The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia went to war against the Iran-aligned Houthi militia in Yemen in 2015, The UAE ceased its fight against the Houthi rebels in the north of Yemen in the summer of 2019 and concentrated only on supporting the separatists in the south. In doing so, Abu Dhabi essentially abandoned Saudi Arabia, whose greatest fear remains a Houthi state on its southern border. In Yemen, their partnership turned into competition when UAE carried out air attacks against government forces in south Yemen to support their southern separatist allies. The divergence in Yemen policy long predated 2021 partial rift between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi – with the latter having judged some time ago that the military operation in the middle and north was failing and was unwinnable. Whereas they decided they could more effectively shape the situation in the south, without a massive boots-on-the-ground presence.
The Saudi-led coalition of Arab air forces began carrying out airstrikes on rebel forces in Yemen in 2016. In the space of those 12 months, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights estimated, at least 3,200 civilians had been killed and 5,700 wounded, with 60% of the casualties inflicted by air strikes. The UN said on 12 November 2015 that at least 5,878 people had been killed and 27,867 others had been wounded since the escalation in March 2015 of the conflict. UN and other sources estimated that 8,670–13,600 people have been killed in Yemen from March 2015 to December 2017. A study by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) released 27 October 2018 revealed that the death toll in Yemen was probably 56,000 people rather than the 10,000 often reported. The estimated body count had remained stuck at around 10,000, despite years of continued fighting.
Save the Children estimated in late 2018 that 50,000 children may have died in 2017 of extreme hunger or disease, given that up to 30 percent of children with untreated cases of severe acute malnutrition die.
By one mid-2019 estimate, some 90,000 people were believed to have died so far during the Yemen war, including 8,000 civilians.
The death toll in Yemen could reach 233,000 by the year 2020 as part of what the United Nations calls “humanity’s greatest preventable disaster”, a 60-page report said 31 May 2019. Sixty percent of the projected death toll could be children under the age of 5, according to the report, titled “Assessing the impact of war on development in Yemen.” The projected death count includes 102,000 killed in combat and 131,000 who are projected to die due to a lack of food, health services and infrastructure in the war, and represents a significant increase on the latest death toll compiled by the global mapping group the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), which said last week that 70,000 people had died in the war since 2016.
A UN study sheds that if fighting goes on until 2022, "we can expect close to half a million deaths – including more than 300,000 people who will die from hunger, lack of healthcare and related causes", UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and head of OCHA, Mark Lowcock, told the UN Security Concil 17 June 2019.
Six years of war between a US-backed Arab coalition supporting the internationally recognised government and the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels have been catastrophic for Yemen, killing more than 112,000 people, creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, bringing the country to the brink of famine and wrecking infrastructure.
In January 2016 the Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR) reported that 470,000 deaths had been caused by the conflict in Syria, either directly or indirectly. This represents a dramatic increase from the total of 250,000 fatalities attributed to the UN in news reports in recent years. But the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stopped updating the death toll from Syria’s civil war in January 2014.
Yemen Civil War (2011-202?)
A study by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) released 27 October 2018 revealed that the death toll in Yemen is five times higher than previously thought. According to the study, 56,000 people rather than the 10,000 often reported have been killed in the war led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with the support of the United States, France, and the United Kingdom.
“We estimate the number killed to be 56,000 civilians and combatants between January 2016 and October 2018,” Andrea Carboni, who researches Yemen for ACLED, told The Independent. ACLED has been able to tally the number of casualties by drawing mostly on the Yemeni press after carefully assessing the source’s credibility. Where figures differ, the group relied on lower estimates. The figure of 56,000 excludes the victims of the man-made famine caused by Saudi Arabia’s inhumane blockade of Yemen's ports and persons killed between the start of the Saudi-led intervention in March 2015 and December 2015. The study’s final findings were expected to be published in January or February 2019.
31 October 2019 the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) currently recorded more than 100,000 reported fatalities in Yemen since 2015, including over 12,000 civilians killed in direct attacks. These findings are consistent with recent projections drawing on ACLED data issued by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures, which estimate that approximately 102,000 people will be killed in direct violence by the end of 2019.
