By Lara Kajs
Yemen is on the verge of a humanitarian disaster.
For the past 14 months Yemen has endured civil conflict between Houthi rebels and opposition forces that has basically left the country with no governing body to speak of. To complicate matters, the country has also been destroyed by the aerial bombing campaign led by Saudi Arabia and the coalition of nine other Arab countries.
In all cases, there is extensive documentation that proves conditions in Yemen are worsening as institutions of government and civil society break down due to the conflict.
Human Rights Violations
The increasing hostilities has also resulted in massive human rights violations by Houthi rebels against women and children, displacement, arbitrary detainment, disappearances of individuals, violations against the media, as well as the suffering caused by denial of aid.
Many reports indicate that the majority of those detained by the al-Houthi group have connections to the rival group the Islah Sunni Islamist party. Houthi arrests and forced disappearances have generated fear in Sana’a and throughout the region. This fear is especially felt among journalists, activists, politicians and lawyers.
Although reports indicate that Houthi rebels are responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths, the United Nations estimates that the majority of civilian deaths are a result of the Saudi-led aerial bombing campaign that began in March 2015.
Offenses by the Saudi-led Coalition
While it has been called an ‘intervention’, the aerial bombing campaign has been anything but. It is inconceivable that bombing a country to death could benefit anyone.
According to a UN report released in September 2015, nearly two-thirds of civilians killed in the Yemen conflict were casualties of the Saudi-led airstrikes. In addition to aerial bombing, coalition forces have been accused of using cluster bombs, weapons that are illegal under international law, in residential neighborhoods.
The Saudi-led coalition has received harsh criticism for its indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations including schools and hospitals. At one point, Saudi Arabia designated the entire governorate of Sa’ada as an enemy military district.
A medical facility backed by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in the northern Razeh district was the target of bombing in January 2016 during which at least five people were killed and ten other injured. A month earlier, on December 3, the MSF center in Taiz was hit, killing five and wounding ten.
In an effort to prevent more civilian harm, the Dutch Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favor of an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia on February 17, 2016. The intention of the resolution is to encourage governments to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia. A resolution initiated by the European Parliament on February 25 called on the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini “to launch an initiative aimed at imposing an EU arms embargo against Saudi Arabia.”
For its part, the U.S. is not immune from criticism as the country shares responsibility in the aerial bombing campaign for being a supplier of weapons and military intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition.
Civilians At Risk
Currently, there are more than 2.7 million people displaced in Yemen, with at least 7 million facing food and water shortages. More than 1,000 children have been killed or injured and there is evidence of children being recruited to fight in the conflict. UN aid agencies have reported that they are being prevented from delivering aid to civilians. This is a particular concern in the cities of Taiz and Aden, which have large civilian populations and have been subject to substantial fighting over the past few months.
Negotiating an end to the civil conflict will take time, which is something that people in besieged areas do not have. The immediate priority should be to secure an agreement on delivering humanitarian aid and supplies to conflict-torn areas.
Featured Image: The MSF project co-ordinator in Saada said 99% of the hospital was destroyed during Saudi-led aerial bombing on October 27, 2015. Photo: Medecins Sans Frontieres