While much of the international media’s attention has been reserved for the ongoing civil war in Syria – exploring the ongoing threat of ISIS as well as the Assad regime’s own atrocities – another brutal conflict in the region has devastated local populations and generated intense scrutiny for alleged warcrimes.
It should also be noted that those warcrimes are being committed by a United States ally.
Saudi Arabia initiated a military campaign in Yemen in March 2015, targeting Houthi forces that wrested control from former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who has since fled to Saudi Arabia with his allies.
Houthis are Shia, whereas the former government attracted its support from the primarily Sunni south of the country. The situation – however – is made significantly more complex by the fact that while Houthi and Saudi-backed forces remain locked in combat, both an Al-Qaeda affiliate and a home-grown ISIS spin-off are also party to the hostilities.
The complexities and mutual responsibility for the violence notwithstanding, Saudi Arabia has attracted the ire of international human rights activists who claim that the country’s air campaign has broken the rules of war.
The most recent assault that hit a civilian target is perhaps the strongest evidence supporting these claims.
Saudi jets bombed a funeral in Sanna – the capital of Yemen – on Saturday, October 8. The “double tap” strike (so called as the first barrage was followed by another to exact maximum damage and potentially kill those who arrived on scene to help) killed at least 142 people, with a suspected 500 more thought injured.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon decried the incident, adding that “any deliberate attack against civilians is utterly unacceptable,” and that the perpetrators should be brought to justice.
Saudi officials, for their part, played along, announcing that the government plans to “immediately investigate this case along with the Joint Incidents Assessment Team in Yemen and experts from the United States who participated in previous investigations.”
Yemen has population of 28 million and – according to a UN report – a staggering 80 percent of the population requires humanitarian relief, amounting to approximately 22.4 million people living in sub-standard conditions.
While Saudi Arabia – using US military weaponry – pursues its feud with what it perceives to be Iranian proxies in Yemen, the situation will only get worse, with more civilians targeted and more people going hungry. Any meaningful long-term solution requires the immediate cessation of hostilities – now.