SANAA, May 20 (Saba) -The Saudi authorities worked tirelessly to strengthen dictatorships in the wake of the Arab Spring. Saudi Arabia intervened militarily to crush the uprising in Bahrain, and provided billions to shore up the monarchies in Morocco, Jordan and Oman.
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 Yemenis in Yemen in 2015.
Mass starvation may not have been Bin Salman’s initial intent, but it soon became evident that this would be the outcome. He nonetheless persisted in waging war using methods that had the predictable effect of depriving millions of people of food, clean water, medicine and other basic necessities.
Saudi Arabia’s king, Salman, who came to power in 2015 at the age of 79, had long harbored plans to shake up the status quo of the al-Sauds’ absolute monarchy. As the internal enforcer of family order during his 48 years as governor of Riyadh – which included running a private jail for misbehaving princes – Salman had become disillusioned with a system that relied on consensus among an ageing set of royals.
They seemed interested in little more than amassing power and wealth as the country remained almost entirely dependent on oil exports and stubbornly resistant to reform. As he aged, however, Salman recognized that he needed a younger man to implement his plans. He looked to his favorite son, Mohammed, to act as his avatar and eventual successor.
Some worry that the “young prince in a hurry” is moving too fast, overstretching himself and not being realistic about the prospects for success of many of his initiatives. Saudi, Yemeni and western officials point to Saudi Arabia’s role in the Yemen war as a cautionary tale.
The kingdom launched a massive series of airstrikes in Yemen and announced the formation of an international coalition comprised largely of Arab countries. Saudi officials predicted a quick war of a few weeks or months at most. In March 2019 Saudi involvement in the conflict entered its fourth year, with no end in sight.
In the first weeks of a war, says Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation and an expert on peace processes. Ordinarily, the longer a conflict lasts, the more likely it is that it will be “ripe” for peace. On paper Yemen’s war – which has lasted years, eviscerated the Yemeni economy, killed tens of thousands, led to mass outbreaks of cholera.
There has also been a systematic targeting of agricultural and fishing infrastructure – as well as medical facilities, water infrastructure and economic infrastructure (including civilian businesses that provide essential employment) – by aerial bombardment, as documented in part by the Yemen Data Project.
Military offensives in and near Hodeidah – the main port for the northern part of Yemen, through which most of Yemen’s food, fuel and aid flow – have had an especially debilitating impact.
Taken together, over more than four 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.
Bin Salman could claim that the suffering of the Yemenis doesn’t meet the necessary threshold of severity, because the UN hasn’t declared famine in Yemen (although the UN’s assessments show that millions of Yemenis have been suffering severe food insecurity for several years, and this is enough to kill in large numbers).
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 down payment for the billions of dollars in reparations for which the perpetrators of the famine would be liable if found guilty.
At the outset of the war, it might have been reasonable to hope that pressure would force the Houthis to submit. Since it takes months to starve people, a brief period of hardship would not have involved a level of suffering disproportionate to the military objective.
But, within months of the launch of the war, humanitarian agencies were warning of crisis, and there were no indications of Houthi surrender. By persisting with this method of war, Bin Salman knew for sure that thousands of Yemeni children would die from hunger and disease.
He killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has put the spotlight on Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS.
Since he outmaneuvered his rivals to become Saudi Arabia's de-facto leader in 2015, the 33-year-old has received favorable coverage in international media, with a multitude of reports focused on his economic and social reforms in the conservative kingdom.
However, the Khashoggi case has shifted the focus towards the darker side of Salman's record, one that includes the imprisonment of critics and human rights activists, thousands of civilian deaths in Yemen and a rapid rise of the number of executions since his ascent to power.
To date, no international court has prosecuted a case of starvation and killing crimes. Bin Salman would be an appropriate first accused.
Written by Mona Zaid