- Tawakkul Karmanthe first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She is a Yemeni activist who founded Women Journalists Without Chains and has played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen.
Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkul Karman, one of three recipients who split the award this year, spoke in New York City at the Brecht Forum in September 2010 about state violence, targeted killings, and human rights abuses enabled by the so-called “war on terror.” Democracy Now! was there, and we bring you her address. Karman notes that by cooperating with the Yemeni government’s repression of its opponents, the United States “has transitioned from being the leader of the free world to a watch dog for tyrant regimes.”
Click here to watch today’s interview with reporter Iona Craig about Tawakkul Karman.
TAWAKKUL KARMAN: I want also to thank FIDH to give us this opportunity to come to the U.S. and to speak with the American people and American government about the situation in Yemen. FIDH invite the five human right—five NGOs who are members in it with them to come to the high level in American administration in Department of State and the White House and here in U.N., and speak also with the NGOs. I want just to speak briefly about FIDH and about their report about the situation in Yemen, the human rights situation in Yemen, especially after the campaign of counterterrorism. This report, you will find it out this hall. You can take it from there.
Now I will start to speak in Arabic, because my English is still weak, and you have to pardon me, and I will—I prefer to speak about my country in Arabic.
[translated] In reality, the situation in Yemen unfortunately is going towards the unknown. As we follow up on the situation on the ground on what’s going on in Yemen, all the deterioration that is going on in the social life, the economic life, the political life, there is an increasing deterioration in all aspects. And this became even clearer, and the situation is worse and worse since 2005. Democracy, the democratic margin became narrower and narrower since 2005, especially when it comes to freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. As human rights activists, we started to become aware of this incredible and malignant, malicious attack by the government on all kinds of liberties and human rights, also attacks against journalists, and also as political activists.
The more we demand our rights and the more we demand the respect for human rights, the more—of course, the more attacks we receive and the more the government attacks our rights and the rights of citizens. Although this malicious attack has been led by the Yemeni government, we really believed that we had an international partnership with the international community, with the partnership of course with the NGOs rather than with the government, and also with the government, in order to promote democracy and human rights and combat corruption in our country. This is a principal, a main part of our partnership in this society. We will be told that what comes—what is coming is better. However, unfortunately, in the last two years, the horizon looks very bleak and very scary, in fact.
I would give you some details and numbers. Let’s talk about the freedom of press, for example. In 2005, there were 53 cases of violations against human rights against the press, according to statistics recorded by our network; in 2006, 69 violations; in 2007, 112 violations; in 2008, 240 violations; in 2009, 259 violations. These violations vary between kidnappings, shutting down newspapers, or forced disappearance, detention, preventing them from receiving information, breaking their cameras, and all sorts of offenses. This is just a really small description just to allow you to be able to judge what kind of democracy we have in our country and what kind of respect our citizens get from our government.
With this scary situation, we had—with this scary deterioration, we have problems also in the north and in the south. We have a war in the north in Sada’a. There are separatist movements in the south, a peaceful Southern Movement. And in the middle, we have this war against activists, against journalists. This would have been easy. It would have not have been much of a problem, because we were fighting all the time. We have always been fighting for the freedom of our country, the freedom of our people, the freedom of press, the freedom of speech. And we have always fought these violations against human rights that the government of Yemen was committing. We counted on our fight inside the country but also on our partnerships outside of the country. We counted on what the West was telling us, as well, all the speech about the importance of human rights and good governance and democracy. However, when the war on terror started, everything was over.
Now we have a battle on two fronts: one against our government and one against the governments that support our government in all the violations that it is committing against its citizens. And this is, in summary, a description of the title of the CCR’s report: Yemen and the United States government killing innocent people under the name of the war against terrorism. This is the message I would like to give our friends here from the civil society organizations that are present here. This is the same message that we have delivered to the U.S. administration, also to the U.N. and the European Union, that we are partners in the development of democracy, of the fight for human rights and for civil liberties. We also support the fight against terror. However, we do not accept that this fight against terror be carried out at the expense of innocent civilians. We do not accept that innocent civilians are killed and targeted under the cover of the war on terror. This is what happened exactly in 2009 in December, when tens of women and children were killed in Majalah, in Abyan. They were killed by U.S. drone airplanes, with a shameful coordination with the Yemeni government. And this is exactly the same cover that is used all the time and still is used right now by the Yemeni government to oppress and strike against its political opponents, and especially the opponents in the south.
The areas or the principalities and provinces of the south are being continuously attacked and placed under siege, and the prisons are being filled with the militants from the Southern Movement, the peaceful Southern Movement, under the pretext that they belong to al-Qaeda or they are terrorists. And right now in Abyan, houses are being destroyed, the homes of innocent civilians, militants, are being destroyed, under the cover or the pretext of the war on terror or belonging to al-Qaeda, when al-Qaeda members are moving around freely. So, these attacks are—the government is leading attacks against the civil rights activists, against politicians or political party leaders, and basically, when carrying out these attacks, they are actually attacking and killing our partnership with the West.
The war on terror is important and necessary. However, we told the U.S. administration—we told them what I’m just going to say. The U.S. administration is dealing with this problem either by being naive or by pretending to be naive. This is what happens when the United States cooperates with a government that starts killing the—that starts targeting the so-called terrorists and killing innocent civilians, killing the activists by pretending they are terrorists, and while the terrorists are walking around free. They want to combat terrorism through security cooperation only. Their war against terror is not a cultural one. It did not extend to culture. It did not extend to reinforcing the values of tolerance and the values of dialogue and living together. They are killing people based on false intelligence reports, as I told you happened in the incident of Majalah.
The United States wagers or counts on its partnership with the government, when in fact they have partnerships in the civil society and political leaders in other areas that really can offer great solution to the problem of terrorism. We admit, we recognize the right of the United States in putting pressure on the government to grant rights and liberties, its role in supporting a civil society organizations, events. Even though I think—while I think this is a good pressure, I believe this is a very superficial effort, because up ’til now it has not taken any concrete step to support organizations, political parties and journalists, members of the civil society, to own their own media outlet. Only this way will the real victim, the Yemeni citizen, the simple Yemeni citizen, be able to spread or to learn about and spread this culture of tolerance, of dialogue and living together. The United States now became, with its coalition and cooperation with the Yemeni regime, who oppresses the opposition in the south—the United States, instead of supporting the opposition, now the United States transitioned from being the leader of the free world to a watch dog for tyrant regimes. This is, in summary, a description of what’s going on in Yemen, and we can discuss later a number of solutions that we propose in order to lead to solve these problems in Yeman and create a more stable Yemen, a Yemen where the future is bright.