Women Beware: Saudi Arabia to Help Shape Global Standards for Female Equality

It’s hard to sink to a greater depth of hypocrisy than voting Saudi Arabia onto a United Nations Commission charged with promoting women’s equality and empowerment. And yet, on April 23, that is precisely what the U.N. Economic and Social Council did. Of the 54 countries on the council, 47 of them agreed to add Saudi Arabia to a four-year term on the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.

How did the United States ambassador to the U.N. and the democratic champions of Europe vote? The ballot was secret, and is it any wonder that the U.N. representatives refuse to reveal their votes? What is undeniable, however, is that the Saudis could not have received 47 votes without support from the Western democracies.

The Saudi regime is notorious for its abysmal treatment of women. Outside the home, women are forced to wear an abaya, a loose-fitting black cloak that conceals the shape of their bodies, and a hijab, or headscarf, to cover their hair. The fundamentalist dress code is enforced by zealous religious police who fine and beat women who dare to violate the code. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to ban women from driving, a practice that severely limits women’s independence and autonomy.

Saudi Arabia is unquestionably the most gender-segregated society in the world. The government enforces sex segregation in virtually all workplaces except hospitals, and fines businesses that fail to comply. In food outlets, including U.S. chains such as McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken, all lines and eating areas are separated to keep unrelated men and women apart. The men’s section is usually the airy, front section, while the women and children are relegated to the back, shielded from public view. The majority of public buildings have separate entrances for men and women. Some even ban women from entering.

The most oppressive aspect of life for Saudi women is the strict guardianship system. This system requires every female, from birth to death, to have a male guardian who controls her ability to travel, study, work, marry or even seek certain forms of medical attention.

Saudi women campaigning for women’s rights denounced the addition of Saudi Arabia to the U.N. Commission. “Allowing this oppressive regime to join a commission designed to empower women makes me feel personally violated and invisible, and it is demoralizing for us as activists,” an anonymous Saudi woman seeking asylum in the United States told me. “It sends a message that for the international community, Saudi wealth and power are more important than women’s lives.”

Saudi Arabia is probably the worst country in the world to be put on a women’s commission shaping global standards on gender equality, not only because of its treatment of Saudi women but also because the regime uses its oil wealth to export misogyny abroad. Saudi Arabia spreads its reactionary version of Islam through the thousands of mosques and schools it builds overseas, as well as through the funding of extremist groups like ISIS and al-Qaida affiliates. Wherever Saudi influence appears around the world, women lose rights and autonomy.

For Saudi Arabia, a top U.S. ally, a position on the Women’s Commission is a way to further whitewash its image and keep the organization from shining a spotlight on Saudi abuses. This was the same rationale for the regime to seek, and obtain, a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council. While such positions may burnish the image of the Saudi regime, they tarnish the image of the U.N. itself, showing that money takes precedence over the principles of human rights and equality that the United Nations was created to uphold.

One can only imagine the suggestions the Saudi reps will come up with when addressing the U.N. Commission’s mission to assess the challenges to gender equality. It is doubtful they will ever suggest that the Saudi regime itself, and its support from Western allies, is a global obstacle that women must struggle to overcome. So it is up to women everywhere to call for the Saudis to be kicked off the commission so that it can be a space truly dedicated to the empowerment of women.

— source truthdig.com by Medea Benjamin

Saudi executions pass 150 this year, nearing 2015 total

Saudi Arabia has executed at least 153 people this year, nearing last year’s record high of 158, according to figures collated by human rights organization Reprieve. Among those executed this year were at least 4 juveniles who were killed as part of a mass execution of 47 people in January this year. One of them, Ali al-Ribh, was arrested in school, tortured into a false ‘confession’ to protest-related charges, and executed.

— source reprieve.org.uk

close friend of USA. What a shame.

U.S.-Backed Saudi Forces Bomb Yemeni Funeral

Documents obtained by Reuters show the U.S. government is concerned it could be implicated in potential war crimes in Yemen because of its support for a Saudi-led coalition air campaign. The Obama administration has continued to authorize weapons sales to Saudi Arabia despite warnings last year from government lawyers that it might be considered a co-belligerent under international law. This comes as a Saudi airstrike on a funeral home in the capital Sana’a on Saturday killed at least 140 mourners and wounded more than 500 others.

