Dublin DJ Calvin James talks emergency response work in Syria and how it feels to encounter ISIS

Dublin DJ Calvin James talks emergency response work in Syria and how it feels to encounter ISIS

Calvin James is a Dublin born DJ who spent 6 months in the Rojava strip in Northern Syria. There he worked for the Kuridsh Red Crescent who are a 24/7 emergency response service. He went there because he wanted to help the Yazidi population, who face mass genocide by ISIS. He is now back in Ireland and has been running Syria’s vibes for the past 15 months. Syrias Vibes is a music event which supports the innocent victims of the wars in Syria and Iraq by raising money for medical, psychological, and social services for locals in both countries. He sat down with me to tell me his fascinating story.

So how exactly did you get involved, from your Dublin apartment all the way to Northern Syria?

The situation there was always on my mind, but it was when I received an e-mail from my friend in
Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) in April 2015 that things started to happen. He was over there fighting with
the YPG – who are a Kurdish resistance group fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. I had no interest in fighting,
but I told him about my social care background. Luckily the YPG were looking for healthcare workers….and before I knew it I was at the airport and making my way to the Syrian border.
So I stayed at a YPG camp for three weeks, but soon had to return to Dublin for personal reasons. At
the time I thought it was a “divine intervention” – a guardian angel telling me to cop on and get
home! But back home I just couldn’t stop thinking of the situation I left behind. So I decided to
return in February 2016.

What was it like meeting the YPG – did you have much training?

It was a good introduction, and there were many other Westerners who were there in a fighting
capacity. Actually, one of the first things I was shown was how to use basic weapons – simply for the
fact that there was always the threat of ISIS or a Turkish intervention, so it was for self-defence
reasons. Apart from that I learned the basics of the Kurdish language, and there was also a small bit
of ideological training.

On your return you started working with the Kurdish Red Crescent. Was there much of a routine
or was it more spontaneous work?

It depended on the day’s events. We were based in a city called Qamishli, which wasn’t
experiencing daily battle but there was always the ISIS threat. The first couple of months were a bit
slow as the rescue centre was being set up. But by April things were in full swing, and I was
responding to ISIS attacks or battles between the Syrian regime and the Kurds. But it was sporadic,
and there were days you spent just hanging about – I became pretty familiar with Syrian Soap
Operas!

You also came to the assistance of wounded ISIS fighters. It must have been difficult to remain
compassionate and professional at those times…

It was a bit surreal. The first time I met ISIS was in a town called Amuda. We rushed there
because we heard of a suicide bombing – it turned out it was a failed suicide bombing and the ISIS
fighter was in a local hospital. So we went over and there he was, lying unconscious with severe burns,
aged around 22. I actually touched his body for a moment, so that was a bit of a freaky experience.
And indeed, many of the Kurdish Red Crescent would have known someone who was killed or raped
by ISIS. But we always stuck to our ethos of simply helping anyone who needed it.

July 27 th 2016 was a particularly dark day out there. Can you describe what happened?

That was the day an ISIS truck bomb in Qamishli killed 50 people and left 150 others injured. I was
just chilling in my room before hearing the most crazy bang noise, and then the air conditioner in
my room just fell to the ground. There was a massive mushroom cloud outside, and it was obvious
then something serious had happened. So we arrived at the scene, trying to get as many survivors
as possible. It was the most intense heat ever that day, 50 degrees I think. We had no water, so I
ended up drinking some dirty pipe water not caring of the damage it could do with me. Everything
happened so quickly, and some dude just dropped this dead girl on my arms. We rushed to the
ambulance with her and only then realised “what are we doing bringing her to hospital, she’s already
dead” and then rushed back to try and get the survivors – that kind of hazy and panicked state of mind
sums up what it was like. It was actually my Dad’s birthday that day, but unfortunately I’ll be associating
it with something else from now on. Nothing prepares you for a day like that.

How about the local population, what was your relationship like with them?

Overall very good. There would be UN aid trucks passing through Rojava on the way to Aleppo,
and the local populations were frustrated they weren’t stopping in Rojava. I think they felt a bit
neglected by some other organisations. So they really did appreciate any humanitarian assistance
they got, and they saw us as neutral. I also think the fact I was Irish helped, because of ours and
the Kurds shared struggle– there was the occasional Bobby Sand’s reference.

And what about their daily lives – was there much of a sense of normality?

