Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen: A Humanitarian crisis

Through aerial bombardment, the coalition destroyed the lives of civilians living in Yemen.

President Joe Biden announces end of U.S. support to Saudi war in Yemen

The decision comes after years of U.S intervention in Yemen that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Yemeni civilians, including women and children.

The armed conflict started in 2011 when Yemeni citizens started to protest against the former president, Ali Abdallah Saleh.

The conflict further escalated when the Houthis, a Shiite group in Yemen, took control of the capital, Sanaa in 2014. In response, Saudi Arabia made the decision to get involved in the civil war, initiating military operations against the Houthi rebels.

Through aerial bombardment, the coalition destroyed the lives of civilians living in Yemen.

UN experts on Yemen, stated that Saudi Arabia could be held accountable for war crimes.  Around 8 million people are facing famine in Yemen, due largely to the Saudi blockade of Yemen’s borders. It is agreed that both sides in the proxy war have breached international humanitarian law.

Saudi Arabia explicitly breached article 3 of the fourth Geneva Convention, by initiating airstrikes that resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians.

“Civilians in Yemen are not starving, they are being starved by the parties in the conflict,” said Kamel Jendoubi, chairperson of a UN group of eminent experts on Yemen.

“Yemen is on the brink of famine…. no mistake, 2021 will be worse than 2020 for Yemen’s most vulnerable,” said WFP Chief, David Beasley.

U.S support for the Saudi- led coalition:  

Even though tensions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia still exist, the economic and security interests of the two states are interconnected.

During the Cold war, the U.S. maintained strong ties with Saudi Arabia against the Soviet bloc. Additionally, the U.S  relied on Saudi Arabia to curb the influence of Iran, especially after the Iranian Islamic revolution.

Military cooperation between the two states, was further solidified during and after the 1991 Gulf war. On top of that, both states cooperate to fight global terrorism. The U.S relied on Saudi Arabia’s intelligence and support, especially after the 9.11 attacks. During Trump’s visit to Riyadh in 2017, they agreed on a joint strategic vision which ensures that the interests of both sides are being met.

Other Western states have also supported Saudi Arabia in its war against the Houthis. In 2016, France authorized arms sale worth 455 million Dollars to Saudi Arabia. Similarly, the UK continues to provide the Saudis with technical and logistical support, while Germany provides Saudi Arabia with military equipment and weaponry.

In this case, the supply of weapons and arms is considered a breach of international humanitarian law and violates the core norms of the arms trade treaty (ATT) that came into force in 2014.

Biden announces U.S decision to freeze arms supply to Saudi Arabia

The decision came after years of U.S intervention in Yemen. Mr. Biden stated that the intervention in Yemen “had created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.”

Similarly, the new administration removed the Houthi rebels from the list of foreign terrorist organizations. Experts believe that these decisions will have a positive impact on the humanitarian situation in Yemen.

It is clear that Biden’s approach focuses on balancing diplomacy and military force, in comparison to his predecessor, Donald Trump.

While these decisions are considered good steps, there are various limitations to this approach. Firstly, it would be very naive to argue that Saudi Arabia will withdraw entirely from Yemen. Secondly, the withdrawl of U.S support to the Saudi coalition, does not necessarily mean that the U.S will disengage completely from the country.

The U.S is engaged in a small-scale conflict in Yemen with one of Al Qaeda’s affiliates, Ansar el Sharia. Thus, the U.S will maintain its engagement in Yemen, until it reaches a settlement with this group.

While Biden’s approach might limit the scale of the conflict, there are no guarantees that the war will end, unless both sides, namely Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, have an interest in ending a conflict they invested heavily in.

Also,  Biden’s policy of pressuring one side, namely Saudi Arabia, while leaving the other, namely Iran with less restrictions, is not an efficient strategy. The ongoing attacks by the Houthis on Saudi Arabia, and parts of Yemen, especially Marib, signal that Iran and the Houthis aim to have sufficient leverage on the negotiation table.

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