The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis

The war in Yemen shows no sign of abating. This past week a Saudi Arabian airstrike hit a wedding in the country, killing over twenty people, including the bride. This is not a new scenario. Saudi air strikes fired into Yemen have struck markets, schools, and hospitals. The dialogue surrounding these attacks has been depressingly familiar. The UN decries these attacks as war crimes whilst Saudi Arabia claims that the attacks are caused by the Houthis’ use of human shields (i.e. hiding military positions and equipment in civilian zones). The West’s response to the crisis has been weak. Cautious not to upset their regional ally, Saudi Arabia,  statements from Western countries have focused the blame on Iran. They claim that Iran has been ‘exacerbating’ the violence by providing the Houthis with missiles. Tehran has denied involvement. However, a UN inspection in January showed Houthi weapons to have been manufactured in Iran, weakening that denial.

Iran is certainly perceived as being an actor in this war, and the Sunni-Shiite divide is a prevalent theme in the Yemeni crisis: the Shiite Houthis backed by Iran against the Sunni-President Hadi supported by Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, the idea that the Yemen war is an aspect of regional geopolitics has left the West with its hands tied. There is concern that, if Yemen was to lose its Sunni government, Iran would be able to expand upon its ‘Shia crescent’ (to use King Abdullah II of Jordan’s phrase). The idea being that Iranian control of Yemen, together with Iran’s existing Shiite allies in Iraq and Syria, creates a Shia bloc in the Middle East. Thus, the Yemen crisis is being described as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with fears that success for the Houthis means success for Tehran. This has prevented the West from condemning the actions of the Saudi military, and those left to suffer are the Yemeni people.

The war has killed nearly 10,000 Yemenis and has been described as the worst humanitarian crisis today by the UN. Three out of four Yemenis require humanitarian aid of some kind. A land, sea and air blockade on Yemen was introduced by Saudi Arabia in November, leading to enormous shortages of medicine and food. This blockade was reduced to allow aid to come through Hodeidah, Yemen’s largest port. However, the entire country is struggling for its basic needs. The European Council for Foreign Relations says food insecurity is a problem throughout Yemen. In Houthi-controlled territories, starvation is rampant.

As people are struggling for basic needs, both sides of the conflict continue to commit human rights abuses. Amnesty have investigated thirty ground attacks executed in Yemen, by both pro and anti-Houthi forces, and found none that distinguished between civilians and combatants. Pro-Houthi forces have committed a wave of arrests of opponents including human rights defenders, journalists, and academics. Similarly, anti-Houthi forces have persecuted and harassed civilians in both pro-Hadi areas and disputed territories.

Something must be done to curb these atrocities. One small ray of hope is the new Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths. He remarked following a trip to Sana’a ‘there is no doubt a desire for peace’ and that ‘it is difficult to spend time in Yemen without appreciating the great suffering this war has caused’. His plan of action is to bring civilian leaders to the same negotiating table as the warlords and generals to highlight the extent of the crisis. He is also championing the divorcing of humanitarian negotiation and political mediation. Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is currently actually aggravated due to Saudi Arabia running a humanitarian program for the people of Yemen concurrently with its attacks. This has meant that negotiations allowing for more aid workers and supplies have been hindered by Saudi Arabia’s political desire for the country. They have found that they can prevent further aid from being administered until certain of their political demands have been achieved. This politicisation of aid further hurts the Yemeni people. Divorcing the two into separate negotiations, one table to discuss humanitarian packages and another for peace negotiations, will allow for greater access to aid and improve the lives of the Yemenis.

