Calls grow for ending Yemen conflict as UN highlights ‘shameful milestone’ of 10,000 children casualties

The international community must take a more proactive role to help bring an end to the years-long conflict in Yemen, experts said, after the United Nations lamented another regrettable milestone in the ongoing war there.

James Elder, a spokesperson for the UN children”s agency UNICEF, said on Oct 19 that the Yemen conflict has hit another “shameful milestone” as 10,000 children have been killed or maimed since fighting started in March 2015.

“That’s the equivalent of four children every day,” Elder said at a UN briefing in Geneva after returning from a trip to Yemen.

UNICEF estimates that four out of every five children, or more than 11 million children, in Yemen need humanitarian assistance and that 1.7 million kids are now internally displaced because of the violence. Meanwhile, 15 million people, out of which 8.5 million are children, do not have access to safe water, sanitation or hygiene.

Despite the already staggering estimates, Abdulghani Al-Iryani, who previously worked with the UN in the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen and the UN Development Programme mission in Hodeidah in Yemen, said the numbers in regard to the victims of conflict are “under-reported”.

The situation keeps deteriorating, Al-Iryani said, especially in the Marib region, where tens of thousands of civilians are caught in cross-fire.

“In democratic states, it is useful to carry out public awareness campaigns, so that public pressure on these governments may lead to a change in policies,” Al-Iryani, who is also a senior researcher at the Yemen-based Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies, told China Daily.

“The UK and the US are active participants in this conflict. Thousands of UK and US personnel serve in the Saudi Air Force. As parties to the conflict, they have a duty of care of the civilian population that they have bombed and laid siege on,” he added.

Civil war in Yemen broke out in 2014 after the Houthis’ seizure of the capital Sanaa, forcing out the internationally recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Saudi Arabia led a military coalition into Yemen the following year, but it has struggled to take out the rebels.

Yemen has been divided into factions. Apart from the Houthis, a rebel group that resisted the rule of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the 1990s, some areas are being controlled by the Southern Transitional Council, or STC, and the anti-Houthi forces opposed to the government.

The forces are both backed by the United Arab Emirates, Yemeni government forces, Saudi-backed forces and the Al-Qaeda.

In September, Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik returned to Yemen’s interim capital Aden after separatist protesters stormed the presidential palace in March.

When we speak of Yemen, we also talk about the role of the international community and their apparent inaction in regard to dealing with the actors there, Mehmet Rakipoglu, a research assistant at Sakarya University Middle East Institute in Turkey, told China Daily.

Rakipoglu, who is also a non-resident fellow at Center for Middle Eastern Studies, said some of the countries which have been criticizing the role of the UN in relation to the Yemen situation, as well as other countries like Syria and Libya, can help raise awareness about the conflict through the UN Security Council, with “big powers” like China or Russia also actively engaged.

“When we speak about international community, we directly speak about the people. The people who live in these countries are members of the United Nations,” said Rakipoglu, suggesting that they could play facilitator roles in terms of awakening the international community through strong rhetoric.

In October, Geng Shuang, China’s deputy permanent representative to the UN said China was deeply concerned about the hostilities that have escalated in Yemen and called for an immediate ceasefire, as well as stepped-up efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in the Arab country.

China urges all parties to abide by international humanitarian law and protect vulnerable groups, especially women and children, Geng told the Security Council.

Rasha Al Joundy, a senior researcher at Dubai Public Policy Research Centre, said the Yemen war “should have ended years ago”. The number of child casualties, the senior researcher said, is proof that civilians, and especially children, are always the segment that suffers in civil wars.

Al Joundy said the Yemen conflict is facing an impasse due to the unwillingness of the Houthis to abide by a ceasefire proposal presented by Riyadh in March.

In March, Saudi Arabia announced an initiative to end the fighting between Houthi rebels and the Riyadh-backed government under the supervision of the UN.

The proposal involved partially opening the airport in the Yemeni capital Sanaa and reviving a revenue-sharing mechanism between the Houthis and the government. But the plan was rejected by the rebels.

“The Houthis think they can control all the Yemenis and the entire national Yemen territory with Iran, IRGC, and Hezbollah’s help. This illusion pushed them to start the war by occupying Sanaa and declaring military action against the internationally recognized government. The Houthis fired the first bullet, and they are refusing to fire the last,” Al Joundy told China Daily.

IRCG refers to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of the Iranian Armed Forces who are believed to be backing Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

“No matter how many Yemeni children suffer, (the Houthis) will not sit on the negotiating table with good intentions and a will to reach a peace deal with other Yemeni brothers and sisters,” Al Joundy added.

Rakipoglu, from the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, said there should be an understanding among all parties involved in the Yemen conflict, which he said, have been “directly and indirectly responsible for the humanitarian crisis.”

Al Joundy said the international community should stop its blame game.

“This war should end, and the Yemenis deserve better and (have) suffered enough,” she said.

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