Author: Magnus Fitz (Vienna Master of Human Rights)
Yemen is well into its sixth year of civil war, where domestic grievances, fueled by international support and arms supply has caused the situation to regularly being referred to as one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises.
Since the armed Houthi movement captured the capital of Sana’a in 2015, the conflict has – for the most part – been locked in a state of stalemate, where neither party’s military gains have been large enough to earn them control of the country as a whole. President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and his internationally recognized government rule the country de jure from exile in Riyadh but hold limited power “on the ground.” In addition, southern separatist groups have taken control over large areas along Yemen’s southern coast.
While the Yemen war for long has been locked in a state of stalemate, we might now find ourselves in a rare window of opportunity. The Biden administration’s end to US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen will hopefully lead to the latter being less emboldened in its foreign policy than it has been under Donald Trump’s presidency.
In the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are taking steps toward a reconciliation, following 2017’s diplomatic crisis and the following blockade of Qatar. While the two are unlikely to become best of friends, there is hope that a diplomatically engaged and more unified GCC will allow for more fruitful talks on Yemen.
In Yemen, the coalition partners are growing increasingly impatient with President Hadi, who has had their backing since the beginning of the conflict but whose influence in Yemen is dwindling. Saudi Arabia is tiring of a costly war that is yielding little in terms of military results while dealing considerable damage to its reputation. It might soon be looking to cut its losses. The UAE have already initiated a partial withdrawal of troops from their area of influence on Yemen’s southern coast.
On the Houthi front, there may be indications that the armed rebel movement has given up its ambitions to control a unified Yemen, and rather shifted its focus to consolidating its control of the northwestern parts of the country. Iran has provided the Houthis with advanced technology and arms expertise, and generally emboldened the Houthis, but with its leadership preparing to engage in nuclear talks with the new US administration, ending Houthi support might be a preferred concession to make if required.
We are seeing the reshuffling and reformulation of international alliances and a return to favor of multilateralism. The international community, led by the UN Security Council, should take advantage of this rare window of opportunity, setting the table for peace talks for a time when the parties to the conflict are ready to negotiate.
On the Security Council’s agenda for February is the renewal of Resolution 2216, the legal basis for the Saudi-led coalition and the framework for any UN-sponsored peace process. The resolution was first adopted in 2015, when the Houthi rebels – helped by long-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh – captured the capital city of Sana’a. Most foresaw a short-lived conflict, and this is reflected in the resolution’s categorical demand for complete Houthi surrender and its unconditional support for the internationally recognized government of President Hadi. The resolution was also clearly in line with Saudi interests.
Today, this framework seems largely outdated, out of touch with on-ground developments. A new resolution is needed, one that reflects the realities of the Yemeni war and has Yemeni interests – and not only those of economic partners – at its core. Furthermore, it should include all relevant domestic parties to the conflict – and of those, there are many. Failure to do so will likely cause long-term grievances and instability. And although few wish to see the Houthi movement gain political power, a new framework must allow for the Yemeni people to decide and negotiate the future of its country. The current framework does not.
Such a resolution – in addition to reflecting the realities of Yemen in 2021 – will require redefining the currently ineffective framework of accountability in favor of one where the warring parties are held accountable and see actual consequences for their well-documented human rights violations and breaches of ceasefire agreements, but also one that rewards the parties for acting in accordance with the framework.
It won’t be easy. Saudi-Arabia is likely to insist on a reaffirmation of the UN’s undivided support for Hadi’s government. Despite a promising start, the Biden administration’s stance toward Saudi Arabia is anything but guaranteed, and the United Kingdom, with their veto power in the Security Council, will be more dependent than ever on Saudi markets as they withdraw from the EU. Still, if the international community is serious about its intentions to create sustainable peace in Yemen, it must first get out of its own way.
DESCRIPTION OF INTERNSHIP
The Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies is an independent think-tank that seeks to foster change through knowledge production with a focus on Yemen and the surrounding region. The Center’s publications and programs, offered in both Arabic and English, cover political, social, economic and security related developments, aiming to impact policy locally, regionally, and internationally. Founded in 2014, the Sana’a Center is one of the few independent research centers that continues to operate in Yemen. The Center’s reports and researchers are widely quoted in local, regional and international media outlets, while the analysis of the Center’s experts is regularly sought out by local and international stakeholders. The Sana’a Center provides consultation services, including monitoring and evaluation, and technical and analytical advice in the fields of humanitarian, economic, political, civil and social development.
My responsibilities have included, inter alia: human rights contributions to the monthly Yemen Review publication, writing-up of frontline reports and ceasefire monitoring; research on Yemen’s landmine battlefield; project coordination for a larger project on the participation of tribes and political parties in the Yemeni peace process.