Testimony on MAPA’s State Divestment Bills – Paul Shannon

Peace Advocate Summer 2021

Good morning. My name is Paul Shannon.

I’m one of those legions of part-time college instructors and a retired director of the national film library for the American Friends Service Committee.

I come to speak in favor of H 2636 and S 1735, an act relative to pension divestment from companies selling weapons to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-led war in Yemen is a tragedy of epic proportions that has caused thousands of civilian deaths, mass starvation and raging diseases resulting from the destruction of essential infrastructure

It is no secret that the war planes doing the bombing and the bombs they drop and guided missiles they fire come mostly from American companies, primarily Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed and General Dynamics.

House bill 2636 and Senate bill 1735 would require divestment of the Massachusetts pension plan from its $240 million worth of securities in these 4 companies selling weapons to Saudi Arabia – unless these companies announce within 30 days that they will end weapons sales to the Saudis. 

Today the greatest danger to the people of Yemen comes from the naval and air blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia that for most of six years has restricted the flow of vital commercial and humanitarian goods into the country. Unless lifted soon this modern day siege of Yemen threatens the death’s of hundreds of thousands more young children from famine.

In a public appeal to President Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren and 16 colleagues in the Senate stated the situation clearly: “We write to you regarding the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s use of blockade tactics in Yemen that has prevented food, medicine and other crucial supplies from reaching millions in dire need during this senseless and protracted conflict. We applaud the attention that your Administration has given to ending the conflict in Yemen, but immediate and decisive action must be taken to end the blockade of fuel imports that is exacerbating the growing humanitarian crisis”

The Senator continues “…experts estimate that more than 230,000 people have died during the war, including tens of thousands of civilian casualties and at least 130,000 who died as a result of lack of health services, disease and the growing risk of widespread famine”

“The UN estimates that 16 million Yemenis will face hunger this year and 400,000 children younger than five years old are at risk of dying of starvation if the conflict continues and these war tactics persist”

“Specifically, we request that your Administration demand that Saudi Arabia allow the unfettered delivery of food, fuel and other humanitarian aid through the Hodeidah port, under United Nations auspices to deliver humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people. Failure to provide such access should have a direct impact on our relationship with Saudi Arabia, to include pending weapons sales, military cooperation, the provision of maintenance for war planes and spare parts, as well as U.S.-Saudi ties more broadly. The current commercial fuel import standoff must end TODAY and be decoupled from ongoing negotiations. “

There are 4 giant military contractors who have made a bundle off the Yemen war. The State Pension fund is now making money from its investments in those companies that provide the weapons and services that are facilitating this humanitarian catastrophe.

And it is very possible the worst is yet to come over this summer.

The situation is best captured in the March testimony of David Beasley, Executive Director of the UN’s World Food Program: “We are heading straight toward the biggest famine in world history. It is hell on earth in many places in Yemen right now…and now, to add to their misery the innocent people of Yemen have to deal with a fuel blockade…That blockade must be lifted…Otherwise millions more will spiral into crisis”

So, if Massachusetts wants to make a statement that might make a difference to Yemenis, it’s now or never. And if that bold statement does not help prevent further catastrophe for a faraway people who have never harmed us, at least we can say we tried.