Book Review: Nathalie Peutz’s Islands of Heritage

Nathalie Peutz’s Islands of Heritage: Conservation and Transformation in Yemen is a sweeping account of life at the intersection of conservation projects, international development, national politics, and globalization on the largest island of Yemen’s Soqotra Archipelago. Soqotra is a UNESCO natural World Heritage Site renowned for its vast collection of unique plant and animal species, which makes it one of the most biodiverse places in the world. According to UNESCO, Soqotra is “of universal importance because of its biodiversity with rich and distinct flora and fauna.” As Peutz shows, however, Soqotra’s designation as a natural World Heritage Site and the related burst of attention to its ostensibly universal natural value has effectively marginalized both Soqotra’s historical and its contemporary cultural heritage. While Soqotra was transformed from a generally undisturbed island community to the focus of large European-funded conservation programs oriented towards environmental protection, the waves of researchers, conservationists, and organizations that flocked to the island disregarded the fact that, in addition to its natural biodiversity, Soqotra is home to the rich cultural heritage of the Soqotran people, including the endangered Soqotri language. As the island has faced the onslaught of development, rapidly changing climate conditions, and now a civil war, the people of Soqotra have turned to this heritage as a tool to advocate for their political and cultural rights. Peutz situates this challenge to the status quo, what she calls “a heritagial revolution,” within a geopolitical and historical context where cultural heritage has long been the stage of anti-imperialist struggles for sovereignty. Here, Peutz argues that environmental protection and development are neither neutral nor apolitical, but part of a tradition of using the language of protection and conservation to facilitate the imperial ambitions of western powers. It is with this attention to nuance and history that she is able to show how heritage, in both its discursive and material forms, has become a force to be reckoned with in emerging struggles for political, social, and cultural empowerment in Yemen.

CARPO report explores requirements for peace

CARPO, the Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient, released their latest report on Yemen, Understanding Peace Requirements in Yemen, on March 5, 2019. The report highlights political and social factors that impact the ongoing conflict, identifying requirements for peace in relevant sectors, and important actors that can play a role in meeting these requirements.

Power Struggles in Ta'iz Pitch Aligned Groups Against Each Other, Report Finds

While the war in Yemen is often portrayed as having two sides---the Houthis aligned with GPC-San’a against the Saudi-led coalition and Hadi’s government forces--in reality, both sides are fragmented, with groups representing different political loyalties, often resulting in conflict among the groups within each alliance.

The ambiguous decline of jihadist militancy in Yemen

A July 2018 policy paper by Dr. Elisabeth Kendall for the Middle East Institute explores the gradual development of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State in Yemen (ISY), and the conditions each organization require to succeed. Kendall analyzes the structures of AQAP and challenges the organization has faced. She also compares AQAP to ISY and considers their recent decentralizations. She urges key conflict actors to take actions to ultimately end the war and act now to restrict jihadist militancy in Yemen.

The role of women transforms during wartime, AWAM Development Foundation study finds

In May 2018, the Awam Development Foundation, in partnership with Oxfam and the Youth Leadership Development Foundation, produced a report titled The  Impacts of War on the Participation of Women in Civil Society Organizations and Peacebuilding. The study explores the ways in which the war in Yemen is affecting women across various industries and regions. A study team conducted interviews in the San’a, Aden, Hudaydah and Ibb governorates, examining the life of average Yemeni women and their roles, or lack thereof, as peace builders in their communities. The evidence gathered from these interviews culminated in new recommendations intended for both national and international policymakers.

Mundy analyzes the structural damages of Yemen's agricultural sector

At the end of April, Professor Martha Mundy, an LSE anthropologist with over 40 years’ experience in Yemeni affairs, published “The war on Yemen and its agricultural sector,” a paper on the historical development of the agricultural sector in Yemen and how it stands currently in the midst of the war. It is widely accepted that Yemen is facing the worst humanitarian and food security crisis in the world, but Mundy argues that this food security crisis “is not solely the result of the war,” but also of the crippling of the agricultural sector since 1970.

Criminal Complaint Filed in Italy over Italian Arms Sale to the Coalition

In Italy, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the Yemen-based Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, and the Italian-based Rete Italiana per Il Disarmo jointly filed a criminal complaint in a public prosecutor's office. The complaint names both an Italian arms manufacturer and the Italian government agency that approves arms exports. The organizations want to prove that Italian weapons were used in an illegal airstrike in Yemen and investigate Italy’s criminal liability for the attack.

Just Security Article Analyzes How the US Might Be Found Liable for Aiding and Abetting War Crimes

As part of a series of articles on international law and the war in Yemen, Just Security recently published a piece by several legal scholars regarding the War Crimes Act and the US federal statute on aiding and abetting. The authors conclude that US government personnel face limited legal risk of prosecution for aiding and abetting violations by the Saudi-led coalition under the War Crimes Act. It would likely be difficult to establish the requisite mens rea--proof of intent--due to the fact that US military support for the Saudi-led coalition is ostensibly accompanied by training on law-of-war compliance and civilian protection. This is debatable, however, because some observers argue that the deep, systemic problems in the Saudi military render it incapable of carrying out independent air operations without violating international humanitarian law principles. The applicability of these federal laws is important because, although other international venues exist for the prosecution of war crimes, the US generally will not allow foreign or international courts to try US officials or military personnel. The article concludes that another case, the participation of US personnel in the torture and abuse of detainees held by the UAE at sites in southern Yemen, would be easier to prosecute. Those US personnel face greater potential liability for violating the War Crimes Act by aiding and abetting UAE crimes.

