The Yemeni people’s right to self-determination has been severely violated with an unlawful war launched by a coalition of monarchies and authoritarian regimes without a United Nations’ mandate, using unlawful unilateral coercive measures in an egregious breach of international law, international human rights law, and international humanitarian law that has caused the World’s worst humanitarian crisis.
1. On 11 February 2011, millions of Yemenis took to the streets protesting the thirty-three year rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s (Saleh) presidency. With approximately 63% of the Yemeni population under the age of 24 years old, the revolution from the outset was heavily influenced by the 1) youth movement alongside 2) various opposition political parties and factions that formed an alliance (opposition alliance) against Saleh.
2. On 14 February 2011, a statement was issued by the main opposition alliance which consisted of six demands: 1) the construction of a non-centralized state for all Yemeni citizens in which justice and equality reign supreme; 2) the implementation of a just resolution to the conflict in the South; 3) the end to the wars in the Saada region; 4) the equitable distribution of resources and public sector jobs and the resolution of Yemen’s economic problems; 5) the end to corruption and the creation of meritocratic national institutions by removing influences of alliances and cronyism; and 6) making the war against terror a national issue by marshaling all possible national resources to not only “combat” terrorist groups such as Alqaeda in the Arabian Peninsula but to, in effect, neutralize and eliminate the threat posed by their activities.
3. On 2 April 2011, the opposition parties who participated in the Joint Meeting caucus announced a shared vision for the period of power transfer which entailed the following terms: 1) the announcement of the resignation of the then President Saleh and the transfer of his powers and privileges to his deputy; 2) upon assuming power, the deputy would work towards restricting the roles of the national security and central security forces, as well as the presidential guard by defining their duties according to the constitution and the law, and finding able leaders who have attained their posts through merit rather than tribal considerations or cronyism; 3) entering an agreement with the interim leader, the former deputy, Abdurabbuh Mansur Hadi (Hadi) over distribution of power during the transition period, based on the foundations of national unity, in which the following would happen: a) the formation of a transitional national council representing all the elements of political and social life that would function to propose solutions for all major issues affecting Yemen, formulate a vision for constitutional reform that would guarantee political and cultural freedoms, and the construction of a modern civil state with a decentralized system; b) the creation of an interim national unity government chaired by the opposition in which all political actors are represented, including businessmen and the youth; c) the formation of an interim military council whose members would be military leadership figures known for their competence and honesty, and who would be respected and appreciated by the rank-and-file military; d) the formation of a Higher Council for Elections and Referendums that would undertake a referendum on constitutional reforms and parliamentary and presidential elections based on the new constitution’s guidelines; e) the public affirmation of peaceful expression, the right to peaceful protest, and other civil rights for all Yemeni citizens and the launching of an investigation into the hostile actions taken against protesters across Yemen, but especially the massacres in Aden, Sanaa, Taiz, and other situations in which live ammunition and tear gas were used; f) bringing to court those responsible for the crimes and compensating the victims and their families.
4. On or about 23 November 2011, Saleh signed off on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Initiative which by its terms installed Hadi as President of Yemen during the transitional period in exchange for Saleh’s and his family’s immunity from prosecution. Pursuant to the GCC Initiative, the parties and factions who signed off on the document agreed that Hadi would be tasked with overseeing and managing the post-revolutionary transition as the transitional president by consensus – consensus that did not have the agreement of influential political factions such as Ansar Allah and the Southern Hirak. Both political factions opted not to sign the GCC Initiative. However, a majority of the political parties with seats in the Parliament signed off on the initiative allotting Hadi a two year term as transitional president with a mandate to issue a draft constitution and hold general elections.
5. 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. The main objectives of the GCC Initiative and Hadi’s mission were to issue 1) a draft constitution and 2) hold general elections within a two year mandate. During his two year term, though, Hadi did not manage to issue a draft constitution nor did he succeed in holding general elections before expiry of his two year term.
6. In another questionable 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. Nor was the decision that of the political parties with a majority of seats in the Parliament. 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 Hadi’s 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 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 basis that lends legitimacy to Hadi’s initial appointment as Transitional President.
7. 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 and Arab interests.
8. Towards the last month of his extended term, Hadi managed to issue a draft constitution but it was unpopular and he never managed to hold general elections. Hadi resigned on 22 January 2015 and did not withdraw his resignation until two days before expiry of his unconstitutionally extended term as claimed. He then left Sanaa for Aden where he claimed he was still the President despite having resigned and his mandate expiring as well. He attempted to move the government to Aden but then fled from the Yemeni army as a fugitive ending up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia allegedly submitting a written letter dated 24 March 2015 to the United Nations stating 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.”
Statement of Facts and Allegations: Violation of Self-Determination
9. On 26 March 2015, a Coalition led by Saudi Arabia consisting of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco (together “the Saudi-led Coalition”) launched a war on the people of Yemen without a U.N. mandate. From the outset, the Saudi-led Coalition was supported politically, diplomatically, and militarily through logistics, intelligence and weapons transfers by the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France and Turkey. 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 and continues to rely on the use of mercenaries to continue hostilities, violate the right of Yemenis to life and to severely impede their right to self-determination.
