Even as Yemen has been struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic and a massive locust outbreak, fighting rages on. The latest airstrikes on August 7 killed as many as nine children, making it the third such attack with child deaths in the Houthi controlled province of Jawf in recent weeks.

Despite facing heavy opposition, Tawakkol Karman has continued to stand strong, passionately advocating for human rights, justice, and peace in Yemen. The following are her written answers to Inside Arabia’s questions.

Inside Arabia (IA): It’s been reported that the Houthis have recently stepped up cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities as well as military operations on the ground, and it appears Saudi Arabia has retaliated with air raids on civilian areas again. Where do you put the blame for these renewed airstrikes and do you think the UN will come up with a different conclusion as to whom to blame primarily for such strikes?

Tawakkol Karman

Tawakkol Karman featured on a 2011 cover of Time.

Tawakkol Karman (TK): Responsibility for the strikes targeting civilians is not up for discussion. The Saudi-Emirati coalition is criminally and morally responsible for them as war crimes with no statute of limitation. The recent bombing of civilians in Yemen’s Jawf province is among a series of crimes by Saudi and Emirati air forces, and the coalition has not conducted a fair and transparent investigation into any of them.

As for the UN envoy’s call for a transparent investigation into the recent crime, it will not change anything in the coalition’s arrogant behavior and its contempt for hundreds of innocent civilians who have lost their lives as a result of its indiscriminate airstrikes. The crimes by the Saudi-Emirati air forces will have no end, the truth will not be revealed, and justice will not be achieved unless an international inquiry is opened into all crimes including the targeting of civilians by this coalition. 

The United Nations will be unable to reach a different conclusion on responsibility for such flagrant crimes. Its decisions may be influenced by the lobbies of the Security Council’s permanent members, who give priority to their interests with rich oil states such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, but not to the point of acquitting the Saudi-Emirati coalition of the crimes of bombing civilians.

IA: Some of these airstrikes came after the Saudi coalition was just removed from a UN blacklist that cited it for multiple violations of killing and maiming civilians with its airstrikes. Several children, one just a baby, were victims of this latest attack. What do you make of the delisting and the UN response to Saudi pressure? Do you still have faith in the United Nations being able to remain an impartial arbiter in the conflict?

TK: It is clear from your question that the United Nations and the international community’s position in general are affected by the pressures of oil-producing states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It looks like the United Nations is ready to encumber its international relations by being silent about Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s crimes against civilians in Yemen, shirking its responsibilities and duties defined in international laws relating to human rights and war crimes.

Removing Saudi Arabia from the United Nations blacklist was not on account of Riyadh stopping its crimes or demonstrating different conduct regarding its unfair war in Yemen, but, as I have mentioned, due to pressures and bargains by major countries that prefer their interests with Saudi Arabia to human rights.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the Houthis have dark records of targeting civilians, and the United Nations has never exercised any kind of influence to the extent that it makes a difference in this case or puts an end to the crimes targeting and besieging civilians.

IA: The Southern Separatist Council (STC), supported by the United Arab Emirates, is fighting against the Hadi government forces backed by Saudi Arabia, and is now controlling Aden and much of the south of Yemen, including the island of Socotra. The STC has been calling for the partition of Yemen once again. Saudi Arabia does not seem to know how to respond to the UAE position, but according to an analysis by Sami Hamdi, may be tempted to align with the Emirati plan because it does not have one of its own. Although lately, the STC seems to have reversed its position and agreed to work with the Hadi government once again.  How do you view such developments, and do you think that partition could be the answer to the conflict?

Tawakkol Karman

Tawakkol Karman shouts slogans during an anti-government protest in Sanaa, February 10, 2011 (Photo: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

TK: Saudi Arabia and the UAE have the same position in Yemen, there is no difference at all. They work together in the southern provinces, switching places with each other. The UAE maneuvers under the supervision of Saudi Arabia, playing the operational role in support of separatist militias, attacking the pro-government army, and contributing to expelling the internationally recognized government from Aden, while Saudi Arabia acts as a supervisor, facilitator, and fixer whenever something big happens such as the coup in Aden.

The political role of Saudi Arabia to legitimize the STC’s coup in southern Yemen is no less important than the UAE’s operational role. This week, Saudi Arabia forced President Hadi to name a prime minister who does nothing but fulfill the orders of the Saudi ambassador in Aden. They will form a government in partnership with the Separatist Transitional Council, which has expelled the government from Aden and serves as the Emirati policeman in Aden and Socotra.

Saudi Arabia seeks to divide Yemen, but it will fail to do so like in past years. The people in southern areas reject the separation, and the STC – supported by Saudi Arabia and the UAE – runs Aden with the use of terrorism and violence. The provinces of Shabwa, Abyan, Hadramawt, Al-Mahrah, and Socotra have never recognized the STC and refuse its attempt to impose non-state control over them. The STC is a militia localized in part of the south, created, supported, and sponsored by the UAE. This militia, fighting a war to subjugate the southerners who reject its takeover, has revived the territorial division that led to the January 13 war during the mid-1980s in what was then known as South Yemen.

The majority of Yemenis support the choice of one unified Yemen, which is evident in three references: the Gulf initiative, the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference, and the UN Security Council resolution on Yemen, which all emphasize security, stability, and the unity of Yemen.

IA: Finally, congratulations on your recent appointment to the Facebook Oversight Board, formed to have final say over how to handle controversial content such as hate speech. This seemingly positive step has attracted you a great deal of smearing and abuse on social media by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and their proxies. It must be very hard to be on the receiving end.  How do you deal with so much vitriol and incitement on a day-to-day basis? And does it dampen your passion for speaking out against injustice?

TK: The incitement and smear campaigns against me by the counter-revolutionary coalition in Saudi Arabia and the UAE have continued since the popular February revolution in 2011. My membership in Facebook and Instagram’s oversight council gave them another opportunity for more relentless campaigns of incitement against me. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have gone so crazy that they have done everything possible to discredit me.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE represent the most ridiculous leadership in today’s world. These two dictatorships and monarchies do not hesitate to wage dirty battles against free individuals who have done nothing but believe in their peoples’ right to strive peacefully for their dignity, freedom, and justice.

Actually, I am used to such campaigns, and this is not the first one I have been exposed to. I am subjected to widespread bullying by media outlets of the Saudi regime and their allies. This is, as known, because of my opinion and opposing position to their war on Yemen and their role in occupying and destroying my country on one hand, and for criticizing their appalling human rights record on the other hand. 

And as I said, I have gotten used to their campaigns of incitement, and they will not stop me. I only hope they keep the “saw” they used to cut Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s body into pieces away from me. And at the same time, I am ready to pay with my life for my belief and struggle for freedom, dignity, justice, and democracy as sacred rights for every human being. No one has the right to deprive anyone of these basic rights.



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