Friday, April 29, 2011

Yemen and Bahrain : What about the responsibility to protect civilians and support democracy in Yemen and Bahrain?

We’re hearing a lot of talk about protecting civilians and promoting democracy in the Arab world. This focuses largely on Libya and to a lesser extent on Syria, as if these two were the only dictatorships killing their own people.

Meanwhile, in Yemen, over 130 of the thousands of people shot by snipers on behalf of dictator Ali Abdullah Al Saleh have been killed, thirteen of them this week. Victims include 26 children killed and 200 wounded so far on UN figures (1) – (8). Far from backing the protesters, US military aid to Saleh and American and British training of his forces continues (9) – (11). It’s significant that while some of the Yemeni military has turned against Saleh over the killings the US and British trained special forces remain loyal to him (12). So much for British and American training promoting respect for democracy and human rights. While Syria's ambassador had his invitation to the royal wedding revoked over massacres of civilians by President Assad's forces, Yemen’s ambassador was still invited to the Royal Wedding.

In Bahrain, journalists, Physicians for Human Rights and Amnesty International report King Khalifa’s forces have shot and killed unarmed protesters, hijacking ambulances , and entering hospitals to beat, threaten, arrest, torture wounded protesters and doctors, nurses and ambulance crews. Some of those arrested have died in suspicious circumstances. Some protesters say they have witnessed the summary execution of arrested protesters. Amnesty International report 500 people have been ‘disappeared’ (13) – (25). The US fifth fleet is anchored in sight of the Pearl Roundabout, yet no marines have been ordered to protect Bahraini civilians.

Far from the British government placing any sanctions on Bahrain’s monarchy and it’s forces, Bahrain’s ambassador, Khalifa Bin Ali al-Khalifa (likely a relative of the King from his name) and the former head of the torturing Bahraini National Security Agency, was invited to the Royal Wedding (26). Bahrainis who protested peacefully in London against the killings have had pilot training lessons cancelled by Gatwick Aviation Authority at the request of the government of Bahrain (27).

Foreign Secretary William Hague pretends Bahrain is “completely different” from Libya as King Khalifa has offered “dialogue” and a referendum on a new constitution (28). Yet Gadaffi’s government has also offered “dialogue” or “negotiations” with the rebels repeatedly, including on a new constitution (29) – (30). Gaddafi, Khalifa and Saleh are all unelected dictators who made these offers after having unarmed protesters killed.

NATO governments call on both sides to show restraint, as if unarmed protesters and the people killing them are equally to blame. They lie about the “violence” in Bahrain being “sectarian”, ludicrously implying that the Shia majority in Bahrain are Iranian agents, which incidentally is the same story about ‘foreign agents causing Sectarian violence’ that was used by Mubarak in Egypt and is still used by Gaddafi in Libya and Assad in Syria.

NATO governments also buy Saleh’s lies about how Al Qa’ida will take over Yemen if he falls, despite many of Saleh’s own party’s MPs having joined the protesters – and despite Saleh having himself  backed Al Qa’ida in the 1990s when it was fighting against southern rebels in Yemen. NATO have also carried out missile strikes on people who they claimed they suspected were Al Qa’ida, but turned out to be Yemeni politicians and tribal leaders who were trying to negotiate a peace deal to end the civil war between the government and southern separatists, which has been exacerbated by NATO and Saudi special forces and air and drone strikes. (31) – (36) .

Either Al Saleh is playing NATO governments like a fiddle, or else NATO governments are lying about the real reason they’re backing him.

As long as the civil war continues Saleh can point to the supposed threat of an Al Qa’ida takeover – and cream a bit for himself and his supporters from US financial aid. He can remain dictator. Firms from NATO countries including GE Oil and Gas and Transocean of the US and the British based Orion Group can keep getting contracts to drill in Yemen and it’s territorial waters too – along with some others who’d rather remain anonymous. Others include Nexen (Canadian), Total (French), Occidental (American) and Hunt Oil (American).