Thousands of Yemenis gathered at the United Nations building in Sana’a on Sunday calling for an international investigation into the assault. The attack was carried out with warplanes and munitions sold to the Saudi-led coalition by the United States. The U.S. Air Force continues to provide midair refueling to Saudi warplanes.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military has said one of its missile destroyers was targeted Sunday in a failed missile attack from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the United States accuse Iran of supplying weapons to the Houthis.

According to the U.N., more than 4,000 civilians have been killed and over 7,000 injured since the Saudi-led coalition bombing began last year. Airstrikes have reportedly caused about 60 percent of the deaths. The latest attack came as the U.N. warned the civil war is leading to famine in Yemen, where some one-and-a-half million children are currently malnourished and 28 million people are short of food.

Sarah Leah Whitson talking:

what we know so far is that the funeral was actually publicly announced on Friday, so that it’s clear that the coalition knew that there was a funeral planned at this site, which is used for weddings, funerals, parties and so forth. And we know that it has been regularly used for such public civilian gatherings, you know, over the past year.

There were two strikes that we know of on the funeral, during the funeral, one followed by a second strike, which actually ended up injuring some first responders. So, again, we saw a repeat strike, clearly indicating this was not an accident. Initially, the Saudis denied the airstrike, but they have since, according to the BBC, acknowledged that this was a Saudi coalition airstrike on this funeral home. What we do know, as well, is that there were at least a dozen senior Houthi and GPC officials, including military officials from the Houthi armed group, who were killed in the strike. But we also know that there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of civilians there, including children, who we know were among the dead.

We are saying it is a likely war crime, the extent to which it was foreseeable and knowable that this would result in a mass killing of civilians.

We have talked to eight eyewitnesses, and we’re continuing to talk to more, people who are documenting who was at the funeral, what happened, how the attacks took place, what the results were, the first responders who were hit in the second strike.

the unlawful strikes that are being carried out by the Saudi coalition. And that’s not just because the U.S. is the primary arms seller to Saudi Arabia and the Saudi coalition member states, but also because it’s actively participating in the conflict by providing targeting assistance to the Saudis and critical refueling support for Saudi planes, without which it’s very clear these strikes could not be taking place.
____

Sarah Leah Whitson
executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division. She has made numerous trips to Yemen, including a visit this year to examine the impact of Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.

— source democracynow.org

Do Western Nations Care about Yemeni Lives or Saudi Blood Money?

How much is the life of a Yemeni worth? Not much, according to the Saudi regime that has been bombing and starving the people of Yemen for since March 2015, or to the Saudi’s western backers, particularly the US and UK, which have been supplying the Saudi regime with weapons, military training, logistical support and diplomatic cover for its dirty interventionist war.

The latest outrage is the October 8 bombing of a packed funeral hall in Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa. This horrendous attack killed more than 140 people and injured about 600 more.

On the heels of this attack comes a blistering report by Reuters showing, through Freedom of Information Act documents, that the Obama administration went ahead with a $1.3 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year despite warnings from US officials that the United States could be implicated in war crimes for supporting a Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians.

What has been the US and UK governments’ response to the funeral bombing? The British government announced UK arms sales to the Saudis is “under careful and continual review”, while the Obama administration issued a statement that US support for Saudis is not a “blank check” and that the US was “prepared to adjust our support so as to better align with US principles, values and interests.”

The “principles, values and interests” of the Western powers, however, have been to buy cheap Saudi oil and make record profits by selling massive quantities of weapons to one of the most repressive countries in the world.

Ever since the founding of the kingdom in 1932, the West has allied itself with a government that beheads non-violent dissidents, forces women to live under the dictates of male guardians, treats foreign workers like indentured servants, spreads the intolerant Wahhabi version of Islam around the world, funds terrorist groups, crushes democratic uprisings in neighboring countries like Bahrain and now wages a catastrophic war in one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, Yemen.

Yemenis are furious about the latest Saudi massacre, as well as Western complicity and the lack of action on the part of the international community. Thousands marched on the UN headquarters demanding a UN investigation. Others are amassing at the Saudi border, calling for revenge and perhaps sparking an even wider conflict.

In the US, Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut is one of the few representatives expressing outrage. He said the Saudi attack on funeral party follows months of attacks on schools, homes, and hospitals. “If the U.S. is serious when it says our support for Saudi Arabia isn’t a blank check, then it’s time to prove it—because it’s clear the Saudi-led coalition isn’t listening. The administration should pull U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen because it’s harming America’s national security, enabling terrorist groups to thrive, and killing innocent civilians.”

