UN falsely accuses United Arab Emirates of war crimes in Yemen – UAE parliament speaker
The growing economic and political influence of the United Arab Emirates is being felt everywhere in the Middle East. But will the quagmire of war in Yemen sink the new ambitions of the tiny nation? We talked to the president of the Emirates’ Federal National Council, the most senior female politician in the Arab world, Dr Amal Al Qubaisi.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi, President of the Federal National Council of the United Arab Emirates. Welcome to the show. It’s really great to have you with us. I hope you’re enjoying your stay in St. Petersburg. So, let’s start with your personal experience. You are the highest-ranking female politician in the Arab world. The first woman to head a national assembly of an Arab state. Obviously that means that this world is very male-centric. How does that complicate your work? How do you make men listen to you?
Amal Al Qubaisi: Thank you for hosting me. I think, using our talent as women, being able to face challenges and at the same time to transcend to all our potential - it makes it possible for us to fulfill what’s required from us to fill any seat, be it a mother or be it a speaker. And I think, we’ve also been fortunate by the high respect and support of men, especially when it comes to my country - the UAE - from the leadership to the community, they all believe in the role of women. And they believe also that we cannot empower the society if we don’t empower women. Especially when it comes to political participation internationally, not only in the UAE or in the Arab world, it’s well-know that it’s male domain. I think, female participation has already proven that it can bring so many high results, and accordingly, in the UAE we have 8 ministers of Cabinets, the percentage of women in the parliament is around 23%, we have more than 30% of leadership positions held by women. 66% of the federal workforce are women. And also when it comes to higher education we represent more than 80% of females going to higher education. They all compliment each other and I think, we’ve been fortunate, as I said, with the support we get, but we also own this great respect. We are hard workers, and we are sincere and loyal to our mission in building our countries.
SS: But you know, you’ve said it yourself: it’s a very male-dominated world regardless the fact that we see more and more women being part of the political establishments. For instance, here in Russia we see more and more women being part of high posts in the government. But it took us some while before being part of government, because it was politically correct for men sitting down with women that are part of the government and talking to them as equals. There was still this threshold that you needed to cross, and women here in Russia worked really hard to make men understand that they are just as intelligent and just as smart, and it’s not enough to bring them to the government to just make it seem politically correct... How hard was it for you to get to where you are?
AQ: I think, it wasn’t an easy way all the time, I had to prove myself through my education. I studied architecture, and through teaching at the university both men and women we made them understand that women can be their partners in the development of this country. I think, it wasn’t that hard also because we had Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak who was the First Lady, and she was so passionate about women empowerment, and they embedded this in their own sons and leaders and also in the society. So when the community understands women’s role it becomes easier for them to sit and listen and also to join forces.
SS: Why do you think some Muslim nations are more open-minded in promoting women’s rights than others? They all have a different pace when it comes to promoting women. Why is that? All of them practice the same religion, most of them live by Sharia law… Why is the pace so different?
AQ: You know, this is not religion, it’s based on equality, and actually now women are empowered most than any other time. It’s not religion-related, and it’s not only in Muslim countries, but all over the world you’ll find differences in the way woman is looked at or is practicing her rights. It’s not only related to religion. There are many non-Islamic regions where women are deprived of their simplest rights. I think, it’s related to education more, it’s related to poverty sometimes. It’s related to society, to some traditions that have no relevance to religion.
SS: So you’ve said that there’s no gender gap in your country. Can a woman in your country get the top job, become Prime Minister? For instance, it’s the big question here in Russia: can a woman become President any time soon? What about your country?
AQ: As I said in the beginning, having a woman speaker in my country, the first in the Arab world, shows you that women are looked at equally as man. Having many critical ministries and positions held by women shows you that there’s more balanced, comprehensive and sustainable vision that we are working on and that we are empowering both men and women to take their role and fulfil it in the present and in the future.
