Historical Background on Conflict
1. On 26 March 2015, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia consisting of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, (together “the Coalition”) launched a military intervention to “defend the legitimate government of President Hadi from the takeover attempts by the Houthi militias in Yemen.” From the outset, the Coalition was supported politically, diplomatically, and militarily by the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France, and Turkey. The Saudi-led Coalition conducted airstrikes that killed and injured hundreds of civilians and leveled civilian infrastructure.
2. After about two months of war without achieving its stated official objectives and after failing to convince Egypt[ii], Pakistan[iii] and Turkey[iv] to provide ground troops, the Coalition sought out other ways to bolster its troops on the ground in preparation for a ground invasion. To achieve that end, the Coalition hired foreign troops and mercenaries. After months of stalemate, the number of countries participating in the Coalition increased to include Sudan[v] and Senegal[vi], both sending large numbers of troops to Yemen. In addition to hiring Sudanese and Senegalese troops, the Coalition relied and continues to rely on the use of mercenaries to continue hostilities.
3. The Saudi Coalition imposed a comprehensive land, air and sea blockade on Yemen, under the cover of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216, which involve an arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban on five named individuals. The Saudi Coalition stopped ships at will, and over the course of the first 600 days of war delayed their entry for days, weeks or months at a time under the pretext of ongoing weapons searches, granting them entry at times only after a coerced bribe. Ships were also whimsically denied entry entirely.
4. In May 2016, former Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the U.N. Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM). The UNVIM is designed to facilitate the unimpeded flow of commercial goods and services to 3 Yemeni ports - Saleef, Mokha, Hodeidah and associated oil terminals - while ensuring compliance with the arms embargo imposed by the U.N. Security Council. In effect, the UNVIM addresses the Coalition’s blockade by establishing a U.N. mechanism for searching and inspecting incoming ships for weapons, making the process more efficient and thereby helping to alleviate the mass suffering caused by the blockade.
5. In his update to the U.N. Security Council on 31 October 2016, the Undersecretary General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’brien stated that offloading cargo can take up to 30 days because of 1) inefficient port management, 2) financial disputes among shippers and above all 3) slow offloading due to limited capacity at Hodeida port which was severely damaged by airstrikes in August 2015. As a consequence, fuel imports have averaged a fifth of the pre-airstrikes levels since February 2016.[vii] In his most recent update to the U.N. Security Council on 26 January 2017, O’brien stated that “delays in receiving clearances are also due to restrictions imposed by the Saudi-led Coalition such as the hampering of vessels’ access to Yemeni Red Sea ports and the absence of clear lists of prohibited items.”[viii] Providing an example of the Coalition’s interference with incoming cargo ships, O’brien stated that “a vessel carrying four WFP-procured mobile cranes has arrived in the Red Sea, but has been ordered by Saudi authorities to leave Yemeni waters and is now anchored 15 miles off Yemen’s coast. The vessel is awaiting the Coalition’s approval to berth at the port. These cranes will boost the port’s capacity in handling humanitarian cargo. Two of the cranes will be used exclusively by the U.N. (WFP) and help expedite the timely delivery of vital humanitarian aid supplies.”[ix] Unfortunately, even with U.N. involvement and mechanisms in place, the Coalition continues to have the final word on cargo attempting to enter Hodeida port, which is the lifeline of the population handling more than eighty percent (80%) of imports into Yemen before the war began.
Statement of Facts and Allegations
6. The following is a chart[x] showing an approximate 50% decrease in food, medical and fuel imports in 2015 as an effect of unlawful attacks on port infrastructure and associated terminals and a comprehensive land, air and sea blockade.
7. Oxfam reports that “a halt on wheat imports can further plunge the Yemeni population to a worryingly catastrophic hunger that will inevitably lead to a widespread starvation. Punishing naval and air blockade and the destruction of port facilities continue to hamper the flow of vital supplies such as food, fuel and medicine.” [xi] Yemen imported 90% of its food requirement prior to the Saudi Coalition war on Yemen. According to Oxfam, in October 2016, the imported food covered only 40% of the demands and if the plunging trends of food imports continue unabated, in four months food imports will come to a complete halt.
8. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) states that over 14 million people lack sufficient access to health care and are food insecure, seven million of whom are severely food insecure and do not know where there next meal will come from. This number represents a thirty-three percent (33%) increase from pre-war levels in late 2014.[xii] OCHA expects that food insecurity will further deteriorate in 2017 “due to conflict-induced scarcity of basic commodities, the liquidity crisis, disruption of imports, the high price of essential commodities and dwindling livelihoods and income opportunities.”[xiii] According to O’brien, as it stands, “the situation for children is especially grave. 2.2 million babies, boys and girls are acutely malnourished and almost half a million children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. This represents a sixty-three percent (63%) increase since late 2015. Children are going to bed hungry every night.”[xiv]
9. According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, the crisis brought on by the conflict “has led to uncertainty about future food imports. In a worst-case scenario where food imports drop substantially for a sustained period of time or where conflict persistently prevents the flow of food to local markets, Famine (IPC Phase 5) is possible in 2017.”[xv]
10. According to UNICEF’s Representative in Yemen, Julien Harneis, nearly 10,000 children under the age of five died from preventable diseases due to the collapse of the country’s health system[xvi], stating that these children would not have died if it were not for the war. Harneis also stated that 10 million children, or 80 percent of all of Yemen’s children, are in need of urgent humanitarian aid. About 460,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
11. Most recently on 18 December 2016, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, addressed the Yemeni press stating that “at least one child dies every 10 minutes from preventable diseases in Yemen.”[xvii] In other terms, 144 children die every day in Yemen from preventable diseases.
12. Allowing for commercial and humanitarian aid imports to resume and facilitating the unfettered distribution of necessary food, medical and fuel supplies to all locations in Yemen are essential to stemming further rapid increases in humanitarian needs of the Yemeni people. Since the outset of the war, the Coalition’s blockade on imports – as well as damage to port infrastructure due to airstrikes –added to the humanitarian burden by preventing commercial and humanitarian goods from entering. For example, when their own medical supplies ran out, like bandages and ointments to treat burned victims, hospitals were not able to procure them from the market as before they were once plentiful but now unavailable due to the blockade. Compounding this humanitarian burden is the closure of Sana’a airport to commercial flights since 9 August 2016 which, according to O’brien has had a “disproportionate impact on Yemen’s civilians and further increases the humanitarian caseload. The lack of in-country specialist medical care means that more than 20,000 Yemenis are unable to seek treatment abroad.”[xviii]
13. Similarly, life-saving medicines cannot be flown in. Students are unable to resume their studies abroad. And Yemenis outside the country [who] are seeking to go home are unable to do so. In addition, the suspension of commercial flights has also meant that journalists can no longer travel to Sana’a and report on Yemen’s grave humanitarian situation.
14. In the immediate term, mobile cranes must be provided to the Yemeni ports in order to help speed up offloading of cargo and the actors that block humanitarian and commercial cargo from entering Hodeida Port must be brought to account. An independent international investigation is in order in Yemen to investigate violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law.
15. The blockade on food, medical and fuel imports violates Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which recognizes the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
16. The comprehensive land, air and sea blockade amounts to a collective reprisal, which is in violation of Article 33 of the Geneva Convention IV. Article 33 states that when it comes to the protection of civilians in times of war, “no protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation…are prohibited.” In the past 22 months, the Saudi Coalition’s imposition of a comprehensive land, air and sea blockade on Yemen contravenes the principles of proportionality, distinction and military necessity.
