Killing Yemen Softly

Jack Healey, Contributor
Founder, Human Rights Action Center

The following contribution has been written by Carolyn Just. HRAC is grateful for her contribution.

You know that feeling when you’ve forgotten something, but you can’t quite remember what it is that you forgot? A reminder for the international community: it’s Yemen. For almost three years now, Yemen has been embroiled in a devastating civil war that has resulted in what the United Nations has called, “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world”.

With ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and a resurgent US presence in Afghanistan, the situation in Yemen has been largely overlooked. But reports from the country are staggering. 17 million Yemenis lack reliable access to food. Roughly 2.9 million are internally displaced. There have been at least 10,000 documented civilian deaths , over 1,000 of them children. To put this into perspective, imagine that every resident in the 4 largest cities in the United States: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston were food insecure. Imagine that the entire state of Kansas was displaced; that the mass shooting in Las Vegas happened 84 times.

Yemen needs help. There is a 1 billion-dollar funding gap in humanitarian aid. Damaged infrastructure and import embargoes on food and fuel, combined with the closure of Sana’a International Airport in Yemen’s largest city, has made it almost impossible to receive the help this country needs. The threat of famine, and the spread of cholera, infecting over 600,000 Yemenis, have created a crisis of despair. Recent estimates suggest that every 10 minutes, a child in Yemen dies from preventable causes. To make matters worse both the food shortage, and the current cholera epidemic are said to be man-made.


During the Arab Spring in 2011, uprisings across Yemen pushed then president, Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office, in a transition that handed power to his then vice president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. When Hadi failed to deliver results, the Shia-backed Houthi movement made moves to take control. In 2015, the Houthis managed to gain control of Sana’a, and forced Hadi to flee, first to the southern city of Aden, then eventually to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. Fueled by concerns that regional rival and Shia-majority Iran was supporting the Houthi movement, Saudi Arabia, along with 8 other predominantly Sunni nations, launched an air campaign in March of 2015. The civil war (and international armed conflict) has raged ever since.

With military and logistical support from the United States, the Saudi-led coalition has decimated parts of Yemen. Early in the siege, airstrikes bombarded Houthi strongholds, like Saada City in the north. In fact, on May 8, 2015 the Saudi-led coalition declared the entire city of Saada a military target, a move Human Rights Watch called a “violation of the laws of war”. In one instance, an airstrike killed 27 members of a single family. The bombings in Yemen continue. On August 25, 2017, the coalition dropped a bomb that destroyed a residential building and killed 16 civilians. The bomb was American. As of August 30, 2017, the United Nations asserts that coalition airstrikes are the leading cause of civilian casualties.


Yemen deserves our attention, but not like this. The future of Yemen is still very unclear. Coalition efforts appear to have made little tactical impact, and a ceasefire agreement seems unlikely. Aggravating an already devastating situation, the United States launched a nighttime airstrike against ISIS militants in Yemen on Monday, October 16, 2017. No longer quietly hiding in the shadows, backing the slow death of a nation, the United States is now directly involved. As we sink deeper into this quagmire, I urge the United States along with the whole international community to give the people of Yemen, what they so desperately need – hope. Pay attention. Send aid, if you can. Write to Congress and insist they support a resolution that requires debate on our involvement in Yemen. It is our duty to let these people know that we have not forgotten them. We remember.

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