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The Saudi blockade is a leading driver of starvation in Yemen. In response to the growing humanitarian crisis, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, Demand Progress, and Just Foreign Policy sent a letter to President Joe Biden, calling for an end to the Saudi blockade of Yemen. They were joined by Actor and humanitarian Mark Ruffalo, the creators of the 2021 Oscar-nominated film HUNGER WARD, dozens of celebrities, and more than 70 national organizations.


Dear Mr. President:

We thank you for taking critical first steps toward peace and food security in Yemen, including an announced end to offensive U.S. military participation in Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition actions; a review of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for use in their six-year air war in Yemen; and a revocation of President Trump’s terrorism designations against the Houthis, with the express purpose of averting a hunger crisis.

In light of an explosive March 10th news report, “CNN investigation finds the U.S.-backed Saudi blockade is leading to deadly fuel & food shortages in Yemen, where hospitals are full of starving children,” we urge you now to use U.S. leverage with the Saudi regime to demand an immediate and unconditional end to its blockade on Yemen, which threatens the lives of 16 million malnourished Yemenis living on the edge of famine.

CNN found that Yemen’s major port of Hodeidah, controlled by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, “is now a ghost town,” as “hundreds of food aid trucks sit parked in a line stretching for miles,” without fuel, as their cargo spoils. “Saudi warships have not allowed any oil tankers to berth at Hodeidah since the start of the year,” CNN reporter Nima Elbagir observed, citing the World Food Programme, which documented that over a dozen ships carrying 350,000 metric tons of commercial fuel have been prevented from entering Yemen for over two months.

We are deeply concerned that prior to the CNN report, no U.S. official in the new administration had explicitly publicly acknowledged the six-year-old, Saudi-imposed blockade—much less criticized it. U.S. special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, declined to adequately respond to Elbagir’s on-the-ground reporting and direct questions, referring to Yemen’s hunger crisis simply as “complex,” while denying evidence of the blockade shown in CNN’s report, and, per Elbagir’s account, falsely claiming that “food continues to flow through Hodeidah unimpeded.” Elbagir concluded: “How is [peace] possible when you are not acknowledging the full impact of that U.S.-backed Saudi embargo on the people of Yemen?”

According to the UN, 400,000 children under the age of 5 could perish from hunger this year without urgent action. For years, the Saudi blockade has been a leading driver of Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe. The recent fuel shortages triggered by the blockade are quickly accelerating major reductions in access to affordable food, clean water, electricity, and basic movement across Yemen. The blockade also threatens to shut down, within weeks, the hospitals reliant on power generators to tend to victims of famine, while making even emergency travel to hospitals prohibitively expensive for Yemeni families, condemning untold numbers of children to certain death at home.

On March 11th, addressing the UN Security Council, World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley corroborated CNN’s reporting on the Saudi fuel blockade, noting “most hospitals only have electricity in their intensive care units because fuel reserves are so low. I know this firsthand because I walked in the hospital and the lights were off.” He pleaded: “It is hell on earth in many places in Yemen right now,” and concluded, “That blockade must be lifted, as a humanitarian act. Otherwise, millions more will spiral into crisis.” In light of the Houthis’ longstanding obstructionism of humanitarian assistance, Beasley’s recent assessment that “we’ve turned a corner with the Houthis…in terms of cooperation, collaboration” is a promising sign that unilaterally ending the blockade, paired with increased financial assistance, can save millions of innocent lives.

Brookings Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel describes the ongoing Saudi blockade as “an offensive military operation that kills civilians.” Given the continued imposition of the blockade, the administration’s portrayal of Saudi Arabia as “committed and eager to find a solution to the conflict” is troubling. Lenderking’s argument to CNN’s Elbagir that the Saudis “are ready to sit down to negotiate an end to the conflict” with the Houthis, “during which access to ports and other issues could be addressed and resolved,” could mean tens of thousands more people may die before before negotiations over the blockade even begin.

