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Peace Activists Blockade Yemen’s Blockaders at U.N.

Brian Terrell Dec 15, 2017

On Dec. 11, in response to the growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen, more than 50 concerned people, including representatives of various peace, justice and human rights organizations such as myself, gathered in New York City’s Ralph Bunche Park, across First Avenue from the United Nations building. Our message, communicated on signs and banners and by speakers addressing the rally, was simple and direct: end the war crimes being committed by the United States and Saudi Arabia and end the blockade of Yemeni ports.

After speeches, songs and a moment of silence, the rally moved up First Avenue in the direction of both the U.S. and the Saudi missions to the United Nations. We were followed closely by officers with the New York City Police Department.

Some of us felt compelled by conscience to stand in the doorway of the United States Mission and after a short time, we were arrested for violating the “obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic” provision of New York penal law regarding disorderly conduct. Fifteen of us carrying photos of Yemeni child victims were taken into custody and transported to the cells of the 7th Precinct on the Lower East Side.

For more than two years, the U.S.-backed Saudi bombing campaign has targeted civilian infrastructure — hospitals, schools, factories, markets, seaports, electrical power stations and water treatment facilities. U.S. drones strikes and incursions by U.S. Special Forces into Yemen have killed civilians as well. Armed conflict has directly taken the lives of some 12,000 people, but that tragic figure is greatly exceeded by the number of those who are dying from a combination of malnutrition and otherwise easily preventable ailments and diseases like respiratory infections, measles and cholera, including more than 1,000 children each week. Twenty million Yemenis, more than two-thirds of the population, are food insecure and few have access to clean drinking water. More than half of the hospitals in the country are no longer functioning.

As we were handcuffed and loaded into vans in front of the U.S. Mission, I wondered if the police knew they were arresting the wrong people.

Early in November, the already onerous blockade of Yemen’s ports was made practically total, prompting the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, to warn that, unless the blockade of Yemen was fully lifted, “[T]here will be a famine in Yemen … It will be the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims.”

On November 27, limited exceptions to the blockade were made for humanitarian aid shipments alone. Humanitarian aid groups have decried the resulting tightly-controlled deliveries as an empty and vastly insufficient gesture and are calling for the ports to be opened to all humanitarian and commercial shipments.

Under this pressure, President Trump issued a very brief statement calling upon the Saudis to “completely allow food, fuel, water and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it.” Trump’s uncharacteristically polite request was not backed by anything much at all, much less by a freezing of U.S. arms sales to the Saudis. Nor did it address the U.S. Air Force’s practice of refueling Saudi bomber jets or the United States’ own drone strikes in Yemen.

As we were handcuffed and loaded into vans in front of the U.S. Mission, I wondered if the police knew they were arresting the wrong people.

The blockade of Yemen is an atrocious crime of the highest category, a violation of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international pacts. The United States’ participation in the war on Yemen is a violation of the war powers provisions of the United States Constitution, at the very least. The imposition of our modest “blockade,” in contrast, threatened no one. No one got sick or died because we stood in that doorway.

The park where our protest began is named after one of the founders of the U.N. and the first black American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. Carved into the stone pavement there are these words from Ralph Bunche, which speak to the present crisis in Yemen and to the many conflicts in the world today:

Peace, to have meaning for many who have known only suffering in both peace and war, must be translated into bread or rice, shelter, health, and education, as well as freedom and human dignity — a steadily better life. If peace is to be secure, long-suffering and long-starved, forgotten peoples of the world, the underprivileged and the undernourished, must begin to realize without delay the promise of a new day and a new life.

When will Yemen have its new day?

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Brian Terrell lives in Maloy, Iowa and is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence

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Photo: Peace activists blocking the entrance to the U.S. mission to the U.N., Dec. 11. Credit: Erik McGregor.