Yemen: A War We Ignored

Yemen: A War We Ignored

What is going on in Yemen?

Yemen has been embroiled in violent conflict since 2015, its people suffering desperate privation and living under the constant threat of air strikes.

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The tensions began during in the Arab Spring of 2011 with an uprising forcing the authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Even though the political transition was supposed to bring stability to Yemen, President Hadi failed to combat problems such as militant attacks, corruption, food insecurity, and continuing loyalty of many military officers to Saleh.

The fighting started in 2014 when the Houthi Shia Muslim rebel movement exploited the new president's weakness and seized control of northern Saada province. The Houthis went on to take control of the capital Sanaa, resulting with the president seeking exile abroad.

In March 2015, the conflict escalated dramatically when Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states - backed by the US, UK, and France - began air strikes against the Houthis, with the declared aim of restoring Mr Hadi's government.

The Saudi-led coalition became alarmed that the sustained victory of the Houthis would benefit their rival Iran. Iran is a regional power and Shia-majority state, and as such Saudi feared that Iran would have an influence over Yemen. Saudi Arabia says Iran is militarily backing the Houthis which is something that Iran denies. Both sides have since been engaged in the conflict making it a proxy war.

The stalemate has produced a humanitarian crisis. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said that “Twenty-two million people, 75 per cent of the entire population, require some form of humanitarian assistance and protection, including 8.4 million Yemenis who do not know where their next meal will come from”.

There is a human-made famine with at least 8.4 million people at risk of starvation and 22.2 million people. Severe acute malnutrition is threatening the lives of almost 400,000 children under the age of five.

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United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said on Friday there is “no room for complacency,” and called on the warring parties and the international community to “halt the senseless cycle of violence” and “reach a political settlement”.

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The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has predicted “If current trends continue, an additional 3 million to 5.6 million Yemenis could become severely food insecure in the coming months, pushing the number of severely food insecure Yemenis up to 14 million in a worst-case scenario. ”

So far the media has tended to focus on the 'Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia versus the Shia Iran proxy war' narrative which overlooks the country's deepening humanitarian crisis. But, since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, there has been increasing amounts of scrutiny towards the Saudi Arabian Kingdom. This has resulted in more information about the Yemen war to be released.

How is the British Government complicit?

Oxfam has highlighted the conflict at the heart of the British government’s policy “On the one hand the Department for International Development is funding efforts to help civilians caught up in the conflict, while on the other the Government is fuelling the conflict ” as “The UK is materially involved through its export of arms and military support to the bombing campaign”.

Both Oxfam and Amnesty International have questioned the legality of the British government military support for Yemen. Amnesty International said that “All arms-supplying states must suspend their arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its coalition members” as “they could be used to commit serious violations, including possible war crimes, in Yemen”. Oxfam has said that the “UK Government is potentially in breach of both domestic and international laws on the sales of arms” and these laws prohibit arms deals where there is a clear risk that they might be used to commit war crimes or human rights abuses.

A poll by YouGov for Save the Children and Avaaz revealed that 63 per cent of the British public oppose the British government allowing sales to continue, with just 13 per cent supporting the trade.

You’re probably wondering why the media hasn’t said anything about the UK’s involvement. Gouri Sharma explains this issue best as she says that “The UK, meanwhile, approved 3.3 billion pounds (3.7 billion euros) worth of arms to the Saudi Kingdom in the first 12 months of its bombardment of Yemen, So it may not make for good business sense for the corporate media in the US and the British mainstream media to cover a war and the negative impact it's having on civilian life when their governments are making huge profits from it”.

What are is the British Government doing now?

The foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, criticised both the Saudi-led coalition and opposition Houthi rebels backed by Iran saying “For too long in the Yemen conflict, both sides have believed a military solution is possible, with catastrophic consequences for the people.” Hunt has also promised that “The UK will use all its influence to push for such an approach. I met UN special envoy Martin Griffiths on Tuesday, and there is a small but real chance that a cessation of hostilities could alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people. This must be the first priority as we seek to put in place a longer-term solution.

The question remains, is it enough to criticise the Saudi Arabia’s military involvement in Yemen after supplying them with arms? The International community must come together to find peace in Yemen.

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