat to democracy in many nations.

Military leaders are trained in the ethos of control, regimentation, discipline and order. They are not able to foster participation, negotiations, consensus and accountability necessary for democracy. The takeover by a strong man promising social order attracts many who fear chaos, including the rich who wish to keep on making money. That is why, when the military assumes power over society it represses politics and people and distorts society. It ends up in a mire of corruption and in the long term fails dismally. Myanmar is no exception.

Progressive forces should never disregard the power of nationalism and the role the military plays in the suppression of democracy. The illusion that the military in any country is a neutral force politically must be shed. Mass movements for political change need to be firmly based on popular participatory democracy, racial and ethnic equality, gender equality and an economy linked to ecology, to be developed for the good of all. This is going to be a long march to freedom for many people in the world including the people of Myanmar to whom we should extend unreserved solidarity.

First published in The Labour Hub on February 24 2021- link below

African economic migrants show up the failure of capitalist globalisation for the continent

Towards the end of 2020, nearly 20,000 economic migrants from West Africa made their journey across the Atlantic to the Canary Islands. This is an eightfold surge from the numbers who arrived in 2019. The routes the migrants take are less than 100 kilometres from the Moroccan coast, anywhere up to 450 kilometres from the Western Saharan coast but about 1,500 kilometres from Senegalese coast. They come in small fishing boats. The crossings are perilous. Hundreds have lost their lives.

With the route to Europe blocked off through the militarisation of the Mediterranean crossing, these migrants are risking their lives to find an alternative. Just as the crossing across the Mediterranean has become a graveyard for thousands of migrants, the Atlantic crossing is increasingly becoming a watery burial site for many migrants.

This reminded me of the Mati Diop’s haunting film Atlantique, where young labourers in Senegal whose wages have been held by the property mogul decide to board a flimsy boat and make the dangerous journey across the ocean to Spain hoping for a better life. They lose their lives but their spirits come to haunt the rich through their girlfriends and their memories.

Young men from Morocco, Senegal, Mali and many other countries along the West African coast are trying to escape the dire, unending poverty. There are no jobs that would bring an income for them. Some of them face a life of precarious low-paid employment without any prospects. There is no economic development that could absorb their labour. The Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated their situation further by decreasing economic growth significantly.

Some of them who eked a living out as stall holders have lost their livelihood. Those who have trained say as electricians do not have any job opportunity to use their skills to earn a living wage. Agriculture is also under strain because drought and the threat of desertification due to climate change haunt the hinterland of these countries. The rising sea levels have also displaced coastal communities. The depletion of fish stocks due to overfishing – largely by European and Chinese vessels – has depleted stocks off the Senegalese coast and has led to sharp cuts in incomes of fisherman and fuelled the wave of migration.

Furthermore, in the hinterland of these countries civil conflicts have become endemic. On the grounds of fighting terrorism and extremism across the Sahel, Western powers over the last decade have intervened militarily to manage national security and governance. The United States has deployed special forces commandos across the continent especially in Sahel to counter Boko Haram, and ISIL. This has enhanced regional instability with a long term impact on public security, trade and economy.

The poverty in Africa has deep historic roots. Since the 16th century, Africa was turned into a warren for slave hunting. The abduction of the youth across the continent to be ferried by tortuous slave ships across the Atlantic and set to work in death camps of plantation slavery left African societies fragmented and depleted of the life-blood of youth to maintain and develop the productive forces of their societies. Western countries accumulated their social wealth through the exploitation of African blood and sweat at one pole and left Africa poor and underdeveloped at the other. Walter Rodney’s arguments of how Europe underdeveloped Africa remains true today.

As slave uprisings and abolitionist movement in the mid-19th century, followed by the American civil war, led to the gradual end of chattel slavery, at the Berlin Conference of 1884, the imperial European powers carved up Africa with arbitrary boundaries to further their trade and exploitation. All resistance by the African continent was crushed with overwhelming military force including air power. Such resistance has been erased in the Western narrative of history, which lauds the opening up of Africa by David Livingstone, and noticed in passing when Gordon was slain in Khartoum followed by the much celebrated massacre of the Mahdi army with machine guns.

White racial supremacy led to the horror of the extermination of ‘inferior races’, notably the Herroros in German South West African territories and the indigenous people of the Congo under Belgian King Leopold’s rubber monopoly. These were reflected across the continent where African life was considered cheap and forced African labour was widespread. There was no civilising mission in the continent. The ‘civilising’ mission was to drag the continent through mud and blood to a capitalist extraction of as much wealth as possible. Christianity spread by well-organised and well-funded missionary societies turned out to be a subtle tool for pacification. Co-option and collaboration by traditional leaders with colonial powers became embedded.

White settlements in South Africa, Rhodesia, Kenya followed, through the dispossession of Africans from their lands in climes favourable for Europeans. Throughout the continent, apartheid was embedded in one form or another. Both World Wars I and II saw regional wars between European powers in Africa and a great loss of African life. The quest of Africans for democracy and trade union rights emerged but was quashed. It was after the WWII, that the liberation struggles across the continent emerged strongly. The decade-long Algerian revolution resulted in the removal of French power at a great cost. The Mau Mau revolt in Kenya against settler domination was defeated with massive military force and methods using torture, disappearances, and concentration camps.

Across the continent, the colonial powers ushered in neo-colonial administrative regimes with national flags but without a fundamental change in the social and productive relations. Where imperialism was challenged by radical African leaders, the assassination of political leaders like Patrice Lubumba and the installing of pro-Western military regimes was favoured. Other revolutionary anti-imperialist leaders who wanted to change their countries to serve their people, such as Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, Samora Machel, Steve Biko and Chris Hani, were among many who were also assassinated crushing the hopes of the continent.

Even moderate leaders like Nkrumah were toppled. Only right wing conservative leaders accommodating to imperialism survived. Counter-revolution was the extreme manifestation of Western policy during the Cold War. Military dictatorships were fostered unreservedly. Where there were modicums of elective democracy, the elites preferred a one-party state. The encroachments of Soviet Union in a few countries ended up in the cul-de-sac of military dictatorships.

The Francophone countries in West Africa are even today in the monetary grip of the French Treasury which controls their reserves and their currency, limiting their autonomy to decide on investments. The late Portuguese decolonisation after the revolution in 1974 led to proxy wars fomented by the apartheid South African regime and the United States. These devastated Angola and Mozambique for over a decade and left a million dead. The fall of the nationalist regime in South Africa in 1990 after 70 years of Western powers’ support, leading to a non-racial democracy led by Nelson Mandela, did not fundamentally alter the class relations within the country.

Over the last three decades, the imposition of neo-liberal policies from the 1970s onwards, led by the trio of International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation, reinforced the underdevelopment of most African nations. These Least Developed Countries (LDCs) of the world, locked into a dollarised economic system, became heavily indebted during after the 1973 oil crisis. The IMF swooped across the continent, insisting on structural adjustment in return for any loans. Structural adjustment demanded deregulation of their economies, allowing free movement of capital, imposing domestic austerity, cutting back on public sector investment and exporting primary produce to earn dollars. The Ebola outbreak showed how West African nations had lost their primary health network to protect their people because of these policies.