Chatham House Urges the International Community to Make The South A Higher Priority

Peter Salisbury warns about growing southern autonomy in a new Chatham House report titled “Yemen’s Southern Powder Keg.” He urges the international community to integrate southern voices into the peace process. He classifies Yemen as a “chaos state,” which means it consists of warring mini-states. One such de-facto state is the south, which has gained greater autonomy as the war has progressed.

UN Panel of Experts' Report Describes a Fragmented Conflict, with Humanitarian Law Violations on All Sides

On January 26, the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen released its annual report on the conflict in Yemen. The report described several of the most significant events of the war in 2017, including the Houthis’ missile launch that landed near an airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the dissolution of the Houthi-Saleh alliance in December, and the Houthis’ consolidation of control in northern Yemen.

Pomeps papers show the fractional nature of Yemen's war

In November, The Project on Middle East Political Science at George Washington University brought together scholars from Yemen, Europe, and the United States to discuss the situation in Yemen. This workshop produced a series of short papers that illustrate the fractional nature of Yemen’s war and contemplate the challenges behind any future negotiated settlement.

Chatham House encourages the incorporation of subnational and local groups in an expanded mediation process

In Yemen: National Chaos, Local Order, Chatham House's Peter Salisbury identifies Yemen as a “chaos state” characterized as “a nominal entity that exists largely as lines on a map and as a concept in newspaper reports and policymaker briefings" (p. 45). The traditional solution to restoring order in a “chaos state” is creating a centralized government that dictates legitimacy from the top down. According to Salisbury’s analysis, this approach is unlikely to work in Yemen. Yemen is not purely a contest for power between the Houthis and the government of President Hadi, or purely a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but rather “a region of mini-states at varying degrees of war with one another, and beset by their own complex internal politics and conflicts.”  

Human Rights Watch Recommends Sanctions Against Coalition Officials Over Blockade

Human Rights Watch recommends that the UN Security Council impose asset freezes and travel bans on senior coalition officials, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, unless the coalition fully lifts its blockade on Yemen. The coalition is currently restricting humanitarian aid and commercial imports from reaching civilians living in Houthi-controlled territory. The blockade contributes to the massive humanitarian crisis, causing a fuel shortage and widespread food insecurity. These actions may amount to using starvation as a tool of warfare, a war crime under international law.

Deep Root Report Describes How the Conflict in Yemen Has Impacted the Food Pipeline

Deep Root, a consulting firm focused on development in Yemen, recently published a report that details how the conflict has impacted the food pipeline. Around 60% of Yemenis are food insecure, and pockets of areas hardest-hit by the food insecurity crisis have reached the point of famine. This humanitarian disaster is caused by a multitude of factors; the livelihoods of civilians have been negatively impacted by the conflict, and many people are unable to pay for the increased prices of food and fuel.

Governor of Ta'iz: Lack of Funds Exacerbates Deteriorating Economic and Security Situation

The governor of Ta’iz, Ali al-Mamari, recently described the economic and military conditions of Ta’iz in an interview with Farea al-Muslimi of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies. The Houthis stormed Ta’iz in 2015, and fighting between Houthi-Saleh forces and local resistance groups supported by the Hadi government and the Saudi-led coalition has continued since. The Houthis control Ta’iz’s industrial areas of major economic activity, and in order to keep control of these revenue-generating areas, the Houthis blockade and shell Ta’iz. Al-Mamari details how the central government, particularly the Central Bank of Yemen, neglects Ta’iz - and how the lack of funds contributes to the deteriorating security, education, and public health situation.

Atlantic Council: Iran's Fingerprints in Yemen Real or Imagined?

Elisabeth Kendall recently published an issue brief for the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security regarding Iranian involvement in Yemen. She begins by criticizing those who misinterpret the available data to confirm pre-existing biases or conclusions regarding Iranian support for Houthi forces. Kendall states that her goal is to examine the conflict in Yemen in a more neutral manner by eschewing any particular predisposition toward one conclusion or another.

International Crisis Group: Saudi Arabia Must Promote Political Settlement During Houthi-Saleh Tensions

International Crisis Group published a report on October 11, 2017 explaining that the ongoing tensions within the Houthi-Saleh alliance provide the opportunity for Saudi Arabia to resolve the war in Yemen with an inclusive regional initiative. The report suggests that Saudi Arabia should capitalize on this moment of heightened strain in the Houthi-Saleh relationship and promote peace, ending a war that is economically and diplomatically costly for Saudi Arabia itself and disastrous for the Yemenis.