What can we do? Join us in demanding that our government stop arming the Saudi regime. Support the courageous human rights defenders inside Saudi Arabia who are trying to reform their government through nonviolent means, such as Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, also known as ACPRA, whose eleven members—all prominent human rights defenders—are suffering lengthy prison sentences. Call on the United Nations to form an independent international commission to investigate war crimes in Yemen.

The time for review and mild statements of condemnation is over. The blood of the Yemeni people is on our hands. If the Western nations want to show that they value the lives of Yemenis over the profits of their weapons industries, they must immediately stop providing the bombs, the bombers, the armored tanks, the Apache helicopters, the missiles, the howitzers, the training, the refueling, and all other military support to the Saudi criminals. If Western values do not prioritize making blood money for General Dynamics, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and the other companies that profit from war, let’s prove it.

— source commondreams.org By Medea Benjamin

As Saudis bombed Yemen, U.S. worried about legal blowback

The Obama administration went ahead with a $1.3 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year despite warnings from some officials that the United States could be implicated in war crimes for supporting a Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians, according to government documents and the accounts of current and former officials.

State Department officials also were privately skeptical of the Saudi military’s ability to target Houthi militants without killing civilians and destroying “critical infrastructure” needed for Yemen to recover, according to the emails and other records obtained by Reuters and interviews with nearly a dozen officials with knowledge of those discussions.

U.S. government lawyers ultimately did not reach a conclusion on whether U.S. support for the campaign would make the United States a “co-belligerent” in the war under international law, four current and former officials said. That finding would have obligated Washington to investigate allegations of war crimes in Yemen and would have raised a legal risk that U.S. military personnel could be subject to prosecution, at least in theory.

For instance, one of the emails made a specific reference to a 2013 ruling from the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor that significantly widened the international legal definition of aiding and abetting such crimes.

The ruling found that “practical assistance, encouragement or moral support” is sufficient to determine liability for war crimes. Prosecutors do not have to prove a defendant participated in a specific crime, the U.N.-backed court found.

Ironically, the U.S. government already had submitted the Taylor ruling to a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to bolster its case that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other al Qaeda detainees were complicit in the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.

The previously undisclosed material sheds light on the closed-door debate that shaped U.S. President Barack Obama’s response to what officials described as an agonizing foreign policy dilemma: how to allay Saudi concerns over a nuclear deal with Iran – Riyadh’s arch-rival – without exacerbating a conflict in Yemen that has killed thousands.

The documents, obtained by Reuters under the Freedom of Information Act, date from mid-May 2015 to February 2016, a period during which State Department officials reviewed and approved the sale of precision munitions to Saudi Arabia to replenish bombs dropped in Yemen. The documents were heavily redacted to withhold classified information and some details of meetings and discussion.

(A selection of the documents can be viewed here: tmsnrt.rs/2dL4h6L; tmsnrt.rs/2dLbl2S; tmsnrt.rs/2dLb7Ji; tmsnrt.rs/2dLbbIX)

An air strike on a wake in Yemen on Saturday that killed more than 140 people renewed focus on the heavy civilian toll of the conflict. The Saudi-led coalition denied responsibility, but the attack drew the strongest rebuke yet from Washington, which said it would review its support for the campaign to “better align with U.S. principles, values and interests.”

The State Department documents reveal new details of how the United States pressed the Saudis to limit civilian damage and provided detailed lists of sites to avoid bombing, even as officials worried about whether the Saudi military had the capacity to do so.

State Department lawyers “had their hair on fire” as reports of civilian casualties in Yemen multiplied in 2015, and prominent human rights groups charged that Washington could be complicit in war crimes, one U.S. official said. That official and the others requested anonymity.

During an October 2015 meeting with private human rights groups, a State Department specialist on protecting civilians in conflict acknowledged Saudi strikes were going awry.

“The strikes are not intentionally indiscriminate but rather result from a lack of Saudi experience with dropping munitions and firing missiles,” the specialist said, according to a Department account of the meeting.

“The lack of Saudi experience is compounded by the asymmetric situation on the ground where enemy militants are not wearing uniforms and are mixed with civilian populations,” he said. “Weak intelligence likely further compounds the problem.”