The ties of the African economy to the metropolitan powers were deepened after decolonisation. Africa’s mineral wealth across the continent was extracted with profits taken out through devious methods. A War on Want report by Mark Curtis in 2016 documented how 101 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange — most of them British — have mining operations in 37 sub-Saharan African countries. They collectively control over $1 trillion worth of Africa’s most valuable resources. Under the guise of the UK helping Africa in its economic development (a mere continuation of the colonial paternal narrative), $134 billion has flowed into the continent each year in the form of loans, foreign investment and aid. However, the British government has aided and abetted the extraction of $192 billion from Africa, mainly in profits by foreign companies, tax dodging and the cost of adapting to climate change.

Such huge sums flowing out of the continent have left it underdeveloped. Not that there is not economic development – there is. Cities and towns have grown but the top one percent are the beneficiaries.

But the surplus produced by African countries is sucked out by imperialist corporations. Economically, it is imperialist relations that determine that African currencies decline in value and their purchasing power. These interventions ensure that the oligarchy which rules across the continent salts away the gains in partnership with the imperialist centres. This self-enriching pact, well analysed by Andy Higginbottom, has kept Africa underdeveloped. Of late, China’s encroachments in Africa have become of concern in the West, but currently the dominant corporations are on the whole Western, with deep colonial roots.

All demands from social movements, dissidents, or political parties are met with repression, dismissal and hostility. Protestors are met with police gunfire and detentions. The oligarchy cements its hold by cultivating religious, ethnic and tribal sectarianism as foreseen by Franz Fanon. Yet people across the continent are yearning for popular democracy and rebellions continually break out against oppression. One day there will have to be a reckoning.

Too often, economic migrants are treated with casual dismissal, meaning they have no rights to migrate into other countries when compared to refugees and asylum seekers. But this is not defensible, because such migrants are also seeking a better life from poverty which is no less deserving than those seeking refuge from war and conflict. Both poverty and conflict have been fuelled through exploitation, toxic trade deals, dodgy debts, land grabs and climate change for which rich countries, including Britain, bear great responsibility.

As a recent report by Global Justice Now for freedom of movement argued so trenchantly, “It cannot be right that the place you are born dictates whether you will live a life of poverty or plenty, of freedom or imprisonment. It cannot be right that while the richest, at least in normal times, move around with ease, the poorest are imprisoned in geographical poverty.” To accept the current situation is to endorse a form of apartheid on a global scale. African migrants are harbingers calling for an end to this apartheid.

First published by Labour Hub on 28th January 2021


At this moment in time, I really miss the wisdom of Mike Marqusee whose wrote in his essay ‘SUCCESS, FAILURE AND OTHER POLITICAL MYTHS’ (Red Pepper, December 2013),

“There are worse things than failure, and while failure is nothing to glory in, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You can learn more from a failure than from success- if you recognise it as such. But if the only lesson you draw from failure is never to risk failure again, you’ve learned nothing at all. 

“Needless risks should always be avoided. We don’t have resources to squander. But the elimination of risk is impossible if you’re contending with power. Without risks all that can be done is to reproduce existing social relations. There is no truth, no beauty without risk, because these things can only be secured in the teeth of resistance, against institutions and habits of thought. To succeed in any way that matters, you have to take your place in the republic of the uncertain, when you risk yourselves, not your stake in other people’s labour. It’s the action taken in the full knowledge of the possibility of failure, and its consequences, that acquire leverage.”

The winter election of 2019 was a great risk for Labour. The outcome was affected by many factors – Labour’s bipolarity on Brexit, the civil war within the party, Jeremy Corbyn’s distorted image, the tsunami of disinformation by the right wing mass media, the smears of antisemitism, the undermining of Labour by Tony Blair and his acolytes, amongst others. None of these factors are isolated from each other, but they intersected to undermine Labour’s campaign.  Jeremy’s public perception was determined by the mass media which began his vilification since he entered the leadership contest in 2015. 

There can be little doubt that the mass media plays a significant role. Newspapers and TV are more powerful than armies. We lost the battle for hearts and minds because we did not have the means to counter the vast campaign of disinformations and propaganda. Every means available was used against the Labour party and its leadership. 

In a prescient observation more than a 150 years ago, Marx observed that those who own the means of production also own the means of information enabling them to produce and regulate the production and distribution of ideas. The control of the means of information central to influencing public opinion was missing in the original Clause IV. From our experience, the most important lesson we need to learn is, that to win the battle for ideas for the public good and social ownership, we need to have adequate control over the means of public information and have a strategy followed by concrete actions to counter disinformation

To this day, Chomsky and Herman’s analysis on the role of the media in shaping public opinion in a democratic society remains unrivalled. The selective filtering of news by the media, the setting of the political agenda and the confinement of public discussion within narrow limits is all the more powerful with the TV channels playing a significant role in moulding public perception.

Empirical analysis of media bias as we approached the election day showed that press hostility to Labour in 2019 was more than double the levels identified in 2017. By the same measure, negative coverage of the Conservatives halved.  For Granville Williams, editor of Media North which monitored the press closely, “It was a disturbing experience, reading what can only be described as undiluted  propaganda day after day in the bloc of avid Tory-supporting newspapers which worked closely with the Tory HQ election campaign to maximise the assault on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party’s election policies.”

We need to be cautious in adopting the term ‘fake news’ that has become a popular media reference, on grounds that it tends to frame the problem as isolated incidents of falsehood and confusion. Rather the public is subject to systematic disinformation which can be defined as intentional falsehoods spread as news stories or simulated documentary formats to advance political goals.

The choice for us is to accept this and succumb to this enormous pressure to win an election by tilting to the right, abandoning socialist politics and accepting neo-liberal norms just as Tony Blair did with his pact with Rupert Murdoch.  Or we work out imaginative ways in which to counter the disinformation.

Jim Ring in his article ‘BLAST FROM THE NORTH’ (Labour Briefing February 2020) put the challenge succinctly:

“We have one great disadvantage in this fightback campaign- we have no public voice of our own. It is time for the unions to delve into their vast pockets and sponsor a professional media service-combining television outlets, newspapers and social media facilities- to get our message across to everyone.”

The techniques used by the mainstream media spring from the ideas of the Public Relations pioneer Edward Bernays who considered stereotypes as influential in shaping public opinion. The media created a range of stereotypes of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. The response to these was a public relations disaster for the party on all the issues such as antisemitism, extremism, electability, economic management, etc. What is urgently needed for the party is to have a Public Relations team with visible and identifiable voices who would rebut disinformation with boldness immediately.

