The world justly condemned Russia for its immoral and indeed illegal war in Ukraine but wrongly sent another endorsement to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for their equally immoral and illegal war in Yemen. The results of the Feb. 28, 2022 UN Security Council vote to extend the arms embargo against the Houthis and redesignate them a terrorist group will only serve to further complicated the peace process in Yemen.
These votes highlight the international community’s double standard. It has condemned the despicable actions of an authoritarian madman in Europe while endorsing the violent behavior of an oppressive monarchy in the Middle East. And Washington is a chief offender.
Why has the world decided that Ukrainian lives are worth standing up for but feel differently about Yemeni lives? Would Yemen matter more if it were more prosperous? Would the UN condemn all parties involved if their country were in Europe? Various op-eds have pointed out the racial component of these different responses. The international community’s — and the US’ — focus on Ukraine is admirable, but its neglect of Yemen is deplorable.
ACCOUNTABILITY SHOULD NOT BE SELECTIVE
Since the beginning of the war in Yemen, the US has offered weapons and assistance to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Due to poor end-use monitoring and a lack of oversight over small weapons arms sales, the Sunni coalition has used US weapons against civilian targets, including a school bus full of children, and allowed them to fall into the hands of terrorist groups like al Qaida.
Human Rights Watch reports the misdoings of both sides, saying:
“the coalition has conducted … airstrikes killing thousands of civilians … in violation of the laws of war, using munitions sold by the United States … Houthi forces have used … landmines, recruited children, and fired artillery indiscriminately …, killing and wounding civilians, and launched indiscriminate ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia.”
The Houthis are no heroes in Yemen to be sure, but that fact does not excuse the coalition’s behavior. Both sides have committed war crimes and should be held accountable for their actions. Condemning the actions of the Houthis while funding the coalition’s transgressions only encourages both sides to keep fighting.
The US should condemn the UAE and its partners for waging war and creating a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, in the same way that the US has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The US voted in favor of Abu Dhabi’s resolution to extend the weapons embargo against the Houthis and redesignate them a terrorist group, a move the Biden administration reversed at the national level over fears it will further deteriorate the situation in Yemen. The UAE, meanwhile, abstained from Washington’s UN Security Council resolution to condemn Russia for invading Ukraine just three days earlier. The Emiratis are all too happy to accept US weapons and support while undermining American interests in the Gulf and at the UN punishment-free.
Washington backed the UAE’s resolution despite fears that it could delay peace and scare off private importers who provide most of Yemen’s food. Ireland, Mexico, Brazil, and Norway abstained over potential consequences. To make matters worse, reports quickly emerged that the UAE and Russia traded votes, which Emirati and Russian officials denied.
HOW THE US CAN HELP YEMENIS
There are three ways the US can help the Yeminis. First, America needs to propose a resolution updating the terms of UNSCR 2216. Alienating the Houthis under the current terms will only drive them to undertake more ambitious actions in the region, like their recent attacks on the UAE. The coalition, meanwhile, can use the terms of the resolution to justify continuing the conflict and their blockade that has left millions of Yeminis on the brink of starvation.
Second, Washington must stop selling weapons to the UAE and its coalition partners. Not only does continuing to sell weapons to the coalition place some of the blame for the atrocities on US policymakers, but it also provides the coalition with weapons and support needed to keep fighting. Without US weapons, the coalition will be forced to stop fighting this war that they cannot win.
Finally, the US should condemn the UAE and its partners for waging war against its much poorer neighbor and the resulting humanitarian crisis, and in the same way that the US has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine may not be as poor as Yemen, but it is still a smaller country being invaded by its much-larger neighbor, a scenario familiar to those who have been following the war in Yemen since it began in 2014, almost eight years ago. American officials claim they based their vote solely on the Houthis’ behavior, yet they ignore that of the resolution’s sponsor. Because of its role, the US should lead a UN effort to condemn the coalition and use its leverage to bring them to the negotiating table.
ALL WARS NEED TO BE RESOLVED
Yemen can’t wait. But ending the violence and establishing a peace agreement will require a US-led effort to stop underwriting the coalition’s war efforts and promising to hold both sides accountable for the atrocities they have committed. Unfortunately, efforts in Congress to that effect have failed. After former President Donald Trump vetoed a bill to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in 2019, the Senate then voted not to stop a deal to the Saudis in 2020 and to the Emiratis in 2021, just to name a few.
The most important goal for the UN should be to peacefully resolve the wars in Ukraine and Yemen. The international community has made positive steps in that direction with regards to Ukraine. Yet it continues to stymie bringing peace to Yemen after seven years.
There is a double standard when it comes to war and human rights. The world should condemn those who perpetrate illegal wars everywhere. Instead, it has turned its back on Yemen, again.
Jonathan Ellis Allen is a foreign policy researcher and freelance writer with a master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University.