SS: Well alright. Since you’re the head of the Emirates’ law-advising body, one of the top politicians in the country, and that’s as close as I’ve gotten in talking to politicians of that rank from your country, let’s talk politics. You have said that terrorism is an instrument used by some countries and regimes to achieve their foreign policy objectives. What kind of foreign policy objectives can be achieved with terrorism?
AQ: I think, terrorism can only achieve destruction. Unfortunately, there might be some political agendas which can be practiced through terrorism, and this is a very ill ideology that we’re against. In UAE as politicians and on other levels we are against terrorism. We have two centres - Hedayah Centre which is working against violent extremism, it’s built in joint co-operation with international experts, and also Sawab which tackles terrorism in the digital world. But most importantly to immune our youth, to create a culture of tolerance and moderation is a very important thing. And that’s happening through empowering them - let them have a role and fully engage them in shaping their future. Moreover, I think, our fight against terrorism is not only national or regional, it has to be global because there are no borders for terrorism, and it has no religion. We, Muslims, have suffered the most of it because when you have a minority of terrorist militias, people who are executing their own agendas to get into power, and they are trying to hijack Islam as a peaceful religion to claim that this is the way it should be practiced. For us, Muslims, - we’re the majority, there are more than 1 billion 8 hundred million Muslims around the world, - we live in peace and we believe that we should bring back the real image of Islam which is a peaceful image.
SS: Dr. Al Qubaisi, before the break you were talking about the UAE’s effort to combat terrorism. However, we’re getting reports from the Associated Press just recently saying that Emirati military forces in Yemen are cutting deals with al-Qaeda on the ground, from funding al-Qaeda-related militias to actually recruiting al-Qaeda fighters to fight for the coalition. How can the Emirates combat terrorism efficiently, if it’s faced with the accusations of the same thing?
AQ: The UAE has always been committed to the fight against terrorism. We respect international laws and we also respect the UN Security Council resolutions. As for our role in Yemen, we were asked by the legitimate government to help them so that they can stop the killing of the civilians there and what is done by the minority of the Houthis who try to hijack the country from its own people. We joined the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia, and at the beginning we had to stabilise the situation through military action. But now, more than ever our role is about how we can bring back prosperity and stability again to Yemen through empowering its people to fight for their own country and also through helping them build it again. So we’re bringing hope through the tremendous humanitarian aid - that’s the highest humanitarian aid injected in Yemen to rebuild it again. When it comes to these accusations, as you said, we hope that people before accusing the UAE and others who are trying to do their role ethically, with respect to the UN resolutions, will go on the ground and will see the truth. Our troops are highly trained, and we have lost also very precious souls of our soldiers there in fight with our brothers in Yemen so that we can safeguard the civilians there. Our troops are training the Yemeni themselves who own the right to get back their country from the Houthi militias; who are suffering there - innocent people in Yemen, whether it’s the elderly, women or children - they are all being attacked by the Houthis. And accordingly we’re building capacity among the Yemeni themselves, so that they can lead their battle and they can get back their country. All these accusations are rumors so that they can undermine our role, and they are trying to show that our role in Yemen is negative, because if it wasn’t for our support they would have been defeated in many cities in Yemen. We believe in a diplomatic solution, we believe that there should be compromises, we believe that they should continue negotiations from both sides, so that they can find a peaceful solution to save the lives of Yemeni people and to give them hope in building their future again. Until that happens we need to be there to stabilise the situation, to not get back to what it has started to be.
SS: Dr. Al Qubaisi, I need to have this on the record. You say that all these accusations are false, is it fair to say that all the witnesses the Associated Press have gathered - witnesses on the ground, militias, tribal leaders - those are all false? ‘Cause it was everywhere in the press, and I need to have this on the record that all these witnesses and reports from Associated Press are false?
AQ: Why are there no other witnesses, so that they go and interview them to show the other side of the story. We want a fair and very truthful reflection (especially when it comes to media) of facts on the ground. Yes, we see our role there that we’re sure of, and we’re sure how much we’re contributing to making peace, to bringing back to the people their right to legitimacy, and when it comes to the UAE role that we’ve always been embracing and what we’re continuing to do in our fight against terrorism, of course, we don’t believe in these false accusation.