The idea of community organising is getting traction now and should be taken forward urgently. CLPs should also prioritise community engagement and create Community Engagement Officer posts on their Executive Committees. Simultaneously, the provision of adequate financial resources to constituency parties is needed so that they can publish a quarterly newsletter through the year for every home in the constituency. Such a newsletter would be not replicate the party leaflets but could be a vehicle to tell local personal stories about the impact of universal credit, homelessness, housing crisis, transport, pollution, hospital trolley waits, mental health, cuts affecting services, etc. The production and distribution of such newsletters would be the responsibility of local activists in the campaign committees. This would complement the growing use of online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram amongst others.

Monopoly control of the whole media is by a handful of billionaires and global corporations with just three companies controlling 83% of the newspaper market and just two individuals – Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere -dominating the national press. Serious discussion on how wider control of and access to the media can be put in place for a democratic political order is urgently needed with a view to incorporating fundamental media reform into the next Labour manifesto.

Published in Labour Briefing

Double Injustice: Media Racism

Good reminder in the times of ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ of the relevance of the film ‘Injustice’ about black deaths in police custody.


Back in 2003 Imogen Bunting, whose birthday it would have been today, wrote this on the film INJUSTICE by Tariq and Ken. To date the film still has not been shown on UK television, despite all the awards and media acclaim and THE RELEVANCE OF IT STILL TODAY.

Originally posted 2006


This piece was written by Imogen for a possible book on the film Injustice. We approached 19 publishers for the book, but while screenings do occur now, because the film was banned/threatened for so long by the court injunctions of the Police Federation, no publisher seemed able to risk a publication. As you can see from below, the failure of the publishers (some respected left wing houses) was not because of the quality of the writing – here as ever Imogen was on the case.

Media Racism:
Reporting black deaths in the British press: Injustice and…

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The long war of attrition against Iran

It is time the British government abandoned its double standards on human rights and denuclearisation.

When the House of Commons returned after its unlawful prorogation on Wednesday September 25th, the debate following the statement by the Foreign Office minister, Dominic Raab on Iran was instructive. It demonstrated that the established US narrative in the corporate media on Iran is deeply embedded in the perceptions of both sides of the Commons.

His statement had two key elements. First, that in the wake of the attacks on the eastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia which cut oil production by half, Iran had become a destabilising force in the region. Hence, in his words, “Iran must never begin access to nuclear weapons and that is why the UK remains committed to the 2015 joint comprehensive plan of action, notwithstanding US withdrawal.” Secondly Iran was in breach of human rights, particularly in detaining dual citizens.

To be credible, the defence of human rights must be universal. It is right that Iran should be criticised over its detention of dual citizens and right to demand their release but also to insist that due processes of law in Iran are transparent. However, defending human rights should not be selective and opportunistic. There are horrendous violations of human rights on a daily basis by Israel which are condoned consistently by our media and our politicians. So, too, in Egypt under Sisi, Turkey under Erdogan and Saudi Arabia amongst others. The violations of human rights by Western powers are egregious. Drone attacks killing civilians are indefensible. There is no place for double standards in applying international human rights standards. Attacking the alleged enemies of Western powers for breaching human rights whilst turning a blind eye when the allies breach them, undermines human right norms internationally.

Tensions in the region were ratcheted up when Trump decided to withdraw from the nuclear agreement and imposed sanctions on Iran. The nuclear agreement reached by the five powers, backed by the security council, was to contain Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium and prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. After Trump’s decision, the European powers have tried to maintain the nuclear agreement. For its part, Iran has pressurised them to protect it from US sanctions. As yet European powers have not able to come up with a mechanism to assist Iran overcome the impact of US sanctions.

The condition that the Foreign Secretary laid down for engagement with Iran is that “it should show the respect required for the basic principles of the rules-based international system”. Members of the United Nations are bound by the Charter, Articles One and Two of which affirm the right of all peoples to self-determination, the sovereign equality of states, the prohibition of the use of force and of economic or political interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. Yet these fundamental principles of international order continue to be grossly violated by the US, the UK and other European states. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was probably the most serious violation of the Nuremberg Principles, a supreme crime of war of aggression.

Iran has in modern time not invaded any sovereign state. On the contrary, the US and UK successfully overthrew the democratically elected government of Mossadegh in 1953 and imposed a dictatorship under the late Shah until 1979 when a landmark revolution led to the establishment of the Iranian Islamic Republic. Since then the western powers and their allies have conducted a war of attrition against the Iranian people under the pretext of stopping it developing nuclear weapons. The lifting of sanctions under the nuclear treaty was a short respite. Trump’s assertion to the UN General Assembly that Iran was spreading terror across the region cynically inverted the reality. It is the US, its allies and proxies which have in the last three decades invaded and slaughtered innocents and destroyed countries across the region from Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. This has led to millions of displaced and refugees. There is little acknowledgement that wars lead to widespread displacement. Blockading a country economically through sanctions so the civilians cannot obtain the means of life and life-saving medicines is economic warfare. Iran is subject to severe sanctions by the US whose aim is to reduce its oil exports to zero. Locking Iran out of the system of exchange and trade is causing immense economic hardships and lack of availability of life-saving medications. These sanctions are an act of war. How long can the US quarantine a population of 100 million?

Dominic Raab’s statement that “we need a longer-term framework that provides greater certainty over Iran’s nuclear programme and, as the attacks on Aramco demonstrate, we must also bring Iran’s wider destabilising activities into scope”, indicated that the UK government has moved towards the US position. So have the European powers gradually. Many had predicted that the nuclear agreement would collapse following the withdrawal by the US because European powers and corporations could not circumvent US sanctions. It is likely that this will happen in the near future.

The underlying problem here is that the western powers are not prepared to address the issue of denuclearisation in the region. This would require that the only power that possess nuclear weapons in the region, Israel, is brought into consideration. An agreement to denuclearise across the region would mean the inspection of Israel’s nuclear weapons capability. The US and Israel do not want this to happen. The shadow of Israeli nuclear weapons hangs across the Middle East. Here we confront again the stark double standards that western policy applies in its dealings with the nations in the region.

The fall of the Berlin wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, did not lead to the rhetorical peace dividend. It led to the strengthening of US hegemony, controlling the destiny of the world in a way similar to the emergence of British domination of the world after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. With no checks and balances, the US resorted to extreme actions of regime change in the region, reshaping it with its allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Hopefully, there are signs that this era is coming to an end with the US failing to carry out regime change in Syria.

This demonstrates that we still live in an epoch of imperialist system within which a hierarchy of highly developed nations led by the US are able to subject other nations to their dominations, using a variety of means from economic sanctions, blockades, to low intensity wars and invasions. Changing this system will require a sustained resistance by peoples across the world and within imperialist countries. However much we disagree with Iran, it is vital that we oppose not only war against Iran but economic sanctions as well.

In his speech at the Labour annual conference, Jeremy Corbyn said “Have we learnt nothing?” and advocated the need for diplomacy to solve problems. He has been principled in pursuing peace his entire life and has opposed all the wars in the Middle East. It is time the country listened to him. A government led by him would bring a paradigm shift in UK foreign policy.

