US to revoke terrorist designation of Houthis citing famine

Action reverses the order issued by former President Donald Trump against Yemen rebel group just before leaving office on January 20.

The United Nations describes Yemen as the world's biggest humanitarian crisis [File: Essa Ahmed/AFP]

The United States intends to revoke the terrorist designation for Yemen’s Houthi movement in response to the country’s humanitarian crisis, reversing one of the most criticised last-minute decisions of the Trump administration.

The reversal, confirmed by a State Department official on Friday, comes a day after President Joe Biden declared a halt to US support for the Saudi Arabia-led military campaign in Yemen, widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“Our action is due entirely to the humanitarian consequences of this last-minute designation from the prior administration, which the United Nations and humanitarian organizations have since made clear would accelerate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” the official said.

In a statement, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the decision.

“The designation … stopped food and other critical aid from being delivered inside Yemen and would have prevented effective political negotiation,” he said.

The United Nations on Friday also welcomed Washington’s plan to revoke the US terrorist designation for Yemen’s Houthi group “as it will provide profound relief to millions of Yemenis who rely on humanitarian assistance and commercial imports to meet their basic survival needs”, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Just days before his term in office ended on January 20, then-US President Donald Trump designated the Houthis a “foreign terrorist organisation” – effectively barring US citizens and entities from interacting financially with the group.

The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, with 80 percent of its 24 million people in need, and it warned the Trump administration that the designation would push millions in Yemen into a large-scale famine.

The State Department official has also stressed the latest action has “nothing to do” with the US view of the Houthis and their “reprehensible conduct”, and repeated Washington’s commitment to helping Saudi Arabia to defend its territory against further such attacks.

The Trump administration exempted aid groups, the United Nations, the Red Cross and the export of agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices from its designation, but UN officials and aid groups said the carve-outs were not enough and called for the decision to be revoked.

Yemen’s civil war pits the internationally recognised government against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

The United Nations estimates that 80 percent of Yemen’s 24 million people are in need due to the Saudi-led operation in the country [File: Ali Owidha/Reuters]

Iran’s ambassador to Yemen reacted with scepticism to the move by the US government.

Yemen’s conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives, including large numbers of civilians, and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

A Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015 on the side of the government and enjoyed the backing of the Trump administration, with the war increasingly seen as a proxy conflict between the US and Iran.

But the mounting civilian death toll and growing humanitarian calamity fuelled bipartisan demands for an end to US support for Riyadh.

Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2021 published in January that the parties to Yemen’s armed conflict continued to violate the laws of war in 2020, including committing new war crimes.

HRW reported that the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as Houthi forces, launched mortars, rockets, and missiles into heavily populated areas.

Source: News Agencies, Reuters