As news of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder dominated news cycles over the past month, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia continued its reign of violence upon Yemen with little attention — much as it has done for the past nearly four years.
And while Americans have expressed the occasional outrage over especially egregious offenses — such as the bombing of a school bus carrying children or recent reports over widespread starvation — the war in Yemen has received little attention in the media, even as the United States continues to play a key role in the conflict.
Two human rights advocates working in Yemen wrote in Foreign Policy earlier this month that “the killing of innocents, and the shredding of international norms that have been the hallmarks of Saudi Arabia’s military intervention” in their country makes Khashoggi’s death far less shocking.
For nearly four years, Saudi Arabia has led a coalition, along with the United Arab Emirates, that has cynically and viciously bombarded Yemen’s cities, blockaded Yemen’s ports, and prevented humanitarian aid from reaching millions in need.
According to the Yemen Data Project, Saudi and Emirati aircraft have conducted over 18,500 air raids on Yemen since the war began—an average of over 14 attacks every day for over 1,300 days. They have bombed schools, hospitals, homes, markets, factories, roads, farms, and even historical sites. Tens of thousands of civilians, including thousands of children, have been killed or maimed by Saudi airstrikes.
None of this would be possible, Mwatana Organization for Human Rights co-founders Radhya Almutawakel and Abdulrasheed Alfaqih wrote, without the support from the United States, even as
[T]he Saudis and Emiratis couldn’t continue their bombing campaign in Yemen without U.S. military support. American planes refuel Saudi aircraft en route to their targets, and Saudi and Emirati pilots drop bombs made in the United States and the United Kingdom onto Yemeni homes and schools Nevertheless, U.S. attention to the war in Yemen has been largely confined to brief spats of outrage over particularly dramatic attacks, like the August school bus bombing that killed dozens of children.
Saudi crimes in Yemen are not limited to regular and intentional bombing of civilians in violation of international humanitarian law. By escalating the war and destroying essential civilian infrastructure, Saudi Arabia is also responsible for the tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians who have died from preventable disease and starvation brought on by the war. The United Nations concluded that blockades have had “devastating effects on the civilian population” in Yemen, as Saudi and Emirati airstrikes have targeted Yemen’s food production and distribution, including the agricultural sector and the fishing industry.
Meanwhile, the collapse of Yemen’s currency due to the war has prevented millions of civilians from purchasing the food that exists in markets. Food prices have skyrocketed, but civil servants haven’t received regular salaries in two years. Yemenis are being starved to death on purpose, with starvation of civilians used by Saudi Arabia as a weapon of war.
Currently, over 22 million Yemeni men, women and children are dependent on international aid, and the UN warned in September that the country is dangerously close to a "tipping point", after which massive civilian casualties will become unavoidable.
Over 8 million people are currently on the verge of starvation, a figure likely to rise to 14 million—half of the country—by the end of 2018 if the fighting does not subside, import obstructions are not removed, and the currency is not stabilized.
Almutawakel and Alfaqih acknowledge that no party to this conflict is without blame and all have blood on their hands, but they note that “the de facto immunity that the international community has given Saudi Arabia through its silence prevents real justice for violations by all sides.”
The people of the Middle East have long and bitter experience with international double standards when it comes to human rights, as purported champions of universal rights in the West regularly ignore grave violations by their allies in the region, from the former shah of Iran to Saddam Hussein to Saudi Arabia’s current crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
[T]his double standard is on display when Western policymakers downplay Saudi and Emirati violations of Yemenis’ human rights by claiming that a close partnership with Riyadh is needed to prevent perceived Iranian threats to the international community, without asking whether that same community is also endangered by Saudi Arabia’s daily violations of basic international norms. And yes, there is a double standard in the wall-to-wall coverage of Khashoggi’s horrific murder, when the daily murder of Yemenis by Saudi Arabia and other parties to the conflict in Yemen hardly merits mention.
The human rights advocates urged U.S. lawmakers to step up and take action on Yemen — as they should have done years ago, they said:
Reversing course—ending U.S. military support for the Saudi-Emirati intervention in Yemen and supporting U.N.-led peace efforts and the reopening of Yemen’s air and sea ports—can still save millions of lives.