Countries in the region will take generations to reconstruct. This they cannot do on their own but only with significant international assistance. This has hardly begun. We need foreign forces to move out of the region and regional powers to come together to establish peace and security. The wounded have to be healed, people need to be fed, the displaced need to be housed, the young need to be educated and jobs need to be provided for the youth. The economy must serve the people with good infrastructure providing clean water, electricity and transport links. Democracy needs to be embedded so that those who exercise power are accountable to the people.

The hidden Economic War on Venezuela

Financial sanctions, trade embargo and blockade of Venezuela by the United States pose the gravest of threats to the well being of the civilian population

The US and its allies are strangulating Venezuela without any humanitarian consideration

The political right has monopolised the conversation about Venezuela in print and on TV. It case is well rehearsed and follows the party line of the United States that President Maduro is a cruel illegitimate dictator and his corrupt government has mismanaged the economy to sink the country into a humanitarian disaster. The left has countered this by defending the gains of the Chavista revolution and puts the current situation to the steep fall of oil prices and the US sanctions.

This confrontation was well captured by Andrew Neil’s This Week political review when Ken Livingstone valiantly defended the gains of the Chavez revolution whilst Andrew Neil put the opposite case with the assistance of Alan Johnson and Esther McVey. Regrettably Ken Livingstone was rinsed by Neil because he could not answer how the sanctions had affected Venezuela or which sanctions were imposed when, whereas Neil with his selective briefing notes pointed out the oil sanctions were recent and reinforced the US line on the mismanagement by the Maduro government. Kenan Malik in The Observer   castigated Livingstone for ‘bullshitting’. This was instructive to those on the left-if we are going to defend Venezuela, then we need to be armed with facts and be well briefed.

The starkest glimpse of US sanctions policy is Eisenhower’s memorandum in 1960s  that stated “a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

Over the last four decades, with the micro-electronics revolution, the world economy has become more integrated. With the dollar as a reserve currency and a monopoly over world financial system through bank credit and clearance, the US is the nerve centre of monetary power in global commerce. Jack Lew, the former Secretary of Treasury during the Obama administration, declared that“economic sanctions have become a powerful force in service of clear and coordinated foreign policy objectives—smart power for situations where diplomacy alone is insufficient, but military force is not the right response.  They must remain a powerful option for decades to come.”  

The legal cover for intensifying economic warfare on Venezuela began with the passage of Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act passed by the US Congress on the 18 of December 2014. The Act directed the President to block assets and apply exclusion sanctions to any person, including current and former Venezuelan government officials who are involved in violating human rights, curtailing civil freedoms and hindering democracy in the country. The Act was extended further from the end of 2016 to 2019 under the Trump administration which intensified sanctions on Venezuela.

Within three months of this enactment, on March 8 2015, the Obama administration issued the new Executive Order 13692, declaring a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by Venezuela.  It also empowered the Treasury Department to set in place surveillance of Venezuela’s financial transactions in the United States. Even though the executive order deceptively stated that there was no intent to target the people and the economy of Venezuela, by blocking the personal and business accounts of seven Venezuelan officials, it fired the first shots for the imposing constraints on Venezuelan individuals and businesses operating in the US financial system.

Concurrently the major financial rating agencies ranked Venezuela as a high risk country akin countries in armed conflicts in spite of the fact that Venezuelan government had been making regular debt repayments. This aimed to push the country towards default by preventing debt restructuring , creating disincentives for international investments and provided a pretext for impounding Venezuelan assets.

The banks and financial institutions took their cue, and they stopped extending credit to Venezuela state and institutions. Over the following year well into 2016, Venezuela accounts were shut down by the major US banks. Banks across Europe followed suit. This diminished the capacity of Venezuela to make payments in dollars and added costs when making payments by other means. Russian firms and Chinese banks also baulked at carrying out contracts because of the pressure from the US securities and exchange commission.

The hammer blow was struck by Trump on August 25, 2017 by the issue of Executive Order 13808 which prohibited new financial dealings with the Venezuelan government and its oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA). In the following twelve months, there was a dramatic decline in oil production. The loss of credit prevented PdVSA from obtaining finance for investing in or maintaining the oil industry infrastructure.

Perhaps even more important was a letter of guidance issued by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) on September 20, 2017, warning financial institutions that “all Venezuelan government agencies and bodies, including SOEs (State Owned Enterprises) appear vulnerable to public corruption and money laundering” and `red-flagging’ several transactions originating from Venezuela as potentially criminal . Fearing that it was too risky to participate in money laundering inadvertently, many financial institutions proceeded to close Venezuelan accounts. Venezuelan payments to creditors got stuck in the payment chain, with financial institutions refusing to process wires coming from Venezuelan public sector institutions. 

The US has been engineering the collapse of the Venezuelan currency, the Bolivar, for years, firstly by preventing the inflow of dollars to Venezuela and secondly by facilitating the outflow of dollars. The shortage of dollars drives up the value of the dollar and pushes down the value of the Bolivar. The prices of imported goods (medicines, critical food commodities, business commodities, spare parts ) rise rapidly. Domestic businesses cut back on production leading to mass layoffs and lower wages which in turn led to collapse of consumption. For several years, US policy has been to ensure that US businesses in Venezuela repatriate their dollars back to the US or divert them to their subsidiaries elsewhere. It has also encouraged richer Venezuelans to bank their dollars in Miami or to invest them in financial vehicles set up in Colombia. With shortage of dollars, black market thrives. The manipulation of exchange rate by publication of pernicious exchange rate not grounded on factual purchase and sale transactions using a website in DolarToday based in Miami has been used to artificially drive inflation levels since 2010. Taking all this together, not only the foreign exchange market is affected but also the price levels in the economy, leading to the loss of purchasing power and distorting production and marketing of commodities.

Venezuela is a gold producer and exporter. Gold is a substitute for dollar and to stop Venezuela using its gold reserves, in November 2018, the US imposed sanctions on the gold sector of the Venezuelan economy. The Bank of England was asked and complied by freezing Venezuelan gold deposit worth $1.2bn. Countries like Abu Dhabi where gold is traded globally have been asked to stop trading Venezuelan gold.

On 28th January 2019, the Trump administration imposed further wide ranging and stringent sanctions on the oil sector of Venezuela which exported $12bn of crude oil and oil products to the US in 2018. US companies are prohibited from buying and selling any oil products from and to Venezuelan PdVSA or any entities it has a majority stake in. At a single stroke, this move deprived Venezuelan of a major source of foreign exchange revenue leaving it at risk of not being able to import vital food and medicines.

Venezuela does not have any capacity to refine the oil it produces to enable it to have economic independence. The oil refineries owned by the state owned CITGO Petroleum Corporation are in the southern US gulf coast. This leaves it at the mercy of US oil companies and the US government. The recent seizure of CITGO by the US blocked assets worth $7 billion deprived the government of dollars which could be used to import food and medicines. Furthermore Venezuelan crude requires diluents such as Naphtha which the PdVSA imported from Houston based subsidiaries of the Indian Reliance Industries. This has now been halted.

