An Illegitimate Coalition, Restoring an Illegitimate President, With an Illegitimate War, Using Illegitimate Measures
Debunking Saudi-led Coalition Pretexts Used to Justify its Unlawful War on Yemen
Much has been said and written regarding the legitimacy of the Saudi-led Coalition war on Yemen. Proponents of the war justify the military intervention in Yemen as a measure taken to restore the so-called legitimate Transitional President Abdurabbu Mansour Hadi (Hadi) back to the seat of power after being driven out by the Yemeni Army and Popular Committees led by the Ansar Allah - GPC alliance. These proponents rely on an official request submitted to the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council on 24 March 2015 by Khaled Alyemany, the Permanent Representative of Yemen to the United Nations, who transmitted a letter from Hadi informing the President of the Security Council that “he has requested from the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf and the League of Arab States to immediately provide support, by all necessary means and measures, including military intervention, to protect Yemen and its people from the continuing aggression by the Houthis.” These proponents also point to the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216 to lend further support to their claims that the war in Yemen is legitimate.
This paper debunks the above pretexts repeatedly used by proponents and officials of the Saudi-led Coalition in a near monotonous manner to justify their unlawful war on the people of Yemen by showing that, when scrutinized upon closer inspection, these pretexts actually condemn the very measures they seek to justify.
Restoring the Legitimate Government of Transitional President Hadi
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” according to the then Saudi Ambassador to the United States of America, Adel Aljubeir. After about two months of war without achieving its stated official objectives and after failing to convince Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey 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 and Senegal, both sending large numbers of troops to Yemen. In addition to hiring Sudanese and Senegalese troops, the Coalition relied on the use of local and foreign mercenaries to continue hostilities that began with the crime of aggression and that resulted in war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.
To fully comprehend the pretext of restoring what was called “the legitimate government of President Hadi” we must go back in time and set out the manner in which Hadi came to power, his attempt at holding on to it and the events that unfolded in the run up to the war and thereafter. On 11 February 2011, there was a popular uprising by the Yemeni people where millions poured into the streets demanding the resignation of former President Saleh (Saleh) and his administration. At the end of that year, on 24 November 2011, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative was signed, the terms of which resulted in Saleh’s relatively peaceful resignation and replacement by his deputy Hadi as the transitional president in a single candidate election. Two of the four major political factions, namely the Southern Hirak and Ansar Allah, did not sign off on the GCC Initiative because it did not allow for another candidate alongside Hadi to be nominated among other reasons that weaken the GCC Initiative’s legal authority. However, a majority of the Parliament signed off on the initiative and it was adopted allotting Hadi a two year term as transitional president with a mandate to issue a draft constitution and hold general elections. On or about 21 February 2012, a single candidate election involving Hadi was held in Yemen. Thereafter, on 25 February 2012, Hadi was sworn in as transitional president of Yemen, officially removing Saleh from power. During his two year term, Hadi did not manage to issue a draft constitution nor did he succeed in holding general elections. In an odd procedure, on 21 January 2014, one month before his two year term expired, some of the political parties and factions that signed off on the GCC Initiative agreed to extend Hadi’s term for another year. But it was not a decision by the Parliament, the only constitutional body with legal authority over such matters. Instead, the extension of the mandate was approved by some of the political parties and factions participating in the National Dialogue Outcomes, a body with no legal authority over presidential appointments or terms. General elections supporting the extension of his term were never held, as was the case with Hadi’s initial appointment which was imposed on the Yemeni people by a single candidate election supported by foreign governments operating in collusion with some local parties and factions. Herein, lies the first questionable aspect of his legitimacy if we concede, which is not the case herein, that the GCC Initiative itself was in fact a legitimate exercise of the Yemeni people’s will and therefore, the legitimacy of Hadi’s initial appointment as Transitional President.
