Human Rights

Houthis obstruct relief operations in Yemen

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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A woman wearing a protective mask receives humanitarian aid in Taez on May 8th, amid the coronavirus crisis. [Ahmad al-Basha/AFP]

The Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) have been impeding the delivery of aid to parts of Yemen under their control, officials and observers told Al-Mashareq.

"The Houthis do not care about the suffering of citizens in the areas under their control, brought on by the war they ignited to serve Iran's interests," Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez told Al-Mashareq.

The humanitarian situation in those areas "is very worrisome, after the withdrawal of a number of organisations from them and downscaling of activities by others", he said.

The remaining organisations are threatening to suspend their activities due to a lack of funding and the difficulty of operating in these areas, he added.

The Houthis' abuses and the conditions they are imposing on humanitarian organisations, which include "prior approval" before the implementation of relief projects, will only harm Yemeni civilians, Abdul Hafeez said.

He pointed out that the militia has been interfering in the operations of these organisations by demanding that they hire Houthi-affiliated employees and partner with local organisations that operate under the auspices of the militia.

Aid organisations allocate funds for the implementation of projects in Yemen, Abdul Hafeez said, but the Houthis "then refuse to allow those projects to be implemented except on their terms, thus causing these projects to falter".

In a May 19th briefing to the Security Council, the UN's acting deputy emergency relief co-ordinator Ramesh Rajasingham said the Houthis had refused to grant approval to 93 life-saving NGO projects in the provinces under their control.

The projects, many of which have been waiting for months, together represent $180 million in donor investments.

'Catastrophic situation'

Meanwhile, the coronavirus crisis has led to a deterioration in the situation.

"The situation has become catastrophic as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infection continues to rise," Abdul Hafeez said.

The health crisis has been exacerbated by the way the Houthi militias are dealing with the outbreak in the areas under their control, he said.

Many humanitarian relief organisations -- including the World Food Programme (WFP) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) -- have reduced aid to areas controlled by the Houthis due to the militia's looting of aid.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on May 20th strongly condemned the use of donations outside the remit of Yemen's health system after photos of the Houthis using ambulances to transport their own fighters were circulated.

The UN agency said such actions represent a violation of international humanitarian law, and said it is investigating the matter.

"It is disheartening that at this critical time during a global pandemic, instead of putting the people's health at the forefront, that our focus is being diverted," the WHO said. "Now is a time for solidarity, not division."

Ministry of Human Rights Research Centre director Walid al-Ibara condemned the Houthis' misuse of ambulances, provided by the WHO to help the country's health sector fight the coronavirus.

"The Houthis used these vehicles for their war effort and to transport their commanders to prevent them from being targeted," he told Al-Mashareq.

"The Houthis have tampered with all the assistance provided to them, and used it for their war effort, thus putting at risk of failure all relief efforts and activities carried out in Houthi-controlled areas," he said.

Depriving Yemenis of aid

Yemen's Higher Relief Committee has called for a UN investigation "into how the relief aid intended for the needy ended up in the possession of Houthi fighters on the battlefronts", said political analyst Faisal Ahmed.

The Yemeni government reported in late April that Houthi fighters had been seen with aid bearing the WHO emblem, "which threatens to deprive deserving recipients of it and increase their suffering", he told Al-Mashareq.

"Yemenis are currently going through very difficult times due to the coronavirus outbreak, which requires a concerted effort by official authorities and relief organisations," Ahmed said.

The Houthis must act "to help in the implementation of relief activities and [delivery of] the aid to the health sector, rather than squandering aid and using it for their war effort and in the interest of Iran", he said.

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