NGOs continue to provide aid in Sa’ada [Archives:2008/1207/Front Page]

November 13 2008

By: Mohammed Bin Sallam
SA'ADA, Nov. 12 ) Houthi representative Sheikh Saleh Habra, who also speaks on behalf of Houthi field leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, told the Yemen Times by phone on Wednesday that health conditions are worsening in many areas of the Sa'ada governorate.

He added that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has claimed in the media to have provided much aid to affected residents in the war-ravaged governorate, although it has in fact extended very little medication and relief assistance. The fact that the international organization exaggerated its assistance statistics enraged residents throughout Sa'ada governorate.

“ICRC representatives visited our areas this week and claimed to have provided those affected in the governorate with high amounts of assistance. But I have confirmed that such figures are exaggerated,” Habra noted, adding that the ICRC claims to have provided assistance to as many as 80,000 displaced families and helped another 700 families return home.

Habra went on to say, “We have learned that only 500 families received modest assistance, though ICRC representatives have claimed that they set up many camps for refugees. The international organization might have provided tents in another planet, but it did not in our areas.”

On the other hand, according to Habra, the French Organization Medecins Sans Fronti'res (MSF or Doctors Without Borders), has begun good work in the area. MSF provides humanitarian assistance without reporting its figures to the media, and focuses especially on providing medicine to children and fighting malaria in districts where governmental medical services are very poor.

Local NGOs have also joined the campaign to release detainees in government jails held over alleged connections with the Sa'ada fighting. Many human rights groups, both local and international, organized a symposium at Arab Sisters Forum for Human Rights.

Human rights activists, media personnel and politicians, who attended the event, demanded that President Ali Abdullah Saleh release all those detained over alleged links with the Sa'ada conflict. “Those detainees have mothers, wives and children who are in urgent need of their support and care,” the symposium participants declared. They appealed to President Saleh to deal with the issue responsibly as the ruler of all Yemenis.

The participants went on to say that the issue of the detainees requires a collective responsibility which involves all social groups. They labeled the sufferings experienced by detainees as a legal violation committed by the authorities, adding that hundreds of citizens had been arrested or had undergone forced disappearances, which are punishable crimes according to Yemeni laws and other international legislations ratified by Yemen.

Participants also advocated that the government give them access to political, national and central security jails to conduct transparent investigations on the detainees' conditions, adding that the issue has begun to take on an international dimension following a Human Rights Watch's report on detainees during the Sa'ada war. The report demanded that security officials be questioned about crimes committed against prisoners and released from work if they are found to be in violation of human rights laws.

Symposium participants also organized a sit-in in front of the Sana'a UN office with the intention of reminding international organizations and donors to press the Yemeni governorate to improve human rights.

On a side note, citizens in seven Sa'ada districts have decided to boycott the voter registration and whole electoral process. This news came in a letter addressed to President Saleh by popular committees that had been recently formed between tribal sheikhs, clerics, social figures and activists in the districts of Majaz, Sahar, Saqain, Haidan, Al-Safra, Ketaf and Menabeh. In the letter, citizens expressed their strong rejection of voter registration staff, adding that they were going to boycott all election-related procedures unless the government resolved Sa'ada issues and reconstructed the infrastructure damaged by the war.

The popular committee has listed four conditions in its letter, which are: restoring peace and stability in Sa'ada, releasing all those detained over alleged loyalty with Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, reconstructing infrastructure damaged by the war, and compensating those citizens whose property was destroyed during the fighting.