The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Remember Yemen: The time to halt U.S. arms sales is now

At the end of September, Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Thomas Massie (R-KY) introduced bipartisan legislation to end U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. This month, as world leaders seek information on missing Washington Post journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, the issue of U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia have taken on a more urgent tone.

The civil war in Yemen began in 2015, one year after the Houthis, a Shia rebel group, captured Yemen’s capital and forced President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia. In 2015, backed by Saudi Arabia, Hadi returned to Yemen in order to fight back for the presidency. Saudi Arabia, an important U.S. ally, now leads a coalition of mostly-Arab states working to defeat the Houthis and reinstate Hadi as president. That coalition is  militarily by the U.S., U.K., France, and other developed nations. U.S. weapons sales, intelligence, and even mid-air refueling, have, and continue to, aid Saudi Arabia in terrorizing civilians with impunity.

Over the past two years, the conflict has escalated dramatically, and earlier this year, the U.N. labeled Yemen 2018’s worst humanitarian crisis. While the UN has accused both sides of committing war crimes by intentionally targeting civilians, due to their wealth and backing by foreign powers, the Saudi-led coalition has caused a majority of the damage, including by blockading ports and preventing aid, oil, and supplies from entering the country. This siege is especially dangerous in a country where more than 50% of hospitals have shut down, and 22.2 million people – or 75% of the population – are reliant on humanitarian aid.

U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition has, thus far, been unconditional, allowing Saudi Arabia to continue targeting civilians in Yemen. Indeed, in August,  Saudi Arabia dropped a bomb on a heavily-populated market, killing 51 people, including 40 school children, and injuring 79 others. The bomb? Produced by U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin and sold in a State Department-sanctioned arms sale. Enough is enough.

House Concurrent Resolution 138 invokes the War Powers Resolution, which states that only Congress has the authority to declare war. Since U.S. involvement in the crisis is tantamount to waging  war in Yemen, the co-sponsors of the resolution argue that it is time for Congress to vote on whether or not America should continue to aid Saudi Arabia in fighting this war.

Similar resolutions have been introduced in the past. In 2017, a House resolution that also invoked the War Powers Resolution to pull the U.S. out of Yemen, but was never voted on. In March of this year, Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced a resolution to end the U.S. role in the war in Yemen – but it failed by a vote of 44-55.  Legislators have also tried to stop the U.S. sale of arms to Saudi Arabia; in 2017, 47 Senators voted to stop a massive weapons sale, falling just short of the threshold to halt the sale.

America has been complicit in war crimes for too long, and it’s time to do something about the crisis  in Yemen. Call your Representatives at 1-833-STOP-WAR and urge them to support H.Con.Res. 138.

116Amala Karri is a rising senior at Hunter College High School in New York City. She is currently serving as the National Policy Coordinator for STAND.


5 Reasons the Trump Administration Should Support Genocide Prevention

When human rights abuses are committed and civilians are killed, the world looks to American leadership. If the U.S. wishes to maintain its purported status as the leader of the free world, it is essential for the U.S. to take a stance against mass atrocities and work to prevent genocide and mass atrocities from occurring. Here are five reasons that the Trump Administration should care about genocide prevention:

1. To defend America’s moral integrity

America considers itself a staunch defender of democracy and human rights around the world. Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States denounce infringements on equality and basic human rights. As President Kennedy remarked, “the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” When the U.S. fails to stand up to mass atrocities, our image as a human rights defender is tarnished and our credibility damaged. We must stay true to our ideals in order to maintain moral integrity.

2. To prevent terrorism

President Trump ran his campaign on a platform of defeating ISIL and ending terrorism. Genocide and terrorism are becoming increasingly linked. In his floor speech on the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, Republican Senator Thom Tillis said, “the rise of terrorist cults like ISIL and al-Shabaab that are committing genocide…If you think that this is a problem that is ‘over there,’ think again.  Terrorism has reached our shores.” Last year, a UN report found that ISIL had committed genocide by targeting and murdering members of the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq and Syria.

To prevent more terrorist groups from committing mass atrocities, the Trump Administration must develop strategies to identify warning signs and prevent situations from escalating. Even when the actors committing mass atrocities are not terrorist groups, genocide prevention reduces terrorism, as unstable, post-genocidal regions become recruitment sites for terrorist organizations. Mass atrocities destabilize entire regions, create and exacerbate ethnic tensions, and set the foundation for radicalization. Since President Reagan moved to ratify the Genocide Convention in 1988, every U.S. president has recognized the importance of preventing genocide.

3. To prevent refugee crises

President Trump recently signed an Executive Order restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations. During the Presidential race, he discussed the supposed security threat posed by refugees from Syria and Libya. Mass atrocities cause entire populations to flee, leading to refugee crises. A focus on atrocity prevention addresses root causes of refugee flows. During World War II, approximately 60 million Europeans became refugees. The Rwandan Genocide caused more than 1.4 million Rwandans to flee the country. Right now, the number of displaced people is at its highest point since World War II. An increased focus on prevention strategies in emerging conflict areas will keep that number from increasing.

4. To reduce costs for the U.S.

When we fail to prevent genocide and mass atrocities, the costs for the U.S. are significant. When an entire region becomes destabilized and poses a threat to the U.S., American troops are sent in and forced to risk their lives. As Senator Tillis pointed out, we owe it to our servicemembers to “avoid sending [them] into harm’s way to confront a conflict that could have been prevented without firing a single shot.” President Trump has cares deeply about veteran’s rights, and one of the best ways to support soldiers is to keep them out of unnecessary conflicts. Even when the U.S. does not send American troops, the costs can be  astronomical, as rebuilding regions, and helping civilians reeling from the effects of mass atrocities can cost billions of dollars. As someone who has criticized foreign aid and wishes to repurpose that money for domestic issues, President Trump should invest in prevention in order to reduce the amount of U.S. tax dollars spent on foreign aid.

