For over four years, the war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of people and brought millions of Yemenis to the brink of famine. Yet few Americans realize that alongside generous U.S. contributions to provide assistance to Yemeni families, the United States also is contributing to the root cause of their suffering by exporting billions of dollars in bombs and other weapons to some of the countries waging war in Yemen.
Although Congress has pursued bipartisan legislation to end U.S. military support for the war in Yemen, these attempts have not yet succeeded, leaving countless innocent lives in the balance. Now is the time for the House and Senate to re-double legislative efforts to finally stop American involvement in this horrible conflict.
The scope of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is staggering. More than 24 million people — over 80 percent of the country’s population — need humanitarian aid to survive, and nearly 16 million of those do not know when and where they will get their next meal. Yemen has also seen the worst cholera outbreak in modern history, as the bombardment of hospitals, water facilities and other key infrastructure helps this deadly but preventable disease spread among a vulnerable population displaced by the war.
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is entirely man-made, fueled by year upon year of war. My organization, CARE, serves over 1 million Yemenis per month, and aid agencies overall are helping roughly 12 million Yemenis with food, medicine and protection. But the crisis has cut so deep and lasted so long that aid alone cannot keep Yemenis alive and safe. The only thing that will truly ease the suffering of the Yemini people is to end the war which is bolstered by U.S. arms sales.
All sides engaged in this war have betrayed the Yemeni people, and the United States must pressure all warring parties to stop fighting, prioritize peace and commit to supporting Yemen to recover and rebuild. Throughout the conflict, the United States has provided logistical and material support for a military campaign led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United Arab Emirates, which has included nearly 20,000 airstrikes against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, despite consistent evidence that these attacks regularly injure and kill Yemeni civilians. The Saudi-led coalition, including blockades of Yemen’s seaports, airports and roads, have further exposed millions of people to disease, starvation and death. The Houthis also bear responsibility for the catastrophe in Yemen. Their obstruction and interference with humanitarian assistance and indiscriminate attacks on civilians also are unacceptable.
Earlier this spring, the White House rejected an attempt by Congress to send this very message, by vetoing a bipartisan measure to cut U.S. support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. Last month, President Trump followed up by using a loophole to circumvent Congress and push through over $8 billion of weapons sales. But there are new opportunities for Congress to try again to end this shameful chapter in U.S. foreign policy.
We were pleased that Sen. Lindsey Graham supported bipartisan resolutions that the Senate adopted Thursday that formally disapproved the recently announced arms sales. But Congress must further safeguard Yemeni lives by passing binding legislation to ban U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE until the conflict in Yemen is resolved. The upcoming must-pass annual defense authorization bill, which typically includes a range of measures related to U.S. national security, is the perfect opportunity to make this happen. Now is the time for Congress to demonstrate that the will of the American people and the lives of innocent Yemeni civilians are a priority.
What comes next is an opportunity to steer US foreign policy, and the policy of coalition partners, in the direction of building up Yemen, and helping to give back the peace it once knew.
David Ray is vice president for policy and advocacy at CARE USA, a humanitarian aid and development organization headquartered in Atlanta, and is managing director of the CARE Action Network.