Griffiths faces difficulties due to his nationality as a British citizen. As he tries to mediate between the Houthis and the Saudis, Griffiths will struggle to appear fair and unbiased due to Britain’s famous ties with Saudi Arabia. That being said, there may be a positive outcome to Griffiths being British. Britain is currently under pressure from international bodies and NGOs concerning its continued sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia. But the arms industry is such an enormous part of the British economy, and the Saudis are vital to its continuation. As long as the British government can continue the partnership without tangible negative consequences, weapons will be sold to Saudi Arabia. So far, the British Government has claimed Saudi Arabia’s use of these weapons does not violate Britain’s arms trade policy. Saudi Arabia’s evident collateral attacks on civilians within this conflict show this statement to be mere political maneuvering in order to continue the billion pound industry that is Britain’s sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. However, with a new, British envoy, reports from the UN may hold more weight in Griffiths’ home country, creating greater pressure on the British government to be less ready to give carte blanche to further sales.  Regardless of which, Griffiths is himself Yemen born and has worked in the region and for that reason alone, garners respect from the warring factions. He is the best hope we have.

Yemen: Our Future is at Stake

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on the 5th of March 2018. Panel/ Annual Discussion/ Debate on the rights of the child.

Mr. President, the Next Century Foundation wishes to express its concern about the rights of children in the Republic of Yemen. The situation in Yemen is the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster. Civilians are becoming victims of unrelenting violations of international humanitarian law. Most of Yemen’s children have neither security nor education and are exposed to inhumane challenges on a daily basis. The blockade led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is threatening millions and the international community should step in and stop this horror.

Yemen’s children are malnourished, many actually facing famine.

22.2 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, 60% of the population endures food insecurity, and an outbreak of cholera is putting vulnerable children at great risk.  Saudi Arabia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1996, and yet, their use of food and medical aid as a weapon against an already suffering people and their children should be condemned.

Every child has basic rights, including the right to life. Children have a right to be protected from violence especially from the sight of horrendous war.

The Saudi-led blockade in Yemen not only harms children’s right to live but also affects our right to know what is going on. This because of the difficulties faced by journalists who wish to enter the country. The UN could have made better progress by engaging more with the public and bringing more attention to bear on this issue. We hope that Mr. Martin Griffiths, the recently appointed UN Special Envoy to Yemen, will help bring peace to this arena, and if he fails to do so, will expose those responsible for this ongoing tragedy.

If we ignore the crisis in Yemen, we betray the Middle East. Indeed if we turn aside and fail to help Yemen’s children, we betray humanity. Thank you.

The Islamic Republic of Iran as a Regional Power in 2018 and Beyond

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 4 SR on the 12th of March 2018, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Mr President. The Next Century Foundation wishes to promote peace and security in the Middle East and calls on the regional powers to pursue these aims. The Islamic Republic of Iran is one such power that has the ability to drive regional change. Iran continues its pursuit of regional dominance in competition with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and this has an undoubted influence on the politics of the Middle East. Despite their rivalry and their precarious diplomatic relationship, the Next Century Foundation hopes and believes that the two powers can take progressive and peaceful steps towards reconciliation with one another. If they did so they could then actively work in cohesion to facilitate stability in surrounding nation states, such as the Syrian Arab Republic and the Republic of Yemen where civil war is still ongoing, and the Kingdom of Bahrain where tensions remain acute.

The Syrian Civil War has become an international conflict in which many nations have had some level of involvement. The Republic of Turkey, the United States of America, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Russian Federation are all powers that have a presence in Syria. As a nation in such close proximity to the conflict, Iran has the potential to contribute significantly to the possibility of a peaceful future for Syria by working closely with other members of the international community, particularly their regional neighbours, in promoting security, stability and peace. It can lead in taking the steps towards peace. The Syrian Civil War has been a direct cause for the refugee crisis witnessed in Europe in which so many people have been rendered displaced.

Similarly, the civil war in Yemen persists with the human cost mounting. Thus far, 20 million people are estimated to be displaced and almost three quarters of the population are in need of aid. A conclusion and resolution to the conflict is paramount in Yemen for the sake of the people and regional stability.

