UN doublespeak on Yemen
The UNSC condemned the coup and imposed sanctions on its leaders. The Security Council left no doubt that it considered the elected government of President Hadi to be the only legitimate authority in Yemen. However, a small number of UN agencies and officials continue to cooperate with the Houthis and rely on their disinformation.
UNSC Resolution 2216 of April 14, 2015 mentions Houthis about 20 times, usually in the context of urging them to surrender the territories they had occupied, and weapons and military bases they seized, “[c]ondemning in the strongest terms the ongoing unilateral actions taken by the Houthis, and their failure to implement the demands in resolution 2201 (2015) to immediately and unconditionally withdraw their forces from government institutions, including in the capital Sanaa, normalize the security situation in the capital and other provinces, relinquish government and security institutions, and safely release all individuals under house arrest or arbitrarily detained.”
UNSC 2216 further admonished them, “[d]eploring any attempt by the Houthis to take actions that are exclusively within the authority of the legitimate Government of Yemen, and noting that such actions are unacceptable,” and “[e]xpressing alarm that such actions taken by the Houthis undermine the political transition process in Yemen, and jeopardize the security, stability, sovereignty and unity of Yemen.”
In these and the rest of UNSCR 2216, the UN highest authority lays down the law on Yemen, clearly distinguishing between the legitimate government of Yemen and Houthi rebels, according only the former the rights and responsibilities of governments.
Yet some UN agencies appear to have not observed such distinction between the legitimate government and the Houthis, ignoring international and regional consensus on Houthi usurpation of government authority. They treat Houthi disinformation as fact and disseminate it in their reports on human rights and humanitarian suffering in Yemen. In so doing those agencies have undermined their own credibility and jeopardized their mission. By relying on Houthi disinformation and underreporting their serious human rights violations and war crimes, they have emboldened them and complicated peace talks.
Giving Houthis a false appearance of legitimacy is at odds with the UN’s own principles. Pro-Houthi bias could compromise UN efforts to broker a political solution. It is complicating the relentless efforts of the UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to reach a peace agreement, in accordance with UNSCR 2216, the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative and the outcomes of Yemen’s National Dialogue.
Especially problematic is giving credence to Houthi claims about human rights, when they are so opposed to UN principles. While the UN Charter calls for peace and resolution of disputes through peaceful means, Houthis have all along, for over a decade, used violence to pursue their goals, culminating in the coup d’état they staged in September 2014.
Since then, they have besieged cities, such as Taiz and targeted civilians, destroying homes, schools and hospitals, as we saw in Aden, and executed prisoners. They have repeatedly fired ballistic missiles into population centers. They assassinate and kidnap their opponents, especially going after journalists and peaceful protesters.
While UN conventions bar recruitment of children, Houthis rely heavily on child soldiers — about one third of fighters are below the age of 18. They take them from their families, indoctrinate them with sectarian hate, and provide them with Qat to make them uninhibited and unencumbered with mercy or requirements of international humanitarian law. And while the UN calls for respect of democracy and the will of the people, Houthis flout both. They want to return to the “imamate,” clerical rule with a well-defined caste system, dominated by a religious figure similar to Iran’s supreme leader. The overwhelming majority of Yemenis have no interest in returning to such rule, having suffered through it for centuries until it was abolished in 1961.
After the turbulence of 2011, and with the help of the GCC Initiative and its Implementation Mechanism, Yemenis chose a peaceful path toward democracy, through an exemplary national dialogue that reached consensus on major national issues. In 2012, they overwhelmingly chose a transitional government to oversee the drafting of a new constitution and arranging presidential and parliamentary elections. But in 2014, Houthis decided to upend this consensus and overthrow the democratically chosen government.
With such a record, it is beyond belief why some UN officials could rely on disinformation disseminated by Houthis for obvious political purposes.
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