Sunday, December 17, 2017

The OIC is no longer a force on the world stage by Robert Fisk

These Muslim leaders are no longer valid. They represent failed states with neither morality nor courage to show for their presence at the Istanbul summit- writes veteran journalist Robert Fisk. And he is right. Read below to find out.
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If there was anything to beat in mediocrity the childish and delinquent declaration by Donald Trump that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, it was the pathetic response from Muslim states. For there in Istanbul this week were all the tired old men to whom we have listened for so many years, none sadder or more woebegone than the ageing and useless “President” of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas.
There were supposed to be 57 heads of state of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in the Turkish capital, but some were simply too old and senile – the comatose Bouteflika of Algeria, for example – or too busy shouting abuse at other Arabs states or bombing Yemen. Oh yes, of course, they demanded that the “international community” accept east Jerusalem as Palestine’s “capital” – a capital for a state that doesn’t exist and, at this rate, never will. It was just more claptrap from an organisation (that’s already changed its name twice) which offers no hope, no initiative, no justice and no future to the people of its collective autocracies.
Faced with American failure in the Middle East, some of these gentlemen thought that perhaps the UN can be a new mediator in the region. Heavens above. The old UN donkey has been brought clip-clopping to Jerusalem and the West Bank and to countless other locations (Lebanon included, of course) that surely by now you don’t even have to suggest its presence. The donkey will just turn up of its own accord.
The “world” – an interesting concept in Middle East terms – and America will only become worried if these tired men have courage. Or what we used to call the courage of their convictions. If America has hurled itself out of peace-making – which it supposedly has, although I wouldn’t count on Abbas keeping his phone off the hook if the White House calls – then these potentates should be considering a diplomatic boycott of the United States, or the breaking off of relations or even a mild but increasingly severe oil boycott. There was a time when they did this sort of thing.
But that’s not going to happen. The Saudis are bombing Yemen and boycotting not America but Qatar, and the Iranians – at least Rouhani approaches the status of a statesman – are waiting to see what mischief the Saudis will yet do to Lebanon. Oddly, it was Lebanon’s own President, Michel Aoun, who talked of conspiracies, silence and impotence and the danger of ethnic cleansing. No philosopher – he’s another ex-general – but he got it about right. It was the only serious speech in Istanbul. It might have been wise if Abbas had contested the Trump decision at the international court, but the Palestinian leadership is so uninspiring (and corrupt) that I doubt if it even dreamed of such a move.
And that’s the problem. If you have a delinquent American president, you need serious young people – international lawyers, negotiators, experienced diplomats – to defend the peoples of the Middle East. There are UN resolutions enough to apply to Jerusalem and the occupied territories. But no, not a word did we hear of these. It was as if apathy and hopelessness guide these figures. Turkish President Erdogan at least declared that Washington could no longer be a negotiator. But so what? He’s not an Arab and he’s stitched up his own country into a semi-dictatorship.
For the truth is that these Muslim leaders are no longer valid. They do not represent anyone. They may glance towards Moscow in the coming weeks but they are about as relevant as Tsarist Russia or the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They represent failed states with neither morality nor courage to show for their presence at the Istanbul summit. They should speak for the Muslim world. They believe they represent Muslims. They are the second largest international community after the UN.
Perhaps it is to the academics of the Middle East, the professors of law and history, that the region should turn (not the pseudo-Salafists from the Gulf). Perhaps it is the teachers and philanthropists who can break this hideous impasse in “Palestine”. They do discuss this in their own universities – just such a conference is taking place in Beirut at the moment – but there is something missing. They do not have power. There are no Edward Saids left – and how much we miss Said today. His excoriating language would have blistered Washington’s conceit.
And so we are left with only tragedy. I suspect the roots to this lie back in the Great War of 1914-1918, not just in the Balfour Declaration whose mournful hundredth anniversary we mark this year but in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the failure of the Arabs to seize control of their own lands in those days. There is a fine history of the Middle East in the Great War (A Land of Aching Hearts by Leila Tarazi Fawaz, published three years ago by Harvard University Press) which shows the extent of the suffering of the region, the mass hunger, the starvations, the plagues of locusts. And then Edmund Allenby reached Jerusalem – using gas on his journey there, by the way – and the die was cast.

