The Norwegian Refugee Council’s Middle East Media Adviser, has described the US President’s decision to veto an end to military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, ‘a tragically missed opportunity.’
Karl Schembri told Newsbook.com.mt that this would have been a chance for the US President to set an example, holding their ally in the region accountable for their attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.
‘They are not doing that. What President Trump has done is condemn more Yemeni civilians to more death and suffering.’
Schembri’s comments come after shortlived efforts by the US Congress to try and invoke what is known as the 1973 War Powers Resolution or ‘War Powers Act’. The resolution actively limits the President’s executive powers to use US military forces in a foreign conflict or intervention without the approval of Congress.
The Act says that the President must formally notify Congress that within 48 hours, US forces will be deployed to engage in military hostilities on foreign soil. The President would have up to 60 days, roughly two months to carry out the objectives. If Congress do not authorize the action, the President has to repatriate US forces within another 30 days, 90 days in total if the operation isn’t sanctioned.
Attacks on civilians
Schembri says that had the President agreed, it wouldn’t mean an end to the conflict but it would be an important step in coming to terms with the suffering which the civilian population has been enduring for the past 5 years of the conflict and the further threat of civilian attacks and casualties.
Although both sides of the conflict, the Houthis (Ansar Allah) and the Saudi-led coalition are accused of attacking civilians, there is evidence of schools and hospitals, even displacement camps, being attacked using US made munitions heavily supplied to the Saudi-led coalition.
‘This is US taxapers money being used here. It means there has to be an account of how it’s being used. These are being used to attack schools and hospitals. These are war crimes. Instead the Saudi-led coalition is getting away with murder. I even know of there being attacks on funerals and wedding halls. This cannot go on. President Trump had an opportunity to move towards accountability and towards protection of civilians. Instead, he squandered this by vetoing the resolution,’ Schembri said.
When asked about the current situation on the ground, Schembri explains that Yemen is host to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in which 24 million people are in need of aid.
The country is understood to be crippled both politically and economically linked in part to a blockade of Yemen’s air and sea ports, preventing commercial items and aid distribution to reach its people. Instead, they are reliant on what is allowed to enter via the Saudi-led coalition.
Schembri explains that the fluctuation of the fighting also means that a number of those who have fled their homes, have actually been internally displaced multiple times from what were initially safe displacement camps or more peaceful parts of the country.
Then there are the millions who have hit the poverty line. Schembri says that as the crisis worsens, so to the number of people impacted increases.
‘There are public servants; nurses, doctors, teachers, people working with the government, who have not been paid their salaries. They continue to report to work because they feel its important to continue to keep doing their work. But it means they cannot aford to buy meals for their famiies … Millions of people are starving. There are children that are so malnourished you can’t tell if they will survive, many die silent and cruel deaths,’ Schembri adds.
What have I done to deserve this?
Concluding our interview, Schembri talks about the father of one of the families affected by the fighting, Majed Al Wahidi.
One night in November 2018 his house was hit by a tank shell. The explosion killed four of his six daughters and serious injured the other two who are understood to still be recovering in hospital.
Schembri explains that when he spoke with the school teacher, Majed asked him ‘What have I done to deserve this? I try to teach these children how to co-exist.’
‘These are people who have no say in what is happening politically or militarily. They are losing their families in the middle of the night and they end up baring the brunt of this brutal horrific war.’