According to the US Energy Information Agency , Yemen has relatively small oil reserves (about 3 billion barrels estimated), but, ‘because of its location on the Bab el-Mandab, one of the world's most strategic shipping lanes, through which an estimated 3.5 million barrels of oil passed daily in 2010. Disruption to shipping in the Bab el-Mandab could prevent tankers in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden from reaching the Suez Canal/Sumed pipeline complex, requiring a costly diversion around the southern tip of Africa to reach western markets.’ (37)

Yemen’s oil production is minor in terms of global production (only 0.22% of the total), but that doesn’t mean the profits made there aren’t significant for certain firms. Yemen is not a member of OPEC, an organisation the US has planned to break up in the past.

Our governments are backing allied dictatorships while they murder civilians even as they condemn hostile ones for the same crimes. They “intervene” only when a government which refuses them military bases or oil contracts, or runs economic policies that threaten maximum profits for their oil and arms companies is in place. If they really support democracy and want to protect civilians, they should prove it by ending all support for all the dictatorships – from Libya and Syria to Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar – and giving at least full verbal support to the protesters instead.

Some of the media have asked why the Arab governments aren’t sending more of their forces to help protect civilians in Libya. The fairly obvious answer is that they’re too busy killing their own civilian pro-democracy protesters, who, unlike in Libya, are pretty much entirely un-armed – and doing so with the continued support of our own governments. The Qatari government, which is widely praised for it’s role in supporting the Libyan rebels, is,  as Craig Murray points out, a monarchy not a democracy, even according to the US State Department. It permits Al Jazeera to report freely about events in other countries. but, according to Human Rights Watch it allows absolutely no freedom of speech or assembly within Qatar itself and allows migrant workers to suffer exploitation and abuse (38) – (39).

 (1) = Amnesty International 18 Mar 2011 ‘Yemeni authorities must act over sniper killings of protesters’, ; ‘The Yemeni authorities must immediately act to bring to justice those responsible for an apparently co-ordinated sniper attack on protesters in Sana’a today that has left dozens dead. At least 40 people were killed and more than 200 wounded.

(2) = Amnesty International 6 Apr 2011 ‘International community must help probe Yemen’s protest killings’,

(3) = Amnesty International 20 Apr 2011 ‘Yemeni activist at risk as death toll mounts’,

(4) = BBC News 19 Apr 2011 ‘Yemen: Three killed at Sanaa and Taiz protests’, ; ‘Yemeni security forces have opened fire on anti-government protesters in the capital, Sanaa, and the southern city of Taiz, witnesses and medics say…At least two protesters were killed in Sanaa, while another died in Taiz. …More than 120 people have been killed in two months of protests demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down…Security forces fired live rounds and tear gas "indiscriminately" at the crowd, witnesses said.’

(5) = AP 19 Apr 2011 ‘UNICEF: 26 children killed during Yemen protests’,

(6) = UNocHA IRIN news 05 Apr 2011 ‘YEMEN: Children killed, traumatized by upsurge in violence’,

(7) = Reuters 05 Apr 2011 ‘Armed men, police fire on Yemeni protesters’,

(8) = Guardian 28 April 2011 ‘Yemen security forces kill 12 in anti-regime demonstration’,

(9) = AFP 05 Apr 2011 ‘No plans to suspend military aid to Yemen: US’,

(10) = Reuters 05 Apr 2011 ‘U.S. urges Yemen transition, no aid cut-off-Pentagon’,

(11) = BBC 26 Mar 2011 ‘Saleh departure in Yemen: A matter of 'when', not 'if'’,

(12) = See (11) above, second last sentence reads ‘While some other military units have joined the opposition, the elite US- and British-trained troops, headed by Mr Saleh's son and nephew, remain loyal to the president.’

(13) = 16 Mar 2011 ‘Bahrain unleashes forces on protesters' camp’, ; Military troops have opened a large-scale assault against hundreds of anti-government protesters occupying a landmark square in Bahrain's capital. At least two protesters and three policemen were reported to have been killed, and hundreds injured when riot police overran Pearl roundabout, the focal point for a two-month anti-government uprising.

