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This article is written by Abhay, a student from Kirit P. Mehta School of Law, NMIMS. This is a comprehensive article which deals with various aspects associated with the current humanitarian crisis in Yemen.


The UN has called Yemen’s humanitarian crisis the world’s largest human tragedy. Thousands of people have been killed in the civil conflict and as a result of the spread of fatal diseases. Majority of Yemen’s inhabitants are really in urgent need for some humanitarian assistance. Millions of people have also been internally displaced, thousands of refugees have moved to other countries, children are being hired in armed conflict and the unethical usage of mines and bombs has caused the death of so many more. 

The problem arose when the Houthi forces unseated the established government to take authority and strength of government. The Hadi government asked its supporters and allies to save it from the conflict, and therefore the war started between both the Saudi-led coalition as well as the Houthis, leading in this crisis. This article aims to analyze the fundamental factors that contributed to this humanitarian crisis.

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Since 2004 the Yemeni government and the Houthis have always been in armed conflict. The Houthis belong to a group of non-state actors (NSAs), especially a rebel force of Zaidi Shia created in 1990, only with the hope of acquiring control over the whole country and eliminating the nation’s Saudi-backed Salafi impact. The violence started after Ali Abdullah Saleh, then-President used high-security procedures to detain the Houthi rebellion leader in an attempt to restrict rebellions in the nation. 

In the context of battling injustice from the US-backed tyrant, the Houthi revolt had risen to prominence and launched months of demonstrations against the government, ultimately forcing the President out of office. The power was given over to Saleh’s deputy, the chosen Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. He was elected as a president in 2012. 

Yemen suffered severe political turmoil from 2012 to 2014, owing to massive demonstrations against fuel prices in the Houthi base of operations. The Houthis managed to gain complete power of the capital city, Sana’a, in the next few months. The government managed to negotiate with the Houthis and arrived at a temporary UN-brokered peace deal that only ended in a few months until the disputed constitutional draft in January 2015. 

The Houthi rebels got control of the president’s residence within a month and prompted him to step down. After taking full control of the military forces, fighter jets, and weapons they confirmed their assumption of authority in Yemen. President Hadi relocated to the city of Aden in March 2015 and proclaimed it the new capital, hoping to return to power. Nevertheless, when the country faced mass demonstrations from both sides, President Hadi escaped to Saudi Arabia and welcomed surrounding nations to retaliate by force. As a response, Operation Decisive Storm, a nine-member alliance including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates ( UAE), Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, and Sudan, began armed confrontation between both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis. 

The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2216 in April 2015 and acknowledged President Hadi as Yemen’s legitimate leader. The weapons restriction had been in effect against the Houthis since February 2014. In 2016, UAE ground forces pushed Al Qaeda out of Mukalla, where Saleh and the Houthi forces had signed an agreement to establish the Supreme Political Council.

Former president Saleh was murdered by the Houthis in 2017 for requesting on Saudi Arabia to reach an agreement for peace and security in the country. With the UAE-backed activity, Al Qaeda, ISIS and other NSA / terrorist and extremist troops, the Yemeni government started losing control of its region. The UAE endorsed provincial sovereignty activities, for which Hadi forces criticised some UAE-sponsored gestures.

As the UAE and the US blame the Houthis of supplying arms and missile systems to Iran and North Korea, Iran adamantly rejects these unfounded allegations. In 2017 the Saudi-led coalition launched Operation Golden Arrow to close the Houthi supply lines. Within the next few months, therefore, the Hadi troops had managed to gain command of the Mocha terminal. In August 2019, Saudi-backed forces and a UAE-sponsored southern separatist faction, the Southern Transitional Council, fought internal conflict in the South. The STC’s loyalist forces blamed Mr Hadi for incompetence and ties to Islamic fundamentalist groups. We had seized care of Aden. They were refusing to allow the cabinet to return until November. Saudi Arabia has been seeking a power-sharing deal. The UN expected the agreement could lead the way to a diplomatic resolution to end the dispute. However, in January 2020, a dramatic outbreak of violence took place between both the Houthis and coalition-led forces. That was on several fronts with clashes, missiles and airstrikes.