Eight months later, on 21 September 2014, the Peace and National Partnership Agreement was signed by all parties and factions, including Hadi himself, and was not only welcomed by the then United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon as a way forward for Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue but he also expected the agreement to be implemented without delay as well. Under the Peace and National Partnership Agreement, the Yemenis were negotiating a political solution to the transitional period and at the same time the Yemeni army and the Popular Committees supported by a national mobilization effort pledged to eliminate the presence of Alqaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), what is alleged to be the most dangerous branch of Alqaeda when it comes to global interests, particularly Western interests. AQAP was pushed back to one small desert city port called Mukalla and was about to be eliminated but for the war that was launched by the Saudi-led Coalition. It was during this time period that Saudi Arabia lost the leverage it previously had over the Yemeni government and institutions and thereby Saudi Arabia’s ability to influence, control and marginalize political parties and factions in the manner that it wished. Shortly thereafter, Saudi Arabia and its Coalition prepared for an all out invasion of Yemen and its people that ended up being a fatal miscalculation with serious consequences for all sides involved.
Towards the last month of his questionably extended term Hadi managed to issue a draft constitution but it was unpopular. He also never managed to hold general elections. He resigned on 22 January 2015 and did not withdraw his resignation before expiry of his extended term. Instead Hadi left Sanaa for Aden where he claimed he was still the President despite having resigned and his questionable mandate expiring twice as well. He attempted to move the government to Aden but when requested to stay in Sanaa and complete a handover to a new Transitional President he decided to leave the country after being pursued by the Yemeni army and Popular Committees. He ended up in Saudi Arabia as a runaway fugitive allegedly requesting the Saudi Arabian government and the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council to launch a war on Yemen that would re-install him as President. It was during this time period, that the Ansar Allah - GPC alliance filled the void left by Hadi making them the de facto authorities of Yemen.
So this is a person who was appointed by some political parties in a single candidate election for a two year mandate that expired and an unconstitutional extended mandate that expired as well. He is a person who is in de facto exile, and along with his government officials, cannot return to Yemen for any extended period of time largely because popular support for Hadi is non-existent among Yemenis whether in the North, South, East or West, not to mention he is being tried by the Specialized Penal Court in absentia for the crime of high treason. When Yemenis demonstrated against the war at the end of the first year on 26 March 2016, an estimated one million people showed up while Hadi exhibited his futility from a foreign capital by only being able to muster up a letter made up of about a thousand words to the people who read the New York Times. When Yemenis demonstrated against the war at the end of the second year on 26 March 2017, an estimated 1.5 million showed up, while Hadi was only able to muster up a conference in support of the war with about twenty people in attendance. In short, and there is no way around this fact, Hadi has no popular support and no valid mandate that would lend credence to the claim in support of his legitimacy.
What little legitimacy Hadi possessed was born out of the Peace and National Partnership Agreement that brought forth the government of Prime Minister Khaled Bahah which enjoyed a semblance of consensus. But barely a year of war passed before Hadi dismissed Bahah on 4 April 2016 and replaced him with Ali Mihsin Alahmar, an unpopular person and fugitive himself with shady connections to violent extremist groups. To make matters worse and more illegitimate, and which is a cause of major concern among the people of Yemen, is that Hadi appointed US Treasury Specially Designated Global Terrorists to official government positions. Of particular concern are the appointments of Nayif Alqaysi as a governor and Abd al-Wahhab al-Humayqani as a negotiator in addition to affiliations with Abd al-Majid al-Zindani who is a cleric, and Ghalib Alzaidi who facilitates material support to AQAP from Marib. Moreover, it is reported that the Coalition has lent support to extreme violent groups such as the Abu al-Abbas Brigades in Taiz, which is led by a US Treasury Designated Global Terrorist linked to both AQAP and ISIL-Yemen. The presence of AQAP and other extreme violent groups in Taiz was confirmed by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights who stated in his report to the Human Rights Council in September 2017 that “Al-Qaida is now operational in Taizz city.” As a consequence of its claimed attempt to supposedly restore Hadi’s government in Yemen, the Coalition’s war has served to facilitate the spread of AQAP back to all southern provinces after they had been pushed back to one city by the Yemeni Army and Popular Committees. This reality was reflected in a U.S House of Representatives resolution (H.Res 599) adopted on 13 November 2017. Although the resolution is non-binding, it confirms that the U.S. Congress has not authorized the use of military force against groups in Yemen except those including AQAP and other terrorists such as ISIL-YEMEN but that “according to the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2016, the conflict between the Saudi-led Arab Coalition and the Houthi-Saleh alliance is counterproductive to ongoing efforts by the United States to pursue Al Qaeda and its associated forces” and that according to the intelligence community’s 2017 Worldwide Threat Assessment “AQAP and ISIS’s branch in Yemen have exploited the conflict and the collapse of government authority to gain new recruits and allies and expand their influence.”
