If US President Donald Trump’s presidency has been defined by many scandals it is likely that his administration’s decision in January 12 to designate Ansar Allah (also known as the Houthis) in Yemen, a terrorist organisation will have repercussions far beyond its mandate.
President Trump’s final words on Yemen are bound to echo far into President Joe Biden’s presidency – regardless of its merit and/or justification. As it is often the case political decisions create ground realities detached from the intent of its makers. As for us we now will have to contend with a situation which, for better or for worse, is now factual.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the rationale of the move was to hold the Houthis accountable for cross-border attacks and beyond that, thwart Iran’s alleged influence in North Yemen. “The designations are intended to hold Ansar Allah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure, and commercial shipping,” Mr Pompeo said.
“The designations are also intended to advance efforts to achieve a peaceful, sovereign, and united Yemen that is both free from Iranian interference and at peace with its neighbours,” he added in comments to the press on January 10.
Three Houthi leaders – Abdul Malik al-Houthi, Abdul Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi and Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim – have now be listed as Specially Designated Global Terrorists, a move, needless to say that infuriated the Houthis.
Sana’a repartée was as quick as it was belligerent. “America is the source of terrorism, the Trump administration’s policy is terrorist, and its actions are terrorist. It does not matter to the Yemeni people, as it is complicit in killing and starving them,” Houthi leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi tweeted on January 11, a day after Mr Pompeo made then-President Trump’s decision public.
Beyond this new political stand-off lies a people in jeopardy, facing death by starvation. Caught in the crossfire of Washington’s ire towards Tehran and its regional allies, North Yemen now faces intense isolation – including its ability to access vital humanitarian aid.
As senior United Nations officials were quick to point out, America’s move will complicate the delivery of essential aid in large parts of the country. With more than two third of North Yemen’s population in need of urgent food assistance, political sanctions will de facto translate into a death sentence for millions of innocent civilians.
In December last year United Nations’ secretary general, António Guterres already warned that “Yemen is now in imminent danger of the worst famine the world has seen for decades. In the absence of immediate action, millions of lives may be lost.”
Yemen today finds itself in a much more precarious situation – a reality which has not escaped British officials.
The Labour party in the UK added its voice to the concerns on Sunday, saying the expected move against the Houthis, whom Iran supports in Yemen, would result in aid being unable to reach much of the country’s north. The shadow minister for international development, Anna McMorrin, said this would deprive millions of people who had no choice but to remain under Houthi control of much-needed assistance.
In a letter to the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, the shadow minister for international development Anna McMorrin, called on the UK not to follow the US’s lead.
“We are concerned that a blanket definition for the Houthis would create a near insurmountable hurdle to the delivery of essential humanitarian relief, with those providing material relief or economic support to agencies and multilateral programmes at risk of legal or financial sanctions … Humanitarian organisations would also be denied practical contact with much of the Houthis’ administrative infrastructure and would be barred from using local civilian contractors to deliver programmes,” she writes.
Aid organizations have said that, in effect, the ruling would make their work impossible to carry out, with supply lines and access already at constant risk of constant disruption. Amanda Cantanzano, senior director for International Programs Policy and Advocacy at the International Rescue Committee, told ABC News in an interview this January that the IRC is “outraged by the decision.”
“We see it as something that will create barriers such that it will be nearly impossible for us to effectively and efficiently deliver aid to those in need. And that would be a crisis anywhere. But in Yemen, it is a catastrophe,” she notes.
As things stand about 80 percent of Yemen’s total population relies on humanitarian aid to survive, and fundraising efforts have barely met half the required donations leading aid groups, including Unicef, have benchmarked. The United States of America’s decision to designate Ansar Allah a terror organisation will only exacerbate an already suffocating reality, without any guarantee it will facilitate a peaceful resolution to Yemen’s deepening political crisis.