There actually was, and I think absence of normality can sometimes be a bit of a misconception
about parts of warzones. It was definitely the case here any ways – people went to school, had
weddings, socialised, played sports. Myself and some YPG friends even treated ourselves to an
occasional couple of cans, just to get our mind away from it all. Obviously things would have been
different in Aleppo due to the constant chaos. In Rojava though it was “carry on as normal” while
always been aware of the ISIS threat.

Syria’s woes are far from over, but there is a sense that the Assad regime is going to hold. What
do you think that means for the future of the Syrian Kurds and Rojava?

It really depends whether the Assad regime is willing to grant them autonomy. At the moment
I’m reading that he would be open to negotiation on the matter, and I think many of them would
find that satisfactory. But there are still a few issues here and there – for example the Arab’s in the
region don’t always have the best opinion of the Kurds. So there are interesting times ahead to see
how it all pans out. Unfortunately though the Kurds can sometimes be a bit naïve about the United
States’ role in all of this – some of them even have a positive opinion of Trump. They don’t seem to
realise the U.S. might just throw them under the bus when it’s all over, just as what happened in the
Gulf War.

Tell me a bit more about Syria’s Vibes – how did the idea come about?

I just felt there was a lack of humanitarian charities and NGO’s in the region – many of them
seemed to be helping displaced Syrian’s in nearby Lebanon and Jordan. So I wanted to leave my
own blueprint, and started raising funds back home through club nights and other events.
Initially we raised funds just for emergency work, but we started to realise that other areas weren’t
being looked after. By this I mean there were still girls in part of Syria receiving no education at all –
and it’s the polar opposite of how things are in the West, children actually want to go to school
there! There was also a severe lack of psychological support for the Yazidi’s, who have been left
traumatised from ISIS horrors. So at the moment we’re really trying to branch out to these
untapped areas and fund some important projects and services.

Your story is inspiring, but what would you say to a young Irish person considering a similar
endeavour?

Learn a language – or two! In all seriousness though, you need to do as much homework as
possible before going out. I was lucky in that I had a very strong base and team, with everyone
looking out for each other and helping each other along the way. So it’s a combination of making
sure you have as much research done as possible, while also ensuring you’re with the right company.

Head along to Syrian Vibes which is happening tonight at The Soundhouse, Eden Quay, 7pm. Check out their Facebook event for details.

 

Photo: Calvin James with Yazidis

Brian has a degree in International Security and Conflict from DCU, and continues to have a keen interest in the field.  He currently works for Concern Worldwide. 

The Forgotten Frontlines of East Ukraine

The Forgotten Frontlines of East Ukraine

Introduction

Three years since the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine and Russia find themselves at a
perpetual impasse. Daily fighting continues in the Eastern part of the country, with the
current death toll surpassing 10,000 and a further 2.5-3 million people left displaced. With
the Kremlin still denying the presence of Russian troops in the country, combined with a
growing apathetic international community, the fear is that the conflict has become a
protracted one.

 

The Political Context – Denial, Division, and Apathy

Mistrust and lack of transparency continue to define the conflict, with both sides taking part
in indiscriminate shelling and violence. The source of friction lies in the so called De Facto
states of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic”, where Pro-
Russian separatists continue to seek greater autonomy from Ukraine in view of establishing
separate states. Whether this pursuit is backed by the Russian government is something
less clear. On the one hand Vladimir Putin has admitted occasional military support by
Russian forces in Donetsk and Luhansk, but denies them having a regular presence there.
Less ambiguous is the Ukrainian government’s role, whose use of force has drawn criticism
from human rights groups and international monitors. At present, the fighting between the
two groups is mainly concentrated in the cities of Avdiivka and Mariupol.

Internationally, the conflict has taken on a backstage role in light of events in Syria.
Regardless, continued United States support for Ukraine in the form of military training and
non-lethal aid, as well as the continued issuing of sanctions against Russia, means “cold
war” rhetoric remains close to the surface. This has been exacerbated further with the
ongoing debate of whether the U.S should provide Ukraine with lethal aid. Here in Europe,
a lack of political will seems to be the defining characteristic, with neither France nor
Germany offering much inspiration in terms of diplomacy. With Brexit on the horizon this
apathy is only likely to increase, as the UK’s exit may mean it will no longer be able to wield
its influence against Russian aggression.

