A Deadly Milestone For Yemen

Nearly two years of war have inflicted an atrocious cost on the people of Yemen. Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, recently told reporters that, at a minimum, 10,000 people have died as a result of the conflict – over twice the number of the United Nations previous estimate. The war has exacerbated already existing problems in the Arab world’s poorest country and has led to a humanitarian catastrophe. McGoldrick added that there are also 3 million internally displaced Yemenis and 10 million are urgently in need of protection of their basic rights. “This once more underscores the need to resolve the situation in Yemen without further delay,” said United Nations deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.

The war erupted in 2015, when Houthi militias drove the government out of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital city, and took control of key state institutions. Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Yemen’s President, fled to Saudi Arabia. In reaction to the ousting of Hadi, a coalition of nine Middle Eastern countries was formed under the leadership of Saudi Arabia, with the objective of restoring the President to power. This coalition then proceeded to launch attacks, primarily from the air, against the Houthi. Human Rights Watch reported that these coalition airstrikes have violated the laws of war, citing the bombing of schools, hospitals, mosques, homes, and businesses as examples. The Houthi have also violated the laws of war by laying anti-personnel landmines, disappearing supposed adversaries, and firing rockets indiscriminately into Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

The US, among other western states, has been supporting the Saudi-led coalition with logistics, intelligence, and weapons, despite the large numbers of civilians killed in coalition airstrikes. Some senior US officials have attempted to persuade Saudi Arabia to reduce its bombing, for fear that instability in the country is creating a void for terrorist organisations to fill. According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, this is not good enough. “Providing weapons and material to factions that are known to have repeatedly violated the laws of war may make the arms suppliers complicit in those factions’ crimes and will further fan the flames of atrocities,” they claim in a joint statement.

The situation in Yemen is further complicated by the presence of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). This group and other terrorist organisations have gained ground in southern Yemen as a result of the disorder brought about by the war. The expansion of AQAP is not in the interests of the coalition, President Hadi, or the US. It is, however, in the interest of these actors to bring about an end to the conflict. Restoring some form of order to Yemen could help keep terrorism in check, provide greater access for humanitarian aid, and prevent instability from spreading across the Arabian Peninsula.

United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, recently held discussions with Hadi in Aden, with the hope that peace talks could be revived. This has come a week after Ahmed’s meetings with officials from Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. The United Nations last proposed plan was rejected by Hadi. The plan was to reduce Hadi’s power by introducing a new Vice President who would supervise the construction of a provisional government before holding elections. Ahmed has also planned future discussions with the Houthi. Relief for Yemenis is contingent on an amicable agreement coming to fruition soon; before Yemen reaches another deadly milestone.

Liam Robins