The so-called internationally backed “legitimate government of President Hadi” is marked by expiry and de facto exile and is plagued with appointments of terrorist suspects to official government positions facilitating the spread of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the World. It begs the question: Where does legitimacy hide in those facts? Legitimacy derives from the people who, under the Vienna Declaration, have the political right to self-determination so that they can administer their own affairs and determine their own political, economic, social and cultural system without external interference or control whether by the intervention of another state’s military forces or through the use of mercenaries under its control or influence. Legitimacy, therefore, does not derive from a so-called international community aiding, abetting and providing cover to an unlawful aggression by a coalition of states that by their very own military intervention facilitate and utilize the spread of terrorists and mercenaries to achieve certain political and geo-strategic objectives while causing, what the then U.N. Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, claimed to be the largest humanitarian catastrophe in the World. This man-made catastrophe has been brought on by unlawful Saudi Coalition measures that have derailed Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue and a potential political solution as explained by the former U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, who stated unequivocally that “when this campaign started, one thing that was significant but went unnoticed is that the Yemenis were close to a deal that would institute power-sharing with all sides, including the Houthis.”
Responding to an Official Request by Hadi For Military Intervention in Yemen
To justify the Coalition’s war on Yemen, Saudi Coalition officials cite the letter submitted by Hadi to the U.N. Security Council requesting the GCC and the Arab League states to immediately provide support, by all necessary means and measures, including military intervention. Setting aside the question as to whether or not Hadi was the legitimate president on the date that the letter was submitted or beforehand for that matter, or the fact that he publicly refuted his knowledge that Operation Decisive Storm was going to be launched, the letter invokes Article 51 of the U.N. Charter as a basis for his call to GCC and Arab League states to militarily intervene and restore him to power. It is true that Article 51 provides “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.” But what Hadi failed and perhaps still fails to realize, along with his supporters, is that Article 51 only applies to armed attacks between states. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has held that “Article 51 of the Charter thus recognises the existence of an inherent right to self-defence in the case of an armed attack by one state against another state.” According to the then Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, Adel Aljubeir, the stated official reason for the Saudi-led Coalition war on Yemen was to “defend the legitimate government of President Hadi from the takeover attempts by the Houthi militias in Yemen.” Despite claiming that “this decision was thought out very deeply” Aljubeir, along with the states supporting the war, did not lend weight to the fact that the basis of the call for military intervention was not applicable to Hadi’s situation as the military operations were claimed to be launched against what Aljubeir clearly stated were “Houthi militias in Yemen.” Never mind the fact that the so-called legitimate president of Yemen was calling for a foreign military intervention on his own country. By Aljubeir’s very own description and admission, Ansar Allah was not a state actor at the time of the “military intervention” but was only a mere militia or rebel group acting on behalf of itself and not a state.
