UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, caused a stir a few days ago when he admitted publicly that he had agreed to remove a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia from a list of armies attacking civilians, because the Saudi government and its allies had threatened to stop funding UN humanitarian activities in Palestine and elsewhere.
The Secretary-General’s statement was quite bold, compared to his usually very low tones, and laudable in that sense. At the same time, it was insufficient and morally reproachable, the part that concerned the actual removal of the Saudi-led coalition from the list. He should have kept the coalition on that list of shame – leading to possible legal prosecution? – and he should also have denounced them publicly for their blackmail. That would have been the principled thing to do. But perhaps we are asking too much from one of the weakest leaders the UN has ever had.
Mr. Ban certainly did not cause the actual problem—the irresponsible attitude of the Saudi-led coalition that is bombing the Houthis in Yemen without apparent respect for the welfare of civilians and notably children. Responding to a request by the ousted President of Yemen, Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Arab allies have been bombing the hell out of poor Yemen, now largely under the control of the Shiite Houthis. All this is supposedly justified by a broad claim of self-defense and restoring the legitimate government of Yemen. This has a legal basis, of course, but does not justify war crimes and crimes against humanity in any possible stretch of international law.
Why is the West, including Europe, keeping quiet, turning a blind eye to these gross human rights violations? Why is the Saudi-led coalition provided with arms, logistical support and political coverage by democratic states? What do the latter have to do with the repressive kingdom? Especially after the nuclear deal with Iran, there is even less of a reason for the West to take sides in the local rivalry between the Sunni and the Shiite power centres, which is currently playing itself out in Yemen, among other places.
This is sad, shameful and legally questionable by itself, but unfortunately it can be understood in the context of moral permissiveness, hypocrisy and double standards that the West also excels in. In the name of geostrategic and economic interests, countries like the US and Britain, which can certainly claim to be well-governed internally, side with regimes which stand for the exact opposite. Not only that, but they arm them, provide them with the know-how and guarantee diplomatic immunity for their destructive practices, including the killing of children and other civilians. Then they are surprised when this turns around and bites them, from those who vow to revenge the killings and even the perpetrators of the original attacks themselves, the allies that have their own, quite different agenda.
The West has a lot of skeletons of its own in terms of the killing of civilians, as “collateral damage” during the invasion of Iraq, because of drone attacks and other such activities around the world. It is time to clean up its act, end moral permissiveness vis-à-vis its “allies” and itself, and live up to the standards that it professes, externally as it does internally. The citizens of our democratic countries should demand it from their elected leaders and take no excuses for an answer.