On the third anniversary of Yemen war, US adds fuel to the fire

By Blake Yaeger, MENA Government Relations Intern, Amnesty International USA

This week marks three years since the Saudi-led coalition started its military intervention in Yemen, and the country is facing nothing short of a full-scale humanitarian, political and military disaster. This weekend, in what appears to be another war crime, the Houthis fired 7 ballistic missiles at Riyadh and other cities across Saudi Arabia. The missiles were imprecise so dangerous to civilians. Unfortunately, the Houthis and their allies are not the only ones committing violations. The Saudi led Coalition has also committed massive violations, some of which might amount to war crimes. They have killed thousands of Yemeni civilians and contributed to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

The crises in Yemen is a mixture of violence, famine and disease. The vast scale and severity of the problem is hard to understand with mere statistics. It is difficult for average US audiences, myself included, who haven’t seen the devastation first hand, to understand the real scope of the problem. To help, try to imagine a universe where the entire state of New York was nearly starving. New Yorkers are sick, frail and malnourished. Imagine that New York is experiencing the largest outbreak of Cholera in modern history. On top of the starvation and disease, New York is a warzone which has been relentlessly bombed killing over 5,000 civilians.

The dystopian New York I just described mirrors the severity and scale of the real crises in Yemen. According to the UN there are at least 22 million Yemeni people in need of humanitarian aid, which is 3 million more than the entire population of New York. The infrastructure has been destroyed by relentless bombing, making it impossible to cope with the millions in need of food and care. Hospitals and health care specialists are few and far between, and 20 million people are without clean water and sanitation.

The conflict has fueled the disaster in Yemen. The prolonged fighting has directly led to the death of thousands of civilians and there is no end in sight. To make matters worse, while the Saudi-led coalition has bombed schools, funerals, and hospitals the United States has been behind the scenes providing them with weapons and intelligence. Saudi-led bombing strikes have resulted in an estimated 60 percent of the civilian death toll in Yemen, and some of that blood is on the United States’ hands.

The U.S. government has sold Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other members of the Saudi led Coalition billions of dollars in weapons. Last year, Saudi Arabia announced $110 billion in U.S. weapons deal. Just last week, the trump administration announced finalizing over $12 billion of those deals, and the first deal, worth $670 million, was just signed by the US Department of State and sent to Congress. These weapons deals are not only immoral, they might be illegal. The Arms Export Control Act sets rules which limit who may receive U.S. arms exports, and what they may use the exports for. These rules do not allow for bombing civilians. It specifically states that exports must strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace. Saudi Coalition bombs are killing civilians and hitting non-military targets, not promoting security and world peace. Additionally, U.S. arms sales to the members of the Saudi led Coalition are in violation of Presidential Policy Directive 27 (PPD-27), which directs the US government to exercise unilateral restraint in exporting arms when the transfer of weapons leads to indiscriminate use. Indiscriminate use has been common throughout the war and will be evidenced in a few specific cases below.

U.S. involvement goes beyond just the federal government. An investigation done by Amnesty International showed conclusively that bombs made by the American companies Lockheed Martin and Raytheon were used to kill civilians. A bomb manufactured by Raytheon was used in a Saudi Coalition airstrike last August killed 16 civilians and injured 17 more. On January 27 of this year, a 500-pound bomb made by Lockheed Martin struck a family home which was miles away from any military target. The bomb killed a mother, and two of her children who were age ten and six. Irrespective of a State’s obligations to cease irresponsible arms transfers, under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights (UNGPs), companies like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin have a responsibility to respect all human rights wherever they operate. To meet their responsibility, they must ensure that their business activities do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses. They need to take the necessary steps to analyze their own role in contributing to human rights violations, and promptly cease any involvement which violates human rights.

The situation in Yemen is complicated and dynamic. Alliances are forged and broken regularly. Tribal politics coupled with tension between Iran and the Gulf States seriously complicate the potential for a peaceful future. What is certain is that all the parties involved have contributed to what is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. What is worse, is the U.S. is one of those parties. Ending weapons sales to the Coalition is the critical first step that the US should take toward ending the crisis in Yemen.

Raed Jarrar, MENA Advocacy Director of Amnesty International USA, made contributions to this piece.

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