In Bahrain too, Iranian involvement, though less belligerent, has an effect. Undoubtedly there would have been fuller participation in the 2014 national elections in Bahrain had Iran not encouraged prominent opposition leaders to back down on full participation. It is to be hoped that Iran will be more constructive when it comes to promoting full engagement by all communities in the forthcoming Bahrain national elections later this year.

Iran’s position on the global stage is incredibly important but their role in promoting a peaceful future for the Middle East is paramount. It is a role they must not shirk.

Change in Saudi Arabia

On a historic night in Saudi Arabia, while a Houthi missile was being intercepted over the capital, Riyadh, an anti-corruption crackdown was being launched. In an unprecedented scenario, on 4 Novermber 2017, eleven Saudi princes, along with a number of former and sitting ministers and high-ranking businessmen, were detained on the orders of the anti-corruption committee, headed by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

For years, Saudis have been complaining about the corruption that has been wearing out the country’s business and developmental infrastructures. In previous anti-corruption attempts, only ministers and some lower-ranking businessmen have been held accountable. This move is unprecedented in sweeping up members of the royal family and prominent ministers and businessmen, putting them under ‘hotel’ arrest, freezing their assets, and preparing them for trial. The shape of the trial is a subject for another discussion, but this is certainly a bold move that shakes-up the entire country (particularly, the hit on the predominant concept in Saudi that certain individuals are untouchable).

Looking back two years from today, Saudi Arabia has been taking considerable steps towards reforming and developing the nation. Ever since the announcement of Vision 2030 in April 2016, a young, dynamic Saudi leadership has caught the world’s attention, and the entire country has been geared up toward the success of this vision. Despite the fact that the path toward reform is long and fraught with difficulties, the Kingdom we know today is different than the one we knew last year; or even, last week.

The plan is to modernise the Kingdom. Many issues that the country has been criticised for, for decades, are being addressed and acted upon, today. Economic diversification and women’s empowerment takes the lead among these issues.

To an extent, the aim of the Vision is to shift the country’s economy away from being oil-dependent and to boost investment in the private sector. The initial public offering for Saudi Aramco – the world’s largest oil company – is vital to the success of that aim, yet other sectors are also as vital. Tourism and entertainment industries retain a large portion of the economic segment of the plan. Magnificent tourist projects have attracted the global business community, such as Al Qidya Entertainment city, the Red Sea Islands, and Neom. Hence the recent anti-corruption movement boosts foreign investors’ confidence in the Saudi market.

Along with other social and cultural developments, many decisions which contribute toward preserving women’s rights in the kingdom have been taken: King Salman has ordered the issuance of women’s driving licenses; male guardian laws have been amended; female participation in sports has been acknowledged; and women are already encouraged to work.

Many are criticising the Crown Prince for making major changes in a rushed manner. It is true that he has set himself and the nation highly ambitious goals. But it is analytically false to say that the Saudi Arabia we know today, led by Mohammed Bin Salman, is reckless. In fact, this weekend’s events, both the immediate reaction to the Houthi missile and the unprecedented action against corruption, were representative of the Saudi cautious character. On one hand, Saudi Arabia did not respond recklessly to the attack on its capital and start shooting everywhere. On the other hand, the anti-corruption move was pre-planned.

It is important to understand the Crown Prince’s Vision strategy from a macro perspective. The plan is to redraw the Kingdom’s future with economic and social reforms, and eventually political reforms. Although many are understandably sceptical about the latter, the ultimate success of the vision depends on both social and political reforms.

Economic, social, and political levels do not operate separately, they simultaneously compliment each other. A sudden change in one of them will create a vacuum and disrupt the structures that comprise the other levels. Although analysing these levels separately is beneficial for short-term planning and constructive criticism, it runs the risk of overlooking long-term goals. We all know this and the Crown Prince certainly knows it too.

