The US Department of State has announced, in a public statement on 10 January 2021, that it will ask Congress to designate Ansar Allah – sometimes referred to as the Houthis – as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. This decision will have serious implications in Yemen, currently in its sixth year of conflict, and on humanitarian programming that aims to bring relief to what the United Nations has repeatedly described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Despite assurances that certain humanitarian exemptions and licenses will be issued, the designation will constrain humanitarian operations, and it will have a severe impact on numerous essential services and industries. The Yemeni population will be severely affected, as 70% of the country’s population live under Ansar Allah’s control. A large majority, over 80%, of the population depends on humanitarian assistance and imports for essential services such as food, fuel, medical supplies, and others; services which will be significantly impacted by the designation.
DRC therefore calls upon the current and future US administrations to take all steps to mitigate the humanitarian impacts of the designation. It is essential that comprehensive licenses are issued and provide broad exemptions to humanitarian organizations to allow for uninhibited, principled delivery of assistance. These licenses must ensure that humanitarian organizations and their staff are protected from prosecution for doing their jobs. Further, banks must also be aware and supported in complying with humanitarian exemptions. DRC has seen in other complex conflicts with sanctions that bank transfers can be repeatedly stopped or delayed making delivery of aid difficult and at times impossible.
In addition, steps must be taken immediately to ensure that providers of essential services such as importers of food, fuel, medical supplies, and financial service providers can continue providing such services, which are vital to ensuring that essential life-saving items are accessible for all Yemenis. Even if mitigation measures such as humanitarian licenses and exemptions are broadly applied, the reality is that this designation will have drastic impacts that are beyond the ability of the humanitarian community to respond to.
The designation will undoubtedly exacerbate the enormous challenges already faced by everyday Yemenis and deepen existing vulnerabilities. While the Yemeni population is extremely strong and resilient, it is of paramount importance that the international community takes all steps to support those in need and to uphold the humanitarian imperative.