This is baby Udai. He was five months old when this picture was taken. He died five days later, finally succumbing to the ravages of starvation. According to his parents, he vomited yellow fluid from his nose and mouth before finally ceasing to breathe.
Baby Udai was one of 1.3 million under-fives currently suffering from malnutrition in Yemen. According to Save the Children, almost 90% of Yemeni children are in desperate need of humanitarian aid, and almost 10 million have no access to safe water, making the current crisis in Yemen the “largest humanitarian crisis in the world right now”, although “not enough people are talking about it”. Around half of the country is on the brink of famine, and according to the UN 21.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, compared with 12.2 million in Syria. As Professor of International Human Rights Law Dan Kovalik writes in the Huffington Post, the US-UK-Saudi-led destruction of Yemen clearly constitutes genocide. According to the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, any of the following three acts constitute genocide: “(a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”. As Kovalik writes, “there is no doubt that the Saudi-led coalition, with U.S. [and UK] help, is carrying out all three of these wrongful acts, and a on a massive scale”.
UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia have totalled around £6bn over the past year alone, while leading human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, alongside the UN, have simultaneously compiled clear evidence that the Saudi-led bombing coalition is targeting Yemeni civilians. According to Donatella Rovera, the Senior Crisis Response Advisor at Amnesty International, “The Houthis and their allies are the declared targets of the [Saudi-led] coalition’s 5-month-old air campaign. In reality, however, it is civilians . . . who all too often pay the price of this war. Hundreds have been killed in such strikes while asleep in their homes, when going about their daily activities, or in the very places where they had sought refuge from the conflict”. Moreover, a “coalition-imposed blockade on commercial imports remains in place in much of the country and the ability of international aid agencies to deliver desperately needed supplies continues to be hindered by the conflict”. The U.N. World Food Program has also warned that the primary victims of the mass starvation now ravaging Yemen are “women and children”.
UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond claims that the Saudi-led coalition is “defending the legitimate government” of President Hadi in Yemen. This offers an interesting insight into official lexicon: a government is “legitimate” if it is serving our interests, and “illegitimate” if it is serving the interests of its population while not showing proper respect for American and British business interests. Hammond’s declaration is reminiscent of that of American intellectuals that America went to war in Indochina in defence of the South Vietnamese government, which was itself a US creation. As noted by British expert on international affairs Finian Cunningham, “Hadi was kicked out because he reneged for three years on a promised transition to democracy, as demanded by the Yemeni population”. Hadi has, for three years, allowed American drones to rampage across Yemen, murdering suspects and massacring countless innocent civilians in the process, with British support. The potential for the Yemeni working class, who now comprise a large swathe of the population opposed to the regime, rising up and taking power for themselves is too great a risk for the US and Britain, who treasure having a reliable puppet regime firmly in power. The effect of the political turmoil on American corporate interests is already evident; the Wall Street Journal reported in March of 2015 that American oil corporations such as Occidental Petroleum have flown their staff out of Yemen in response to the uprisings. This is clearly intolerable; destruction of the country and genocide of the population is preferable to having American corporate and hegemonic interests threatened by the stupid natives wanting to manage their own affairs.
All of this is met with astonishing silence in Britain, even though our role in this atrocity goes far beyond simply supplying Saudi Arabia with the weapons used to murder civilians; statements from the Saudi foreign ministry reveal that British and American military personnel are in the command and control rooms in which airstrikes are planned and launched, making this very much an Anglo-American war. The silence in the press and in Parliament over this mass-murder campaign has been shameful. Aside from some courageous reporting in The Independent and The Guardian, and snippets here and there in other newspapers, the genocide of the population of some Third World country is simply not deemed important. As the intellectual and political class fuss and fight over Brexit, which has been characterised by petty squabbling on a farcical level, Yemen has been dying a slow death, and it’s all been funded and supported by us. We killed baby Udai, just as we’re killing the children of Yemen right now. A referendum on Brexit is important, but perhaps an even more important referendum would be on whether we should be committing genocide in poor, starving nations, or on whether we should have a press which reports these things to us so that we can actually do something about it, instead of remaining complicit.
The devastation currently being wrought on Yemen is off the record. The situation is strikingly similar to the situation in East Timor from 1975 to 1999; most of the violence and savagery was carried out by a regional aggressor, in this case Indonesia, but could only continue with the eager support and participation of America and Britain. The destruction of East Timor was arguably the worst genocide of the 20th Century after the Holocaust; up to a third of East Timor’s population was exterminated. Ordinary citizens in America and Britain were kept almost completely uninformed about the situation in East Timor by the mainstream media, which meant that no large-scale protest movement could form, which in turn meant that the crimes could continue unabated. The devastation in Yemen has not yet reached the level of devastation in East Timor at the height of atrocities; there is still some hope that the crimes will stop, and a few pieces of Yemen may survive if we’re lucky. If not, Yemen will almost certainly become extinct “as a cultural and historic entity”, as the historian Bernard Fall warned would happen to Vietnam in 1967 during the American onslaught.
When jihadis carry out indefensible and abhorrent attacks in Brussels or Paris, the media and political figures rush to condemn what has happened and remind us of the humanity of the victims. When we destroy a starving Third World country for the sake of advancing strategic interests, the reaction is the same every time: “meh”. The people we slaughter are unpeople – they’re not really human and their lives don’t matter. While our leaders complain about the intolerable burden of a few refugees fleeing our crimes wanting to enter Britain in search of a better life, human misery is reaching new peaks all over the world; much of it is down to us. We have the choice of allowing it to continue or making it stop.