The cruellest move in all this is the deliberate blocking import of vital medicines and equipment that are a matter of life and death for many patients in Venezuela. In July 2017, Citibank refused to process Venezuela payment for the import of 300,000 insulin doses. In October 2017, the entry of vaccines to the country was delayed for four months because the US blockade made it impossible to make payments in the Bank Swiss UBS. In November 2017, to tackle a Malaria outbreak, Venezuela made a payment to purchase primaquine and chloroquine, to the BSN laboratory Medical in Colombia. The Colombian government blocked the dispatch of tai-malarial drugs. In the same month, the European company Euroclear, founded by JP Morgan, seized $1.65 billion that were destined for the purchase of food and medicine. The following year in May 2018, the payment of $ 9 million was blocked for the acquisition of supplies for dialysis equipment.

According to a Latin American Geopolitical Strategic Centre (CELAG) study, US economic war on Venezuela since Maduro’s April 2013 election through 2017 cost the country $350 billion in lost production of goods and services. If Maduro received international financing from the IMF Venezuelan GDP growth from 2013 – 17 would have exceeded Argentina’s This hidden war of monetary imperialism has seriously damaged Venezuelan economy. The shortage of essential food commodities and medicines has led to an economist aligned to the opposition, Fransisco Rodriguez to call for a oil-for- food programme similar to that for Iraq in 1990s. Readers may recall that sanctions on Iraq led to an estimated death of a 500,000 infants.

The economic warfare on Venezuela is worse than what was done to Iraq and a portent of the shape things to come for those countries which are in US cross-hairs such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Iran unless countervailing forces develop to contain US hubris. The unity and the resistance of the working class, the rural classes and the military against the oligarchy backed by the US will determine the outcome of this struggle. International solidarity in challenging the corporate media’s narrative for regime change and the Tory governments sanctions policy is vital in this struggle.

The counter-revolution in Venezuela

Hugo Chavez (1954-2013)

The United States is putting in place its long planned intervention for regime change in Venezuela with serious consequences for the future of its people

The wave of the so called ‘pink’ tide that washed the shores of Latin America in response to the post-1970s neoliberal straitjacket of privatisation, low tariffs, reduced social spending, weakened labour laws and increased social inequality, has receded. Following the uprising in Venezuela in 1989, left leaning governments were elected in Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile, and El Salvador. But now, in Brazil, Dilma was deposed and Lula jailed with neofascist Bolsonaro crowned, in Ecuador Correa’s successor Lenin Moreno has reversed policies, in Argentina, Christina Kercher’s replacement Macri is beholden to IMF for his survival, in Chile after Pinochet is in the hands of a business man Sebastian Pinera after two staggered terms of Michelle Bachelet. Only Evo Morales and Maduro remain. In Nicaragua Ortega faced a street movement to remove him has so far survived. In Cuba the Castro era has ended with the leadership of a new generations facing immense pressures from the United States after 60 years of blockade.

It is inconceivable that the US, with its dense military, surveillance and political networks, with deep financial pockets, has been a passive agents in this shift towards the right in a region which it has long regarded its backyard. It has a reputation to seek to restore its power even after a severe defeat such as in Vietnam. It has been firmly ensconced in Colombia both economically and militarily for decades where the right wing as consolidated under Duque. It condoned the removal of President Manuel Zelaya 2009 by American trained generals and the subsequent murders of thousands of indigenous activists, peasant leaders, trade unionists, journalists, environmentalists, judges, opposition political candidates, and human rights activists. The removal of the left wing President Lugo through impeachment by the Paraguay’s Senate had implicit support of the US.

In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez came to power in the wake of the great uprising by the poor in 1989, the Caracazo against the IMF-brokered austerity that was suppressed by the military killing more than a thousand people. Chavez, a career military officer led a revolt against corruption in 1992, only to be jailed but this catapulted him to hero status. Release in 1994, he won the presidential vote 1998 by a landslide. The triumph of Chavez promised hope for improvement to the poorer classes with his embrace of Bolivarianismo, after Simon Bolivar, the iconic leader of the war of independence from Spain in the early 19th century who promoted social reform and unity in Latin America. For the first five years in power, Chavez was forced to fight rearguard action from the reaction of the elite and the oligarchy supported by the US. In 2002, he luckily survived a coup attempt by the military who abducted him and only mass action from thousands of his supporters enabled him to return to power in two days. This was followed by a war of attrition with attempts to shut oil production down and a recall referendum. He survived numerous assassination plots to triumph and achieved great success electorally.

At the height of his power from 2005 to his final election in 2012, the social gains as a whole were spectacular: greater employment, more and better housing, better nutrition, better medical care, height life expectancy and increased literacy through better education. Over the whole 14 year period of his rule to his death by cancer in 2013, Chavez never deviated from improving the lot of the poor through a redistribution policy using part of the proceeds of the oil revenue.

Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s successor, on taking power of his first term in 2014 was to see the collapse of oil price. In 2014 Venezuelan oil was still 88 US$ a barrel . In 2015 it halved to $44. In January 2016 it had reached its lowest level for over 10 years, at $24. Additionally there was pressure from the US when Obama declared Venezuela as a ‘national security threat’ and imposed sanctions in 2015 later to be intensified by Trump precipitating a severe economic crisis.

Over the last five years, Venezuela’s per capita income shrunk by 40 percent, a decline that parallels war torn countries such as Iraq and Syria. Whereas, it earned $100bn in oil revenues in 2012, by 2017 this fell to $32bn, a decline of about two thirds. Whilst part of this could be explained by the collapse of the oil prices in January 2016, the lack of investment in oil production because of cash shortages, but the drastic fall in production can be attributed to the US financial sanctions imposed in August 2017 barring US persons from providing any financing to the Venezuelan government or the oil company PDVSA.

At the security council meeting on Sat 26 January, Ms. DiCarlo, the UN Under Secretary-General of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs described the situation in Venezuela as “dire”, and as having both an economic and political dimension. “The population is affected in a systemic way, nearly all 30 million Venezuelans are affected by hyperinflation and a collapse of real salaries; shortages of food, medicine and basic supplies; deterioration of health and education services; deterioration of basic infrastructure such as water, electricity, transport and urban services,” she told the Council. Whilst there were calls for political solution, at no stage the sanctions that has strangulated Venezuela were mentioned.


In August 2018 Alfred de Zayas the first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years criticised the US for engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela which he said is hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans. According to him the US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to “crimes against humanity” under international law. All economic measures taken by the Maduro government have not been effective and led to a black market and corruption. Facing such a serious crisis, the government has become more authoritarian.

