Sally Hayden: It is important that we don’t forget the other wars

Saudi Arabia and the UAE step up bombing in Yemen as the world watches Ukraine

As horrific images from Ukraine dominate news broadcasts and front pages around the world, this month also saw milestones passed in several other conflicts that should not be forgotten.

Saturday, March 26th, marks seven years of war in Yemen. A country that was once described as “Arabia Felix” – Latin for “happy” or “fortunate” – is now a place where two thirds of people have “almost nothing to eat”, while “almost one civilian was killed or injured every hour in January”, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

During a briefing for journalists on Thursday, Irish journalist and adviser to the Yemen Data Project, Iona Craig, said “international interest was already low before the terrible incidents in Ukraine”.

“The world is looking away, the conflict is intensifying, more civilians are dying and accountability is in decline,” she said.


Her organisation has registered nearly 25,000 air raids in Yemen since 2015, with up to 74,946 individual air strikes, killing almost 9,000 civilians and injuring more than 10,000. The air strikes have been carried out by a coalition of nations headed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“Yemen is currently witnessing the most sustained period of heavy bombing since 2018,” Craig said. There was a drastic increase after last October, when the United Nations Human Rights Council voted not to maintain the running of a UN-appointed accountability group called the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEE), which gathered evidence of violations and abuses.

Sukaina Sharafuddin, a Yemeni employee of charity Save the Children, called that decision “shattering”, saying the country’s citizens need something to “make us feel like our lives matter”.

“We should care about what is happening in Yemen the same way we do everywhere else.” When children are killed “you cannot condemn . . . one and not the other just because one lives in Yemen and the other lives in Ukraine.”

Sharafuddin said the war has been “catastrophic since the first day and every year when we think we have hit rock bottom it collapses under our feet.” Her six-year-old son has known nothing else, she said. “The world is not safe whether he’s in school or staying at home.”

Not having an accountability mechanism “is a huge, huge, huge problem”, said Sherine Tadros, from Amnesty International, during the same briefing. “At the UN, [Yemen is] not forgotten, it’s ignored, and it’s ignored for political convenience.” Tadros said other countries Amnesty works on, including Afghanistan, are now also being ignored in favour of Ukraine. “As we move forward can Ukraine set the bar for international action? . . . Unfortunately Yemen genuinely cannot wait.”

Nearly 5 million children have been born in Syria since the war started, meaning they know nothing else

The Syrian war also marked an anniversary this month, entering its 12th year. About half a million people are believed to have died there since 2011 – though official counting stopped a long time ago and the death toll could be higher. More than 13 million Syrians have been displaced, around half of them as refugees outside the country.

As many people have rightfully pointed out, Syria was something of a test run for the Russian war tactics now being used in Ukraine. In Homs and Aleppo, I’ve seen shattered neighbourhoods destroyed by Russian bombs, school certificates lying amid the rubble, their owners consigned to an unknown fate.

Alongside that, at least 100,000 Syrians have disappeared, mostly as a result of government action. At least 14,000 people were tortured to death, according to the US Treasury Department. This month, the New York Times revealed the location of two of the mass grave sites their bodies were dumped in. Bashar al-Assad, who allied with Putin, remains in power.

To date, there has been almost no justice. This January, a Syrian colonel was sentenced to life imprisonment in Germany after he was found guilty of overseeing the torture and abuse of at least 4,000 people – but this was a rare prosecution.

And nearly 5 million children have been born in Syria since the war started, meaning they know nothing else. In a single day this month, three children in Aleppo were killed by explosives, Unicef said.

That unimaginably high civilian casualty is echoed elsewhere. In Tigray, northern Ethiopia, a team of researchers just released findings saying the death toll from the past 16 months of war may now be at 500,000. This includes between 50,000 and 100,000 victims of direct killings; 150,000-200,000 who died by starvation; and more than 100,000 people who perished as a result of the lack of healthcare, according to a team led by Jan Nyssen, of Ghent University in Belgium.

Both sides have been accused of war crimes, and there has been widespread documentation of rape as a weapon of war. On Thursday, the Ethiopian government announced a humanitarian truce to allow the delivery of aid: it had long been accused of deliberately preventing food from getting in to Tigray.

These are just some of the conflicts and humanitarian crises going on around the globe right now. Analysts and commentators say that the longer a war goes on, the less international attention there is, but that attention is vital when it comes to achieving some measure of accountability and sustaining a humanitarian response. That means it is important that we don’t forget the other wars.