 

Human Rights – Repression In The Name of Security

With over 2000 civilian deaths, and over 2.5 million people displaced, the consequences for
ordinary Ukrainian citizens have been devastating. For those who have survived, the highly
nationalistic nature of the conflict means that security forces have created a climate of
suspicion and fear. This was highlighted in 2017 annual reports by both Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch, which outlined how dozens of civilians were held
captive and tortured by both the Ukrainian authorities and Pro-Russian separatists, on
suspicion of collaborating with the ‘other side’ or as part of a “prisoner exchange” strategy –
often on tenuous or baseless grounds. Such developments are particularly concerning in
the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, due to a lack of checks and balances.

Away from the conflict zone, the human rights situation in the now annexed Crimea leaves
much to be concerned, where Russian authorities have targeted dissenters and minority
groups – particularly the Crimean Tatars. Ed O’Donovan works for Irish based NGO ‘Front
Line Defenders’, which seeks to protect human rights defenders at work. He explained how
human right defender’s (HRD’s) in Crimea face many challenges in the newly annexed
region. “Since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, the Russian authorities in the
region have consistently targeted HRD’s in an attempt to whitewash the human rights
violations taking place”, said Ed, who describes how the authorities subject HRD’s to
“physical attack, home surveillance, criminal prosecution, and unlawful detention, while
also banning public demonstration in support of minorities.” Indeed, the 2017 Frontline
Defenders award winner is Emil Kurbedinov, a Tartar human rights lawyer who has
documented violations against Tartars and assisted those who are in the firing line. Emil was
arrested by local authorities and sentenced to 10 days administrative detention for
“propagandizing for extremist organisations”. Ed says it’s vital that there is international
support for figures such as Emil “so that we can contribute to his security in a region that is
largely forgotten.”

 

The Humanitarian Response

Homes, hospitals, schools, and vital infrastructure continue to be devastated by the conflict,
and an estimated 3.8 million people in Ukraine are in need of assistance, according to the
World Health Organisation. GOAL ceased their programme in Ukraine last year, but prior to
that had been aiding families and supporting the isolated and elderly. Sebastien
Lambroschini, who was GOAL’s Country Director in Ukraine but is now working for French
NGO ‘ACTED’, feels it is important that psychosocial support is also a key priority. “You have
thousands and thousands of people who are living within shelling range, that’s obviously
going to have a traumatic effect on them and provoke stress. What makes it even more
difficult is that anything to do with mental health is highly stigmatised in Ukraine, which
means that people won’t often seek help.”

However, Sebastien feels that livelihoods can only be restored properly in Ukraine once the
government starts to look at the bigger socio-economic changes taking place. “We’re
looking at a situation where the whole socio-economic fabric of the region has been
redrawn by the conflict”, he says. “The separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk were
once the economic centres for many people from small towns and areas– now they have
lost access to them. It is vital that the government firstly accepts and finds a way to map
out and deal with these new economic realities. It’s the much bigger question at stake.”

 

The Way Forward

For now the fighting and death toll looks likely to continue, with no end game in sight.
Indeed, unlike the so called “frozen” conflicts which are symptomatic of the Post-Soviet
space, Ukraine represents a conflict that is teetering along gradually without moments of
escalation but without any obvious solutions.

Long-term solutions will require reaching out to moderate factions on both sides and using
their influence to bring compromise and concessions. Nevertheless, a few positive moves
could help de-escalate tensions in the short-term while also improving the humanitarian
situation on the ground.

Suspending lethal aid proposals: Top U.S. officials continue to debate the sending of lethal
aid to Ukraine in the form of heavy weaponry. Such a move, however, would only lead to
more civilian deaths while bringing tensions with Russia to the brink. It is vital that more
moderate diplomats stand up to Neoconservatives in Washington to prevent such a move
taking place, while also ensuring Ukraine’s right to a proportionate self-defence.

Protecting NGO’s and IGO’s: Both NGO’s and Intergovernmental organisations are facing
limitations in their work, particularly in Crimea and the De Facto separatist states. One
example is monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE),
who have faced intimidation and threats from separatists during their mission inspections.
Ensuring that those behind such threats and intimidation are held responsible and
accountable would go some way in helping de-normalise such developments.

Continuing Reforms: The IMF has assisted Ukraine with $17.5 billion to improve the
economy and prevent corruption. While there have been some notable changes and
improvements, many lay citizens continue to move to Poland for work. The government
must focus on using these reform packages to support small businesses and reducing
unemployment, particularly in area’s bordering the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic.

 

Photo Credit: Sasha Maksymenko 

Brian has a degree in International Security and Conflict from DCU, and continues to have a keen interest in the field.  He currently works for Concern Worldwide. 

