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An Unspeakable Nightmare: The Yemeni Crisis

Khushi Malhotra

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Rania and her eldest daughter, Amani, stand in the entrance to their home in a camp for internally displaced people in Lahj, Yemen. Photo: WFP/Mohammed Awadh

Authors: Khushi Malhotra and Vedant Avdhoot Sumant*

Why is Yemen at War?

After North and South Yemen merged, Saleh and Beidh decided to share power and form the Republic of Yemen on 22.05.1990. On 15.05.1991, the people of Yemen approved the constitutional Referendum which invested and respected human rights with and for the citizens. However, after such unification, there were disagreements between, President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Yemen’s Gulf Neighbours and the US of A.Disagreements, like these, sowed seeds for the current multifaceted problems faced by the country. Since then there have been various ceasefire agreements like ‘The Six-Point Government of Yemen-Houthi Ceasefire Agreement’ in 2010, ‘Hodeidah Agreement’ in 2018 backed by UN Resolution No. 2452, ‘Ceasefire order by Ansar Allah’, ‘Seven Point Peace Plan on Muscat Principles’ and their subsequent breaches ranging right from the Yemeni Arab Spring to the killing of Ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Over the years, Yemen has struggled in matters of good governance, stability, infrastructural developments, uplifting people, improving the standards of living and reduction of poverty, however, the current civil war in the country has exacerbated the situation. Incidents of political turmoil like the Houthis suspending the constitution and seizing the government in the early months of 2015 have further degraded the already appalling conditions pre-existing in the region. All the acts compounded together have led to Yemen undergoing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

International Laws Applicable : Human Casualties and Unprotected Rights

The conflict in Yemen involves countries like Saudi Arabia,  Egypt, Jordan, Morocco etc. supporting the Internationally recognized Government of Yemen and Iran supporting the Houthi’s, and several other countries,  however, it can’t be termed as an International Armed Conflict as the clashes are not between two states but between parties of the same country. Therefore, the rules of Non- International Armed conflicts apply. The criteria’s that have to be fulfilled are:-

1. Firstly, the armed violence must reach a certain degree of intensity so that it causes internal disturbances and tensions.

2. Secondly, at least one of the party to the armed conflict must be a non-state armed group forming an organisation.

These two conditions having been fulfilled in Yemen confirms the presence of Non-International Armed Conflict and applicability of its rules. The conflicts of such nature are governed by the treaties and rules of Customary International Lawas mentioned in International Humanitarian Law. The humanitarian laws that govern Non-International Armed Conflict and to which Yemen has ratified are the Common Article 3 to the four Geneva Convention 1949 and the Additional Protocol II. Common Article 3 prohibits cruel, humiliating and derogatory treatment. It further ensures that all parties to the conflict are humanely treated at all times. The exercise of territorial control and military operations in Yemen showcase that the criterion for implementation of Additional Protocol II has also been fulfilled. It entails the prohibition of direct attacks against civilians, prohibition on attacking indiscriminately, respecting the principle of proportionality in attack, and the obligation to take all feasible precautions in planning and executing military operations so as to avoid civilian casualties. Considering these rules, there is no denial of the fact thatthe rules of International law have grossly been violated due to the conflicts in Yemen.

Apart from the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocol II, Yemen has ratified various treaties including but not limited to the, Anti- Mine Ban Convention, 1997, that prohibits the use of weapons that leads to, ‘superfluous injury and unnecessary sufferings.’ It means that the use of such weapons is prohibited which might cause mass destruction. However, these regulations have been grossly violated in Yemen as the repeated use of anti-personnel mines, unlawful airstrikes, launching of ballistic missiles and use of fire weapons in the cities have largely killed and injured the civilian population. For instance, The unlawful airstrikes in Yemen by the Saudi-led Coalition on Houthi detention centres killed not less than 200 civilians. This attack was marked as one of the deadliest attacks in Yemen. The armed groups have been ruthlessly using unlawful methods of warfare causing mass destruction and loss of civilian life. The use of such technologically advanced weapons makes it difficult to implement the principle of proportionality and furthermore when such weapons are used without regulations it leads to war crimes. Therefore, there is a dire need to stop the use of such ‘high-tech’ weapons that cause mass destruction in order to protect the civilians and adhere to the International Humanitarian Law rules.

