A UN-brokered summit in Sweden is in preparation to be held in the coming week, prospects for which are unknown amid a disastrous inconclusive war in Yemen.
UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock arrived in the capital Sana’a on Thursday, from where he expressed concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation, and called on parties to end the fighting.
Delegations from both sides, Houthis and Abdel Rabu Mansour Hadi, have been reported to attend the summit.
However, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday played down hopes for an imminent breakthrough on ending Yemen’s brutal war, AFP reported.
“I don’t want to raise expectations too high, but we are working hard in order to ensure that we can still start meaningful peace talks this year,” he said ahead of the G20 summit in Argentina. “But, as you know, there have been some setbacks,” he said, pointing in part to Saudi Arabia’s concerns over continued rocket attacks by the Houthis.
Since March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition comprised of Arab states has been at war with Iranian-backed Houthis over power in Yemen.
This comes as fighting continues and has escalated since the coalition launched an offensive attack agaist the port city of Hudaydeh, driving thousands of people out of the area.
According to the UN Human Rights Office, at least 6,660 civilians were killed and 10,563 were injured between March 2015 and August 2018, yet real figures are estimated to be higher.
Humanitarian crisis and coalition responsibility
“Fighting continues in eastern and southern areas of al Hudaydah. The main road to Sana’a remains inaccessible to humanitarian partners due to fighting,” UNICEF said in its latest report in September.
Over 85,000 children have died because of a war-induced famine since the beginning of the war, and millions are at risk of starvation.
The UN has described the war in Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. “As the conflict enters its fourth year, more than 22 million people – three-quarters of the population – need humanitarian aid and protection,” Secretary-General António Guterres remarked in an April donor conference in Geneva.
In August, the UN panel of experts issued a 40-page detailed report, mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, to carry out a comprehensive examination of the human rights situation in the country.
“Among their conclusions, the experts say individuals in the government of Yemen and the coalition, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the de facto authorities have committed acts that may, subject to determination by an independent and competent court, amount to international crimes,” the report said.
It noted that coalition air strikes have caused most direct civilian casualties by hitting residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats, and even medical facilities.
“There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimise civilian casualties. I call on them to prioritise human dignity in this forgotten conflict,” said Kamel Jendoubi, chairperson of the Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen.
Along came the Khashoggi case for Saud Arabia
The outbreak of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder inside his consulate in Turkey led to an increase in the criticism of the kingdom over the Yemeni war, and the dire humanitarian situation.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, whom according to a leaked CIA report is believed to have ordered the killing, is making his first international appearance this week in the G20 summit in Argentina under global scrutiny, as questions soar over how world leaders will handle his presence.
The crown prince last week visited with regional allies, or “brotherly countries” as described by Saudi officials, including the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, where he received a warm welcome. But in his last stop, Tunisia, organised protests decried the recklessness of bin Salman’s policies, citing “crimes against humanity” in Yemen.
In Tunisia and in Argentina prosecutors are also separately looking into bringing charges against the crown prince over crimes in Yemen, seeking to invoke international jurisdiction.
However, besides supporters among Arab countries, bin Salman enjoys the support of the administration of US President Donald Trump on the Khashoggi case.
“King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder […] but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump remarked in a 20 November statement signalling support for the kingdom.
Vague US position
After the Khashoggi case, ethical questions intensified in the US about supporting the kingdom, especially in the Yemen war.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate voted to advance a resolution that would end all US involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen by an overwhelming majority.
Defence Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to convince senators to do the opposite in a briefing before the vote, despite having previously showed interest in a ceasefire in Yemen, and encouraged political talks expected in Sweden.
“The suffering in Yemen grieves me, but if the United States of America was not involved in Yemen, it would be a hell of a lot worse. What would happen if the US withdrew from the Yemen effort? Guess what: The war wouldn’t end,” The National quoted Pompeo as saying on Wednesday.
In a commentary to the Wall Street Journal, he argued that American politicians have and are still using the “kingdom’s human-rights record to call for the alliance’s downgrading.” He added: “But degrading US-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the US and its allies.”
“Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave,” Trump also said in his November statement.
YEMEN IN NUMBERS (UN, March 2018)
- 79% of the population is poor compared to 49% in 2017
- GDP per capita has declined 61% in the last three years
People in Need
- 75% of the population, 22 million people, need some form of humanitarian assistance and protection
- 60% of the population, 18 million people, are food insecure
- 8.4 million people do not know how they will obtain their next meal
- Less than 50% of health facilities are functioning
- 18% of districts have no doctors
- 56% of the population, 16 million people, do not have regular access to basic health care
Water and sanitation
- 55% of the population, 16 million people, do not have regular access to safe water and basic hygiene
- 73% of the population does not have access to piped drinking water
- 25% of population, 7.5 million people, need nutrition support, and 50% of all children are stunted
- 2.9 million children and women are acutely malnourished; the number of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition has increased 90% in the last three years
- 48% of women are illiterate
- 25% of children are out of school
- 11% of schools are destroyed or used for other purposes
- 72% of girls are married before the age of 18
- 44% of marriages in hard-hit districts involve girls under the age of 15
- Less than 50% of births are attended by skilled health personnel
- Two million people are displaced, 76% are women and children
- One million people have returned to their home areas
- 1.25 million civil servants are not receiving salaries
- Basic food prices have increased 98% and fuel 110% in the last three years
- In hard-hit areas unemployment rates are as high as 50%