Where Does the UN Security Council Stand on Yemen?
Yemen Researcher, Middle East and North Africa Division
A Yemeni father’s voice, proudly telling us about his son, was nevertheless infused with sorrow: Ahmed was about 12 and smart. He lived with his father, his mother and his eight siblings until “the war came.”
The Saudi-led coalition bombed their home about a year ago. The Houthi armed group that had terrorized the family was left unscathed, but Ahmed was severely wounded. For 10 days, he didn’t speak; fragments had entered his brain. His father traveled with him from city to town to city trying to get help. The rest of the family was displaced along Yemen’s west coast, until fighting reached them again this February. The father needed to stay with his son. The family couldn’t go back to its home, east of Khawka town; friends said the area had been mined.
Yemeni doctors were able to help Ahmed, but he needed surgery that was not available in his country. His father couldn’t afford it. Friends told the family that the Saudi-led coalition paid only for wounded fighters to get treatment abroad. Even if they gave him a ticket, he said, he was worried he wouldn’t be able to fly: since the attack, he was afraid of closed spaces. Ahmed showed us the scar on his head. It still hurt.
This is the story of a Yemeni family today and for the last four years: a father whose child was hurt when he shouldn’t have been. A father who desperately wanted to protect his family but couldn’t see how. A father who wanted to help his son heal but did not have the means. A father who had knocked on every door he could think of but found them all closed.
Those doors remain jammed shut because those with power choose not to use it to pressure those responsible to end these abuses: the United Nations Security Council has done far too little amid the unceasing tragedy in Yemen. The United States, Britain and France have spoken out repeatedly in the Council on the war in Syria, focusing on the political process, the humanitarian fault lines and the use of chemical weapons, but when it comes to Yemen, they have remained mostly quiet.
Meanwhile, thousands of civilians have been killed and wounded by the warring parties in Yemen. Millions of people have no access to desperately needed health care. Fourteen million — half the population — may starve if the situation doesn’t change, as children die first.
The Security Council’s steps to address the crisis have been woefully inadequate. (The US called for a cessation of hostilities within 30 days on Oct. 30, and Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy for Yemen, is scheduled to address the Council on Nov. 16.) Sanctions were imposed on a few individuals on the Houthi side (and on their former ally, the late long-time president, Ali Abdullah Saleh and his son), but not yet — not once — on individuals responsible for the coalition’s violations.
The Security Council has issued statements, most recently in March, calling on the warring parties to adhere to the laws of war and to ensure that humanitarian aid and commercial goods can move into and within the country. But it has said nothing for months, as famine warnings mount.
The bottom line is that the UN body, whose job has been to ensure international peace and security since 1945, is failing to do so in Yemen. A large part of the blame falls on the shoulders of the Security Council member with primary responsibility for drafting resolutions regarding Yemen: Britain, which continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, enabling the military forces committing war crimes. The US and France, which have also risked complicity in war crimes by selling weapons to abusive Saudi forces, share responsibility for the lack of principled Security Council action.
The Council should adopt a new resolution. In a positive step, the British foreign minister, Jeremy Hunt, said on Nov. 5 that his country was committed to taking action at the Security Council, after rumors circulated that Britain was working on a draft resolution.
For the most meaningful impact, a resolution should demand an end to unlawful attacks, emphasize that accountability is not optional, remind the state parties of their obligation to provide redress to civilian victims and establish a monitoring and reporting system that tracks compliance with Security Council calls.
Any resolution that doesn’t specifically mention the Saudi-led coalition by name and reverts to vague appeals to “all parties” won’t have the required effect in Riyadh.
Second, the Council should sanction the individuals most responsible for these atrocities. Any country can suggest names to the UN Yemen sanctions committee, triggering immediate consideration of Security Council action. It is long past time to do that. Three concrete but certainly not exhaustive suggestions:
• Impose sanctions on those who share the greatest responsibility for the numerous laws-of-war violations committed during the coalition’s aerial campaign, notably Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and senior commanders, until the coalition ends its unlawful attacks, credibly investigates them and provides civilian victims redress.
• Impose sanctions on Houthi officials who bear the greatest responsibility for enforced disappearances, torture and hostage-taking, including as a matter of command responsibility, until the armed group releases those held arbitrarily, stops these abuses and appropriately punishes those responsible for violations.
• Impose sanctions on those obstructing humanitarian aid.
In Yemen, death and despair have infiltrated almost every district, war crime has followed war crime, and a humanitarian crisis has spiraled so out of control it is difficult for even aid professionals to fathom its depths. The Security Council has waited for too long to act on the carnage against the Yemeni people.