SHAFAQNA – A veteran human rights activist, Hooria Mashhour became Yemen’s first post-revolution human rights minister in 2012. She’s also a long-time member of Islah, a Sunni radical political party which acts as an umbrella for several subgroups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi militants.
She was appointed deputy chairperson of the Women’s National Committee of Yemen in 2002. She held that position until 2012, when President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi named her Yemen’s human rights minister.
She has also served as editor-in-chief of Yemen’s Alymania newspaper and as a member of the Technical Committee in charge of developing the 3rd National Plan.
A strong advocate for women’s rights, Mashhour has been most vocal in her condemnation of the U.S. drone campaign in Yemen. She has also lobbied for the immediate return of all Yemenis being held by the U.S. military in the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
Since leaving office last year, Mashhour has returned to rights activism and advocating for democratic change in her country.
Now based in Beirut, Mashhour shares with Shafaqna her thoughts on current developments in Yemen and how this situation came to be.
For over a week now Saudi Arabia and its coalition has been bombing Yemen. We often talk about the political and geopolitical endgame of this war, but what about the people?
HOORIA MASHHOUR (HM): The Houthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh have disrupted the political solution which Yemenis reached during the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) in January 2014. After months of negotiations and consultations with tribal leaders, civil society and politicians, we eventually came to agree on a draft constitution. And though both the Houthis and Saleh through the General People’s Congress (GPC) [Saleh’s political party] signed the agreement, they decided to plot against the coalition government in view of deposing President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Months of efforts in vain. Just when we hoped that Yemen was finally back on track in terms of a political consensus, just when we successfully included southerners into the government in view of promoting Yemen’s territorial integrity and preventing secession, everything was turned on its head.
This war we see unfolding today was not a choice. We were forced into it when Saleh and the Houthis forced Yemen’s legitimate president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, out of power in January 2015. Hadi had no choice but to run away to Aden and then to Riyadh to ask Saudi Arabia for help. We had to call on the Gulf countries to come and support Yemen against this threat. Of course no one is happy with this conflict!
Yemen is in a very critical situation and the people are suffering tremendously as a result of this military intervention.
Yemen was already in a difficult situation. … Actually, things have slowly gotten worse over the past four years. More than half of all Yemenis are living in poverty and over a million children have been classified by the World Bank and the UNICEF as acutely malnourished.
Yemen has been struggling with poverty, food insecurity and high unemployment for years, and the past four years have been incredibly harsh on people — all because Saleh and the Houthis have undermined the transition of power process.
Like I said, even before the war Yemenis faced many problems — food insecurity, poverty, no access to medical facilities, poor sanitation, unemployment. According to U.N. reports, over 60 percent of Yemenis suffer from acute hunger.
We also have an IDPs [internally displaced persons] problem from previous conflicts. We now have a situation where people have had to move many times due to internal conflicts and this of course has intensified already pre-existing difficulties.
Over the past two weeks an estimated 500 people have died — 60 were children. Some sources have put the number of dead at over 2,000. It is really difficult to tell at this stage, but the death toll is mounting.
Hundreds of people have been injured, and schools, universities, hospitals even have had to close their doors.
People do not have access to electricity and fuel is no longer available.
The situation in Yemen is very bad indeed.
Do you think the international community is doing enough in terms of aid relief and humanitarian assistance? There have been reports that Oman’s efforts to bring food parcels into Yemen were blocked by the Saudis. What do you make of this?
HM: I don’t know anything about aid being blocked by the Saudis, but I was told the coalition dropped several aid parcels of food and medicine over Aden [the capital of the former South Yemen] among the weapons and ammunition they sent via parachutes.
Civilians in Aden have organized themselves into public committees to defend Hadi’s legitimacy, and so they were given weapons by the coalition.
Yemen was already a country in the midst of a humanitarian crisis before this war began. What now? How can Yemen make it through such tough times?
HM: Indeed! The situation has become much harder than anyone could have ever anticipated. We’re hoping to get rid of the Houthis as soon as possible, otherwise it will not be bearable for the people at all.
I would like to talk now about the risk of radicalization. Al-Qaida seized control of the Mukalla military base and freed some 300 prisoners earlier this week [April 3, 2015]. Do you agree with Abdel Bari Atwan, a prominent political analyst, when he says that al-Qaida is Yemen’s greatest threat?
HM: This is the type of propaganda Saleh and the Houthis want people and the international community to believe. They’re playing terror to their advantage.
Saleh is the biggest challenge to security, not al-Qaida.
Whenever Saleh will disappear things will get better for Yemen, and I expect al-Qaida will disappear with Saleh’s exit from Yemen.