WASHINGTON – Days after Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade on Yemen, preventing aid and vital commodities from flowing into the country, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) – a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee – demanded that the Senate take action to make clear to the Trump administration that they do not have Congressional authority to participate in the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen that is now deliberately using mass starvation as a tactic of war. The campaign has already caused an outbreak of cholera, empowered terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS, and led to thousands of civilian casualties. Murphy continued to call on Saudi Arabia to fully lift the blockade.
Click here to view a video of Murphy’s remarks.
“Thousands and thousands inside Yemen today are dying. The Saudi-led coalition that has been engaged in an incessant two-year-long bombing campaign in Yemen is blockading Yemen – not allowing any humanitarian relief, not allowing fuel or food or water to get into the country. It would be one thing if the United States was a mere observer, but we are a participant in this,” said Murphy. “This horror is caused in part by our decision to facilitate a bombing campaign that is murdering children, and to endorse a Saudi strategy inside Yemen that is deliberately using disease and starvation and the withdrawal of humanitarian support as a tactic.”
“That kind of unconditional endorsement of intentional humanitarian pain, it's un-American,” continued Murphy. “The Saudi blockade needs to end today. There is no legal authorization for the United States to be part of a war inside Yemen. This Congress, this Senate cannot remain silent. We need to press the administration to tell the Saudis to end this blockade. We need to start using our ability as appropriators and authorizers to send messages to the Saudis that this kind of conduct cannot continue.”
Murphy has been a vocal critic of U.S. support for military campaigns in Yemen that have led to devastating humanitarian consequences and a security vacuum that has empowered terrorist groups. Murphy introduced bipartisan legislation to limit U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen and called on the Saudi government to take action to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
The full text of Murphy’s remarks is below:
My colleagues, cholera is a truly awful way to die. It is a manmade disease, a man-caused disease that this world could easily eradicate from existence. You become so dehydrated, you vomit so much liquid, your body dispenses so many nutrients, so much water through unending diarrhea that your body is thrown into shock. You literally die from vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes over the course of hours, sometimes over the course of days, sometimes over the course of weeks. Inside Yemen today, by the end of this year, there will be one million people diagnosed with cholera.
This is a hard image to see. I'll replace it with that one. One million people will be diagnosed with cholera. Thousands and thousands inside Yemen today are dying because of this disease. There is a humanitarian catastrophe inside this country that very few people in this nation can locate on a map of absolutely epic proportions. And this humanitarian catastrophe, this famine – one of four famines across the world today – is being caused in part by actions of the United States of America.
And it's time that we do something about it as a body. As we speak today, the Saudi-led coalition that has been engaged in an incessant two-year-long bombing campaign in Yemen is blockading Yemen – not allowing any humanitarian relief, not allowing fuel or food or water to get into the country. The coalition's blockade has grounded U.N. flights. It’s prevented humanitarian workers from flying in and out of the country. It's barred ships from delivering lifesaving food, fuel, and medical supplies. A 25,000 metric ton World Food Programme ship is currently, as we speak, being denied access to the port. Hospitals and aid organizations inside Yemen are shutting down as we speak today because they do not have enough fuel to continue operating. Vaccines will run out in the country by the end of the month. Prices for food and medicine are spiking such that they are unaffordable to the majority of Yemenis. 2,000 people have died because of cholera alone. Thousands of other civilians have died because of other humanitarian nightmares, including a lack of access to the medical system.
I mentioned that the blockade is being run by the Saudi-led coalition. The United States is a member of that coalition.
For two years, the United States has been aiding the government of Saudi Arabia in a bombing campaign of the Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. That bombing campaign has caused this outbreak of cholera. Why is that? The bombing campaign deliberately targeted the electricity grid of Yemen in and around Sena. The water treatment facility runs on the electricity from that grid, and so as you can read in a lengthy story in "The New York Times" from two days ago, the country now no longer has the ability to treat water that goes to its capital because the Saudi-led bombing campaign has knocked out electricity; because the fuel that has helped temporarily run the water treatment facility is no longer available either because the Saudi-led bombing campaign has targeted the infrastructure that allows for fuel to be delivered.
So today the water is undrinkable, it is toxic. And yet because there aren't other supplies of water, millions of Yemenis are ingesting it, are eating food that is also toxic, because of the inability to treat water, because of the flow of sewage and feces throughout the capital city and almost a million people have contracted cholera. That bombing campaign that targeted the electricity infrastructure in Yemen could only happen with U.S. support. It is the United States that provides the targeting assistance for the Saudi planes.
