Averting Catastrophe in Hodeida: Its Time for the Trump Administration to Act

By Attiya Latif, Middle East and North Africa Fellow, Amnesty International USA

After three years of bloody civil war, Yemen is teetering on the brink of plunging even deeper in to a catastrophic humanitarian disaster. The Trump administration must act to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid and end the assault on Hodeida.

After Huthi forces took effective control of the capital, Sana’a, in late 2014 , President Hadi fled first to the southern city of Aden and then relocated with his government to the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh In March 2015. Huthi forces advanced to the city of Aden, and proceeded to spread their fighters across the country. On March 25, 2015, Saudi-led coalition forces intervened in support of President Hadi’s internationally recognized government. The civil war waged in Yemen quickly morphed into a full-blown war resulting in over 6000 civilian deaths and over 10,000 injured, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

For years, the port city Hodeida stood as a major deciding factor in the battle between Coalition forces and Huthi forces. Given that air-born humanitarian aid is all but impossible in the current environment of air-focused offensives, Hodeida’s Red Sea port accounts for ¾ of the country of Yemen’s aid, and is a key factor in holding at bay the impending famine that could spell the death of some 8 million civilians including 1.8 million children and 1.1 million pregnant or lactating women who are acutely malnourished, of which 400,000 children under the age of five who are already suffering from “severe acute malnutrition” The port provides aid to around 22 million Yemenis living in poverty and war-torn conditions.

The Saudi-led coalition forces have also accused the port of serving as a conduit for arms for Huthi forces, who they say are smuggling weapons and other resources through the port city to their front lines. The Saudi-led coalition has stated that seizing the city or halting activity at the port would be a turning point in the war. Unfortunately, around 600,000 people live in the Port City of Hodeida, and the newly launched Coalition offensive could spell a grimmer turning point: certain death for millions.

In June, the Saudi-led coalition began its offensive against the Port City, focusing their attention on the Hodeida airport where they seized control and began disarming the airport of land mines[1]. UN Authorities have attempted to broker a ceasefire by highlighting the necessity of the port’s functions staying open and place Hodeidah port under U.N. supervision.; Huthi forces have been asked to leave the port in UN control, while UAE authorities have demanded that Huthi forces leave the city of Hodeida altogether is the assault is to be halted.

While the port remains open, the threat of aid delays continues to escalate. In a recent report entitled Stranglehold , Amnesty International detailed the ways in which Coalition forces have continued to sideline ships containing aid for civilians and inspect them for hours. Even after making it past docking and inspection, much of the aid coming into Yemen sits for long periods of time in warehouses, where Huthi authorities delay aid from getting into cities. Aid workers say that it is even harder to move aid to those in need than it is to get aid into the city of Hodeida itself. These de facto embargoes have resulted in a stark decrease in the amount of aid getting to civilians, and human rights advocates estimate that 250,000 civilians could die in Hodeida alone.

The new offensive against Hodeida and the reduction in levels of humanitarian aid has already resulted in limited access to water for many Yemeni civilians, who say that they have been forced to drink well water from their local mosques due to the crisis. This situation and the escalating stranglehold on essential aid to Yemeni people who are on the brink of crisis is a human rights catastrophe must not be allowed to continue.

The Trump Administration has remained silent on the human rights violations committed by its allies in Riyadh that are creating a catastrophic humanitarian disaster. Calls from members of Congress have been largely ignored despite bipartisan letters of alarm written to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Now is the time to act.

The US must pressure its Saudi coalition allies to speed up the inspection of ships in Hodeida’s port, and to establish a ceasefire in the city. Given that much of the offensive can only be carried out with ammunition support from the US, the US has the ability and responsibility to influence the behavior of the coalition. Coalition forces must respect international human rights and humanitarian law, and aid must be allowed to flow freely into Yemen and prevent the deaths of millions of men, women and children caught in the crossfire of this war.

[1] Saudi-Led Forces Seize Airport in Yemen’s Port City of Hodeida, Bloomberg News, June 16, 2018

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