Still one can reasonably support the claim that Ansar Allah was a de facto authority at the time military operations began. So for argument’s sake if we hold that Ansar Allah was in fact a de facto authority in charge of Yemen’s state affairs, the group never conducted an armed attack against any member of the Saudi-led Coalition that would warrant Article 51 defense measures in response. The first attack that occurred by the Yemeni army and popular committees led by the Ansar Allah - GPC alliance came forty days after the Saudi-led Coalition launched military operations in Yemen and that amounted to a limited response to Saudi-led Coalition airstrikes that caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries among the civilian population in Yemen and a near complete destruction of their critical civilian infrastructure. Some proponents of the war cite the military exercises conducted by Ansar Allah and their possession of heavy weapons including short and long range missiles at the Saudi Yemeni border in the run up to the war as a threat to the security of Saudi Arabia and the region at large that justified the launching of a war on Yemen. This is a weak justification that does not hold up to international law as it currently stands which has a threshold that must be passed for a determination that an armed attack did in fact take place. The ICJ has consistently imposed a gravity element in making a judgment on whether or not an armed attack has occurred that would justify a proportional response in self-defense. In making its determinations about an armed attack, the ICJ requires an action that is relatively large scale, of sufficient gravity and substantial effect committed by either regular armed forces or armed groups acting on behalf of a state.  According to the ICJ, mere frontier incidents do not rise to the level of an armed attack. Therefore, a military exercise at a border or the possession of an arsenal of ballistic missiles for that matter would not be deemed as an armed attack triggering the right to self defense, let alone disproportionate self-defense measures involving daily aerial strikes lasting 1000 days with no end in sight and a blockade that is calculated to bring about an entire nation’s physical destruction. If a military exercise or the mere possession of ballistic missiles triggered the right of self defense, then almost all states in the international community would have a legal justification that would be upheld in an international court of law if a state decided to strike a neighboring state or a more distant one that had ballistic missiles capable of reaching it.
Implementing U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216
On 26 February 2014, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2140, which underlined the need to implement the political transition in Yemen and designated three individuals that would be subject to an asset freeze and travel ban measures. On 14 April 2015, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2216, which established an arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban on five named individuals. The latter resolution aimed to, among other objectives, assist and commend the political transition in Yemen; express grave alarm at the significant and rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Yemen; and express grave concern at the threat to peace and security in Yemen and the region.
But it was on 26 March 2015, before U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216 was adopted, that the Saudi-led Coalition launched a surprise war of aggression on Yemen by conducting daily airstrikes and imposing an aerial and naval blockade. The Coalition’s unilateral action occurred without a U.N. mandate and preceded the adoption of Resolution 2216 by three weeks. Despite this, the Coalition cites the resolution as a justification for unilateral military action that it claims is to enforce an arms embargo but that, in effect, involves ongoing egregious human rights violations and crimes committed against the Yemeni people. In practice, the airstrikes, aerial and naval blockade are “comprehensive” unilateral coercive measures imposed on 28 million Yemenis that kill and maim civilians, destroy civilian infrastructure, and block, restrict and disrupt both the import and export of commercial goods including food, medical and fuel supplies in addition to humanitarian aid. Consequently, the human rights and humanitarian situation in Yemen has deteriorated significantly making Yemen the largest humanitarian crisis in the World. These violations and crimes continue to be committed with impunity to this very day given that appropriate measures have not been adopted by the international community.
U.N. Security Council Resolutions 2140 and 2216 do not sanction war on Yemen, nor do they make permissible airstrikes on civilians or civilian infrastructure or 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. According to the Legal Center for Rights and Development, in the first 1000 days of the war, a total of over 13000 civilian deaths caused by Coalition airstrikes were documented. Of those civilian deaths, about 40% were women and children. The total number of civilians wounded due to the indiscriminate airstrikes exceeds 40,000 according to the Undersecretary General for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, Stephen Obrien. Taken together, airstrikes have resulted in over 50,000 civilian casualties. 15 airports and 14 seaports were targeted with airstrikes, in addition to 552 markets, 289 factories, 1,784 agricultural fields, 221 poultry/livestock farms, 676 food warehouses and 528 trucks carrying food among other civilian objects including 1733 roads and bridges alongside 294 health facilities including five maternity centers, and 775 schools. 368 water tanks and networks, 162 power stations (affecting refrigeration and water pumping facilities) were also targeted helping to spread cholera that is currently threatening the lives of 1 million Yemenis, mainly women and children.
