Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkul Karman on Human Rights Abuses Enabled by “War on Terror”

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 the IDH to give us this opportunity to come to the U.S. and to speak with American people and American government about the situation in Yemen. If IDH invite the 5 NGOs who are members in it with them to come to the high level American administration in Department State and White House and here in U.N., and speak also with NGOs. I want, just to speak briefly, about if IDH, about their report about the situation in Yemen, the human rights situation, especially after the counting of counter-terrorism. 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.

And we have, indeed, a situation in Yemen. Unfortunately, it’s going toward the unknown. As we follow up on this 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 increase in 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 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 is being led by the Yemeni government, we really believed that we had an international partnership with the international community; with the partnership with the NGOs rather than the governments, and also with the governments. In order to promote democracy, the human rights, end combat and corruption in our country. This is a principle, a main part of our partnership in this society. We will be told that what is coming is better, however, in the last two years, the horizon looks very bleak and very scary in fact. I would give you some details in numbers. Let’s talk about the freedom of press for example. In 2005, there were 53 cases of violation of human rights against the press, according to statistics recorded by our network. In 2006, 69 violations. In 2007 112 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 for 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 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, peaceful settlement. And in the middle we have this war against activists, against journalists. This would not have been much of a problem because we were fighting all the time. We are always 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 the, but also on our partnerships outside 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 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 happened in 2009, in December, when tens of women were killed in Madiyaa 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 settle movement, the peaceful settle 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 are attacks are—-the government is leading attacks the civil rights activists, against politicians or political party leaders, and basically, when carrying 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 pretending to be naive. This is what happens when the United States cooperates a government that starts targeting the so-called terrorists and killing innocent civilians, killing the activists by pretending they are terrorists 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 cultural—-it did not extend to reinforcing the values of tolerance and the values of dialogue—-living together. They are killing people based on false intelligence reports as I told you happened in the incident of Magala.

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 enough for 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 organization’s events. While I think this is a good pressure, I believe this is a very superficial effort, because, up till 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—-to learn about and spread this culture of tolerance, of dialogue and of living together. The United States now became, with it’s 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 solve these problems and create a more stable Yemen where the future is bright. Thank you.