The Indian Presidential Elections: A local reaction

The Indian Presidential Elections: A local reaction

Ram Nath Kovind, a member of the Dalit community, was elected the president of India on the 17th of July 2017.  Dalits are an oppressed community who are at the bottom of the Indian caste system. The caste system is a social hierarchy where those at the bottom will always be at a disadvantage when it comes to education, employment and quality of life. The new president is a man who, in a lot of ways, has defied social norms here. He became a prosperous lawyer and served two terms in the upper house of the Indian Parliament before gaining the presidency. However, does that mean he will do anything to improve the lives of his Dalit community?

I’ve met so many people who have lived here their whole lives and after talking to twelve of them this is what I have learned; the Indian president can be considered a ‘rubber stamp’. He has no executive power but many Indians believe that he has the potential to highlight the inadequacies of government policies and inspire citizens through his words. People feel like they can relate to him because of his caste, and nobody I met has denied that the caste system it is very much alive.

 

Here’s what a few of the local people had to say.

“Kovind is media shy, yet an expert on constitutional matters as he was a supreme court lawyer. It is good that he doesn’t play to the gallery…..but now a days we all know that the Bharatiya Janata Party government have attacked massively on the dalits, and so to shift the eyes of the common people away from their attacks, I think they nominated Kovind” ~ Ushasi – Female student at Jadavpur University

 

“The Indian president is not only a source of veto but also a source of inspiration to Indian educated youths…..It is not necessary that an Indian president should be selected from a political base. He/she may be a writer, musician, economist or scientist. But he/she should be an inspiration and have efficiency to use his/her veto power to save the vulnerable section in the Indian society” ~ Kamalika – Educational Coordinator at Sabuj Sangha

 

“I think the caste system is very much alive in India. People still take pride in being born as an upper caste here. Having Dalits in government positions cannot radically change the thought process of people who are still embracing the caste system” ~ Sachin Dinesh

 

And on the subject of social change in India, there were the following thoughts.

“Everybody needs a dream, then it’s easy. Just one small step, small steps all the time. And then one day you can become a government school teacher” ~ Noorjahan – Teacher with Sabuj Sangha

 

“The educated and passionate youth of the country are the biggest drivers of social change in India”  ~ Tarinee – Female medical student

 

If you would like to support the empowerment of the Dalit community, you can support the Dalit Foundation

Pictured:Ram Nath Kovind. Photo by Terapant; Screenshot by Tiven Gonsalves

Palm oil: ravaging the planets lungs and tearing communities apart

Palm oil: ravaging the planets lungs and tearing communities apart

What is palm oil? And why is it such a problem that so many products contain it?

Palm oil is derived from the palm fruit grown on the West African oil palm tree. It is found in food, cosmetics, cleaning products, candles, even in the fuel tanks of our diesel cars. It is the most commonly used vegetable oil worldwide – and for good reason: it can be used in a wide array of products, it has the highest yield of any oil crop, there is a lack of economically competitive substitutes, and it is the cheapest oil to produce and refine. There’s just one problem: the alarming spread of oil palm plantations is destroying the planet’s lungs, and decimating the communities that depend on them for survival.

Liberia, in West Africa, has been ravaged by 14 years of recent civil war, rampant corruption, and Ebola. What’s more, it has now fallen prey to the relentless pursuit of land by multinational agribusinesses. The rich, biodiverse, carbon storing forests that are being depleted in favour of oil palm plantations in Liberia are home to hundreds of communities that depend on these forests for their livelihood.

James Otto, director of the Corporate Governance and Community Land Rights program at the Sustainability and Development Institute (SDI), spoke to Stand.ie about the work they do. As part of the program, the SDI team travel for hours on crater-covered roads in their robust Jeep, training forest communities on their legal rights and informing them that any company encroaching on their land must abide by the international standard of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

This empowers them to resist corporate land grabs and even equips them with phones outfitted with the TIMBY (This Is My Back Yard) app, which allows on-the-ground reporting anywhere in the world. SDI acts as an amplifier of the voices of these communities, uniting locals and instilling a sense of social cohesion, and constantly supporting them to take the fight to those with the power to influence and change the law.

A large part of the problem is that the land these communities are living on is categorised as ‘customary land’, which means that it is ultimately the Liberian government that owns it. SDI have been campaigning for the passage of the Land Rights Act which would give communities secure access to land and secure land tenure. This bill is currently before the National Legislature, however campaigners complain that it is being ignored. A looming election means the prospects of the Act being passed in this government are less than optimistic.

