Almost a year has passed since the start of a Saudi Arabia-led Arab attack on Yemen. While no resolution of the conflict is forthcoming, reports of the Arab coalition’s ‘war crimes’ have already started to appear in the world media, presenting a major challenge for the harbingers of global democracy to shut the monarchy down. Whether it would ever happen is, however, a moot question.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein told the U.N. Security Council as early as December 2015 that the Saudi-led coalition’s military campaign in Yemen appeared to be responsible for a “disproportionate amount” of attacks on civilian areas. He said he had “observed with extreme concern” heavy shelling from the ground and air in areas of Yemen with a high concentration of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure such as hospitals and schools.
In the third week of March 2016, he again condemned the repeated failure of the coalition to effectively prevent civilian casualties in airstrikes and to publish transparent and independent investigations into airstrikes targeting civilians.
“Looking at the figures, it would seem that the coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as by all other forces put together, virtually all, as a result of airstrikes,” he said.
According to UN record, between 26 March 2015 and 17 March 2016, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had recorded almost 9,000 deaths, including that of 3,218 civilians. The deadliest incident occurred in the Al Khamees market in north-western Yemen in March this year killing at least 106 civilians, including 24 children.
The UN data shows that the Arab coalition has completely failed in maintaining a clear distinction between military targets and civilian ones, which are protected under international law. The UN teams found “alarming” evidence of coalition attacks using cluster bombs during their visits to the northern province of Hajja. Human Rights Watch too reported a series of coalition airstrikes in the area from April to July 2015.
While the Arab Coalition continues to justify its indiscriminate attacks in the name of Houthi attacks inside Saudi Arabia, they, along with actors the coalition has received military assistance from, stand indirectly responsible for what is happening in Yemen. For instance, when the coalition started bombing Yemen back to the “stone age”, the United States and France were providing them with logistical support and weapons while London went as far as selling $3 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia.
That the UK-supplied weapons were used by Saudi Arabia was acknowledged by the British officials themselves. According to a report in The Independent, “The Foreign Secretary has acknowledged that some weapons supplied by the UK have been used by the Saudis in Yemen. Are our reassurances correct – that such sales are within international arms treaty rules? The answer is, sadly, not at all clear.”
Although the pretext for the invasion of Yemen was the restoration to power of the deposed Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, Riyadh’s real aim was to suppress Houthi rebels who had managed to seize control of the better part of Yemen. In strategic terms, by repelling the Houthis, Saudi Arabia and its partners wanted to deny Iran any sort of presence in the House of Saud’s backyard. While the coalition has, so far, largely failed to achieve its basic objectives, its war atrocities continue.
Although the Houthis were not particular fans of the West, their revolt was aimed against the autocrat imposed upon them and against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The primary enemy of the Houthis – AQAP – is also known to be one of the ‘principal rivals’ of Americans interests in the region; however, it is resisting the Houthis in a tacit alliance with Arab air forces. The coalition’s alliance with AQAP is part of its basic policy of hiring forces for ground operations.
Against the background of the notoriously poor fighting capability of Saudi regular troops, the House of Saud had started to hire foreign ‘mercenaries’ from among the states it was able to include in the coalition. For example, Sudan and Qatar both received $1 billion each for providing their troops. Mauritania received up to $850 million for similar services. According to one report, Saudi authorities have been spending a total of $175 million a month on bombing the Yemenis in their attempt to establish the “Sunni hegemony.”
While the European Parliament was quick to pass a resolution asking for imposing an embargo on the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, this is highly unlikely given the extent to which Europe relies on Saudi Arabia’s oil. The matter has not been taken up for consideration in the United Nations Security Council either as the world body has been busy dealing with regions such as Syria where its permanent members are directly involved.
Lack of international attention to Yemen has resulted in the creation of worst conditions. With famine looming over half the population — 14.4 million people – there is urgent need to resolve the conflict soon.
Salman Rafi Sheikh is a freelance journalist and research analyst of international relations and Pakistan affairs. His area of interest is South and West Asian politics, the foreign policies of major powers, and Pakistani politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org