tv Worlds Apart RT December 23, 2018 10:30pm-11:01pm EST
it's politically expedient to discuss that i'm now joined by sarah whitson executive director of the middle east and north africa division of human rights watch mr watson it's good to talk to you thank you very much for granting us some time. now i know you've been trying to raise awareness of the conflict in yemen for quite some time but it's long been a bit of an orphan war overshadowed by everything else going on in the region is that finally changing now is the warning to yemen finally getting the attention it deserves it certainly seems like it in the recent congressional review resolutions are an indication that the u.s. congress is finally focusing on the war and yemen and america's role in the war and yemen and with the attention that it deserves so i do think there will be a change come january with the congress now controlled by the democrats how do you explain this sudden interest in that conflict has been really a confluence of disasters for quite some time i think the united nations declared
to be the worst humanitarian disaster a year or maybe even two years ago why all the attention now well i think it's a combination of factors really a sort of perfect storm starting with the attention on saudi arabia garnered by each of our murder and the international attention that created which caused an increased focus on saudi arabia and its role in its policies not just to best equally but abroad as well that those killed with the resolutions that senators and congressmen have been pushing in the congress for actually a couple of years now but that heightened focus. along with the u.n. pronouncements of the imminent famine in the country some of the shocking reporting we saw coming out by western journalists who managed to get in and to document the levels of starvation and civilian destruction all of that happening at the same time created a new found momentum a new found bad. well really for the u.s.
congress to properly focus on these issues now you mentioned the congressional committee but there are already some practical steps that the united states has taken just recently it announced that it will no longer provide refueling assistance to the saudi aircraft each it's been doing for the past i think three years since the bombing campaign began in two thousand and fifteen how critical is that assistance to the overall operation in yemen is that decision going to do anything for the people on the ground. well i don't know because of course the saudis and the americans have claimed that the reason they cut off the refueling assistance is that the saudi coalition is now able to provide its own refueling needs but whether or not that's actually true remains to be seen but certainly it is an important symbolic indicator of the u.s. pulling back from its involvement in this war in terms of the practical effect on the ground will it reduce saudi arabia is in the saudi coalition's bombardment of
yemen that remains to be seen and will have the next few months to see if the cease fire doesn't hold whether that reduces the civilian suffering now even of a doubt refuelling assistance the united states is still providing some help with the targeting and it is actually selling bombs to both i think the saudi and iraqi military's do you want those to be stopped or do you perhaps see that as a way off if not the restraining down at least keeping close tabs on the saudis in that region no absolutely from the very beginning when we started documenting the pattern of indiscriminate bombardment of yemeni civilian targets in the country we have urged the international community including the united states to stop supplying arms to the saudi coalition and we've called on the united states to end its participation in the war through the targeting assistance because clearly that
targeting assistance has not produced positive results and in fact it opens the united states up for war crimes liability as a party to this war to be a little bit of a devil's advocate here if the saudis are left to die own devices do you think that will make. conflict better or worse as far as the people are concerned well i think it will be increasingly clear to saudi arabia first of all militarily it's clear that they can't win this war second that they don't have international support for their ongoing war the more. where international supporters like the united states and the united kingdom pull back from their support of the saudi coalition that will create not only military pressure on the saudi coalition but also political pressure to come to a political resolution and do you think the saudi authorities really care about the political pressure i mean is there any indication that this political pressure may result in changes the conduct of the aerial campaign
absolutely they care you know they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on p.r. agencies to improve their reputation and image in the west particularly in the united states and united kingdom because they understand how our political process works they understand that in democracy it actually matters what americans and britons british people think about the saudi government and its conduct in yemen this is why they've gone to such extraordinary efforts to keep themselves off for example the united nations secretary general's list of shame for worst abusers against children and threaten to restore all of their funding to the u.n. unless their name was removed it's why they have lobbied incessantly and bringing in other partners to lobby incessantly against the resolutions that have been pending a new us congress that would condemn the war effort condemn saudi abuses both domestically and in yemen so they do care and they can't act alone and they do need the international support the international legitimacy the international cover that
the united states and united kingdom in particular have provided to them in this war now let me ask you one more question about refueling assistance because it came to light recently that the united states has barely charged the saudis for all the refueling held that it's been providing over the last three years or so the pentagon has just put out the bill of more than three hundred million u.s. dollars in unpaid fees explaining bad as a and counting error do you believe that that was just an error and if was an error. isn't it perhaps symbolic or indicative of how war was treated the three hundred million dollars can simply be forgotten about well i'm sad to say that it wouldn't be the first time that there are hundreds of millions of dollars if not billions of dollars that are lost in the pentagon's bookkeeping the pentagon's shoddy bookkeeping we saw billions of dollars disappear with the war effort in iraq not just the invasion of iraq with the