The Saudis intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after he was ousted by the Houthi rebels, whom Riyadh charges are backed by Iran. The Saudis gave Washington little advance notice, U.S. military leaders have said.

The Saudi government has called allegations of civilian casualties fabricated or exaggerated and has resisted calls for an independent investigation. The Saudi-led coalition has said it takes its responsibilities under international humanitarian law seriously, and is committed to the protection of civilians in Yemen. The Saudi embassy in Washington declined further comment.

In a statement issued to Reuters before Saturday’s attack, National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said, “U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check. … We have repeatedly expressed our deep concern about airstrikes that allegedly killed and injured civilians and also the heavy humanitarian toll paid by the Yemeni people.”

The United States continues to urge the Kingdom to take additional steps to avoid “future civilian harm,” he added.

NO-STRIKE LISTS

Since March 2015, Washington has authorized more than $22.2 billion in weapons sales to Riyadh, much of it yet to be delivered. That includes a $1.29 billion sale of precision munitions announced in November 2015 and specifically meant to replenish stocks used in Yemen.

In internal policy discussions, officials said, the Pentagon and the State Department’s Near East Affairs bureau leaned toward preserving good relations with Riyadh at a time when friction was increasing because of the nuclear deal with Iran.

On the other side, the State Department’s Office of the Legal Advisor, backed by government human rights specialists, expressed concern over U.S. complicity in possible Saudi violations of the laws of war, a former official said. Reuters could not determine the timing and form of that warning.

U.S. refueling and logistical support of Riyadh’s air force – even more than the arms sales – risked making the United States a party to the Yemen conflict under international law, three officials said.

About 3,800 civilians have died in Yemen, with Saudi-led airstrikes on markets, hospitals and schools accounting for 60 percent of the death toll, the United Nations human rights office said in August.

It stopped short of accusing either side of war crimes, saying that was for a national or international court to decide.

The White House convened a meeting in August 2015 on how best to engage the Saudis over rising civilian casualties, the emails show, in a sign of mounting concern over the issue. That same month, State Department officials gathered to discuss how to track those casualties.

In late January 2016, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken chaired a meeting with officials across the department in part to discuss “Options to limit U.S. exposure to LOAC (Law of Armed Conflict) concerns,” according to a Blinken aide’s email.

The Law of Armed Conflict, a group of international laws and treaties, prohibits attacks on civilians and requires combatants to minimize civilian death and damage.

While preserving military ties with Riyadh, the Obama administration has tried to reduce civilian casualties by providing the Saudis with “no-strike lists” of targets to avoid, dispatching to Saudi Arabia a U.S. expert on mitigating civilian casualties and pressing for peace talks, the officials said.

“If we’re going to be supporting the coalition, then we have to accept a degree of responsibility for what’s happening in Yemen and exercise it appropriately,” a senior administration official said.

One no-strike list, called “The Overlay,” was delivered to the Saudis in mid to late 2015. It included water and electrical facilities and infrastructure vital to delivering humanitarian aid, a second senior official said.

“YOU CAN BE GUILTY”

In mid-October 2015, the White House ordered the U.S. Agency for International Development to compile a separate list of “critical infrastructure” that should be spared, a State Department email said.

Striking sites on the list could “do significant harm to Yemen’s ability to recover expeditiously” from the war, according to confidential U.S. talking points drafted the same month for use with Saudi officials.

“We urge you to exercise the utmost diligence in the targeting process and to take all precautions to minimize civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure,” one talking point said.

After ceasefire talks collapsed in August and airstrikes resumed, coalition bombs destroyed the main bridge from the port of Hodeidah to the capital of Sanaa, a main supply route for humanitarian food aid, Oxfam International said.

Another U.S. official said the bridge was on a U.S. no-strike list. Reuters has not seen those lists.

In May, Washington suspended sales to Riyadh of cluster munitions, which release dozens of bomblets and are considered particularly dangerous to civilians, officials said.

More than 60 U.S. House of Representatives members are urging Obama to halt a new Saudi arms sale. An effort to block that sale failed in the U.S. Senate on Sept. 21.

Some critics say the administration’s approach has failed.

“In the law of war, you can be guilty for aiding and abetting war crimes and at some point the … evidence is going to continue to mount and I think the administration is now in an untenable situation,” said Congressman Ted Lieu, a California Democrat and former military prosecutor

— source reuters.com By Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay