Yemen’s foreign minister Ahmed Awad BinMubarak has a clear message to the European Union: to be united, and to talk to Iran, in order to achieve peace in Yemen.
“I ask the EU to use all the leverage it has to give a message to the Houthis and Iran,” BinMubarak said in an interview with EUobserver.
What that message should be, is accepting the UN’s proposed deal for a ceasefire, reopening the airport in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, reopening the seaport of Al Hudaydah and to restart political talks.
Yemen is going through critical days, as the Saudi-led coalition announced a halt to its military operations – in order to give negotiations by neighbouring Oman a chance.
Unverified sources say Oman may be close to reaching an agreement between the Saudi-supported coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels to stop the fighting and let humanitarian aid into the country.
However, any ceasefire is still uncertain, as the Houthis raise the stakes before agreeing to their participation to new political talks.
On Sunday (13 June) a Houthi drone crashed into a school in Saudi Arabia, although without casualties.
“The international community always talks to [Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif. He always says he supports peace,” he said, adding that “the reality on the ground in Yemen is different, as there it is people from the Quds forces running the show.”
BinMubarak also said that the Yemeni government has found ships full of arms being transported from Iran to the Houthis in Yemen.
Therefore, he concludes “Iran has the key. The EU should pressure the Houthis and Iran – without making a link to the nuclear deal.”
Europe, the United States, Russia and China have been trying to reinstate the nuclear deal with Iran, the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by which Iran would not be able to go further with its nuclear arms programme.
Asked about the role of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the conflict, the Yemeni foreign minister said that they only entered the war after the Houthis entered Sanaa, the capital of Yemen.
Saudi Arabia has been accused of war crimes in Yemen by Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations.
World’s biggest humanitarian crisis
The war in Yemen, lasting more than six years now, has brought the country to total collapse.
According to Unicef, “Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people – some 80 per cent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children.”
More than four million people have fled their homes, and are mostly displaced inside the country.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees “approximately 66 percent of IDPs [internally-displaced people] in Yemen live in dangerous locations, characterised by widespread food insecurity and lack of water, healthcare and sanitation services.”
“Their situation has become even more challenging since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of a looming famine in the country,” the UN agency says.
Despite this tragic situation, Yemen itself is still hosting more than 135,000 refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia.
BinMubarak told EUobserver he was visiting Brussels to correct some wrong perceptions about the war in Yemen.
“The conflict in Yemen is not one between regional powers. Neither is it a sectarian war. Many in the EU forget the national factor in the conflict,” he said.
“Also, the humanitarian crisis is not just a result of the war, it is man-made. As one of the most important contributors to humanitarian aid in Yemen, the EU should be more aware of this,” he added.
The EU has funded Yemen with €648m in humanitarian aid since 2015, and €95m in 2021.
However, according to BinMubarak, the aid is not reaching the people that really need it. “80-percent of the aid comes through the port of Hudeida, controlled by the Houthi rebels. People who are suffering the most, don’t receive anything.”
“Therefore,” he added, “we need fix the real problem. We have to break the circle. We need to end this war.”
‘We lived in their tents’
Since the Arab revolution in 2011, Yemen has ricocheted from one crisis to another.
The Arab Spring lead to the resignation of Ali Abdullah Saleh, president of North Yemen from 1978 to 1990, and president of Yemen from 1990 until 25 February 2012.
He was succeeded by his former vice-president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, following an agreement made at the National Dialogue Conference, held between March 2013 and January 2014.
BinMubarak himself was secretary-general of the National Dialogue Conference, arguing he knows the Houhtis well.
“We lived with them in the same tents at Tahrir Square during the uprising,” he said.
According to BinMubarak, the Houthis were constructive during the national dialogue – but that has now changed, under the influence of Iran.
President Hadi, as well as the government of Yemen, lived in exile in Saudi Arabia, but since December 2020 operate out of Aden.
Despite high overall rates of vaccinations in the US, more and more Americans are getting infected with the new, rapidly spreading ‘delta’ variant of the coronavirus, once again testing the limits of hospitals and reportedly sparking talks about new mask-up orders from authorities.
