The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that the US will designate the Iranian-backed Houthi movement in Yemen as a foreign terrorist group. The move, which raises humanitarian concerns, has been welcomed by the Yemeni government but denounced by the Houthis.
The decision will be implemented on 19 January only a day before the inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden.
“The Department of State will notify Congress of my intent to designate Ansarallah, sometimes referred to as the Houthis, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) entity, pursuant to Executive Order 13224,” Pompeo said.
He added that he also intended to designate three Houthi leaders, identified as Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, Abd Al-Khaliq Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi, and Abdullah Yahya Al-Hakim, as SDGTs.
“[The move] will provide additional tools to confront terrorist activity and terrorism by Ansarallah (Houthis), a deadly Iran-backed militia group in the Gulf region,” he said.
Pompeo added, “The designations are intended to hold Ansarallah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure, and commercial shipping.”
However, Pompeo said that his country recognises concerns that these designations will have an impact on the humanitarian situation in Yemen.
He said, “We are planning to put in place measures to reduce their impact on certain humanitarian activity and imports into Yemen.”
On Monday, Yemen’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “The Houthis deserve to be designated as a foreign terrorist organisation, not only because of their terrorist attacks, but for permanent efforts to prolong the conflict and cause the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.”
The ministry added, “After six years of war, and imposing many sanctions against individuals, we believe that all political and legal pressures should be intensified against the Houthis to create conditions conducive to a peaceful resolution of the tragic and protracted conflict.”
However, the Houthis have condemned the move, with the group’s leader Mohamed Ali Al-Houthi denouncing the US move in a Tweet.
He said, “The policies of the US administration[Donald Trump] is terroristic, and its actions are terroristic.”
Amid concerns over the consequences of the US decision, Oxfam America’s Humanitarian Policy Lead, Scott Paul, described the move as “a counterproductive and dangerous policy that will put innocent lives at risk.”
“This designation will not help to resolve the conflict or provide justice for the violations and abuses committed during the war, it will only escalate the crisis for millions of Yemenis fighting for their survival,” Paul added, in a Monday’s statement.
Since 2014, Yemen has witnessed a conflict between the Iran-backed Houthis and forces loyal to the government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The conflict escalated in March 2015 after a coalition of GCC states, led by Saudi Arabia, intervened to support the Yemeni government.
The UN warned that with the unrelenting violence and the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the crisis in Yemen is at its worst. In November 2020, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned against a looming famine in Yemen, which would be “the worst in decades”.
Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed, while about 80% of the population has become dependent on humanitarian relief, according to the UN.