Yemen War Update: Still an inhumane catastrophe

After four months of nearly uninterrupted bombing by the Saudi air force and blockade by the Saudi navy, two articles (one big picture, one narrow but illustrative) sum up the horror that is the war in Yemen.


Washington Post: “In Yemen’s grinding war, if the bombs don’t get you, the water shortages will”

The number of Yemenis who lack access to drinking water has almost doubled since the war began, according to the United Nations and aid agencies. Now, they say, more than 20 million people — about 80 percent of Yemen’s population — struggle to find enough water to quench their thirst and bathe.

Diseases such as malaria are spreading, killing hundreds of people, because so many residents are forced to use improperly stored and unsanitary water, health experts say. The crisis is compounding a humanitarian emergency that already has prompted U.N. officials and aid workers to warn of famine.
Diesel fuel for backup generators, which could be used to power the pumps, has become scarce because of the difficulties of transporting it through war zones. In addition, U.N. officials and aid workers say an air and naval blockade established by the Saudi-led coalition is severely restricting imports.
The United Nations says that 120,000 children could die if the lack of access to clean water, sufficient food and adequate health care persists. The fighting has forced many hospitals and medical clinics to close.

The fighting from the Saudis and their allies on one side and the Houthis on the other side has killed an estimated 3,500 people in direct attacks. That will pale in comparison to the eventual death rate from the disease and starvation it is causing. Still, it is definitely not helping things to have Saudi bombers indiscriminately annihilating civilian targets constantly.

Associated Press: “Yemeni officials, witnesses: Saudi-led coalition airstrikes kill more than 120 in port city”

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes killed more than 120 civilians and wounded more than 150 after shelling a residential area [of Mokha] in the Yemeni province of Taiz on Friday evening, security officials, medical officials and witnesses said.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters, said that most of the houses in the area were leveled and a fire broke out in the port city of Mokha. Most of the corpses, including children, women and elderly people, were charred by the flames, they said.

They were trying to remove injured survivors out of the site on animal carts toward hospitals in the provincial capital, but those were inaccessible because the war has closed or blocked most roads. Saudi targeting of places in the middle of nowhere isn’t helping matters when it comes to saving the wounded:

Security officials said this comes after Saudi-led coalition planes launched dozens of airstrikes on positions of Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies in Mokha. The closest Houthi outpost to Friday evening’s deadly strike is at least 5km away, officials and area residents said.

These are our “allies.” We gave them those bombs and jets. They haven’t improved from bombing schools and refugee camps in April. At what point do we cut ties with them?

Militarily, it has taken the full four months to turn back the Houthis even a little bit (from the city of Aden). Their overall territorial hold remains larger than when the bombing began in March. So, the war hasn’t been strategically particularly effective either.

They are not destroying a rebellion. They are destroying Yemen. A country whose population is half children and which was already one of the poorest in the world.

2,000 “feared dead” in raids by Boko Haram in NE Nigeria

Last weekend, I posted a story on Boko Haram’s rout of a multi-national force and capture of a Nigerian base in the country’s northeast:

Nigeria’s strategically significant military base at Baga, near the border of Chad, fell to Boko Haram in a clear rout for the multi-national force stationed there, who apparently put up no resistance.

Some residents, who escaped the fall of the town and fled across Lake Chad and the national border, had reported at the time that Boko Haram had set the town of Baga on fire and was killing people indiscriminately. (Baga was previously also the site of a massacre by government counter-insurgency forces in 2013.)

The reports filtering out since then, about what happened next, are even more grim:

Boko Haram razed at least 16 villages in northern Nigeria, leaving 2,000 people unaccounted for and feared dead since Monday, Nigerian officials said Thursday.

It’s possible some of the missing are in hiding or are outside the country and uncounted (about 2,500 refugees crossed the border this week), but things look bleak on that possibility:

Borno state lawmaker Ahmed Khalifa told NBC News that “towns are just gone” and that the the villages along Lake Chad are “covered in bodies.” The village attacks reportedly began after militants seized a key military base and chased residents out of the area. After clearing the villages, they returned to kill survivors and burn down town structures.

TIME magazine reports this alarming development:

Boko Haram […] controls an estimated 30-35,000 square kilometers, roughly the same amount of terrain as Syria and Iraq’s Islamic State.

It’s pretty telling about U.S. priorities, over-reactions, and under-reactions in different parts of the world that the response to ISIS last year was sharply different — which is to say, not even on the same scale of magnitude — from the response to Boko Haram, even as they now control the same land area by size.

