Saudis must be held ac­count­able

The Irish Times - - Comment&letters -

The lat­est atroc­ity in Ye­men, which saw dozens of chil­dren killed in an air strike by Saudi-led coali­tion forces, once more di­rects in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion to the coun­try’s ter­ri­ble war and hu­man­i­tar­ian catastrophe. The war be­tween Houthi rebels in the north of the coun­try, who re­ceive Ira­nian sup­port, and an ex­iled gov­ern­ment backed by Saudi Ara­bia, is now in its fourth year. Thou­sands have been killed. Eight mil­lion of its 26 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion are threat­ened with famine as a re­sult of the un­scrupu­lous tar­get­ing of ports and or­gan­i­sa­tions pro­vid­ing aid. It is high time for in­ter­na­tional ac­tion to en­cour­age a po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue and re­lieve this hu­man suf­fer­ing.

The Houthi rebels are from a branch of Shia Is­lam quite dis­tinct from Iran’s. They were in re­volt with­out Ira­nian aid over in­equitable treat­ment for over a decade against the pre­vi­ous au­to­cratic gov­ern­ment, which was over­thrown in 2011. The suc­ceed­ing regime failed to re­solve this and other con­flicts. As a re­sult the Houthi groups seized their chance to take over the cap­i­tal Sana’a and the prin­ci­pal port.

The Saudi-led coali­tion’s ef­forts to dis­place them from th­ese strate­gic cen­tres have es­ca­lated the war over the last three years into a ruth­less con­flict in which mar­kets, hos­pi­tals and wed­dings are tar­geted with lit­tle or no re­gard for es­tab­lished in­ter­na­tional rules of en­gage­ment. Cut­ting com­mer­cial routes and ties be­tween dif­fer­ent parts of this an­cient and di­verse coun­try means the war has be­come an ex­is­ten­tial ques­tion of sur­vival for much of its pop­u­la­tion.

This air as­sault on a chil­dren’s bus is linked to a fur­ther es­ca­la­tion of the war in­volv­ing Houthi rebel mis­sile at­tacks on Saudi in­dus­trial cities and oil in­fra­struc­tures. The mis­siles are sup­plied by Iran in an ef­fort to even the mil­i­tary stakes and counter Saudi in­volve­ment in the war. Many have been in­ter­cepted, but the cross-bor­der at­tacks and fur­ther tar­get­ing of a Saudi oil tanker in the Red Sea have re­in­forced the de­ter­mi­na­tion of its young for­eign min­is­ter and heir ap­par­ent, Prince Mo­hamed, to re­tal­i­ate in this bla­tant fash­ion. Far from con­form­ing to in­ter­na­tional and hu­man­i­tar­ian laws, as claimed by a Saudi state­ment, this is a war crime for which they should be held ac­count­able.

Re­cent diplo­matic ef­forts by the United Na­tions to bro­ker an end to the fight­ing around Hodei­dah and other Red Sea ports have failed, mak­ing ac­cess for hu­man­i­tar­ian aid even more dif­fi­cult. In­ter­na­tional groups work­ing to pro­vide it have with­drawn or lim­ited their work in such a dan­ger­ous set­ting. The fail­ure to make progress on this ques­tion makes wider ef­forts to ease the con­flict look even more for­lorn.

De­mands for in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian aid must be kept up on be­half of the or­di­nary Ye­me­nies im­per­illed by the con­flict.

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