the situation in yemen

Published: 9th September 2017


“Death looms for Yemenis by air, land and sea” said Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed at the 8027th UN Security Council meeting on the 18th August 2017.[1]

“I have been unable to report any significant improvement in the deplorable, avoidable and completely man-made catastrophe that is ravaging the country… The conduct of the war continues to be really vicious and brutal, with frequent complete disregard for international humanitarian law, principles or just the basic norms of human behaviour.” said Mr. Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator in the same meeting.


Source: Google maps

Source: Google maps

What is happening in Yemen?

With information taken from the 8027th UN Security Council meeting, 17 million people in Yemen do not know if or where they will get their next meal, nearly 7 million people are facing famine and nearly 16 million people lack access to water and sanitation.

There are three problems facing Yemen, which Mr. O’Brien calls a “triple tragedy”: famine, cholera outbreak and the ongoing brutal conflict.

This is a major crisis facing the nation of just under 30 million people.[2] The full scale of the humanitarian crisis can be found on the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs website.

Most of the need is required in northern Yemen. Sana’a (the capital, containing Sana’a international airport) and Al Hudaydah (a port city) best serve the north logistically, however too often, the de facto authorities in Sana’a or local officials in areas under their control block, delay or otherwise interfere with humanitarian action.

What caused it?

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Yemen Abdulmalik Al-Mekhlafi has himself admitted “the humanitarian and health situation in Yemen is dire and complicated.”[3]

The political religious movement known as the Houthis, a group practising Zaidi (or Zaydi) Islam which believes in an obligation to rise against unjust rulers, began to be politically active after 2003. They opposed the then Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh for supporting the US-led intervention of Iraq. 

Signs of a crisis began in 2011 during the Arab Spring, in what is known as the Yemeni Revolution, where protestors gathered the streets chanting for the removal of the then President Ali Abdullah Saleh on reasons due to corruption, unemployment and economic conditions. This ended in 2012, with President Saleh agreeing to step down in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Immunity was granted, and the then Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi was made President of Yemen in 2012.

Tensions flared in 2014. A UN press report states: “A confrontation between the country's Houthis (Ansar Allah) and the Government of Yemen in early 2014 led to a Houthi advance on the capital, and an ensuing conflict which has involved support from outside parties. The UN has been heavily involved in efforts to resolve the crisis”. [4]

The battle of Sana’a in September 2014 led to a Houthi victory capturing the control of the capital city in just five days, forcing President Hadi to agree to a “unity government” involving other political parties.[5]

The news outlet Middle East Eye reported that Yemenis were shocked by the Houthis quick capture of Sana’a.[6]

How could the Houthis capture the capital city of Yemen at all, and why did it happen so fast?

The leading independent Arab Think Tank “Arab Reform Initiative” reported several reasons including:

  • Poor performance of President Hadi and his government.
  • Saleh’s political actions in the 2011 Yemeni Revolution.
  • The increase in corruption.
  • Deterioration of government services and economic conditions.
  • The weak nature of the Yemeni state, shaped by former President Saleh’s tendency to involve himself personally in its administration.

There were reports of the Houthis targeting the enemies of former President Saleh, suggesting President Saleh aiding and supporting the Houthis. The support of a former President gives an explanation for the swift and decisive result. “(Houthis) targeted primarily President Saleh’s enemies when they entered Sana’a.”[7]

The Houthi-Saleh alliance became clearer in the battle of Amran in February 2014, with the Houthis bombing the buildings of Ali Mohsen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar was in 2014 a commander in the Yemeni army (and now Vice-President of Yemen), Ali Mohsen was from the same village and tribe as former President Saleh who became enemies (Ali Mohsen supported the 2011 revolution).

The Houthi victory of the battle Amran with Saleh backing gave them the confidence to take Sana’a seven months later.  

In early 2015, the Houthis reasserted their strength after being unhappy about an amendment in the constitution by kidnapping President Hadi’s chief of staff Ahmad Awad Bin Mubarak.[8] They next captured President Hadi’s Presidential Palace in Sana’a in January 2015 and began shelling his other home in Sana’a.[9] This prompted President Hadi and his cabinet to resign in the same month.[10]

In summary: the Houthis, together with the underlying support of former President Saleh, forced the incumbent President to resign by armed conflict.

