According to the United Nations, more than three weeks of Saudi airstrikes and renewed clashes between rival factions on the ground have led to the deaths of some 750 Yemenis and more than 150,000 being forced to flee their homes.
There are fears of humanitarian catastrophe. "The targets of the campaign include schools, homes, refugee camps, water systems, grain stores and food industries," warns the letter. "This has the potential for appalling harm to ordinary Yemenis as almost no food or medicine can enter."
The Saudi intervention followed the steady collapse of the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who came to power with Saudi backing in 2012. A rebellion led by the Houthis, a Shiite political movement, seized Yemen's capital Sanaa last year. Hadi fled his sanctuary in the southern city of Aden last month as Houthi forces approached and is now in Riyadh.
A complex, local conflict has been overshadowed by the narrative of a regional proxy war between Saudi and Iranian interests. The Saudis, as well as Hadi, accuse the Houthis of being Iranian puppets. Some analysts say the connection between Tehran and the Houthis has been exaggerated.
American officials are believed to be displeased with the Saudi action; it's not clear quite what the Saudi endgame is now that a sustained military campaign is underway.
The full letter reads as follows:
We write as scholars concerned with Yemen and as residents/nationals of the United Kingdom and the United States. The military attack by Saudi Arabia, backed by the Gulf Cooperation Council states (but not Oman), Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, the UK and above all the US, is into its third week of bombing and blockading Yemen. This military campaign is illegal under international law: None of these states has a case for self-defense. The targets of the campaign include schools, homes, refugee camps, water systems, grain stores and food industries. This has the potential for appalling harm to ordinary Yemenis as almost no food or medicine can enter. Yemen is the poorest country of the Arab world in per capita income, yet rich in cultural plurality and democratic tradition. Rather than contributing to the destruction of the country, the US and UK should support a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate, unconditional ceasefire and use their diplomatic influence to strengthen the sovereignty and self-government of Yemen. As specialists we are more than aware of internal divisions within Yemeni society, but we consider that it is for the Yemenis themselves to be allowed to negotiate a political settlement.Robert Burrowes, University of WashingtonSteve Caton, Harvard UniversitySheila Carapico, University of RichmondPaul Dresch, University of OxfordNajam Haidar, Barnard CollegeHelen LacknerAnne Meneley, Trent UniversityBrinkley Messick, Columbia UniversityFlagg Miller, University of California-DavisMartha Mundy, London School of EconomicsThanos Petouris, SOAS-University of LondonLucine Taminian, The American Academic Research Institute in IraqGabriele vom Bruck, SOAS-University of LondonLisa Wedeen, University of ChicagoShelagh WeirJohn Willis, University of ColoradoStacey Philbrick Yadav, Hobart and William Smith CollegesSami Zubaida, Birkbeck College, London
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