We strongly support a comprehensive political settlement that addresses the conflict’s myriad issues, including a nationwide ceasefire, currency stabilization, and payment of government salaries. But a U.S. effort to wield its unique political leverage over Saudi Arabia to demand the blockade’s end must occur independently of negotiations between the warring parties. This is particularly necessary in light of the highly uncertain outcome of peace talks, as Saudi warplanes have freshly launched repeated bombings of the capital city of Sana’a and the Houthis have launched an offensive on the city of Marib. Riedel warns that “linking lifting the blockade to a ceasefire is a recipe for prolonging the suffering of the Yemeni people. The two issues need to be decoupled.”

This moral imperative requires the United States to pressure Saudi Arabia to lift this blockade immediately, unilaterally, and comprehensively.  This means ending the Saudi naval blockade and allowing humanitarian and commercial imports to freely enter into Yemen; entrusting security oversight to the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM); fully permitting commercial and medical flights in and out of Sana’a airport; and reopening land crossings to importers, exporters and civilian traffic.

Thank you again for your previous actions to end U.S. complicity in the war in Yemen and ease the country’s humanitarian crisis. We now ask you to acknowledge the severity of the Saudi blockade; call for Saudi Arabia to lift it immediately; and terminate any U.S. political, military, operational or diplomatic support for the blockade that may exist in order for food, fuel and medicine to reach millions of Yemenis in desperate need.

Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.

Sincerely,

Organizations

Action Corps
American Friends Service Committee
American Muslim Empowerment Network (AMEN)
Antiwar.com
Arabian Rights Watch Association (ARWA)
Avaaz
Bread for the World
Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security
Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR)
Center for International Policy
Charity & Security Network
Church of the Brethren, Office of Peacebuilding and Policy
Church World Service
Churches for Middle East Peace
Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES)
CODEPINK
Committee for Responsible Foreign Policy
Common Defense
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
Demand Progress Education Fund
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
EIHR: The Educators’ Institute for Human Rights
Environmentalists Against War
Episcopal Peace Fellowship
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Foreign Policy for America
Freedom Forward
Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Health Alliance international
Historians for Peace and Democracy
ICNA Council for Social Justice
Indivisible
Interfaith Community Sanctuary
Just Foreign Policy
Justice Democrats
Justice Is Global
MADRE
MoveOn
National Council of Churches
National Iranian American Council
Neighbors for Peace
Pax Christi USA
+Peace
Peace Action
Peace Direct
Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness
Progressive Democrats of America
Public Citizen
Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
Raytheon Anti-war Campaign
Refugees International
Rethinking Foreign Policy
Revolutionary Love Project
RootsAction.org
Saudi American Justice Project
Secure Justice
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas - Justice Team
Spin Film
Students for Yemen
The Episcopal Church
The United Methodist Church - General Board of Church and Society
To End All Wars
Union of Arab Women
United Church of Christ
United for Peace and Justice
Veterans For Peace
Win Without War
Women Against Military Madness
Women International League for Peace and Freedom- US Section
World BEYOND War
Yemen Freedom Council
Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation
Yemeni Alliance Committee
Yemeni Liberation Movement

Individuals (titles for identification purposes only)

Mark Ruffalo – Actor, director, activist
Skye Fitzgerald –  Director, HUNGER WARD, 2021 Oscar Nominated Documentary Short
Michael Scheuerman – Producer, HUNGER WARD, 2021 Oscar Nominated Documentary Short
Shireen Al-Adeimi – Yemen-born activist and professor at Michigan State University
The Phoenix family (Joaquin, Liberty, Summer, Rain)
Orlando Bloom – Actor
Amy Schumer – Comedian
Aisha Jumaan – President of Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation
Alyssa Milano –   Actor, writer, activist
Sarah Silverman – Comedian, actor
Leopoldo Gout – Film director
Andy Richter – Actor and comedian
Jehan Hakim – Chair of Yemeni Alliance Committee
Aleen Keshishian – Film producer
Rebecca Chaiklin – Film director
Bruce Ackerman – Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science Yale University
Kathryn Everett  – Head of Film, XTR
Marianne Williamson – Author, inspirational speaker, 2020 presidential candidate

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