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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) recently released a plan of action to enhance food security in Yemen between 2018 and 2020. Right now, 17.8 million Yemenis are food insecure and 8.4 million are severely food insecure.
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.
In a February report published by the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), Nadwa Al-Dawsari describes the dynamics of the relationship between Yemeni tribes and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
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.
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.
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.
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 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, 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.
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.
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 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.
On October 11, 2017, the Stimson Center and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic hosted a panel discussion on past US drone practices, recent developments, and future drone policy under the Trump administration. The discussion was moderated by Rachel Stohl, Senior Associate for the Conventional Defense Program at the Stimson Center. The panelists included Waleed Alhariri from the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, Alex Moorehead from the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, and Luke Hartig from the National Journal’s Network Science Initiative.
On October 10, 2017, the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen briefed the Security Council on the ongoing War in Yemen. The envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, reported that intense fighting continues on all major fronts including Ta‘iz, Marib, al-Jawf, al-Baydha, Hajjah and Sa‘dah governorates, and the Saudi-Yemen border areas. Civilian casualties also continue to mount due to a disregard for international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict. On August 25, 2017, an airstrike in San‘a killed fourteen civilians while injuring an additional sixteen. Shelling of residential areas by Houthi-Saleh forces also continues. The envoy reported civilian deaths, including eight children, in Ta‘iz from rocket fire.