SS: You’ve talked about the help to the Yemeni people that the Arab coalition is providing in the country. At the same time for the last three years it’s an undeniable fact that the UAE along with Saudi Arabia have been major players in the war in Yemen. It’s believed that one third of all air-strikes of the Saudi-led coalition hit non-military targets. Air attacks by the coalition are causing the most civilian casualties in this war. Just recently an attack on a school bus killed 40 children and even the coalition admitted, that this air-strike was ‘unjustified’. Even they said it. What is wrong with the coalition military if incidents like this continue to happen? I know, it’s in nobody’s interest to have casualties that are not military targeted…
AQ: When it comes to our forces they are one of the best trained in the world. They are highly accurate. I’ve visited the air base myself too. And I’ve seen the equipment and the high level of accuracy that they’re working on. And we’re not the only one working there, all the alliance is having their intelligence there. They’re doing their best not to cause any civilian deaths or injuries. To my knowledge what you have mentioned, there have been so many efforts to liberate many cities there based on the information provided and on all the efforts to avoid any casualties, unfortunate incidents can happen sometimes. But that doesn’t mean that they are intended or that they are not exaggerated sometimes in the way they are depicted. I think, more extensive on-the-ground investigations should be done in a very fair way. Then you can state such facts.
SS: Dr. Al Qubaisi, there’s also this recent UN report on the war in Yemen, and it says that all parties in the conflict are committing war crimes - that’s the terminology they use. They’re not singling out your country in particular, but rather saying that all parties are culpable, with the Saudi-UAE-led coalition taking the lead in the number of atrocities committed there. Your foreign minister Anwar Gargash, I heard him speak, has said that “war is never clean, our operation is not clean”. In the beginning of the interview, me and you were speaking of the women’s role in politics and how women can bring this holistic, creative and innovative approach to the things. How does this mash together with what your foreign minister says? Does that mean that your leadership sort of accepts war crimes as unavoidable collateral damage in that war?
AQ: Whether it comes to the UAE or the Arab coalition we all have rejected what has been said in this report. It’s not the right way to describe our role there. As we said from the beginning the Arab coalition has played a crucial role in safeguarding the lives of the innocent civilians. By no means we can be a part or play a role in committing war crimes there. This is against international law, this is against our ethics even as humans and our principles and values, especially when it comes to our Islamic beliefs and also when it comes to us as a country. Yemen is not an easy place whether it comes to topography or its lands. But at the same time we’ve seen the Houthi militias hijacking children and giving them arms so that they go and fight the war that’s not theirs, they even don’t know what’s going on. We can’t and we don’t accept being even described as the Houthis or any other militias. We are not war players or war-makers. And, as I said, we’ve never taken a role in committing war crimes. This is something totally against our beliefs and values.
SS: What is the price that your country is willing to pay to claim victory over the Houthis? In your opinion - how much longer is the United Arab Emirates willing to fight in this war?
AQ: What’s the price of a soul of a human being? There’s no price. We have lost our own sons in this war against not only the Houthis, but against terrorist militias there. I believe that bringing stability is a very important part of our role and our commitment to our brothers, and also to the Yemeni people. I think, it’s very important that we want Yemeni people to claim their own right in deciding the future of their country, and in order to do so working with the legitimate government from the beginning we’ve put our efforts in Yemen to stabilise it. The Houthis are a minority. They are, unfortunately, as we know, being supported by Iranians who are providing them with all this machinery and guns, so that more turbulence would be cause there. We cannot allow more of this instability to happen. We are hopeful that in the future the Yemeni people themselves who are trying to be trained on military and educational level will be able to bring more stability and prosperity to their country.
SS: Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi, thank you very much for this interview. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on whatever is going on in this conflict. We were talking to Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi, President of the Federal National Council of the United Arab Emirates, speaking about the Yemen crisis and the UAE’s role in it.