occupation of iraq so to be honest i'm not completely surprised that three hundred twenty one million dollars in refueling costs went missing i'm very glad that saudi arabia and the emirates have now promised to pay that bill but i think there's no avoiding the reality that that bill is actually being paid for by the people of yemen the people of yemen who died under saudi arabia's. indiscriminate bombardment of the country now you mentioned before the change in. american interests to that conflict came as a result of political pressure in the aftermath of the jamal kushal gates murder i know you were france and. my question comes across as insensitive but do you hold out any hope that this gruesome murder will finally put to the seemingly unconditional and i would say cross administration the american support for the saudi action not only in yemen but pretty much across the middle east. will it end
it no it won't unfortunately i think that the economic interests of continued relationship with saudi arabia are too great to hold that hostage or make it conditional on just resolution and accountability for murder that being said i think we can anticipate and hope for the crown prince's role in the saudi government being curbed and being controlled because separate an aside from moral considerations from political and strategic considerations it's very clear what a liability is proven himself to be on the international stage with his reckless sadistic acts that expose saudi arabia to such wide scale international condemnation i think even within saudi arabia even the king realizes that his crown prince son is a liability now you wrote recently and honest reckoning of how the united states
got to where it is and yemen should start with the obama administration which still insists through its various former members on portraying itself as a as a moral force and that region or at least more moral than the current administration what was the main substantive difference between obama's take on the young men. well i think the substance since difference is that at least many in the obama administration persuaded themselves even though they knew it was a bad decision to support this war that it would be short that it would be limited that it would be quick and that there would be little harm to yemeni civilians obviously their calculation turned out to be grossly incorrect as we warned them it would be by the way i think that it was very clear that they had grave reservations about proceeding down this path i know there were major debates within the obama administration about pursuing this path alternately they made the bad decision and
they. sure in the coalition anyway and so yes the blame does start with the obama administration now let me ask you specifically about the saudi crown prince mohammed bin sultan on the whole denies any culpability for this murder but the regardless of whether he is responsible on nob he and his regime are clearly vulnerable to international pressure as you mentioned before he is eager it's you rehabilitate his reputation do you think that kind of fall in our ability could and should be exploited to improve the overall human rights situation in the country. will obviously definitely that is very much that we we hope for what we hope for is that generals will provide an opportunity to show the spotlight and some hope for those on justly detained in saudi arabia for expressing their political views for expressing political opinions like the women activists who are currently jailed in saudi arabia because they advocated for the right to drive we are very much focused
on bringing international pressure on saudi arabia to release all those detained for other matters for example for fairness and equality for the shallow community where a number of activists who have made that kind of advocacy their goal are now facing potential death sentences so we do hope to transition the focus into those who are currently detained and three now i heard many people including yourself call for mohammad to leave politics and i think in this region it's. painfully clear that removing a despotic or even criminal leader is out of power rarely a result positive change for the people on the ground do you think this peaceful transition of power because mohamed. to be the ruler of saudi arabia the moment do you think this peaceful transition of power is possible at this time do you think
a person like him with the repeat that. he has would just peacefully and gracefully leave the scene well it's twofold first of all what i've called for and what we my organization and others of called for is accountability and that means accountability for jamal murder and the very clear role that mohammed bin salon played in ordering an orchestrating and seeing that murder carried out so what we want is to see mohammed bin solomon properly investigated as part of an international investigation because we don't believe any investigation in saudi arabia will be independent or have any credibility and the consequence of that should be ones that saudi arabia abides by. anyone who's guilty of orchestrating murder should be in jail. or not they can actually be in politics at the same time i highly doubt as for the form of governance in saudi arabia that ultimately is a question for the saudi people to decide how the saudi people should have
a right to decide who their leaders are the saudi people should have a right to vote to choose who their leaders are nobody from the outside can dictate that but nobody from the inside should dictate that either and i think that's what's missing right now in saudi arabia an opportunity for the saudi arabian people to choose their government just like hundreds of millions of people do in many countries around the world because it's in the we have to take a short break now but we will be back in just a few moments stay tuned. but i certainly don't expect very many people will choose to be biologically go through a big blow to move your body your feet working for a while but also move your mind isn't working so well so i believe that indeed we will have pretty much no but i would agree old people even though we will have