A Rohingya mother's pain after 60 family members murdered

Almas Khatun saw her seven children and husband murdered during a wave of massacres in Myanmar. She and thousands of other survivors now face new threats as they languish in refugee camps.
Sitting on the dirt floor in a flimsy bamboo shelter, Almas Khatun pulls a pink shawl from her face to reveal scars across her cheek and throat.
"I saw my family killed with my own eyes," says the softly spoken 40-year-old survivor of Tula Toli, the most horrific massacre in a pogrom of indiscriminate killing, mass rape and arson targeting Rohingya Muslim civilians in Myanmar.
"I saw my family killed with my own eyes," Almas Khatun says as she recounts the horrors of the Myanmar massacres.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
"I saw my family killed with my own eyes," Almas Khatun says as she recounts the horrors of the Myanmar massacres.
Almas says that every night she sees in her nightmares a soldier pulling her three-month-old baby from her lap and slashing open his stomach, moments before her house was set alight.
She wakes and weeps amid a sprawling mass of refugee camps carved into hillsides in southeastern Bangladesh, reliving the morning of August 30. That was when soldiers ran – shooting and shouting obscenities – into Tula Toli, a picturesque village that sits in a bend where two rivers meet.
"They shot my old father, they put a log of wood in his mouth and then slit his throat," Almas says, wiping tears from her eyes. "I keep thinking about my children. They burnt all my children and I couldn't save them. It breaks my heart. They killed seven of my children, my husband and his two brothers." Almas says 60 of her relatives who were living in three houses in the village are dead.
"Some were slaughtered by monks."
More than a dozen previously interviewed witnesses to the massacre have said Buddhist monks were among the attackers, but Almas's detailed testimony implicates them directly in killings that took place in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, just across the border from Bangladesh.
During 10 days in the camps, which are now home to more than 835,000 Rohingya, we interview dozens of survivors who describe unimaginable atrocities committed by government soldiers and Buddhist mobs in Myanmar's Rakhine State since August.
Eight-year-old Mansur Alam, who also survived Tula Toli, tells us in a separate interview outside a makeshift Muslim school, on a hilltop overlooking the camps, that he saw monks slashing and shooting people in the village, including his own parents, as he hid in bushes. "The monks were in the forest and one slashed me on the head with a kirji (farming sickle)," he says, pulling apart his hair to reveal a scar across his scalp.
Other witnesses have described women and girls being dragged into huts, their screams filling the air, before men left, locking the buildings and setting them ablaze.
Mansur Alam is scarred after being hit as he fled.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Mansur Alam is scarred after being hit as he fled.
Corpses were thrown into pits, doused in petrol and burned and others were thrown into the river, according to multiple witnesses. Almas says that somehow, amid chaos and terror, she ran for her life from the house as it burned and joined Mansur, the son of her neighbour, in the bushes, hiding among dead bodies, before both were discovered and slashed.
"We pretended to be dead," she says.
"When the killers left I crawled away, dragging Mansur. We were bleeding but we somehow managed to walk through the forest to Bangladesh. We had no food or water for three days."
Orphans Forida and Nur Aisha in their uncle's shelter in Burma Para refugee camp.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Orphans Forida and Nur Aisha in their uncle's shelter in Burma Para refugee camp.
Almas has now adopted Mansur as her son.
A WIDE-EYED NUMBNESS
Images of exhausted and starving Rohingya, many of them injured, stumbling across the Bangladesh border have shocked the world.
Shosma Begum bathes her children, Ehsan and Asma.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Shosma Begum bathes her children, Ehsan and Asma.
Since August, almost 650,000 have made the journey.
The United Nations Human Rights Council last week condemned the "very likely commission of crimes against humanity" by Myanmar security forces. In doing so, they ignored the denials of the country's government, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been widely criticised for failing to use her moral authority and domestic legitimacy to shift anti-Muslim sentiment in her country.
Refugees still arriving at the Bangladesh border say threats and intimidation are continuing against Muslims in their homeland.
Girls read the Koran at a madrasa in Burma Para camp.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Girls read the Koran at a madrasa in Burma Para camp.
The mass flight of the Rohingya has created humanitarian catastrophe in chaotic and disorderly camps rife with diseases, rapidly depleting and contaminated water supplies, overflowing temporary toilets, acute malnutrition, shortages of basic needs, child exploitation and trafficking.
In 25 years covering Asian crises, I have rarely seen such traumatised people.
Look into many of the faces here and you see a wide-eyed numbness that experts say points to terrible suffering and trauma.
Children wait for family members at a Red Cross food and supplies distribution point in Burma Para refugee camp.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Children wait for family members at a Red Cross food and supplies distribution point in Burma Para refugee camp.
Doctors Without Borders says the first extensive survey in the camps indicates that between 9425 and 13,759 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine in the first 31 days of the violence, including at least 1000 children.
Of the children below the age of five who were killed, 59 per cent were shot, 15 per cent burnt to death in their homes and seven per cent beaten to death, the survey showed.
"What we uncovered was staggering, both in terms of the numbers of people who reported a family member died as a result of violence, and the horrific ways in which they said they were killed or severely injured," says Sidney Wong, the organisation's medical director.
Uma Habi with her sister Murshida Khatun, left, weep as they talk of losing 35 family members.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Uma Habi with her sister Murshida Khatun, left, weep as they talk of losing 35 family members.
Robert Onus, the Australian emergency response co-ordinator for Doctors Without Borders, says refugees arriving at the border exhausted and not knowing what their futures hold creates a "sense of desperation that you see in people's eyes".
"This is a complex situation that is fast becoming a worst-case scenario," he says. "These families have been broken."
Wayne Bleier,a psychosocial expert with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), says that, unlike survivors of many other conflicts, Rohingya are eager to tell their horror stories "because they want the world to know what happened".
A Rohingya girl carries a blanket she has received in Burma Para refugee camp.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
A Rohingya girl carries a blanket she has received in Burma Para refugee camp.
THE GIRL IN THE PRETTY DRESS
Rounding a corner on a narrow, dusty track, a small group of men wearing white Islamic skull caps beckon us to a shelter made of bamboo and plastic.
Inside, 25-year-old Hasina has just finished bathing her dead two-year-old daughter, Eshoroma. They have placed palm leafs over her eyes and put on her prettiest frock.
Eshoroma, 2, lies dead.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Eshoroma, 2, lies dead.
Eshoroma had suffered an itchy rash and fever for 10 days in the shelter just a 10-minute walk from a Bangladesh hospital.
Measles is spreading rapidly through the camps.
Hasina is wailing as Kate Geraghty, a stranger carrying cameras, is ushered into the shelter. They hug.
Day labourers at a bamboo collection point. Bamboo is being used to build shelters in the camps.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Day labourers at a bamboo collection point. Bamboo is being used to build shelters in the camps.
Hasina gently strokes Eshoroma's body as it lies on a woven mat. This family fled their homeland with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Hasina has no money for a funeral and there is no land available in the camps for gravesites. We pay for Eshoroma to be buried in a mass grave.
"I am relieved. Now Allah will take care of my baby," Sobbir Hossain, the baby's 30-year-old father tells me.
Two boys start a fire to cook breakfast outside their family shelter in Kutupalong camp.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Two boys start a fire to cook breakfast outside their family shelter in Kutupalong camp.
A CHILDREN'S CRISIS
Fifty-four per cent of the refugees who have fled Myanmar in the past three months are children under 18.
A study by organisations including Save the Children shows that one in four aged between six months and five are suffering acute malnutrition, and many more are severely malnourished.
A mother feeds her exhausted child a jelly drink as they make their way to a refugee camp.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
A mother feeds her exhausted child a jelly drink as they make their way to a refugee camp.
"This is a children's crisis," says Elhadj As Sy, secretary-general of the Red Cross.
Robert Onus says families generally don't know how to access what limited health care is available in camps that stretch for kilometres across a peninsula in poor and overcrowded Bangladesh.
"They are worrying about their basic survival needs," he says.
Asad Ali took poison after a fight with his wife.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Asad Ali took poison after a fight with his wife.
Asad Ali, 54, took poison, staggered outside his shelter and collapsed, foaming from the mouth.
"My father had been quarrelling with my mother about money and clothes for us," says their 10-year-old daughter, Ami Alki, as men lift Asad into a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi and drive him to a medical clinic.
Laila Begum gently squeezes the ears of her 40-day-old baby as he clings to life, his tiny chest heaving on a bed in a Red Cross-tented field hospital.
Forty days old, Mohammed weighs just 1.8 kilograms.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Forty days old, Mohammed weighs just 1.8 kilograms.
Mohammad Ifran is so malnourished his skin is wrinkled like an old man's and his arms and legs are like twigs.
The baby's eyes open only briefly as his mother turns to stroking his head, willing him not to give up.
Nobody knows how many babies are dying here in deplorable conditions.
Laila Begum with her infant son, Mohammed Ifran.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Laila Begum with her infant son, Mohammed Ifran.
Laila has been unwell since giving birth to the baby, after making the perilous journey across the border from Myanmar.
"He can't breastfeed properly. He remains hungry because he only gets a little milk from me," Laila says.
A Red Cross doctor by chance noticed the baby's critical state as Laila was holding him on her breast. Mohammad was just 1.8 kilograms.
A woman arrives at the Sabrang border crossing on her way to a camp.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
A woman arrives at the Sabrang border crossing on her way to a camp.
"He would have died if he had not been treated almost immediately," says Norwegian nurse Anne Fjeldberg after declaring the baby off the critical list after two days of treatment.
"Amongst all this suffering some good things can happen too."
LITTLE BOY LOST
Queues for Red Cross supplies at Burma Para camp.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Queues for Red Cross supplies at Burma Para camp.
Children are increasingly vulnerable in the camps when aid workers leave to meet a night-time curfew.
They walk listlessly and barefoot through the narrow alleyways and tracks or spend days under a hot sun in lines waiting for food handouts. Some beg alongside roads.
Almost 3000 unaccompanied and separated children have been documented but the actual number is much higher, aid workers say.
Girls paint henna designs on one another.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Girls paint henna designs on one another.
Rohimullah's little boy, Ayatullah, disappeared from his family's shelter while Rohimullah was praying at a mosque and his wife was preparing food inside.
For 20 days, Rohimullah, 30, trudged through the camps until he could walk no more, holding a photograph of his 2-and-half-year-old son.
"My child was playing with other kids outside and there were these two men who were there, giving them bits of food and all of them were eating it, so the other kids told me," Rohimullah says, weeping while squatting on a dusty pathway.
Australian doctor Debra Blackmore carries Jamila Khatun at Dum Dumiya refugee camp.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Australian doctor Debra Blackmore carries Jamila Khatun at Dum Dumiya refugee camp.
"I don't have money to go searching for him. Someone told me a little boy was seen at a market far away and wanted money to bring him back."
Ruhimullah's search meant he could not join the queues for food.
"It's been 20 days since we've eaten properly and we don't have money," he says. "My child's mother has gone crazy. I had to tie her up." But, like the baby saved in the Red Cross field hospital, a flash of hope comes amid despair.
A man despairs in Kutupalong camp.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
A man despairs in Kutupalong camp.
After almost three weeks, Ayatullah was returned in the presence of Red Cross workers who had spread the word through community leaders and mosques to look out for him.
Who had kept him, and why, is unclear.
ONE LESS MOUTH TO FEED
Bride Yesmin, 22, prays before receiving her groom.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Bride Yesmin, 22, prays before receiving her groom.
The International Organisation for Migration has found that camp children as young as 11 are getting married, often forced by their parents.
Marrying off a daughter is one less mouth to feed and early marriage is a common cultural practice among Rohingya Muslims. Other children as young as seven are working for paltry pay as maids and nannies for Bangladesh families, and on farms, construction sites and fishing boats.
In 281 child-friendly spaces set up by aid agencies throughout the camps, children have made crayon drawings depicting in chilling detail events they have witnessed in Rakhine, such as bodies in the streets, helicopter gunships and the arc of bullets.
Mothers at a Red Cross field hospital in Kutupalong.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Mothers at a Red Cross field hospital in Kutupalong.
"I lost four of my classmates and one of my teachers was killed too," a 16-year-boy said after presenting a drawing.
Rohingya are showing incredible resilience in the world's largest concentration of refugees.
Myanmar soldiers beat 21-year-old mother of two Shosma Begum when they attacked her village and killed her husband.
Villages in Maungdaw burn in September.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Villages in Maungdaw burn in September.
She can only move in extreme pain from a back injury but pushes herself to cut firewood and queue for food handouts.
"I do as much as I can," she says. "But it is difficult to feed my children."
Squatting before a cooking fire, Shosma gives a detailed account of how soldiers slashed and killed people in her village before setting houses on fire. She saw body parts being put in sacks. Many of the Rohingya we spoke with have similar shocking stories which are impossible to independently verify.

