Despite more than one year of armed conflict, thousands of deaths and even more people displaced by violence, Yemen remains strikingly absent in reports of conflicts raging around the world.
The figures are shocking. Amnesty International reports that more than 3000 civilians have been killed, and at least 2.4 million people have been displaced from their homes. Over 20 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian support. Much of it does not get through.
Increasingly, the conflict in Yemen is raising concerns due to the high number of civilian casualties. Many of these are from airstrikes organized by the Yemeni government and Saudi Arabia. The US and the UK have supplied Saudi Arabia with weapons that have been used in Yemen’s civil war, and military support continues today despite reports of mass violence.
The Yemeni civil war has been ongoing since early 2015. The underlying causes of the conflict between the Houthis and the current Saudi government are complex, but both sides have been accused of violating international law and human rights. Reports from the ground document the true horror Yemenis and humanitarian workers living through – and dying from – aerial bomb strikes.
Peace Direct’s Local Peacebuilding Expert in Yemen wrote a harrowing dispatch highlighting the devastation on the ground: “Following Yemen’s war from a distance is not like living it. Touching and feeling the agony and suffering of Yemenis, as well as hearing the airstrikes and visiting the areas targeted, is epic and dramatic. It is also full of blood, and the cries of those killed and injured. It is a dark portrait, with many destroyed schools, hospitals, bridges, and public infrastructure, destroyed for unclear reasons and a strategic vision that no one can understand or justify.” You can read his full report here.
There have been several incidences of major airstrikes that have harmed civilians. In mid-April, an attack hit a school killing ten children and injuring at least twenty-eight more. Earlier this month another airstrike hit a Doctors Without Borders hospital, leaving at least twenty-two dead and nineteen wounded. These are the occurrences that are most visible to the public eye, but the violence in Yemen is ongoing.
In response to increased civilian casualties, the US has reduced its number of military advisors to Saudi Arabia but hasn’t yet halted weapons sales. This is not enough. More has to be done to address the situation.
In the UK the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is challenging the UK government’s decision to continue exporting arms to Saudi Arabia. Instead of supplying military weaponry that fuels the violence, funds should be shifted towards conflict mitigation and the support of local peacebuilding activities. If the US and the US as world powers are to play a constructive role in the ongoing crisis in Yemen, it should be to help stop the violence and instead find ways of supporting efforts to resolve conflict.
Despite the extremely difficult situation, the youth of Yemen have been able to relay messages of peace and hope to the communities that have been hurt the most, demonstrating the importance of local peace activists. Youth Without Borders is a Yemeni non-governmental organization that holds peacebuilding training for youth activists. Those involved work on peacebuilding initiatives for their own communities, emphasizing the power of locally-led approaches.
In the words of our Local Expert: “The only thing that gives me hope for tomorrow is when I wake up in the morning and open my windows, and see normal Yemenis walking and driving around. The towns and villages are full of energy, and a desire to live, to continue their daily lives regardless of the almost limitless obstacles in this humanitarian catastrophe. They are my real heroes in this portrait of war. I am proud to be in it, and to be one of them.”
Social media campaigns are also on the rise to support those negatively affected by the Yemeni civil war. These campaigns, which include #LetsCoexist and Don’t Return Without Peace, urge political leaders to come to a peaceful agreement and end the killings of innocent people. Still, the bombing must stop. Last year, Peace Direct joined fourteen humanitarian, human rights, and peace organizations in a letter to US officials raising concerns about the US role in the Yemen conflict, urging a halt to weapons transfers and full suspension of logistical and intelligence support, and instead calling upon the need for peacebuilding activities.
This year, ahead of an upcoming US arms deal, Peace Direct joined 44 other organisations in signing a letter to Senators urging them to reject the planned $1.15 billion foreign military sale to Saudi Arabia.
Read the letter, and see who else has signed it: http://winwithoutwar.org/letter-to-us-senators-on-the-upcoming-saudi-arms-deal/
For more information on the conflict in Yemen and local peacebuilding initiatives, visit Insight on Conflict.