For instance, the ban on women driving has always been particularly pushed-for by the religious establishment and the conservative segment of Saudi society. But there has not been any backlash from those two crucial constituencies since the ban has been lifted. This is a point that has puzzled many analysts, inside and outside the country. A large part of the answer relates to the cautious steps that are being taken to maintain a balance between and within the economic, social and political spheres, while taking significant strides towards overall reform.

The strategy of the Vision is that the greater the ambition for economic reform, the lower the obstacles for social and political reform. The Crown Prince stated in his first TV interview that privatization will grant the people the ability to directly “monitor” the economy. That is only possible if done correctly. Nevertheless, realising the need for transparency is a step toward political reform.

Lastly, for starters, there is nothing particularly new about the goals of the Vision. Saudis have always been criticised and have blamed themselves for the oil addiction and poor gender equality. And there have been many attempts to overcome these conundrums. The Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel Al Jubeir, tellingly pointed out that if there is a historical trend that is observed from Saudi Arabia, it is that of a “constant change” and progress.

It is the perennial nature of the Vision’s goals which makes it bold and gives hope to the Saudi youth, who constitute 70 percent of the country’s population. Despite the challenges, the train of reform in Saudi Arabia is running and on track.

The Next Century Foundation at the United Nations – Intervention on Discrimination and Intolerance against Women

The Next Century Foundation took part in the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. During the General Debate on Item 9 “Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance” the NCF delivered an oral intervention on the issue of gender discrimination in the Arab States urging them to take the necessary steps in order to improve women’s conditions, following the recent example of Bahrain.

Yemen’s Humanitarian Crisis

The relentless conflict in Yemen continues to devastate the lives of civilians, following the breakdown of the latest ceasefire between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition.

The fleeting 48-hour truce ended without extension on the 21st November after both sides accused each other of violating the peace, and failed to reach a diplomatic agreement. This marks the latest in a series of failed UN and US-led attempts to end the violence and destruction that has ravaged the country since early 2015.

The war in Yemen has unleashed a humanitarian crisis of critical proportions, resulting in at least 10,000 deaths and displacing around 3 million people from their homes. Recent conservative estimates suggest at least 21.2 million people, or 82% of Yemen’s total population, are in need of humanitarian aid amid worsening food and water shortages.

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According to UNICEF some 1.5 million Yemeni children are suffering acute malnutrition or starvation, and millions of women and children must walk long distances every day to access the little clean water that is available. On top of this, rapidly spreading outbreaks of cholera and measles have put countless more lives in danger.

The humanitarian situation has been compounded by the imposition of an air and naval blockade by Saudi Arabia. This has restricted Yemen’s regular food and fuel imports, and crucially reduced accessibility for the numerous aid agencies attempting to deliver life-saving food, water and medical supplies.

Meanwhile, Saudi-led airstrikes have repeatedly violated international humanitarian law by targeting civilian infrastructure such as hospitals. A recent World Health Organisation survey found that just 45% of Yemen’s health facilities are fully-functional and accessible, while over half have been severely damaged or destroyed as a result of the conflict. Doctors and medical workers have repeatedly been driven out of hospitals due to safety concerns, and there is a desperate shortage of fuel for ambulances. The conflict has crippled Yemen’s health infrastructure and consequently restricted access to basic healthcare for millions of people in need.

As a consequence of these conditions, despite their best efforts, aid agencies and NGOs operating in Yemen – including the International Committee of the Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières, Oxfam and UNICEF – have been significantly hindered in their attempts to alleviate the anguish of Yemeni civilians.

Amidst such terrible suffering, it is vital for both sides of the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians from harm. According to the UNHCR almost 181,000 people have fled war-torn Yemen to seek refuge in neighbouring countries; for those who have no means of escaping the violence, the future looks bleak unless a peaceful diplomatic solution can be reached.

Amy Simon 30/11/16

Saudi Arabia ratchets up involvement in the Yemen Crisis

Destroyed_house_in_the_south_of_Sanaa_12-6-2015-3

Damage caused by Saudi airstrikes to a house in Sana’a

 

Saudi Arabia is gearing up for a massive attack on Yemen. Or so it would seem.

