On Thursday June 14th, the United Nations security council held an emergency meeting after the pro-government Yemenite forces (supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) launched a new attack on the port of Hudaydah. The latter enabling the transportation of humanitarian aid including edible goods, this operation however raises fears of further aggravation in an already disastrous humanitarian situation.
Image found on: https://www.icrc.org/fr/document/crise-au-yemen-laction-humanitaire-internationale-un-tournant
For several years now the Yemenite population has been plunged into an unprecedented humanitarian and sanitarian crisis, a country which was already considered one of the poorest in the world before the conflict. Although often depicted as « the worst humanitarian crisis in the world », the reaction of the International Community has so far, been very poor.
When future generations ask us how and why we let such a situation endure, we won’t be able to hide behind the claim that ‘we didn’t know’. Because we do know what is going on, and we have done for a long time.
5,900 civilians killed by the conflict, 3 million people forced to leave their homes, 22.5 million people needing vital humanitarian help, 2.5 million children put out of school…
The degrading state of living conditions has led to rising cases of malnutrition and the re-apparition of cholera, at a time when 50% health centres have been destroyed (according to the Director of International Operations at Doctors of the World). The current state of the conflict is therefore known, and its figures accessible by everybody. Many actors like Human Rights Watch have raised alarm signals. However, these calls for help have remained unanswered. It’s already hard to believe we can’t do anything. It’s even more impossible to pretend we did not hear them.
The International Community has no excuse. Humanitarian law has been subject to grave violations by all parties to the conflict. Air strikes have been extremely deadly, constant and, above all, undifferentiated , which goes completely against War law. The entry of humanitarian aid and workers has been prevented, and even sometimes completely blocked. Despite prior checking by the United Nations’ Mechanism for verification and inspection, according to Amnesty International the supply of humanitarian provisions would be delayed by excessive inspections, bureaucratic procedures would be voluntarily long, and there would be demand for bribes. These delays and blockades have dramatic consequences in an environment where most of the essential elements elements for the survival of the population have already been destroyed. Let’s not forget that the use of starvation as a weapon is a war crime. As such, all those who say nothing or keep operating on the ground (amongst whom are the countries of the coalition) are spectators or even to a certain extent accomplices of these crimes.
We need to underline the fact that it is not only the Yemenite population that is a victim of these abuses. There are also those we do not talk about prefer to deny existence: the migrants. Because yes, some would rather flee to Yemen despite the civil war and humanitarian crisis than to stay in Africa. According to the International Migrations Organization (IMO), 100.000 individuals, mostly coming from Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia are said to have joined Yemen in 2017. The organisation highlights these people were hoping to be able to go to another Gulf country before being stuck in the conflict by the traffickers or the local authorities that are believed to have commited rape, torture acts and mass executions (according to a 2018 Human Rights Watch report).
It is late to act, but of course it is not too late. Taking targeted sanctions is urgent. Each non-sanctioned abuse contributes to weakening Humanitarian International Law and its status, as well as laying the foundation for future abuses. We risk a future in which the International Community has no credibility and no means of pressure if it doesn’t offer more than limited declarations. In the future, when this community wants to intervene and denounce a war crime, its passive attitude towards the Yemen conflict will be at the forefront of the minds of those that have an interest in letting such crimes endure. How do we pressure perpetrators and have the rules respected when the international community has shown exceptions exist? If tomorrow my classmate does not follow the rules and my teacher doesn’t say anything, could I not do the same? And if I am told my actions are wrong in doing the same that my classmate did, would I actually be intimidated by the one who turned a blind eye before?
Simple thinking, not-so-simple application.
This article was written by Valentine Blés- a member of the Communications Task Force. Valentine is currently finishing her masters in International relations (specialising in Middle Eastern studies and diplomacy) at Sciences Po Paris.
The article was then translated by Clothilde Francois, a member of the Translation Task force team currently pursuing her studies in Political sciences at Sciences Po, Paris.