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Yemen: Deadly Stampede at Charity Event Illustrates Desperation in Nation Devastated by Years of War

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In Yemen, at least 79 people were killed and over 300 injured in a stampede on Wednesday in the capital city of Sana’a. The crowd crush began after armed Houthis fired into the air to control the crowd, striking electrical equipment and causing it to explode. The tragic deaths come as Yemen continues to face one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises following years of fighting between U.S.-backed Saudi forces and the Houthi rebels. While a ceasefire began a year ago, no agreement has been reached yet on making it permanent. We speak to Ali Jameel, the accountability and redress director of Mwatana for Human Rights, a group based in Yemen.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We end today’s show in Yemen, where at least 79 people were killed, over 300 injured, in a stampede Wednesday as residents of the capital Sana’a gathered at a school where local merchants were giving away charitable donations to mark the end of Ramadan. Hundreds of people gathered to receive what amounted to about $10. Witnesses told the Associated Press the crowd crush began after armed Houthis fired into the air to control the crowd, striking electrical equipment and causing it to explode.

The tragic deaths come as Yemen continues to face one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, following years of fighting between the U.S.-backed Saudi forces and Houthi rebels. While a ceasefire began a year ago, no agreement has been reached yet on making it permanent. Earlier this month, envoys from Saudi Arabia and Oman visited Sana’a for talks with the Houthis. This came weeks after China helped broker a deal to reestablish diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia also recently exchanged more than 800 prisoners of war with Houthis in the largest prisoner exchange since 2020.

We’re joined now by Ali Jameel, the accountability and redress director of Mwatana for Human Rights, a group that’s based in Yemen. He’s visiting New York, where he’s joining us from now.

Ali, thanks so much for joining us. Can you talk about what happened this week, but then put it into the larger context of the devastation of Yemen?

ALI JAMEEL: Thank you very much.

What we are doing now currently is investigating into this incident in which at least 78 people died in a charity event. But this event shows us a snapshot that illustrates the situation of starvation in Yemen. Hundreds of people were going to death to get donations of nearly $10. Mwatana for Human Rights have worked on the use of starvation as a method of war, and have made significant investigations for a year long into the conduct and the attacks of different warring parties that led to starvation. Our report, the “Starvation Makers,” looks into the attacks that has been done by the Saudi-led coalition and also the conduct of the Houthi armed — nongovernmental armed forces, that really impacted the food and water security of civilians in Yemen.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Ali Jameel, about this rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, what kind of effect this will have?

ALI JAMEEL: There isn’t enough information available about the deal. But we’re not even sure if this will impact the war in Yemen and to what extent it will have an impact. But what is clear is that there is also talks between Saudis and Houthis, and the Saudi ambassador to Yemen was in Sana’a a couple of weeks ago. And there have been also a detainees swap for over 800 detainees. We see this as good steps in terms of building trust among warring parties and could have a good potential of reaching a peace deal, but this is not all what civilians want. It is very important for this war to end, but it’s also very important to have accountability, justice, transitional justice, reparations.

Yemen has a long history of armed conflicts that happened in the '60s, ’80s, ’90s, 2003, seven wars in Saada. All of these were ended in a political agreement that didn't have any accountability aspect. And because there is no accountability, no transitional justice, each conflict was just basically a seed for another conflict. And looking into the conflict today, it’s clear how much it has an impact from prior conflicts. So this violent cycle should be broken, and it will never be broken without transitional justice, accountability and redress and reparations.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, there is a lot being made now, as it should be, of war crimes when it comes to what’s happening in Ukraine. But Mwatana for Human Rights, your group, has said war crimes are and have been committed at the highest level in Yemen. Can you talk about the parties responsible and what these grave crimes are that you have investigated?

ALI JAMEEL: Mwatana for Human Rights has a very big team, over 100 team members all over Yemen. We have almost a researcher and a lawyer in each Yemeni governorate. We investigate cases of violations of international humanitarian law, international law of human rights. We have, until now, documented over 8,000 cases of human rights abuses, committed by all warring parties in Yemen.

I can say that there is no warring party in Yemen better than the other one. All warring parties in Yemen has been committing horrific violations of human rights that may amount to war crimes. We have documented over a thousand cases of airstrikes, also land shelling, landmines, child recruitment, arbitrary detention, forced disappearance, torture, attacks on schools, on hospitals, and a very wide range of other violations that has been committed by all warring parties in Yemen.

We used to have in Yemen an independent mechanism formed by the U.N., specifically by the Human Rights Council, called the Group of Eminent Experts. It was the only independent mechanism that investigate in these violations. Unfortunately, in 2021, the Saudis just put all of the sticks and cards to terminate the mandate of this investigative body. And currently, Yemen doesn’t have any U.N. or international investigative body to investigate on those crimes. And this didn’t only stop the investigations and the reporting on the violations of Saudis, but it stopped all the reporting on violations on Saudis, Houthis, STC and other warring parties in Yemen.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, how will a peace process move forward that you think could stick, that you think would hold all sides accountable, Ali?

ALI JAMEEL: Yeah. Any peace that doesn’t has accountability, transitional justice, reparations, truth-telling is just a political agreement that can fall at any time. If we’re really looking into a long-lasting, durable peace, we should really take the issues of accountability, transitional justice, also reparations to victims and truth-telling into considerations.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Jameel, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Yemeni human rights advocate and accountability and redress director of Mwatana for Human Rights, visiting New York City from Sana’a, Yemen.

That does it for our show. I’m speaking at two events this weekend. On Saturday, on April 22nd, in Troy, New York, at a celebration of the Sanctuary for Independent Media, 7 p.m. And on Sunday, I’ll be in Boston giving the 10th Annual Dorothy Day Lecture at Emmanuel College at 1 p.m. For all details, you can go to democracynow.org.

Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Sonyi Lopez, Denis Moynihan. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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