On 7th October 2020, RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in WAR) celebrated the courage of Yemeni human rights defender, Radhya Almutawakel, who has established and bravely led the efforts in Yemen to investigate and document the war crimes against civilians committed by all sides of the ongoing Yemeni conflict.
Six years into the Saudi-led coalition’s war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Mwatana, the organization that Radhya co-founded, has documented hundreds of abuses by all sides. Houthi forces indiscriminately attack civilian neighbourhoods and widely use child soldiers, while coalition airstrikes kill and maim thousands of already starved civilians. Radhya and Mwatana document the crimes and the suffering, in the hope that one day these witness accounts could help justice to be done for the people of Yemen.
The UN has called Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. War erupted in 2014, deepening an existing humanitarian crisis in a country considered the poorest in the Arab world and already affected by internal conflict and civil unrest. Yemeni civilians have been trapped in the middle of the many warring parties. In February 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that: since March 2015, her office had verified and confirmed the killing of 7,734 civilians, including 2,103 children, and injuries to 12,269 others due to indiscriminate attacks, landmines, improvised explosive devices, and the storage of weapons and explosives in residential areas, by all parties to the conflict. The actual numbers were likely to be far higher, she said.
In addition, thousands more had died from illness and malnutrition resulting from constraints on humanitarian aid, blockades, and the collapse of the economy and key institutions and services. Out of a national population of 30.5 million people, 20.1 million were facing hunger and 14.4 million were in need of immediate assistance for their sustenance or survival. Since March 2015, 3.65 million people had been displaced, including 410,000 in 2019 alone. Over half the displaced are women and girls.
COVID-19 has posed a new, major concern for Yemen, which has struggled to deal with other health crises during the war because of the strain on its health care and sanitation systems. The UN has warned that the death toll from the pandemic could “exceed the combined toll of war, disease, and hunger over the last five years.”
On the 14th anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder, RAW in WAR honoured Radhya Almutawakel with the 2020 Anna Politkovskaya Award for her courage and determination, as well as her objective and in-depth uncovering, documenting and reporting on the human cost of a war which receives little coverage and attention otherwise.
Radhya and her husband, Abdulrasheed Al-Faqih, set up Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights in 2007, but it was only officially registered in 2013. Radhya and Mwatana have been working on exposing the truth and documenting the war crimes and human rights abuses committed against civilians in Yemen and on raising the awareness of the world about the suffering and endurance of the people of Yemen, hoping that these efforts might eventually bring all war criminals to justice. Mwatana has also recently published a report on how many schools have been targeted and destroyed and how this has impacted on access to education and safety for children and youth.
Radhya was detained in 2018, together with her husband and another colleague, on the orders of the Saudi-led coalition and kept for 12 hours in detention, while at the airport and trying to travel for a meeting abroad. They were released only after high-level pressure on the Saudi-led coalition to let them go, however, she was not allowed to go back to Yemen for about a year. She is now back in Yemen and working with her colleagues on investigating war crimes at a great personal risk.
In 2017, Radhya travelled to the US, the UK and Switzerland to lobby against weapon deliveries to Yemen and to call upon those states which support one or the other side in the conflict in Yemen, to end such support, which fuels the continued destruction of the country and the killing of the Yemeni people. She spoke at the UN Security Council about the responsibility of those countries, including European countries and the US, which deliver weapons to Yemen directly or indirectly.
Earlier, from 2000 – 2004, she worked for the National Commission for Women of Yemen and later for the Organisation for the Defence of Rights and Freedoms.
On receiving the 2020 Anna Politkovskaya Award, Radhya Almutawakel said:
“I am honoured to receive the Anna Politkovskaya Award because it is a reminder to war-makers that the voices of those who stood against them cannot die, even if the body is gone. The award sheds more light on the Yemen war, despite the wish for it to be forgotten, for its victims to be voiceless and for its parties to carry on with immunity. The truth that is proved by serious human rights work is that this war, in which all types of weapons have been used against civilians, including starvation, cannot be forgotten and will not pass without accountability. This acknowledgment is for all my women colleagues who work hard and do their best to keep the voices of voiceless victims heard. In war zones, including Yemen, there are many like Anna whom we should always remember”
The bravery of Radhya Almutawakel has been recognized by media and human rights advocates around the world and she was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world for 2019. The RAW in WAR Nominations Committee for the 2020 Anna Politkovskaya Award joins in expressing its high appreciation of the courageous work delivered by her and her colleagues at Mwatana, despite the daily risks they are facing and against the backdrop of the deafening silence of the international community to act and end the brutal war.
On announcing the winner of the 2020 Anna Politkovskaya Award, Sky News Special Correspondent, Alex Crawford, 2019 Award winner and a member of the 2020 Award Nominations Committee, said:
“I feel enormously honoured and absolutely delighted to support Radhya’s nomination. I met her and interviewed her during my recent trip to Yemen and was absolutely blown away by her dedication to human rights; her devotion to exposing abuses of war and her utter self-sacrifice in pursuing those ideals. She exhibits the strength of character; bravery and single-mindedness which Anna herself exemplified. She has been arrested and detained because of her refusal to be cowed about exposing human rights atrocities and glories in being utterly independent in investigating war crimes on all sides in the Yemeni war.
The organisation she runs with the support of her husband refuses funds from any of the Parties involved in the conflict, or involved in the sale of weapons to the Parties, or in support of the Parties. She is a truly extraordinary individual who is thorough, detailed, methodical and fearless in her investigation, examination and exposure of some of the terrible atrocities going on in her homeland – and she refuses to leave, enduring threats and all attempts at intimidating her to try to force her to stop. She is fantastically inspirational and I loved her to bits.”
On the winner of the 2020 Anna Politkovskaya Award and the special tribute, Belarusian writer and Nobel Prize laureate, Svetlana Alexievich, 2018 Award winner and a member of the 2020 Award Nominations Committee, said:
“Our world always lives in a state of war. But there are wars where people are suffering doubly – because of the war itself and because the world doesn’t know about it and doesn’t want to know. Such a war is going on in Yemen. Radhya is one of those who speaks out loudly about it, as she wants to tell the world, so that we get to know and be horrified.”
On receiving the Anna Politkovskaya Award, Radhya Almutawakel will join a group of remarkable women human rights defenders who received the Anna Politkovskaya Award in the past, including Alex Crawford (2019), Binalakshmi Nepram (2018) and Svetlana Alexievich (2018), Gulalai Ismail (2017) and Gauri Lankesh (2017), Jineth Bedoya Lima (2016) and Valentina Cherevatenko (2016), Kholoud Waleed (2015), Vian Dakhil (2014), Malala Yousafzai (2013), Marie Colvin (2012), Razan Zaitouneh (2011), Dr. Halima Bashir (2010), Leila Alikarami on behalf of the One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality in Iran (2009), Malalai Joya (2008) and Natalia Estemirova (2007).
The award will be presented to the winner on 18 March 2021 in London at RAW in WAR’s ‘Refusing to be Silenced’ event, part of the 2021 Women of the World (WOW) Festival.