Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in the Yemeni civil war since January of 2015 has lead to the deaths of thousands of people, while the overall remains over somewhere in region of ten thousand, with millions displaced. As with any internal conflict, there are bound to be casualties on both sides, but this war — whilst civil, is also about the role that external actors have played in ticking up the death toll.
Saudi Arabia is one nation amongst many in a multinational coalition. However, unlike the other nine nations in the coalition, it hasn’t taken a backseat. It is at the front and centre of two campaigns. The first campaign, named Operation Decisive Storm, which began in January 2015 was to “successfully eliminated the threat” posed to Saudi Arabia’s national security, by eliminating the Houthi’s ballistic and heavy-weapons capability, according to a statement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry. Their secondary objective was to provide military support to President Hadi, following his forced resignation and the forming of the de-facto government by Shi’ite Houthi rebels, and it is this campaign during which the Royal Saudi Air Force laid waste to Yemen. The second campaign, codenamed Operation Restoring Hope, would “focus on political progress” — essentially utilizing a political strategy to bring an end to the civil war, rather than utilizing a military one.
And whilst the Saudi Government can be applauded for its attempts to bring a political solution to the Yemeni civil war, its conduct during the first year of the conflict cannot be overlooked. Both the United Nations and human rights groups have accused the Saudi Government of violating International Law. Specifically, a violation of Protocol II (Section 13-2) of the Geneva Conventions, which states thus:
“2. The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.
3. Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this Part, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.”
As the civilian population of Yemen has repeatedly been the subject of airstrikes by the Royal Saudi Air Force, including attacks on hospitals, schools for the blind, open-air markets, and even a two-for-one violation of international law, a “double-tap” airstrike on a funeral, it is safe to say that the Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly violated Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions. Yet, perhaps worse than the strikes on civilians, is the use of chemical weapons like white phosphorous, or cluster munitions — and Saudi Arabia stands accused of using those too. While the use of “Willie Pete” as troop-signalling devices isn’t illegal under international law, the use of the burning white chemicals against either combatant or civilian targets most certainly are.
Given the accusations leveled at the Saudi Government, and the preponderance of evidence — and the fact that the Yemeni Civil War has a civilian death toll rate of over 60%, it isn’t a stretch to recognize the rather rich and tragic irony of the nomenclature of Operation Decisive Storm, and then Operation Restoring Hope. Tearing the country apart in a decisive storm of death-from-above, only to then turn around a year or so later and attempt to put it back together again…
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