President Joe Biden announced Feb. 4 the United States will end support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen that has deepened suffering in the Arabian Peninsula's poorest country. "This war has to end," Biden told diplomats in his first visit to the State Department as president, saying the conflict has created a "humanitarian and strategic catastrophe." Biden pledged an end to "relevant" US arms sales, while giving no immediate details on what that would mean. The administration had already said it is pausing some of the billions of dollars in arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The United States has announced it will designate Yemen's Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization, a move aid groups and diplomats have long warned will make getting assistance to people trapped in the "world's worst humanitarian crisis" even harder. In a Jan. 10 statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was officially notifying the US Congress of his intent to designate Ansar Allah, the official name of the Houthis, a "Foreign Terrorist Organization." The change is go into force on Jan. 19, and three Houthi leaders will also be blacklisted. NGOs have lobbied heavily against the designation, saying it will seriously hamper efforts to bring aid to the estimated 80% of Yemen's 30 million people who live in parts of the country controlled by the Houthis. It's already hard to deliver aid in Yemen, in part because of obstacles put up by the Houthis themselves.
The world is breathing a collective sigh of relief after General Services Administration chief Emily Murphy officially contacted the team of president-elect Joe Biden, marking the Trump administration's belated initiation of the transition process. However, the widespread portrayal that Trump has blinked and is accepting Biden's victory is highly questionable at best. Both Murphy's Nov. 23 letter and Trump's tweet about it state that the decision was Murphy's, taken unilaterally, and that Trump is continuing to contest the election results. Murphy was likely facing what she thought to be the inevitable—Michigan lawmakers had that same day resisted Trump pressure and certified Biden's win in the state, while Trump's legal team got laughed out of court in Pennsylvania. However, the team continues to appeal and is conceding nothing. So no, Trump may not have blinked. And if his Plan A of a judicial coup fails, he and his cabinet may now be preparing the hypothesized Plan B....
A UN group of experts has called on the Security Council to refer human rights violations and war crimes committed in the ongoing Yemen conflict to the International Criminal Court. The Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen concluded in a report released Sept. 8 that the governments of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Southern Transitional Council are responsible for rights violations including "arbitrary deprivation of life, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, gender-based violence, including sexual violence, torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the recruitment and use in hostilities of children." The report also alleges that "de facto authorities" in the capital Sana'a (the Houthi rebels) are responsible for the same violations.
A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a Yemeni blogger to 10 months in prison, a fine of 10,000 riyals ($2,600) and deportation for a social media post supporting equal rights for people in same-sex relationships, Human Rights Watch announced July 28. Mohamad al-Bokari was arrested in Riyadh on April 8, after posting a video on social media, which authorities said contained "sexual references" and "violated public order and morals." This was apparently a reference to the line: "Everyone has rights and should be able to practice them freely, including gay people." Sources told HRW that al-Bokari was subjected to a forced anal exam, an internationally discredited practice used to seek "proof" of homosexual conduct. HRW says the practice has no scientific basis, violates medical ethics, and constitutes cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that may rise to the level of torture. Al-Bokari was charged with "violating public morality" and "imitating women."
In an exhaustive report released June 30, the independent monitor Mwatana for Human Rights documents a chilling aspect of Yemen's more than five-year war that has gone overlooked, precisely because of its secretive nature: "enforced disappearances," torture, and deaths at illegal detention centers across the country. The report documents abuses by all parties to Yemen's war, some of which it says may constitute war crimes. The Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, forces backed by the United Arab Emirates, and the Ansar Allah (Houthi) rebel group are all accused of running detention centers—some on military bases or intelligence compounds, some in cellars below private homes or requisitioned public buildings.
One percent of the world's population has been forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict and persecution to seek safety either somewhere within their country or in another country, according to the latest Global Trends report released June 18 by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. As more people became displaced than at any time since UNHCR began issuing its annual study, fewer were able to return home—or even build sustainable lives in another country. "We are witnessing a changed reality in that forced displacement nowadays is not only vastly more widespread but is simply no longer a short-term and temporary phenomenon," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
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.