May 20, 2019
The Embassy of the Republic of Yemen today calls upon the United Nations to make public the true scope of aid diversion from Yemeni civilians, after a CNN investigation found new evidence of the widespread culpability of the Iran-backed Houthis in stealing and misusing humanitarian assistance. Today’s warning from the World Food Programme that it will suspend aid in Houthi-controlled areas suggests the scale of Houthi aid diversion is much greater than previously thought.
“The world cannot stand by while the Iran-backed Houthis starve innocent Yemenis for political purposes,” Dr. Ahmed BinMubarak, Yemen’s Ambassador to the United States, said. “Houthi abuse of humanitarian assistance has been repeatedly documented by aid groups and international media, and this new CNN investigation presents even more condemning evidence. The U.N. to make clear the real scope of Houthi aid diversion, and the international community should make guaranteed aid access a precondition of any engagement with the Houthis.”
The CNN undercover investigation found the Houthis have diverted food and other aid supplies on a far greater scale than what the United Nations previously has reported. The probe showed how the Houthis have diverted critical supplies from starving children and malnourished civilians in favor of feeding their soldiers.
The findings corroborate U.N. allegations last year that the Houthis deliberately blocked aid deliveries and used famine as a political weapon against citizens living in Houthi-controlled areas. While the U.N. has estimated that only 1 percent of all aid was going missing in Yemen, the new CNN investigation suggests the aid theft is far more pervasive.
The Houthis have a history of imposing severe restrictions on humanitarian workers in their territory, which include stealing and diverting aid supplies to benefit Houthi soldiers or to sell on the open market. The Houthis also use humanitarian aid to buy political support, rewarding what the U.N. calls “non-deserving populations” if they pledge to fight while punishing tribes, civilians and extremely vulnerable groups that only wish to remain neutral.
The Embassy of the Republic of Yemen categorically rejects the excuses of Houthi representative Hussin Al-Ezzi, who told CNN: “Mistakes happen sometimes.” Intentionally stealing aid meant to reach the most vulnerable civilians to feed militant groups or reward the corrupt can never be shrugged off as “mistakes.” These are horrific crimes against the Yemeni people.
“The Houthi leadership admits that they treat civilians as ‘capital’ for the war, to be fed or starved as they see fit to advance their political interests,” Ambassador BinMubarak said. “This famine is not a ‘mistake.’ The Houthis are deliberately starving Yemenis and blocking legitimate organizations such as the World Food Programme because they think it will tighten their hold on power.”
Last year, the World Food Programme (WFP) assessed seven districts in Houthi-controlled Sana’a and found some 60% of people had not received any aid. The shortfall was not a reflection of lack of supplies. It was a reflection of a Houthi fraud.
In recent months, the Houthis also blocked WFP access to grain supplies that could have fed millions of Yemenis. As Jonathan Cohen, the acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said: “Only the Houthis are blocking access to the mills… And they alone will be to blame if the food spoils.”
Today, we learned that the WFP is considering the suspension of aid in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, a remarkable warning from the UN program. According to WFP, the Houthis have denied access to aid workers, blocked aid convoys, and interfered with aid distribution. The Houthis continue to place obstacles placed in the way of WFP’s independent selection of beneficiaries and a request for a roll out of a biometric registration system. Unfortunately, Houthi leaders have “broken assurances” given to WFP, and negotiations have yielded no tangible solutions.