17. It is our understanding that the Special Rapporteurs will consider as unilateral coercive measures any measures other than those taken by the Security Council under Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations, which include but are not limited to “complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.” To qualify the interpretation of Article 41, it is also our understanding that Member States have to comply with U.N. Security Council decisions without adding to or retrenching from their content, pursuant to articles 25, 48(2) and 103 of the Charter. While U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216 may have been intended as a “smart” coercive measure designed to place an arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban on 5 specifically named individuals, the actual use transformed U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216 into a “comprehensive” coercive measure that violates the human rights of millions of Yemenis.
18. U.N. Security Council Resolutions 2140 and 2216 involve an arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban on 5 named individuals. They are not U.N. Security Council resolutions sanctioning war on Yemen, nor do they make permissible the imposition of a comprehensive land, air, and sea blockade that blocks regular trade, both import and export, in commercial goods, including food, medical, fuel supplies, and humanitarian aid. Despite the limitations of these resolutions, the Saudi Coalition unilaterally launched a war by land, air and sea citing the resolutions to justify a blockade on millions of Yemenis that has exponentially exacerbated the already dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.
[i] All statements of allegations are based on field work and discussions with local and international NGOs, the various UN organs, the Yemeni Ministry of Public Health and Population, the Yemeni Supreme Board for Drugs and Medical Appliances, the Yemen Red Sea Ports Corporation and the Executive Director of ARWA. Media reports are only cited to show that the statements made herein have been reported by media outlets from various countries across the world.
[ii] Mohammed Aboud, Egypt allegedly sends ground forces into Yemen quagmire, The Middle East Eye, 9 August 2015. http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/egyptians-allegedly-sends-ground-forces-yemen-quagmire-132459953#sthash.qu9yz0EN.dpuf
[iii] Mohammad Mukashaf, Pakistan declines Saudi call for armed support in Yemen fight, Reuters, 10 April 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-idUSKBN0N10LO20150410
[iv] Blog, Turkish and Saudi leaders discuss Yemen conflict, The Middle East Eye, 27 March 2015. http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/live-blog-saudi-and-arab-allies-bomb-houthi-positions-yemen-1521000548
[vi] Ishaan Tharoor, Why Senegal is sending troops to help Saudi Arabia in Yemen, The Washington Post, 5 May 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/05/05/why-senegal-is-sending-troops-to-help-saudi-arabia-in-yemen/
[vii] Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien Statement to the Security Council on Yemen, 31 October 2016, http://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/under-secretary-general-humanitarian-affairs-and-emergency-relief-coordinator-10 [accessed 26 December 2016]
[viii] Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien Statement to the Security Council on Yemen, New York, 26 January 2017, http://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/under-secretary-general-humanitarian-affairs-and-emergency-relief-coordinator-11 [accessed 30 January 2017]
[x] A table showing the development of commodity imports for the years 2010-2015 as compared to 2009. Central Statistical Organization of Yemen. 2016 values are a conservative estimate based on discussions with and reports of the relevant authorities.
[xi] Oxfam Yemen Situation Report #33, 15 December 2016 ‐ Bi‐weekly, 15 December 2016, http://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/oxfam-yemen-situation-report-33-15-december-2016-bi-weekly [accessed 31 December 2016]
[xii] 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview, http://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/yemen-2017-humanitarian-needs-overview, [accessed 30 January 2017]
[xiii] Yemen: Humanitarian Dashboard (January - December 2016), OCHA, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/humanitarian_dashboard_jan_to_dec_-_25122017_v2.pdf [accessed 30 January 2017]
[xiv] Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien Statement to the Security Council on Yemen, New York, 26 January 2017, http://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/under-secretary-general-humanitarian-affairs-and-emergency-relief-coordinator-11 [accessed 30 January 2017]
[xv] Food Assistance Outlook Brief, Famine Early Warning Systems Network, January 2017, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Final%20Jan%202017%20FAOB_0.pdf [accessed 30 January 2017]
[xvi] The Impact of Violence and Conflict on Yemen and its Children. 29 March 2016, https://www.unicef.org/media/files/Yemen_FINAL.PDF
[xviii] See Endnote 1