The war in Yemen, which escalated in March 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition intervened on behalf of the internationally recognised government against Huthi rebels aligned with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, has turned a poor country into a humanitarian catastrophe: hunger and fighting could provoke mass famine and waves of refugees; the conflict could destabilise Saudi Arabia; and both sides appear locked in a cycle of escalating violence, derailing UN peace talks. Crisis Group’s focus is on the negotiations: introducing ourselves at key points, shaping the debate, proposing solutions and encouraging stakeholders to modify positions based on our analysis. Concerted effort is required to convince the parties to accept the UN’s roadmap as the basis for a compromise that would end foreign intervention and allow Yemenis to make peace.
Separatists have announced self-administration in southern Yemen, angering the internationally recognised government. The last thing the country needs is more fighting. Gulf powers and the UN should help implement a stalled 2019 agreement so that national ceasefire talks can go ahead.
Secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC) announced autonomous self-administration in south Yemen after weeks of rising tensions with govt forces, increasing likelihood of renewed violence in south and placing Nov 2019 Riyadh Agreement, and efforts to broker a nationwide political settlement to end the war, in peril. Meanwhile, fighting between pro-govt forces and Huthis intensified in north despite Saudi Arabia’s announcement of military freeze and extension, raising prospect of continued escalation in May unless parties agree to nationwide ceasefire. Saudi Arabia 24 April extended two-week ceasefire announced 8 April in response to UN appeal to end hostilities amid COVID-19 pandemic. Huthis next day dismissed Saudi “ceasefire” announcement as sham, demanded Riyadh lift its blockade of airspace, land borders and ports in Huthi-held areas; President Hadi opposed demands. UN envoy Martin Griffiths 16 April told UN Security Council that agreement between warring parties on nationwide ceasefire, humanitarian measures and resumption of talks would be finalised in “immediate future”, raising hopes for comprehensive cessation of hostilities. Progress however limited by end of month; amid ongoing Saudi airstrikes throughout month despite ceasefire declaration, fighting between Huthis and govt forces persisted in al-Jawf, Marib and al-Bayda. Meanwhile, after flash floods in Aden city, STC 25 April announced autonomous self-administrationin south, prompting condemnation from govt and calls from Riyadh, Washington and UN for implementation of Riyadh Agreement. Previously, STC mid-April accused govt forces of preparing military offensive in Aden city, sparking concerns over collapse of Riyadh Agreement; Mahram al-Qubati, prominent commander in Hadi’s Presidential Guards, early April reportedly announced plan to “liberate” Aden while Saudi Arabia increased deployment of elite forces in Aden. Power struggle within govt late March also broke out: PM Saeed 27 March suspended Saleh al-Jabwani, transport minister and outspoken critic of Riyadh Agreement and Saudi Arabia; although President Hadi reportedly rejected PM Saeed’s decision, al-Jabwani shortly after resigned. Authorities 29 April reported total of five COVID-19 cases in south, raising fears of outbreak across country where local population already in midst of major humanitarian crisis; senior UN officials 21 April estimated seventeen million people face acute food insecurity.
A Huthi offensive threatens to engulf Marib, a province controlled by Yemen’s internationally recognised government and full of internally displaced people. Outside powers should act now to halt the fighting, which could deepen the existing humanitarian crisis and ruin peace efforts elsewhere in the country.
The UN General Assembly kicks off on 17 September amid general scepticism about the world body’s effectiveness in an era of rising great-power competition. But the UN is far from paralysed. Here are seven crisis spots where it can make a positive difference for peace.
Yemen’s anti-Huthi coalition has begun to splinter, with sharp fighting between Saudi- and Emirati-backed elements in the country’s south. With UN assistance, the Gulf monarchies should urgently broker a ceasefire as a prelude to an expanded peace process encompassing southern secessionists and others now excluded.
The UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement to stop fighting around Yemen’s Red Sea city of Hodeida is faltering as violence on other front lines and across the Saudi border escalates. The UN and P5 should stabilise the Stockholm Agreement and push conflict parties toward national peace talks.
Two successive U.S. administrations have backed the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention in Yemen, helping deepen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Congress should continue pressing the White House to end this support, while working to strengthen its war powers role in the future.
A Saudi-led coalition attack on the city of Hodeida risks plunging millions of Yemenis into famine and will meet fierce resistance from Huthi rebels. The U.S. should stop enabling coalition offensives and international stakeholders must quickly place Hodeida under UN control.
The prospect of the coronavirus spreading in Yemen offers a moment and indeed a humanitarian imperative to revive a political process.
Implementing a cease-fire [between Saudi Arabia and Yemen] is no small matter, and the first test of this is going to be whether the parties show up for this virtual meeting.
Now [Yemen's] fate is linked to a much bigger picture in a three-dimensional chess game.
[The Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] hasn’t posed the kind of threat to the West it did a decade ago in a number of years.
For now, neither the Houthis nor the Saudis wish to abandon the talks, but the de-escalation process is under severe strain.
A successful agreement [between the Yemeni government and southern secessionists] would keep a lid on violence long enough to allow progress in other parts of the country.
Heavy fighting has started again in Yemen after one of the war’s quietest months. Battles on the northern front lines highlight the flaws of the piecemeal approach to negotiating an end to the war – and the pressing need for a coordinated multi-track effort.
Out of a Moment of Crisis, a Chance for a Solution.
Originally published in Foreign Affairs
For the first time in years, a viable pathway to peace in Yemen is in view. But obstacles remain, chiefly the gaps between the conflict parties’ positions.
Since the September attack on Saudi oil facilities, Riyadh and the Houthis have taken a step back from all-out war. All parties, including the United States, should seize this rare opportunity to resolve the conflict.
Originally published in Foreign Policy
A Huthi suspension of hostilities in Yemen and an apparently positive Saudi Arabian response offer a chance to avoid regional conflagration. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 - Third Update for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to encourage inclusive dialogue between the warring factions, which can lead to intra-Yemeni negotiations.