A VICIOUS CYCLE
Myanmar has banned United Nations and human rights researchers and journalists entering Rakhine.
But these are poor, uneducated villagers from an impoverished part of the country (also called Burma) that has been largely closed to the outside world for half a century. Under repeated questioning their stories are unbending.
Debra Blackmore, an Australian doctor working with the Red Cross supervising mobile health clinics for the camps, says it has been devastating to see families sitting on roadsides in monsoon rains with little but the clothes on their backs, after fleeing Rakhine.
"I have not seen anything like it before in my life," says Blackmore, who has worked in disaster and conflict areas across the world. "It is like the images I saw on television of Rwanda."
Robert Onus, from Doctors Without Borders, says after several months in the camps the refugees' health is deteriorating further.
"People have reached their limits. There is a vicious cycle where the vulnerable are becoming increasingly vulnerable," he says, pointing to the camp conditions.
Diseases eradicated in most other countries are now appearing.
The World Health Organisation says more than 110 suspected cases of the vaccine-preventable and deadly diphtheria have been clinically diagnosed.
"These cases could be just the tip of the iceberg," says Navaratnasamy Paranietharan, the WHO representative in Bangladesh.
"This is an extremely vulnerable population with low vaccination coverage and living conditions that could be a breeding ground for infectious diseases like cholera, measles, rubella and diphtheria."
A cholera outbreak would be devastating.
Temporary toilets are overflowing and there are no private places. The stench of excreta is everywhere.
Aid agencies say while more than half a million refugees have received limited aid so far, 173,000 of them have not received full food rations, 200,000 require emergency shelter assistance and 120,000 pregnant and lactating women require nutritional support.
Mark Handby, a public health expert from Port Fairy in Victoria working for the Red Cross, says one of the biggest problems is a lack of water as temporary hand pumps run dry.
Some deeper bores have drawn good-quality water but he fears others being sunk may be salt-contaminated.
Handby has seen refugees drinking putrid water from ponds in paddy fields and also says the situation "ticks every box for a worst-case scenario".
Aid agencies estimate the number of pregnancies could be as high as 10 per cent of the camp population, many of them as a result of rapes.
BRILLIANT EFFORTS
Myanmar denies that any sexual assaults took place in Rakhine State.
In a country where life for the ethnic minority has been made unbearable for decades, one Rakhine official told reporters the Rohingya are too "ugly" to be raped and state media has described them as "human fleas".
Myanmar's military commander, Min Aung Hlaing, has honoured "brilliant efforts to restore regional peace, security" in so-called "clearance operations" against insurgents in Rakhine.
A supposed internal investigation conducted by the military found that troops fired "not a single shot" on civilians and that "all security members strictly abided by the orders".
Frail, bent of back and near-deaf 105-year-old Jorina Khatun was piggybacked for days to reach Bangladesh after her village was attacked. "She didn't want to come. We had to force her," says her 55-year-old son, Mahmud Hossain, after receiving treatment at a Red Cross mobile clinic.
The only other time Jorina has left Rakhine, she says, was when the British and Japanese were fighting each other in Myanmar in World War II.
More than 1 million Rohingya have suffered longstanding discrimination in Myanmar, which sees them as "Bengali" interlopers, even though they have lived there for generations.
Jorina's parents and their parents before them were born in Myanmar but she is denied citizenship.
Jorina Khatun, 105, with her son Mahmud Hossain.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Jorina Khatun, 105, with her son Mahmud Hossain.
I ask Jorina if she still wants to go back.
"They have driven us away and I will only go back if we are accepted as Rohingya," she replies.
The grim reality is that the vast majority of Rohingya are not going to return to their homeland in the foreseeable future, creating grave political and security risks, including the potential for radicalisation of Muslims and recruitment for transnational terrorism.

