On March 25, 2015, an international coalition headed by Saudi Arabia launched air strikes against the Houthi armed group in Yemen, sparking a full-blown armed conflict. The raging conflict has not only persisted, but has engulfed the entire country, exacerbating an already severe humanitarian crisis caused by years of poverty and poor governance.
For the past two years, the story of Yemen has largely been ignored despite the U.N. calling it “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.” It has been ignored even with the hundreds of heinous war crimes committed by all parties in the conflict, despite the use of starvation as a weapon of war, despite having driven seven million civilians to the brink of famine, and despite the world’s worst outbreak of cholera affecting more than 750,000 people.
The story of Yemen has been one of neglect, suffering, and tragedy. Gaining an understanding of the prevailing details, implications, and international consequences of such a conflict is crucial to mitigating Yemen’s struggles, as the implications of such a long-term conflict pertains to both the global community as well as to Colorado College’s campus.
On one side of the conflict are the Houthis, an armed group often referred to as the “Popular Committees.” The Houthis belong to a branch of Shi’a Islam known as Zayidism and are loyal to Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The rival faction of the Houthis is a Saudi-Arabian led coalition, often referred to as “Popular Resistance Committes,” who support President Hadi. Members of Hadi’s military coalition include the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, and Sudan. The U.S. and the U.K. have been providing key intelligence and logistical support to the coalition as well.
Both parties to the conflict have committed serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including war crimes, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence. Amensty International has documented 34 air strikes across six different governorates by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that have violated international humanitarian law resulting in 494 civilian deaths, at least 148 of which have been children. The strikes resulted in an additional 359 civilian injuries.
Many of these attacks appear to have deliberately targeted civilians and civilian habitations such as hospitals, schools, markets, and mosques. With only 45 percent of health centers functioning due to the conflict, and limited availability of medicine, the capacity of the health system to respond to disease and injuries is dangerously compromised. This is what led to one of the largest and fastest-spreading cholera outbreaks. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has also used cluster munitions, a type of explosive weapon that scatters submunitions over an area, and lethal explosive weapons that are banned under international law.
An unlawful flow of arms to the warring parties in Yemen has directly contributed to massive scale civilian suffering. Most alarming is that many countries have continued to sell and transfer weapons to Saudi Arabia and its coalition members. The U.S., the U.K., France, Spain, Canada, and Turkey transferred nearly $5.9 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia between 2015 and 2016, including drones, bombs, torpedoes, rockets, and missiles.
Throughout the conflict, the U.N. Human Rights Council has attempted to facilitate peaceful negotiations between cohorts and resolve the political impasse. Despite almost all efforts by the United Nations, fighting continues between various parties throughout the country, including along the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border. Concurrently, attacks claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic State, as well as counter-insurgency operations against those groups, continue in southern Yemen where the overall security situation remains highly volatile.
After the two and a half years of armed conflict, Yemen faces severe economic, political, humanitarian, and developmental crisis. Violence against citizens has led to large-scale suffering for its civilians, the world’s largest food security crisis and an unprecedented cholera crisis. Much of this information in this article was made available as reported by British Broadcasting Corporation world news.