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TEDxFromHome’s 5 in 5 with Radhya Al-Mutawakel

Written by Robert Fletcher and Camilla Magis. Edited by Aada Orava.

TEDxFromHome’s 5 in 5 has been launched to condense our episodes to 5 key talking moments that you can explore in less than 5 minutes! Not to mention, this new series is interactive! Make sure to read on, and cast your vote on divisive issues that are brought up during the interview.

The latest episode of TEDxFromHome hosted Radhya Al-Mutawakel, a Yemeni human rights defender and co-founder of the Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights. As one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2019, Radhya has brought global attention to the crisis and conflict in Yemen, presenting in front of the UN Security Council as well as the European Parliament.

In this edition of TEDxFromHome’s 5 in 5, we’ll be taking you through the following talking points from Radhya’s interview:

  1. The position of Yemeni civilians

  2. The devastating implications for children in Yemen

  3. The role of world powers in the failure to achieve peace talks in Yemen

  4. The significance of the 2020 US election to the war in Yemen

  5. The truth about donations and what action you can take

Please note: This article has been edited for increased clarity and readability. Radhya’s views are still fully represented.


1. What’s happening to Yemeni civilians, and what do they hope for at the end of the conflict? 

Yemen is facing the world's worst humanitarian crisis. But it isn't a natural crisis. It is fully man-made.

At Mwatana, we keep saying that Yemenis are not starving. They are being starved. The parties to the conflict are actively using starvation as a weapon of war.

This is not the only direct human rights violation Yemenis are facing. In Mwatana, we have documented more than 500 airstrikes, where civilians were killed and injured, and our field researchers collected evidence that these airstrikes were explicitly targeted at civilians. We have also documented hundreds of deaths and injuries due to ground shelling. People are suffering from land mines, mainly by Houthi armed groups. Almost everyone knows someone in detention, and there are many cases of forced disappearance and torture. There’s also sexual violence - but it's difficult to document.

We keep saying that we are all safe by accident. In Yemen, we aren’t safe as a result of being protected by anyone or anything. Instead, if we are safe, it is because we are lucky. Anything can happen to anyone, at anytime.

Yemenis have experienced violations of their human rights from all sides, so they know that all parties are committing horrible crimes against them.

What Yemenis want is to live! To have a normal life, peace and to have a state.

Yemenis know what having a state means and what the rule of law means. We used to have a form of democracy and elections. Fake elections, but elections. People understand these things, and they know that this is the path they want to go down.

"Destroyed house in the south of Sanaa" by Mr. Ibrahem is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0


2. How is the war affecting children in Yemen, and what can you tell us about Mwatana’s report on the disproportionate effect on children? 

The latest report that we released in Mwatana had the title 'Undermining the Future', and it was about the recurrent attacks on schools. Yemenis have a passion to go to school and they want to study, but they can't do it anymore. Sometimes because they are scared of facing any security issues on their way to school.

Our childrens’ future is dying in front of their eyes because they can't have an appropriate education. It is one of the main disasters.

This generation didn't have the chance to have the minimum standards of education we used to have. I can’t say that children now are having an education that really can help them to go forward in the future. There is no kind of process to help the next generation learn what democracy means, what having a state means, what a court means. This is one of the most devastating things. It's dangerous and it's sad. If the war doesn't stop, I don't know how we are going to minimize this gap. 


3. How have internationally powerful states (including the UK, France and the US) failed in helping achieve peace across Yemen? 

The international community doesn't have a real interest to stop the war. 

Nor have the parties to the conflict - not the Houthis or the Hadi government and their allies, not the Saudis and Emiratis. All of these people aren’t doing anything serious to stop the war. The international community, in particular the US, the UK and France, aren’t putting real pressure on parties to the conflict to take serious steps towards peace. The last peace talk happened after the Khashoggi murder, and it led to the end of a disastrous war in one of Yemen’s governorates. These peace talks only happened because the international community decided to exert significant pressure on all parties. The parties to the conflict are all weak enough to be pushed to a serious political agreement. It’s very easy, or at least possible, for the international community to establish peace talks and end the war. 

So, the point here is: If they want, they can do it. But it’s never happening.

The UK, specifically, has got to stop selling weapons to Saudis and Emiratis. This should be by default, but it's not happening. But the UK is also responsible for enhancing accountability. They are in a powerful position in the UN, so they can use their position to push the parties to the conflict to the negotiating table to start the peace process.


4. Are the US elections a possible turning point?

Firstly, I want you to know that the war in Yemen started while Obama was still the president. The green light for the war came from Obama. Also, the first arms trade was under Obama’s presidency. In spite of this, I think that the elections could make a difference. But I cannot be sure until I see it. That said, many Yemenis think and hope that the elections can make a difference to the war in Yemen.


5. Do donations actually make sense, and what more can we do as students? 

Donating does make sense. I can't say that it wouldn’t make sense. However, as a human rights defender and a human rights NGO, I am convinced that donations for humanitarian aid will not solve the problem we have in Yemen.

According to the EU and NGOs, 22 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance. That is almost all Yemenis. But you cannot help an entire nation with humanitarian aid. It’s impossible. Humanitarian NGOs are trying to do their best to help people. But there are things that the youth in the UK can do that humanitarian NGOs cannot do. Humanitarian NGOs can’t push, and they can’t go to the media to enact more pressure on their government to take real action. So, what Yemen really needs is international pressure, as Yemenis will be able to feed themselves only if the war stops. 

If the voice of the youth was added to the current pressure, it will make a difference.

5. (i) So, what can students actually do?

If they just organised one campaign, and designed very clear messages to the UK government, they might be surprised how much of an impact they can have. From my experience, any effort has impact and Yemen can surprise you. 

It’s an environment where every kind of influence can be received. Yemenis need to feel that other people are feeling their suffering, and this really means a lot to them. 

Ordinarily, Yemenis get to know the UK, France, and the US through the remnants of weapons that destroy their homes and kill their children.

It's better to know these countries through people like you who really want to make change, and to help end this kind of suffering.


Don’t forget, this is just a snippet of Radhya Al-Mutawakel’s TEDxFromHome interview. You can view the full interview here.

Have more thoughts regarding the polls or points made in the interview? Leave a comment below!

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