Besides all this, Yemen also plays an important economic role as it rests on a strait which connects the Red Sea with the Aden Gulf. Many oil consignments worldwide pass through this strait.

The Contributors

Forces operating against and without the legal authority of the Yemeni government

  • The Houthis – The Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, are a rebellious Zaidi Shia community in Yemen. They are non-state entities, but they demanded the presidency in 2017 and took charge of the Yemeni government. The Houthis had been in armed rebellion with the Saleh regime since 2004, but eventually joined forces to take control of the capital with Saleh’s forces in 2014; they are also blamed for assassinating former president Saleh in 2017. The Houthis are made up of insurgent groups of Zaidi and Sayyid, and also some combat units. The Houthis have influence over most of Yemen’s major cities. Now the US is proposing to label the Houthis as a bunch of terrorists.
  • ISIS and Al Qaeda- Al Qaeda has established a foothold in many regions of Yemen since 2011, despite the political vacuum. This team includes an Al Qaeda sub-branch, known as Ansar al sharia. It already has a presence in the Abyn, Aden, Balhaf, Mukalla and Ash Shihr territories. Al Qaeda seeks to extend its regional influence; however, Al Qaeda and the Houthis find themselves in violent rebellion with each other to protect their respective interests. Similarly, given the political vacuum, ISIS too has seized power in some parts of Yemen as of 2014. But ISIS has less presence in Yemen than Al Qaeda, and its attacks threaten mosques and government institutes.
  • Iran- The coalition led by the Saudis accuses Iran of helping and training the Houthis. Iran denied the claims. However, there have been reports that Iran has provided Houthis with weapons and training through Hezbollah. The UN maintains that there is no widespread Iranian intervention or funding for Houthis. There’s a misconception, above everything, that Houthis are Shia backed by Iranians. Yet the Zaidi Shias vary from the Iranian Twelver Shias. In a UN report, the advisory group discovered that the armaments, resources and technologies used by the Houthis have been developed and created in Iran. The Houthis are really accountable for the condition of Yemen, in a true sense. The landmark case of Nicaragua found that to provide weapons and arms support to non-state actors is forbidden not only under international law, but is equivalent to aggressive behaviour including the use of force. Foreign media have repeatedly accused Iran of providing weapons to the Houthis. 
  • Hezbollah – The Houthis are not relying on monetary and weapons assistance from Iran. Hezbollah is the main ally of the Houthis in Lebanon. Hezbollah supports the Houthis with the training and funding for weapons. 

Forces operating with the legal authority of the Yemeni government

  • Hadi government – Many of the military organizations under Ali Mohsin’s command have been loyal to the president, although only a few military units have joined hands with both the Saleh and Houthi sides. The Hadi forces form the bulk of the armed and ethnic groups in Yemen. The Hadi forces are also in command of the Hadrami Elite forces which operate under the supervision of the UAE. The Hadi government has had an association with the coalition headed by the Saudi, and loyal forces of Saleh since 2017.
  • Saleh troops- Saleh forces are composed of tribal, political, and military forces which are still dedicated to the assassinated President Saleh. Such forces continue to have some impact on Yemen’s key areas. Since 2017, the Saleh troops have teamed up with Hadi in the struggle against the Houthis.
  • The Coalition led by Saudi Arabia – In 2015, the Saudi-led coalition started using aggression in Yemen at President Hadi’s request with the objective of overthrowing the country’s Houthi uprising and taking control of President Hadi’s legitimate government. The coalition consisted originally of nine leaders, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan and Qatar. Yet Qatar had to quit the alliance due to the political crisis Qatar encountered in 2017. Morocco had decided to leave the group, too. The activities are largely headed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, whose interests at times like to deviate from each other. Saudi Arabia regulates the air operations from its Riyadh headquarters and maintains the ability to dominate combat operations in Marib, while the UAE regulates combat operations in Aden and the Mukalla district. The Saudi-led government has launched several operational activities to regain control of Yemen’s coast and state institutions. These operations included but were not restricted to Operation Golden Arrow and Decisive Storm in 2015. As per UN estimates, this interference and civil conflict between both the Houthis and the Hadi / Saudi-led coalition government has created the world’s deadliest humanitarian disaster, killing innocent civilians and causing a health and food crisis among Yemen’s population.
  • The United States of America – Saudi Arabia has pursued U.S. military assistance since forming the coalition. In 2015 President Obama enabled the Saudi-led coalition by providing logistical and intelligence assistance. Ever since the US has supplied Saudi Arabia with weapons to use violence in Yemen and approved arms sales deals amounting to hundreds of billions, and Saudi Arabia has also been alleged to be in breach of international humanitarian law in Yemen on many instances. The U.S. also provides Yemen air refuelling for coalition aircraft for strikes.

