The UN has recently released a statement announcing that the U.K., the U.S., France, and Iran may be responsible for war crimes carried out in Yemen through their continuous support for parties operating in the war-torn state. Both the Houthis, backed by Iran, and the government and their loyalists, backed by Western powers, are responsible for “airstrikes on civilian infrastructure, indiscriminate shelling, snipers, landmines, as well as arbitrary killings and detention, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and the impeding of access to humanitarian aid in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world,” according to the UN report. Recently, a prison complex ran by Houthi rebels was the target of Saudi-led airstrikes which resulted in the deaths of more than 100 people, reported the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The British Government is set to give a response on this matter possibly this month. They continue to defend their arms sales to Saudi Arabia while relying on a Saudi Arabian group responsible for reviewing coalition violations. However, this group’s credibility is challenged by the UN. Experts have compiled a list of “individuals who may be responsible for international crimes” and handed over a confidential list of their names to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The UN continues on to say, “States are obliged to take all reasonable measures to ensure respect for international humanitarian law by other states. Furthermore, the Arms Trade Treaty, to which France and the United Kingdom are parties, prohibits the authorization of arms transfers with the knowledge that these would be used to commit war crimes.”
“The legality of arms transfers by France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other states remains questionable, and is the subject of various domestic court proceedings,” they add.
The UN finally taking a stand over the Western powers that have continued to dominate the discourse surrounding the conflict is refreshing. As we have seen in the past throughout the Middle East (from Israel to Iraq), war crimes have not been effectively punished and while there may be little consequences for these major nations, it does serve as a wake up call to the international community that the real aggressors in this conflict are those that continue to allow it to persist. There needs to continue to be effective accountability for the unjust civilian deaths and the United States needs to realize that being an accomplice in the world’s worst humanitarian issue of our time is greater than keeping our long-standing ally, Saudi Arabia, happy.
For almost 4 years, Yemen has been involved in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises as a result of an ongoing civil war between government loyalists and Houthi rebels. Both factions are backed by different international superpowers that have allowed this conflict to continue in such force. Since the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011, Yemen’s government experienced a transition in power from president Ali Abdullah Saleh to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. President Hadi was not able to alleviate the issues in Yemen, one of the poorest nations in the Middle East. This brought on the rise of Houthi rebels and their attempts at taking over the northern Saada province, which borders Saudi Arabia. The U.S., the U.K., and France back government loyalists while the Houthis are backed by Iran. This has resulted in a proxy war that has seen the rise of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda in the region. The humanitarian crisis persists with at least 8.4 million people risking starvation and 80% of the population dependent on humanitarian assistance.
It is distressing that close to 13,000 innocent people had to lose their lives in order for these countries to take a look at the crimes they have committed. If the UN keeps pushing for accountability and responses from the aggressors, we may come close to witnessing the end of this war that has ravaged a whole state. The end of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the implementation of a stable government may take years to accomplish but if these small steps are not taken in time, this will end devastatingly for Yemen.
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