How People are Forgotten: the Yemeni Civil War

How People are Forgotten: the Yemeni Civil War

This will not be another article seeking to investigate or analyze the political situation in Yemen. The conflict has been thoroughly explored over the last year and a half, the motivations of its actors carefully scrutinized. What has not been adequately recognized – let alone mentioned enough– is the impact of the ongoing Civil War on the Yemeni people.

With large-scale power politics, narratives become dominated by events, governments, religious/political tension – all components that help understand the process of geopolitical conflict but fail to show its ultimate impact. With these kinds of blinders on, political journalism of the powerful silences the plight of the most susceptible or, at best, gives them a courtesy mention in death toll statistics.

In war, the most underreported demographic is too often the most vulnerable: violence in Yemen has taken on various forms, both indirect and direct, though it inevitably always ends up impacting most heavily those on the lowest social tier.

Saudi Arabian air strikes have come to dominate dense urban areas such as the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, where Houthi rebel forces have taken control. This has led to an atmosphere of terror for ordinary civilians, who can do little but take shelter each time the air raids begin. Doctors Without Borders has seen four of their Yemen-based facilities attacked throughout the conflict, and have since condemned the Saudi airstrike campaign for its indiscriminate targeting.

The other major tactical operation is the Saudi-led blockade, which has devastated a country that before the war relied on imports for 90 per cent of its necessary goods. One man tells the story of a son injured in Aben during the fighting; though his wounds were severe, he only died because the city lacked adequate medical supplies.

It is important not to use Saudi Arabia here as a convenient scapegoat for blame: they have been supported by the likes of China, the United States, France and Finland, in varying combinations of combat, financial assistance and arms trade deals.

Additionally, the Houthi rebel forces have been accused of similarly unlawful action; one report details how they have prevented aid workers from accessing conflict zones to deliver medical treatment and water, while others describe excessive force used against civilians during peaceful protest.

The point here is the ease with which such structural violence becomes commonplace; in order for this to happen there must be a power dynamic between the perpetrator and the victim – to carry out such violence, the oppressor must have the means to do so without retribution. In this instance this means the power to issue official accounts and distort stories of actual human suffering.

It becomes easy to forget the individual in large-scale political struggles like these. There is nothing particularly unique about Yemen; ethnic tension, proxy fighting, political power plays by external actors – these are trademarks of almost every major civil conflict in recent years, as is the formulaic reporting that limits itself to such narrow, indifferent methods of analysis. It is important to understand the human aspect of war so that we as an international community can make sure our responses are coming from a place of empathy.

The Yemeni conflict is a forgotten war, overshadowed by stories such as the concurrent (and far more media-appealing) Trump political campaign in the 2016 US presidential election. Despite aforementioned comments, one statistic seems particularly relevant: almost three million displaced individuals since the fighting began. This is nearly twice the population of Montréal, yet such a phenomenon has been grossly underreported. The powerful are too often able to shape narratives of conflict – it is the responsibility of the public to hold them accountable and make sure the suffering of people does not go unheard.