Yemen has also ratified several International Human Rights treaties like, United Nations Convention Against Torture, Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of  Discrimination Against Women, United Nations Convention on Rights of Child etc. though the well intentioned words of these conventions are rarely if not at all effectuated at the ground level. Yemen has ratified various International Human Rights treaties that would ensure protection to its citizens. All of these treaties ensure that all the persons irrespective of war, will not be discriminated and that their safety and dignity will not be compromised, yet, the constant bombing campaign in Yemen has led to the killing of more than 17,500 civilians. Further, In 2018, Yemen witnessed the inhumane act of bombing children which led to the murder of 40 while injuring 56 thus proving that the rules of International Human Rights law have been grossly violated. Furthermore, Feminist Perspective focusing on women specific rights gained traction when on 29.01.2011 women such as Twakkol Karman made various demands including equal representation, ending maternal mortality, illiteracy among others. UNFPA and its partners are continuing efforts to support women and girls to prevent abuse, by raising awareness for women’s rights, but the situation of women and girls is not likely to improve until the hostilities end, safety is restored and equality of women becomes a priority.

Furthermore, The US military aid to the Saudi coalition is in violation to the Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act as discussed in the Resolution No. 54 presented in the US Senate on February 28, 2018. All the arms deals by the various nations are not only ethically and morally wrong but they also go against their commitment to the UN-Arms Trade Treaty. The parties involved thereto complicit in the crisis ongoing in the region are, ironically also the biggest humanitarian aid contributors. The US of A with Britain, Switzerland, Sweden and a few others have been aiding the Saudi led coalition by providing arms and enforcing maritime naval blockades and embargoswhich have further worsened the food shortage situation in Yemen. The humanitarian pledges by the donor countries are not only being delayed but are also being contradicted by the military actions that they are undertaking. The restrictions and blockades imposed by the Saudis, UAE and the Houthis need to be eased if not removed while taking political interests in consideration as land routes are being bombed and the Red sea is being rigged with sea mines. The attacks by the Islamic State have further dented the humanitarian efforts and have created a deeper crisis which puts a question on the very existence of the country’s citizens. 

These and actions similar to them have been preventing effective humanitarian aid for the Yemeni citizens who are living a life subpar to even animal existence. The armed groups in Yemen have targeted various, urban centres causing great deal of civilian causalities. Furthermore, the attacks have also led to the destruction of civilian infrastructures like, the schools, hospitals, farms, funerals and various factories. All this violence has rendered human rights of the people of Yemen ineffectual.

Conclusion : Urgent need to Prioritize Humanity 

Yemen is undergoing a severe humanitarian crisis, with its clinics and medical infrastructure severely damaged and crippled because of continued air strikes and a tussle between the various groups seeking to take control of disputed regions having rendered the medics vulnerable to attacks. It is pertinent to note that, the human rights situation in Yemen is so dreadful that it has been regarded as ‘frightening’ by the Yemeni Human Rights Minister. The reports suggest that more than a 1000 people have disappeared with hundreds having been kidnapped. Further, in 2018, Saudi-led coalition was included in the ‘list of shame’ by UN for killing/ injuring 729 children, that accounted for half of the child casualty statistics  which is wholly unwarranted and inhumane. 

The resulting political chaos has shifted the focus from various epidemics that the Yemeni’s have suffered through the years like the Cholera outbreak in December 2017, Malaria, Diphtheria, Measles, Meningitis, Dengue and other Diarrheal diseases in identified locations of internally displaced people. Approximately 400,000 children under the age of 5 years were suffering severe acute malnutrition in 2018. The aforementioned description is a resultant of 5 factors namely socio-economic factors, environmental degradation, breakdown of the healthcare system, insecurity, and political instability.

