Yemen, International Accountability and Jamal Khashoggi
Article by Karin Bashir
When Hatice Cengiz said goodbye to her fiancé Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd, she never expected it to be a final goodbye. Throughout his life as a journalist, Khashoggi had a desire for progress in Saudi Arabia as a long-time vocal critic of the kingdom. His death was full of irony. In attempts to permanently silence him, Prince Mohammad amplified his voice: Khashoggi’s name rings now as a battle cry for freedom of expression around the globe. A cry that may potentially end the three-year-long civil war in Yemen.
Yemen’s Civil War
According to the United Nations, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis isn’t in Syria, it is in Yemen. The Yemen Civil War has lasted for three years. It began in 2012 after President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to hand over power to his then vice president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. In his new position, President Hadi could not maintain stability, as political chaos, massive unemployment, suicide bombings, and a growing separatist movement engulfed the south.
Then in 2014, the Houthis and those loyal to deposed President Saleh took over the capital of Sanaa, forcing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in 2015 to flee to Saudi Arabia. This event marked the beginning of the terror in Yemen. The Saudi’s saw the Houthi take over as a direct and imminent threat to Saudi Arabia because of the potential relationship between the Houthis and Iran. In 2015, Saudi responded to the threat by forming a coalition with Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan and Senegal and began a military campaign in Yemen in order to restore Hadi to power.
The chaos that erupted from the civil war was ripe for outsiders hoping to gain territory in Yemen. ISIL and Al-Qaeda, alongside other militant groups, took advantage of the chaos and have claimed responsibility for numerous suicide bombings. The U.S. used the opportunity to continue its counterterrorism operation in Yemen. Between 2016 and 2017 the U.S. conducted approximately 165 drone attacks in Yemen. The chaos and ever-changing power dynamics of the war even resulted in the once described Houthi Saleh party murdering President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2017.
The Yemeni citizens caught in the conflict are bearing the true cost of the war. Alongside the indiscriminate violence, there is mass famine and outbreak of diseases like Cholera increasing to 10,000 cases per week. Only two-thirds of the Yemeni population has access to water and the civilian toll is estimated to be at 15,000 killed or injured with over twenty-two million in desperate need of assistance.
Perhaps what has garnered the most attention in recent days is the shocking photos of skeletal children on the verge of death. The UN reports that 12 to 13 million people are at the brink of starvation and of them, 1.8 million children in Yemen are malnourished with 400,000 near death due to severe acute malnutrition. Save the Children estimated that 130 children died per day in 2017 alone. Despite the clear and urgent necessity of the Yemeni people, both sides of the conflict unlawfully have impeded the delivery of humanitarian aid.
The coalition airstrikes have hit homes, hospitals, markets, schools, and mosques, wounding and killing dozens of civilians at a time. According to Human Rights Watch, many of these strikes may amount to war crimes.
Furthermore, the Houthi Saleh forces have used landmines and indiscriminately fired artillery into Saudi Arabia and Yemeni cities while the Saudi coalition has used cluster munitions killing and wounding civilians. Furthermore, the number of disappeared and arbitrarily detained civilians continues to grow.
International actors besides the coalition are involved and culpable for the destruction and bloodshed in Yemen. The US provided air-refueling as well as training and advising the Saudi military to assist in targeting. The UK provided training, weapons, and diplomatic support to the Saudi coalition. According to Oxfam, the majority of civilian casualties are the result of Saudi-led attacks. And yet, the US, UK, and France continue to provide the Saudis assistance. It was a U.S. bomb the Saudis used when they chose to take the lives of 40 children riding on a school bus in August.
Despite the clear and brutal consequences of the civil war in Yemen, international actors continued to support the coalition until very recently. In an unexpected turn of events, the UK and the US are now calling for a ceasefire in Yemen, marking a reversal in policy.
The change of heart stemmed from international outrage at the ongoing humanitarian crisis, in tandem with the Saudi government’s premeditated brutal murder of Khashoggi. The murder both symbolized the impunity and repression he fought against, as well as the potential power of one dissident’s voice to end a war.
Little did Khashoggi know that when he entered the Saudi consulate on October 2nd, 2018, he would give his life to save potentially the lives of millions of Yemenis. In a final act of rebellion, Khashoggi may have catalyzed the end of the civil war, and forced the unprecedented withdrawal of US support to Saudi Arabia, a long-time key Middle East ally.