A Problem from Hell: The U.S.'s Genocide Complicity in Yemen


A massive human rights tragedy is unfolding in Yemen. Thousands of Yemini civilians have already been killed and millions of Yemini civilians are at imminent risk of starvation as a consequence of the war being waged by the Saudi-led coalition against that country and its life-sustaining infrastructure. CNN recently described the extent of this crisis:

The U.N. Childrens' Fund estimates that 100,000 people have been displaced across the country in the last two weeks, while Oxfam says that more than 10 million Yemenis do not have enough food to eat -- including 850,000 malnourished children. Over 13 million people have no access to clean water.

An urgent call by the ICRC for an "immediate humanitarian pause" to allow humanitarian supplies to reach the most vulnerable has gone unheeded.

Meanwhile, the Saudi coalition waging this asymmetrical war of aerial bombardment upon a country with little to no air defenses, could not carry out this assault without the critical aid from the U.S. in the form of military hardware, including banned cluster bombs; intelligence for targeting of airstrikes; and mid-air refueling.

What's more, the acts of the Saudi-led coalition against Yemen constitute genocide within the meaning of 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide ("Genocide Convention"), and the U.S. is complicit in that genocidal campaign.

In pertinent part, Article II of The Genocide Convention states that "genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part . . . ." As an initial matter, there is no doubt that the Saudi-led coalition, with U.S. help, is carrying out all three of these wrongful acts, and a on a massive scale.

As Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Advisor at Amnesty International, recently wrote:

The Houthis and their allies are the declared targets of the [Saudi-led] coalition's 5-month-old air campaign. In reality, however, it is civilians . . . who all too often pay the price of this war. Hundreds have been killed in such strikes while asleep in their homes, when going about their daily activities, or in the very places where they had sought refuge from the conflict. The United States, meanwhile, has provided the weapons that have made many of these killings possible.

The conflict has worsened an already dire humanitarian situation in the Middle East's poorest country. Prior to the conflict, more than half of Yemen's population was in need of some humanitarian assistance. That number has now increased to more than 80 percent, while a coalition-imposed blockade on commercial imports remains in place in much of the country and the ability of international aid agencies to deliver desperately needed supplies continues to be hindered by the conflict. The damage inflicted by a coalition airstrike last week on the port of the northwestern city of Hudaydah, the only point of entry for humanitarian aid to the north of the country, is only the latest example. The situation is poised to deteriorate further: The U.N. World Food Program warned last week of the possibility of famine in Yemen for millions, mostly women and children.

In short, the Saudi-led coalition, with critical U.S. support, is engaged in killing Yemini civilians, causing them serious bodily harm and is deliberately engaged in acts (e.g., imposition of a blockade preventing humanitarian aid and destroying the only entry point for that aid) calculated to destroy in very large part the Yemini civilian population within the meaning of the Genocide Convention.

And, as Donatella Rovera points out, the part of the population upon which the Saudi coalition is focusing its attacks is in northern Yemen. Thus, in addition to the fact that the Saudi coalition destroyed the entry port for humanitarian aid in the north, the Saudi "Coalition airstrikes have been particularly intense in the north of the country, notably in and around Saada. . . . Saada now lies in ruin, with most of the population displaced and private homes, shops, markets, and public buildings reduced to rubble in relentless and often indiscriminate air bombardments. A coalition spokesman said in May that the entire city of Saada was considered a military target, in breach of international humanitarian law, which demands that belligerents distinguish between civilians and military targets at all times."

The fact that the focus of the Saudi coalition attack is in the north, and particularly on Saada, is significant, for as political analyst Catherine Shakdam points out in her piece, Religious eugenics, How Saudi Arabia is sponsoring a frightening new movement in the Middle East, "the majority of all northerners in Yemen are Zaydis, a branch of Shia Islam," and this includes, but is not limited to, the Houthis themselves. Meanwhile, Saada is considered the "heartland" of the Zaydi faith. As Shakdam argues very well, the coalition is attacking and starving out the north while allowing humanitarian aid to the south (where members of the Sunni group known as Shafi'ists predominate) precisely because the Coalition assault is intentionally targeted by Saudi Arabia - a theocracy dedicated to the radical strain of Islam known as Wahhabism which is particularly hostile to Shia Islam -- at wiping out the Zaydi Shias in Yemen. As she explains, "Riyadh is quite simply profiling aid to carry out its religious cleansing, punishing millions for their rejection of Riyadh's religion."

In other words, the Saudi-led Coalition is engaged in a campaign of mass killing "with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a . . . religious group" -- namely, Zaydis. In so doing, the Coalition is clearly engaged in acts punishable by the Genocide Convention. Therefore, the U.S. is also guilty of acts punishable by the Genocide Convention which, in Article III, Section (e), also makes punishable "[c]omplicity in genocide." In a just world, top leaders of the U.S. would be tried for such a reprehensible crime. But sadly, we don't live in such a world. Still, the international community must act immediately to halt this mass slaughter.