The world’s reaction

On 20th March 2015 the European Commission stated that: “The EU condemns the destabilising unilateral actions taken by the Houthis and military units loyal to ex-President Saleh, urges these forces to end the use of violence immediately and unconditionally and withdraw from areas they have seized, including Sana'a and Aden, and reaffirms its support to Yemen's legitimate authorities.”[11]

The UN Security Council Presidential Statement of 22nd March 2015 recognised the legitimacy of Hadi’s government:[12]

"The Security Council supports the legitimacy of the President of Yemen, Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, and calls upon all parties and Member States to refrain from taking any actions that undermine the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Yemen, and the legitimacy of the President of Yemen.

The Security Council condemns the ongoing unilateral actions taken by the Houthis, which undermine the political transition process in Yemen, and jeopardize the security, stability, sovereignty and unity of Yemen and expresses deep concern by the insufficient implementation of resolution 2201 (2015)."

In a letter dated 24th March 2015 from the Permanent Representative of Yemen to the United Nations transmitted a request from the President of Yemen informing the Security Council “(The President) has requested from the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf and the League of Arab States to immediately provide support, by all necessary means and measures, including military intervention, to protect Yemen and its people from the continuing aggression by the Houthis.”

The UN Security Council convened in April 2015 to pass Resolution 2216 (2015) (14 affirmative votes, 1 abstention (Russian Federation)). The Resolution imposed sanctions on key figures in militia operations, and in particular the Houthis. Noteworthy sanctions include an assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo on Abdulmalik al-Houthi, the Houthi leader, and Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, the son of former President Saleh.[13]

Saudi Arabia offered their support, agreeing military operations with the consent of the Yemen Government in an effort to restore President Hadi's Government. The UN Secretary-General reminded all parties in response to this their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians, protection of all UN personnel and the rules and principles of international human rights law and refugee law.[14]

Saudi Arabia’s air strikes

Much is being said about Saudi Arabia’s effectiveness taking a leading role in restoring Hadi’s government. Their air strikes have reported to cause a large number of civilian casualties, and questions are being raised about war crimes being committed by Saudi Arabia and its military coalition with nine African and Middle Eastern states.

The Guardian, Al-Jazeera, The Telegraph and Foreign Policy magazine are a few of the many outlets that have reported criticism of the Saudi-led coalition. The Guardian reports “One in three Saudi air raids on Yemen hit civilian sites”, The Telegraph have a headline “Saudi Arabia accused of disregard for human life by the United Nations”, Al-Jazeera stating “Saudi coalition attacks kill many children in Yemen” and Foreign Policy magazine stating: “Saudi-led coalition failing in Yemen.”[15]

Violence is ongoing and intensifying. “In the absence of accountability mechanisms or a concerted push by Member States for a political settlement, the violence is intensifying. During 2017, the number of air strikes per month has been three times higher than it was the previous year, and monthly reports of armed clashes have increased by more than 50 per cent” said Mr. Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator at the 8027th UN Security Council meeting on the 18th August 2017.

Cracking of the Houthi-Saleh Alliance

On the 26th August 2017, Reuters reported clashes between the Houthis and supporters of former President Saleh. The Houthi-Saleh alliance, facing the Saudi-led coalition are appearing more fragile. The infighting between this alliance has bought welcome news, giving rise to the potential end of the conflict and restoring President Hadi’s legitmate government.[16]

“The dispute between Al Houthis and Saleh is the end of common interests that brought together the coup alliance. It is a sign of reaching a point of conflict…they know that the legitimate government would exploit any conflict to storm the capital” (the Houthi-Saleh alliance still occupy Sana’a). The director of the Abaad think tank centre, Abdul Sallam Mohammad, told Gulf News.[17]

What is being done now?

O’Brien at the 8027th UN Security Council meeting called upon Member States for additional funding for the Yemen humanitarian response plan. As of August 2017, the plan has only received 39% of their required $2.3 billion.

O’Brien also called for the support of the Security Council for the following:

  • The opening of all ports (air, land, sea) to civilian (including commercial) traffic.
  • Influence all parties involved in the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and human rights law.
  • Civil servants in Yemen must be paid, if not it will lead to institutional collapse.
  • Accountability must be strengthened for the perpetrators of the war.
  • Demand immediate cessation of hostilities.

As of September 2017, the conflict continues.






















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