Tag Archive | "Yemen"

Source: REUTERS/Naif Rahma

The Yemeni Civil War: Human Rights Violations by Coalition Forces

Source: REUTERS/Naif Rahma

Source: REUTERS/Naif Rahma


The Yemeni Civil War is currently considered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.[1] More than three million Yemenis have been displaced; one million have contracted cholera—the largest outbreak of the disease in history; and 22 million—roughly three-quarters of the country’s population—are at risk of famine.[2] The conflict is rooted in a failed political transition that forced the longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.[3] In November of 2014, the Civil War broke out when Houthi Rebels allied with forces loyal to former President Saleh and seized control over much of the country.[4] President Hadi subsequently fled to Saudi Arabia and sought assistance from the international community.[5]

It was at this point that Saudi Arabia intervened based on an Article 2(4) exception to the U.N Charter[6], and formed the Saudi-led coalition.[7] On March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia began a military intervention alongside eight other Arab states.[8] The U.S., U.K. and France also began supplying the coalition with logistical support.[9] Despite the apparent legality of the Coalition’s initial use of force, the Coalition has subsequently been accused of violating both international humanitarian law and human rights law.


The principle of distinctionrequires that “parties to [a] conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. Attacks may only be directed against combatants. Attacks must not be directed against civilians.”[10] While humanitarian law recognizes that some civilian casualties are inventible, it imposes a duty to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and to target only combatants and other military objectives at all times.[11]

Despite this established legal norm, the Coalition has seemingly failed to make these necessary distinctions. Coalition air strikes are responsible for most of the documented civilian casualties.[12] In 2018, the United Nations condemned the Saudi-led military coalition for killing civilians and destroying infrastructure, including health centers with airstrikes.[13] The Protocols to the Geneva Convention afford special protections to medical facilities and educational, cultural and religious sites in times of conflict.[14] Despite this, many such facilities and sites have been hit by coalition air strikes throughout this conflict, suggesting that either 1) distinctions are not being made between military targets and protected persons or objects; or 2) the no-strike list of protected objects has not been adequately shared or respected within the coalition command chain.[15]


Even before civil war erupted, Yemen relied heavily on food imports because of a scarcity of water for agriculture.[16] Since the beginning of the Civil War, an air, land and sea blockade by the Coalition has choked off supplies of critical resources including fuel, food, and medical aid.[17] International humanitarian law requires that all parties to a conflict allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief, including food, medical supplies, and other survival items.[18] This de factoblockade has left an estimated 78% of the Yemeni population in need of food, water and medical aid.[19] Even when supplies do make it to Yemeni ports, the war has disrupted critical infrastructure, including the road networks used for distribution.[20]


Although the airstrikes and blockades constitute the bulk of the Coalition’s alleged violations, a 2018 U.N. report also outlined grounds to substantiate the belief that the Governments of Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are responsible for additional human rights violations, including unlawful deprivation of the right to life, arbitrary detention, rape, torture, ill-treatment, enforced disappearance and child recruitment.[21]


The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is rarely covered at length in the media, in part due to restrictions and difficulties traveling to the country, combined with reticence about explaining the complexities of the conflict. However, if an end to the conflict is to ever fully be realized, it is imperative that the world keeps in mind and acknowledges the human price of this war. This can only be done if world leaders, including those at the head of the American government, acknowledge the very real and very severe human cost of war, condemn the human rights violations occurring in Yemen, and ultimately end and rectify their own complicity.

Payton Martinez is a Staff Editor with the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy, and a 2L at the Sturm College of Law.

[1] Daniel Nikbakht & Sheena McKenzie, The Yemen War is the World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis, UN Says, CNN(Apr. 3, 2018), https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/03/middleeast/yemen-worlds-worst-humanitarian-crisis-un-intl/index.html.

[2] Alan Sipress et al., Five Reasons the Crisis in Yemen Matters, Washington Post(June 8, 2018), https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/world/why-yemen-matters/?utm_term=.2e7a9b98dd77 [hereinafter Why Yemen Matters].

