Crucial actions on first day of presidency will help maintain humanitarian assistance and reduce flow of weapons for war in Yemen, the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
As the war in Yemen enters 2021, actions by the outgoing Trump administration are putting a spotlight on US involvement in the conflict. In early January, the US State Department announced it is designating Ansar Allah a terrorist organization. Ansar Allah, known by many as the Houthis, now control large areas of Yemen. Designating it officially as a terrorist organization will make it difficult for humanitarian aid organizations to deliver assistance to people in areas under Houthi control–and for vital imports like food and fuel to enter the country.
“The Foreign Terrorist Organization designation that Secretary Pompeo has chosen to apply is by far the most severe–and the most deadly–for Yemeni families,” says Scott Paul, Oxfam’s humanitarian advisor in Washington. “It will block US humanitarian aid, goods, and personnel from entering northern Yemen, where 70 percent of the population lives, and substantially reduce them throughout the rest of the country.”
The Houthi terrorist designation could also “in effect freeze years of effort to achieve political resolution, since it further supports the perception that the US is being partial to Saudi Arabia,” says Abdulwasea Mohammed, Oxfam’s policy and advocacy advisor in Sana’a, Yemen.
Terrorist designation will worsen humanitarian crisis
The change in US policy is coming at a critical time. After nearly six years since the escalation of the war, more than four out of every five people in Yemen need some kind of humanitarian assistance. At least 12,000 civilians have died in direct attacks since 2015, and almost 4 million people have been displaced by the fighting. Widespread destruction of the country’s health services and water infrastructure have left Yemen acutely vulnerable to cholera and the coronavirus. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the largest in the world. People in some areas of the country are on the verge of famine and extreme hunger is predicted to grow even more severe in the coming months.
Oxfam is responding to the needs of people affected by the conflict by providing cash for families to meet urgent needs, repairing water infrastructure and providing clean water and hygiene items like soap, and training people to promote good hygiene to avoid serious diseases like cholera and COVID-19. Since July 2015, Oxfam has helped more than 3 million people in Yemen.
Though justice and accountability for the many violations committed by the warring parties are sorely needed, a terrorism designation will not provide them. But it will have severe consequences on those most impacted by the crisis, which Paul says “will be felt acutely across a country also hit hard by extreme hunger, cholera and Covid-19 ... as banks, businesses and humanitarian donors become unwilling or unable to take on the risk of operating in Yemen.”
Oxfam is calling on the incoming Biden administration to revoke the terrorist designation due to take effect the day before inauguration. “Every day these designations remain in place will compound the suffering of Yemen’s most vulnerable families. We call on President-elect Biden to revoke them immediately upon taking office,” Paul urged in a statement on January 11.
Arms sales fuel conflict
In December 2020, the Trump administration informed Congress about a plan to sell more precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, one of the parties to the conflict in Yemen. Sales of US weapons have fueled the conflict since 2015, and have been used in attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians and destroyed hospitals, schools, markets and other infrastructure.
Also crucial on the first day of the Biden administration will be canceling the export license for the arms sales scheduled to be issued this month. The Congressional review period for the sale of 7,500 bombs to Saudi Arabia ends on January 21, so it is urgent for the new Biden administration to take immediate action to block the transfer of these arms. The new Biden administration also has the power to stop other arms sales already in process and should do so.
Oxfam is asking supporters to continue their ongoing acts of solidarity with Yemenis, and sign a letter calling on President-elect Biden to revoke the terrorist designation and stop the arms export licenses on the first day of his presidency as urgent steps to promote peace and relief in Yemen.
UPDATE: Oxfam delivered a letter signed by 6,972 supporters to incoming Biden administration officials on January 19th, urging the new president to revoke the terrorism designations and cancel the export licenses for weapons to be used in Yemen. On January 27th, the Biden administration announced it would freeze and review arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In a statement released by Oxfam, it's Humanitarian Lead Scott Paul said these measures are "a critical step by the administration, and we call on President Biden to permanently halt the sale of arms and other military support bound for the conflict in Yemen - and for other nations supplying the Saudi-led coalition to follow suit. All parties to the conflict must be held accountable for their role in the conflict and should recommit to reaching peace, respecting international law, and pushing for a more secure future for all Yemenis."