Other countries include the UK and France who provide weapons to the Saudi led coalition and also help in training their troops for the armed conflicts.

UN on the use of force

The UN Charter forbids any use of force and violence in other nations; the only exceptions include the use of force in self-defence and the use of force with the approval of the United Nations Security Council. The UN has blamed Saudi Arabia of using intimidation in Yemen as an illegal external interference in the sovereign land of Yemen. In response, Saudi Arabia claims that Yemen’s legitimate government is the Hadi government, referring to statements from the UN and that this legitimate government has invited Saudi Arabia to use force in Yemen to restore order and peace to counter the Houthis’ unlawful use of force.

Invitation by the legitimate government

Interference by request is the use of force by a foreign nation in a hosting country under the host state’s legal authorization. Such interference is typically done with the host country’s support of the recognized government to preserve peace and stability. Next, approval is necessary to be able to detect any violation of consent by the host state’s highest acting official. Secondly, the status quo of the consenting government must be accepted by the international community. In that regard, the acceptance by the acting government of the host country as a legitimate government by the UN is sufficient to determine the validity of the approval.

In-state practice under customary international law, every state has never rejected approval or invitations from the host states against military coups and secessionist parties. In addition, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in the landmark Nicaragua’s case provided a basic dictum and declared that: ‘it is challenging to understand what remains of the rule of non-interference in international law, if intervention is already permissible at the invitation of the government of a State, is also permissible at the invitation of the opposition.’ Likewise, in the case of DRC v. Uganda, the ICJ defined that interference is permissible by invitation. In summary, intervention by invitation is legally acceptable under international laws and doctrines on the use of force, which are supported by state practice, the policy of the UN Security Council ( UNSC), the ICJ case law, and the UN General Assembly’s concept of violence. According to customary international law, interference by the host state’s request is thus seen as more of a third exception to the UN Charter’s prohibition of the use of force.

Acceptance by the United Nation

In the current situation, it is obvious that now the UN has accepted the Hadi government as the rightful government. Resolution 2216 (2015) approved President Hadi as the legitimate acting President of the Yemeni republic. The UN has also recognized the offer letter from President Hadi, on Yemen’s Saudi-led coalition. The UN thereby clearly means that perhaps the acts performed by the Saudi-led coalition do not infringe international norms on the use of force, the rule of non-intervention or the restriction of the use of force. Since they are associated by request approved by state practice, ICJ case law, and legal doctrines with customary laws of intervention. 

The Illegitimate Action by the US

From the other perspective, the use of drones against terror suspects in Yemen’s sovereign land seems to have no legal justification in international law for the use of force by the US, because the Yemeni government vehemently denied U.S. authorization of using force in its sovereign land.

The International Community on the Conflict

Many nations around the world stressed that the operation was based on the Arab Joint Defense Treaty and Article 51 of the UN Charter. That being said, a handful of countries have indicated that Saudi Arabia’s intervention seems to have no legitimate justification in the international rules of using force. For example, Iran blamed Saudi Arabia for breaching Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, prohibiting the use of power in other countries. Similarly, Russia claimed that the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen did not have any legal justification to use force under international law. Iraq took a very similar approach and said there must be no intervention in Yemen’s internal affairs. Prior to the intervention by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, the UNSC asserted that there should be no meddling in the domestic matters of Yemen. That being said, in Resolution 2216 (2015), after the Saudi intervention, the UNSC recognized President Hadi’s letter to the coalition for using force in Yemen. The resolution did not endorse or condemn the Saudi intervention in Yemen. 


The Worst Humanitarian Crisis

Yemen is currently facing the world’s largest food shortage crisis. Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis, with far more than 24 million people – nearly 80% of the population – in most need of emergency relief, along with more than 12 million children. The nation has been a complete nightmare for the children of the region, after the dispute intensified in March 2015.

