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New US State Department reopens file on Houthi terrorist designation

The terrorist designation could create a devastating famine in the country [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 January, 2021

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The new US State Department is reexamining the designation of the Houthi movement as terrorists, amid fears of a worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
The US State Department has reopened the file on the terrorist designation of Yemen’s Houthi movement, and is working at pace to conclude the matter, a State Department spokesperson said on Friday.

President Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State Antony Blinken has previously said the decision of the former administration will be examined, as UN and aid groups echo fears that the designation could further worsen the humanitarian crisis in the country.

“We will not publicly discuss or comment on internal deliberations regarding that review; however, with the humanitarian crisis in Yemen we are working as fast as we can to conduct the review and make a determination,” the spokesperson said.

Yemen is struggling desperately with a humanitarian crisis caused by the war between Houthi rebels and a Saudi-backed coalition working to reinstate the internationally-recognised government.

According to the UN, 80% of the people in Yemen are in need of aid to survive. 

The designation of the Houthi movement as terrorists was one of the last decisions of the former Trump administration, and was widely decried by both UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and aid groups. 

They warned that Yemen was in immediate danger of the worst famine the world has seen for decades.

"Yemen imports 90% of its food. Nearly all that food is brought in through commercial channels. Aid agencies give people vouchers or cash to buy commercially imported food in the market," according to Lowcock's prepared statement, which was seen by Reuters.

"The data show that 16 million people will go hungry this year. Already, about 50,000 people are essentially starving to death in what is essentially a small famine. Another 5 million are just one step behind them,” Lowcock warned.

Read more: Why the US terrorist designation of Yemen's Houthis is a mistake

Aid groups, the United Nations, the Red Cross and the export of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices were all exempted from the designation, but the UN said that this did not go far enough to ensure that a humanitarian crisis could be avoided. 

The US designation means aid groups and businesses that trade with Houthi authorities, including bank transfers and buying food and fuel, risk US prosecution. 

On the news of the designation by the previous administration, the Houthi movement were defiant. 

"The Yemeni people don't care about any designation from Trump's administration, as it is a partner in killing Yemenis and starving them,” tweeted Houthi political commander Mohamed Ali al-Houthi.

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