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.