With testing capacity low and the health system ravaged by five years of war, nobody really knows how many people are infected or dying of COVID-19 in Yemen, but the outlook does not seem good. Hundreds of people in Aden have reportedly died with symptoms that appear consistent with the coronavirus, while in the Houthi-controlled north there are unconfirmed but persistent rumors of a cover-up to mask a rising case count. To make matters worse, the UN—concerned it can't protect its staff from the virus inside their compound—has pulled half of its remaining international workforce out of Sana'a, putting them on flights to Addis Ababa. Some people have remained behind in the Yemeni capital, and others are holed up in Aden (recently deluged by flash floods and a political power struggle), but most foreigners who work for UN agencies will now have to do their jobs remotely. The bulk of the UN's aid workers in Yemen are Yemenis, of course, and they are still in the country, doing their best to fight off a global pandemic that even the world's richest countries are struggling to manage.
Yemen's southern separatist group declared self-rule in the parts of the country it controls on April 26, leading to fears of a new and even more dangerous conflict after five years of war. The Southern Transitional Council said in its announcement that it plans to govern several southern provinces, including the de facto capital city of Aden, which the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi also claims as its seat.
Yemeni government officials reported the country’s first case of COVID-19 on April 10, shortly after the Saudi Arabia-led coalition announced that it would be observing a two-week unilateral ceasefire, in part to help confront the pandemic. The move was welcomed by the UN, and the office of Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said he was working with the warring parties on a "comprehensive initiative" to end the five-year war. But a Houthi rebel spokesperson said coalition air-strikes had continued after the truce's onset, and dismissed the initiative as a "political and media manoeuvre." The rebels were reportedly not consulted before the coalition's April 8 ceasefire declaration, but on the same evening a senior Houthi figure posted on Twitter the details of his group's plan to end the war. All of this comes on the heels of a recent increase in violence, including Saudi air-strikes on the Houthi-controlled capital city of Sana'a, and the shelling of a prison in the province of Taiz that reportedly killed at least five women and one child.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for warring parties across the world to lay down arms in support of the battle against COVID-19. "The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war," he said in a March 23 statement. "That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives... Silence the guns, stop the artillery, end the air-strikes. It is crucial to help create corridors for life-saving aid, to open precious windows for diplomacy, to bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19." (UN News, PBS News Hour)
The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., began hearing oral arguments Jan. 29 in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Donald Trump, a case challenging the administration's travel bans. The plaintiffs, led by IRAP, argue that, despite the Supreme Court ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, their challenge is not barred. They contend that the high court simply addressed the preliminary injunction, and not the merits of the overall travel ban. The case challenges the proclamation Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, Executive Order 13780. The plaintiffs are asserting that the proclamation is unconstitutional, while the Trump administration argues that Trump v. Hawaii settled the constitutionality of the proclamation.
Trump now says it is increasingly "looking like" Iran was behind the attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities over the weekend, while adding: "I don't want war with anybody but we're prepared." (RFE/RL) He also tweeted in typically ugrammatical style: "Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!" Meanwhile, Yemen's Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack, while Iran is denying any involvement. How are we to read this, and what are the risks?
Over the past weeks, the two biggest members of the international coalition supporting the official government of Yemen against the Houthi rebels have fallen out, with Saudi Arabia continuing to back President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the United Arab Emirates switching its support to southern separatists. Last week, the UAE-backed Security Belt militia, armed wing of the Southern Transitional Council (STC), seized effective control of the port city of Aden after days of fighting with Saudi-backed forces of the official government.
Judge Victoria Roberts of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled July 9 that a lawsuit by the Arab American Civil Rights League against the Trump administration's Proclamation No. 9645, the third iteration of his "travel ban," which restricts travel from seven countries, can move forward. The Proclamation states that, after consultation with the Director of Homeland Security and the Attorney General, and based on their assessment of threats against the United States from nationals traveling from the seven enumerated countries, "entry should be subject to certain restrictions, limitations, and exceptions." The administration sought to have the lawsuit dismissed based on the Supreme Court's ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, in which the court held that under §1182(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the president is granted broad discretion to lawfully decide "whether and when to suspend entry, whose entry to suspend, for how long, and on what conditions." Roberts held in the present case that, "although the Proclamation is facially neutral, its impact falls predominantly on Muslims."