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Yemen: US terrorist designation of Ansar Allah: Risk alert and humanitarian impact (14 January 2021)

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Designating Ansar Allah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist risks:

• Significantly increasing food prices in a country where an estimated 16.2 million people (54% of the population) are already facing high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above).

• The number of people facing food insecurity is expected to rise in the coming six months (IPC 3/12/2020). A designation could further accelerate this process.

• The majority of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity live in Ansar Allah controlled areas.

• Intensifying conflict over stable frontlines that could displace up to 900,000 people.

• Yemeni officials and other Yemeni political actors in support of the designation believe the move could add leverage to negotiations. However, there is a high risk the designation will increase humanitarian suffering and trigger an escalation in conflict.

• Reducing aid funding and increasing the cost and time it takes to deliver aid in a country where 80% of people rely on humanitarian assistance

• Causing the business sector, especially importers and financial institutions, to withdraw from, or further limit their engagement with Yemen, narrowing the pipeline of hard currency which Yemen relies on to keep essential food, fuel and medicine flowing

• Hampering peace efforts through both formal and informal (Track II) channels.

Waivers and authorisations are essential to help mitigate against the humanitarian impact of a designation. Lessons learned from previous cases have showed the importance of their timeliness. However, issuing, understanding, and implementing the exemptions will take time.

Given the speed at which this legislation is being introduced, and the complexities of the operating environment in Yemen, it is extremely unlikely that waivers and authorisations will be broad enough, or introduced quickly enough, to prevent disruptions to humanitarian operations or the banking systems, supply chains and transport networks that humanitarian actors and ordinary Yemenis rely on. There are no authorisations which can protect humanitarian actors from prosecution under the material support clauses of the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Nationality Act. 70% of Yemen’s 30.5 million people live in areas controlled by Ansar Allah: An FTO designation would have a much greater impact on Yemeni civilians than FTO designations introduced in other contexts. Most of Yemen’s population, its largest seaport, and the headquarters of all its major banks are in areas under exclusive Ansar Allah control. It will be virtually impossible to avoid engaging with the de-facto authorities in a way that is not criminalised by the designation. Day to day transactions, such as buying food or fuel, paying staff salaries, or transferring money to pay for commercial or humanitarian operations are likely to fall foul of the material support provisions, which carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison. Previous FTO designations have only been applied to non-state actors that controlled comparatively small areas of territory (such as Al Nusra in North West Syria, Al Shabab in southern Somalia, or Hamas in Gaza).