The Human Cost Of The Yemeni Civil War

The Yemen Civil War started following the Arab Spring and the failed transition of power from President Ali Abdullah Saleh to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. On September 21, 2014, the Houthi rebels organized a revolution to overthrow Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and his government and took over Sanaʽa, Yemen’s capital. However, the divide ranges deeper than a failed government transition. The Zaidis Shia minority was once a powerful force in Northern Yemen, but the Civil War between 1962 and 1970 greatly diminished the Zaidis influence in Northern Yemen. The fall of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen marked a change of Zaidi’s supremacy. The primary reason for the diminished Zaidis influence was the rise of Salafist Sunnism in Saudi Arabia, which significantly impacted Yemen. As the Guardian notes, the Zaidi clerics started militarizing their followers against Riyadh and brought the Houthi rebels into military power in Yemen. The Houthi rebels, formerly known as Ansar Allah or supporters of God, were created by a member of Yemen’s Zaidi Shia minority, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi. Hussein led Ansar Allah until he was killed in 2004 by the Yemeni army after Yemen had placed a 55,000 U.S. dollar bounty to capture him. Following the death of Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, his brother, Abdul Malik, took control of the group and their mission to overthrow the Yemeni government.

From 2011 until September 21, 2014, Yemen faced a series of problems throughout the country, and President Hadi faced criticism for these problems. During this period, BBC News claims that President Hadi had several failures that lead to the Houthi uprising. Since coming to power, Mr. Hadi failed to stop attacks by jihadists, the separatist movement in south Yemen, had unconditional support to Saleh, rampant political corruption, unemployment, and a country with desperate food insecurity.

In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition of countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and countries that have formally ended their involvement in Yemen, such as Morocco, Qatar, and Sudan, began a military operation in support of the Hadi government. Countries such as the United Arab Emirates have formally removed troops from Yemen; however, their influence in the region is still substantial as they arm and train soldiers fighting against Houthi forces. In addition, countries like the United Kingdom and the United States provide Saudi Arabia with intelligence and weapons (until February 2021, when the U.S. ended their weapon sales deal with the Saudi Arabian government).

The tactics used by the Saudi-led coalition have been detrimental to human life inside Yemen. Since the onset of the Civil War, Saudi Arabia has deliberately blocked essential items from entering Yemen, causing mass starvation and the worst humanitarian crisis in the modern world. According to UNICEF, Yemen has more than 24 million people, which accounts for around 80 percent of the population that requires humanitarian assistance, which is more than 12 million children. The war has devastated Yemeni youth, as 2.3 million youth under the age of five are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021. An astounding 400,000 are projected to suffer from severe malnutrition. While Saudi Arabia was blocking resources, Houthi forces carried out attacks against civilians living in the Hadi government-controlled areas. According to the Human Rights Watch, the Houthi forces have continuously used banned antipersonnel landmines, used child soldiers, and fired artillery at Taizz and Aden, which has killed and wounded civilians.

The Saudi-led blockade has been a driving factor in the extreme humanitarian crisis Yemen faces. Consider the strict November 2017 blockade. After a ballistic missile was launched at Riyadh airport, which is named after and located in the capital city of Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia launched a ruthless ‘complete’ blockade against Yemen. The Saudi government maintains that they wanted to stop weapons from Iran from being smuggled into Yemen and the results were astounding. Food and fuel prices dramatically increased, causing a drastic increase in food security throughout Yemen. While the citizens of Yemen suffered, Iran continued to fund the Houthi rebels to fight despite the Saudi-led coalition’s brutal measures. During a meeting between Iranian officials, they agreed to help Houthi rebels in any way possible through training, weaponry, and financial aid. The Iranian regime knew it would not face any severe consequences unlike what Yemen was facing.

The loss of life has been detrimental but avoidable. While countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada provide military funding for Saudi Arabia, they continuously fund humanitarian aid to Yemen, the very country facing the brunt of Saudi Arabia’s military. Consider Canada’s role in the Yemen conflict. Canada officially says their weapons are not used to fund Saudi Arabia in Yemen; Canada has a 14.8 billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia starting in 2014. Canada claims to be for peace and actively donated 22 million Canadian dollars to support peace and security in Yemen. However, the United Nations listed Canada as one of several countries helping to support the war in Yemen.

The fundamental problem of the Yemeni conflict is that the countries deep internal conflict is being used as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi allies. The tactics used to gain power and control in the region have been direct violations of human rights in Yemen, from the blockade of essential goods to airstrike bombings of unlawful attacks by the coalition hitting homes, markets, hospitals, schools, and mosques. On the other side, Houthi forces have continued their attacks, indiscriminately firing missiles into Yemen cities. As recently as Saturday, June 5, the Houthi rebels hit the city of Marib and killed 17 people, including a five-year-old girl.

The resolution in Yemen is complicated and not an easy achievement by any means. However, recognizing that forcing each side to conform to a singular ideology is not plausible due to their unique and fundamental differences. The first solution to end the worst humanitarian crisis is to stop the funding to groups fighting in the war. Unfortunately, countries such as Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Iran continue to prolong the war for their political ambitions. The use of Yemen as a proxy war has an effect that will last generations to come.  

A partition, something both sides would seemingly object to, is an outcome that is needed for peace in Yemen. The country faces a divide of beliefs and future goals that is unavoidable. To ensure peace occurs, the international community, including wealthy and powerful nations currently prolonging the conflict, must act as peacebuilders rather than warmongers. To ensure peace can occur, countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Iran must stop using Yemen as a battleground for their political interests and help Yemen rebuild.  

According to researcher and journalist Jonathan Fenton-Harvey, the problem with a partition occurs over control of land in the region, as Houthi rebels are unlikely to negotiate peace talks until more land is controlled in Yemen. With the Marib region being that last area with the Saudi-led government in control, it is unlikely the Houthi forces will stop when Marib is the Saudi force’s last stronghold in Yemen.

Without funding and military support from major countries, the military offensive can be limited. Although there is no sign that a partition will occur, there are promising signs that citizens in Canada and the United States will no longer support supplying Saudi Arabia with weaponry. Protesters in early 2021 united against Canada’s involvement in Yemen. The United States has formally ended funding to the Yemen war and has opened up to peace talks between the conflicting sides. 

The international community must remain natural in the aftermath of the conflict. It is essential that countries do not fuel anger and hatred against any side in a post-war state, but rather aid the community of Yemen with neutrality. One aspect is to help the humanitarian needs of Yemen citizens and created a diplomatic relationship between the two divided groups. One characteristic that could unite each side is their objection to terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIL. While there will likely be little cooperation between the two sides if a partition occurs, protecting their citizens from a potential terror attack could be a slightly unifying objective. The brutality of the Yemen Civil War has both sides committing atrocious acts, where citizens face the consequences of political and ideological differences. The only way to solve the conflict is unity within the international community to create a peaceful solution that benefits both factions in Yemen.

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