Gunfire was heard throughout the capital and at least five helicopters were circling scenes of clashes, amid widespread panic on the streets below.

Riot police also entered Manama's Salmaniya medical centre for the first time since the demonstrations began and doctors reported they were being prevented from reaching the hospital and treating patients inside.

(14) = BBC 15 Mar 2011 ‘Bahrain king declares state of emergency after protests’,

(15) CNN 16 Mar 2011 ‘Witnesses: Security forces attack protesters and doctors in Bahrain’, Security forces blocked highways leading to the capital and formed a ring around the country's main hospital, Salmaniya Medical Complex, not letting people enter or leave, witnesses said. Security forces then stormed the hospital and beat staffers, several doctors there said.  Doctors have been hiding in rooms, said Yousif Sharaf, a doctor at the hospital. "We are trapped," Sharaf said. "We are asking for the security forces to please stay outside the hospital. They are beating the staff." Fatima Haji, another doctor, also said she was trapped in the hospital."We are in a small group hiding," Haji said, her voice rising with emotion. "This is a government hospital. How can this happen in a government hospital?"Haji said two people had died in the hospital Wednesday morning, and she feared for the other patients there because the doctors were not able to work.

(16) = BBC News 20 Feb 2011 ‘Bahrain protests: Your stories’,

(17) = BBC World Service 16 Mar 2011 ‘Bahrain security forces in crackdown on Pearl Square’,

(18) = BBC News 16 Mar 2011 ‘Bahrain crackdown on protests in Manama's Pearl Square’,

(19) = Independent 17 Mar 2011 ‘Bahrain protesters driven out of Pearl Square by tanks and tear gas’,

(20) = Amnesty International 17 Mar 2011 ‘Evidence of Bahraini security forces’ brutality revealed’,

(21) = Amnesty International 21 Apr 2011 ‘Bahrain: International pressure needed now to halt spiralling human rights crisis’, ; On disappearances - ‘More than 500 people have been arrested in the last month…In virtually all cases, weeks after their arrest, their whereabouts remain unknown….Some detainees have reportedly been tortured or otherwise ill-treated following arrest. At least four detainees are known to have died in custody in suspicious circumstances.’

(22) = Amnesty International 20 Apr 2011 ‘Bahrain urged to stop targeting protesters as two more die in custody’,

(23) = Amnesty International 24 Mar 2011 ‘Bahrain: Ensuring accountability for excessive force and protection for protesters’,

(24) = Independent 21 Apr 2011 ‘Bahrain's secret terror’, ; ‘The intimidation and detention of doctors treating dying and injured pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain is revealed today in a series of chilling emails obtained by The Independent. ..At least 32 doctors, including surgeons, physicians, paediatricians and obstetricians, have been arrested and detained by Bahrain's police in the last month … One doctor, an intensive care specialist, was held after she was photographed weeping over a dead protester. Another was arrested in the theatre room while operating on a patient… Many of the doctors, aged from 33 to 65, have been "disappeared" – held incommunicado or at undisclosed locations. Their families do not know where they are. Nurses, paramedics and ambulance staff have also been detained.’

(25) = Independent 22 Apr 2011 ‘Bahrain security forces 'tortured patients'’, ; ‘Bahrain’s security forces stole ambulances and posed as medics to round up injured protesters during a ferocious crackdown on unarmed demonstrators calling for reform of the monarchy, an investigation by a rights group reveals today. ..The first major report on repression of the medical profession during the country’s crisis details how a doctor was abducted during an operation and injured patients lying in hospital were tortured and threatened with rape. ..The investigation by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).’

(26) = Guardian 28 April 2011 ‘Bahrain 'torture service' official to attend royal wedding’,

(27) = 28 Apr 2011 ‘Bahraini trainee pilots suspended from UK flying school after attending protests’,

(28) = = Foreign and Commonwealth Office 20 Mar 2011 ‘UN intervention in Libya: Foreign Secretary on BBC Radio 5’, ; ‘Yes Bahrain is a different case from Libya, it’s clearly a different case…In Bahrain the Government has offered a national dialogue to the opposition forces, they have offered a referendum on a constitution, you don’t see Colonel Gaddafi offering a referendum on a future constitution.’

