Washington Institute For Defence & SecurityWashington Institute For Defence & SecurityWashington Institute For Defence & Security
Washington, DC 20001

The United States’ assistance to the Saudi-led coalition might lead to complicity in war crimes.

Yemen’s lengthy conflict has killed almost a quarter of a million people, either directly or indirectly, as a result of insufficient food, health care, and infrastructure. It has featured unlawful attack after unlawful assault, with civilian objects targeted by the warring sides including homes, hospitals, schools, and bridges. More than 4 million people have been internally displaced as a result of the fighting. Food insecurity is becoming more prevalent.

The war that erupted in 2014 between the Houthi armed organization and President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s administration evolved in 2015 into one between the Houthis and a US-backed coalition commanded by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Nearly 50 different battlefronts are now involved in the combat.

For several years, a UN Security Council panel of experts has concluded that Iran continues to deliver weaponry to the Houthis. The US has also provided political assistance to the Saudi-led coalition, notably by protecting the coalition from criticism and allowing the United Nations Security Council to focus only on the Houthis, as evidenced in Resolution 2216, prepared by the United Kingdom in 2015.

Since 2015, the US has provided billions of dollars in weaponry, training, and logistical assistance to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, including aircraft refueling until 2018, while the coalition continues its aerial bombing missions. Human Rights Watch has recorded the coalition’s use of US-made weaponry in at least 21 ostensibly illegal assaults under international law. These attacks included the March 15, 2016, attack on a market in the village of Mastaba in northwestern Yemen, which killed at least 97 civilians, and the October 13, 2016, attack on a funeral ceremony in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, which killed at least 100 people and injured over 500 others, including children.

Increasing evidence indicates that the parties to the war, both the coalition and the Houthi armed organization, continue to perpetrate severe violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. On January 21, coalition airplanes attacked a prison institution in Sa’ada governorate, northern Yemen, killing scores. According to a local nongovernmental organization, Mwatana for Human Rights, those captives who escaped the attacks were later killed down on the ground by Houthi troops as they attempted to leave.

The Houthi armed organization also continues to undertake indiscriminate strikes on civilian areas, including IDP camps in Yemen’s Marib governorate. Despite the continued toll on civilians, the US continues to supply weapons to the coalition as well as offer training and logistical support.

Raytheon, a renowned US defense corporation, sold $650 million in air-to-air missiles and accompanying equipment to Saudi Arabia in December, which was approved by the Biden administration. In response to a Human Rights Watch enquiry in 2018, Raytheon’s vice president, Timothy F. Schultz, responded that “Raytheon sales of munitions to Saudi Arabia have been and continue to be in accordance with US law and do not violate US or international legal obligations relevant to the firm.”

Raytheon and other US companies operating in the weapons sector are required by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to assess the impacts of their operations, sales, and services in accordance with international human rights requirements and war laws. While the US government enables the corporation’s weapons sales, the company claims to follow US law and policy. There are still strong concerns that Raytheon is failing to satisfy its human rights obligations since its weapons are still being used to perpetrate violations of international humanitarian law.

Despite knowing of serious claims that US-made weapons are being used in violation of international humanitarian law, the US may be violating its own commitments by continuing to provide weaponry to the coalition. Government personnel in Yemen may be held legally accountable for war crimes, according to a 2020 State Department Inspector General report.

The United States condemns possible war crimes perpetrated in other armed conflicts, such as those done by Russia in Ukraine, yet continues to back the coalition committing comparable abuses in Yemen. Yemeni civilians have also told Human Rights Watch that the US has fueled animosity, suffering, and anger by supplying weaponry used to attack them. Yemenis believe they are fully aware that some of the bombs that fall on their houses and heads are manufactured in the United States, as evidenced by weapon fragments discovered at hit locations by journalists, researchers, and others.

The United States continues to demonstrate an insufficient commitment to securing responsibility for the probable crimes of its allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as its own participation. After seven years of disregarding rights groups’ warnings about probable US cooperation in severe crimes in Yemen, Washington must change direction and take tangible actions to terminate its complicity, including freezing military shipments to Saudi Arabia and the UAE until they stop conducting illegal attacks. In addition, the US should conduct serious investigations and prosecutions into earlier alleged infractions.


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