Yemen: Intractable Conflict and Lack of Accountability
With the array of domestic crises currently dominating the American media cycle, there is a level of insulation from certain global issues. Particularly, the perpetual state of war that has persisted in Yemen since 2015 has widely remained a peripheral issue. In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition began its execution of a significant military campaign against Houthi forces and their allies, who are all loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former Yemeni president.
The Houthis are often characterized as rebels, and are predominantly Shia Muslims, while Saudi Arabia is largely a Sunni Muslim nation, with backing from global superpowers such as the United States. Given this background, it is clear that the Houthis’ political ascent to power troubled Saudi leaders, at least in part, due to ideological divergence. This sectarian friction is, at times, a major source of underlying tension in Middle Eastern conflict. The Saudi forces have waged war on civilians, making illegal advances on homes, schools, and hospitals, among other soft targets.
Human Rights Watch, an organization at the forefront of protecting human rights, cited the United Nations human rights office in declaring that “as of October 10, 2016, at least 4,125 civilians have been killed and 6,711 wounded”, most often by airstrikes orchestrated by the Saudi-led coalition. The Houthis, for their part, have executed “indiscriminate attacks into southern Saudi Arabia and in Yemen, killing 475 civilians and wounding between 1,121 between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016".
The rebel group has overtaken major cities in Yemen, such as Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city. As such, both sides have played a role in human rights violations. The UN has purported that “more than 7,600 people - mostly civilians - have been killed and close to 42,000 others injured” since the conflict rapidly deteriorated in March 2015.
What is more, the complex nature of the war makes it increasingly challenging to hold state and/or non- state actors accountable. Along with Houthi rebels engaging in conflict with supporters of the current Yemeni government, and President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, the aforementioned Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis includes many nations.
These include Qatar, Bahrain, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Sudan, and Senegal. Furthermore, the previously mentioned sectarian friction has led this deteriorating conflict to take on the character of a proxy war, given the alleged participation of another nation – Iran. That is, with the Saudi-led coalition and supporters of the Yemeni government fighting Houthi rebels, a broader regional conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran continues to brew beneath the surface.
Accusations of Iranian support for the Houthis have been casted out several times, and these are not infeasible given that Iran happens to be a majority Shia nation. Given these facts, it is presumably clear that it is nearly impossible to properly assess any human rights violations and/or war crimes without significant confusion resulting. With so many participants, including both state and non-state actors, and an increasingly sectarian conflict, the prospects for a foreseeable end to the violence – and for prosecution of war crimes - is bleak.