Attention must also be given to the problems faced by Yemeni’s during this Coronavirus pandemic where the administration of Yemen has been unable to accurately determine the number of active corona cases in the region due to an unavailability of adequate workforce and test kits but has reported more than 900 positive cases. There is complete lack of transparency in the data provided yet this data pertains only to those areas controlled by the Saudi led coalition. The rebel controlled areas which are even more densely populated have reported just 4 cases which is impractical and hard to believe. The strain on resources has resulted into this situation being incongruous to proper testing and assessment of the number of active corona cases in the area. Yemen is therefore one of the worst cases of a multi-faceted humanitarian crisis. Merely stating statistics will not bring an end to this crisis. The war must be withheld in such precarious situations and if not on a permanent basis at least for a temporary period of time a Federal Division natured solution must be agreed upon. The pain suffered by Yemeni’s must in fact be empathised with by the International community. This article is a mere attempt to spread awareness thereby snowballing International pressure on the parties involved in the dispute thereto, by coercing them to prioritise humanity over their vested interests.

*Vedant Avdhoot Sumant , Gujarat National Law University , Gandhinagar. 

I am a Vth year Law Student from, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda pursuing B.A. LLB (hons.). Throughout the five years of law school I have developed profound interest in areas related to International Law and subjects related to it. In future, if I have the opportunity to contribute my knowledge and understanding of importance of social issues and its threat to the society, I would thoroughly utilize that opportunity to eliminate/reduce the miseries faced by children of my country. I strongly believe that, prosperity of the country is dependent upon the well-being of children in the country.

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Middle East

Erdogan’s Calamitous Authoritarianism

Dr.Alon Ben-Meir

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Turkey’s President Erdogan is becoming ever more dangerous as he continues to ravage his own country and destabilize scores of states in the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa, while cozying up to the West’s foremost advisories. Sadly, there seems to be no appetite for most EU member states to challenge Erdogan and put him on notice that he can no longer pursue his authoritarianism at home and his adventurous meddling abroad with impunity.

To understand the severity of Erdogan’s actions and ambitions and their dire implications, it suffices to quote Ahmet Davutoglu, formerly one of Erdogan’s closest associates who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and subsequently Prime Minister. Following his forced resignation in May 2016 he stated “I will sustain my faithful relationship with our president until my last breath. No one has ever heard — and will ever hear — a single word against our president come from my mouth.”

Yet on October 12, Davutoglu declared “Erdogan left his friends who struggled and fought with him in exchange for the symbols of ancient Turkey, and he is trying to hold us back now…. You yourself [Erdogan] are the calamity. The biggest calamity that befell this people is the regime that turned the country into a disastrous family business.”

The stunning departure of Davutoglu from his earlier statement shows how desperate conditions have become, and echoed how far and how dangerously Erdogan has gone. Erdogan has inflicted a great calamity on his own people, and his blind ambition outside Turkey is destabilizing many countries while dangerously undermining Turkey’s and its Western allies’ national security and strategic interests.

A brief synopsis of Erdogan’s criminal domestic practices and his foreign misadventures tell the whole story.

Domestically, he incarcerated tens of thousands of innocent citizens on bogus charges, including hundreds of journalists. Meanwhile he is pressuring the courts to send people to prison for insulting him, as no one can even express their thoughts about this ruthlessness. Internationally, Erdogan ordered Turkish intelligence operatives to kill or smuggle back to the country Turkish citizens affiliated with the Gülen movement.

He regularly cracks down on Turkey’s Kurdish minority, preventing them from living a normal life in accordance with their culture, language, and traditions, even though they have been and continue to be loyal Turkish citizens. There is no solution to the conflict except political, as former Foreign Minister Ali Babacan adamantly stated on October 20: “… a solution [to the Kurdish issue] will be political and we will defend democracy persistently.”

Erdogan refuses to accept the law of the sea convention that gives countries, including Cyprus, the right to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for energy exploration, while threatening the use of force against Greece, another NATO member no less. He openly sent a research ship to the region for oil and gas deposits, which EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called “extremely worrying.”

