By Sarah Rohleder, World BEYOND War, May 11, 2023
This past March 25-27 protests were held across Canada to mark 8 years of the Saudi-led intervention in the war in Yemen. In six cities across the country rallies, marches, and solidarity actions were held in objection to Canada’s profiting off of the war through their arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth billions of dollars. This money has also helped buy the complicit silence of the international political community surrounding the war to the obvious detriment of the civilians caught in the conflict as the war in Yemen has created one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world. The UN estimates 21.6 million people in Yemen will need humanitarian assistance and protection in 2023, which is about three-quarters of the population.
The conflict started as a result of a power transition that happened during the Arab Spring in 2011 between the President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. What followed was a civil war between the government and a group known as the Houthis who took advantage of the new government’s fragility and seized control of Saada province, taking the nation’s capital Sanaa. Hadi was forced to flee in March 2015, at which point neighbouring country Saudi Arabia with a coalition of other Arab states such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), launched attacks on Yemen, driving Houthi fighters out of south Yemen though not out of the north of the country or Sanaa. Since then the war has continued, with tens of thousands of civilians killed, many more injured and 80% of the population needing humanitarian aid.
Despite the severity of the situation and the well-known situation among the international community, world leaders continue to send arms to Saudi Arabia, a key player in the conflict, helping to fuel the war. Canada is among those countries, having exported over $8 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia since 2015. UN reports have twice pointed to Canada among the countries perpetrating the war, evidence that Canada’s image as a peace keeper has become more of a fading memory than a reality. An image further tarnished by Canada’s current ranking as 16th highest for arms exports in the world according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) latest report. This weapons transfer must stop if Canada is to be a participant in stopping the war, and an active agent for peace.
This is made even more astonishing given the lack of even a mention of funding given to international humanitarian aid in the recent budget for 2023 that the Trudeau government has recently released. Though one thing that is heavily financed by the 2023 budget is the military, showing a commitment by the government to fuel war instead of peace.
In the absence of any peaceful foreign policy in the Middle East by other nations such as Canada, China has stepped in as a peacemaker. They initiated cease-fire talks that made concessions from Saudi Arabia possible which include many Houthi demands. Including opening both the capital city of Sana’a to flights and a major port that will allow vital aid supplies to reach the country. Also discussed is access to the government’s currency to allow them to pay their workers, in addition to stabilising the economy. This is the kind of work Canada should be doing, enabling peace through dialogue not through sending more weapons.
Sarah Rohleder is a peace campaigner with the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, a student at the University of British Columbia, youth coordinator for Reverse the Trend Canada and youth advisor to Senator Marilou McPhedran.
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