Why Is The World Ignoring Yemen?
4th July 2020
Described as the worst conflict in the world, Yemen has now entered its sixth year of civil war. As this war rages on, this famine-stricken country suffers from one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world. Two million children and one million women are currently suffering from malnutrition, with two-thirds of Yemenis are without access to clean water. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 80% of Yemen’s 28.5 million people are in need of assistance or protection.
In the first three months of 2020 alone, 500 civilians were killed or injured due to the conflict. Most worrying is that nationally one in three civilian casualties are children, but, in some regions, children are as high as half of all casualties. Yemen’s civil war is one of the Middle East’s bloodiest conflicts, yet it continues to be overlooked. Press coverage has been minimal throughout the conflict, often overshadowed by the civil war in Syria and the fight against ISIS. However, Yemen has not escaped the grasp of terrorist insurgents. It is home to one of the most dangerous and active branches of Al Qaeda. Why is such a conflict, which displays the same characteristics as those featured heavily in the media, so often ignored?
In 2018, a poll commissioned by HumanAppeal revealed that 42% of the UK were unaware of the ongoing conflict in Yemen, yet 77% were aware of the war in Syria. The complicated nature of this war could account for either lack of interest or lack of understanding. The conflict is, at its core, a clash between Houthi rebels and the former Yemeni government; however, there are regional and international players in the conflict which have intensified the violence and complicated the battlefield. The Houthi rebels are backed by Iran, who provide them with arms, while the government is backed by the Saudi coalition who have launched intense and unrelenting airstrikes and a blockade which is forcing the country into famine. Yemen is just one of many proxy wars conducted by Saudi Arabia and Iran, as they scramble to become the dominant power of the Middle East. Proxy wars occur where one or multiple nations support and utilise a state or non-state actor to further their interests against an enemy nation-state. This indirect involvement prevents accountability and transparency, which explains why Saudi Arabia and Iran are capitalising on such opportunities. Media outlets, such as Vox, have dubbed these proxy wars ‘The Middle East’s Cold War’.
As Yemen borders Saudi Arabia, the Saudi government was threatened by the Iranian backing of rebels on their doorstep. The involvement of Saudi Arabia in March 2015 marked a deadly turning point in the war. The force at which Saudi Arabia entered the conflict has drawn some criticism- namely the accusation of war crimes resulting from the allegations of indiscriminate bombings. One of these bombings occurred in 2018, where a United States supplied bomb hit a school bus, killing 40 Yemeni children. In October 2016, 155 people were killed, and 525 were injured in a bombing of a funeral. This attack was also carried out by a US supplied bomb. In response to the attack, Philipe Bolopion, the deputy director for Global Advocacy at Human Rights Watch stated:
“The whole war has been marked by attacks on weddings, hospitals, civilian infrastructure, civilian locations, so it fits a pattern. Better late than never, but the world should have woken up a long time ago to this.”
“Clearly, the well being of citizens on the ground are of low priority to the powers at play.”
Saudi Arabia has also been accused of using famine as a weapon of war. Their blockade has directly contributed to widespread famine in the country. The blockade, combined with the regular bombing of hospitals, has crippled Yemen’s already struggling health system, resulting in the worst cholera outbreak in modern-day history. These tactics have highlighted a sinister dimension to this conflict. Clearly, the well being of citizens on the ground are of low priority to the powers at play.
The United States and the United Kingdom have been providing Saudi Arabia with hundreds of billions of dollars in weapons sales, despite undeniable evidence of the weapons being used in the unlawful killing of civilians. Not only have the UK and the US supplied Saudi Arabia with aircraft and aircraft maintenance, but they are both involved in the training of Saudi forces in the use of these civilian killing machines. The US has provided additional support in the form of intelligence to Saudi Arabia, assisted in the refuelling of their war planes mid-flight, making airstrikes more frequent and deadly, and conducted a multitude of drone strikes themselves against terrorist targets in Yemen. Western powers who are perceived to be a beacon of morality and a voice of reason are cashing in on the conflict with no consideration for the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Yemen.
The Obama administration established US involvement in Yemen. Over its tenure, the administration approved more than $100 Billion USD in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite Obama’s apparent disapproval for regional proxy wars. The value of these arms deals are set to dramatically increase under Trump. In 2017, an arms deal was signed with Saudi Arabia, securing an immediate 110 Billion USD worth of arms and totalling 350 Billion USD over ten years. In April 2019, Trump vetoed a bipartisan resolution that would have ended American military involvement in Yemen. Worries about legal blowback plagued the Obama administration, resulting in a half-hearted effort to reduce civilian casualties by supplying Saudi Arabia with a ‘no-strike lists’ and calling for peace talks. In contrast, Trump doesn’t seem to have any such worries and has escalated American involvement in Yemen by promoting looser battlefield rules and increasingly conducting raids on Yemeni territory. One such raid left multiple innocent children dead, with no legitimate target in sight. Trump’s only concern seems to be lining American pockets and boasting about his arms deals without any consideration for human rights or laws governing warfare.
As you learn of the atrocities occurring in Yemen, I hope you are filled with outrage. We turn a blind eye on Yemen as it does not directly affect us in Europe. Yemeni refugees tend to flee to nearby countries such as Oman and Somalia, as it is so difficult geographically for them to reach Europe. However, as the truth becomes clearer, the suffering caused by this conflict is undeniable. Yemen has become a violent playground for both regional and international powers. The level of coverage this conflict gets is incomparable to the widespread outrage and demonstration in response to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Naturally, Saudi Arabia, Iran, The United Kingdom and The United States stand to benefit from the lack of understanding and media coverage. They continue to conduct themselves in a manner which completely disregards the Law of Armed Conflict, and the human rights of the 28.5 million Yemeni civilians gravely affected by the conflict.
Featured photo by UNOCHA/ Giles Clarke