The Just Security forum urges the United States to reconsider its support to the United Arab Emirates’ operations in Yemen due to concerns over apparent violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. Rahma A. Hussein, a human rights lawyer and writer for Just Security, states in her recent report that the UAE’s actions in Yemen raise important legal and policy concerns. Another piece by Ryan Goodman and Alex Moorehead points that the UAE military and the UAE-backed forces have potentially violated international humanitarian law through enforced disappearances and the mistreatment of detainees.
According to Goodman and Moorehead, the UAE provides financial, military, and logistic assistance to the Yemeni Security Belt forces and Hadhrami Elite Forces. The Security Belt forces have allegedly been engaged in the deportation of more than 200 Ethiopian migrants from Aden and in the arbitrary detention of many individuals with ties with Islah party. “I believe the documented cases of enforced disappearance and ill-treatment by the Hadrami Elite Force are part of a much wider problem. In the case of the Elite Forces there seems to be a pattern of violations, rather than a problem resulting from lack of training and supervision,” said Nadwa Al-Dawsari, who authored a recent report for the Center for Civilians in Armed Conflict (CIVIC). The Security Belt forces were also accused of the arbitrary detention and forced displacement of individuals of northern background. “Families of victims protested several times calling for the fair trial of their sons but no one listened to them: Not the local authority, not the Emirates, not the Elite Forces’ leadership,” Al-Dawsari added.
Furthermore, Rahma Hussein reports that the UAE’s deployment of weaponry and other materiel to its military base in Asab, Eritrea, appears to entail potential violations of the 2009 UN Security Council sanctions on Eritrea. The African country had allegedly committed crimes against humanity and provided financial and arms support to the al-Qaeda-affiliated group al-Shabab, and indirectly benefiting Eritrea by providing prohibited military material of any kind would constitute a violation by the UAE. Additionally, the UAE has used the Eritrean base to impose a naval blockade on the ports of al-Hudaydah and al-Mokha, and to transport soldiers from Sudan and Senegal “to assume responsibility for security in Aden, and to participate in war efforts in Yemen’s mountain areas of Ibb and Taiz,” according to Hussein. She also stressed the need for African countries to take into account their obligations to the humanitarian situation in Yemen and consider the legal risks that they may face for providing assistance to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
The United States is a significant partner of the UAE in two separate wars in Yemen, one against AQAP and the other against the Houthi-Saleh forces. US material and intelligence support for UAE operations raises many legal and policy concerns in regard to the alleged crimes committed by foreign military partners. The US may itself be responsible for assisting UEA-backed forces’ operations in which internationally wrongful acts are committed.