Houthi militia blocking vital cholera vaccines from entering Yemen: AP investigation

A worker sprays pesticides inside a tent where patients receive medical care at a cholera treatment center in Sanaa in March, 2019. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 09 April 2019

Houthi militia blocking vital cholera vaccines from entering Yemen: AP investigation

  • The AP report examined efforts to fight the disease in Yemen
  • Houthis responsible for cancelation of 2017 vaccine shipment of half a million vaccine doses

LONDON: Houthi militia have consistently prevented doses of cholera vaccine from reaching those in desperate need of treatment in Yemen, according to an Associated Press investigation published on Tuesday.
The investigation into efforts to fight the disease in the country — the worst cholera outbreak recorded in modern times and one that medical researchers say may have been avoided if vaccines had been deployed sooner — drew on confidential documents and interviews with 29 people.
The people included aid officials and officials from health ministries run by both the Iranian-backed Houthis and the legitimate government.
Almost all of these individuals, including six relief and health officials who say the Houthis were responsible for cancelation of a 2017 vaccine shipment of half a million doses, spoke on condition of anonymity.
The 2017 shipment was unable to enter northern Yemen until May 2018 because the Houthis refused to allow the vaccines to be delivered, after spending months demanding the UN to send ambulances and medical equipment for their forces as a condition for accepting the shipment.
The investigation highlighted the fact that the cancelation of the 2017 shipment was just one of the setbacks aid agencies face in battling the cholera epidemic, which has killed nearly 3,000 Yemenis.
“The Houthis are taking advantage of UN weakness,” an aid official told the AP investigation.
“Corruption or aid diversion and all of this are because of the UN’s weak position.”
The first significant cholera outbreak came in late 2016, leading to more than 25,000 suspected cases and killing at least 129. Soon after, in April 2017, the disease erupted again, this time spreading at an even more furious pace. Within two months, more than 185,000 suspected cases and 1,200 deaths were reported.
According to the AP report, when UN officials attempted to get oral vaccines into the country to halt the spread, a number of Houthi officials claimed the vaccines were “ineffective.” 
Some officials circulated messages on social media claiming that the vaccines would be harmful to children, while other Houthi leaders suggested the vaccination plan was a “plot by the US and Israel to use Yemenis as guinea pigs.”
A former Houthi Health Ministry official told AP that the concerns were just a ruse, and that the militia leaders had list of demands they wanted met in a bid to bargain with UN officials for money and equipment, he said.

(With Associated Press)


French FM holds Iraq talks on Daesh prisoners in Syria

Updated 47 min 11 sec ago

French FM holds Iraq talks on Daesh prisoners in Syria

  • One of the issues is Iraq’s use of death penalty, which is outlawed throughout EU
  • Several EU countries sent technical missions to Baghdad to assess the situation

BAGHDAD: France’s top diplomat held talks in Baghdad on Thursday about transferring foreign militants from northern Syria, where a Turkish offensive has triggered fears of mass jailbreaks, to be tried in Iraq.
European governments are worried that the Turkish operation will allow the escape of some of the 12,000 suspected Daesh group fighters — including thousands of foreigners — held by Syrian Kurds.
The issue was top of the agenda for French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in his talks with his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed Ali Al-Hakim, President Barham Saleh and Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.
“We need to work things out with the Iraqi authorities so that we can find a way to have a judicial mechanism that is able to judge all these fighters, including obviously the French fighters,” Le Drian told French TV channel BFM on Wednesday.
The aim is for foreign militants to be tried in Iraqi courts while upholding certain principles of justice and respect for human rights, a French diplomatic source said.
One issue will be Iraq’s use of the death penalty, which is outlawed throughout the EU.
Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden sent officials on a technical mission to Baghdad this week to assess the situation.
“There are talks between the Americans, the British, French and Iraqis about funding the construction of prisons,” Hisham Al-Hashemi, an Iraqi expert on Daesh, told AFP.
Hundreds of foreigners have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment in Iraq for belonging to Daesh.
Eleven French militants handed over to Iraqi authorities early this year by US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria were sentenced to death by a court in Baghdad.
In April, Iraq offered to try foreign Daesh suspects in exchange for operational costs.
One Iraqi official said Baghdad had requested $2 billion to put the suspects on trial.
Turkey on Monday accused Kurdish forces of deliberately releasing Daesh prisoners held at a prison in the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad “in an attempt to fuel chaos in the area.”
Kurdish officials claimed that Turkish bombardments had allowed nearly 800 relatives of foreign Daesh fighters to escape from a camp for the displaced.
According to the Kurdish administration, there are around 12,000 suspected Daesh fighters in the custody of Kurdish security forces across northeastern Syria.
At least 2,500 of them are non-Iraqi foreigners of more than 50 different nationalities. Tunisia is thought to have the biggest contingent.
Officials in Paris say 60 to 70 French nationals are among those held.
The rest are around 4,000 Syrians and roughly the same number of Iraqis.
The fighters, who were detained mostly in the course of operations led by Kurdish forces and backed by the US-led coalition against Daesh, are detained in at least seven facilities.
Western governments such as France have been reluctant to take them back, for lack of a clear legal framework and fears of a public backlash.
Le Drian said Wednesday that the security of Kurdish-run prisons holding suspected militants in northern Syria was “currently” not threatened by the Turkish military operation.