Researchers from the International Crisis Group (ICG) say organisers and fighters from Arakan Salvation Army, which attacked police posts in Rakhine in August 25, are now in the camps, indicating they may shift to cross-border missions, which could escalate tensions between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
AN UNEASY REFUGE
Radicals are watching what is happening in these camps.
"The plight of Rohingya has captured the attention of the Muslim world, becoming a cause celebre like perhaps no other since Kosovo," the ICG said in a report last week.
One Rohingya approached me in a market and said: "If we do not get citizenship, we will go there and fight and destroy them all." Rumours are circulating about smugglers touting for passengers for a new wave of boat people.
International agencies also fear tensions could eventually erupt between Rohingya and local Bangladeshis who have so far been remarkably welcoming to their fellow Muslims.
As the camps begin stirring before sunrise, Mohammad Anis, a 54-year-old English teacher, lifts an old wooden radio to his ear, hungry for news from Rakhine.
A tall, proud father of five wearing a white Muslim skull cap, Mohammad says Rohingya have basic demands that must be met before they return.
"We must be treated with respect and acceptance," he says in a speech for our camera.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Mohammad Anis says Rohingya have basic demands that must be met before they return to Myanmar.
"The Burmese planned to drive us away. How? By killing us and prohibiting us from marrying and having children. It is genocide," he says. "Living here in the camps we have good days and bad days but if we are forced to go back to Burma we won't go back … even if we are killed or burned here, that would be better than going back without justice."
Across the maze of camps, another teacher Abdul Majed, 38, also insists on making a speech for the camera to appeal to the world to help Rohingya.
And still they come, exhausted, hauling bags of meagre possessions and clutching infants, thousands of them every week, in the fastest refugee exodus since the Rwandan genocide.
Mohammad Anis brings radio news from Myanmar.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA
Mohammad Anis brings radio news from Myanmar.
 
 
 
Soon the depopulation of Rohingya from northern Rakhine will be complete.

To read more and view the video: click here.


Silhouetted by a full mo
on, nine months pregnant and mother-of-two Shajida Akter and nine family members cross the Naf river, reaching Shah Porir Dwip, an island on the southeastern tip of Bangladesh, which means they are safe.
There is no rejoicing, though.
KATE GERAGHTY/FAIRFAX AUSTRALIA

With the sun now risen, they shuffle towards a Bangladesh border post and an official registers their names and asks why they have come.
Behind her full-face hijab, tears well in Shajida's eyes and she says men dragged away her husband. She believes he has been killed.
"Because all the people have been fleeing to Bangladesh, we decided to come too, even if we die trying," she says.
Her 20-year-old cousin, Nurul Salam, tosses a sack containing the family's only possessions onto his shoulder.
"What the military is doing there is just too much," he says, walking off into an uncertain future.
 - Sydney Morning Herald

Saturday, December 16, 2017

What’s the UN doing to Stopping Genocide of the Rohingyas of Myanmar?

One of the sinister methods employed to justify genocide has been to deny the history of the targeted victims. And that is what the criminal Buddhists within the apartheid state of Myanmar has been doing for nearly 70 years since earning independence from Britain on January 4, 1948. Instead of carrying out their hideous elimination process in one shot within a short period of time, however, the Buddhist Myanmar has been doing it slowly stepwise as part of a very sinister national project with full cooperation from top to bottom within the Buddhist community.

They termed Rohingyas as outsiders and officially robbed their citizenship thereby effectively making them stateless in the land of their ancestors, a crucial policy that would create the official justification for ongoing violence and expulsion of the targeted minority out of the country. The rape of women and wanton killing of innocent Rohingyas, let alone relentless persecution were employed as tactics to create an environment for forced exodus. The Rohingyas were denied each of the 30 rights enshrined in the Universal of Declaration of Human Rights.

To erase the Rohingya history, the names of historical landmarks were changed: Arakan was named the Rakhine state, and its capital city Akyab changed to Sittwe. Muslim monuments - mosques, shrines and madrassas that once dotted the Arakan coastal line was systematically gutted and destroyed.

Sadly, even such destructive measures were not considered enough by the Buddhist genocidal perpetrators; they raped, killed and terrorized people; they pillaged, burned and demolished Rohingya villages and towns.

History books were changed to de-link the Rohingya from the soil of Arakan. And worse still, to mobilize general Buddhist public against Rohingyas - who are mostly Muslims (and some Hindus) - the latter were dehumanized through carefully crafted propaganda. The victims were depicted as 'vermin', 'cockroaches', 'snakes', etc. to create the moral justification for their total extinction or annihilation. Pseudo scholars and academics with fascist leanings - like Aye Kyaw (now dead who taught in a NY university) and Aye Chan (who teaches at Kanda University of International Studies in Japan) - stirred up the Rakhine Buddhists and others within Myanmar to distort history and delegitimize the Rohingya people, thanks to Government incentives and supports that they received. The xenophobic Buddhist monks played their hate cards in ways that the world has not seen in decades. With active support from the government, its military and police, plus Buddhist politicians - all hardcore racists and bigots -  the genocidal pogroms unleashed against the targeted Rohingya came easy and were perceived as justifiable by the Buddhist public.

