The worst humanitarian crisis – that is saying something in a world with all sorts of problems. Yemen didn’t have it easy in the last decades and it has gotten worse since 2015 when the government changed violently. Several agreements, UN sanctions, and dialogues happened during the last 5 years. Steps forward, step backward. A complex game about power, territory, and convictions. Is there a realistic chance to finally come to peace?
Thank you for sharing your time as I’m about to give an overview of the conflict itself and the attempts to achieve peace. One cannot find reports in the main headlines for long. The focus of the media lies somewhere else. I believe, raising awareness about an issue takes a major part in the peace process. Conflicts need to be seen in order to be solved! First I would like to introduce the major players briefly in order to understand the background of the conflict. It all started when former president Saleh, who reigned the country from 1990 until 2012, got turned down during the Arab spring. His rule ended due to a perceived lack of democracy, high-level corruption, and abuses of human rights. Vice president Hadi took over and the Gulf Cooperation Council forced Saleh out and helped to install the new government.
The Houthis, a Shia Muslim minority from Northern Yemen, who were very much involved in the uprising against former president Saleh, felt suppressed by the new government. The Shia insurgency, supported by Iran, escalated in 2014 when the Houthis took over the capital Sanaa. Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-led intervention created three main goals: Restoration of Hadi’s government, protection of their own Southern borders, and limitation of a growing influence of Iran. Yemen is actually seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Logistical and military support by the US, Germany, France, and the UK is still an issue. Additionally, armed groups like the Houthis, secessionists from the South, Al Qaeda, and ISIS merge within the conflict. The UN stated that they could all be liable for atrocities in Yemen after the war is over. Not just fighting causes suffering. Additionally, Aid is being used.
In 2015 the Saudi-led coalition created land, sea, and air barriers which made supplies impossible to get in. Houthis are blocking, destroying, and taking aid, which Yemenis desperately need. Cholera is spreading rapidly due to limited access to clean water and doctors are facing a severe shortage of drugs, while COVID-19 spreads uncontrolled. 80% of Yemeni’s people depend on humanitarian aid. 24 million people and nearly every Yemeni child out of a population of in total 29 Million. As with any war, experts say, diplomacy will be the only way to put an end to the nightmare in Yemen. (1)
So let’s have a look at the peace process so far: The 2014 resolution by the UN Security Council got extended in February 2020. It contains financial freezes, travel bans, and a political transition. The UN supports the Yemeni government to stabilize security and put forward political reforms. Additionally, the World Bank and the IMF support the Government on economic reforms. (2) The situation in Yemen needs to be under continuous review by the Panel of Experts who analyzes information regarding the implementation of these sanctions. (3)
UN representative of Yemen, Abdullah al Saadi, expressed hope that the conclusions of the Panel of Experts will help to end the humanitarian tragedy. Violating the international law, he said, the Houthis militia committed aggression against women, including arrest and rape. He also condemned the militias sending children to the front lines. He thanks the Panel for bringing those actions to light. Houthis should also be held to account for the Safer’s rupture. A rusting oil tanker with more than a million barrels of oil that hadn’t had maintenance in 5 years. Experts cannot have access yet to prevent an environmental incident. Another big stepstone on the path to achieving peace was in 2018.
The Stockholm agreement: A cease-fire took place and 150000 Yemeni returned to their homes. The parties have established a Joint Operation Center and it was noticed a significant reduction of violence. Prisoners were exchanged and released and trust was built. (4) An essential step for successful peacebuilding. UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said that the cooperation sent a “massive signal” that positive change is possible. (5)
In 2019 another peace deal between the Yemeni government and southern separatists was signed in Riyadh, Saudi’s capital. An attempt by Saudi Arabia to restore order in the coalition and focus again on defeating the Houthis. Key features were an equally distributed formation of a new technocratic government between northerners and southerners, a replacement of military forces to their initial positions, and a new defense force to protect civilian infrastructure. (6)
The timeline of the Yemen war shows several attempts to achieve peace. So why is the country still at war? Why is it still the worst humanitarian crisis on this planet? A UN press report from July stated that the crisis has never been worse. Unrelenting violence, uncontrolled spread of COVID-19, and a collapsing economy bring Yemen again to the edge. (7) Griffiths said that the Houthis did not yet agree on the test of a joint declaration to outline a nationwide ceasefire. Both parties gave back various proposals over the last four months. Griffiths encouraged them to conclude negotiations before the opportunity closes.
“There is a real risk that these negotiations will slip away and that Yemen will enter a new phase of prolonged escalations”, Griffith said. With adequate funding, humanitarian agencies could address the most immediate needs and prevent another slide towards famine. Countries must be pressured to stop their logistical and military support and replace these with adequate funding. The council must push parties to engage in peace talk and pressure them to cease their military operations.
“Help Yemen now, or watch the country fall into the abyss!” Griffith warned.
1) “Why is Yemen at war? | Start Here – YouTube.” . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJzSwOQMPrI. Published November 2019
2) “Security Council Extends 2014 Sanctions Imposed on Those ….”. https://www.un.org/press/en/2020/sc14121.doc.htm. Published February 2020
3) “Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution ….”. https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/2140. Published 2014
4) “Stockholm Agreement – OSESGY.” https://osesgy.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/stockholm_agreement_-.pdf.
5) “Yemen: Committee brings warring parties to the … – UN News.” https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/12/1029501. Published December 2018
6) “Yemen’s Riyadh Agreement: An overview | Saudi … – Al Jazeera.” https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/7/29/yemens-riyadh-agreement-an-overview Published July 2020
7) “Amid Unrelenting Violence, Spread of COVID-19, Crisis in ….” Published July 2020. https://www.un.org/press/en/2020/sc14266.doc.htm.