By Salisa Intan Fauziah
“The clashes are intense. We were sitting very scared in the corner of a room. The kids were terrified and crying. The bullets reached inside our houses. Three of us got injured back there, and the rest of our families is unable to flee.”
Time is running out for the people caught during the ongoing conflict in Yemen. Thousands of people have lost limbs in Yemen since the conflict started in 2015. In fact, reports indicate that an estimated 6,000 people have been left disabled – most as the result of a blast, a mine or sustaining a gunshot.1
In the beginning, Yemen was facing a rebellious movement by a Shiite militant group called the Houthis since 2004. Shiite minority of Yemen’s Zaidi community consist of 35 percent of Yemen’s total population. Generally, The Zaidi community considered as Shiite, but they are distinct from Shia majority. The Houthi movement were found in late 1990s by the Houthi Family to secure the interests of the Zaidi community as a religious group named Ansar Allah.
The Houthis established a parallel rule in northern part of the country and occupied the capital Sana'a. Due to involvement of regional powers including Iran, UAE and Saudi Arabia, the nature of conflict became sectarian and separatist. Following the Arab uprising in 2011, the roots of recent conflict lies in the failure of political transition between former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his opposition. The geopolitical situation and support of Iran for the Houthis made the situation in Yemen more complex. Therefore, the Gulf countries particularly Saudi Arabia was concerned because of the strategic and political situation of its fragile neighbor. Since its against the Houthis insurgency, Saudi Arabia has taken a strong position in support of Yemen government. In 2010, the Houthi militants entered in Saudi land and killed two Saudi border security guards. It provoked Saudi reaction which resulted into retaliation and airstrikes. During 2009-2010, there was a conflict happened among the Saudi border forces and the Houthis resulting thousands of Yemeni displaced persons. After the conflict, Saudi Arabia put a big number of soldiers along the southern border near the Houthi’s controlled areas. Moreover, Saudi Arabia also suspended its aid to the Yemen after the Houthis control.
The situation in Sana’a deteriorated in 2014. In March 2015, the situation in Yemen reached to its new phase of violence which led the country into war. The Houthis took control over the presidential palace with help of military units loyal to the former president Saleh.2
Saudi Arabia’s claim of Iran’s involvement are mostly considered as exaggeration to put pressure on its foes. A strategic ties between the Houthis and Iran have been seen in the context of Yemen conflict particularly. However, the support received from Iran is largely based on training and arms shipments.3 The Houthis have also shown a strong support for the Iranian political stance in the region. The Houthis leaders also expressed their fondness for the Irani supreme leader and also for the Hizballah militia which is backed by Iran. Despite of Iranian arms supply and logistic support, there are not much evidence reported in this regard.
Armed conflicts are increasingly fought in population centers, but often with weapon systems that were originally designed for use in open battlefields. When used in populated areas, explosive weapons that have wide-area effects are very likely to have indiscriminate effects. They are a major cause of harm to civilians.4 According to Additional Protocol I Article 51(3), civilians shall enjoy protection against the dangers arising from military operations “unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities”.5 Moreover, according to Rule 6 Customary IHL, civilians are protected against attack, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.6 As stated in fact, there are a lot of civilians that are affected and there must be some violations that were committed in this war.
In regards to the fact, there were an enormous violations of international humanitarian law particularly in this armed conflict. International humanitarian law is a living body of law. It was developed with militaries for the application on the battlefield to balance military objectives with humanitarian imperatives.7 Regarding this situation, all aspects of daily life have been affected by the war in Yemen. There are more than 2.500 schools have been damaged or destroyed and 2 million children are out of school. According to article 56 of The Hague convention (1899), All seizure of, and destruction, or intentional damage done to such educational institutions should be made the subject of proceedings8. This regulation indirectly stated that the armed conflict which happened in Yemen has already violated the rules of war. Moreover, the fact also stated that there were about 70% of the population does not have access to drinking water, more than 50% of the population does not have access to health care, and more than 80% of the population depends on humanitarian aid.9
They had to walk in the middle of the night for hours crossing areas contaminated by unexploded ordnance, with very limited access to food and water. Some people were seen on top of each other riding pick-up trucks going from one place to another looking for shelter. Newly displaced people have difficulties to find a place to settle down. Several buildings and schools in Al-Dhalea have become shelters for families who fled the fighting since the beginning of the year. These facilities are overcrowded, full of young men, women, and children who have no source of income. Desks in the classrooms are piled up on top of each other, pushed towards the walls to make room for what would become the home of many of the displaced families. Some classrooms host two to three families (15-25 people).10 Knowing that this situation has already occurred, Yemen is now the scene of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Moreover, thousands of people have died from the outbreak of cholera unleashed in Yemen in 2017. More than 80% of Yemen's population lacks food, fuel, drinking water and access to health care services, which makes it particularly vulnerable to diseases that can generally be cured or eradicated elsewhere in the world.11 The health care system has been decimated by years of unrelenting war. Supplies and medical care are scarce as is the access to drinking water and sanitation. Every day, parents across Yemen are forced to make the impossible choice between saving their sick children and feeding their healthy ones. A crisis of this magnitude demands a massive response. In Hodeida, the conflict’s latest epicenter, recent fighting endangered Al Thawra hospital, the city’s largest health facility and one of its few remaining medical centers. Thus, Al Thawra must be protected from attacks. The families’ children are worryingly weakened and thin from a lack of food.
