US lawmakers call on President-elect Joe Biden to overthrow Trump administration decision to call Yemen’s Houthi rebels a “foreign terrorist organization”, calling it “myopic” and “a death sentence” for millions of people already shaken by years of war.
Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Gregory Meeks said on Monday that the designation announced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “endangers the lives of the Yemeni people”.
“The Trump administration has yet to learn that it cannot sanction its exit from a civil war,” Meeks said in a statement Monday, denouncing what he described as the politicization of US sanctioning authorities. .
Political observers and aid groups had anticipated that President Donald Trump’s outgoing administration would designate the Houthis – a rebel group that controls large swathes of Yemen – a “foreign terrorist organization” before Biden takes office on January 20.
The Trump administration has waged a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran and its allies in the region, including the Houthis, who are aligned with Tehran.
In his statement, Pompeo said the move aims to hold the group “accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure and commercial shipping.”
“The designations are also intended to advance efforts to achieve a peaceful, sovereign and united Yemen, both free from Iranian interference and at peace with its neighbors,” Pompeo said.
However, Peter Salisbury, a Yemeni analyst with the International Crisis Group (ICG), said the designation did little to stem Houthi activities and risked “collectively punishing” Yemenis.
In a series of tweets on Sunday night, Salisbury said the ICG had analyzed the arguments for the designation; namely that the sanctions “will weaken them [the Houthis] financially and convince their supporters that they have no long-term viability ”, while having limited general economic effects.
“Our research and analysis suggests otherwise,” Salisbury wrote. “Because if the impact of this designation is half as severe as expected, millions of ordinary Yemenis struggling to eat will pay the price, as the already distant prospects for peace slip away.”
we @CrisisGroup made it clear why we oppose the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organization.
This may collectively punish all # Yemenis by precipitating a famine while doing little harm to the Huthis other than pushing them closer to Iran …
– Peter Salisbury (@peterjsalisbury) January 11, 2021
Aid organizations have also warned that the move could complicate their ability to help civilians living in Houthi-controlled areas.
Scott Paul, head of humanitarian policy for Oxfam America, described the US move as “a counterproductive and dangerous policy that will put innocent lives at risk.”
He said in a statement: “This designation will not help resolve the conflict or bring justice for the violations and abuses committed during the war; this will only worsen the crisis for millions of Yemenis who are struggling for their survival.
Biden’s administration ‘crippling’
War in Yemen erupted in late 2014 when the Houthis took over much of the country, including the capital, Sana’a.
The conflict escalated in March 2015 when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates assembled a US-backed military coalition in an effort to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
What Saudi leaders believed to be swift military intervention has turned into a protracted conflict that has spread disease, destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, and pushed millions to the brink of starvation.
Both sides have been charged with war crimes in the fighting that has killed tens of thousands of people.
Biden has promised “End US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen” when he takes office.
Danny Postel, deputy director of the Center for International and Area Studies at Northwestern University, told Al Jazeera that the purpose of the designation appears to be “to set a wrench and hinder the Biden administration from being difficult for it to reverse the course and reverse the massive damage of the Trump years ”.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has warned that the US move was “likely to have serious humanitarian and political implications” and expressed concern that it could have “a negative impact on efforts to to resume the political process in Yemen, as well as to polarize positions even more. parties to the conflict ”.
Already in November, the world body had warned Yemen was in “imminent danger” of experiencing the world’s worst famine in decades – and US lawmakers said Monday they feared the Houthi designation would make matters worse.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, a frequent critic of US support for Saudi forces in Yemen who has tried to pass legislation to get Trump to end that aid, said on Monday that the move “is a death sentence for thousands of people. Yemenis ”.
“It will cut off humanitarian aid, make peace talks almost impossible and empower Iran. Biden is expected to reverse this policy on day one. “
Republican Senator Todd Young also criticized the decision and said he was eager to work with Biden and his team “to overturn this ill-advised decision.”
The designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organization is a death sentence for thousands of Yemenis. It will cut humanitarian aid, make peace talks almost impossible, and empower Iran. Biden is expected to reverse this policy on day one. https://t.co/aHTo04KwGO
– Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 11, 2021