UN officials: Houthis terror designation is ‘death sentence’ for Yemen civilians
Top United Nations officials are calling for the U.S. to reverse a decision to label Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis as a terrorist organization, saying the move will cause a large-scale famine in a country already suffering the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
The statements from U.N. Chief of Humanitarian Assistance Mark Lowcock, U.N. Chief of Food Aid David Beasley and U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths were made Thursday at the U.N. Security Council meeting on Yemen.
Lowcock, a British economist, called for the reversal of the terrorist designation, which is expected to go into effect Tuesday, saying he is already seeing food suppliers that help contribute up to 90 percent of Yemen’s imports flee from doing business with the country over fear of U.S. sanctions.
“Some suppliers, banks, insurers and shippers are ringing up their Yemeni partners and saying they now plan to walk away from Yemen altogether,” Lowcock said. “They say the risks are too high. They fear being accidentally or otherwise caught up in U.S. regulatory action which would put them out of business or into jail.”
Lowcock warned that moving forward with the terrorist designation is likely to cause a mass-famine on a scale not seen in 40 years.
Beasley, a former governor of South Carolina, echoed Lowcock’s statement saying that the implementation of the terrorist designation will be “catastrophic” and called for its reversal, his remarks were reported by Reuters.
“We are struggling now without the designation. With the designation, it’s going to be catastrophic. It literally is going to be a death sentence to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of innocent people in Yemen,” he said.
Griffiths, a British diplomat, also called for revoking the terrorist designation and said that on top of the immediate humanitarian emergency, the designation is harmful to hard-fought and “cumbersome” diplomatic discussions to end the civil war.
“I am extremely concerned about the impact of the decision from the United States to designate Ansar Allah [Houthis] as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. We fear that there will be inevitably a chilling effect on my efforts to bring the parties together,” he said. “I strongly associate myself with his view that the decision would contribute to famine in Yemen and thus should be revoked based on humanitarian grounds at the earliest opportunity.”
Yemen’s six-year civil war between Houthi rebels in the north and the government in the south has caused a humanitarian crisis the United Nations describes as “the worst in the world.”
Three-quarters of Yemen’s population requires humanitarian aid and protection, while food insecurity, malnourishment and starvation contribute to countless preventable deaths and suffering.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced late Sunday night that the U.S. would designate the Houthis a terrorist organization, despite pushback from bipartisan lawmakers, regional experts and outside aid organizations warning of the devastating impact on delivering humanitarian assistance.
Pompeo said the State Department is planning on setting up channels for delivery of certain humanitarian goods and imports, but critics argue that those plans are nonexistent and ineffective.
Experts say that President-elect Joe Biden will be able to reverse the decision after it takes effect, but warned that the disastrous consequences of the implementation will already have taken place.
“First, what is the likely humanitarian impact? The answer is a large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly forty years,” Lowcock said in his remarks Thursday.
“Second, would licenses and exemptions for aid agencies prevent that? The answer is no. Third, well, what would prevent it? A reversal of the decision,” he said.