Looking back to 1932, there was a very huge famine that occurred in Ukraine called Holodomor. The origins of Holodomor famine lay in the decision by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to collectivize agriculture in 1929. Teams of Communist Party agitators forced peasants to relinquish their land, personal property, and sometimes housing to collective farms, and they deported so-called kulaks—wealthier peasants—as well as any peasants who resisted collectivization altogether. Collectivization led to a drop in production, the disorganization of the rural economy, and food shortages. It also sparked a series of peasant rebellions, including armed uprisings, in some parts of Ukraine. The crisis reached its peak in the winter of 1932–1933, when organized groups of police and communist apparatchiks ransacked the homes of peasants and took everything edible, from crops to personal food supplies to pets. This action was occurred because of hunger and fear among the people. Between 1931 and 1934 at least 5 million people perished of hunger all across the U.S.S.R. Among them, according to a study conducted by a team of Ukrainian demographers, were at least 3.9 million Ukrainians. Police archives contain multiple descriptions of instances of cannibalism as well as lawlessness, theft, and lynching. Mass graves were dug across the countryside. Hunger also affected the urban population, though many were able to survive thanks to ration cards. Still, in Ukraine’s largest cities, corpses could be seen on the street.12 In spring 1933 the mortality rate in Ukraine became catastrophic. This incident leads to extermination and had become the world’s largest famine crisis at that time. This incident greatly shook the world.
Concerning this current crisis in Yemen, if this war will not stopping soon, the war in Yemen will be inflicting the 21st century Holodomor as the effect of the war. Humanitarians in Yemen right now are under fire because over the last four years, ten Yemen Red Crescent Society volunteers and three ICRC staff members were killed while carrying out their duties. More than 160 health structures have been attacked and partly or entirely destroyed.13 According to article 12 of Additional Protocol I, medical units shall be respected and protected at all times and shall not be the object of attack. It is obviously shown that this regulation has already violated in the situation of Yemen war remembering there were humanitarian personnels that being attacked.
The world should listen up to their screams every day as the signal of their suffer. The world should not let this situation getting worse. The world should not let the Yemen war inflicting the 21st century Holodomor. If our helps takes place it will bring much needed comfort to many families, who lost contact or have been separated from their loved ones due to the conflict. It is a step which lies in the hands, authority and discretion of the parties and which is needed now. The laws of war must be respected. States with an influence on the parties also have a responsibility to bring pressure for better respect of international humanitarian law by the parties. Serious and concerted efforts need to be made to find a political resolution to this conflict. If a political solution isn’t found soon, the consequences of the conflict in Yemen will continue to become worse far beyond the initial tragedy of violence – the 21st century Holodomor. They are dying every day and this has to stop.
ICRC, The scars of war: Yemen’s disabled, 23 May 2016.
M. Transfeld, ‘Capturing sanaa: Why the Houthis were Successful in Yemen, Muftah, 27 September 2014.
Office of the Director for National Intelligence, Testimony Prepared for Hearings on Worldwide Threats, February 2018.
ICRC, Explosive weapons in populated area, 14 June 2016.
Additional Protocol I, Article 51(3), 1977.
Rule 6 Customary IHL, Civilians’ Loss of Protection from Attack.
ICRC, Rules in war – A Thing of the past?, quoting from ICRC President Peter Maurer. 10 May 2019.
The Hague Convention, Article 56, 1899.
ICRC, War in Yemen. 31 May 2019
ICRC, Yemen: Ongoing fighting in Al Dhaela triggers new wave of displacement. 5 November 2019
ICRC, Health crisis in Yemen. 28 May 2019.
National Museum of the Holodomor-Genocide site
ICRC, Speech by Giller Carbonnier: Women, children, men, are dying every day in Yemen. 26 February 2020.