Political Analysis

David Parks: Canada has many reasons to support Yemen’s detained former prime ministe

National Yemen

Freedom for Khaled Bahah

On his report about Yemen’s Resigned Prime Minister Khalid Bahah, David Parks wrote a political report on March 11th, says that, Khaled Bahah is a respected figure in Yemen, and is widely recognized to be a capable and competent public official of honourable conduct. Prior to accepting the role of prime minister, he was Yemen’s ambassador to Canada (2009-2014), minister of oil and, most recently, Yemen’s permanent representative to the United Nations. It should be noted that his reputation as a non-corrupt non-partisan actor was vital to his selection as prime minister, and that he was approved to the position by the very forces that now hold him against his will, beyond the rule of law.

Parks has called up on Canada to join other countries and continue to demand the release of Bahah from his unlawful detention. “He has committed no crime, nor has he been charged with any wrongdoing. His only “crime” has been to serve his country when asked. Khaled Bahah has been a friend to Canada: Canada must be a friend to Khaled Bahah” said Parks.

Bahah, during his five-year posting in Ottawa, enjoyed a close working relationship with Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs. He was an active, well-liked ambassador, who not only represented the interests of Yemenis living in Canada, but also used academic and cultural exchange to build bridges between our two countries.

Canada, like the rest of the global community, has an interest in a peaceful, democratic Yemen. Not only does the current political instability make it much easier for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to flourish and expand its operations, but Yemen is facing a humanitarian crisis of devastating proportions. More than half of Yemenis live below the poverty line, with 40 per cent of the population unemployed. Four out of 10 Yemenis are food insecure, and six out of 10 young children have stunted growth. The crisis since January has seen the closure of all Western and Gulf country diplomatic missions, with the very real possibility that development and humanitarian aid will be suspended until there is a more stable political environment.

Canada has significant ties to Yemen. For many years Nexen was the largest foreign company operating in Yemen, responsible for up to 20 per cent of the country’s GDP, with many Canadians traveling and working in-country. More recently, the Canadian government has supported the Forum of Federations to work with Yemeni officials and civil society leaders on issues of power-sharing, political participation and gender equality. The Canada Fund for Local Initiatives has also funded many important projects on health, education and human rights.

Yemeni politics has always been complex. The upheaval of the Arab Spring in 2011 in some ways just added another layer of social and political cleavage that followed the political instability of 2009, endless wars between the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis, and the 1994 civil war resulting from the sloppy reunification in 1990 of North and South Yemen. The latter issue has yet to be resolved, with an organized – and popular – succession movement articulating for the return to an independent South Yemen.

Yemen’s current political crisis, in which Houthi rebels have seized the capital city of Sana’a, dissolved the House of Representatives and prevented deliberation on the recently drafted Constitution, has occurred on a continuum of failed political promises, incomplete transitions of power, and political meddling by powerful regional neighbours. The attempted murder of Bahah, and his subsequent unlawful detention for well over a month, is also taking place within this complicated political context.

On Jan. 19, Prime Minister Khaled Bahah left Yemen’s Presidential Palace. Moments later, unknown forces made an assassination attempt on his life. Three days later, Houthi militias laid siege to his residence. He has been under house arrest since this date, detained illegally by these same forces. This despite the fact that he submitted his resignation on Jan. 23, and has indicated several times that he has no wish to participate in Yemen’s government.