The US Treasury Department is issuing limited exemptions from the designation, but the aid group says the measure is “not a panacea.”
Leading humanitarian aid group working in Yemen once again raises alarm over effects of Trump administration ‘terrorist’ designation Houthi rebels from Yemen will take over civilians in this war-torn country.
Just days before US President Donald Trump stepped down, his administration announced its intention to label the Houthis a “foreign terrorist organization” – effectively barring US citizens and entities from financially interacting with the group.
The designation went into effect Tuesday, as did the US Treasury Department released details of license exemptions limited to restrictions.
The Department said licenses would be available, among other things, to authorize “official activities of the United States government and certain international organizations, such as the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross”. He also said that the export of agricultural products, drugs and medical devices would be exempt.
But the Houthis control large swathes of territory in Yemen – and Joel Charny, executive director of Norwegian Refugee Council USA, told Al Jazeera on Monday that the licensing system “is not a panacea”.
“The key is that material support is broadly defined,” Charny said. “There is no license… which provides cover for all types of support that could be provided to an organization that controls the territory like the Ansar Allah movement. [the Houthis] made in northern Yemen.
For months, international aid groups providing much-needed aid to civilians hard hit by a devastating conflict in Yemen have warned their work could be disrupted by the US designation of the Houthis – and urged the Trump administration not to do it.
But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo january 10 said the measure aimed “to hold Ansarallah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure and commercial shipping.”
The war in Yemen began in late 2014 when the Houthis took control of 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.
Charny said the designation of “terrorist” would hamper the work of aid workers working in Houthi-controlled areas and act as a deterrent to private companies providing essential supplies.
“This designation will put fear of God into the private sector and food deliveries,” Charny told Al Jazeera, explaining that Yemen imports 90 percent of its food.
“So, if you are a shipowner in the Gulf or if you are a shipowner who works with the [World Food Programme] to transport food to Yemen, are you going to want to continue to do so under threats posed by US sanctions? “
He also said it was not clear whether banks would still be willing to transfer money to Yemen or whether Yemenis abroad would be able to send money to relatives back home. within the country, once the designation is applied.
The “first day” priority for Biden?
Human rights and humanitarian groups, as well as U.S. lawmakers, are also urging New US President Joe Biden, who will be inaugurated on Wednesday, will revoke the designation.
The UN humanitarian chief last week call for the United States to reverse the decision, saying it could lead to “full-scale famine on a scale that we haven’t seen in nearly 40 years.”
Biden’s new national security adviser has also recently criticized the move.
“The Houthi commanders must be held accountable, but singling out the entire organization will only inflict more suffering on the Yemeni people and hamper the diplomacy essential to ending the war,” Jake Sullivan tweeted on January 16.
Agree with @SenToddYoung on the last-minute terrorist designation of the Houthi movement. Houthi commanders must be held accountable, but naming the entire organization will only inflict more suffering on the Yemeni people and hamper the diplomacy essential to ending the war. https://t.co/c8aQazl9ry
– Jake Sullivan (@jakejsullivan) January 16, 2021
Charny said he hoped Biden would revoke the Houthi designation on his first day in office, because the longer the designation remains in effect, the harder it will be to revoke it and stave off its devastating effects.
“We say it’s a day one task,” Charny said, “and trust me, the Biden administration has a lot of it.”