He invaded Syria with Trump’s blessing to prevent the Syrian Kurds from establishing autonomous rule, under the pretext of fighting the PKK and the YPG (the Syrian Kurdish militia that fought side-by-side the US, and whom Erdogan falsely accuses of being a terrorist group).

He is sending weapons to the Sunni in northern Lebanon while setting up a branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in the country—a practice Erdogan has used often to gain a broader foothold in countries where it has an interest.

While the Turkish economy is in tatters, he is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the Balkans, flooding countries with Turkish imams to spread his Islamic gospel and to ensure their place in his neo-Ottoman orbit. Criticizing Erdogan’s economic leadership, Babacan put it succinctly when he said this month that “It is not possible in Turkey for the economic or financial system to continue, or political legitimacy hold up.”

Erdogan is corrupt to the bone. He conveniently appointed his son-in-law as Finance Minister, which allows him to hoard tens of millions of dollars, as Davutoglu slyly pointed out: “The only accusation against me…is the transfer of land to an educational institution over which I have no personal rights and which I cannot leave to my daughter, my son, my son-in-law or my daughter-in-law.”

Erdogan is backing Azerbaijan in its dispute with Armenia (backed by Iran) over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inhabited by ethnic Armenians and has been the subject of dispute for over 30 years.

He is exploiting Libya’s civil strife by providing the Government of National Accord (GNA) with drones and military equipment to help Tripoli gain the upper hand in its battle against Khalifa Haftar’s forces. Former Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said in February 2020 that “The unclear Turkish foreign policy by Erdogan may put Turkey in grave danger due to this expansion towards Libya.”

He is meddling in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an effort to prevent them from settling their dispute unless Israel meets Palestinian demands. He granted several Hamas officials Turkish citizenship to spite Israel, even though Hamas openly calls for Israel’s destruction.

He betrayed NATO by buying the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, which seriously compromises the alliance’s technology and intelligence.

He is destabilizing many countries, including Somalia, Qatar, Libya, and Syria, by dispatching military forces and hardware while violating the air space of other countries like Iraq, Cyprus, and Greece. Yakis said Turkey is engaging in a “highly daring bet where the risks of failure are enormous.”

Erdogan supports extremist Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and an assortment of jihadists, including ISIS, knowing full well that these groups are sworn enemies of the West—yet he uses them as a tool to promote his wicked Islamic agenda.

He regularly blackmails EU members, threatening to flood Europe with Syria refugees unless they support his foreign escapades such as his invasion of Syria, and provide him with billions in financial aid to cope with the Syrian refugees.

The question is how much more evidence does the EU need to act? A close look at Erdogan’s conduct clearly illuminates his ultimate ambition to restore much of the Ottoman Empire’s influence over the countries that were once under its control.

Erdogan is dangerous. He has cited Hitler as an example of an effective executive presidential system, and may seek to acquire nuclear weapons. It’s time for the EU to wake up and take Erdogan’s long-term agenda seriously, and take severe punitive measures to arrest his potentially calamitous behavior. Sadly, the EU has convinced itself that from a geostrategic perspective Turkey is critically important, which Erdogan is masterfully exploiting.

The EU must be prepared take a stand against Erdogan, with or without the US. Let’s hope, though, that Joe Biden will be the next president and together with the EU warn Erdogan that his days of authoritarianism and foreign adventurism are over.

The views expressed are those of the author.

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Middle East

Syrian Refugees Have Become A Tool Of Duplicitous Politics

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Syrian refugees in Rukban camp

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria the issue of Syrian refugees and internally displace has been the subject of countless articles and reports with international humanitarian organizations and countries involved in the Syrian conflict shifting responsibility for the plight of migrants.

The most notorious example of human suffering put against political games is the Rukban refugee camp located in eastern Syria inside the 55-km zone around Al-Tanf base controlled by the U.S. and its proxies.

According to official information, more than 50,000 people, mostly women and children, currently live in the camp. This is a huge number comparable to the population of a small town. The Syrian government, aware of the plight of people in Rukban, has repeatedly urged Washington to open a humanitarian corridor so that everyone can safely return home. However, all such proposals were ignored by the American side. U.S. also refuse to provide the camp with first aid items. Neighbouring Jordan is inactive, too, despite Rukban being the largest of dozens other temporary detention centres in Syria, where people eke out a meager existence.