A source close to the Next Century Foundation has informed us that Saudi officials asked for towns on the Saudi-Yemeni border to be evacuated last week, meaning there is possibility for further Saudi intervention in the war-torn country.

Sources in the Saudi armed forces indicate that the Saudi Crown Prince issued a letter to the Saudi High Command (the NCF has seen the letter in question) instructing them to evacuate all villages on the Saudi side of the border with Yemen of their entire population.

Subsequent reports from other NCF sources have indicated that Saudi ground forces are engaged in action, crossing the border into Yemen in the North. There is nothing unusual in this of itself, however this time perhaps we are about to see a more significant action rather than a mere skirmish. It is notable that the Kuwaitis have put a deadline on the peace negotiations between the warring parties (i.e. the Saudis and the Houthis) currently taking place in Kuwait. Presumably this is at the behest of the Saudis who wish to bring peace talks to an end and ramp up their attack on Yemen.

Yemen has been engaged in a civil war since March of 2015. The conflict began between forces loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and a group known as the Houthis, a Zaydi Shia-led movement loyal to former dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Houthis, or Ansar Allah (“supporters of God”), were founded by Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi. They are seen in the West as a pro-Iranian group, and therefore the conflict is perceived as also being between Shiite Iran and Saudi Arabia, which is currently leading an international coalition against the Houthis.

The US and UK are part of the coalition with Saudi Arabia, but with different motives. While the Saudis are concerned mainly with their own influence in the region, the US and UK are concerned with combating Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). This group is considered the most dangerous Al Qaeda affiliate, and AQAP has taken control of entire towns and villages in the south and east of Yemen.

The Saudis have intervened in Yemen through extensive bombing campaigns. Saudi-backed government forces successfully recaptured Aden from the Houthis, who seized the presidential palace and named a Revolutionary Committee to take over the powers of the president after Hadi resigned in January 2015. Because of Saudi involvement, President Hadi was able to return in September 2015.

Saudi involvement in Yemen has gone further than reinstatement of the president, however. News of the Saudi evacuation of border towns comes at the same time as the UK government admits it was wrong in saying that Saudi Arabia has not targeted civilians or committed war crimes. In its campaign against the Houthis, Saudi Arabia has blown up hospitals, schools, and weddings. The UN’s high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has said that these appear to be war crimes. The UK has been a supporter of Saudi Arabia, supplying billions in weapons, but is hesitant to take responsibility; the admission that Saudi Arabia may have in fact committed war crimes came on the final day of parliament before the summer recess.

Today, the most pressing issue in Yemen is the humanitarian crisis. The people of Yemen are starving. Twenty million Yemenis are in desperate need of food, water, and medical care; this is nearly 80% of the population. The Saudi-led naval blockade is exacerbating the issue by preventing goods from being imported. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has received significantly less media attention in the west than the refugee or Syrian crises, as the Saudi blockade is supported by the UK and US.

A solution in Yemen will not be found until Saudi Arabia changes its role in the country. The Saudis are afraid of losing land, and they see Iran as a security threat although it has no real presence in Yemen today. However, the Saudi view of the Houthis as Iranian-backed has become a self-fulfilling prophecy; if the Saudis offered to allow support to go to the population in the Houthi controlled areas they would easily reduce any Iranian influence, but denying them support only pushes the Houthis towards Iran.

The alleged evacuation of the border towns is evidence that the Saudis have not yet accepted a changed role in Yemen, but are continuing with their violent campaign. Retired Saudi colonel, political strategist and commentator Ibrahim al Marie showed that the war is more about Saudi influence than anything else when he stated that while the war is expensive, “If we stop it without getting Sana’a and disarming the Houthis, it will be a historical and military catastrophe.” He continues that “It would be a problem for the confidence between the government and the people, and the decision makers in the kingdom know this very well.”