US terror label of Houthis raises concerns over Yemen

US designation of Houthi rebels as terrorist organization will go into effect on Jan. 19

Mohammed Alragawi   | 14.01.2021
US terror label of Houthis raises concerns over Yemen


Just days before leaving office, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has unveiled plans to designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization.

The designation also includes labeling three Houthi leaders -- Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, and Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi -- as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs).

"These designations will provide additional tools to confront terrorist activity and terrorism by Ansarallah, a deadly Iran-backed militia group in the Gulf region," Pompeo said.

The US designation of Houthi rebels was swiftly welcomed by Yemen’s internationally recognized government.

"The Yemeni government has steadfastly supported the US administration's designation of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization and continues to provide full support for all efforts led by the United Nations to reach a lasting peace," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Houthi group, for its part, condemned the US decision, saying it would reserve the right to respond.

Yemen has been beset by violence and chaos since 2014, when Iran-aligned Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including the capital Sanaa.

The crisis escalated in 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition launched a devastating air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi territorial gains.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the conflict in Yemen has so far claimed the lives of 233,000 people.

War crimes

The US designation of the rebel group will go into effect on Jan. 19, just a day before the Donald Trump administration leaves office.

“The Houthi group is certainly a terrorist organization as it, according to its leader, Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, has killed 65,000 Yemeni citizens and members of the Yemeni army since its first rebellion in 2004,” Faisal Ali, head of the Yemenyoon Center for Studies, told Anadolu Agency.

“The Houthis have displaced at least three million Yemenis abroad, and millions of IDPs. The organization killed and injured thousands of civilians,” he said.

“The Houthi demolition of homes continues until this moment. They blew up mosques and homes, used civilians as human shells, tortured and killed hundreds, kidnapped women, and forced them into prostitution with their soldiers.”

Ali accused the rebels of carrying out last month’s missile attack that targeted the Aden airport as a plane carrying the new Yemeni government arrived.

“They committed war crimes and organized terrorism. They have ties with a country that supports terrorism, Iran, which trained terrorists in Yemen and sent them to Syria,” he said.

Humanitarian concerns

The designation has raised concerns about exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the conflict-ridden country.

“It's clear that the decision is likely to have serious humanitarian and political repercussions,” Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said in his daily briefing.

“We're concerned that the designation will negatively impact, including through possible ‘over-compliance’ by commercial entities, the imports of food and other essential commodities just as more Yemenis are starving, as we've been saying repeatedly.”

“There is a growing risk of famine in Yemen, and that underlines for us the imperative for the US to swiftly grant the necessary licenses and exemptions to ensure that principled humanitarian assistance can continue to reach all people who need it across the country without disruption,” he noted.

But Ali downplays the concerns, saying most of the humanitarian aid goes to Houthi rebels, not Yemeni civilians.

“This claim (negative effect of the US designation) is only made by Houthi supporting organizations. So, appropriate mechanisms must be found to deliver aid to citizens in the areas controlled by the Houthi terrorist organization,” he said.

“Humanitarian organizations that exposed the Houthi practice of confiscating aid and delivering it to its militias and their fighters’ families were expelled from Sanaa, which is a major scandal that the pro-Houthi media did not focus on,” Ali said.

Several humanitarian organization as Save the Children have warned of grave consequences of the US terror label of Houthis.

"Humanitarian actors have warned for weeks that the consequences of this decision could be catastrophic for countless children and their families in Yemen who are barely surviving," said Janti Soeripto, president and CEO of Save the Children.

The Norwegian Refugee Council’s secretary-general, Jan Egeland, tweeted that US "exemptions for aid work and civilian supplies must be crystal-clear".

Oxfam America's humanitarian policy lead Scott Paul also expressed doubt that US assurances would be "good enough to convince many of the banks and donors to keep the money flowing".

Ali argues that the US decision constitutes an important step in achieving a comprehensive peace in Yemen.

“The Houthis underestimated the peace process and used violence and terrorism to achieve Iran's interests in Yemen. They have no cause other than supporting Iran and completing its control over Yemen. Stopping all these crimes is what will bring peace to all Yemenis,” he said.

“Peace cannot be achieved with terrorists. We have never heard any peace with Al-Qaeda, nor peace with ISIS/Daesh, and this group is a more dangerous terrorist organization than Al Qaeda and ISIS/Daesh.”

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