This situation is having dire effects on the ground. In Grand Bassa county, the livelihoods of the Jogbahn Clan are being devastated due to the actions of a British company, Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO). The clan have been resisting the encroachment of EPO on their land since 2007, since the beginning of EPO’s application to plant oil palm on their land. Nevertheless, in total disregard to the objections of the affected communities, in 2012 the company cleared and planted some of the community’s land, destroying crops and farmland. They then forcibly conducted a land survey, again without the consent of the communities. The communities attempted to halt the unlawful survey, which resulted in an altercation between the communities and EPO, with EPO receiving support from the police support unit (PSU). Incidences of fierce intimidation and beatings by EPO and the PSU were reported as locals marched to the county capital to protest, with some community members requiring hospital treatment.

Jogbahn Clan
During their ordeal, police and EPO officers berated them for being “against development”. If human rights abuses,land grabbing, and ignoring the international legal standard of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)  is ‘development’, then maybe we need to re-think what constitutes development. Palm oil plantations are systematically destroying the forests that local people in Liberia depend on.

The Jogbahn Clan are still resisting EPO, and recent events involving forced signatures and coercion do not paint a pretty picture. Despite the proposed implementation of progressive EU policies to stop use of palm oil by 2020, a doubling in demand for palm oil is nevertheless still predicted for the middle of the century. A host of palm oil companies are resisting the moves by the EU, with many countries threatening a trade dispute if a ban on palm oil is put in place.

The situation is bleak, but not hopeless. If the Land Rights Act is passed, it will give communities more control  over how their land is used. In Europe, we can show solidarity with the indigenous Liberians by:

 

Meaghan has a BA (Intl) in Psychology from NUIG. Taking part in the first ever Ideas Collective re-ignited her passion for environmental and social justice which led her to leave her job in Diageo for Friends of the Earth. Between January 2016 and May 2017 she progressed from Young FoE intern, to Activism Officer, to Activism, Education & Outreach Manager and finally to her current position, Head of Mobilisation. She is coordinator of Young Friends of the Earth, who meet weekly and are always open to new members.

 

Protecting academics in the post-truth era

Protecting academics in the post-truth era

Scholars At Risk protects academics, artists, writers, and other intellectuals threatened in their home countries, writes Hiram Moylan

Freedom of speech has been a controversial topic in recent times. As a basic human right, it offers a voice to minorities and critics of society. Conversely, it has granted a platform to those who openly speak of hatred and bigotry.

Despite the progression of society in its ability to accept more varied worldviews in the last decade, there are still a number of violations to freedom of speech internationally. One of these is academic freedom; that scholars may teach or communicate ideas or facts without being targeted for censorship, persecution, or imprisonment.

Scholars At Risk (SAR) has spent nearly two decades trying to protect this freedom. SAR is an organisation dedicated to the protection and support of the principles of academic freedom, along with the human rights of scholars internationally. On behalf of academics, artists, writers, and other intellectuals who are threatened in their home countries, Scholars At Risk arranges their sanctuary at other universities in various countries. The reasoning behind its foundation comes from the occasions when scholars attempt to communicate certain ideas that could impact negatively on authorities or political entities, they can face serious consequences, which include unlawful persecution or even death.

Since its formation in 1999 at the Human Rights Program in the University of Chicago, SAR has assisted in the relocation and protection of over 700 academics. Along with transferring them from unsafe and potentially life-threatening situations, SAR also aids these individuals financially and socially, connecting them with other faculty members in their field.

For example, the research of an unnamed public health professor from North Africa into infant mortality rates lead to the discovery that his government were declaring a much lower figure in official reports than reality. When the professor went public with these findings, he lost his job and was imprisoned by the state. This was one of many cases that led to the foundation of SAR.

Over the past 17 years, SAR has been involved in a number of instances where a scholar’s human rights have been infringed. More often than not, those they work with are facing prison sentences or public disgrace. With this, they have also developed a project known as the Academic Freedom MONITOR run by volunteers worldwide. Researchers identify and document attacks on third level academics in order to develop a better understanding of the nature and reasons for these incidents.

In response to the various attacks, SAR coordinates Action Plans that call upon governments and officials to protect the human rights of members of academic communities. The volatile nature of certain political regimes in our world has left many figures in education fearful to disclose their opinions or research, with SAR’s aim being to protect this supposedly inalienable right. Being students in a western society often leaves us ignorant of the struggles of our peers globally.

