Destruction in Yemen.

Destruction in Yemen. Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.

Several weeks, ago I wrote about the mass detention and likely crimes against humanity that the Chinese government is committing in Xinjiang against the Uighurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities. As I suggested, you could push the U.S. government to end its silence by encouraging your members of Congress to co-sponsor the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019 (your Senators and Representatives) and the Uighur Intervention and Global Humanitarian Unified Response Act of 2019 (thus far only introduced in the House).

Today of all days, 30 years after Tiananmen, would be a particularly apt day to act for human rights in China, and around the world.

Now we turn to actions you can take with respect to other horrendous human rights abuses – in Yemen, Burma, and South Sudan.

In Yemen, Congress did speak – but the administration refused to hear. This past April, Congress passed a joint resolution to end U.S. military engagement in Yemen. Yet Trump vetoed the resolution, and Congress failed to override the veto.

While when it comes to mass atrocities abroad the United States is often most guilty of inaction (such as regarding the Uighurs) or insufficient action, the United States is directly complicit with the Saudi Arabian-led coalition’s war crimes in Yemen (the United Arab Emirates [UAE] is the other main coalition partner).

The U.S. military provides targeting assistance and intelligence to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, and until late last year, inflight refueling to Saudi and UAE jets. The United States has also sold Saudi Arabia many billions of dollars worth of military equipment. The UN recorded nearly 7,000 civilian deaths (and more than 10,000 wounded) from airstrikes from March 2015 through early November 2018 – though this is almost surely a huge underestimate (see below) – with Saudi and UAE airstrikes having accounted for the majority of them. Human Rights Watch has documented more than 90 likely unlawful strikes, some of which may be war crimes, and found U.S.-made munitions at more than two dozen of these sites. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented U.S.-made cluster munitions – an indiscriminate weapon banned by a 2008 treaty, though not one that the United States has joined – at the sites of coalition attacks.

The UNDP estimates that if the Yemen war winds down by the end of 2019, it will have caused about 233,000 deaths. By the end of 2018, the war had already led to more than 69,000 deaths from combat (2014 through 2018), nearly 85,000 children had died from starvation (April 2014 through October 2018), and other causes of mortality robbed still more people of their lives. (The higher toll from combat than that cited above is due to a more-encompassing methodology, one less likely to miss casualties because, for instance, they had to be reported by a health facility or the responsible entity had to be known.)

Though the latest congressional effort to end U.S. involvement fell short, that does not mean that Congress cannot act to stop U.S. involvement in the war. Win Without War, an NGO, is calling for the United States to stop selling precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to end targeting, intelligence sharing, and other logistical support, and to end all of U.S. military support to Saudi Arabia and other members of its coalition.

The key is must-pass legislation that would be very difficult to veto, in particular the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and appropriations legislation. More specifically, through the NDAA, Congress could prohibit assistance, including intelligence sharing, refueling, and logistics, to any member of the Saudi-led coalition, and could suspend licenses for parts required to maintain and sustain the coalition’s planes – which would, in short order, ground them. Also, NDAA or defense appropriations legislation could ban sales of U.S. arms to Saudi Arabia or other coalition members, and require sanctions on anyone involved in blockading Yemeni ports, obstructing humanitarian aid, or other human rights abuses involving Yemen. (These and other provisions are included in very worthy Saudi Arabia and Yemen Accountability Act of 2019, though even if Congress passed this free-standing legislation, it is extremely unlikely Congress would be able to overcome a veto that would surely follow.)

So write and call your members of Congress, and urge them to take these steps. Meanwhile, urge your members of Congress to continue to press the administration to stop an immediate threatened $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which Congress already sought to block. The administration has claimed an emergency. There is an emergency, in Yemen, and that is precisely why this sale must not go through. You can sign this petition.

You can also take steps to address two horrible crimes that I have written about earlier, the genocide against the Rohingya and the crimes of humanity-ridden civil war in South Sudan, which has led to more than 380,000 deaths. An important piece of legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Senate, the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2019 (S.1186). Among others, its provisions would authorize humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya, sanction Burmese military officials, and create import restrictions on jade and rubies; Burmese military interests dominate their extraction and trade. Urge your Senators to co-sponsor this legislation. Outside of Congress, you can urge the high-end jewelry retailer Bulgari to step selling “genocide gems” from Burma, such as sapphires and rubies.

And second, don’t let a lobbying firm block creation of a court for the atrocities that both the government and rebel forces have committed since the civil war began in South Sudan in 2013. The latest ceasefire in South Sudan, signed in September 2018 and holding so far even as its provisions have yet to be implemented, includes an agreement to establish a hybrid court (with a mix of South Sudanese and other African judges) to hold perpetrators accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Yet evidently due to the massive level of crimes that the government of South Sudan has committed, they have hired a California-based lobbying firm, the misnamed Gainful Solutions, to block the hybrid court from being established, as well as to lobby the U.S. administration to reverse current sanctions and not impose new ones. Write to the firm to express your disapproval.

Brutal “re-education” camps in China, U.S. complicity in war crimes in Yemen, the continued meager response to the genocide against the Rohingya, an effort to block accountability for horrific crimes in South Sudan….We don’t know whether our voices will be heard even if we act. But if we stay silent, we know that we will not be heard. Don’t let this moment pass in silence.

Photo of a candle

Remembering June 4, 1989. Act today for democracy and human rights.