It is U.S. refueling planes flying in the sky around Yemen that restock the Saudi fighter jets with fuel, allowing them to drop more ordnance. It is U.S.-made ordnance that are carried on these planes and dropped on civilian and infrastructure targets inside Yemen. The United States is part of this coalition. The bombing campaign that has caused the cholera outbreak could not happen without us. The official position of the State Department with respect to the blockade which was imposed by the Saudis about a week ago, is that they should end it at least for the purposes of allowing into the country humanitarian resources. That has not happened.
As I mentioned, there is literally a World Food Programme ship waiting to get into the capital to help families like this. And though that may be the official position of the State Department, we clearly aren't articulating that position to the Saudis because the Saudi blockade, which happens with U.S. military support, continues. Maybe that's because the State Department and the White House are simply operating on two different planets.
While on his trip to Asia, President Trump said that he has full confidence in the Saudi King, that he knows what he's doing. Well, let me tell you what he's doing. He is using starvation and disease as a weapon of war, which is in contravention of international human rights law. You cannot use starvation. You cannot intentionally cause this kind of disease in order to try to win a military conflict.
And so, maybe the Saudis do know what they're doing, but what they are doing is a gross violation of human rights law. And it would be one thing if the United States was a mere observer, but we are a participant in this. This horror – and I’m sorry, it's hard to see – is caused in part by our decision to facilitate a bombing campaign that is murdering children, and to endorse a Saudi strategy inside Yemen that is deliberately using disease and starvation and the withdrawal of humanitarian support as a tactic.
Last night, the House of Representatives passed a nonbinding resolution making clear that there is no legal authorization for the United States’ participation in the Saudi-led campaign against the Yemeni people. Importantly, the resolution also made clear that there are multiple bad actors in Yemen today. The vast majority of cholera cases today – upwards, I think, of 80% - are in Houthi-controlled areas. But the Houthis do not have clean hands and their patrons , the Iranians, do not have clean hands. There have been human rights abuses, attacks on civilian targets by the Houthi forces as well. And the Iranians should stand-down immediately, as should the Saudis, as they continue to whip up this proxy war between regional powers that is killing civilians inside Yemen. But without U.S. leadership in the region, there is no hope for that stand-down to happen.
In the Obama administration, at least Secretary Kerry was personally, actively engaged in trying to bring some resolution to the war inside Yemen. But since President Trump took office and Secretary Tillerson became Secretary of State, there is zero U.S. leadership on this question. We don't have an Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East. We don't have any envoy for this crisis. All we have is a president who says that the Saudi government knows what it's doing.
That kind of unconditional endorsement of intentional humanitarian pain, it's un-American. We have stood up time and time again for human rights all across the world. We have been the people who deliver humanitarian salvation to people who are at risk of disease and famine and death. And instead of rescuing the people of Yemen during this moment of blockade, we are contributing to the deterioration of the quality of life inside that country. The Saudi blockade needs to end today, and a partial lifting of the blockade is not enough.
The coalition this morning did say that they are going to allow some humanitarian access to the ports they control, but we need access to the ports near where the majority of the population actually lives – Hudaydah and Saleef. Allowing access to the ports that the Saudis control, which are not the ports where the majority of humanitarian aid flows through, is not sufficient. It will not do the job. Medicine, vaccinations will continue to dry up. Price spikes will continue to go through the roof. The cholera epidemic will continue.
We have a responsibility as a nation to ensure that the coalition, of which we are a part, is not using starvation as a weapon of war. This is a stain on the conscience of our nation, if we continue to remain silent. I hope the Senate takes the same action that the House does. I hope that we make clear that there is no legal authorization for the United States to be part of a war inside Yemen. Congress has not given the authorization for this president to engage in these military activities. And, by the way, the civil war inside Yemen has aided the enemies for which we actually have declared war against.
Al Qaeda is getting stronger inside Yemen, because as more and more of the country becomes ungovernable because of this war, Al Qaeda is moving into that territory. ISIS, against which we have not declared war but we are engaged in active military activity in the region against, is getting stronger inside Yemen, too.
And so even if you don't believe that there is a humanitarian imperative attached to the United States' withdrawal from this coalition, there is a national security imperative because we are just strengthening the most lethal elements of the extremist element worldwide.
I know many other members of this body on both sides of the aisle feel as strongly about this as I do. We are not going to get leadership on this question from the administration. They have given a blank check to the Saudis. They have turned a blind eye to this epidemic inside Yemen, an epidemic that is getting worse by the day since the Saudi blockade began. Leadership will have to come from this body. We need to make clear to the administration they do not have the authority to participate in this military coalition.
We need to press the administration to tell the Saudis to end this blockade. We need to start using our ability as appropriators and authorizers to send messages to the Saudis that this kind of conduct cannot continue. We have tools at our disposal to lead as a Congress on this question. The world's worst humanitarian catastrophe happening right now as we speak, getting worse by the hour inside Yemen. This Congress, this Senate cannot remain silent.
I yield the floor. I suggest the absence of a quorum.