The financial strangulation over three years prepared the ground for toppling the Maduro who faced an intractable war of attrition with the opposition from 2014 onwards with violence including three assassination attempts. When the opposition won the National Assembly elections in March 2016, it challenged the executive power of the president through legislative means. This confrontation led to the Venezuelan Supreme Court repeatedly annulling laws made by the National Assembley. Attempts were then made to shorten the presidential term and to initiate a recall of referendum. The Maduro government called a referendum to elect a constituent assembly which the opposition boycotted. The Presidential election of May 2018 was boycotted by the main opposition saw Maduro win the election with 68 percent of the vote on a low turnout of 46 per cent against some minor opposition figures. The domestic opposition, United States and Lima Group of mostly right-leaning Latin American governments say they do not recognise the results even though from US President Jimmy Carter declared that Venezuela’s electoral system is the best in the world.

This was the juncture when a cascade of well coordinated actions were launched by the US government and the opposition with tightening of the noose around Venezuela by imposing sanctions on its oil companies and withholding its gold reserves in the UK. John Bolton’s targeted Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua as a troika of tyranny that need to be dismantled in the name of freedom and democracy. This was followed by Juan Guaidó, the President of the National Assembly declared himself as the President on 23 January and was immediately recognised so by Trump, the US allies in Latin America, UK and European powers. Vice President Pence incited the Venezuelan population to go out in the streets against Maduro. As expected an intense public relations campaign in the media followed with a selective narrative and images in support Juan Guaidó as someone that 80% of Venezuelans had never heard of until last week. Research into Guaido’s background reveals is the product of more than a decade of assiduous grooming by the US government’s agencies as a part of a cadre of right-wing student activists set up to undermine Venezuela’s socialist government, to destabilise the country and one day seize power. He participated in violence organised by the Popular Will party which led to the arrest and exile of its leaders.

The US has embarked on a strategy of setting up a parallel government in Venezuela in order to bring about a counter revolution. European countries become accomplices in this by issuing a ten day ultimatum for Maduro to call elections with the threat of recognising Guaidó as interim president. As expected this has been rejected. Now an economic crisis has been compounded by a political crisis. The outcome of this is difficult to foresee. There could be widespread civil unrest with violence and even a civil war. Intervention by the Venezuelan military could be decisive. Mercenary proxy forces funded by the CIA could enter the country from Columbia and Brazil. There is a possibility of US invasion on humanitarian grounds. Guaido has rejected negotiation with Maduro. Several countries have offered mediation. This could be a way forward to resolve the political crisis. The US is showing little interest in such mediation. International security requires patient diplomacy and conflict resolution. For this to happen, we need to set in place internationally a system of checks and balances where no country is able to act in extreme ways.

It has been argued that all this is about the US wanted to grab hold of Venezuela’s immense oil reserves. Whilst this is only partly true, there are elements of geopolitical competition when Venezuela because of US sanctions turned to Russia and China for investment. Both these countries have made significant investment in Venezuela. Above all, the US seeks to erase the legacy of Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution which not only asserted national sovereignty but sought to counter the neoliberal order and create alternative institutions for Latin American unity.

It is risible that many media outlets including those who claim to be liberal have claimed that this is about democracy. Historical experience attests that the US foreign policy has blocked democracy across the world by supporting dictatorships, invasions, counterinsurgencies, proxy wars, assassinations and regime change amongst many other nefarious strategies. In Latin America the memories of the overthrow of the President Árbenz of Guatemala (1954), the overthrow of President Allende in Chile(1973), the support for military dictatorships across Latin America ant the ‘dirty wars’ in Central America, are still fresh. The US has inflicted immense pain on the people of Latin America and blocked the development of democracies in all the countries continually.

The appointment of Elliot Abrams as a special envoy to Venezuela bodes ill the country. Elliot was the architect of the “dirty war” in Central America where death squads murdered at least 250,000 people in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. The victims were overwhelmingly unarmed and poor civilians as well as teachers, doctors, peasants, workers, students, women, nuns and priests, including bishops such as El Salvador’s martyr Oscar Romero.

It is best to see Venezuela in the wider context of a US led imperialist system which has, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, asserted monopolistic power over world security. This freer play has enabled Trump to usher an era of bullying in international relations where Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State and John Bolton the National Security Adviser issues threats to vulnerable countries. They represent the ugly face of imperialism. With the blocking of Venezuelan crude to refineries in the US, they are throttling Venezuela to make it submit to their yoke, to their dictation. This is unforgivable because the suffering of the Venezuelan people will be horrifying.

The mass of Venezuelan people, the bottom 99 percent, face extreme danger. Any takeover of the country by proxy of US will lead to the privatisation of the resources of the country, their looting, the dismantling of the social security, education, housing and education provision. The mobilisation of the mass of Venezuelan people will be critical. Although exhausted by the economic warfare they are by no means subservient because of their historic experience of Chavez’s revolution in spite of the distortions it has undergone over time because of internal and external threats.

The US intervention in the name of democracy must be opposed and resisted without reservations. We need to counter the propaganda blitz in the mass media which supports intervention with a counter narrative that is grounded in history to show how imperial interests have destroyed societies across the world. We need to defend the rights of the Venezuelan people to sovereignty and self determination. We must oppose all sanctions that are starving Venezuelan people. This is the time to speak out critically and boldly in public to oppose our government’s support for intervention in Venezuela. To express your solidarity and oppose US intervention, you can join the Venezuelan Solidarity Campaign and Stop the War Coalition.


Why this total silence about the Kurdish hunger strikers?

Leyla Güven Kurdish MP in Turkey began her hunger strike  on  7 November 2018 against solitary confinement of Abdullah

As one hunger striker, Leyla Güven is in critical condition, why is our media ignoring her!!

21 January 2019

We are so engrossed with Brexit almost every hour of the day with the twenty four hour cycle, our public world view has turned inwards, shrinking our horizons, as if nothing is happening in the wider world. The arrival of dinghies with a small number of refugees (labelled as migrants) caused a national panic led by the tabloids so that the navy had to mobilised to protect our shores against this invasion. And there is always our obsession with the world across the atlantic with President Trump as the centre of the world and his slightest idiosyncrasies in tweets must always make to our screens. Beyond that our foreign policy dictates that we always find some time for any breaches by US defined “rogue states” like Iran, or security threat North Korea and Russia or possible some Chinese skullduggery. Our media remain generally silent as hundred of thousands of children are at risk of dying in Yemen, Palestinians being shot dead by snipers in Gaza, political prisoners in Egypt, Syrian refugees freezing away in Lebanon and refugees trapped in the slave camps of Libya. These would never be on the political agenda and thrust themselves in public consciousness.

What we see or hear is chosen for us in most cases giving us a moral uplift to show we are endowed with higher values. This is not to say that some cases by themselves are undeserving. The detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran is harrowing and she must be released. The story of the Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun now given a home in Canada after her courageous refusal to be deported from Thailand and success in securing a UN refugee status.

