Saudi Arabia: UN human rights report on Yemen flawed

The Yemeni army has so far removed over 300,000 landmines planted by Iran-backed Houthi militias. (AFP)
Updated 27 September 2018
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Saudi Arabia: UN human rights report on Yemen flawed

  • The Kingdom’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Wasel, said that the Kingdom had written to the UN High Commission with its criticisms
  • The ambassador said the report ignored the fact that the Iranian-backed Houthi militias obstructed humanitarian aid into Yemen and detained and looted many vessels carrying aid

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has strongly criticized the report of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights for Yemen, saying it had fallen away from objectivity, rushed to conclusions and made several errors in its approach and contents.
The Kingdom’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Wasel, said that the Kingdom had written back to the UN High Commission with its criticisms.
He said in a speech to the Human Rights Council during a dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report, which included the report of the international and regional expert group, that the report ignored the information provided for the Group of Experts during its meetings with agencies in the coalition for the support of legitimacy in Yemen.
Al-Wasel added that the Kingdom was surprised by the experts group’s claim that it did not receive specific information from the coalition countries about the targeting procedures, although they were informed of the procedures in place during the group’s visit to the coalition’s command in Riyadh.
It was also surprising, Al-Wasel said, that the experts group based its conclusions on guessing and expectations and the examination of a limited number of violations, when its mandate includes all violations since September 2014.
He said that the report clearly ignored the widespread violations that occurred when Houthi militias swept Yemeni cities, took control of the capital and the state’s institutions and chased the president and his government’s members, and this was the basis of the current Yemeni crisis.
The ambassador added that the report also ignored the fact that the Iranian-backed Houthi militias obstructed humanitarian aid into Yemen and detained and looted many vessels carrying aid.
He also said that ballistic missiles, more than 197 of which targeted Saudi Arabian cities, represent a violation of international humanitarian law, which was not mentioned in the report along with the violations of the Houthis. Nor did the report address the main role of Houthi militias in planting naval and land mines in violation of international law.
Al-Wasel said that the coalition affirms the need for the international community to support the legitimate government in Yemen and reactivate the state’s institutions.
He added that the coalition affirms its full commitment to all provisions of international humanitarian law. The coalition, he said, had developed mechanisms and measures to deal quickly and transparently with mistakes during military operations.

Meanwhile, Kuwait’s permanent delegate to the UN, Ambassador Jamal Al-Ghunaim told the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council that the report was “deeply flawed.”

“[The report] seems to hurl false accusations at the Saudi-led Coalition,” Al-Ghunaim said.

He said the UN experts singled out the coalition of Arab states fighting Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi militia as accountable for the human rights violations in the war-torn country.

“The Arab Coalition never ceased to cooperate with the UN specialists in Yemen to ensure that civilian casualties are averted,” he said.

The Kuwaiti diplomat went on to give the Arab coalition credit for their “efforts to restore normalcy and hope to the lives of the Yemeni people.”


Mardini — refugee from Syria rising fast after fleeing war

Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, the Olypmpia swimmer, escaped conflict in her homeland. A year later she famously competed at the Rio Olympics. (Photo/UNHCR)
Updated 22 July 2019
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Mardini — refugee from Syria rising fast after fleeing war

  • The 21-year-old girl almost drowned at sea fleeing her war-torn country four years ago

GWANGJU/SOUTH KOREA: Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, who almost drowned at sea fleeing her war-torn country four years ago, heaved a deep sigh after failing to set a personal best at the world swimming championships on Sunday.

Representing FINA’s independent athletes team, the 21-year-old looked up at the giant scoreboard and winced at her time of 1 minute 8.79 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly heats in South Korea.
“I’m not very happy actually,” Mardini told AFP.
“I had some problems with my shoulder but I’m back in training. I still have the 100m freestyle and I’m looking forward to that.”
Mardini’s time was more than 12 seconds slower than that of reigning champion Sarah Sjostrom and 47th overall, but she has come a long way since risking her life crossing from Izmir in Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos in the summer of 2015.
Refugee swimmer Mardini knows what she is talking about when it comes to family separation for asylum seekers.
In 2015, she and her sister Sarah had escaped conflict in their homeland when the boat they were aboard with other refugees began sinking. They jumped out and swam part of the journey from Turkey to Greece.
They then embarked on an overland trip from Greece to Germany, evading local authorities in countries with immigration policies that barred them from legal entry. Along the way the sisters slept in train stations or wherever they could find shelter.
Mardini empathizes with families currently separated along the US southern border.
“This is the most terrible thing anyone can have — to live without a mom or to live without a family,” she said on Sunday at the world swimming championships where she’s competing as an independent athlete.
“I arrived in Greece in only jeans and a T-shirt,” said Mardini, who also swims in the 100m freestyle later this week. “Even my shoes were gone.”
“In the beginning I refused to be in a refugee team because I was afraid people would think I got the chance because of my story,” said Mardini, who now lives with her family in Berlin.
“I wanted to earn it. But then I realized I had a big opportunity to represent those people — so I took the chance and I never regretted it,” she added.
Mardini was 17 at the time. She is now a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She famously competed at the Rio Olympics a year later under the refugee flag.

FASTFACT

• In 2015, she and her sister had escaped conflict in their homeland when the boat they were aboard with other refugees began sinking. They jumped out and swam part of the journey from Turkey to Greece.

• Mardini was 17 at the time. She is now a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Rio was amazing. It was really exciting to see the reaction of people to the team. Now I’m representing millions of displaced people around the world and it really makes me proud.”
It is a far cry from life back in Syria, where rocket strikes would often shake the pool she trained at in Damascus.
“There were bomb attacks sometimes that would crack the windows around the pool,” said Mardini, who has addressed the UN General Assembly and whose story is set to be told in a Hollywood movie.
“I know people who lost their moms on the way or in the water — that got drowned — and I feel this is terrible,” she said.
Mardini said that from the time she left Syria she lived without her mother for six months. Eventually, they were reunited in Germany, where they now live in Berlin. “I felt so alone,” she said. “So lonely.”
The experience has prompted her to stand up for fellow asylum seekers in similar situations.
“Someone has to do something about it,” Mardini said. “The least we can do is talk about it, not just ignore it like everything else happening in the world.”
Mardini finished 47th out of 52 swimmers in the 100-meter butterfly heats on Sunday. Her other event in Gwangju is the 100 freestyle on Thursday.
She is attempting to again qualify for the Olympics as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team.
“My goal now is just to swim a new personal best,” she said. “And my next goal will be Tokyo 2020.”
Fellow Syrian Ayman Kelzieh was also forced to flee the country before competing at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.
Returning to Korea five years later, the 26-year-old now owns a fistful of national swim records, including the 50m, 100m and 200m butterfly.
“When the war started I had just moved to Damascus and I couldn’t get back home to Aleppo,” said Kelzieh, who now lives on the Thai island of Phuket.
“But even in Damascus bombs sometimes even went off at the swimming pool we trained at,” he added after taking a poolside selfie with his idol, South African star Chad le Clos.
“There were even attacks at the hotel I stayed in — I was lucky.”