Even before the conflict started, Yemen was estimated to be among the poorest countries in the world, relying for a majority of its food supply on foreign assistance. The humanitarian crisis in the region has always been the one because the war broke out. It is called by the United Nations as the world’s worst and greatest human tragedy. Yemen’s economy, health-care system, infrastructure, the legal system, and administration were destroyed. In addition to these problems, Yemen is struggling from the outbreaks of fatal diseases, crime, deprivation and its forced displacement. In addition, explosives, land mines and cluster bombs are commonly used in Yemen, and thousands of children have also been trained for war. Yemen lacks the means to operate its medical system and runs short of physicians, medicines, fuel and hospital instruments. Yemen’s food supply is 90 per cent dependent on imports; following the Hodeidah port’s invasion and capture, Yemen’s food shortage is at a historic high triggering sky-high food prices, rendering food inaccessible to the wider populace. 

The Effect of Crisis on the Children

Most health workers receive no salaries or benefits, and 10.2 million children have no access to adequate health care. Children continue to be murdered and brutalized throughout the fighting, whereas hospitals and schools have been destroyed and closed to impede access to education and health care, making children far more disadvantaged and stripping them of their future. 

The situation worsened by COVID-19

The UN declared Yemen the neediest country on Earth nearly three years before the advent of Covid-19. There are some 24 million people that’s about 80% of the population who rely on help to survive, and millions are on the verge of starvation. With the rapid spread of COVID-19 now, Yemen faces a crisis within an emergency. Hygiene and clean water are a scarcity. Only half of the healthcare facilities operate, and those that continue functional lack necessary things such as masks and gloves, let alone oxygen and other basic necessities for coronavirus treatment. Around 2 million children had been out of school prior to COVID-19. Already schools across the world have been shut because of the pandemic, leaving around 7.8 million children unable to access education. Due to the spread of coronavirus, more kids could experience life-threatening extreme acute malnutrition over the next six months, as the estimated number of undernourished children under the age of five will grow to a total of 2.4 million.

The Law on Humanitarian Aid

Article 14 of the Additional Protocol (AP) II to the Geneva Conventions forbids the use of hunger as a military strategy by the parties to the conflict and characterizes the destruction of resources which are crucial to human life, such as water supplies, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Denying the availability of food, water and health services is also in violation of human rights legislation. Humanitarian law requires third parties to provide humanitarian aid in an armed conflict, especially as regards food and medical assistance. Under customary international law, providing for the transportation of this humanitarian assistance is the responsibility of the parties of the conflict.

An Obstruction of Humanitarian Aid 

The opposing forces, the Houthis and the coalition headed by Saudi Arabs are accountable for blocking humanitarian assistance from entering civilian populations. In order to be able to combat the Houthis, the Saudi-led coalition placed a blockade on land, sea, and air routes into Yemen. The blockade has prohibited food, medicine and fuel from being transported to the nation, whose economy depends on 80–90 per cent on imports. Health, food, and water systems have since crashed, causing an epidemic of cholera. In 2017, the number of people in Yemen afflicted in cholera was reported in the millions. Such health issues and conditions are exacerbated largely by a blockade imposed by an alliance led by the Saudis. The coalition blockade is legally underpinned by UNSC Resolution 2216 (2015).

The Alliance asserts that the blockade is to impose an arms embargo on the Houthis. It is important to remember that now the same resolution promoted the transfer of humanitarian aid to Yemen and endorsed it. For these purposes, if the coalition prevents any humanitarian assistance to Yemen for no excuse, it will act without any justifiable reasons Domestic law. On the other hand, humanitarian aid has been specifically targeted by the Houthis to prevent it from reaching civilians. They are even accountable for the detention, torture and murder of representatives of the humanitarian workforce. Given the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis as a result of food shortages and mortal disease outbreaks, UNSC Resolution 2417 (2018) persuaded the global community to examine the causes of this humanitarian crisis and retain those held accountable.

The Saud-led coalition and Yemen are parties to the Geneva Conventions (GCs) and the common Article 3 of the GCs and AP II is applicable to non -international armed conflicts. On the other hand, because the Houthis satisfy all the conditions laid down in Article 1 of AP II, they are subject to the Treaty rules. Furthermore, the rules of AP I and the customary humanitarian rules refer to all parties to a non-international military conflict as well. 