10. All members of the Saudi-led Coalition are either monarchies or have some form of an authoritarian regime and they are warring against a people who have a republican form of government with an elected executive and legislative branch and who seek a representative government that works to ensures that their political, economic, and security interests are taken into account in a democratic, just and equitable manner. The Coalition’s interference in that process comes in the form of an unlawful war, launched without a United Nations’ mandate, using unlawful unilateral coercive measures in an egregious breach of international law, international human rights law, and international humanitarian law that has caused the World’s worst humanitarian crisis. In effect, the Coalition impeded the Yemeni people’s right of self-determination in a manner that threatens the maintenance of an equitable and democratic regional and international order not to mention international and regional peace and security.
11. Before the Saudi-led Coalition launched its war on Yemen, political negotiations were ongoing in Yemen and would have led to a power-sharing government inclusive of all Yemeni parties and factions but for the Saudi-led war, which interfered with that political dialogue and, in effect, the rights of the Yemeni people to self determination. Based on the National Dialogue Outcomes and the Peace and National Partnership Agreement, the Yemeni people were negotiating the final terms of the future form of government Yemen was to take. This process was interrupted on 26 March 2015 when the Coalition led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia conducted a surprise attack on Yemen, as explained by the former U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, who stated unequivocally that “when this campaign [Coalition military 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.”
12. On 14 April 2015, three weeks after the launch of the Saudi-led Coalition war, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2216 (2015), which together with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2140 (2014), established an arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban on five named individuals. U.N. Resolution 2216 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, the region and the World at large.
13. 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 to launch a war 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 the past three and half years of war, the Coalition conducted daily airstrikes that killed and injured a reported 60,000 civilians and leveled civilian infrastructure, particularly targeting the health, education and food sectors along with their distribution networks. According to the Legal Center for Rights and Development, 15 airports and 14 seaports were targeted with airstrikes, alongside 318 health facilities including 5 maternity centers, 882 schools (another 3750 were shut down compromising the right to education as 1.8 million children stopped attending), 727 water tanks and networks, 185 power stations (affecting refrigeration and water pumping facilities), 620 markets, 316 factories, 2963 agricultural fields, 295 poultry/livestock farms, 746 food warehouses, 608 food trucks, and 2512 roads and bridges, among other civilian objects. The blockade on food has led to a situation where “17.8 million people in Yemen are food insecure. Out of this, approximately 8.4 million people are severely food insecure and at risk of starvation - a worrying increase of 24 percent. The conflict has destroyed people’s livelihoods and reduced their purchasing power, making it difficult for many Yemenis to meet minimal food needs.” 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. 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 deaths are estimated in 2017. The death toll of children due preventable causes that could not be treated because of the airstrikes on health facilities and blockade on food, medicine and fuel over the past three years stands at 247,000 according to the Yemeni Ministry of Human Rights based in Sanaa. In the first two years of the Coalition imposed travel ban on flights to and from Sana’a International Airport, more than 27,000 civilians died because they could not get medical treatment abroad according to Yemen’s Ministry of Public Health and Population and another 200,000 are awaiting the same fate.
14. In practice, the airstrikes, aerial and naval blockade are “comprehensive” unilateral coercive measures imposed on 30 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.
15. 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. The resolution in its plain terms instructs states to take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of arms and to inspect cargo heading to Yemen if there are reasonable grounds to believe the cargo contains items the supply, sale or transfer of which is prohibited by the resolution. It does not sanction the unreasonable withholding of cargo that is not prohibited by the resolution such as commercial imports and exports or humanitarian aid.
16. 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.”
17. After a comprehensive examination of the violations and crimes occurring in Yemen, the Group of Eminent Experts confirmed in their report issued on 28 August 2018 that “The coalition and the Government have had 1) sufficient notice of the harm caused by the restrictions imposed by the blockade and their responsibility for it, and 2) sufficient opportunity to correct the situation. No possible military advantage could justify such sustained and extreme suffering of millions of people. The coalition has failed to cancel or suspend the restrictions, as required under international law.” The Group of Eminent Experts confirms further that “in the three years that the naval restrictions have been in place, no searches by either the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism or coalition forces have discovered weapons.”
18. 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 twenty 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. This number was confirmed by the Group of Eminent Experts who stated in their report that “the problem has been exacerbated by the Government’s non-payment of public sector salaries, affecting one quarter of the population, since August 2016. The effects of the price increases coupled with the erosion of their purchasing power have been disastrous for the population.” Before the CBY move to Aden, all 123,807 pensioners nationwide in Yemen were receiving an entitled pension on a monthly basis equal to a total of approximately YR 5.4 billion. After the CBY move to Aden under the control of the Hadi government, payments stopped to more than 41,000 pensioners, all of whom were located in Northern governorates. Pensioners are entitled to their benefits in cash based on their service for 35 years.
19. 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.
20. 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.” 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.
21. 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 called for by an expired, exiled transitional presidency involving daily aerial strikes for over three and a half years 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 all because that state had in its possession ballistic missiles capable of reaching it.
22. 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 war crimes and crimes against humanity.
23. According to the Vienna Declaration, all peoples 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.
24. The Saudi led Coalition’s decision to resort to military force in Yemen which has grossly violated the Yemeni people’s right to self-determination with an unlawful war launched without a United Nations’ mandate, using unlawful unilateral coercive measures in an egregious breach of international law, international human rights law, and international humanitarian law that has caused the World’s worst humanitarian crisis and works against the maintenance and promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.
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