Can We Care Less About the War in Yemen?


By Kais Aliriani

More than a year ago on March 26, 2015, the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington, D.C. announced an operation to “restore the legitimate government of President Hadi” of Yemen. By April 14, the U.N. Security Council issued a resolution calling the Houthi rebels who took over the Yemeni capital of Sana’a to withdraw. The resolution “commended” the efforts of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in “supporting the transition process” in Yemen.

This same resolution failed to mention that the ongoing war in Yemen is actually led by Saudi Arabia and a coalition of 12 countries, including the GCC countries. The resolution ignored the statement of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights in which he denounced the first mass murder committed by the Saudi-led coalition when an air strike killed 17 civilians and injured 35 at the Al-Mazraq camp for internally displaced people.

Since the Saudis started this war, they have undermined any efforts to publicize their violations of international humanitarian law in their campaign against Yemen. They have learned to keep the media quiet and diffuse attention on the tragic war in Yemen, and to literally buy the silence of countries known for their strong support for human rights such as France, the U.K., and the U.S. In the U.S., for example, Saudi Arabia has employed a number of public relations companies to help “improve the image of Saudi Arabia.”

Saudis have succeeded to a large extent in keeping the war in Yemen out of the media. Ironically it is now called The Forgotten War by most world media. However, Saudi efforts failed to keep many international organizations from reporting the war crimes of their war in Yemen. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, for example, have repeatedly reported the deliberate targeting of civilians, mass killings, and civilian infrastructure by the Saudi-led coalition.

The yearlong continuous ruthless air bombardment of Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition, executing an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 air strikes, has not destroyed the military capabilities of the Houthi militia, which still controls the majority of the inhabited areas in Yemen. It has, however, killed thousands of civilians and left a devastating impact on the country’s infrastructure. According to international reports, 3,000 to 7,000 civilians have been killed and around 30,000 have been injured with the majority due to the Saudi-led air strikes.

In the rare moments that Yemen is mentioned in the Western media, it usually references the “civil war.” If Saudi Arabia is ever mentioned in that context, it is presented as the hero fighting against the expansion of Iran’s influence in the region. There is hardly any mention of how and why one of the richest oil producers in the world is conducting a war against one of the poorest countries in the world accompanied by 12 coalition partners, the U.K. and the U.S. The catastrophic consequences of the Saudi-led coalition bombardment and siege of Yemen and the suffering of more than 25 million Yemeni people is often ignored. According to U.N. reports more than 80 percent of people in Yemen now need humanitarian assistance.

It has been over a year since Saudi-led coalition started its war on Yemen and the efforts to investigate the breaches to international humanitarian law have failed due to Saudi influence. The underlying economic and political interests in this war are too obvious to be ignored. Over the past year Saudi Arabia has bought $12 billion in arms from France, $8 billion from the UK, $15 billion from Canada, and $20 billion from the U.S. These countries are too deeply involved in the war to take any meaningful action. The issue is not whether Saudi Arabia is launching a just war on Yemen, or whether it is violating the laws of war, Unfortunately the question is: What are the implications of opposing the Saudis? The Netherlands has become the only outlier banning export of arms to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-led war on Yemen has not only violated the laws of war by deliberate attacks on civilians, but it is endangering the future and the very existence of the Yemeni state by attacking government civil installations, creating chaos and paving the way for fundamentalist groups such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS to prosper.

We like to think that we live in a more civilized world where international humanitarian law governs war practices. This is only in our own imagination. The irony is that the more developed world continues to build its prosperity on the suffering of the less fortunate, as has been the case throughout history.

(Source:The Heller School)