In genocidal pogroms of 1978 and 1991-92, more than half a million of Rohingyas were pushed out to Bangladesh when not everyone was later welcome back. In the latest 2017 pogrom alone, some 647,000 (and growing) Rohingyas have been pushed out. Thus, the Rohingya minority that once comprised roughly 45-47% of the population (per estimates made by area experts) before the current episodes (dating back to June 2012) has been reduced drastically to perhaps less than half a million living inside the Apartheid Myanmar. According to credible international agencies and medical sources, at least 6,700 Rohingyas were killed and tens of thousands of girls and women were raped by Buddhists of Myanmar - military and fascist Rakhines. Hundreds of Rohingya villages have also been destroyed by them to make return of the refugees impossible.

Sittwe, which used to be a mixed-ethnic city has no resemblance of its rich past heritage of co-existence. Rohingyas are interned in concentration camps with no access to the outside world. The Jama mosque now stands disused and moldering, behind barbed wire. Its 89-year-old imam is interned. All the Muslim owned shops have been grabbed by Rakhines, who now falsely claim that Rohingyas never owned any shop in the bazaar. Sittwe University, which used to enroll hundreds of Muslim students, now only teaches around 30 Rohingya, all of whom are in a distance-learning program.

Buthidaung, close to the border with Bangladesh, the traditional home of many Rohingyas no longer has anyone of their kind representing them in anything in the township where they comprised 90% population. It is now represented by a minority Rakhine, a hostile MP, who wants to push out the remainder Rohingyas to Bangladesh.

Rangoon (now called Yangon) whose majority population during the British era, esp. the 1930s, were Muslims and Hindus – racially Indian, has now a very small community that feels threatened, unsafe and insecure of their very existence. In the early decades of Burma’s independence, a Rohingya elite thrived in Rangoon. Rangoon University, the country’s top institution, had enough Rohingya students to form their own union. One of the cabinets of U Nu, the country’s first post-independence leader, included a health minister who identified himself as an Arakanese Muslim.

Even under Ne Win, the general, Burmese national radio aired broadcasts in the Rohingya language. Rohingya, women among them, were represented in Parliament.

Now, under Suu Kyi, everything is lost, and the days of hated dictator Ne Win, who robbed them of their citizenship, are viewed as better days!

That is the sad reality of the Rohingyas and other Muslims and Hindus still living inside Suu Kyi’s den of intolerance and hatred called Myanmar.

In a report released in October, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that Myanmar’s security forces had worked to “effectively erase all signs of memorable landmarks in the geography of the Rohingya landscape and memory in such a way that a return to their lands would yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognizable terrain.”

The United Nations report also said that the crackdown in Rakhine had “targeted teachers, the cultural and religious leadership, and other people of influence in the Rohingya community in an effort to diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge.”

What is so grotesque is that Myanmar is one of the signatories of the 1948 Genocide Convention, which vowed to prevent genocide. And yet, it is the worst violator of our time!

The Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” This includes not only killing members of the group, but also causing serious bodily or mental harm and imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

As rightly noted in the 70th convention on the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “Genocide does not happen by accident; it is deliberate, with warning signs and precursors.” “Often it is the culmination of years of exclusion, denial of human rights and other wrongs. Since genocide can take place in times of war and in times of peace, we must be ever-vigilant,” he continued.

The Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng echoed similar sentiments, stating: “It is our inaction, our ineffectiveness in addressing the warning signs, that allows it to become a reality. A reality where people are dehumanized and persecuted for who they are, or who they represent. A reality of great suffering, cruelty, and of inhumane acts that have at the basis unacceptable motivations.”

Despite the comprehensive definition of genocide in the Convention, genocide has recurred multiple times, Guterres said. “We are still reacting rather than preventing, and acting only when it is often too late. We must do more to respond early and keep violence from escalating,” he said.

After a year of investigation, the organization Fortify Rights and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum said that there is “mounting” evidence that points to a genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar with Burmese Army soldiers, police, and civilians as the major perpetrators.

“The Rohingya have suffered attacks and systematic violations for decades, and the international community must not fail them now when their very existence in Myanmar is threatened,” said Cameron Hudson from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Without urgent action, there’s a high risk of more mass atrocities,” he continued.

More than half of Myanmar’s one million Rohingya have fled the country since genocidal violence reignited in August. It has been the largest and fastest flow of destitute people across a border since the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said. “There was nothing left. People were shot in the chest, stomach, legs, face, head, everywhere.” Eyewitness testimony revealed that Rohingya civilians were burned alive, women and girls raped, and men and boys arrested en masse.

“These crimes thrive on impunity and inaction…condemnations aren’t enough,” said Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights Matthew Smith.

Myanmar government’s strict restrictions on Rohingya’s daily lives also point to signs of genocide. In 2013, authorities placed a two-child limit on Rohingya couples in two predominantly Muslim townships in Rakhine State.

Other equally credible international agencies have also come forward to claim that the crisis in Myanmar may constitute genocide such as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein and the British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. “Considering Rohingyas’ self-identify as a distinct ethnic group with their own language and culture – and [that they] are also deemed by the perpetrators themselves as belonging to a different ethnic, national, racial or religious group – given all of this, can anyone rule out that elements of genocide may be present?” al-Hussein asked.

Though the UN Human Rights Council recently condemned the systematic and gross violations of human rights in Myanmar, the Security Council has failed to act on the crisis. China, shamelessly, with its own history of on-going horrendous crimes perpetrated against the indigenous Uighurs in Xinjiang (East Turkestan), has been responsible for the UNSC inaction on the Rohingya crisis.

In spite of serious cases of genocide in various parts of our globe, the first time that the 1948 law was enforced occurred on 2 September 1998 when the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found Jean-Paul Akayesu, the former mayor of a small town in Rwanda, guilty of nine counts of genocide. Two days later, Jean Kambanda became the first head of government to be convicted of genocide.

The first state to be found in breach of the Genocide convention was Serbia. In the Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro case the International Court of Justice presented its judgment on 26 February 2007. It cleared Serbia of direct involvement in genocide during the Bosnian war, but ruled that Belgrade did breach international law by failing to prevent the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, and for failing to try or transfer the persons accused of genocide to the ICTY, in order to comply with its obligations under Articles I and VI of the Genocide Convention, in particular in respect of General Ratko Mladic. On 22 November 2017, Ratko was sentenced to life in prison by the ICTY for 10 charges, one of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and four of violations of the laws or customs of war.

As the UN appeals for the remaining 45 member states to ratify the Genocide Convention, my question is what about states like Myanmar who are already party to the document? Will the UNSC take action against war criminals in Myanmar only after the last Rohingya is eliminated from their ancestral home?