By early 2018 Yemen was on the verge of disintegration, with three major factions battling over its fate. In January 2018, the internationally recognised government has been forced from its headquarters by separatists seeking to carve out their own state in the south. This was a major blow to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was already battling Houthi rebels in the north. It also signals divisions in the Saudi-led coalition, whose support is essential to Hadi's war effort. Saudi Arabia backs Hadi, but its ally, the United Arab Emirates, had thrown its weight behind the southern separatists.
By mid-2019, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and as many as 85,000 children may have starved to death. But there were two things going on which may have the potential to change that war. One is the increased ability of the Houthis to hit back. On Thursday, they claimed two major attacks against Saudi-Emirati backed forces. More significantly in the long term, is the UAE's decision to reduce its military presence in Yemen. The move started a few weeks ago and, for the first time in six years, Emirati officials met an Iranian delegation in Tehran. They signed an agreement to strengthen cooperation on maritime border security. But the meeting in itself was a significant step.
By early 2015, Yemen already a failed state, beset by a circular firing squad of factions. Besides a local struggle for power, the Yemen conflict is widely viewed as a proxy war between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. At least 10,000 people had died by mid-2016. Yemen was wracked by internal divisions as the Houthi movement spread beyond its traditional rebellion in the north, separatists continue to press their cause in the south, and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula claims attacks both at home and abroad, including on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris earlier in January 2015.
- Shia rebels loyal to Abdul Malik al-Houthi are also known as the Shabab Al-Mu'minin (Believing Youth). In September 2014, Houthi fighters swept into the capital and they continued to battle for control of other parts of Yemen. The Houthis are a group of combatants associated with the Zaydi Revivalist movement in Yemen, which emerged as a result of deep-seated frustrations among those tribes who felt as though they had become marginalized after an Egyptian-backed revolution against the Zaydi Imam in 1962 brought an end to Hashemite domination. The Houthis operated alongside allies of former president and former adversary, Ali Abdullah Saleh, toppled in 2011.
- President Ali Abdullah Saleh had been in power for 30 years until ousted in 2011. Ali Abdullah Saleh was a Zaidi Shiite, but had the support of key Sunni leaders, and his Vice President was a Sunni Muslim. Saleh retained influence among Zaidi tribes - from which the Houthis belong - in the north and top military commanders. By 2015 Houthis appeared to have major backing from Saleh, their long time adversary. Together they formed the so-called “Popular Committees”, militias that controlled much of northern Yemen. The bulk of the January 2015 fighting against the Hadi governement was led by the Republican Guard, the elite military unit led until 2013 by Ahmed Ali Saleh, the eldest son of the ousted president. Just exactly how and when these former opponents became allies is obscure.
- The Yemeni army avoided clashing with the Houthis or to support them in their advance on al-Qaida strongholds. The army fought a number of campaigns against the Houthi in the 2004-2009 timeframe, and did not give a good account of itself. President Ali Abdullah Saleh had exercised tight control over the army, and its apparent neutrality in the conflict after his 2011 departure may reflect his continued influence. President Hadi released a list of military and political appointments on April 6, 2012 that struck at Saleh’s patronage network.
- President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was elected in 2012. He is supported by the international community and as a Sunni continued to have the backing of the Sunni majority in Yemen. He was widely seen as weak and inefficient. The Presidential Guard was the only military unit still loyal to the internationally recongnized government of President Hadi. President Hadi, Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and his Cabinet tendered their resignations 22 January 2015. Under Yemen's constitution, the speaker of parliament would serve as interim head of state. The current speaker, Yahia al-Rai, is an ally of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. By March 2015 the president of Yemen controlled barely a quarter of Yemen. Hadi fled to Riyadh and sought help there in a bid to return to power. A Saudi-led campaign of bombardment has been devastating Yemen without a UN mandate since 26 March 2015, several days after Hadi was said to have fled the country.
- Islah, the Islamist opposition party, is generally considered moderate, but contains radical members of the Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood factions. Although not party policy, per se, powerful individuals within Islah have made targeting Zaydis a major objective. Fighters from the conservative Islamist forces loyal to military general Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar of the Islah Party are backed by the Saudis.
