1.Yemen has long suffered from poverty and instability, leaving it the poorest country in the Middle East: before the current crisis it ranked 157 out of 184 countries on the Human Development Index. Yemen faces a range of deep-seated development challenges including: high levels of poverty; food insecurity; high population growth; deep-rooted gender inequality; a weak economy; and poor social service provision. In late 2014, the UN assessed that 15.9 million people required some kind of humanitarian assistance. In addition, the country’s history and its religious, tribal and political make-up, are complex: the former President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, described ruling the country as akin to “dancing on the heads of snakes”. On 26 March 2015, an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes against the Houthi armed group who had taken over the capital Sana’a and forced the Yemeni Government into exile. What was meant to be a short, sharp campaign to stop the advance of the Houthis, and restore President Al-Hadi to power, escalated rapidly into a full-blown armed conflict.
2.Over the ensuing months, the conflict engulfed the country, with 20 out of 22 governorates affected. There have been high numbers of civilian casualties: by the end of 2015, civilians made up half the deaths of the conflict with 2,795 killed and 5,324 injured. Import restrictions imposed on ports led to severe shortages of commercial supplies and impeded access for humanitarian assistance. On 1 July 2015 the UN declared Yemen a level 3 crisis, a category reserved for the most severe and large-scale humanitarian crises. 82 per cent of the population are now in need of humanitarian assistance with little access to basic services like water and electricity. Food prices have soared, the health system is struggling to cope, and half of school-aged children have no school to go to. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator has described Yemen as “on the brink of an all-out humanitarian disaster.” It was in this context that we decided to hold a short inquiry into the crisis in Yemen. We called for written evidence, looking at the following issues:
3.We held an informal meeting with representatives of the Yemeni diaspora and heard compelling evidence from UNICEF, Save the Children, Oxfam and Saferworld on the scale of the humanitarian crisis and the challenges for humanitarian organisations in delivering aid within an area of conflict. They raised serious concerns regarding the conduct of the conflict and the violations of IHL by both sides. We also heard from DFID and FCO Ministers on the Government response to the crisis. Given the urgency of the situation, we wrote to the Secretary of State for International Development setting out our most pressing concerns and made requests which, along with other recommendations, are reflected in this report.
4.We have received responses from both the Secretary of State for International Development and the Foreign Secretary recognising the important leadership role DFID has played in the humanitarian response. The Foreign Secretary further reinforced the evidence we heard from Ministers on the Government’s position. In correspondence with us, the Foreign Secretary has stressed that “first and foremost” it wants to see the Saudis conduct thorough and conclusive investigations of breaches of IHL. He has also said that he is “satisfied that all extant licences for the export of arms exports to Saudi Arabia are compliant with the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licencing Criteria”. The Chair of the Committee wrote to the Foreign Secretary before the publication of the report to provide the opportunity to provide further information on the basis of his analysis. His response is published as an appendix to this report. We welcome the response from the Secretary of State for International Development that: “Addressing the crisis in the Yemen continues to be a top priority for DFID. We will maintain our focus on supporting the peace talks to end the conflict; increasing commercial imports of food, fuel and medical supplies; improving humanitarian access; and strengthening the international community’s response to the crisis.” We strongly support these remarks and the aims they reflect and hope that this report will make a valuable contribution towards them.
6 Conflict in Yemen, Debate Pack House of Commons Library, October 2015
7 UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, , 5 January 2016
8 “ ”, UN News Centre, 19 June 2015
9 Annex 2
10 Appendix 3
11 Appendix 4
12 Appendix 2
29 April 2016