Yemen: Is the U.S. Breaking the Law?
Harvard National Security Journal, Forthcoming
64 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2018 Last revised: 11 Dec 2018
Date Written: October 24, 2018
The almost four-year long brutal civil war in Yemen between the central government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi and a Shi’a Islamic movement called the Houthis shows no signs of slowing. Over the course of the conflict, thousands of civilians have died, millions have been forced to flee their homes, and many have suffered from famine. A coalition of countries led by Saudi Arabia has provided extensive support to President Hadi, including by conducting an ongoing military campaign against the Houthis. In the course of this military campaign, the Saudi-led coalition has been accused of violating international humanitarian law by killing hundreds of civilians through airstrikes, as well as contributing to a humanitarian disaster by imposing a blockade. Though not a member of the Saudi-led coalition, the United States has provided invaluable support to the coalition’s campaign through weapons sales, mid-air refueling of coalition aircraft, targeting assistance, and other training and logistical support. This assistance raises serious questions about the potential legal liability of the United States under both domestic and international law. This Article surveys and analyzes a variety of domestic and international law that may apply to the U.S. role in Yemen. It examines four U.S. domestic laws: the War Powers Resolution, the Arms Export Control Act, the War Crimes Act, and the Alien Tort Statute. It then turns to international law, asking whether the U.S. is a party to the conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthis and whether the United States’ support for the Saudi-led coalition raises legal concerns under Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, the International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on State Responsibility, or Common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions. The article finds that continued U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen may violate several domestic and international laws. The article concludes by considering whether and how the laws might be enforced and U.S. legal violations brought to an end.
Keywords: Yemen, IHL, Common Article 1, State Responsibility, Law of Armed Conflict, Article 2(4), AECA, War Powers Resolution, Alien Tort Statute, Aiding and Abetting
JEL Classification: K33, K13, K14, K42, Z18
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation