Are we in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises?
The world is an eventful place at the moment. The shockwaves of Brexit are still reverberating throughout Europe and upcoming federal elections in France and Germany take on more significance than perhaps ever before. There is, of course, also, the small matter of the US Presidential election as well to focus on. Unfortunately, there is a scarcity of debate regarding the civil war in Yemen and more importantly the role of the West in backing Saudi Arabia in its proxy war against Iran.
The Battle For Control
The conflict in Yemen is demonstrably complex. Yemen is relatively evenly split between Shiites and Sunnis, borders Saudi Arabia and has been engulfed in a civil war between government forces and the Shiite Houthi group for over a decade. Moreover, Al Qaeda has used Yemen as a base from which it has devised several plots against the West. There are clearly several factors from which the Saudi-led coalition can choose to present as justification for the war. Saudi Arabia, an overwhelmingly Sunni country, has a vested interest in preventing the Shiite Houthi from gaining power in Yemen. The Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, are supporting Saudi Arabia and that side of the government. Contrarily, Iran is a majority Shiite country supporting the Shiite agenda. Although the extent of Iran’s support for Houthi is unknown, there is considerable evidence that belies Tehran’s denial of support.
The only remaining group are the civilians of Yemen, who fear getting killed in the crossfire of a war they want no part of. Tragically, the war has merely added to the suffering of the people of Yemen, of whom more than half live below the poverty line. The statistics are particularly disturbing: more than 6500 Yemenis have been killed, 2.4 million people have been displaced from their homes and a staggering 83% of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance. The volume of evidence that Saudi Arabia’s airstrikes and bombing have violated International Law continues to mount. Only last month 11 civilians were killed, and 19 were injured after the Saudi-led coalition bombed a hospital. Then again, perhaps it is naïve to expect remorse from a regime that ushered in the New Year with the dozens of executions.
The Role Of The West
It is expected of the West, however, to abide by the laws it helped create. The UK and the US not only provide logistical support, but both have also recently agreed multi-billion pound arms deals with Saudi Arabia. In 2015 alone the UK, US, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain reported arms sales of more than $25bn.
Cluster bombs, banned by the U.N., are an example of how Western weapons are being used for the bombing of civilians in Yemen. The evidence of Saudi Arabia using Western weapons for its illegal bombing of civilians is irrefutable. To further twist the knife, there is reporting of Saudi Arabia passing on these weapons to Al Qaeda in Yemen in the hope that they will help fight against the Houthi. Perhaps it is an oversimplification to say that Western countries have directly armed Al Qaeda, but it is not baseless to suggest their actions have not played a significant role.
The rhetoric that the UK continues to regurgitate to defend its complicity is incredibly frustrating. Granted, with the rise of ISIL and the threat of terrorism looming over Western society it is perfectly logical for Saudi Arabia to be sought out as an ally in the Middle East. However, the indiscriminate nature of killings in the past year begs the question: is condoning terrorism worth securing an ally in the war against it? Crispin Blunt, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, recently went as far as to say that it would be wiser to amend International Laws than abide by stopping arms sales to Saudi Arabia, for fear of damaging relations. Worryingly, this suggests Saudi Arabia can continue to commit atrocities without any rebuke from the supposed purveyors of morality despite the U.N. condemning the clear criminality of certain measures adopted by the Saudi-led coalition. Rather than stopping the supply of weapons to Saudi Arabia, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry deflected the responsibility onto Houthi rebels for using civilians as cover and putting them in danger.
Hope Springs Eternal
The barbaric nature of the bombing campaign was further highlighted when the International Committee of the Red Cross decided to donate entire morgues to hospitals in Yemen, as they just could not cope with the barrage of corpses arriving on a daily basis. This level of brutality has awoken guilt in some ranks of government. Unfortunately, the voices challenging the establishment line are not being heard. Two MPs’ committees have concluded that until an independent inquiry into alleged breaches of international law is completed sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia should be halted. Ted Lieu, a US congressman, has condemned the coalition led bombings and urged President Obama to reconsider their support for the “war crimes” occurring in Yemen. On August 15 the Republican Congressman wrote:
“By assisting Saudi Arabia, the United States is aiding and abetting what appears to be war crimes in Yemen,”
“The administration must stop enabling this madness now.”
As long as the mutual threat of terrorism exists, it is highly unlikely any powerful state will condemn Saudi Arabia and stop contributing to the destruction of the helpless Yemeni people. The onus is on the public of the Western nations to pressure our governments into submitting to International Law. It’s not much to ask, is it?