Saudi Closure of Yemen’s Hudaydah to Worsen Humanitarian Situation: Ex-UN Official

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A former official at the United Nations and professor of international law decried the Saudi-led coalition’s war crimes in Yemen and said the alliance’s move to close the Arabian Peninsula country’s port city of Hudaydah would make “the dire humanitarian situation even worse”.

“I can say that the Saudi-UAE tactic of closing the port of Hudaydah is a serious escalation that is likely to make the dire humanitarian situation even worse,” Richard A. Falk said in an interview with the Tasnim News Agency.  

“70% of Yemen’s food and medicine enters the country through this one port, and it is a further violation of international law to use military means to disrupt a source of food,” he added.

Richard Anderson Falk is the author or co-author of 20 books and the editor or co-editor of another 20 volumes. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on "the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967”.

The following is the full text of Interview:

Tasnim: More than three years into Yemen’s civil war, over 16,000 civilians have been killed and injured, the vast majority by airstrikes, the UN human rights office estimates, adding that the figures are likely to be far higher. After the US Senate narrowly approved a $510 million first installment of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia last June, the kingdom said it would launch a training program to reduce accidental targeting of civilians in Yemen. But in the year since that announcement, civilian deaths were 7 percent more than the year prior, UN data shows. In April alone, 236 civilians were killed and 238 injured — the deadliest month this year so far. A UN report in June found 1,316 Yemeni children were killed or injured last year, and that more than half of the casualties resulted from airstrikes. What is your assessment of the heinous crimes committed by the Riyadh regime and its backers, mainly the US?

Falk: I believe that these air attacks on areas where civilians are known to live in large numbers are war crimes, and to carry such attacks on for several years against a society that is as poor and conflicted as is Yemen is disgraceful. It also shows once again that humanitarian concerns, however severe, are pushed aside if geopolitical forces are deeply engaged as here. Saudi Arabia seems to be intervening because of its contention that a Houthi victory in the civil war would increase Iranian influence near the Saudi border, and the US backs Saudi Arabia in this interpretation. Yet the international law does not authorize the use of force in another sovereign state even if we accept the dubious Saudi reasoning as to their goal of containing Iranian influence.

Tasnim: The United Nations has made a muted response to the Saudi-led coalition’s crimes in the Arabian Peninsula country. What do you think? What role can the international community play in protecting the lives of the oppressed people of Yemen?

Falk: As suggested in my response to the prior question, when geopolitical forces are supportive of the crimes being committed in Yemen, the UN is paralyzed at the level of behavior. The most that the UN can do under these circumstances is to make known the horrible effects of the war, the millions of Yemenis who have been so far displaced, more than 10 thousand killed, and contributing to frightening levels of food insecurity. The UN has reported that as many as 18 million Yemenis are currently facing a famine threat, and could be at risk of starvation during the remainder of 2018. In effect, the UN is not able to protect the people of Yemen from these terrible realities, but it can at least raise political consciousness about the gravity of the situation by demonstrating concern and gathering information, and in the process activate the moral conscience of humanity.

Tasnim: Saudi Arabia said on Thursday it was suspending oil shipments through the Red Sea’s Bab al-Mandeb strait, one of the world’s most important tanker routes, after Yemen’s Houthis attacked two ships in the waterway. Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement - which has joined hands with the country's army against the Saudi-led coalition - says capital cities of the alliance will be “no longer safe" from missiles fired in retaliation for the massive attacks on Yemen. What do you think about the deterrent power of Yemen's Houthis and how do you predict the future of the protracted war?

Falk: It is impossible for me to comment on the battlefield situation in any responsible way. I can say that the Saudi/UAE tactic of closing the port of Hudaydah is a serious escalation that is likely to make the dire humanitarian situation even worse. 70% of Yemen’s food and medicine enters the country through this one port, and it is a further violation of international law to use military means to disrupt a source of food. It is hardly surprising that Yemen is exploring responses that make its attackers reconsider their intervention and its tactics. There are reports, some contested, of recent missile firings and a drone attack on targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. If the war escalates, the threatened humanitarian catastrophe will almost certainly occur. It is time to re-determine whether there is some way to achieve a sustainable ceasefire, even if a political accommodation seems presently out of reach. It is already too late to avoid human tragedy on a large scale, but it is not too late to avoid an even more massive loss of life and societal cohesion. Already, these unlawful geopolitical policies have made the people of Yemen suffer far too much.

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