U.S. lawmakers, international humanitarian groups and rights advocates are warning the outgoing Trump administration against reported plans to label the rebel Yemens Houthi group as a foreign terrorist organization, saying it would exacerbate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Citing unnamed U.S. officials, Foreign Policy first said this week that the U.S. State Department was considering the appointment as part of President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran and its allies.
The Washington Post also reported that the announcement is expected to take place in December.
It is a very frightening prospect as the country is on the brink of famine, said Hassan al-Tayyab, a political lobbyist in the Middle East at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a non-partisan American lobby group, said. about the potential designation.
El-Tayyab told Al Jazeera that the designation would make it increasingly difficult for humanitarian organizations to provide much-needed aid to Yemenis living in the northern areas controlled by the Houthis, a group aligned with Iran.
They could face secondary sanctions and other sanctions. This will make it nearly impossible to deliver critical humanitarian aid, al-Tayyab said.
When a group is qualified as a foreign terrorist organization by the US Department of State, US citizens and organizations under US jurisdiction are prohibited from providing material support or resources to that designated entity.
Any U.S. financial institution must also maintain control of the funds and report them to the U.S. government if the designated group has an interest in that money, the State Department also says on its website.
A spokesperson for the US State Department told Al Jazeera in an email Friday evening that he was not publicly discussing any deliberations or potential deliberation regarding possible designation actions and that he had not provided more details on the possible designation of Houthi.
The Yemen War erupted in late 2014 when the Houthis captured large swathes of the country, including the capital, Sana’a. The conflict escalated in March 2015 when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates united a US-backed military coalition to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, backed by Riyadh.
What Saudi leaders thought was swift military intervention turned into a protracted conflict that 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.
El-Tayyab said the reported designation could also embolden Saudi Arabia and undermine international efforts to resolve the long-standing conflict.
It would have catastrophic effects on the world’s largest humanitarian crisis and hamper UN-led efforts to secure a ceasefire agreement and a negotiated settlement, he said.
Yemenis will suffer
Over the past few years, U.S. lawmakers have introduced a series of motions in Congress to end logistical and financial support from the Trump administrations to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
But the Republican president has maintained his support for the Saudis, vetoing a motion last year that would have ended Washington’s involvement in the war.
US President Donald Trump continued his support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen [File: Mark Wilson/Bloomberg]Shireen al-Adeimi, assistant professor at Michigan State University, told Al Jazeera that the potential designation of a Houthi terrorist organization by the United States was one of two last-minute efforts by the Trump administration to strengthen forces led by Saudi Arabia and put pressure on the Houthis.
The other is a planned $ 23.3 billion sale of weapons, including F-35 planes and drones, to the United Arab Emirates, which has raised concern among U.S. lawmakers who say they fear the weapons will be used in violations of international law.
Al-Adeimi said the Trump administration was rushing to push through the measures ahead of the inauguration of President-elect and former US Vice President Joe Bidens in January, as the Democrat announced his intention to end US support for the Saudis in Yemen.
We know of course that this war started under the Obama-Biden administration, but since then the Democratic Party has come to understand, at least optically, that it doesn’t look good and that it must stop, she said.
Humanitarian work is essential
This week’s reports prompted a group of eight Democratic Party MPs to warn US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft that the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group could worsen the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
We have no illusions about the dangerous actions of the Houthis, but a blanket designation will dramatically increase the risks associated with moving humanitarian funds to Yemen, lawmakers, led by Ted Deutch of Florida and Ro Khanna of California, said in a letter. opened.
Aid groups have also raised concerns over the US designation, creating another nearly insurmountable obstacle to delivering aid at a time when Yemen faces imminent risk of the worst famine in decades.
Without immediate action, millions of lives could be lost, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on Friday.
This would have catastrophic effects on the world’s largest humanitarian crisis and hamper UN-led efforts to secure a ceasefire agreement and a negotiated settlement.
Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said in a statement on Thursday that if the United States continues with its plan, it must also issue licenses for aid workers to retain access to areas controlled by the refugees. Houthis where they provide civilian support. .
The Houthis are the de facto authorities in the governorates of northern Yemen, Egeland said.
We must be able to negotiate access to our aid and the protection of civilians with all parties to all conflicts. Our humanitarian work must not be criminalized. Where sanctions threaten to make our normal work illegal, they threaten the survival of those who depend on it.
This was echoed by al-Adeimi, who said a designation of Houthi would not cause the group, which is already isolated, to acquiesce to Saudi demands, but would instead harm already suffering civilians.
This is just one more action they are trying to do to put pressure on it, but again, it is going to affect civilians, she said. But that doesn’t appear to be a consideration for the Saudi-led or US-led coalition.
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