A child is killed in Yemen every four hours — but partly because 60 percent of those deaths in 2014, alone, were at the hands of the U.S.-supported, Saudi-led coalition, it has now been blacklisted by the United Nations.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon explained the constant bombardment of the country had taken a “devastating toll” on its civilian population — particularly on children who are maimed and killed by the hundreds, if not thousands.
In a statement after the release of the Annual Report on children in armed conflict, Ban noted a six-fold increase in the number of children killed in Yemen since 2014.
“Emerging and escalating crisis had a horrific impact on boys and girls,” the statement also noted. “Grave violations against children increased dramatically as a result of the escalating conflict.”
In support of the current, disputed Yemeni government — and to push back Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and their allies — Saudi Arabia launched its intensive military campaign in early 2015. Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar have since joined that coalition, which the U.S., though ostensibly not directly involved in fighting, supports through intelligence and other means — largely in the form of bombs.
But U.S. support comes with a heavy price — and has come under intense criticism from lawmakers — particularly after news in September the Saudi coalition bombed a Yemeni wedding, killing 135 innocent people. Suspicion the coalition could be committing war crimes and the thousands of civilian deaths could theoretically be backed by its new spot on a U.N. blacklist.
“As I read the conflict in Yemen,” said Sen. Christopher S. Murphy at a Congressional hearing earlier in 2016, “I have a hard time figuring out what the U.S. national security interests are.”
He added that “the result of the coalition campaign has been to kill a lot of civilians, has been to sow the seed of humanitarian crisis, and to create space for these groups — these are very extremists groups that we claim to be our priority in the region — to grow.”
Scrutiny over U.S. involvement in Yemen should now intensify with the blacklisting of the coalition. If, as Murphy suggested, no actual, valid defense of U.S. national security stands as reason for its support of the blacklisted coalition, perhaps no further assistance should be provided.
In an email to Foreign Policy in March, Sen. Patrick Leahy — who authored legislation barring the U.S. from providing security assistance to countries responsible for gross human rights abuses — raised similar concerns.
“The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has received too little attention, and it directly, or indirectly, implicates us. The reports of civilian casualties from Saudi air attacks in densely populated areas compel us to ask if these operations, supported by the United States, violate” the aforementioned law. Indeed, he continued, “there is the real possibility that [the air campaign] is making a bad situation worse.”
Ban also blacklisted Houthi rebel groups for the same civilian injuries and killings as the coalition.
“In Yemen, owing to the very large number of violations attributed to the two parties, the Houthis/Ansar Allah and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition are listed for killing and maiming and attacks on schools and hospitals,” the statement continued.
“In several situations of conflict, aerial operations contributed to creating complex environments in which large numbers of children were killed and maimed,” explained Leila Zerrougui, U.N. special representative for children in armed conflict. “State-allied armed groups and militia have also increasingly been used to fight in support of Government forces, in some cases recruiting and using children.”
Ban urged all U.N. member nations to adhere to international law by protecting civilians wherever armed conflict continues, adding, “It is unacceptable that the failure to do so has resulted in numerous violations of children’s rights.”