The Yemen conflict has caused the death of nearly a quarter-million people; vicious deaths, all enabled by the United States. President Joe Biden promised to end U.S. involvement in this conflict, but so far has failed to live up to this promise. The conflict between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen started in 2015 when Saudi and the UAE created a coalition against the Houthi armed forces which took over Yemen’s capital, Sana’a.
Early in the conflict, the U.S. provided weapons, logistics, and intelligence support to the Saudi- and UAE-led coalition. Several consecutive U.S. administrations have continued this, however Biden promised not to; as he was running for office he said, America must “end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.” However, the recent escalation of the crisis makes it difficult to fulfill this promise. In January, Houthi forces launched a missile and drone attack on Abu Dhabi, in response to UAE-backed Yemeni forces pushing Houthis out of their claimed territory.
The attack killed three people and injured six others. In retaliation, the coalition launched airstrike attacks across Yemen, making January one of the bloodiest months of the war according to the United Nations. As a response to this, the Biden administration has doubled down on support to the coalition. Human Rights Watch and other Yemeni and international groups have called upon the U.S. and its allies to halt arms sales to the coalition, as it is directly enabling human rights abuses. This includes the deaths of nearly a quarter-million people according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and causing more than half the population to face food insecurity.
The U.S. has directly enabled and assisted in the war crimes committed by the Saudi- and UAE-led coalition during the Yemen conflict. By providing them with intelligence, logistics, and weapons, the coalition has the means to fight against the Houthi forces, putting millions of Yemeni lives at risk. The U.S. has a law that prohibits the selling of arms to abusive governments, however by selling weapons and providing military support to the Saudi and UAE coalition the U.S. has chosen to ignore this law, while enabling possible war crimes during the conflict.
There have been long-standing concerns about a lack of accountability from all parties, which intensified in October when the UN Human Rights Council was pressured by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. They were pressured to end the mandate of the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, which is the only independent, international body documenting serious violations of human rights.
The overall response from the Biden administration lacks accountability. Joe Biden saying he wanted to stop U.S. support to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in a speech last year was merely a publicity stunt with no real change in foreign policy. The U.S. has allowed the conflict to continue and in fact worsen, as we saw in January. The Biden administration is considering redesignating the Houthi forces a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” which is opposed by human rights groups because it threatens the humanitarian aid on which millions of Yemenis rely to survive.
There has been an overall failure to address the human rights violations which have occurred during the conflict in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has only increased their airstrikes and strengthened their blockade, which the UN World Food Program announced as restricting access to humanitarian aid and causing one of the worst famines in modern history. Yemenis are collateral damage in a conflict between evil parties; it is time that their livelihood are prioritized.
The Biden administration must prioritize human rights and choose to take accountability in Yemen. The blood of a quarter-million people is on America’s hands because of the direct support the previous and current administrations have given to the UAE- and Saudi-led coalition. The impact goes beyond the deaths the conflict has caused; millions of Yemenis face food insecurity and other humanitarian crises every single day because of the careless attacks.
It is not too late for the Biden administration to reverse their actions and choose to stand on the right side of history. The U.S. and its allies should immediately halt its arms sales to the coalition while putting humanitarian aid for the Yemenis on top of the priority list. If Biden does not want to act, the U.S. Congress should step in. Specifically, Congress should communicate towards the administration that they should not designate the Houthis a “terrorist” group because of the potential effects it can have on the aid brought to the civilians.
Congress should also pass a War Powers Resolution, which would end U.S. support for the Saudi- and UAE-led coalition. The U.S. must try to persuade Saudi Arabia and the UAE to lift its blockade and halt airstrikes targeting civilians. In addition, the government should call upon allies to re-establish a UN accountability mechanism which can hold all parties in Yemen accountable for violations of international law; this would cause a decrease in human rights violations and possible war crimes.
There should also be investigation into the parties which have committed human rights abuses and war crimes, with harsh consequences for whoever is found guilty. An immense increase from the U.S. in funding for humanitarian aid for the Yemenis must be enacted immediately, with doctors and professionals being sent to the region for hands-on aid to try and end the prolonged suffering of Yemenis. These bold and immediate steps will help the U.S. to recognize the war in Yemen for what it is: a conflict where all parties are committing serious violations and one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.