[3] BBC, Yemen Crisis: Why is There a War?, (Nov. 20, 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29319423 [hereinafter Why is There a War?].

[4] Human Rights Watch, Yemen Events of 2017, (2017), https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/yemen.

[5] Id.

[6] U.N. Charter art. 2, ¶ 4. The legal basis for Saudi’s initial intervention in Yemen relates to Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter. Id.Article 2(4) functions as an absolute prohibition on the use of force, however the use of force has been deemed permissible if it falls under one of three exceptions, including invitation by the government of the State in which the force is being used. Id.In the case of Yemen, the Coalition’s initial use of force has been justified under this exception. Oona Hathaway & Aaron Haviland, View from Socotra Island: Yemen War and Threats to UN Charter, Just Security (May 22, 2018), https://www.justsecurity.org/56585/yemen-war-arm-sales-socotra-island-eroding-norm-territorial-sovereignty/.

[7] Human Rights Watch, supranote 4.

[8] Human Rights Council, Rep. on the Situation of Human Rights in Yemen, Including Violations and Abuses Since Sept. 2014, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/39/43, at 4 (2018) [hereinafter Rep. on the Situation of Human Rights] (explaining Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Senegal, Sudan, and the United Arab Emiratesform the Saudi-led coalition).

[9] Id.at 4-5.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Rep. on the Situation of Human Rights, supranote 8 at 5.

[13] U.N. News, U.N. Agency Chiefs Condemn Saudi-coalition Led Air Strike that Killed Dozens in Western Yemen, U.N. (Aug. 24, 2018), https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/08/1017742.

[14] Rep. on the Situation of Human Rights, supranote 8 at 6.

[15] Rep. on the Situation of Human Rights, supranote 8 at 6.

[16] Why Yemen Matters, supranote 2.

[17] Id.

[18] Rep. on the Situation of Human Rights, supranote 8 at 8.

[19] Selam Gebrekidan & Jonathan Saul, In Blocking Arms to Yemen, Saudi Arabia Squeezes a Starving Population,Reuters(Oct. 11, 2017), https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/yemen-saudi-blockade/.

[20] Why Yemen Matters, supranote 2.

[21] Id.at 14.

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Critical Analysis: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – Unmanned with Unknown Targets

Targets: Yemen.  Pakistan.  Somalia.  Afghanistan.  Libya.  Iraq.  Niger. International laws protect the right to life and drone strikes may well be breaking such laws by killing countless civilians.  There is a “near-certainty” standard that civilians will not become casualties but various sources indicate drone strikes occurring when the target was not in sight and when targets were traveling in close proximity to civilian vehicles.

Since 2002, the U.S. has launched 108 drone strikes in Yemen killing between 775-1,018 people.  Of those, 81-87 were civilians and 31-50 were unknown.  In December 2013, a drone strike in Yemen struck a wedding, killing 12 militants – but, once again, conflicting reports suggest the victims were civilians. The last drone strike occurred on April 21, 2014 killing 55, not counting strikes over this past weekend which hit a civilian vehicle.

Image Source: Western Journalism

US drone strikes overseas has caused many civilian casualties but the uncertainty surrounding the attacks is unsettling. Image Source: Western Journalism

On an even larger scale, since 2004, 307 drone strikes in Pakistan killed between 2,040 and 3,428 people.  Of the thousands, 258-307 civilians were killed and 199-334 “unknowns” were killed.  In Pakistan, drone strikes ceased on Christmas Day 2013 to allow peace talks between the government and the Taliban.

While the “unknown” and civilian casualty rate has decreased during the use of drones, the sheer indefiniteness of the numbers remains disturbing.  Not only is it unclear if drone strikes were involved or if it was the U.S. or another country ordering the attack, we cannot seem to tell whom we are killing.  The U.S.’s policy of secrecy prevents any source from gathering enough information to make accurate statements and leads to a great deal of “best guesses.”  Many demand the U.S. take accountability for its military actions and many demand greater transparency.

