Home/Daniel Larison/Yemen and the Crime of Mass Starvation

Yemen and the Crime of Mass Starvation

Alex de Waal is a leading expert on the history of famine and the author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine. Here he makes the case that Mohammed bin Salman and Mohamed bin Zayed are guilty of using mass starvation as a weapon in the war on Yemen and should be prosecuted for it:

There is a manmade famine in Yemen, even if it has not been officially acknowledged. The man who made it is Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, and there is strong prima facie evidence that he should be charged with causing starvation in an international court.

Along with the comparably culpable Mohamed bin Zayed, crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, Bin Salman launched a war against Houthi rebels in Yemen in 2015, and pursued it primarily through actions intended to reduce people to desperation in areas under Houthi control, compelling them to submit.

To support the charges against the Saudi and Emirati leaders, de Waal cites the coalition blockade, the systematic targeting of food production and distribution in the bombing campaign, the movement of the central bank to Aden, the end of payments to government employees, and the Hodeidah offensive. I havewrittenaboutallofthese more than a few times over the last three and a half years, and I absolutely agree with his conclusions. He continues:

Taken together, over more than three years, these actions amount to the use of starvation as a method of warfare, which is prohibited by the Geneva conventions, the Rome statute of the international criminal court, and UN security council resolution 2417 on armed conflict and hunger, which was unanimously adopted in May.

Mohammed bin Salman and Mohamed bin Zayed are the architects of the worst famine in decades. They are on par with some of the most destructive war criminals of the previous century. To make things worse, they have done all of this out in the open with the ongoing support of the U.S. and other Western governments. Anyone paying close attention to Yemen’s humanitarian crisis has long understood the Saudi coalition’s responsibility for creating the disaster, but between their lobbyists, an indulgent administration, and a lack of adequate media coverage these leaders and their governments have been able to avoid much of the opprobrium they deserve.

De Waal anticipates possible defenses that Mohammed bin Salman might use, but dismisses them and counters by saying this:

But with the collapse in salaried employment, millions of Yemenis are starving because they can’t afford to buy food. That qualifies as famine. The Saudi leader would have known that Yemen was already vulnerable to food crisis. This makes his actions even more culpable. As for Saudi’s humanitarian response, it’s a small downpayment for the billions of dollars in reparations for which the perpetrators of the famine would be liable if found guilty [bold mine-DL].

There have already been at least 85,000 children under the age of 5 who have starved to death because of the crimes of the Saudi coalition, and the real number is certain to be considerably higher. There is still time to prevent even greater loss of life, but it requires using all of the leverage that the U.S. and the U.N. have to avert more mass starvation. The Saudi and Emirati leaders and their governments must not be allowed to get away with their horrific crimes against the people of Yemen.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment

Latest Articles