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Adjournment Speech: Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 15 Nov 2017

On Tuesday, 14 November 2017, Senator Lee Rhiannon gave the following adjournment speech in the Senate. 

In recent weeks I have met with representatives and supporters of some of the diverse communities that are active in Sydney. Tonight I will share with the Senate the information I have been provided with. These reports are deeply shocking, highlighting the brutality of colonialism and the tragic consequences of war and oppression.

There is a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Yemen right now. After 2½ years of war, a severe blockade is stopping crucial supplies from reaching desperate people. I'm speaking about this in the Senate because the Australian government is deeply complicit, through weapons exports to Saudi Arabia. First, I will detail the suffering that is occurring. Rathwan Alasbahi needs a kidney transplant. He is forty years old and he urgently needs a kidney transplant. The ABC's Sophie McNeill has reported that the hospitals in Yemen, because of the blockade and the war, can no longer perform transplants. Due to the blockade, Rathwan cannot leave the country to get a transplant either. What a shocking situation for him to be in and for his family to watch. The Yemeni ministry of health estimated that, even before these new measures, 10,000 patients died in the past year waiting for medical care—10,000 in one year because there was not sufficient medical care. That figure alone is shocking and should be a wake-up call for us.

The blockade is affecting the most basic of human needs: food. On 8 November, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, commented on the tightening of the blockade. These were his words:

I have told the Council that unless those measures are lifted and five particular steps that I am going to run through are taken, there will be famine in Yemen.

It will not be like the famine that we saw in South Sudan earlier in the year where tens of thousands of people were affected. It will not be like the famine which cost 250,000 people their lives in Somalia in 2011. It will be the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims.

That is a quote from a UN representative identifying that millions of people in Yemen will die if the blockade is not lifted. Twenty-three humanitarian organisations, including Care, Oxfam, Save the Children and the UN, have issued a joint statement on the blockade restricting aid supplies. This is from their statement:

There are over 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance; seven million of them are facing famine-like conditions and rely completely on food aid to survive. In six weeks, the food supplies to feed them will be exhausted. Over 2.2 million children are malnourished, of those, 385,000 children suffer from severe malnutrition and require therapeutic treatment to stay alive.

The current stock of vaccines in country will only last one month. If it is not replenished, outbreaks of communicable diseases such as polio and measles are to be expected with fatal consequences…

That's from the statement of 23 humanitarian organisations.

Where does Australia stand? Australia is complicit in this suffering through its cooperation with Saudi Arabia. 'Cooperation' is probably too kind a word. Australia is actually bragging about its arms sales with Saudi Arabia as this war intensifies. On 30 October this year, Minister Christopher Pyne announced he would be visiting Saudi Arabia. These were Mr Pyne's words:

… to promote Australia's world-class defence materiel and strengthen bilateral defence industry relationships.

And in Saudi Arabia he would—and these are his words:

…meet with senior government representatives to discuss the bilateral defence industry relationship.

Surely, we all know that the people of Yemen are dying. Even though there's not much publicity, I think we all know that something shocking has happened there. And Australia is spruiking arms that kill these people! That's what is going on in this part of the world—Saudi Arabia is permitting terrible crimes.

We don't actually know the arms trade or value of the trade Australia is engaging in with Saudi Arabia. Despite a motion from former Greens senator Scott Ludlam which called on the government to provide details, the government is continuing to hide what is being sold to Saudi Arabia. But we know it is being sold. At the very least, the Australian people deserve to know that Australia is complicit in this war, which is driving the famine. When you're spending money on war and when you're waging war, however it plays out it costs lives. The global community needs to place an arms embargo on parties to the conflict. The way we profit from the misery of the people in Yemen is a disgrace.

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