Yemen has suffered from civil war since 2014 and violent external involvement from the Saudi Arabian government since 2015. Evidence of a deliberate famine by the Saudi government targeting millions of civilians indicate that grave human right violations are being committed in Yemen. Additionally, regional powers in the Middle East have since supported various rebel groups inside Yemen, causing conditions of a proxy war to erupt. This project provides a concise overview of the complex political situation in Yemen and the systematic bodily and mental harm inflicted upon the Yemeni population.
The Yemeni government under President Ali Abdullah Saleh enacted a series of measures to ease their fiscal budgetary crisis in the summer of 2014 by increasing fuel prices and reforming fuel subsidies. IRIN News noted that the fuel subsidy cuts disproportionately affected the poorest segment of the population, threatening to send an estimated 500,000 Yemenis into poverty and food insecurity. Mass protests against the government were planned in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital city. On September 21, 2014, Sanaa was seized by Houthi rebels in an event known as the September 21 Revolution (or the 2014 Coup d’etat by opponents). Houthis, a northern Yemeni Shi’a rebel group that have been supported by Iran, wrested control from former President Saleh, former Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa and former President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi (2015). In late 2017, Saleh was killed by Houthi rebels during their siege against remaining government forces in Sanaa. Additionally, the Yemeni military did not attempt to intervene, declaring its “support for the people’s revolution.”
In 2015 Saudi Arabia launched a military intervention in Yemen in an attempt to influence the outcome of the civil war and support the rebel groups loyal to former President Hadi. Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen has directly contributed to the famine through a blockade, which the United Nations has claimed affects 17 million people. For a state overwhelmingly reliant on imports of goods, the halt of fuel, medicine, food and clean water has been disastrous and despite an easing of the blockade in December 2017, reportedly few aid deliveries have been allowed to the rebel-held sea- and airports. UNICEF claims that 5,000 children have died and 400,000 are malnourished, and that one child dies every ten minutes in Yemen from starvation. World Food Programme Director David Beasley has stated that Saudi Arabia’s tactics show “food is being used as a weapon of war and it’s disgraceful” as part of a larger systematic campaign. To date, three million children have been born during the war and are “scarred by years of violence, displacement, disease, poverty, undernutrition and a lack of access to basic service.” The International Committee of the Red Cross’s Middle East director has estimated their water supplies in Hodeida and Taiz will last a month as the death toll from cholera climbs, marking the outbreak in Yemen as the worst in a century.
Despite the dire reports from aid organizations, the international community has been reticent to address the issue of Yemen beyond a February 2017 UN Security Council targeting several government officials and Houthi leaders for travel bars, frozen assets and an arms embargo. An independent report commissioned by the UN criticized the Saudi Arabia-led coalition for creating instability and escalating a humanitarian crisis, and questioned Saudi Arabia’s claims that Iran was supplying missiles to rebels. A recent statement from a meeting of UK, US, UAE and Saudi Arabia foreign ministers urged “all Yemeni parties to unify their efforts in search of responsible solutions for a stable and united Yemen.” However, as of January 2018, Saudi Arabia has continued to finance the Yemeni government while the United Arab Emirates funds a rebel faction seeking autonomy for South Yemen and Iran funds the Houthi rebels.