We in Yemen are no less thirsty for freedom and dignity than our brothers and sisters in Tunis. After the fall of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, our own vigils took a new direction when thousands of young people went on to the streets. They reached their climax with the fall of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, when millions of Yemenis called for the departure of the dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Many in the Arab world were worried about our uprising. Everyone knew that the country is awash with weapons. It was feared that the revolution would descend into violence and distort the image of the other Arab uprisings.
But the Yemeni revolution surprised everyone with its astonishingly peaceful nature. This peacefulness exposed the unrestrained brutality of the regime toward the revolutionaries. They met the bullets of the regime with bare chests, preferring to guard their revolution rather than be lured into the quagmire of violence. A thousand martyrs fell and thousands more were injured, yet not one revolutionary raised a weapon in the face of the butchers.
What is truly regrettable, though, is that the world has not shown the least interest in what the Saleh regime does with Yemen and its revolutionaries. Despite this huge number of martyrs, despite the transformation of the country into a huge prison where citizens struggle to get even a drink of water for their children, and despite the use of heavy weapons against civilians, Saleh’s regime did not even receive a token verbal condemnation from the United Nations or other world governments – despite our calls to impose sanctions. Yet harsh sanctions were imposed on other regimes that committed lesser crimes.
We in Yemen look forward to a clear stand from the UN, world governments and civil society organisations in condemning the violence of Saleh’s regime. We would like to see definite measures to deter him from the violence he is perpetrating against his people and halt the actions of security forces that are led by his son and nephews. They have demonstrated in the clearest manner how instruments of the state can be commandeered in the interests of an individual.
Today we need a concerted international effort that would result in freezing the assets of the ruling family, which are estimated at $10bn. Saleh and his relatives plundered the public coffers during the last three decades of his abuse of power.
And there must be no let-up in the pursuit of members of Saleh’s regime for the crimes they have committed against peaceful demonstrators, which can be classified as crimes against humanity. It is the duty of the European commission and member states of the European Union to uphold the principles of human rights and the rejection of corruption.
In the same vein, I call upon them to show similar concern for the suffering of the revolutionaries in Syria, where the machinery of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime produces a daily harvest of dead and wounded. This is a moment of truth for the values of freedom about which our region has heard so much from the international community, without having access to them.
Now our peoples have awakened to break the chains and seize our destinies. The least we desire from the institutions of the free world, and especially the US and the countries of the European Union, is that they appreciate our struggle for freedom. We want them to discharge their responsibilities towards vulnerable people and support them in the face of the cruelty of rulers who continue to kill.
It is disgraceful that the few who claim to show an interest in the future of Yemen should be satisfied with proposing initiatives, the most outrageous of which is to give complete immunity to Saleh, his sons and senior aides from any accountability for the crimes they have committed, including the killing of hundreds of revolutionaries.
But perhaps the most basic error of the international community is to describe what is happening in Yemen as a political crisis and not a revolution. The Yemenis insist it is – not by words only, but with their blood, which the regime continues to shed.
In my capacity as a leader of the popular and youth revolution in Yemen, I reaffirm our adherence to the peaceful nature of our struggle until the end. At the same time, I ardently call upon the free people of the world to examine what is happening in my country and Syria especially, and to honour their responsibilities to confront rulers who do not hesitate to carry out the most heinous crimes against people who have the temerity to demand their natural rights to freedom and dignity.
By Tawakkol Karman, a co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel peace prize who chairs Women Journalists Without Chains. She is a human rights activist and leader of the popular revolution movement in Yemen.