Yemen: Warfare by Starvation

The war in Yemen is causing the worst present humanitarian crisis on the planet.

The war related famine in Yemen is “much bigger than anything any professional in this field has seen during their working lives.” Indeed, 14 million people could perish if they don’t receive aid soon. That is half the population of Yemen. To paraphrase foreign policy analyst Michael Horton, since the Saudis couldn’t defeat the Houthis militarily, they used starvation as a weapon.

 

The United States of America no longer has the moral authority to lecture anyone in the world about being a state sponsor of terror. We have overtly supplied money, arms, planes, and technical support to the government of Saudi Arabia which they used to wage war in Yemen causing the worst present humanitarian crisis on the planet.

These weapons have been used to bomb markets, school busses, a funeral-hall, and other civilian targets. Fragments from a bomb dropped on a school bus last August indicate that it was made in the United States by the defense contractor Lockheed Martin. The attack killed 44 children.  Nearly one third of all bombings in Yemen have been against civilian targets. Another 33% of the air strikes had no known military target. This means that about two-thirds of all air strikes have been against civilians.

The UN humanitarian chief said in October that the war related famine in Yemen is “much bigger than anything any professional in this field has seen during their working lives.” Indeed, 14 million people could perish if they don’t receive aid soon. That is half the population of Yemen. To paraphrase foreign policy analyst Michael Horton, since the Saudis couldn’t defeat the Houthis militarily, they used starvation as a weapon.

One positive step, however, is a U.N. brokered cease fire around the Red Sea port of Hodeidah which went into effect on December 17. Hopefully, this will allow aid workers to bring in desperately needed food, water, and medicine. It is estimated that 85,000 children have died from malnutrition due to the war related famine. More than 60,000 people have been killed in the fighting. There were 1.2 million cases of cholera reported in 2017. Another 154,000 cases are expected by the end of 2018.

Another hopeful sign is the U.S. Senate passed a resolution on Thursday, December 13th which directed the President to “remove troops from hostilities in or affecting Yemen within 30 days.” For the resolution to be binding, however, it has to work its way through the House of Representatives, and then be signed by the president. The Senate was inspired to pass this resolution only after receiving testimony that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, was responsible for the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi after luring him into the Saudi embassy in Turkey.

Of course, our government has known about these war atrocities committed by the Saudi led coalition for years now. Even worse, we have participated with, and armed, the members of the coalition which includes the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and others. In addition to the United States, France and Great Britain are also partners in this coalition.

What makes this unconscionable, and potentially criminal, is that the Saudi’s and their coalition partners have weaponized starvation as a tactic of war. Alex de Wal, a leading expert in famine, has argued that Mohammed bin Salman should be prosecuted for starvation crimes. After looking at all of the actions the Saudi coalition Wal concludes that:

There is a manmade famine in Yemen, even if it has not been officially acknowledged. The man who made it is Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, and there is strong prima facie evidence that he should be charged with causing starvation in an international court.

Wal continues:

Taken together, over more than three years, these actions amount to the use of starvation as a method of warfare, which is prohibited by the Geneva conventions, the Rome statute of the international criminal court, and UN security council resolution 2417…

If Wal is correct, and Mohammed bin Salman is guilty of war crimes, then the United States and the other coalition partners should be prosecuted as accomplices.

The rest of us ought to indict ourselves for our negligent ignorance, and immoral silence. Believers should recognize the dire need that exists and work and pray for immediate relief for Yemenis.

Rev. Jim Fitzgerald is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is a staff member of Equipping Pastors International

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