The Victims of Yemen: Innocent Civilians
If you’ve been watching the news or reading newspapers lately, you may have come across several stories about a conflict that has been brewing half-way across the globe in Yemen since as early as 2004. Over the past 6-8 months, Yemen has undergone profound, socio-political change, thanks to the rise of several different insurgent groups and the increasing unrest surrounding President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s political reign. Since the mid-1990s, the Yemeni public has voiced strong opinions about its government, accusing many of its members of promoting corruption and proliferating unemployment and nation-wide poverty. Along with public dissent, several coalitions have formed with the sole purpose of ousting the President from office, but none more prominently than the militant rebel group known as the Zaidi Shia Houthis, named after its leader, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi.
While the Houthi rebel group has drawn its support from the public’s contempt for Hadi, they have also been a benefactor of former Yemeni President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was removed from office in 2011. This creates an interesting dynamic in the conflict because Saleh has reclaimed some leverage in Yemen by siding with the Houthis. It will be interesting to observe what his role in Yemen becomes in the near future.
In January of this year, the Houthi rebel group successfully forced President Hadi out of office in the capital of Sana’a, causing him to flee to the seaport city of Aden. Although he is still internationally recognized as Yemen’s leader, it is difficult to pinpoint who has power over whom in this ongoing conflict. As with many other civil wars involving several different political actors, there are severe, unintended consequences that innocent civilians and bystanders must face everyday. One major example of this is Saudi Arabia’s involvement in attempting to demolish insurgency forces throughout Sana’a. The problem with Saudi airstrikes and on-the-ground operations is that hundreds and thousands of innocent people are dying without any accountability from the Saudi or Yemeni governments. Saudi officials claim to “only target” Houthi extremists and to have no involvement in the killing of innocent Yemeni people. A New York Times article reports that “apache helicopters fired rockets at the village of Bani Zela in Hajjah Province, roughly seven miles from the Saudi border, killing at least 25 civilians, including women and children.”
That is not to say that the Houthi rebel group has not been indiscriminately attacking residential areas either. Many people who still have access to social media in Yemen use the hashtag #Yemen to connect their personal stories to the rest of the internet via Twitter, and several tweets indicate that Houthi rebels have been perpetrators in killings of innocent men, women, and children.
This conflict puts the United States and the Obama administration in a tough foreign policy predicament that may illustrate a few contradictions. The United States has been an ally of Saudi Arabia for a majority of the 20th century because of oil-based economic negotiations and supposed counterterrorism provisions. Because of this, the United States has not vigorously acted to increase support for the well-being of Yemeni civilians, but rather it has increased its military intervention throughout the country, therefore siding with the Saudi coalition against the Houthi rebels Although the United States government reports that it has provided close to 300 million dollars to Yemen in humanitarian aid since the conflict began, its military actions cancel out any visible progress that has been made. American action in Yemen does not mirror the Obama administration’s treatment of the Syrian civil war; the President has been imploring that Russia choose the side of the rebels when aiding in the war effort, not Assad’s.
Though in these separate contexts Saudi Arabia is an ally and Russia is not, and the circumstances for foreign diplomacy may contrast, the tragedies that occur within each country’s borders are similar. The question now for many becomes, “Where is the United States’s accountability?” U.S. made weapons are tearing through Yemen’s largest cities and are decimating everything in their paths; why are Yemeni civilians not taken into account? Many UN-affiliated and non-UN affiliated NGOs are working vigorously and courageously to aid those in need within Yemen’s borders, and although these institutions have been of much help, their resources are limited.
No one knows how long the conflict may last, and there is certainly no easy, concrete answer to the question of who should or should not be in power in Yemen. The only fact that is for certain is that Yemeni civilians are suffering, and the international community cannot turn a blind eye towards this crisis.
- James Sabia