welcome back to worlds apart but sarah wits and executive director at the middle east and north africa division at human rights watch mr watson as you can imagine the way the russians a most partial to the conflict in syria in which the russian military takes a very active role which the russian diplomacy is trying to mediate how do you assess the process the ongoing process is in syria where are we in the syrian war. unfortunately where we are in the syrian war is where we've been for the last seven years which is very little focus on the needs and protection of the syrian civilian population and very great focus on various international and regional power dynamics that have treated syria as a chessboard as a carving board for zones of influence for various states which is very sad i'm glad that there are peace negotiations and they continue to be under way. i'm
glad there is a process to discuss a new constitution new elections that will hopefully result in a political transition but unfortunately. russia's role in the syrian conflict has been very akin to america's role in the yemen conflict except much worse because russia has actually been actively engaged in the bombardment of syria and supporting the syrian bombardment of syria which has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and been in grave violation of the international laws of war. misreads and you've just compared to russia conduct in syria today american conduct in in in yemen but from what i know there is no real mass evacuations of travel forces in yemen there's barely any peace talks in yemen there and it barely any talks about the political transition. don't you think that those efforts
that were undertaken by by this country deserve a bit of a recognition because you know it's very easy to say that this conflict has no military solution but i think it's also very difficult to negotiate with have child parties who would not negotiate as a matter of principle no i don't think russia deserves more credit because what it deserves negative credit for is far far greater ultimately the most valuable thing in the world is human life and the reckless indiscriminate bombardment including use of chemical weapons over thirty. chemical attacks using chlorine that we ourselves have documented hundreds of thousands of barrel bombs dropped throughout the country these are grave crimes that russia has aided and abetted. throughout syria for many numbers of years and is of course i'm sure your viewers know the death toll in syria is far far far worse than anything we've seen in yemen so in
fact the scituate. in syria is far worse and has been far worse for many years there is a political process of some sort under way in both syria and yemen of course most recently in yemen the parties agreed to a cease fire as well as a prisoner swap i continue to think that not enough parties have been involved in that effort just as not enough parties have been involved in the syrian war effort unless there's an inclusive effort that brings all sides the table that will be very difficult to resolve i also don't think it's fair or accurate to summarily dismiss position forces head choppers we all know what isis is roles been and what some of the most extreme elements of the syrian opposition forces have included those who have committed atrocities of their own but i don't think they represent the vast majority of syrian fighters much less the syrian people who are up against their government with the basic demand for rights and justice those will remain the demands of the syrian people in the time of war or in
a time of peace and the only question remains whether any syrian government will ever deliver to the syrians what all human beings deserve which is their rights which is their freedom well misreads and i don't know if you are aware of that maybe disagree with my assertion but. i think from the russian point of view the efforts to mediate that conflict have been stalled for a number of years because of primarily the american and saudi administrations we demand that the departure of president assad as a precondition for talks you've been very critical. of the russian conduct but why are we never hearing any blame laid at the feet of the obama administration which for three years straight refused to negotiate any political process in that country well i mean i don't know that it's really useful to anybody to. have a blame game competition we have to understand the origin of this guy. if you make
it seem as if it's just russia bombing the syrian people but it's far more complicated than that do you want me to answer the question or do you want to talk please go hat ok great thanks as i was saying we shouldn't be involved in playing the blame game and as russians your first priority has to be an accountability of what your own government is doing and what your own government's responsibility is before you get busy pointing fingers at others and the extent to which their share of the blame i would have the same message for americans which is to look at the role of their government first and foremost and assess their conduct and hold their government accountable for whatever they're responsible for in the beginning of this conflict i agree with you there were conditions that were set down that were not conducive to peace but this was a moment of massive political transition in the middle east it was also a moment when president assad was firing on armed protesters killing hundreds of people before there was any any armed opposition whatsoever those are not
conditions that are conducive to negotiation in those conditions i'm sorry but oh a political leader loses a legitimacy and loses claim to legitimacy when he's literally shooting dead teenage protesters arresting hundreds of teenage protestors and brutally torturing them in prisons this is how the syrian war started and let's not pretend otherwise well. i will not pretend otherwise but from what i know and i spent a lot of time in syria when the about conflict was only emerging there were also lots of regional forces including the saudi forces which were funding the most outrageous elements in the country and that has been documented in forces as well and nobody at that time i didn't hear many abdul is claiming that there were terrorists on the ground in syria when they were when they were that's not accurate you should go back and read our reports as soon as armed opposition groups emerged in syria we documented investigated and reported on abuse. they carried out
