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Yemen and the cost of silence

‘I tickled the little feet thinking I would get a little smile. And it was just like tickling a ghost.’ David Beasley of the World Food Programme describes seeing a starving child in hospital in the Yemeni port of Hodaidah. Yemen has gradually become the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster as the population tips into starvation, with 11 million children underfed and the UN warning of the worst famine in 100 years. Babies are dying of starvation in Yemen’s hospitals every day. Warer supplies are widely contaminated. Cholera cases tripled in August. But the coalition have just launched another ‘vast’ attack on Hodaidah, the essential route of food and medicine for two-thirds of the population, and the blockade has resumed.

The UN Security Council are accused of saying too little; Human Rights Watch have called Saudi influence there “a serious liability.” The UK and US, the top two arms sellers to Riyadh, with $5.2bn and $1.2bn in 2017 sales respectively, have been loath to speak out. US drones continue to strike there, despite concerns that they rely on intelligence obtained by torture in Emirati-run jails. When Trump visited the Kingdom last year he did a ceremonial war dance with its leaders, to the stunned astonishment of their mutual enemy Iran.

There are calls for action at last. In August the UN Human Rights Council accused both main parties of war crimes, including widespread arbitrary detention, rape, torture and recruitment of child fighters as young as eight. In September they voted to keep investigating. Voting against even this were many countries Dr Grim notes for their record on human rights – including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Rwanda, China, and the UAE.

Britain, too, is now speaking out at last, proposing a Human Rights Council resolution demanding cessation of hostilities to allow humanitarian aid to get through. The Saudis want to improve their position before any ceasefire, but the dreadful rumours that the Crown Prince ordered poor Jamal Khasshoggi’s fingers cut off prior to his murder, convincingly reminiscent of the punitive mutilations the Saudis consider and acceptable interpretation of justice, seemed to offer a window to pressure them. Yet MBS enjoys impunity beyond imagining, and the King has publicly reaffirmed his good favour. The likely judicial murder of those who appear to have perpetuated this horror on his orders seems no more surprising than his flying into a rage last week when Hunt turned up to discuss his draft resolution. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, called him “unhinged” in an interview with NBC at the weekend. Mr Hunt, who must think of the furious junior doctors of his previous job as positively endearing by comparison, must have breathed a sigh of relief when he left for the relative safety of Iran. Sadly, UK are now planning to introduce a modified resolution. Let’s hope we don’t water it down too much. Human Rights Watch say any resolution that doesn’t specifically name the Saudi-led coalition won’t have the required effect in Riyadh.” Yemen waits.

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