The current geopolitical antagonism and bedlam that has enveloped world politics has raised an alarm to the whole world, and particularly the one that has plagued the Arab World. From Tunis to Algiers, Cairo to Tripoli, to Damascus, the Arab World is in total turmoil.It is indeed unspeakable for seeing the mass killing of innocent Yemenis on their own territory, code named ‘Operation Decisive Storm’, an act pioneered by Saudi Arabia and supported by the coalitionunder the excuse of rescuing Yemen from Houthi control who took political power afterousting the government of former president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The Saudi-led airstrike came at a time when the Syrian conflict top global political agenda, with great powers rendering their contentious supports to the warring parties in the conflict. It equally came at a time when the world was attentively following the nuclear negotiation between the so-called P5+1 and Iran. It further came at a time when the Libyan crisis was getting more and more exacerbated due to conflicting interests that emerged between different interest groups in the country, and when Egypt could not settle down from the political uproar it experienced since the ousting of former dictator Hosni Mubarak.
The Houthis also known as the Ansar Allah (Partisans of God) in Yemen first started their uprising in 2004 led by Hussein Badr al Din al-Houthi who wanted a greater autonomy for the northern Saada province from which the group hails. With the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011, Yemeni’s rose up against then President Ali Abdallah Saleh. After winning election in 2012, Hadi became internationally recognised but domestically contested among some Yemenis.
IS THE ACT AN INVASION OR NOT?
Any attempt to answer this very enthralling question should start with looking at the intention of the act itself. What is an invasion in the first place as one may be tempted to ask? In a simple rather than an obfuscating term, invasion simply means a military offensive in which large parts of combatants of one geopolitical entity aggressively enter a territory controlled by another such entity, generally with the objective of either conquering, liberating or re-establishing control or authority over a territory. It is clear that Saudi’s objective is the re-establishment of control or authority over Yemen by reinstating Hadi.
Those that do not take the act to be an invasion maintain that, the conflict does not involve the presence of ‘ground operations’. But ground operations were initially reported to be carried out by Saudi and Egypt. Clearly looking at the act of Saudi together with their intention, one would realise that re-establishing power for the former president is their primary target. Is there any better way to describe this act other than an invasion?
However, it should be clear that religious sentiments must not shape the stance of any third party as far as objectivity is concern in proffering possible solutions to the crisis. If Saudi’s action is to prevent the shite from gaining dominance in the gulf region, then I bet this is not the best way as mighty Iran is on the side ready to counter any act of aggression to be carried out by any country against its immediate interest. It is also very clear that the Houthi’s strategy of political transition by initially creating a five-man presidential committee with executive powers was not in any way a prudent move in setting up a government for effective control.
However, there is a very important question that I intend to explore here: Is the Saudi act justifiable from a legal and religious perspective and even political as well.
THE LEGAL PERSPECTIVE
My concern here is not to show solidarity to either the Shite or Sunni sects but to reveal the ghastly acts that Saudi and the coalition had and continue to commit on innocent civilians in the gulf region’s poorest country. All true followers of the Sunni sect will undoubtedly be against the killing of innocent people. To start at the regional level, I wonder what audacity does Saudi have that warrant her to blast-off airstrikes in Yemen. Do not talk about the use of any legal reason by Saudi as a member of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf(Gulf Cooperation Council GCC). In fact, Yemen is not a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council and even going by the charter of the Council, article ten established a Commission for the Settlement of Disputes between member countries.
Again, going by the charter of the Arab League, which both Saudi Arabia and Yemen are members of, article six clearlytalks about ‘aggression’ or ‘threat of aggression’ by one state against a member state, given the right of convocation of the council by the state which has been attacked or threatened with aggression.
Again, the intervention from an international legal perspective is a clear violation of article 2(4) of the U.N charter, which prohibits the forceful intervention of countries in the internal affairs of other member states. Saudi went on with the act without U.N mandate and both Saudi and Yemen are members of the U.N. If Saudi’s move is to help in the restoration of democracy in the country by reinstating Hadi, certainly bombing is not the solution.
Is Saudi acting on the exercise of the right to self-defence as enshrined in article 51 of the charter? No way can it be justify that Yemen is a threat to Saudi as they have not even launched an armed attack that could warrant the exercise of the right to self-defence. Again not in any way can Yemen be regarded as an aggressor since no act of aggression could even be spot out, even though what constitute ‘aggression’cannot still be established by international legal standard to some degree. In fact, if a party is to exercise article 51, then it should be Yemen because an act of aggression is being committed against her. Jus in Bello is then lost. I am taking it to be Yemen because it is not only the Houthis that are dying but innocent Yemenis as well, even though the targets may be directed at Houthi held towns.
Again, from an international legal perspective, the 1949 fourth Geneva Convention on International Humanitarian Law, relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, particularly Protocol additional to the Conventions, Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts are hereby violated.
The Specific Provisions stipulates that persons who do not take a direct part or who have ceased to take part in hostilities are entitled to respect. In all circumstances, they are to be treated humanely. Protocol II specifically prohibits violence to the life, health, and physical or mental well-being of people. Children are to be also evacuated to safe areas when possible, and reunited with their families. It further strengthens the protection of the wounded and sick as well as medical and religious personnel. Attacks are equally forbidden on civilians and on ‘objects indispensable to civilian survival’. Finally, impartial humanitarian relief organisations such as the ICRC are to be permitted to continue their humanitarian services. Do not talk about ‘Collateral Damage’ because a law is first been violated making the act deliberate.