Concerned UN and world leaders ought to know that simply increasing the number of signatories for the 1948 Convention beyond 149 members is not going to prevent genocide. The Convention requires all states to take action to prevent and punish genocide. Not only Myanmar, but the entire international community has failed to protect Rohingya civilians from genocidal atrocities.

Just complaining about the genocidal horrors and increasing membership to ratify the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide will not help. The civilized world simply cannot let savages to run the show and get away with their monumental crimes against humanity. If we are to avert a humanitarian disaster like the Rohingya crisis, this horror will have to be matched by stern action on the part of the international community. That means, trial and punishing the monsters.

 

Myanmar's attempts to erase Rohingya history


‘No Such Thing as Rohingya’: Myanmar Erases a History by Hannah Beech.

SITTWE, Myanmar — He was a member of the Rohingya student union in college, taught at a public high school and even won a parliamentary seat in Myanmar’s thwarted elections in 1990.
But according to the government of Myanmar, U Kyaw Min’s fellow Rohingya do not exist.
A long-persecuted Muslim minority concentrated in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, the Rohingya have been deemed dangerous interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh. Today, they are mostly stateless, their very identity denied by the Buddhist-majority Myanmar state.
“There is no such thing as Rohingya,” said U Kyaw San Hla, an officer in Rakhine’s state security ministry. “It is fake news.”
Such denials bewilder Mr. Kyaw Min. He has lived in Myanmar all of his 72 years, and the history of the Rohingya as a distinct ethnic group in Myanmar stretches back for generations before.
Now, human rights watchdogs warn that much of the evidence of the Rohingya’s history in Myanmar is in danger of being eradicated by a military campaign the United States has declared to be ethnic cleansing.
In a report released in October, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that Myanmar’s security forces had worked to “effectively erase all signs of memorable landmarks in the geography of the Rohingya landscape and memory in such a way that a return to their lands would yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognizable terrain.”
“The Rohingya are finished in our country,” said Mr. Kyaw Min, who lives in Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar. “Soon we will all be dead or gone.”
The United Nations report also said that the crackdown in Rakhine had “targeted teachers, the cultural and religious leadership, and other people of influence in the Rohingya community in an effort to diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge.”
“We are people with our own history and traditions,” said U Kyaw Hla Aung, a Rohingya lawyer and former political prisoner, whose father served as a court clerk in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine.
“How can they pretend we are nothing?” he asked.
Speaking over the phone, Mr. Kyaw Hla Aung, who has been jailed repeatedly for his activism and is now interned in a Sittwe camp, said his family did not have enough food because officials have prevented full distribution of international aid.
Myanmar’s sudden amnesia about the Rohingya is as bold as it is systematic. Five years ago, Sittwe, nestled in an estuary in the Bay of Bengal, was a mixed city, divided between an ethnic Rakhine Buddhist majority and the Rohingya Muslim minority.
Walking Sittwe’s crowded bazaar in 2009, I saw Rohingya fishermen selling seafood to Rakhine women. Rohingya professionals practiced law and medicine. The main street in town was dominated by the Jama mosque, an Arabesque confection built in the mid-19th century. The imam spoke proudly of Sittwe’s multicultural heritage.
They cannot leave the ghettos without official authorization. In July, a Rohingya man who was allowed out for a court appearance in Sittwe was lynched by an ethnic Rakhine mob.
The Jama mosque now stands disused and moldering, behind barbed wire. Its 89-year-old imam is interned.
“We have no rights as human beings,” he said, asking not to use his name because of safety concerns. “This is state-run ethnic cleansing and nothing else.”
Sittwe’s psyche has adapted to the new circumstances. In the bazaar recently, every Rakhine resident I talked to claimed, falsely, that no Muslims had ever owned shops there.
Sittwe University, which used to enroll hundreds of Muslim students, now only teaches around 30 Rohingya, all of whom are in a distance-learning program.
“We don’t have restrictions on any religion,” said U Shwe Khaing Kyaw, the university’s registrar, “but they just don’t come.”
Mr. Kyaw Min used to teach in Sittwe, where most of his students were Rakhine Buddhists. Now, he said, even Buddhist acquaintances in Yangon are embarrassed to talk with him.
“They want the conversation to end quickly because they don’t want to think about who I am or where I came from,” he said.
In 1990, Mr. Kyaw Min won a seat in Parliament as part of a Rohingya party aligned with the National League for Democracy, Myanmar’s current governing party. But the country’s military junta ignored the electoral results nationwide. Mr. Kyaw Min ended up in prison.
Rohingya Muslims have lived in Rakhine for generations, their Bengali dialect and South Asian features often distinguishing them from Rakhine Buddhists.
During the colonial era, the British encouraged South Asian rice farmers, merchants and civil servants to migrate to what was then known as Burma.
Some of these new arrivals mixed with the Rohingya, then known more commonly as Arakanese Indians or Arakanese Muslims. Others spread out across Burma. By the 1930s, South Asians, both Muslim and Hindu, comprised the largest population in Yangon.
The demographic shift left some Buddhists feeling besieged. During the xenophobic leadership of Gen. Ne Win, who ushered in nearly half a century of military rule, hundreds of thousands of South Asians fled Burma for India.
Rakhine, on Burma’s western fringe, was where Islam and Buddhism collided most violently, especially after World War II, during which the Rakhine supported the Axis and Rohingya the Allies.
By the 1980s, the military junta had stripped most Rohingya of citizenship. Brutal security offensives drove waves of Rohingya to flee the country.
Today, far more Rohingya live outside of Myanmar — mostly in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia — than remain in what they consider their homeland.
Yet in the early decades of Burma’s independence, a Rohingya elite thrived. Rangoon University, the country’s top institution, had enough Rohingya students to form their own union. One of the cabinets of U Nu, the country’s first post-independence leader, included a health minister who identified himself as Arakanese Muslim.
Even under Ne Win, the general, Burmese national radio aired broadcasts in the Rohingya language. Rohingya, women among them, were represented in Parliament.
U Shwe Maung, a Rohingya from Buthidaung Township in northern Rakhine, served in Parliament between 2011 and 2015, as a member of the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party. In the 2015 elections, however, he was barred from running.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were disenfranchised in those polls.
Mr. Shwe Maung’s electoral district, which had been 90 percent Rohingya, is now represented by a Rakhine Buddhist.
In September, a local police officer filed a counterterrorism suit accusing Mr. Shwe Maung of instigating violence through Facebook posts that called for an end to the security offensive in Rakhine. (The military operation began after Rohingya militants besieged government security posts in late August.)
Mr. Shwe Maung, the son of a police officer himself, is in exile in the United States and denies the charges.
“They want every Rohingya to be considered a terrorist or an illegal immigrant,” he said. “We are much more than that.”

