This article was written by Lorenzo Lamo as part of his work in the student association Amnesty International.
As the Arab Spring gained momentum throughout North Africa and the Middle East, Yemen fell victim to the same rapid political change seen in other countries. In 2011, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi replaced Ali Abdullah Saleh as president of Yemen, a change that initially was thought to bring stability to their nation. However, the prospect of a brighter future for Yemen soon faded as President Hadi failed to find solvency for issues such as hunger, insecurity, corruption, unemployment, and attacks by alQaeda.
Taking advantage of this powerless administration, a rebel group called the Houthis and rebels still loyal to former President Saleh, sought to take hold of the country in March 2015. Nearly three years later, a civil war still rages on between the Houthis, who receive constant support from Iran, and a coalition of Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. Yemen is not only the theater of a civil war or a humanitarian crisis, it is also a crystal clear example of outside state actors involving themselves in a proxy war in order to advance their geopolitical interests.
When it comes to armed conflicts, it is almost inevitable to see civilian casualties as a result. However, the statistics of those killed and affected by the civil war in Yemen are simply unprecedented figures. The UN reports that more than 9,245 people have been killed and 52,800 injured since March 2015. Currently, 8.4 million people are considered at risk of starvation, 22.2 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, and 3 million have been forced to leave their homes.
Taking an even deeper look into these figures, we gain insight into how children are being affected and what these means for the future generations in Yemen. Nearly 400,000 children under the age of 5 have severe malnutrition, fighting for their lives on a day to day basis. On an educational front, about 2 million children have had to stop their studies because of the conflict, and as of last September, 256 schools have been demolished.
Schools went from being places of learning to hosting displaced people or armed groups.
While aid packages may be useful in providing food and medical supplies, they don’t change the fact that millions of young people are borne into a war-torn society that has stripped them of their future. By growing up in a country where explosions have become nothing more than a familiar sound, the children of Yemen have been left without the tools to rebuild their society.
Several nations, and Saudi Arabia in particular, have stood on the front lines of both the military air campaign against the Iranianbacked Houthis and humanitarian assistance for civilians. At the surface, this may seem somewhat altruistic, but in reality, it is hypocritical and nothing more than a feeble attempt to improve these countries’ international image. Recently, Saudi Arabia communicated to the public that they would provide more than $2.5 billion in humanitarian and financial assistance to Yemen.
Nonetheless, a UN report on human rights that analyzed 10 Saudi-led air raids in 2017, discovered that the targets included a migrant boat, a night market, five residential buildings, a motel, a vehicle and government forces. It is highly unlikely that Saudi Arabia is able to justify these air attacks and ensure they fall in line with the international humanitarian law.
When civilian casualties occur as a result of rampant air attacks, the ones who launched the attacks aren’t the only ones responsible; one must also account for those who supported the initiative logistically. As long as countries such as the US, UK, and France continue to provide weapons to Saudi Arabia, they risk complicity in the unlawful coalition of airstrikes. The United Nations must hold all state actors accountable who are directly and indirectly involved in the continuation of the civil war. Unfortunately, this is far from the status quo.
Saudi Arabia has managed to avoid being placed on the annual “list of shame” for violations against children in Yemen, in part thanks to the financial leverage it exerts over the UN . The skies of cities such as Sana’a are now clouded by more than just debris: they are clouded by hypocrisy. Countries need to realize that while they are trying to advance their geopolitical interests and gain a strategic foothold in the region, they are doing so with bloody hands. Although some state actors may have seemed to lose their sense of humanity, it’s more important now than ever that we, the people, do not.