At the same time, the problem is not only refugee camps. Syria has been at war for a decade. The country’s economy has suffered greatly over this period, and many cities have been practically grazed to the ground. Moreover, the global coronavirus epidemic didn’t spare Syria and drained the already weakened economy even more. However, Damascus’ attempts of post-war reconstruction and economic recovery were undermined by multiple packages of severe sanctions imposed by the U.S. At the same time, U.S.-based human rights monitors and humanitarian organizations continue to weep over the Syrian citizens’ misery.

The situation is the same for those refugees who stay in camps abroad, especially in countries bordering on Syria, particularly Jordan and Turkey. Ankara has been using Syrian citizens as a leverage against the European states in pursuit of political benefits for a long time. No one pays attention to the lives of people who are used as a change coin in big politics. This is equally true for Rukban where refugees are held in inhuman conditions and not allowed to return to their homeland. In those rare exceptions that they are able to leave, refugees have to pay large sums of money that most of those living in camp are not able to come by.

It’s hard to predict how long the Syrian conflict will go on and when – or if – the American military will leave the Al-Tanf base. One thing can be said for sure: the kind of criminal inaction and disregard for humanitarian catastrophe witnessed in refugee camps is a humiliating failure of modern diplomacy and an unforgivable mistake for the international community. People shouldn’t be a tool in the games of politicians.

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Middle East

Is Syria Ready For Second Wave Of COVID-19?

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©UNICEF/Delil Souleiman

Despite a relative calm that has been holding on the front lines of the Syrian conflict since the beginning of the year, Syria had to face other equally – if not more – serious challenges. The spread of COVID-19 virus in the wake of a general economic collapse and a health care system battered by nine years of war threatened Syria with a death toll as a high as that of resumed military confrontation. However, the actual scale of the infection rate turned out to be less than it was expected considering the circumstances.

Although Syria did not have much in resources to mobilize, unlike some other countries that were slow to enforce restrictions or ignored them altogether, the Syrian authorities did not waste time to introduce basic measures that, as it became obvious in hindsight, proved to be the most effective. A quarantine was instituted in the areas controlled by the government, all transportation between the provinces was suspended, schools and universities were temporarily closed and face masks were made obligatory in public spaces.

As a result, official data puts the number of people infected with COVID-19 in the government areas at modest 4,457 while 192 people died of the infection. In turn, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria announced that 1,998 people contracted the virus. The data on the infection rate in the opposition-controlled areas in Idlib and Aleppo is incomplete, but the latest number is 1,072. Compared to the neighboring Turkey with  9,000 of deaths of COVID-19, Syria seems to be doing relatively well.

Tackling the virus put the already embattled health care system under enormous strain. Syrian doctors are dealing with an acute shortage of medicines and equipment, and even hospital beds are in short supply. Over 60 medical workers who treated COVID-19 patients died.

The situation is worsened even further by the economic hardships, not least due to the sanctions imposed on Syria by the U.S. and the European states. Syrian hospitals are unable to procure modern equipment necessary for adequate treatment of COVID-19, most importantly test kits and ventilators.

The economic collapse exposed and aggravated many vulnerabilities that could have been easily treated under more favorable circumstances. A grim, yet fitting example: long queues in front of bakeries selling bread at subsidised prices, that put people under the risk of catching the virus. Many Syrians are simply unable to avoid risking their health in these queues, as an average income is no longer enough to provide for a family.

Moreover, despite a nation-wide information campaign conducted with the goal of spreading awareness about means of protections against COVID-19 like social distancing and mask-wearing, for many Syrians the disease is still stigmatized, and those who contracted it are often too ashamed to go to a hospital or even confess to their friends. As consequence, a substantial number of cases goes unreported.

With the second wave of COVID-19 in sight, it is of utmost importance that the work of health care professionals is supported, not subverted by the citizens. Otherwise Syria – and the world – may pay too high a price.

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