5. Because genocide has devastating effects on humanity

The Holocaust killed up to 6 million Jews. The Rwandan genocide killed approximately 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. During the Cambodian genocide, 1.7 to 2 million Cambodians were slaughtered. Millions more were tortured or forced to flee. In the aftermath of each of these horrible events, the world has declared, “Never again.” The atrocities committed were so immense that the thought of ever allowing them to be repeated was unimaginable, but the U.S. has consistently failed to intervene in time to stop genocide.  As Commander-in-Chief, President Trump has the opportunity to make the promise of never again a reality.

Amala Karri is STAND’s Northeast Regional Organizer and attends Hunter College High School in New York.

Human Rights Abuses and Ethnic Conflict in Ethiopia

Almost a year ago, the Ethiopian government announced the Addis Ababa Master Plan, which proposed an expansion of Ethiopia’s capital into surrounding farms within the Oromia region. The Oromo, who make up 40% of Ethiopia’s population, frequently complain about their lack of representation in the capital, and, following the announcement of the master plan, Oromo demonstrators gathered to show their disapproval and anger. The protests quickly turned violent. On December 16, 2015, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn declared that he would show no mercy towards the protesters.

In January, after 140 people had been killed, the government decided to withdraw the plan. In a statement, government officials claimed to have “huge respect” for the Oromo and explained that the opposition to the plan was based on a misunderstanding. For many protesters, this response was too little, too late. According to an Amnesty International report, even after the master plan was scrapped, the Ethiopian government continued to imprison Oromo leaders and marginalize members of the Oromo ethnic group. Protesters refused to go back home, and their demands broadened to include fair political representation and basic human rights protections. Though Ethiopia claims to be a democracy, countless hurdles impede the formation of rival political parties and their attempts to obtain power. For the Oromo, their oppression at the hands of the Tigrayans, who make up only 6% of the country’s population, is unacceptable. It is also nothing new. The Oromo have been marginalized since before 1973, which is when they formed the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). When the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Party (EPRDF) came to power in 1991, the OLF joined the transitional government. Unfortunately, it was not long before the EPRDF created another Oromo party, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization, in order to weaken the OLF. Now, the Oromo are back on the streets, fighting for their rights.

In July, the protests worsened, expanding into Ethiopia’s Amhara region. After the Oromo, the Amhara are the second largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, and over the past few months, tens of thousands have come together to demonstrate against government oppression and ethnic violence.

The government’s response has been brutal. Since the protests began, approximately 800 people have been killed. The police have responded to peaceful protests with violence, exacerbating the existing tensions: Al Jazeera reports that in one instance, the police fired tear gas and warning shots at a group of protesters attending a religious festival. When the protesters turned to run away, several people were crushed to death, leading to a total death toll of approximately 100 according to human rights groups, and 55 according to the government. Furthermore, the government has conducted mass arrests as part of a larger campaign to silence civilians. According to Al Jazeera, more than 11,000 people have been arrested since the demonstrations began last year. Of these, more than 300 are women. The government has also restrained free speech by shutting down all mobile Internet to prevent communications and isolate those dissidents outside of prison. On December 2, the government partially restored Internet, but social media and messaging platforms are still blocked throughout the country.

Unfortunately, the government refuses to acknowledge the valid concerns of Oromo and Amhara dissidents and the legitimacy of their protests. Rather, they have denounced dissidents for disturbing the peace. In a recent statement, a government spokesman vowed to hold those that “started” the chaos responsible. In another statement, a spokesman declared Egypt and Eritrea responsible for the violence, alluding to the possibility that the government would ban protests to try to end the unrest.

These protests have the ability to lead to political change. For the first time, the Oromo and Amhara oppositions have coalesced into a single force against the government, and now pose a greater threat to Ethiopia’s political leadership. The authoritarian regime’s increasing fear of subversion could make it more responsive to its citizens’ needs. The Oromo need a stable government just as much as the government needs the Oromia regionthe source of much of Ethiopia’s food and most of its coffee (a large export).

Political change in Ethiopia is critical. The Oromo are a historically oppressed group that have not been offered the same economic and political opportunities as the Tigrayans. It is unlikely that the protests will end until the government acknowledges their legitimacy and agrees to implement reforms. For now, it is unlikely that the opposition will trust the current ruling coalition, the EPRDF, to make necessary changes. For years, it has simultaneously promised to implement reforms and violated human rights. Until they are truly held accountable to their people or a new coalition comes to power, hundreds more Ethiopian dissidents will likely be mercilessly killed and tortured, and thousands imprisoned.

In addition the the need for internal reforms, other countries must fundamentally change the way that they deal with Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch has called for influential countries, such as the US (Ethiopia’s largest donor) and the UK, to publicly condemn the Ethiopian government’s actions. These allies should also push for an international investigation of Ethiopia’s deteriorating human rights situation, both increasing increasing the transparency of how the Ethiopian government deals with dissidents and political opponents and sending a powerful message that such actions will not be tolerated. Now is not the time for the US to stay silent.

Amala Karri is STAND’s policy intern and attends Hunter College High School in New York.

Featured photo above provided by Reuters.