A Responsibility to Prevent Genocide


 
Thousands of new Rohingya refugee arrivals cross the border near Anzuman Para village, Palong Khali, Bangladesh. Credit: UNHCR/Roger Arnold
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 12 2017 (IPS) – Almost 70 years since the Genocide Convention was adopted, the international community still faces a continued and growing risk of genocide.
On the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide, the UN launched an appeal for member states to ratify the 1948 convention by the end of 2018.
“Genocide does not happen by accident; it is deliberate, with warning signs and precursors,” said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“Often it is the culmination of years of exclusion, denial of human rights and other wrongs. Since genocide can take place in times of war and in times of peace, we must be ever-vigilant,” he continued.
The Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng echoed similar sentiments, stating: “It is our inaction, our ineffectiveness in addressing the warning signs, that allows it to become a reality. A reality where people are dehumanized and persecuted for who they are, or who they represent. A reality of great suffering, cruelty, and of inhumane acts that have at the basis unacceptable motivations.”
The Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” This includes not only killing members of the group, but also causing serious bodily or mental harm and imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.
Despite the comprehensive definition of genocide in the Convention, genocide has recurred multiple times, Guterres said.
“We are still reacting rather than preventing, and acting only when it is often too late. We must do more to respond early and keep violence from escalating,” he said.
One such case may be Myanmar.
After a year of investigation, the organization Fortify Rights and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum said that there is “mounting” evidence that points to a genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar with Burmese Army soldiers, police, and civilians as the major perpetrators.
“The Rohingya have suffered attacks and systematic violations for decades, and the international community must not fail them now when their very existence in Myanmar is threatened,” said Cameron Hudson from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“Without urgent action, there’s a high risk of more mass atrocities,” he continued.
More than half of Myanmar’s one million Rohingya have fled the country since violence reignited in August.
“They tried to kill us all,” 25-year-old Mohammed Rafiq from Maungdaw Township told researchers when recalling how soldiers gathered villagers and opened fire on them on 30 August. It has been the largest and fastest flow of destitute people across a border since the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.
“There was nothing left. People were shot in the chest, stomach, legs, face, head, everywhere.”
Eyewitness testimony revealed that Rohingya civilians were burned alive, women and girls raped, and men and boys arrested en masse.
“These crimes thrive on impunity and inaction…condemnations aren’t enough,” said Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights Matthew Smith.
On the other side of the border, refugees find themselves living in overcrowded camps with limited access to food, water, and shelter. They are in need of treatment for not only their physical injuries, but also the mental and emotional scars from their traumatic experiences.
IOM spoke to some of the survivor who made the treacherous journey by boat to Bangladesh including 8-year-old Arafat. His entire family including his parents, two brothers, and a sister drowned when the fishing boat carrying them capsized in stormy weather.
“Where will I go now,” he cried, transfixed with shock.
The government’s strict restrictions on Rohingya’s daily lives also point to signs of genocide.
In 2013, authorities placed a two-child limit on Rohingya couples in two predominantly Muslim townships in Rakhine State.
Others have come forward to claim that the crisis in Myanmar may constitute genocide such as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein and the British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Considering Rohingyas’ self-identify as a distinct ethnic group with their own language and culture – and [that they] are also deemed by the perpetrators themselves as belonging to a different ethnic, national, racial or religious group – given all of this, can anyone rule out that elements of genocide may be present?” al-Hussein asked.
Though the UN Human Rights Council recently condemned the systematic and gross violations of human rights in Myanmar, the Security Council has failed to act on the crisis.
As the UN appeals for the remaining 45 member states to ratify the Genocide Convention, what about nations like Myanmar who are already party to the document?
The Convention requires all states to take action to prevent and punish genocide. Not only Myanmar, but the entire international community has failed to protect Rohingya civilians from mass atrocities.
“The world has reacted with horror to the images of their flight, and the stories of murder, rape and arson brought from their still smoldering villages in North Rakhine State. But this horror will have to be matched by action on the part of the international community, if we are to avert a humanitarian disaster on both sides of the border,” said IOM’s Director-General William Lacy Swing.
Perhaps the international community may need to consider additional mechanisms to address and prevent genocide, making sure ‘never again’ really means never again.
To date, a total of 149 member states have ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide

Friday, December 15, 2017

Saudi air campaign targets Yemen’s food supplies


At 11.30pm, 10 nautical miles off Yemen’s western Red Sea coast, seven fishermen were near the end of the four hours it had taken to haul their nets bulging with the day’s catch into their fibreglass boat. Suddenly, away from the illumination of the vessel’s large spotlight, one of the men spotted a black silhouette coming towards them.
Moments later a helicopter began circling overhead. The fishermen were well within the 30 nautical mile boundary they had been warned not to cross by leaflets airdropped on land by the Saudi-led coalition. But, without warning, gunfire erupted from the helicopter.
Osam Mouafa grabbed his friend, Abdullah, dragging him into a corner, curling himself into a protective ball as bullets flew through the boat. Shot in both knees, with a third bullet having grazed his thigh, Osam began to feel water rising around him. “The boat became like a sieve,” he said, sitting next to the wooden stick he now needs to walk.
By the time the onslaught stopped, the captain – a father of eight – and Abdullah were dead. Another crew member, Hamdi, was deafened and paralysed down one side after being hit in the head by shrapnel. All bleeding heavily, the five survivors frantically began bailing water out of the sinking boat.

To read more, click here.

U.S. arms sold to Saudis are killing civilians in Yemen.

Faded pictures of the dead line the walls outside what once was this battered city’s grandest reception hall.
At least 140 people perished here in the Yemeni capital last fall when a Saudi Arabian-led military coalition carried out a pair of airstrikes on a funeral. Human rights groups labeled the attack a possible war crime and said the bombs used were manufactured in the United States.
The attack, one of the deadliest for civilians in the coalition’s relentless air war against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen, helped persuade the Obama administration in December to block the sale of precision-guided munitions to the Saudi military until it addresses problems with its targeting.
But the hold was lifted last month, when President Trump announced a $110-billion package of proposed military sales to the kingdom, part of an effort to shore up a regional alliance against a resurgent Iran. The decision has left many among Yemen’s increasingly desperate population feeling abandoned and betrayed.
“There is nothing in this world that I hate more than Americans,” Ali Mohammed Murshed, a 32-year-old deliveryman in Sana, said as he paused to take in the reception hall’s charred and mangled frame on his way to visit a friend. Murshed used to rent a house nearby, but fled with his family to an in-law’s home after their windows were blown out in the attack.
“With all the arms they have given to Saudi Arabia, the Saudis have achieved nothing after more than two years but killing civilians and destroying infrastructure,” he complained bitterly.
The State Department says the arms package, announced during Trump’s recent visit to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, will help a key Middle East ally defend itself against “malign Iranian influence” and contribute to counter-terrorism operations across the region. In addition to replenishing the kingdom’s dwindling supply of precision-guided bombs, the administration is offering howitzer artillery pieces, Blackhawk helicopters and the antimissile system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD.
The Saudis say they need the weaponry to defend themselves against Yemeni rebels, who they charge are being armed by Shiite Muslim Iran in a bid to increase its clout against the region’s Sunni monarchies. The rebels, known as Houthis, surged out of their northern strongholds in September 2014 and seized control of Yemen’s capital with the help of rogue elements of the armed forces loyal to the country’s deposed strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
 
