09.05.2015 Author: Catherine Shakdam

War Crimes and Ethnic Cleansing in Yemen

H34242342A month  into its unilateral military aggression on Yemen, Saudi Arabia appears to have lost most of its composure, finding itself in a quagmire it never thought it could fall into – especially not in the most impoverished and instability-racked nation in the Arabian Peninsula.

Strong of its imperial might and its petrodollars, the Kingdom miscalculated its intervention in unruly Yemen, assuming that the country would offer but a meek resistance to its over-powering hegemonic will. And indeed, this war in Yemen hardly appears balanced when one militia finds itself facing a mighty military coalition of both Western and Arab powers, an alliance of some of the richest and most military powerful countries in the world against this one Yemeni tribal faction.

And yet Yemen has held true. As the houthis have often warned, “You might one day break our bones but you’ll never see us fall.” If such tirade was dismissed as misplaced bravado pre-March 25, when King Salman chose to unleash his warplanes onto an unsuspecting Yemen, four weeks of intense and bloody fighting have given this one sentence an entire new meaning.

Just as David faced Goliath over a millenium ago, the Houthis of Yemen are bent on showing Al Saud what metal they are made of. However one might feel about the Houthis’ political inclination or even their religious beliefs, there is a great deal of dignity in the loyalty and dedication they have demonstrated in holding their pledge to their leadership. For some men still — God and nation, are values worth standing up for and fighting for.

But what started as a desire to see restore a Saudi stooge in Sana’a – in this case, once resigned, twice runaway President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has devolved into a sinister campaign against Yemen’ Zaidi community.

Labeled by Riyadh as both a political and religious threat for they dared aspire to remove themselves from any form of feudality, the Houthis have been discriminated against on account of their affiliation to Zaidi Islam, one of the oldest branch of Shia Islam. Zaidism emerged in Yemen in the 8th century, and is rooted on the teachings of Zaid, the grandson of Imam Hussein. Declared a heresy by Wahhabi Saudi Arabia at the turn of the 18th century, Al Saud has long tried to outroot Zaidi Islam from southern Arabia, where it ambitioned to assert its own ascetic, violent and reactionary interpretation of Islam – Wahhabism.

If King Salman sold his war on Yemen to western media by arguing he sought to restore democracy in this corner of the world, his intentions are much sinister it appears as his military has systematically and indiscriminately targeted heavily populated areas in northern Yemen, where Zaidis happen to be in majority.

To believe that the world most fierce theocracy would ever want to promote democratic values, let alone support its inception would be laughable if the world governments had not repeated the mantra, twisting the narrative of war so much on its head that people have been led to believe that Yemen, like a temperamental child should be made to heed the calls of its masters in the running of its affairs.

When all failed the old specter of sectarianism was raised, a proven formula aimed to rationalize what cannot be justified.

By any accounts, and under international law any military aggression against another country can never be sanctioned. And yet the world bowed to Saudi Arabia with so much enthusiasm that even the United Nations had to withdraw in silence.

But Saudi Arabia’s crimes have become too grand and too disturbing for the world to want to brush it under the rug.

Unknown to the public, thousands of Zaidi Muslims have died since March 25, most of them in northern Sa’ada, the Houthis’ main stronghold. Those men, women and children were civilians, not soldiers or militia men. They were mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, Yemenis with aspirations and dreams.

Their life was forfeited in Riyadh for they dared hold on to their forefathers’ tradition of Zaidism.

To ensure maximum efficiency to its campaign, the Kingdom has resorted to using cluster bombs. Interestingly this particularly vicious weapon of war was solely used in Sa’ada and neighboring regions, at the heart of Yemen’s Zaidi community. But of course the world media have kept silent on such tragedies.

According to Cluster Munition Coalition, a rights group campaigning against the use of cluster bombs, such weapons have been proven fatal to civilian populations. Actually 98 percent of all cluster bombs victims are civilians, of which 27 percent are children. Could it be that Saudi Arabia is merely conducting a covert ethnic cleansing south of its borders?

And while “genocide” might not be the right word to define the type of campaign the Kingdom is running, an investigation should be launched to establish whether of not war crimes have been indeed committed. On that, many Yemenis are rather clear on the answer!

Money, powerful friends and oil do not absolve one nation from abiding by the standards and rules of international law.

One rights group has already sounded the alarm this April. Speaking to the press on a report about Yemen, Human Rights Watch arms director, Steve Goose stressed, “These weapons should never be used under any circumstances. Saudi Arabia and other coalition members – and the supplier, the US – are flouting the global standard that rejects cluster munitions because of their long-term threat to civilians,”

To which he added, “Saudi-led cluster munition airstrikes have been hitting areas near villages, putting local people in danger.”

Cluster munitions have been banned by an international treaty signed in 2008 treaty called the Convention on Cluster Munitions, signed in Dublin by over 100 governments. Saudi Arabia, US, and the recently deposed US and Saudi-backed Yemen government were among the small number of ultra-militarist governments that refused to sign a 2008 agreement between 118 countries seeking to ban cluster bombs.

As the Houthis and their supporters have moved forth against the Saudi coalition, advancing further into southern Yemen where Al Qaida militants have disguised themselves as pro-Hadi forces, to covertly cease control over yet more territories, there have been signs the Saudis and the Gulf monarchies are further escalating their savage military actions against Yemen.

Aid convoys have been bombed, food warehouses have been burned to cinders, while food and medicine have been prevented from entering the country. 26 million Yemenis are being held hostage by Saudi Arabia while the international community looks on idly.

There is only one real question people need to ask themselves. How many more Yemenis will need to die for the concept of justice to regain substance.

Yemeni lives matter!

Catherine Shakdam is the Associate Director of the Beirut Center for Middle Eastern Studies and a political analyst specializing in radical movements, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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