Wikimedia Commons

At a talk about Yemen’s human rights crisis at the Yale Law School on Friday, Radhya Almutawakel — chairperson and co-founder of the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights— said the country has been overlooked by Americans.

For nearly 30 minutes, Almutawakel spoke to a room of about 30 attendees about Yemen’s human rights crisis before opening up to a Q&A session. Almutawakel — who Time magazine named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2019 — is also a leading Yemeni human rights defender, speaking out against the war in Yemen.

“The main issue in Yemen isn’t lack of food but the lack of accountability,” Almutawakel said. “If you want to do advocacy, you have to hold the information to go further in your work, protect civilians and to provide accountability… [The whole world] needs people like you to change the mechanism.”

A Saudi-led coalition’s military campaign in Yemen has led to a war fueled by U.S. tax dollars, which finance bombs and weapons that aid the Saudi-led coalition. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project reported over 91,600 total fatalities in Yemen from 2015 to the present.

Almutawakel emphasized that Yale students must not distance themselves from the humanitarian crisis just because they do not see the direct effects of the war on a daily basis.

“[Yemen] used to have a stable state, political parties, and Yemen’s worked hard to have a democracy, the rule of law and human rights,” Almutawakel said. “This isn’t a Western thing; this is a human thing. They wouldn’t have life without going into rule of law.”

Amal Altareb ’22, a coordinator for Students for Yemen, led the discussion after Almutawakel’s talk and urged the speaker to elaborate on her optimism for Yemen despite a constant display of human rights violations. In response, Almutawakel detailed the mission of the independent Yemeni organization she co-founded, Mwatana, which produces statements, reports and documentary films about the country to inform the international audience about the Yemeni crisis.

Almutawakel emphasized the neutrality and individuality of the organization and added that no member of the organization has ties to any specific side in the conflict. Almutawakel believes that a worldwide political agreement concerning Yemen is possible.

“The United States can stop the war in Yemen, more than any other war in the world,” Almutawakel said. “When we say the way to stop the war is to stop selling to Saudi Arabia, we’re not saying [Saudi Arabia] doesn’t have weapons … We want [the United States] to stop fueling the war and engage with Yemen positively.”

Almutawakel added that peace in Yemen cannot be achieved by a cease-fire, because the war is “much more than air strikes.”

Altareb said the war has touched many people in Yemen as well as citizens of other countries.

“The war is not between different groups. Every Yemeni wants peace and an end to the war. Everyone should be accountable and accountability should be proportional,” Altareb said. “In between a war of powerful oil countries and powerful Western countries, Yemen has become the victim. Every Yalie, every global citizen can do their part by pressuring their government to care about the children and people dying in Yemen.”

Mehdi Baqri, one of the co-founders of Students for Yemen, said the student organization was “extremely honored” to host Almutawakel.

“[S]he is one of the most influential voices speaking out against US and European military support for the Saudi coalition bombing Yemen,” Baqri said. “Pressure is the foundation of advocacy, and she stressed that as long as we could maintain pressure and unite our voices towards peace, then there was hope to end the brutal war and bring peace to Yemen.”

The event was sponsored by the Schell Center for International Human Rights, Students for Yemen and the Dwight Hall Peace Initiative.

Khue Tran | khue.tran@yale.edu