Yemen President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi‘s address to the 73rd session of the General Assembly on Wednesday largely focussed on the role of Iran in the conflict. He accused Iran and its client Hezbollah of supporting armed militias in Yemen militarily, financially and in various media, describing the Houthi militias as a proxy force beholden to the Iranians.
President Hadi further alleged that Iran is engaged in overwhelming Yemen with drugs in order to sow discord in the country. He placed blame at the feet of the Houthi militia. He called upon the international community to put pressure on Iran to cease in these activities, stressing that any efforts by the Yemeni government to bring peace are futile until this is achieved.
While focussing blame for the conflict on the actions of others, however, the Yemen president’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York was more striking for its omissions rather than for what he said.
The president contrasted the actions of his government with those of the Houthi militia, which he described as an extremist religious group that believes in its own exclusive divine right to rule, disregarding the values of democracy and human rights. He said that the Houthis have used indiscriminate violence to tear down Yemen’s civil society and create hate among its people.
“We do not target civilians; their schools, their hospitals their residential areas.”
In contrast, Hadi pointed to his own government’s advocacy of peace as opposed to war and “vengeance.” He asserted, “We do not target civilians; their schools, their hospitals their residential areas.” He did not mention, however, the fact that the coalition headed by Saudia Arabia and the UAE has carried out precisely these actions in the course of the war. A UN report of August 28, 2018, stated that such actions amount to war crimes.
President Hadi also thanked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its role in “mitigating our humanitarian suffering in Yemen.” Yet he neglected to mention the fact that, according to the UN report, airstrikes and bombings by the Saudi-led coalition have been the leading cause of death since the start of the conflict in 2015. The UN report states that airstrikes alone have caused more than 16,700 deaths, killing more than 6,500 civilians, including children who were deliberately targeted.
Hadi further told the General Assembly that the rebel militias “use gangster-like tactics” including attacking places of worship and forcibly recruiting child soldiers. In contrast, Hadi claimed that his own government functions democratically and respects the rights of all citizens, upholding, for instance, the UN’s own international standards on women’s rights and the rights of the child. He further called on the UN to uphold its resolutions on Yemen, giving particular importance to Resolution 2216 that requires the Houthis to withdraw from cities and hand over their weapons unconditionally.
Although many of these points are valid, they rang somewhat hollow in light of President Hadi’s striking omissions. He failed to mention the famine in Yemen, as a result of which almost 22 million of the president’s compatriots are at risk of starvation or death from preventable diseases. Famine, caused in large part by the Saudi-led air, land and sea blockade on food and medicine, has been described by the UN Secretary General as “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”
Towards the end of his remarks, President Hadi called upon to the international community to bring an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. It seemed somehow ironic that he took the time before the General Assembly to excoriate Israel for its occupation of the west bank and blockade of Gaza, while neglecting to mention similar abuses by his allies within his own jurisdiction.
The famine in Yemen is one of many humanitarian issues highlighted by Inside Arabia’s #SaveYemen campaign. #SaveYemen is a non-partisan, public awareness campaign to confront world leaders and the public on the streets of New York with a graphic and stark reminder of the crisis throughout the 73rd General Assembly session. Inside Arabia supports neither side in this dispute. Regardless of where the blame lies, the campaign calls upon the UN to act to halt the devastation that is ravaging human lives in Yemen.
As the UN report makes clear, there is clearly fault on both sides of the war in Yemen. While it is important to hear what President Hadi and his allies have to say, it is essential that the world does not lose sight of the devastation being wreaked on the civilian population of Yemen.