However, not all these rights may have been violated but some are evidently violated as Humanitarian conveys were being obstructed by Saudi tossed airstrikes. More seriously, innocent civilians are being killed by the airstrikes which include children. Even though, the conflict may be a Non-International Armed one by virtue of the two major parties as in: The Coalition on one hand and the Houthis on the other who are not a legal representation of Yemen in the conflict. But despite that, Jus ad Bellum is also lost as combatants and their objects are not differentiated from the non-combatants.
At this juncture, it will be critical to look at the motive of the Saudi move. It is crystal and abundantly clear that since the U.S invasion of Iraq back in 2003 as part of the‘war on terror’ proclaimed by Bush just after the illustrious 9/11 attacks on the country, the Sunni- shite rivalry came to gain momentum in Iraq and the other Arab countries. Promoting the Sunni cause is the concern of Saudi and the presence of the Houthis in Yemen could be a potential threat to that. . It is clear that America is a friend to Saudi and any threat to the latter’s power in the gulf will undoubtedly be a threat to both American oil and strategic interests in the area.
Interestingly, we have again seen great powers manifesting their opposing stances in the conflict. No wonder, mighty and controversial U.S have once again unsurprisingly showed its support to Saudi by declaring the rendering of both logistical and intelligence supports. Conversely, Russia has brazenly condemned the Saudi-led act whiles aiding the rebels with Iran joining the latter, a proxy war in place.
Again it is clear that since 9/11, America’s stance toward Islam has been one of an opposition. We all know that the world leaves in an age of polarisation which made the realist affirmation of ‘power politics’ spottable. It is the game of interest. It is for this reason that both Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’imAmitav Acharya in their chapters in the co-authored book ‘Worlds in Collission: Terror and the Future of Global Order’ demystified Huntington’s thesis of the ‘Clash of Civilisation’. Well that is another kettle of fish.
Why is Iran supporting the Houthi rebels? The answer to this is simple and straight forward. As a dominant Shite country, allowing Saudi to restore the Sunni led regime of Hadi will augment Sunni power in the gulf. It is clear that preventing Shites from dominating the Arab World is Saudi’s concern.
However, since the ousting of former president Abd-RabbuMansouriHadi by the Houthi rebels, Yemenis have come to realise the need to settle down politically to avoid any prospect of social unrest. The military coup cannot be recognised as a good step in helping improve the economic situation of the country and should be condemned in the strongest term possible, but the previous ousting of then president Al Salehshould have been the concern of all and must have to be condemned by all if the idea of setting a good par for the progress of the Yemeni people is anything to go by.Being the poorest country in the Arab World, Yemen could have been working on improving her situation to meet the economic needs of its own people. Following the suspension of aid by dozens of countries, the World Bank followed suit by suspending its operations, making the country vulnerable to severe economic danger. Politically therefore, the act is unquestionable by virtue of the workings of international politics based on ‘politics of interest’
THE RELIGIOUS PERSPECTIVE
To a religious point of view, it must be understood that despite the complicated nature of global politics, religion will have little say in determining who does what and how as far as analysing inter-state relations to some extent is concern. Islam is a peaceful faith that preached the peaceful coexistence of mankind and further asserts the right to life, making the religion the mother of Human Rights. Sunnis are the true followers of our beloved prophet Muhammed (S.A.W) who strict to the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Islam first clearly guarantees all the fundamental human rights key among which is the right to life, while prohibiting the wrongful taking of an innocent life. Every human being of which ever country, believer or a non-believer, in a forest or desert is endowed with certain basic human rights and it is the duty of every Muslim and non-Muslim alike, especially Muslims to recognise these rights. As Allah said in the Qura’an:
“Whosoever kills a human being (without any reason like) manslaughter, or corruption on earth, it is though he had killed all mankind.” (5:32).
To further emphasize the importance of life as an inalienable right, Allah the great grand architect of the universe boldly stated in his holy book:
“Do not kill a soul which Allah has made sacred except through the due process of law.”(6:51).
In addition, the holy prophet (S.A.W), the greatest of all human beings to have stepped on earth, has declared homicide as the greatest sin after polytheism. A tradition of the prophet reads: “The greatest sins are to associate something with God and to kill human beings.”
I hereby asked: Under what circumstance of religious principle is the Saudi act justifiable?It is apparent that Saudi and the so-called coalition are taking innocent lives in Yemen which is totally prohibited by Islam as the above chapters and verses can attest to. I am of the resilient conviction that the Saudi act is being both politically and religiously motivated, considering the continuing manifestation of the Sunni-Shite communal rivalry or animosity persistent in the Arab World, and the involvement of both Muslim and non-Muslim countries in the conflict who affirm their supports to Saudi based on political and religious reasons.
My recommendation here is simple and straight forward. Let Saudi stop the act with immediate effect and the International Community employ a peaceful means of settling the political crisis in the country through diplomatic means.
Author: Essa Njie
Graduate Assistant, Political Science Unit the University of the Gambia