Since the conflict began more than two years ago, my home country of Yemen has borne witness to the grave human suffering of millions of people – most of them women and children. It's often described as a 'forgotten' conflict, but Yemenis don't feel forgotten - we feel wilfully ignored by the international community, left to the mercy of a war which has seen all sides commit grave violations against innocent civilians. This war has left 80% of the population in need of humanitarian assistance, 7 million not knowing where their next meal will come from, and almost three quarters of a million in the grip of the worst cholera epidemic in modern times.
These are the facts I tell every day as the Chairperson of Mwatana, an independent Yemeni organization working to defend and protect human rights. I haven't been able to return to my home country for many months now. My work to document and give voice to the victims of human rights abuses that happen daily by all parties to the conflict means I face threats from all sides, who would prefer their crimes to go unrecorded and unpunished.
The story of Yemen is presented as the world's largest humanitarian tragedy. But this crisis is man-made, fuelled by political choices. Political action could end it. So while I cannot return to my country, I am walking the corridors of power – from London to Paris, Brussels, Netherlands, Germany, Geneva and the US – to tell the stories gathered by Mwatana. Stories like that of Abdulhafeez, who cried as he gathered the bodies of his children and grandchildren from the rubble after his house was hit by a Houthi/Saleh shell. Or Fahmi, who heard the explosion of the coalition airstrike that killed his wife and three of his children, aged nine, three and just one and a half years old, in their home. Cluster bombs, Kalashnikovs, landmines, mortars, ballistic missiles, and F-16s: all have been used to attack civilians. My heart breaks for each Yemeni child, man or woman caught up in the conflict.
I continue to raise the voices of victims because I remain optimistic that the story of Yemen can ultimately be one of peace. To get there requires political will. Many Yemenis believe that UK can play a positive role in Yemen. When I met the Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt, I was glad to hear from him that addressing the crisis in Yemen is his personal priority. I hope that this week, he will seize the opportunity to show that our suffering will be ignored no longer.
To turn the page on this unimaginable suffering a peace process is desperately needed. Convincing parties back to the peace table starts with sending a clear message to parties to the conflict that they will be held to account for their abuses and violations against civilians.
At the UN Human Rights Council this week, the UK can send this signal by backing a resolution to establish an independent, international investigation into violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Mwatana has been joined by over 100 leading international and Yemeni humanitarian and human rights organisations, as well as leading Parliamentarians, members of Congress, and key figures from across the UN, all united in calling for an independent inquiry. The Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights has stated that the existing Yemeni National Commission’s methodology falls short of international standards and that it has ‘yet to clarify how its work could facilitate viable mechanisms of accountability’ in order to provide independent and substantive reports on the human rights situation in Yemen.
UK support is critical to ensure that a new, truly independent mechanism is established to end the culture of impunity in Yemen and bring justice to victims and their families on all sides of this horrific conflict. Civilians continue to pay the price of the parties’ recklessness in Yemen. I believe that the international community can help turn the Yemeni tragedy into a success story. However, the window of opportunity for this is closing fast. Extremist militias are taking hold across the country. If allowed to gain the upper hand, the dream of a peace process can be all but forgotten. The Prime Minister spoke this week of the UK's commitment to the fundamental values of fairness, justice and human rights. This week the UK has a chance to help advance these values in Yemen. If the world fails us again this week, our nightmare will continue.
Radhya Almutawakel is the Chairperson of Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights
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