Yemeni tragedy: Western responsibilities
Occasionally but regularly, the war in Yemen comes back into the spotlight: started as a civil war in 2014, the intervention in 2015 of a coalition led by Saudi Arabia internationalized the conflict and for more than three years, all observers have agreed on the ongoing disaster, the “worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century”, more than 50,000 victims.
For many, this conflict may seem distant, but many observers point to the responsibilities for these massacres of Western states, including the United States, Great Britain and France.
Understanding the course of the tragedy
A little backward: On 25 March 2015, an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched air strikes against the Houthi armed group in Yemen, triggering a major armed conflict. Over the next two years, the conflict spread and fighting affected the entire country. In addition to the incessant air strikes by coalition forces, the various rival groups clashed on the ground. On the one hand, the Houthis, an armed group allied with the supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In front of them, the anti-Houthi forces, linked to the current Yemeni president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and the international coalition.
Chronology of Yemen at war reviews the major dates that have marked the country’s history to shed light on the current situation. Despite a long struggle for independence and its unification in 1990, Yemen was unable to unite around a sense of national unity.
It must be said that the formation of an independent Yemen has always met with hostility from Western powers, notably Great Britain and the United States: the current war is only the latest chapter in the Western effort to thwart Yemeni independence.
Demonstration against the Saudi assault in Yemen, March 18, 2018. Photo Alisdare Hickson cc by sa
As early as October 2015, NGOs denounced violations of the rules of humanitarian law by all warring parties in Yemen. They have been alerting ever since.
The latest report of the “United Nations Group of Experts to Investigate Human Rights Violations in Yemen” confirms this: evidence and testimonies in support, it reports war crimes, violations of international humanitarian law, arbitrary detentions accompanied by ill-treatment and torture, sexual violence, recruitment of children, enforced disappearances, obstruction of humanitarian aid, attacks on civilians without distinction, destruction of infrastructure, schools, hospitals… Abuses committed by all parties in conflict… .
Often referred to as the “forgotten war”, this war is more of a “hidden war”. What sociologist Jean-Marc Salmon calls insensitivity to the world is the result of a “system of censorship and silence” that could begin to crack.
According to Nawal Al-Maghadi of the BCC, this is a real information blockade resulting from Saudi Arabia’s strategy: the fact that “Saudi Arabia no longer allows journalists to board UN humanitarian flights” makes access for Western journalists far too dangerous.
Reporter in war zones is a particularly dangerous profession; in Yemen journalists and humanitarian workers are particularly targeted.
And for Yemeni journalists, described as “the most dangerous profession in Yemen at war”, to show violence and corruption is to run the risk of being “starved to death, tortured, used as human shields”…
Yet, despite the lack of Western media coverage of this war, the appearance is misleading, it is not a war so… “forgotten” by the West! As historian Pierre Piccinin da Prata reminds us, “the logistical and military support from Washington, Paris and London to Riyadh is colossal”!
The main suppliers of arms used by the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are European and American.
The coalition partners, who attack Yemen and are grouped around Saudi Arabia, are largely dependent on US weapons — worth tens of billions of dollars — plus considerable military and logistical support…. It can be said that “the United States is exacerbating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis by outsourcing its policy to Yemen” (article in English).
Yet voices are being raised: US senators have undertaken to pass a resolution to end support for the war and prevent the validation of a $2 billion military contract with Saudi Arabia (ending US support for the war in Yemen, article in English).
Britain is not to be outdone: the “Stop starving Yemen” website demonstrates Britain’s role in a “war that kills 130 children every day” and campaigns to end it.
The arms trade is not the only issue, with the United States and the United Kingdom being de facto members of the coalition. However, the latter has concluded “secret agreements” with militants in Yemen from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQPA) who, with the Islamic State, are now firmly established in Yemen, whereas their presence was still marginal four years ago… The question therefore arises as to the contribution of the United States and the United Kingdom to the strengthening of Al-Qaida in Yemen.
Yemen, France accomplice? Multiplication of load-bearing elements….
Already in 2015, Saudi Arabia was France’s first customer. Since then, the latter has been an integral part of this war.
For example, the French government has consistently issued export licences to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, delivered arms, provided technical assistance or training, allowing the use of French weapons; these sales amount to billions: in 2017 alone, France delivered more than 1.3 billion euros worth of arms to Saudi Arabia.
However, according to Amnesty International and ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture), based on the legal opinion of a law firm, the legality of selling arms “to a coalition guilty of serious violations against the civilian population” is seriously called into question.
The latest development, in September 2018, of the documents obtained by Wikileaks and shared with Mediapart, Der Spiegel and La Repubblica reveal a state secret: the corruption hidden behind the sale of French tanks in the United Arab Emirates…
All these elements support the demand for stronger parliamentary control over arms exports. A requirement explained by Tony Fortin, researcher at the Armaments Observatory: France must establish effective parliamentary control of arms sales.
This is also a question for European parliamentarians who, despite the Yemeni scandal, refuse any control over the arms industry.
However, under increasing public pressure, many European countries are forced to suspend arms transfers to the coalition. Recently, Spain cancelled the sale of 400 laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, a “decision (which) follows similar decisions taken by Sweden, Germany, Finland, Norway and Belgium to suspend the sale of weapons that could be used in this war”.
The Yemeni conflict under international humanitarian law
Given the identified violations of humanitarian law and arms sales by third countries, as well as the illegality of this war in which Western countries have been complicit, the governments and leaders of the companies concerned could be involved in legal proceedings… This is Anne-Sophie Simpere’s conclusion: “If these exports of equipment are found to be illegal, the responsible managers could, in theory, face prison sentences and heavy fines. Will the warning be taken seriously?”