The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths addressed the United National Security Council about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen on March 15th. Griffiths stated that 24.3 million people in Yemen need food assistance in a country with a total population of 30.9 million. Griffiths went on to tell the Security Council that 19 million of the 24.3 million will go hungry, which is a 20% increase from 2021, and 160,000 of them will face famine-like conditions. The proxy war in Yemen has displaced 4.3 million people since 2015, with 300,000 forced to leave their homes in 2021 alone.
For the first time since this conflict began in 2015, there seems to be optimism that the war in Yemen is winding down. Recently Saudi Arabia opened the door to negotiations inviting the Houthis and other parties in Yemen to Riyadh for peace talks. Reuters broke the news story about Saudi Arabia asking for peace talks and quoted anonymous sources in their article from the GCC. The Houthis welcomed peace talks but rejected the proposition of meeting in Riyadh according to Houthi-run al-Masirah TV because they assert that the Saudis cannot be mediators in the conflict while continuing to bomb and lay siege to Yemen.
There cannot be peace in Yemen until the blockade is lifted because the siege on Yemen is starving the people of Yemen to death, and it is a violation of international humanitarian law. According to a case study done by the International Committee of the Red Cross, “a blockade is unlawful if it has the sole purpose of starving the civilian population or denies the population goods indispensable for its survival. A blockade also violates the laws of war if it has a disproportionate impact on the civilian population when the harm to civilians is, or may be expected to be, greater than the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the blockade.”
The Houthis have suggested meeting in a neutral country like Oman or Kuwait, and historically peace talks are conducted in neutral countries. Russia and Ukraine didn’t meet for peace talks in Kyiv or St. Petersburg; they met in Belarus. The United Nations should not support peace talks in Riyadh or allow Saudi Arabia to be the mediators of a conflict in which they are the primary aggressors. The Houthis have asserted that no nation involved in bombing their country should hold the peace talks.
The Saudi-led coalition has violated “the rule of proportionality” ad nuaseam in Yemen. In one account documented by the UN Panel of Experts in Yemen, the Saudis claimed to be targeting a large gathering of Houthis at the Al Khamees market in the Hajjah governate in northern Yemen. The Saudis JIAT team stated, “no proof of the claims that there was civilian casualties was provided, and the JIAT found no proof of any fault made by the coalition forces, in the process, and that the Coalition forces have abided by the rules of international humanitarian law.” The UN Panel of Experts verified that 116 people were killed in the 2016 airstrike on the Al Khamees market during the morning rush, including 22 children. An additional 40 civilians were wounded—none of them were Houthi members or enemy combatants. (Letter dated January 22, 2021, from the Panel of Experts on Yemen pp. 249)
Data compiled by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project confirmed that Saudi Arabia directly targeted civilians in 67% of their airstrikes. The Saudis are indiscriminately bombarding a besieged area, violating the laws of war and international humanitarian law. The naval and air blockade of Yemen imposed by the Saudi-led Coalition as 23.4 million Yemenis are starving is a war crime, and as a result, the death toll in Yemen is expected to pass 377,000 by the end of the year. Is the “international community” waiting for the death toll in Yemen to break half a million before the blockade is lifted and the bombs stop?
The 4.3 billion in humanitarian aid raised by the very nations who participated in destroying Yemen is expected to help 17 million Yemenis. If there is a ceasefire in Yemen in coordination with the 4.3 billion in humanitarian aid, it would have broad implications in saving the lives of millions of people while simultaneously easing tensions between warring parties in Yemen. I spoke to many people from Yemen since I have been reporting on this conflict over the last seven years. And more than ever, there seems to be genuine optimism among the people in Yemen that the region may finally be able to find peace, and the world should second their will to find peace.
By Joziah Thayer