The blockade on food, medical and fuel supplies coupled with the airstrikes on health facilities and cadre, power plants, water and food networks has caused mass suffering among the civilian population, particularly the most vulnerable: the injured, children and the elderly. According to Yemen’s Ministry of Public Health and Population, 10,000 civilians died because they could not get medical treatment abroad due to the Coalition’s ban on flights to and from Sanaa International Airport. Children, pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions are at greater risk of death as they face the “triple threat” of conflict, famine and cholera. 17 million civilians are food insecure. About 2.9 million require acute malnutrition treatment, including 1.8 million children and 1.1 million pregnant, lactating women. A child is dying every ten minutes amounting to over 63,000 children deaths in 2016 alone due to preventable causes according to UNICEF. And according to Save the Children another 50,000 children death are estimated in 2017. According to the Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “the blocking of essential medicine and vaccines and the lack of fuel arriving in Al Hudaydah port will impact millions of people that are already suffering from a lack of health services and multiple preventable diseases. All health facilities are reliant on fuel for delivering essential life-saving services and Diphtheria is spreading fast with 120 clinically diagnosed cases and 14 deaths in the last week. At least one million children are at risk of contracting the disease.” OCHA goes on to state in its report that “[t]he inability to re-supply life-saving maternal medicines and supplies will threaten the lives of 400,000 pregnant women and their newborns, including 53,000 pregnant women who are likely to develop complications during childbirth.
In addition to the mass suffering caused by these measures, Yemen's economy is devastated with a significant drop in Gross Domestic Product and in the level of employment in governorates where daily bombardment continues according to the Damage and Needs Assessment of the International Labor Organization. Long term effects are expected because of the damage to education, health, agriculture and services sectors, which, in turn, exacerbates the development challenges Yemen will have to face in the future for years to come. Compounding the dire economic situation, the Central Bank of Yemen’s (CBY) move to Aden under the control of the Coalition backed Hadi government resulted in the non-payment of monthly salaries to about 1.5 million public sector employees since September 2016. Despite Hadi government assurances to the international community that it would undertake all obligations of the CBY, it has not done so for over fifteen months further calling into question his claimed legitimacy. Given that each public sector employee has an average of five dependents, the lack of payment of their monthly salaries for 15 months directly impoverishes about 7.5 million people and has negatively impacted economic activity further impoverishing merchants, their employees and families.
In effect, the abovementioned unilateral coercive measures imposed on Yemen are actions contrary to the intentions of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2140 and 2216 as the war has been the 1) greatest impediment to a peaceful political transition in Yemen 2) main cause of the exacerbation of the humanitarian situation, and 3) main threat to international peace and security of states in the region and the World at large. According to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures, Idriss Jazairy, the blockade “involves a variety of regulatory, mostly arbitrary, restrictions enforced by the coalition forces – including an unreasonable delay and/or denial of entry to vessels in Yemeni ports” that “amounts to an unlawful unilateral coercive measure (UCM) under international law” and that “involves grave breaches of the most basic norms of human rights law, as well as of the law of armed conflict, which cannot be left unanswered.” Jazairy’s stance has been endorsed by the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas and the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver who stated that “the deliberate starvation of civilians in both international and internal armed conflict may constitute a war crime, and could also constitute a crime against humanity in the event of deliberate denial of food and also the deprivation of food sources or supplies.” As reported by the U.N. Panel of Experts in January 2018, the Saudi-led Coalition measures have the “effect of using starvation as an instrument of war.”
The comprehensiveness of the unlawful unilateral coercive measures imposed by the Saudi-led Coalition on the people of Yemen amounts to a collective reprisal that violates Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which applies in armed conflicts of an international character. 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 or of terrorism are prohibited.” Taken together, the Saudi-led Coalition airstrikes and blockade on 28 million Yemenis are an unlawful collective reprisal on an entire population and constitute unlawful unilateral coercive measures deliberately inflicted on the Yemeni people to create conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction or subjugation making the conduct rise to the level of genocide in addition to horrifying war crimes and crimes against humanity. Given the facts and analysis presented in this paper, a reasonable person would be hard pressed not to conclude that an illegitimate coalition of absolute monarchies and dictatorships led by Saudi Arabia has sought to restore an illegitimate transitional President with an illegitimate war using illegitimate measures.
 Ansar Allah is the official name of what the media and Saudi-led Coalition states refer to as Houthis.
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