The rapidly increasing number of new COVID-19 cases in the US caused by the more infectious delta strain of the virus is frustrating the Biden administration, as the problem draws attention and resources away from other priorities that the White House would like to concentrate on, the Washington Post reported, citing several anonymous sources. Among the problems that the administration reportedly had to de-prioritise are Biden’s infrastructure initiatives, voting rights, an overhaul of policing, gun control and immigration.
The White House reportedly hoped that the pandemic would be gradually ebbing by this time, allowing it to focus more on other presidential plans. Instead, the Biden administration is growing “anxious” about the growing number of daily COVID-19 cases, the newspaper sources said. The White House press secretary indirectly confirmed that Biden is currently preoccupied with the pandemic the most.
“Getting the pandemic under control [and] protecting Americans from the spread of the virus has been [and] continues to be his number-one priority. It will continue to be his priority moving forward. There’s no question,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on 22 July.
The administration had reportedly expected new outbreaks in the country, but not as many as they’re seeing. Current analytical models predict anything between a few thousand new cases and 200,000 new infected daily, the Washington Post reported. Washington also fears that daily deaths might reach over 700 per day, up from the current average of 250. However, the White House doesn’t expect the pandemic numbers to return to their 2020 peak levels.
At the same time, the Biden administration is trying to find scapegoats to blame for the current shortcomings in fighting the coronavirus pandemic in the country. Namely, Biden last week accused the social media platform of failing to combat the spread of disinformation on COVID-19 and thus “killing people”. The statement raised many eyebrows since many platforms mark COVID-related posts and insert links to reliable sources of information regarding the disease and the vaccination efforts aimed at fighting it. The White House also hinted that the Republican-controlled states became the main sources of new COVID cases, while often underperforming in terms of vaccination rates.
Sierra Leone has become the latest African state to abolish the death penalty after MPs voted unanimously to abandon the punishment.
On Friday the west African state became the 23rd country on the continent to end capital punishment, which is largely a legacy of colonial legal codes. In April, Malawi ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, while Chad abolished it in 2020. In 2019, the African human rights court ruled that mandatory imposition of the death penalty by Tanzania was “patently unfair”.
Of those countries that retain the death penalty on their statute books, 17 are abolitionist in practice, according to Amnesty International.
A de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty has existed in Sierra Leone since 1998, after the country controversially executed 24 soldiers for their alleged involvement in a coup attempt the year before.
Under Sierra Leone’s 1991 constitution, the death penalty could be prescribed for murder, aggravated robbery, mutiny and treason.
Last year, Sierra Leone handed down 39 death sentences, compared with 21 in 2019, according to Amnesty, and 94 people were on death row in the country at the end of last year.
Rhiannon Davis, director of the women’s rights group AdvocAid, said: “It’s a huge step forward for this fundamental human right in Sierra Leone.
“This government, and previous governments, haven’t chosen to [put convicts to death since 1998], but the next government might have taken a different view,” she said.
“They [prisoners] spend their life on death row, which in effect is a form of torture as you have been given a death sentence that will not be carried out because of the moratorium, but you constantly have this threat over you as there’s nothing in law to stop that sentence being carried out.”
Davis said the abolition would be particularly beneficial to women and girls accused of murdering an abuser.
“Previously, the death penalty was mandatory in Sierra Leone, meaning a judge could not take into account any mitigating circumstances, such as gender-based violence,” she said.
Umaru Napoleon Koroma, deputy minister of justice, who has been involved in the abolition efforts, said sentencing people on death row to “life imprisonment with the possibility of them reforming is the way to go”.
Across sub-Saharan Africa last year Amnesty researchers recorded a 36% drop in executions compared with 2019 – from 25 to 16. Executions were carried out in Botswana, Somalia and South Sudan.
The European Commission announced it is on track to share some 200 million doses of vaccines against Covid-19 before the end of the year. It says the vaccines will go to low and middle-income countries. “We will be sharing more than 200 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines with low and middle-income countries by the end of this year,” said European commission president Ursula von der Leyen.