Seminar: The Ongoing Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen

People gather to collect food rations at a food distribution center in Sanaa, Yemen. (c) REUTERS

People gather to collect food rations at a food distribution center in Sanaa, Yemen. (c) REUTERS

Date: Monday 25th June 2018

Time: 6:00pm-8:00pm

Venue: House of Commons, Committee Room 8, London.

The Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR UK) invites you to participate in a seminar concerning the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen: More than 8 million people are at risk of famine, with more than 22 million in desperate need of aid and protection. Yemen is likely to be the famine that will define this era.

International lawyers Joseph Breham and Catriona Murdoch of Global Rights Compliance and expert Clive Baldwin senior legal advisor at Human Rights Watch, will be speaking at the seminar in an attempt to draw the world’s attention further to the crisis - described by some as a forgotten war. Those experts will discuss the conflict, the legal and investigative steps, accountability efforts and mechanisms, and the humanitarian aspects to starvation, conflict and food insecurity. The event will be moderated by Rhys Davies an international criminal and human rights law barrister at Temple Gardens in London.


The situation in Yemen continues to worsen and is, the UN says, the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster.

According to the UN Human Rights Council, civilians have repeatedly been the victims of “unrelenting violations of international humanitarian law”. About 75% of the population – some 22.2 million people - are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, including 11.3 million people in acute need who urgently require immediate assistance to survive.

Millions of people are considered at risk of starvation. Severe acute malnutrition is threatening the lives of almost 400,000 children under the age of five.

With only half of the country’s health facilities fully functioning, at least 16.4 million people are lacking basic healthcare. Medical professionals have struggled to cope with the world’s largest cholera outbreak, which has resulted in more than 1 million suspected cases and thousands of associated deaths since April 2017.

It is against this backdrop that the assembled experts will consider what action can be taken, including both legal and humanitarian remedies.

If you wish to register, click here.

Can We Prosecute Starvation?

YemenGlobal Rights Compliance, in partnership with the World Peace Foundation has released the first briefing paper related to the Yemen Accountability Project: Entitled “Can we prosecute starvation?”, the paper considers the relationship between starvation and conflict, reviews the relevant law, and discusses the requisite evidence for mounting a prosecution.

In summary, the paper addresses the following key points:

  • Famine can be ended. The world came close to doing so. Between 2000 and 2011, there were no famines. Today, several famines threaten various states and regions, all due to the conduct of armed conflict;
  • Famine is properly understood as an atrocity: the result of distinct and often criminally intentional policies that target discrete populations in the pursuit of military or political goals. Famines will no longer occur when they are so morally reprehensible that causing them, or allowing them to happen, is unthinkable. In order to achieve this goal, a sharper application of international law is needed;
  • Although starvation has appeared in a handful of prosecutions in international criminal law over the modern era, there have been a dearth of prosecutions resting squarely on the crime of starvation;
  • A principal challenge is ensuring that the law distinguishes between legitimate military actions such as sieges, the multiple and intersecting causes of famine, and the deliberate starvation of civilians;
  • The clearest and most progressive law on the books is Article 8(2)(b)(xxv) of the Rome Statute, however it does not apply to non-international armed conflict, the context for all of today’s famine situations;
  • Several other legal options exist for prosecution, ranging from war crimes, to crimes against humanity, to genocide, which might be used to address the deliberate starvation of civilians. Doing so will require careful attention to the elements of the offence and the necessary evidence required to establish those elements and the required intent;
  • Only when existing or future legal mechanisms develop or create a better understanding of these scenarios, will prosecutions produce a more singular definition of the crime of starvation.

Will Seven Million Starving Yemenis Ever Find Justice?

The control of food importation into Yemen is being used as a weapon of war, seemingly by all sides.

By Catriona Murdoch* and Wayne Jordash**

A photograph from September 2016 shows a malnourished boy laying on a bed outside his family's hut in Hodaida, Yemen [Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters]

A photograph from September 2016 shows a malnourished boy laying on a bed outside his family’s hut in Hodaida, Yemen [Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters]

The last two decades have seen a significant expansion of international, regional and domestic accountability mechanisms for an array of international crimes and a variety of forgotten victims. Much of this activity has been focused on the conduct of senior military and political leaders who control or significantly contribute to excesses on the battlefield. However, as is becoming clear, this focus does not adequately confront the scale or scope of victims living in the path of armed conflict or under the yoke of brutalising regimes.

This year has seen the resurgence of famineSouth Sudan is enduring the first famine to be declared globally for six years. NigeriaSomalia and Yemen are all on the brink of famine. In each, deliberate political and military action has contributed to the resulting death and injury of thousands of innocent civilians, demanding that serious consideration be given to prosecuting those responsible. Yemen is emblematic of the problem and a may provide a backdrop for the development of the potential remedy proffered by a more imaginative approach to the prosecution of those who engineer, or fail to act to prevent, mass starvation.

Yemen has been described as the “war the world forgot” eclipsed by Syria and complicated by a Saudi-led coalition supported by the United States, the United Kingdomand France. The resulting humanitarian disaster features a famine of cataclysmic proportions. The word “famine” evokes images of dusty pot-bellied children and the wrath of nature. However, the reality is that this is less nature’s cruelty and more mans: “starvation” often more accurately reflects these wholly human-made and preventable catastrophes, where failed diplomacy and ostensible military objectives collide. Continue reading

UK Against an International Inquiry in Yemen

Air strike on Sanaa ©Reuters

Air strike on Sanaa ©Reuters

The United Kingdom (UK) is accused by several human rights organizations to have blocked a joint European Union (EU) proposal to establish an independent international inquiry into the war in Yemen. Instead, the EU submission that was submitted on Friday 23 September to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) asks the UN body to dispatch a mission “with assistance from relevant experts, to monitor and report on the situation … in Yemen”.

The proposal, which was submitted by Slovakia on behalf of the EU, was initiated by the Netherlands in an effort to bring together a European coalition requiring an inquiry to be set up and to examine civilian deaths in Yemen. According to the OHCHR, 3,980 civilians have been killed and 6,909 injured between 26 March 2015 and 22 September 2016. In a press release published on the same day, the OHCHR has expressed its will to see an international inquiry being set up: “In the light of the high civilian casualty numbers and the terrible suffering of the civilian population, we urge all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, including their obligation to respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. We reiterate our call for the setting up of an international and independent investigative body.”

The international investigation inquiry would have to review Saudi’s interventions in Yemen, as the armed coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, is accused of committing war crimes against civilians. UK Foreign Secretary General Boris Johnson has publicly rejected the need for such an inquiry or statements on any breach of international law. Responding to questions relating to a recent airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition which killed at least 19 civilians, including children, he replied that the UK was “using a very, very wide variety of information sources about what is happening to acquaint ourselves with the details”

But assertions from human rights organizations accuse the UK to protect its ally. Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “For 18 months now, UK arms have been central to the destruction of Yemen. The aid that is being given amounts to a small fraction of the damage that has been caused and pales in comparison to the £3.3bn worth of arms that have been licensed. Theresa May and Boris Johnson must end the arms sales and put a stop to the uncritical support that the UK provides for the Saudi regime.”

According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports, more than 70 “unlawful” coalition airstrikes – on homes, hospitals, markets, civilian factories and schools – some of which, they say, may amount to war crimes, and which have killed at least 913 civilians are documented. Human Rights Watch also claims that the Houthi armed group and forces allied to it, including those loyal to the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, have committed numerous violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.