In “the era of post-truth”, we need to set and continue the standard of respecting academic freedom. Many of the freedoms we take for granted are not respected across oceans and borders, but this can change. Scholars At Risk has protected academics with the same credentials and views as our own lecturers here in Ireland. In defending the academic freedoms of older generations, we ensure our own freedoms for the future, something that because of the current political climate, we might have to live without.

Scholars At Risk’s network stretches to 400 institutions in 39 countries, and consistently look for volunteer help. See scholarsatrisk.org for details.

Pictured is Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa, a law student and activist imprisoned in Thailand for nonviolent expressive activity

Conflict increases humanitarian need in Yemen

Conflict increases humanitarian need in Yemen

Thamil Ananthavinayagan draws our attention to the civil war and increasing humanitarian need unfolding in Yemen.

While the ferocious war in Syria casts its long and dark shadow, another human catastrophe is unfolding and goes largely unnoticed by popular discourse: the war in Yemen.

Background

Since the Yemeni state was formed in 1990 with the unification of Yemeni Arab Republic in the north, and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in the south, the country has seen a number of uprisings. The military officer Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled North Yemen since 1978, became leader and was eventually forced out of power during the Arab Spring in 2011.

There have been numerous uprisings against President al-Hadi and the new government. Though it is often presented as a two party conflict, the northern Shia Houthis and the Sunni Hadi government, in reality there are many parties involved including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and southern secessionists, Hirak. Most Yemenis do not support either the president or the northern rebels; rather, they are part of much smaller groups with their own identity, ideology, grievances and political goals, from secessionists in the south to Salafists in Taiz and Aden and tribal leaders in the north.

“Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years”

A UN-sponsored dialogue that started in November 2011 between the multiple stakeholders failed in 2014, leaving the country open to a brutal conflict which erupted at the end of March 2015.

Armed Houthis, supported by Iran entered Sana’a in September 2014 and gradually took over government institutions in early 2015. Shortly after, Mr.al-Hadi’s government, supported by the Saudi government, left the country. In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition of 10 Arab countries (with Western military supplies) initiated a military campaign to restore Mr. al-Hadi’s government, resulting in their return in November 2015. While pro-Hadi forces have made military gains recently, the conflict continues unabated.

The United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report that both, the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels, have deliberately targeted civilians, while certain attacks could amount to crimes against humanity and a breach of international law.

Humanitarian consequences

An increasing toll of civilian deaths and casualties across the country, displacement, and severe destruction of civilian infrastructure are direct results of this conflict.

The statistics of this conflict are harrowing:

  • Over 2.5 million individuals have been internally displaced
  • 6,000 people have been killed
  • Over 30,000 people have been injured
  • 21 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance (80% of the total population)

United Nations agencies have warned of mass famine, brought on by the blockade of Yemen’s sea and air ports imposed by the Saudi coalition, which prevents vital food, fuel and medical supplies from entering the country. Aid agencies say Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is now the worst in the world. As the need continue to grow, agencies on the ground are struggling to cope. The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer has said, “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years.”

United Nations

In March the warring parties agreed to a cessation of hostilities, following confidence-building prisoner swaps, allowing the start of negotiations in Kuwait. The talks have been on the brink of collapse due to the rebel’s refusal to acknowledge the government’s legitimacy and remain fragile  in light of recent Saudi airstrikes.

The war in Yemen is destroying the social fabric of the country, and the country risks becoming a permanently failed state.  The only beneficiaries of the current war are al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, who have flourished as a result of the conflict. The United Nations must find ways to agree on the distribution of power, restriction of arms and a reconstruction scheme for Yemen’s post-conflict society.

Action from home

Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, recently announced that Ireland will contribute €2 million to the UN’s Yemen Humanitarian Pooled Fund. So far this fund has reached just 17% of the $1.8 billion required to reach the 21 million people in need.

Oxfam have a petition asking the UK government to stop supplying weapons and to use its influence to push for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, so that vital humanitarian assistance can be delivered to people in Yemen.

Time and time again we keep repeating: no more Rwandas, no more Srebrenicas, no more Sri Lankas. However, as Mark Twain once famously pronounced: “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme”. It is time to act, otherwise the aftermath of our numbness will compel us to react.

Author: Thamil Ananthavinayagan

Thamil is a PhD researcher at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, Galway. His thesis concerns the Sri Lanka human rights infrastructure in its interplay with the United Nations human rights machinery. He did his undergraduate studies at the universities of Bonn and Marburg/Germany, followed by a LL.M. in Human Rights at the University of Maastricht/The Netherlands.

Photo credit: World Food Programme food distribution in Raymah, Yemen, Julien Harneis, Creative Commons license.