It’s time for the world to stop ignoring Yemen

The UNHRC’s war crimes investigation in Yemen can be an important step towards the peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Yemen airstrikes Reuters
People move the remaining pomegranate fruits after a Saudi-led air raid in Saada, Yemen October 17, 2017 [Naif Rahma/Reuters]

Earlier this year, I left my home in Yemen to try to tell the world the story of a collapsing and suffering country, a story that largely has been ignored despite the United Nations calling it “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world”. Ignored, despite grave violations committed by all parties to the conflict since 2014, including the use of starvation as a weapon of war. Ignored, despite the war having driven seven million civilians – more than the entire population of the Washington, DC, metropolitan area – to the brink of famine. Ignored, despite more than 750,000 cases of cholera, the world’s worst outbreak of that disease.

Last month, the international community took the first step to no longer ignore the conflict in Yemen, when the UN Human Rights Council established a new international panel of experts to report on the violations that have been committed by all sides to this horrible conflict. In so doing, the international community finally has sent a clear message to all warring parties – to the Saudis and their partners, to the Ansar Allah armed group (also known as the Houthis) and their ally former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, to current Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi‘s forces and armed groups loyal to him – that the world finally is watching, that impunity will no longer reign in Yemen, and that violations of human rights and of the laws of war will meet consequences.


Having made this promise of accountability more than two years into the conflict, the international community owes it to the people of Yemen to ensure that the words of the Human Rights Council’s resolution are translated into reality. The UN must select strong, impartial experts for this panel, women and men of character who will not be afraid to identify perpetrators of violations on all sides.

Countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, which have stood by their Saudi and Emirati allies despite documented attacks on civilians – and indeed, have continued to sell Saudi Arabia and the UAE bombs and other weapons for use in their air strikes on Yemen – must give the UN panel proper backing, no matter its findings and conclusions. And the UN experts must realise that their mandate is to speak truth to power, and to identify those responsible for killing innocent men, women, and children in Yemen. 

If the international community takes this opportunity to work to end the conflict, Yemen's next chapter could be one of hope, and we could begin rebuilding our broken country and saving millions of lives from being lost.


Too often, the causes of peace and justice are presented as irreconcilable in conflict, but in Yemen, the establishment of this new UN investigative mechanism can help advance the peaceful resolution of the conflict, by shining a light on violations by the parties and making clear that victories on the battlefield cannot lead to political gains. Coupled with diplomatic pressure, it could incentivise all parties to go back to the negotiating table. The international community should use this moment of heightened scrutiny to restart the UN-led peace process. 


The US, the UK, and France – as permanent UN Security Council members who did not support a strong UN inquiry – have a special responsibility to seize this moment. If the international community misses this opportunity and continues to ignore Yemen, the consequences will be dire. Not only will Yemen’s people continue to suffer starvation, bombardment, and disease on a scale unseen anywhere else in the world, but the threat to the West will increase from terrorists and extremists whom the US State Department has confirmed are using Yemen’s instability to multiply their strength and numbers.

The story of Yemen that I have told on my travels to date has been one of tragedy, suffering, and neglect by the rest of the world. If the international community takes this opportunity to work to end the conflict, Yemen’s next chapter could be one of hope, and we could begin rebuilding our broken country and saving millions of lives from being lost. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.