Last week, Nazanin has started a three day hunger strike to draw attention to her medical condition. Unfortunately, most British people have not heard of the Kurdish woman politician, Leyla Güven, whose life hangs by the thread, has today completed 75 days of hunger strike today in Turkey. Güven is 55-year-old and she was imprisoned in January 2018 for speaking out against the Turkish state’s illegal invasion and occupation of the majority Kurdish region of Afrin in Rojava (northern Syria). During this military operation severe war crimes were committed and civilians were systematically targeted by Turkish-backed Syrian militias who raped, looted, kidnapped and killed with impunity. As a politician she is a legally elected Kurdish member of the Turkish parliament, member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), former mayor, and co-president of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), the largest civil society body in the Kurdish regions of Turkey. Leyla Güven faces over 31 years in prison for simply being critical of the Turkish regime. Due to the state of emergency regulations imposed on the country after the attempted coup in 2016, Leyla Güven is the first case in Turkish history of a representative who was not released from jail upon being elected.

She started the hunger strike to protest against the Turkish government policy of isolation(solitary confinement) of political prisoners. In particular, she called for the end of isolation imposed on the Kurdish political leader Abdullah Öcalan. At the third hearing of her case in a court in Diyarbakir on November 7, Leyla Güven said, “Today the politics of isolation on Mr Öcalan is not imposed on him alone, but on a people in his person. Isolation is a crime against humanity. I am a member of this people. I am starting an Öcalan indefinite hunger strike to protest the isolation on Mr Öcalan. I will not submit any defence to the court from now on. I will continue my protest until the judiciary ends its unlawful decisions and this politics of isolation is terminated. If need be, I will turn this protest into death fast.”

Abdullah Öcalan was kidnapped from Nairobi 20 years ago and incarcerated in the Imrali island prison in the sea of Marmara close to Istanbul. There have been long periods of isolation imposed on him during the last two decades. No one from his family, his doctors, his lawyers or friends have been allowed to visit him for the last three and half years. This is against international principles(Mandela rules) agreed by United Nations in 2015 which forbid solitary confinement for 22 hours or more a day without human contact for a period that exceeds 15 consecutive days. Combined with the violation of his rights to receive his lawyers and family members, the systematic obstruction of communication with the outside world, the isolation imposed on him is akin to mental torture.  

International solidarity builds

Over the past weeks, solidarity hunger strikes have spread inside and outside prisons across several countries with the participation of more people all around the world with the motto “Leyla Güven’s demand is our demand”. In addition to political prisoners in Turkey and Kurdistan, Kurds and their friends have launched solidarity hunger strikes, demonstrations and actions all around the world. Close to 200 prisoners both women and men are currently on hunger strike in more that 20 Turkish prisons. Young Kurdish activist Imam Sis has entered the 35th day of his hunger strike in Wales, while Nasir Yagiz in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan reached day 61. Other hunger strikes are taking place in the autonomous Kurdish refugee camp Makhmour, in different places in majority Kurdish areas of Syria, Iraq and Iran, as well as in Lebanon and Armenia. In Europe, fifteen Kurdish activists and political figures, including former MP Dilek Öcalan, have begun an indefinite hunger strike in Strasbourg to pressure the European Council’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) to fulfil its duties and address their single and basic demand to the institution: to pay a visit to check on the condition of Abdullah Öcalan.

An international call has been issued to demand an immediate end to the solitary confinement of Öcalan and other political prisoners in Turkey. Among the first signatories are well-known personalities like Immanuel Wallerstein and David Graeber, as well as activists, thinkers, trade unionists, feminist writers, MPs, MEPs, senators, researchers, journalists, historians and artists from around the world. Angela Davis who was imprisoned in1970s when she joined a hunger strike to protest against prison conditions has called for the release of Leyla Güven. South African lawyers and political figures, including spokespersons for the National Assembly, who have actively participated in the campaign to free Nelson Mandela, have drawn parallels between Mandela’s anti-apartheid struggle and imprisonment, and Kurdish freedom struggle led by Öcalan.

These hunger strikes brought back brought back to me the memories of the Northern Ireland hunger strikes in 1980s which led to the death of Bobby Sands and nine other hunger strikers because of the rejection by the Thatcher government to give them political status. The treatment of Irish prisoners, their protests, their suffering and the death of Bobby Sands was superbly captured by Steve McQueen in his prize winning dramatic film ‘Hunger'(2008). For the republicans the memories of these are still fresh to immediately show solidarity with the Kurdish hunger stikers. Last week, Martina Anderson, Sinn Féin MEP met with the family of Leyla Güven, as well as her legal representatives, but was denied access to the prison in Diyarbakir where she is being held. At a rally in Derry, after returing from Turkey, she called on the international community to demand the release of Abdullah Ocalan and Leyla Güven.

“The Kurdish people want the international community to back their demand to end the isolation. They believe the end of isolation will assist and advance their peace process. As we stand here tonight and look towards the H-Block monument it is important that we remember Leyla Güven and all the other Kurdish hunger strikers. Their resolve and determination is just as strong as Bobby Sands’ and Raymond McCartney’s was at that time.”

This massive solidarity amongst the Kurdish people comes from the deep respect and admiration for him as a political leader, thinker and visionary. Öcalan is overwhelmingly recognized as the chief negotiator and representative of the Kurdish people in the peace talks with the Turkish state. He is the initiator of several ceasefires and initiatives to work towards an end to the conflict. By isolating him, Turkey is actively sabotaging any chance of returning to the negotiating table and bringing an end to the violence. The international signature campaign for the freedom of Abdullah Öcalan, concluded in 2015, managed to gather an astonishing 10.3 million signatories. Apart from drawing up a roadmap for peace ten years ago, Öcalan is the advocate of Democratic Confederalism, a unique political and social proposal that avoids the pitfalls of nationalism. From fighting for a nation state of Kurdistan, he is advocating a vision whereby the diverse ethnic and religious groups could work together within the existing boundaries of states to build a democratic framework from the grassroots hence overcoming the fragmentation that exists across all the nation amongst different ethnic groups. At the heart of this is the liberation of women from patriarchy by active participation in all walks of life and developing an economy that puts ecological preservation and sustainability as central to all activity.

The roots of Turkish -Kurdish conflict

The roots of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict lie deep in history of the region. The defeat and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire following WWI was followed by the carving up of the region into nation states such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel and Jordan by the mandate powers, Britain and France. At this most critical juncture in world history millions of Kurds granted a nation state and found themselves fragmented across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The emergence of the Turkish nations state was marked by the Armenian genocide in 1915 and the brutal suppression of Kurds as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk laid the foundation of Turkish ethno-nationalism, denying them political autonomy and respect for their language and cultural identity. Since 1925, Kurdish uprisings and resistance were violently suppressed and Kurdish social advancement blocked. In 1970s there was a growing radicalisation of the Kurds with the founding of several clandestine parties based on socialist ideology. The relentless persecution of all forms of Kurdish political expression persuaded many activists to take up arms against the state. The PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party) was established in the 1978 under the leadership of Öcalan. With the military coup in Turkey in 1980, the PKK shifted its cadres and bases to Lebanon and Syria from where it launched its first attacks on Turkish security forces. This law intensity war reached its most violent phase in 1990s. Over 40,000 people were killed in the conflict, including PKK militants, Turkish soldiers, pro-state paramilitaries and (above all) Kurdish civilians. Over thee million were displaced from the rural areas to towns and cities. The European Court of Human Rights condemned Turkey for thousands of human right abuses. Many of the judgements are related to systematic execution of Kurdish civilians, torturing, forced displacement , destruction of villages, arbitrary arrests, detentions, disappearances and murder of Kurdish journalists, activists and politicians.

