Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is currently considered the worst in the world by the UN, yet for years it has been constantly overshadowed by other conflicts in the Middle East. Despite it involving other major Middle Eastern actors, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, major news outlets have continued to fail to cover the conflict in favor of more well-known crises. It is only with growing Western involvement that it has begun to trickle into the Western news.
The political crisis in Yemen began in 2011 with the Arab Spring protests when Yemenis took to the streets to call for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who became the first President of Yemen after its unification and had served for over 30 years. After ceding power to former Vice President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in exchange for political immunity, Hadi struggled to unite the fragmented country. This laid the stage for the 2014 Battle of Sana’a, which marked the beginning of the Yemeni Crisis with the armed takeover of the government by Houthi militants as part of the larger Zaydi Shia Houthi movement.
Even before the start of the conflict Yemen was characterized by severe instability and strife. It was – and still is – the poorest country in the Middle East and remained a fledgling state after its unification in 1990 and struggling to find its footing. Since the beginning of the Yemeni conflict, the country has splintered into chaos, sparking a bloody civil war and a grim humanitarian crisis. A country already plagued for years by political injustice, weak infrastructure, social unrest, and widespread poverty, Yemen’s civil war has lead to a humanitarian crisis on an unprecedented scale. Over 20 million citizens (60%) are in need of aid. 18 million people (around 60% of the population) are food insecure, with a sharp increase in malnutrition; the country is on the brink of famine. Water sources are contaminated and sanitation systems are failing; this lack of basic services only exacerbates an already dire situation. On top of these horrid conditions, Yemen is facing the worst-ever recorded cholera epidemic as of last year, with children as approximately 30% of the recorded cases.
And yet, the war has been largely ignored and overshadowed by mainstream Western media. That is, until recent human rights abuses and the possibility of Western involvement in war crimes came to light.
Several powerful foreign countries have involved themselves in Yemen’s war. Saudi Arabia formed a coalition in 2015 to defeat the Houthi rebels consisting of Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Senegal, and Sudan. The United States, as well as the United Kingdom and France, have supplied Saudi Arabia with weapons and military intelligence. Saudi Arabia’s ulterior motives stem from the Iran backing of the Houthis.
Civilians are, inevitably, those most affected by the violence in Yemen. According to the UN Office of Human Rights, ‘since March 2015 up to 23 August 2018, 6,660 civilians were killed and 10,563 injured; however, the real figures are likely to be significantly higher.’
The Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, a group created last year by the UN Human Rights Council, released a report on August 28 that stated that UN experts have reason to believe that all sides involved in the war in Yemen could be guilty of war crimes. According to Kamel Jendoubi, the chairperson of the Group, ‘There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimize civilian casualties.’
It is only with growing Western involvement that it is being brought to the forefront of the international stage, due to the backlash against the foreign policy of the U.S., the U.K., and France that gives aid to the Saudi-backed coalition that is resulting in the deaths of thousands of citizens.
Amnesty International reported in late September that the bomb that collapsed a residential building in Sana’a and caused the deaths of dozens was manufactured in the USA. While the bomb was used by the Saudi coalition in its ongoing military efforts in Yemen, ‘international humanitarian law prohibits disproportionate attacks, including those expected to kill or injure civilians.’
These findings are another addendum to the growing list of America’s continuance of ‘secret wars’. Despite the formal denial of involvement in the Yemen conflict, there are US troops on the ground and there is a history of US aid to the Saudi coalition. This means a link to the war crimes committed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The US is aiding and abetting war crimes. Whether these revelations will truly lead anywhere is, as of yet, inconclusive.
The outlook for Yemen seems to depend largely on the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen. Their August 28 report ended with an appeal to the Human Rights Council for an extension of their original one-year mandate in order to ensure that the Yemeni crisis remains a priority for the OHCHR. Whether this mandate will be renewed remains to be seen.