The Yemeni issue, in our view, is complicated, due to two main factors; first, despite the difference in power between the legitimate government supported by the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia on the one hand, and the Houthi group “Ansar Allah” on the other, the military coalition’s observance of international and humanitarian law by protecting civilians from being targeted and incurring damage necessitates the use of careful force that avoids hitting civilians and residential areas. The problem is that the Houthis, as is Iran's well-known strategy, hide their members among civilians, and deliberately store their weapons in residential neighbourhoods. This ethical difference between the two sides is a major reason for delaying resolution and prolonging the war.
The second factor contributing to the difficulty of resolving the Yemeni issue is the lax international position during the past years. Every UN envoy was keen on continuing dialogue with the Houthis, fearing that they would close the door to negotiations if the envoy revealed the abstract truth as it is and as he and we know it; to wit, that the Houthis do not take a political solution seriously, do not aspire toward a peaceful solution, and do not control the decision of war and peace. The reports issued by the concerned UN authorities, especially during the first four years of the war that began with the Houthi group’s takeover of power in 2014, equate between the legitimate government and the Houthis in rights, duties, responsibilities and conduct. Just as they condemned militia practices, they also condemned the government’s right to defend its legitimacy.
On the last anniversary of the 26th of September Revolution, the Houthi group Ansar Allah targeted the residence of Marib governor Sultan al-Arada with two ballistic missiles. In early October 2021, the group launched three ballistic missiles at al-Rawdah residential neighbourhood in Marib, targeting the house of Yemeni Army Chief of Staff Sagheer bin Aziz, as well as civilian homes. Two days ago, the convoy of the Ahmed Lamlas, governor of Aden -the provisional capital- was targeted with a car bomb, killing five people, not including the governor, besides injuring several others, and destroying civilian homes. The Houthis commit political assassinations to intimidate members and officials of the legitimate government, in order to force them to remain outside of Yemen, to lower the morale of the Yemeni army forces, and Yemenis in general, and to disrupt the functioning of the legitimate government in the areas under its control. Houthis wish that members of the legitimate government and city governors remain outside Yemen, which the group considers as a great psychological triumph, because it confirms their influence and dominance.
Although Riyadh mainly contributes to protecting the lives of civilians from hunger, disease, and absence of education by spending billions of dollars from the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre, and through field cooperation with UNICEF to protect children from militia kidnappings and forced recruitment - it also plays an essential political role in clarifying the facts of what is happening in Yemen to the international community.
The busy and highly active Saudi diplomacy over the past two years has shaped a largely fair international view of the conflict, the latest of which was the movement that led to rejecting the extension of the work of international and regional experts to investigate human rights violations, that was formed by a decision of the UN Human Rights Council in 2017. The concerned countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen, expressed their approval and cooperation with the team in its first year, before it issued a biased report whitewashing Houthi crimes and overshooting its mandate. The report also provided grounds for absolving Houthis of any humanitarian responsibility before the international community for the crimes they committed, including murder, intimidation, starvation and looting Yemeni people’s livelihoods.
In return for the Human Rights Council’s refusal by majority to extend this team’s mission, the Council also recorded a positive position with its decision to support capacity-building of the National Committee of Inquiry into Alleged Violations of Human Rights, which is the Yemeni national committee that began its work in 2015. The committee is based in the city of Aden and submits its reports periodically and is open to any international participation or comments on its work, to make way for more credibility and transparency. What took place during the Council’s 48th session was unprecedented, as it is the first time since the Council’s establishment in 2006 that a draft resolution has been rejected; indicating member states’ confidence in the Yemeni national committee, and their determination to provide it with support, particularly technical support, to accomplish its duties. Had it not been for the confidence in the committee’s officials, the Council would not have taken the trouble to offer its support.
International powers today have become more objective and impartial in terms of seeing the facts for what they are, and the statements issued during the past months by the United States and European countries herald an unprecedented awakening in the seven-year conflict and entail an explicit condemnation of Houthi terrorism and war crimes against defenceless Yemenis, and against civilian areas in Saudi cities.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.