(29) = Bloomberg 21 Feb 2011 ‘Libya Violence Deepens as Protestors Claim Control of Second-Largest City’, ; ‘Saif Qaddafi offered dialogue with the opposition, a national debate on the constitution, higher wages and unemployment benefits and legal changes to “open up the realms of freedom,” and said the army had made errors in handling the protests’

(30) = Ha’aretz (Israel) 07 Mar 2011 ‘Gadhafi regime offers olive branch to rebels while fighting to regain control over east Libya’, ; ‘A leading member of Libya's ruling establishment appealed to rebel leaders for dialogue on Monday, in the clearest sign yet Muammar Gadhafi may be ready to compromise with opponents challenging his rule…Jadallah Azous Al-Talhi, a Libyan prime minister in the 1980s who is originally from eastern Libya, appeared on state television reading an address to elders in Benghazi, the main base of the anti-Gadhafi rebels…He asked them to "give a chance to national dialogue to resolve this crisis, to help stop the bloodshed, and not give a chance to foreigners to come and capture our country again."’

 (31) = Foreign and Commonwealth Office 20 Mar 2011 ‘UN intervention in Libya: Foreign Secretary on BBC Radio 5’, ; ‘Yes Bahrain is a different case from Libya, it’s clearly a different case…In Bahrain the Government has offered a national dialogue to the opposition forces, they have offered a referendum on a constitution, you don’t see Colonel Gaddafi offering a referendum on a future constitution.’

(32) = William Hague MP, Hansard 17th Feb 2011 , ‘We urge all sides to avoid violence and for the police to exercise restraint. The Bahraini Government should move quickly to carry out their commitment to a transparent investigation into earlier deaths, and extend that to include today's events and any alleged human rights abuses…I also said to the Foreign Minister that this is a time to build bridges between the different religious communities in Bahrain. I said that we would strongly oppose any interference in the affairs of Bahrain by other nations or any action to inflame sectarian tensions between Bahrain's Sunni and Shi'a communities. ‘

(33) = US Department of State – Remarks by Sec. of State Clinton – Remarks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Al-Araby 15 March 2011 ‘Remarks With Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Al-Araby’, ; ‘Well, we call for calm and restraint on all sides in Bahrain. We’re particularly concerned about increasing reports of provocative acts and sectarian violence by all groups. The use of force and violence from any source will only worsen the situation and create a much more difficult environment in which to arrive at a political solution.’

(34) = ABC News 27 Mar 2011 ‘Defense Secretary: Yemen Gov’t Collapse 'A Real Problem'’,; ‘“Secretary Gates, you said this week we have not done any post-Saleh planning,” Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper said. “How dangerous is a post-Saleh world -- a post-Saleh Yemen to the United States?” he asked…Gates replied, “I think it is a real concern because the most active and, at this point, perhaps the most aggressive branch of al Qaeda -- al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- operates out of Yemen…“And we have had a lot of counterterrorism cooperation from President Saleh and Yemeni Security Services,” he said…“So if that government collapses or is replaced by one that is dramatically more weak, then I think we'll face some additional challenges out of Yemen.  There's no question about it.  It's a real problem,” Gates told Tapper.’

(35) =BBC News 23 Feb 2011Yemen protest: Ruling party MPs resign over violence’,

(36) = The Nation 18 Apr 2011 ‘The Dangerous US Game in Yemen’,

(37) = US Energy Information Administration – Country analysis – Yemen Feb 2011,

(38) = Human Rights Watch 24 Jan 2001 ‘U.S. Should Block Qatar Venue for WTO Meeting’,

(39) = Human Rights Watch 20 Jan 2008 ‘UAE: Meetings Should Address Migrant Workers’ Rights’,