Can Yemen Be Saved?
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 24 Dec 2018
23 Dec 2018 – The people of Yemen have been experiencing devastating civil strife for several years. This ordeal was greatly intensive by a massive and sustained Saudi-led air attacks and other belligerent tactics that have targeted civilians, even hospitals. Several recent events hint at the possibility of restoring peace to the country, thereby averting the worst effects of a threatened mass famine, risks starvation for more than 75% of Yemen’s population of over 22 million. These developments pushing toward some kind of political compromise in Yemen include the dark cloud over Riyadh since the Khashoggi murder, the heightened concern of the UN and world public opinion, and the spillover from possible US disengagement in view of the sudden withdrawal of troops from Syria. We should be fully aware that Washington has been complicit and supportive of this criminally unlawful Saudi war policy, including its flagrant crimes against humanity, throughout the conflict, the struggle for control of Yemen being defined in sectarian and anti-Iranian terms. The shift in domestic mood was recently disclosed when the US Senate has expressed opposition to any continued funding for the Yemen War. Whether this followed up in 2019 by a strong effort to achieve US disengagement from the conflict remains to be seen.
This post consists of modified responses to an interview by Javad Heirania published on December 18, 2018 in the Tehran Times.
Q 1: Stockholm talks in Sweden led to a cease-fire agreement in Al Hudaydah and other agreements. What do you think about these agreements?
The atmosphere relating to Yemen is not conducive to sustaining agreements if past experience is taken into account. There are apparently various rogue militia factions supporting the government side that might be motivated to disrupt the agreement, and there already have been some worrisome incidents along these lines.
At the same time, from a humanitarian perspective, it is crucial to uphold even this partial mitigation of the suffering of the Yemenpeople. The opening of the port cities of Al Hudaydah and Sanaa, both covered by the Stockholm Agreement, handle up to 80% of humanitarian imports of food and medicine. At this point, according to the most reliable international sources, 17.8 million Yemenis out of a population of 22.2 million are on the brink of starvation. The UN has fortunately supported a peacekeeping mission to maintain compliance with the Stockholm Agreement.
Q2: Will this agreement lead to an agreement on the Sana’a airport and brings an end to this horrible war?
It is difficult to predict with any confidence any development with respect to Yemen, but if the Stockholm Agreement holds up, then there is an expectation that the same humanitarian arguments and needed minimal cooperative outlook would lead to the reopening of the Sana Airport in the very near future.
Q3: What made the countries involved in the Yemen war come to the negotiating table?
Again, it is difficult to offer any confident interpretation. We all know that governments in situations of this kind do not reveal in public disclosure the real basis of their behavior. It is likely that on the Saudi side, especially in the aftermath of the Khashoggi murder there appeared to be a serious Saudi concern relating to being blamed for another major humanitarian catastrophe if the Yemeni ports remained closed. For similar reasons, Washington may have exerted pressure to negotiate at this point with the central aim of reducing regional tensions. Such speculation gains credibility when account is taken of the recent U.S. Senate anti-Trump move to oppose further funding and involvement in the Yemen War, which while not binding without endorsement by the House of Representatives, which is unlikely until the Democrats take control in 2019.
Q4: Regarding repeated war crimes of the Saudi coalition in Yemen, will the United Nations and the International Criminal Court review this matter?
The answer here depends on the political context, and whether the war can be brought to a rapid end by diplomacy. If this is done there may be considerable pressure on the various interested parties to refrain from any initiative that would raise tensions, induce mutual recriminations, and worst of all, could lead to a resumption of hostilities. The answer to your question may also be linked indirectly to whether war crimes allegations are brought before the UN and ICC with respect to the Syrian War, especially in relation to the serious criminal policies and practices attributed to the Assad regime over the entire combat period stretching back to 2011.
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, author, co-author or editor of 40 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies, and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is Achieving Human Rights (2009).
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