Six months later, Saudi Arabia assembled a military coalition to restore power to the internationally recognized president, Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who set up a parallel government in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden.
The Houthis have lobbed thousands of mortar shells and rockets into Saudi territory in response to the coalition’s campaign and claimed to have aimed a ballistic missile at Riyadh the day before Trump arrived. (The strike was not successful.)
“We don’t want people to think we are purchasing weapons to have influence,” said a high-ranking Saudi defense official who was not authorized to discuss the deal publicly. “We respect the sovereignty of countries. But if there is a threat to our borders, we need to defend ourselves.”
Although all sides in the war stand accused of abuses, United Nations officials attribute most of the heavy civilian toll to the air campaign waged by Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies. The fighting has killed more than 10,000 people, destroyed vital infrastructure and pushed what was already the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.
Nearly a quarter of Yemen’s 27 million people are “one step away from famine,” U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council last month.
The economy is collapsing; government employees have not been paid for months; prices for food and fuel have skyrocketed; half the country’s health facilities are closed and a raging cholera epidemic is killing hundreds.
“This is not an unforeseen or coincidental result of forces beyond our control,” O’Brien said. “It is a direct consequence of actions of the parties and supporters of the conflict.”
The bustling capital, which is jammed with people displaced by fighting elsewhere, has been spared the worst of the war. But residents live in fear of the coalition jets that roar overhead, unleashing their payloads into densely packed neighborhoods and military installations on the outskirts of the city.
U.N. officials and human rights groups accuse the coalition of recklessly bombing hospitals, markets, schools and homes, in violation of international law.
Human Rights Watch says it has documented 81 potentially unlawful strikes, and of those, 23 were found to have been carried out with U.S.-made bombs. They include a March 2016 strike on a market in the northwestern village of Mastaba that killed more than 100 people and the October attack on the funeral in Sana.
Naser Ali Mohammed was among hundreds who thronged the reception hall that afternoon to offer condolences to a prominent family mourning the death of a senior rebel politician’s father.
The first bomb hit at 3:20 p.m., filling the hall with smoke and flames as parts of the ceiling started to collapse. Less than 10 minutes later, as first responders rushed to the aid of survivors, a second bomb crashed into their midst.
One of Mohammed’s uncles died in the attack, he said. Mohammed, 34, cannot escape the memory. He guards a construction site across the street from the hall’s ruins.
“I saw death before my eyes,” he said, “and until today I still wake up screaming.”
The Saudi-lead coalition acknowledged that one of its jets carried out the attack and blamed faulty intelligence. Saudi military officials say they make every effort to avoid civilian casualties and blame the Houthis, who they say have made hostages of Yemen’s population.
But the growing toll has galvanized opposition in the U.S. to Saudi arms deals.
At the end of a review prompted by the funeral attack, President Obama blocked the sale of thousands of GPS-guided “smart” bomb kits to the Saudi military. Those same weapons are among those that Trump has now green-lighted, although much of the deal still requires congressional approval.
A bipartisan effort to halt the sale, worth about $500 million, was narrowly defeated in the Senate on Tuesday. "This barbaric nation should not be getting our weapons," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who sponsored the resolution.
The U.S. has also resumed some intelligence sharing that was put on hold under Obama, officials on both sides said. Other support was never halted, including aerial refueling for the jets that drop the bombs.
Human rights activists warn that continuing to provide such help to a country accused of violating the laws of war puts the U.S. at risk of complicity in future unlawful attacks. “Under international law, you don’t need to want a weapon that you deliver to be used unlawfully to potentially be guilty of aiding and abetting,” said Kristine Beckerle, the Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The support has also generated more hostility to the U.S. in a country where American special forces are stepping up counter-terrorism operations against Al Qaeda’s most potent affiliate, including an ill-fated raid in January that killed two dozen civilians along with militants and a U.S. Navy SEAL commando.
The week that Trump was in Riyadh, thousands took to the streets in Sana to protest “U.S. terror in Yemen.” In mosques across the city, imams railed against the U.S.-Saudi arms deal at Friday prayers.
“This proves that America has never been the guardian of democracy and human rights, like it tries to portray itself,” said Mohammed Aiyash, the 40-year-old editor of a now-shuttered Sana newspaper.
U.S. defense officials say they do not select the coalition’s targets and have made their concerns known about the number of civilian casualties in Yemen.
“The U.S. continues to recommend that the Saudi military leadership investigate all incidents of civilian casualties allegedly caused by airstrikes and has asked that the coalition reveal the results of these investigations publicly," said Christopher Sherwood, a Pentagon spokesman.
Some defense officials question the wisdom of denying the Saudis precision-guided munitions that could, if used correctly, actually help reduce such casualties.
“There’s an honest question: Do you save more civilian lives if you try to guide the Saudis, or you leave them to handle things on their own?” said Jon B. Alterman, who heads the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “All the military people I’ve spoken to come down on the side that you are going to save a lot more lives if you work with them.”
Some U.S. officials have suggested that it may be necessary to step up military support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Yemen in order to bring the Houthis and their allies to the negotiating table.
“Our goal is to push this conflict into the U.N.-brokered negotiations to ensure that it ends as soon as possible,” Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis said in Riyadh last month.
Critics counter that the U.S. is fueling an unwinnable war. But even if a settlement is reached, it is unlikely to bring an end to Yemen’s misery. Many here expect fighting to break out between the Houthis and Saleh supporters; senior figures in the south are agitating for secession, and militants loyal to Al Qaeda and Islamic State are capitalizing on the chaos to extend their reach.
“Yemen is just wickedly hard,” Alterman said. “People want obvious answers. Yemen doesn’t give you any obvious answers.”