But this was not the end of the ‘Kurdish problem’ for the Turkish state, as the resistance helped to catalyse a broader political awakening. Despite facing intense state repression, pro-Kurdish democratic movements were continually carving a space on the electoral stage articulating the demands of the Kurdish population. Every political party and civil society movement that rose to carry the banner of freedom and democracy since the 1990s was suppressed by state violence and national security laws both at national and local level.

Kurdish electoral breakthrough and Erdoğan’s revenge

A peace process and accompanying ceasefire that was initiated by Öcalan in 2012 but brought to an end in Summer 2015 by Erdoğan. The birth of the HDP (People’s Democratic Party) in 2012 was to provide immense hopes on the democratic left blocs in Turkey and posed the greatest challenge to Erdoğan’s supremacy. In 2014 local elections, the HDP’s regional offshoot the DBP (Democratic Regions Party) made significant gains in the south east. It won 2 metropolitan municipalities and 97 municipalities. In the 7 June 2015 elections, it polled an unprecedented 13 percent with its support rising throughout Turkey. It denied Erdoğan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) an absolute majority in the Parliament with its vote falling by 9 per cent. This obstacle in the path of his supremacy infuriated Erdoğan and he set out to build a new alliance with ultra-nationalist MHP (Kemalist Republican Party) based on the repression of the Kurdish movement. The Turkish army went on the offensive against the PKK in the borderlands of Iraq and the renewed conflict created a febrile atmosphere with funerals of soldiers and policemen broadcast on the TV. Against this backdrop, he engineered a fresh election on 1 November 2015 to secure a majority. The HDP lost ground but still secured a vote just above 10 percent to have deputies in Parliament. The Chair of the HDP Selhattin Demirtaş and his co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ detained shortly afterwards to face terrorism related charges.

Beginning with 2016, the Turkish army targeted the Kurdish urban strongholds,, reducing much of Diyarbakir’s old city to rubble and inflicting similar destruction of Sirnak, Cizre and Nusaybin. According to UNHCR, Turkish forces have killed hundreds of civilians and are guilty of summary executions, torture and rape. More than half a million Kurds have been driven from their homes.

Following the botched coup in the summer of 2016, Erdoğan exploited the opportunity to crush dissent by declaring a state of emergency initially for three months which has been extended several times. A decree passed in September allowed the government to remove elected mayors in the south east and replace them with appointed officials. 85 mayors from HDP’S sister party have been imprisoned. Charges levied against HDP politicians range from ‘carrying out propaganda for a terror organisation’ to membership of the PKK itself. Approximately 6,000 HDP members are now under arrest. Erdoğan government targeted civil society initiatives and the pro-Kurdish media. A group of more that 1,100 academics who signed a petition urging a peaceful approach to the Kurdish question have suffered persecution and administrative sanctions, with 360 removed from their post so far. The daily Ozgur Gundem has been shut down. HDP supporting TV stations have been forced off the air. 11,000 Kurdish and left-wing teachers, who belong to the Education and Science Workers’ Union (Egitim-Sen), have been accused of being PKK supporters and threatened with dismissal. More than 250,000 people have lost their jobs and over 50,000 have been jailed.

In spite of all the repressive measures that Erdoğan has imposed on Kurdish politics, the success of the political breakthrough by the HDP will resonate for a long time. The Kurdish organisations have revived a form of politics that few people in Turkey thought possible and stimulated the desire for a peaceful multicultural and egalitarian society in Turkey.

Erdoğan seized the high moral ground on the horrific murder of Jamal Kashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul through carefully manipulating information to reveal the involvement of the Saudi death squad. Yet his record in Turkey of unbridled despotism cracked down on journalists, imprisoning eighty one by the end of 2016, a third of the world-wide total of 259, accusing them of anti-state activity. It is well known that Turkish state security forces routinely inflict torture on their prisoners to obtain confessions.

Western powers collaborate with Erdoğan’s despotism

The Western governments have steadfastly looked away at the horror in Turkey for a long time. They have a deep rooted strategic relationship with Turkey at all levels including trade, diplomacy, military and intelligence services. Turkey became a member of NATO in 1952 and hosts 24 NATO bases making it the eastern anchor NATO power. The massive Incirlik base in the Adana province close to Syria is used by the US-led coalition forces as a launch pad for raids on ISIS and is NATO’s largest nuclear weapons storage facility.

More recently, for the EU, Erdoğan has provided an invaluable service for warehousing refugees deported from Europe and controlling their flow by deploying his machinery of repression in exchange for a deal with billions of Euros. The banning of the PKK under anti-terrorism legislation in the UK, EU and US has supplied cover for the Turkish state to associate all Kurdish political and social movements with terrorism and use the state security apparatus and courts to deny Kurds political and social freedoms. It also enables the counter terrorism apparatus in Western countries to criminalise diaspora Kurdish communities for solidarity with the struggles of their compatriots in their homelands.

Western double standards are laid bare and cannot be defended if public reasoning were to prevail. The mass media propaganda and disinformation allows our governments to get away with these. The acceptance of Kurdish rights and the inclusion of Kurds into a democratic polity is the litmus tests for Turkey and Europe. The delisting of PKK as a terrorist organisation is one of the most important steps that needs to be taken. Although the Belgium Supreme Court overruled the decision of the Appeal Court in 2018, the decision of the latter that the PKK was not a terrorist organisation but ‘a party to an armed conflict as defined by and subject to international humanitarian law’, did for the first time set a legal precedent that will need to be revived in the EU and UK.

In Britain, what is needed is a change in our foreign policy to tilt it towards peace and conflict resolution rather than waging perpetual war and weapon sales. Such a policy would also bring under control and tightly regulate the arms industry and the security state. It will support the UN to play a greater role in resolving conflicts. The current situation whereby the US excludes the UN from dealing with the situation in the Middle East is totally unacceptable. Given its record, the Tory government will never undertake such a transformation in our foreign policy. Only a Corbyn led government can bring about such a change.

Meanwhile, international solidarity for the Kurdish hunger strikers and for the freedom of must be put at the forefront by progressive social forces in Britain. It is good to see the GMB, Unite and other trade unions taking an initiative to set up a ‘Freedom for Öcalan’ campaign. Our demands should be heard loud and clear

Free Öcalan now!

Free Leyla Güven now!

Free all the political prisoners now!

Acknowledgement: I have used two main sources for facts and part of the narrative in crafting this article. I would like to give credit to Dilar Dirik and Cengiz Gunez for their analysis on this issue.

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.