Mass executions by ISIS in Syria and Iraq have so far reportedly topped out at 700 people in a two week killing spree (although the total figures across incidents over the past year are significantly higher). If the civilian body count estimates coming out of north Borno state in northeast Nigeria prove correct, Boko Haram will have already significantly exceeded the August 2014 massacres by ISIS.

Keep in mind, however, that public official/government reports on the insurgency in Nigeria have often proven greatly exaggerated or altogether false, and information coming out of the Baga area is likely to be very sketchy at best right now. At minimum, though, the intensity and frequency of Boko Haram’s attacks on military and civilian targets (especially near the border regions) appear to be picking up steam.

Added January 9 at 7:33 PM ET: — Report from Amnesty International via the AP:

Hundreds of bodies — too many to count — remain strewn in the bush in Nigeria from an Islamic extremist attack that Amnesty International suggested Friday is the “deadliest massacre” in the history of Boko Haram.
District head Baba Abba Hassan said most victims are children, women and elderly people who could not run fast enough when insurgents drove into Baga, firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on town residents.

“The human carnage perpetrated by Boko Haram terrorists in Baga was enormous,” Muhammad Abba Gava, a spokesman for poorly armed civilians in a defense group that fights Boko Haram, told The Associated Press.

He said the civilian [self-defense] fighters gave up on trying to count all the bodies. “No one could attend to the corpses and even the seriously injured ones who may have died by now,” Gava said.


Also: The BBC reports that nearby Niger’s troops will no longer be participating in the multi-national force in Borno state due to the deteriorating security situation (which seems a bit counter-intuitive since they’re supposed to be helping with that exact problem):

Soldiers from Niger had been there [at Baga base] but were not present when it was attacked.

Niger Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum told the BBC Hausa service: “We have 50 soldiers there and decided to withdraw them after Boko Haram captured Malamfatori town in October and continued to operate in the area with impunity.

“As you know, Baga is under [the control of] Boko Haram terrorists and unless the town is recaptured from them, we will not send back our troops.


Still image (via AFP) from a Boko Haram video communiqué received October 31, 2014.

Still image (via AFP) from a Boko Haram video communiqué received October 31, 2014.

Things to think about as Sri Lanka votes

Early presidential elections in Sri Lanka — between the incumbent (increasingly dictatorial) president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and his former Health Minister, Maithripala Sirisena — have unexpectedly become a nail-biter race.

Some of the Western coverage has focused on the frivolous and bizarre. (For example, the New York Times’s “As Vote Nears, Astrologer for Sri Lanka’s President Faces Ultimate Test of His Skills”.) Some has focused on the president’s troubling alliance with extremist Buddhist/Sinhalese nationalism.

But most importantly, there are reflections on President Rajapaksa’s appalling war crimes during his decisive but extremely violent conclusion to Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war:

By the first few months of 2009, with the [Tamil] Tigers in hopeless retreat, the government declared a series of what they called “no fire zones”, into which they encouraged as many as 400,000 Tamil civilians to gather “for their own safety”.

Government forces then relentlessly shelled these zones
and, as a later UN report concluded, systematically denied them food and humanitarian supplies. The UN estimates that there were “as many as 40,000 civilian deaths in a matter of weeks, most as a result of government shelling. There was also a World Bank estimate that 100,000 civilians were missing after the war.

It takes a special kind of monster to urge civilians into safe zones and then direct military to shell those zones.

President and Mrs. Obama in an official photo with President and Mrs. Rajapaksa at the September 2013 UN General Assembly in New York. (White House Photo)

President and Mrs. Obama in an official photo with President and Mrs. Rajapaksa at the September 2013 UN General Assembly in New York. (White House Photo)

While defending Israel, Biden accuses them of a war crime

Fourth Geneva Convention, August 12, 1949, Article 33 on “Individual responsibility, collective penalties, pillage, reprisals” prohibits collective punishment as a war crime:

No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.
Pillage is prohibited.
Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.

Typically, United States officials are very cautious about throwing around technical terms, including those mentioned above, that could trigger legal consequences. Vice President Joe Biden tends not to be so careful:

Vice President Joe Biden called on Israel to stop the demolition of homes of terrorists’ families, which he described as “collective punishment.” Biden also criticized expansion of Jewish settlements “in the West Bank and East Jerusalem” and called on the government to do more to stop “vigilante justice” attacks against Palestinians.