- The Herak group of Southern separatists are seeking a two-region division between the former North Yemen (Yemen Arab Republic) and South Yemen (Republic of Yemen), as a precursor to full secession. The Houthis found common ground with the separatists, and support a two-region state in which they could dominate the north and consolidate territorial gains secured during 2014.
- Al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is a Sunni extremist group based in Yemen that orchestrated numerous high-profile terrorist attacks. AQAP emerged in January 2009 following an announcement that Yemeni and Saudi terrorists were unifying under a common banner. AQAP took control of Zinjibar and other areas in Abyan, Lahj, and Shabwah governorates in 2011 and held these locations for approximately one year until a government offensive drove them out in June 2012.
In March 2015 in response to a request from Yemeni president Hadi for Arab League / Gulf Cooperation Council military intervention, invoking Article 51 of the UN Charter, Saudi officials announced the formation of a coalition to counter the Houthi rebellion, with membership including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, and Senegal. The Saudi-led coalition conducted air and ground operations throughout the remainder of the year.
Houthi rebels fired numerous rockets and three SCUD missiles across the border from Yemen into Saudi Arabia, killing at least 47 Saudi civilian and military personnel from April to December, according to media reports. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reported that the Saudi-led coalition launched rocket attacks into populated civilian areas near the Saudi-Yemen border in northern Yemeni towns of Sa’ada and the province of Hajja. Human Rights Watch reported that 13 people total were killed, including three children, in seven rocket attacks from April to mid-July in Hajja Province.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that “[t]he cases monitored by the Office indicate that air strikes were the single largest cause of casualties, resulting in approximately one third of the deaths and injuries recorded by the OHCHR.” The OHCHR reported that between July 2015 and June 2016, 1,259 civilians were allegedly killed and 1,360 injured by air strikes led by Saudi Arabia and its coalition forces. In March 2017, the OHCHR reported that at least 4,773 civilians have been killed and another 8,272 injured. It further reported that there had been an “intensification in hostilities” in the first three months of the year, including 106 civilians killed mostly by coalition forces in one month.
In a series of investigations undertaken between 2015 and 2017, a U.N. Panel of Experts concluded that the Saudi coalition had breached its international obligations during the course of hostilities. After an investigation in 2015, it concluded that the Saudi-led coalition had bombed residential neighborhoods and treated “the entire city of Sa’dah and region of Maran as military targets.” The Panel assessed the information to which it had access and concluded the coalition has committed “a grave violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution” and in some specific instances “found such violations to have been conducted in a widespread and systematic manner.”
On May 8, May 2015, Brigadier General Assiri (official spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition) stated publicly that “[w]e have also declared Saada and Marran as military targets loyal to the Houthi militias and as a result the operations will cover the whole area of those two cities.” The targeting of entire cities, as inferred from the statement of Saudi officers, was a seemingly egregious violation of applicable international law related to targeting, suggesting deliberate disregard for binding international obligations. While the Saudi statements could have been taken to imply a general operational priority, the UN Panel assessed the continuing pattern of questionable strikes to warrant the adverse inference.
The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which entered into force in December 2014, provides important rules relevant to the Mission’s findings. The ATT was adopted by the General Assembly to regulate the international trade in conventional arms. Its stated object and purpose explicitly include establishing the highest possible common international standards for regulating or improving the regulation of the international trade in conventional arms for the purpose of reducing human suffering. One of its guiding principles is to respect and ensure respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.
Article 6 prohibits a State Party from authorizing the transfer of conventional arms if it has knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such, or other war crimes as defined by international agreements to which it is a party.
Where transfer is not prohibited under Article 6, Article 7 of the ATT places a due diligence obligation on exporting States Parties to assess, inter alia, the potential that the arms or other items would contribute to undermining peace and security, or could be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law or of international human rights law.
Under general rules of State responsibility and customary rules of international law a State is prohibited from aiding or assisting another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act where three conditions are fulfilled: that the State organ or agency providing aid or assistance is aware of the circumstances making the conduct of the assisted State internationally wrongful; that the aid or assistance be given with a view to facilitating the commission of that act and actually does so; and that the completed act be such that it would have been wrongful had it been committed by the assisting State itself.
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