starting for example in lattakia which is some of the first places that we saw armed groups carrying out atrocities against minority there as well as the desecration of churches in aleppo and so on and so forth so in fact it's not accurate to say that n.g.o.s were not focusing on abuses of armed groups we certainly were it's also not accurate to say that n.g.o.s were not focusing on military support provided to armed groups in syria we certainly were so i think it's a bit of a straw man to make these claims if you look at the record if you look at what we've published you'll see that we in fact did quite a bit of work on the abuses of armed groups and i agree with you it's not a good idea to fund an armed proxies that carry out atrocities with all due respect it's not also interviewed. your boss kevin roth who in these very studio on these very screen called for the bombing of syria in response to you the chemical attack
which has never been properly investigated i know you would say that you know for a fact that it was carried out by present the side but there are many countries including this one that disagrees with that but anyway let's not continue with this blame game because i do want to get your perspective on how things may move forward we are recording this program on the day when the trumpet ministration supposedly announced i mean it hasn't been concerned but there are some indications that they may be pulling out military and special forces out of syria what what was your first reaction when you heard that do you think it's going to make that conflict more predictable and perhaps more dangerous. it's really hard to say i mean what's very clear is that the turkish government has made it clear its intent to move in to syria in order to engage in conflict with kurdish forces there in order to push them away from the border in order to create whatever security or buffer zone they believe they need it's very clear the withdrawal of you. forces means that the
kurdish forces will lose whatever protection they have from the u.s. forces present there so it's definitely open season on the kurdish forces but you know in the syrian situation it's also very unpredictable how the dynamics will play out who will come to replace the united states to assist the kurds. we know that in certain instances there are have been a variety of different coalitions so i think it's probably still too soon to predict one hundred percent certainty what the outcome will be well i think you cannot predict anything that a hundred percent said let alone in the syrian war theater speaking about those countries that may remain in syria or at least at this point of time showing no intention of leaving i mean russia turkey and iran earlier this week they reached an agreement on the new syrian constitutional committee we should convene early
next year in a sense they put it of compromise constructive engagement do you see any conditions for compromise and constructive engagement in syria now do you think it could be done after seventy years of bloodshed i certainly hope so if for no other reason than people are completely exhausted from fighting and and of course those least able to afford the cost of the war are the ones who continue to pay the cost of the war those who lost their homes those who lost their lives their family members their livelihoods their factories there is a great sense of exhaustion among syrians very broadly and i think there will be a great sense if if this war comes to an end even if the political resolution is not one that anyone really hoped for if i may i would also like to ask a personal question in your very moving eulogy for jamal khashoggi in london you said that you two have heated disagreements about the nature off change that syria
needs what was your disagreement about. well. ritz no secret what jamal's position was he published an op ed in the washington post describing how he saw and he thought the syrian conflict can and should play out i think he had a more sectarian narrative of the best recipe for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in syria with sunny province's on the one hand and shall province's on the other hand affectively some kind of division of syria along these sorts of sectarian lines i strongly disagreed with that position in that view and strongly believe that syria can and should return to being a multi-ethnic multi-religious state and ultimately that is the best hope not just for syria but for every country in the world the day and age of religious
nationalist ethno nationalist state and the very philosophy and concept is one that we see repeatedly everywhere around the world leading to conflict and violence not peace and stability well i certainly do share your hopes for a multi-ethnic peaceful syria we have to leave it there but i really appreciate your spending some time with us today thank you i encourage our viewers to keep this conversation going on our social media pages add hope to syria dan same place same time here on worlds apart. thank you. thank you i. think.
what we've got to do is identify the threats that we have six crew. confrontation let it be an arms race often spearing dramatic development only personally i'm going to resist i don't see how that strategy will be successful very critical time time to sit down and talk. i had a great education a good job and a family that loved me. i never had to worry about how i would eat somewhere i would sleep. i'm facing christmas alone out on the streets of london. well you looked better pull up. the lorry like a grown up. you know to snort it still give up food for the homeless.
i. think that. the headlines that shaped this week a yellow vests sweep through paris again another round of anti-government protests at least used tear gas to disperse crowds during a sixth consecutive weekend of riots with almost one hundred fifty arrests made. also the president vladimir putin shares his thoughts on the threat of a nuclear war ukraine crisis as well as other issues in his year and. the media. and the secret project by u.s. democrats to test online tactics during a state that action is rigged.