The International Humanitarian Principles

Below are some universal humanitarian concepts which have gained the role of customary international law allowing their applicability to all opposing states and parties.

The Principle of Proportionality

The proportionality principle requires that the loss and harm caused by a military operation should not exceed the benefits it has obtained. This concept precludes incidents that could cause unintentional loss of human life, injury to innocent people, damage to civilian objects etc. All this can happen just because of the so-called anticipation that there will be some kind of military advantage. This means that the overall damage done by a military operation should not be disproportionate to the expected military gain out of that particular operation.

The Principle of Distinction

The principle of distinction specifies that the parties to the dispute should differentiate between both the civilians and the other forces. It should also differentiate between civilian objects and combat goals. And after considering all these should direct their activities only against military goals. Innocent people could only be aimed as combatants if they so choose to participate directly in armed conflict after which they may lose their security from the conflict they had gained from this very principle. The principle suggests that civilian objects, such as hospitals, schools, civil structures, and residences, can not be specifically targeted in a violent conflict only if they are being used for military or violent activities.

The Principle of Precaution

The precautionary principle suggests that consistent precautions must be exercised in carrying out combat actions to spare civilian populations, innocents and civilian objects. Therefore, all conflicting parties should ensure that perhaps the objective is still a military objective at any and all times while using aggression and that the harm to civilians is reduced through the use of the weapons of choice. From the theory of Precaution, an assault or an objective must be abandoned if the goal is considered to be civilian and not military in intent and if the risk to civilians is disproportionate to the expected military benefits. Accordingly, if a situation demands a warning, it must be issued in advance to the civilians. Although international humanitarian law recognizes the inevitability of casualties, injuries, and risk to citizens mostly during the duration of the conflict, it specifies that military actions should be prepared and conducted in such a way as to mitigate risk to civilians. International humanitarian law, therefore, requires that the preference weapon does not cause needless suffering for people, nature or the environment. The use of nuclear explosives, cluster warheads, infectious weapons, blinding lasers, and explosive devices is also banned by law.

The Rights of Detainees

The UAE maintains three detention centres based in Mukalla, Aden, and Balhalf. UAE elite troops operating under the jurisdiction of the Government of Yemen, which is accused of breaching International Humanitarian Law and human rights laws by unlawfully prosecuting, tormenting and refusing to provide medical care to the members of Al Qaeda imprisoned at Mukalla. International humanitarian law and human rights law also forbid unlawful detention and specify that persons have the right not to be unlawfully stripped of their freedom. However, customary international law, Article 3 of the GCs, Article 4 of the AP II and the law on human rights also include prisoners to be treated with dignity and not to be subjected to torture or violence.


Russia controls the political and diplomatic capital and has the moral option to revoke the deadlock in the resolution as a traditional ally of Yemen. There will be the global community’s constructive response to the potential start of peace negotiations in that region. This refers to both UN and national actors. The European Union and the countries with a hidden agenda in Mandeb Strait security might become Russia’s active participants in this matter. Yemen will need large sums of money to reestablish its wrecked economy. The gulf states, global banks and member countries of the Friends of Yemen group, founded in London in 2010 to help and stabilize Yemen, may provide these tools. The restoration should provide a foundation for fair collaboration among all Yemen’s Gulf countries. This, in effect, should strengthen the local condition and help to resolve current concerns about the presence of dangerous and unwanted foreign actors in the country. If Russia manages to push the peace process in that direction, various allies and partners would benefit


The rapidly approaching humanitarian crisis in Yemen dramatically raises the prominence of the Yemeni issue on the global scene. Saudi Arabia and the United States’ focus on pursuing the war is triggering and increasing outrage among the European allies in Washington, as well as in Middle Eastern and Asian countries. The imminent humanitarian crisis and fatalities of tens of billions of Yemenis would lead to permanent developments on the Arabian Peninsula, which would impact the general security framework of the Horn of Africa nations, along with those of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Egypt, and would also have a detrimental effect on the Mandeb Strait, by which a quarter of the world ‘s freight trading goes by.



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