In March 2015, an alliance led by Saudi-Arabia started an air campaign and economic blockade against the Republic of Yemen. The official aim of the intervention was to push back the Houthi rebels, which had overthrown the Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who had been supported by Saudi-Arabia and the USA.
This intervention has been carried out without a mandate by the United Nations and thus in violation of international law. As one of the poorest nations in the Middle East, the integrity of Yemeni society is threatened. Moreover, the air campaign has been causing serious harm to the Yemeni population. And yet, Western news media and politics have been downplaying this case of aggression against a population.
In May 2015, the United Nations (UN) reported that the conflict in Yemen had “killed at least 646 civilians since Saudi-coalition air strikes began, including 131 children” with 1,364 civilians injured. A documentary photo essay by Alex Potter in The Intercept depicts the civilian plight: “On July 6, 2015, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes killed over 30 civilians in Al Joob, a village located in Amran, a rural governorate north of Sanaa. As Yemeni families shopped for produce, men prayed in the mosque nearby, and women prepared the evening meal, a missile struck a small market, burning cars, shattering glass, and sending shrapnel into the bodies of dozens of bystanders.”
The Yemeni population additionally suffers from food shortages. The UN approximated that about “20 million people, or 80% of the population, are estimated to be going hungry” as a result of the conflict. In fact, Yemen relies for 90 per cent of its food on imports, most of which are delivered via the sea. As a Reuters assessment by Noah Browning and Jonathan Saul says, “Yemen is running critically short of imported food and fuel as war has cut internal supply lines and a near-blockade by Saudi-led naval forces has held up shipping to the country, the Arab world’s poorest even before fighting erupted.” Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights further highlighted in a press statement how the naval blockade “is greatly exacerbating the extremely dire humanitarian situation affecting almost all of Yemen.”
The UN Human Rights office found that about 2,355 civilians (out of a total of 4,500 people dead) were killed in Yemen between March and September 2015. According to conservative figures by UNICEF, during the same time frame, about 505 children had been killed and 700 wounded. These shocking figures were published just at about the same time when the news was broken that an air strike on a wedding ceremony had killed more than 130 people. The Channel Four news website wrote on 29 September 2015 that “the Saudi-led Arab coalition, which has air supremacy over Yemen, strongly denied any role in the attack, with a spokesman saying local militias may have been responsible.” Note the irony here that the Saudi-led coalition denies responsibility for the “air strike” while, at the same time, having “air supremacy”.
For those who still doubt that Saudi-Arabia might have been involved in the bombing of the wedding and other possible war crimes, it will be difficult to find out the truth. Plans brought up at the UN Human Rights Council for an UN investigation “into alleged war crimes by Saudi Arabia and others in Yemen” were just ditched by Western countries. Human Rights Watch commented on the procedure as follows: “It is regrettable that the only consensus possible at this Council seems to be its failure to establish an independent, international mechanism to investigate violations and abuses by all sides in Yemen.”
Western Support for Saudi aggression
Incidentally, Western powers have been deeply involved in the conflict. The Los Angeles Times reported in April 2015 how Saudi operations were “[b]acked by U.S. intelligence, air refueling and other support”. The same newspaper described on 17 August how “the Obama administration is providing intelligence, munitions and midair refueling to coalition aircraft, and U.S. warships have helped enforce a blockade in the Gulf of Aden and southern Arabian Sea intended to prevent weapons shipments from Iran to the Houthis.”
Similarly, the UK has been supporting Saudi-Arabia with arms shipments. A recent report by Oxfam criticises that “[t]he [UK] Government says it is not directly involved in the bombing but since the conflict began UK arms exports have been replenishing Saudi Arabia’s stocks of weapons” thus “fuelling [the] Yemen crisis”.
Saudi-Arabia has been a long-time ally of the US and UK governments. It would only require diplomatic measures to pressure Saudi-Arabia and this might halt the conflict. Quite the contrary, Saudi-Arabia can proceed with impunity because its actions are aligned with US and UK ambitions in the Middle East.