Biden was speaking at a noon plenary on Saturday at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum being held at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC. His speech ignored the upcoming elections, focusing instead on America’s bedrock support for Israel and the “tactical disagreements” that “should be honestly discussed between friends.”

I wonder how fast he will be forced to apologize for making an accurate remark about an ally once again.

Saving Grace: Father Bernard Kinvi of Central African Republic

The story of a Catholic priest, Father Bernard Kinvi, who protected Muslim civilians in Central African Republic from extremist Christian militias during the country’s reciprocal genocide, from late 2013 into early 2014, in its ongoing conflict:

At one point, 1,500 Muslims were living under the protection of a man whose only sources of power were his faith and the black cassock with a large red cross on the chest that he wears as a member of the Camillian order.
From mid-January to April, Kinvi barely slept, terrified that if he closed his eyes the militia would fulfill their threats to murder all the Muslims in the mission. But bit-by-bit, lorry load by lorry load, the priest started to get the Muslims out of the area and over the border into Cameroon.

In contrast, French “peacekeepers” literally stood and watched Muslims being hacked to death in front of them by Christian extremists. Actual rescue missions, as in Rwanda in 1994, had to be staged by African peacekeepers.

Ten years from now, everyone is going to be asking why the world did nothing there. And there will be no good explanations or excuses.

Alleged genocide inciter may incite his way out of trial

Vojislav Seselj has been on trial at The Hague since 2003, representing himself against charges of inciting fellow Serb nationalists to commit war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia during the 1990s Balkan Wars. Now he has cancer, and they’re going to consider sending him back to Serbia, of all places, as if no other countries — including the Netherlands, where he’s on trial — have cancer treatment. Why? Because this (alleged) genocide-inciting dude is literally so obnoxious, insufferable, and dangerous on trial (over the course of eleven years!) that they might just prefer to send him home to die rather than continue putting up with him … and probably not reach justice anyway in time.

He’s been such a headache and awful monster during the trial — repeatedly convicted of contempt of court and continually publishing classified court documents to expose the identities of key witnesses — that his behavior might force the international court system to completely rethink how it conducts trials for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other similar cases. It’s quite possibly more harmful to keep going with his trial than to suspend it.

Incitement trials, I suspect, are basically asking for insufferable grandstanding under the current system. If someone has the wherewithal to inspire people through the power of words to go kill members of a rival sect they’re probably pretty talented at haranguing and badgering everyone in the courtroom for a decade and generally putting on a big show about being victimized.

Sudan Info Minister: Omar al-Bashir deserves Nobel Peace Prize

I realize there’s a long history of pretty undeserving and warmongering people winning the the Nobel Peace Prize but I’m pretty sure we’d really be redefining the word “Peace” entirely if the prize were given to Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, as has been hilariously/disturbingly proposed by his Minister of Information, according to Darfuri media outlet Radio Dabanga.

According to the Sudanese Minister of Information, President Omar Al Bashir is a man of peace who should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the war between Khartoum and the southern Sudanese rebels in 2005.
“President Al Bashir is being threatened with an ICC [International Criminal Court] arrest warrant for alleged war crimes in Darfur,” Information Minister Ahmed Bilal told James Butty of VOA News in an interview published today, “instead of being praised and encouraged for his efforts.”

Bilal said that Khartoum cares little about the ICC. “Let me tell you one thing: Our president is a man of peace. He stopped the longest war in Africa. Instead of giving him Nobel [Peace] Prize, he’s being called before the ICC. Instead praising him or encouraging him and saying that he’s doing good things to his neighbors, you are raising this talk of ICC problems.

You can read the VOA News interview with Minister Bilal here.

omar-al-bashirIn addition to Bashir’s genocide in Darfur, he is a past sponsor of global Sunni Islamic terrorism (including al Qaeda during the 1990s before their relocation to Afghanistan) and was a main instigating force and perpetuator of the Sudanese Civil War in the south, which he eventually ended under immense international pressure and UN involvement. Not exactly a shining force for world peace.

President Bashir was indicted in 2009 by the International Criminal Court for his activities in Darfur and has refused to face prosecution, unlike the president of nearby Kenya (who is currently standing trial on less serious charges for post-election violence). He is gearing up to campaign for yet another term as president after 25 years of rule. Fortunately, I doubt even the Nobel Peace Prize Committee is planning to consider Bashir any time soon … or ever.