The new Amnesty International Annual Report urges the U.S. to conduct a “thorough, impartial and independent investigation” to determine if CIA personnel have violated international law by committing “arbitrary” and “extrajudicial executions.”  A guest columnist to JURIST (a non-profit organization providing objective legal news) suggests some killings appearing unlawful are in fact lawful because of self-defense or under the laws of war because they would not be arbitrary killings.  Furthermore, the columnist suggests lawful targetings can be extrajudicial and not executions because of their targeted nature.  However, one must point out, these targeted killings are killing a great many individuals who are not targeted.

During President Obama’s two terms, there have been at least 397 drone strikes.  President Bush’s term had fewer strikes but more casualties per strike on average.  A new bill that sits before the House of Representatives would force the White House to publish information on covert U.S. drone strike casualties.  The co-sponsored bill would require an annual report that would “provide a modest, but important, measure of transparency and oversight regarding the use of drones.”  The report would disclose injuries and casualties and if casualties are militants, civilians, or others.  The White House would also have to disclose how it defines militants and civilians, which would provide a great deal of insight into the statistics.

While the bill may have a negligible chance of success, the push for greater transparency is clear.  Hopefully as the demand for answers increases, the government’s accountability will increase – or at least the government will give us enough information to make informed decisions about the use of UAVs.


Lindsey Weber is a 2L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the Projects & Production Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.


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Sources: LA Times, BBC, NY Times

News Post: The Escalating Three-Way Power Struggle in Yemen

Sources: NY Times, BBC, LA Times

Sources: NY Times, BBC, LA Times

For the past eight months, protestors have managed to maintain peace in their uprising against Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but the President has managed to retain power in Yemen.  The peace ended this week as the power struggle between President Saleh, Major General Ali Mohsin Saleh Ahmar and escalated to a violent attack on the protestors resulting in many deaths and injuries. As the violence escalates in Yemen, prospects for a peaceful transfer of power dwindle and fears of a civil war escalate.

It is most likely that President Saleh will not resign now, and even if he does, his sons will be in key positions to carry on the Saleh reign.  President Saleh has refused to resign for several months now, despite international and local pressure. At one point, President Saleh had the support of Western nations, including the United States, because of his resistance to Al-Quada.  However, as the conflict within Yemen grew worse, the Western nations withdrew their support.  Even Saudia Arabia, where President Saleh is currently recovering, is pressuring him to resign.  The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) tried to work out an agreement for President Saleh to resign. President Saleh manifested a commitment to such an agreement, but ultimately refused to sign it.  This is most likely because President Saleh is unwilling to relinquish the power of his sons along with his own, especially if the agreement does not call for the relinquishment of the power of his opponent’s, Ahmar’s, sons.

Most recently, President Saleh issued a decree, which granted Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi the power to make an agreement for a transfer of power.  However, this is most likely another strategy to delay any transfer of power with no intent to sign on President Saleh’s part.  Mohammed Qahtan, leading member of the Joint Meetings Party (JMP), calls any further negotiation a waste of time because the revolution will continue no matter what and protestors will accept only President Saleh’s resignation.  Jamila Raja, former Yemen official and advisor to the Foreign Ministry, thinks the chances of reaching a transfer of power agreement are slim at this point. Mustapha Noman, Yemen ambassador, believes the violence was a deliberate attempt to destroy any plans and sabotage any attempts for a peaceful transfer of power.

However, Yemeni political analyst, Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani, believes this decree holds more water than that. He says that President Saleh’s act of divesting legal authority in the Vice President is substantial progress because this allows Vice President Hadi to act as Yemen’s representative and decide what is in the best interests of Yemen.  Most importantly, he says, this shows that President Saleh is finally letting go after holding on for so long.

If President Saleh refuses to resign, this could lead to a civil war.  But there is also the possibility that the situation could worsen if he resigns.  After all, there may not a better suited leader at this time; it was President Saleh who resisted Al-Quada’s presence in Yemen.  With the uncertainty of Yemen’s future, Al-Quada’s future in Yemen is also uncertain.  In order to avoid a civil war, all parties must be willing to engage in discourse in order to reach a political solution.  This seems unlikely considering each party has its own agenda that, undoubtedly, conflicts with that of the others.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law