February Quarterly Update
The situation in Yemen remained volatile in the last 3 months and was further complicated by the Trump administration’s decision to designate the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). That decision risked impeding vital humanitarian aid to 80% of Yemenis. On top of that, the Trump administration decided to push through arms sales to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signalling that the Yemeni war was far from over. Following these developments, Crisis Action coordinated a campaign focused on delaying and reversing the designation of the Houthis as an FTO, and to push the US Congress and administration to freeze these new arms sales deals. During this time, Crisis Action also engaged partners, policy makers and Yemen experts harnessing their inputs for updating our Yemen campaign strategy.
The Biden administration delays the Trump administration decisions on arms sales and the Houthis’ designation as an FTO
Within 10 days of President Biden taking office, the US government decided to pause the arms sales and transfers to the KSA and the UAE and also paused the enforcement of the designation of the Houthis as an FTO which could have had catastrophic impact on the distribution of humanitarian aid to the majority of Yemenis. These 30-day pauses, we hope, will lead to reversals which is the policy position built by Crisis Action and partners in the last two years, underscoring that the US must not enact unilateral punitive measures that interfere with humanitarian operations or complicate a push for peace.
In the last two years Crisis Action has supported and facilitated numerous op-eds, letters, journalist accounts, and Congressional hearings, which resulted in Congress voting to overturn sales to the Saudis and Emiratis in 2019, a policy which was short-circuited by a veto by President Trump. Since Biden’s election in November, Crisis Action has worked closely with partners and Congressional offices to help inform the approach taken by the incoming Biden administration, including:
- Raising Congressional ire over the Houthi FTO designation through direct congressional engagement and through a joint NGO letter pushing members of Congress to continue opposing sales leading to public Congressional opposition culminating in disapproval resolutions introduced by the new chair of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs pushing for a block of the arms sales to KSA.
- Spurring critical media coverage with Washington Post and Foreign Policy reporters to publish stories detailing the designation’s likely political and humanitarian fallout.
- Feeding into a draft letter sent by leading Democratic lawmakers to the new US Secretary of State asking that he freeze the delivery of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia to allow for a US policy review.
Sparking unprecedented levels of scrutiny in France over arms sales to Yemen
In November, the fact-finding mission of the French National Assembly publicly released its findings in a report that acknowledged the weakness of parliamentary oversight on arms sales, while also highlighting the link between French arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition and the conflict in Yemen. The report echoes the recommendations made by a coalition built and coordinated by Crisis Action over the past two years, mainly that France needs to create a permanent parliamentary delegation on arms sales control and enable parliamentary access to classified intel.
Crisis Action’s coalition brought together Yemeni, regional, French and international NGOs to work together to raise public awareness on the consequences of French arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the dire situation in Yemen.
- Enabled 13 partners to be interviewed by the fact-finding mission in 2019.
- In 2019 and throughout 2020, helped to raise the alarm and engage the public on the humanitarian situation in Yemen by supporting the creation of an artistic mural by a Yemeni artist in Paris denouncing arms sales, covered by various media outlets and on social media.
- Coordinated a joint letter by 19 NGOs to the French Prime Minister on the stopover in France of a Saudi cargo ship.
- Helped 10 partners issue a joint statement to denounce the lack of transparency of the annual report on arms sales of the Ministry of Defense.
- Facilitated a meeting between 14 partners and the 2 co-rapporteurs of the fact-finding mission on arms sales control followed by a joint press release by the 14 partners on the need to set up parliamentary oversight on arms sales which received high profile media coverage by more than 20 media such as Le Monde, RFI, France 24, Brut, Le Parisien, ARTE (TV report) amongst others.
The two co-rapporteurs of the report thanked Crisis Action and partners directly for their contributions and mentioned Crisis Action’s indispensable facilitation role. “The debate over France’s arms exports would not have arisen without the mobilization of NGOs,” they wrote in a detailed section of the report on civil society’s productive role. A senior staff member of the International Federation for Human Rights described the support of Crisis Action as “key to coordinate such a challenging campaign and to gather Yemeni actors and humanitarian actors along with human rights NGOs to push on France accountability.”
It is important to note that the Minister of Foreign Affairs publicly acknowledged on a live radio show the recommendations of the fact-finding mission and indicated that the government will consider them. Crisis Action and partners will continue to push for their implementation.
After consultations with partners, policy makers and Yemen experts, Crisis Action has updated its Yemen campaign strategy to focus on working with partners to contribute efforts towards an enabling environment for inclusive peace talks. Crisis Action plans to work with partners to (i) influence the UN Security Council to adopt a more inclusive framework replacing Resolution 2216, (ii) push the new US administration to deliver on Biden’s promises of ending arms sales and pressuring parties to the conflict to reach a deal that includes ending the war in Yemen and (iii) press for more funding from Gulf States and the US at the Yemen 2021 pledging conference to help reduce the massive humanitarian needs.