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.
In the paper “The evolution of militant Salafism in Taiz,” activist and scholar Bushra Al-Maqtari argues that the rise of the Houthi movement and the outbreak Yemen’s armed conflict have driven a transformation of Salafi groups in Yemen. Since the establishment of the first Salafist center in Yemen in the 1980s, most Salafi factions have focused on charity, relief, and intellectual institutions, and have been governed by the Islamic notion of Wali al-Amr that rejected the disobedience to the ruler and distanced the movement from political action
Human Rights Watch recently issued a detailed press release concerning violations of international human rights law in Yemen. Both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi forces have obstructed the import and dissemination of critical aid for civilians, including fuel, medicine, food, and critical support infrastructure. According to Human Rights Watch, international humanitarian law (under Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions, and customary international humanitarian law for a non-international armed conflict) requires warring parties to allow humanitarian personnel free movement. It also requires any warring party that imposes a blockade to do so in a manner that balances the anticipated military advantage with the potential harm to civilians. Human Rights Watch has identified numerous instances in which both parties to the conflict in Yemen have violated international humanitarian law, with devastating consequences for the civilian population.
In a recent piece for Just Security, Former NSC Senior Director for Counterterrorism Luke Hartig recently analyzed the Trump administration’s new drone strike policies and their implications for human rights, national security, and U.S. foreign policy. According to The New York Times, President Trump is considering a new policy for drone strikes recommended by his national security team. The administration is expected to publish a Principles, Standards, and Procedures (PSP) document, which will replace the Presidential Policy Guidance (PPG) that was drafted during President Obama’s administration. The revised policy could substantially impact counterterrorism operations around the world, particularly Yemen.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a report on the situation of human rights in Yemen. The report enumerates the violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen since September 2014, when the Houthi-Saleh coup against the legitimate government began. Civilians face indiscriminate and targeted military attacks, arbitrary and illegal arrest and detention, restricted access to humanitarian aid, and a devastating blockade that smothers the economy. Furthermore, violators throughout Yemen are committing such offenses with total impunity.
The International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (IRCD) recently published two reports relating to the development and implementation of non-military counter terrorism strategies. The first report details the impact of ICRD’s project to train Yemeni activists; The second focuses on the role of religion and community in the context of Yemen’s civil war.
From 23 February through 30 March 2017, the Yemen Polling Center (YPC) conducted a study to understand Yemeni citizens’ perceptions toward the economic and political situation in Yemen amid the growing security chaos. The center received responses from 4,000 individuals from all Yemeni governorates except Sa’dah and Soqotra, and women represented 50% of the respondents. Twenty-nine percent of respondents reported completing at least secondary school, and over 6 percent reported having a college degree. The majority of respondents (75.6%) were between the age of 18 to 45.
United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien addressed the United Nations Security Council on Friday to appeal for relief funding for Yemen. “The Yemeni people’s suffering has relentlessly intensified,” he said, noting that 7 million Yemenis were on the brink of famine and that 16 million lacked access to water
The State Department released its 2016 International Religious Freedom report which details the status of religious freedom in every country. In its section on Yemen, the report describes the laws that place Islam as the state religion and basis of legislation, the harassment and difficulties that religious minorities face, and the violence perpetrated by both Sunni and Zaydi Shi’a militants against those considered apostates.
James Firebrace, a retired British diplomat, and Sherine El-Taraboulsi, of the Overseas Development Institute, wrote an op-ed outlining recommendations for the UK government regarding its engagement with Saudi Arabia. The UK has the potential to exert influence over peace processes in the Middle East, but its current support of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen undermines its moral standing and dedication to humanitarian principles. In order to maintain credibility as a mediator, Firebrace and El-Taraboulsi recommend that the UK reduce its unconditional military support for Saudi Arabia, pressure Saudi Arabia to allow humanitarian imports, and call for more accountability in human rights violations.
According to a report by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, US military assistance and counterterrorism policies in Yemen have destabilized the country and produced effects counter to US interests. US military aid to the Yemeni government, under both President Saleh and President Hadi, has allowed the presidents to undemocratically consolidate power through appointing family members and allies to military positions. It has also contributed to the current war in Yemen; the Houthi-Saleh alliance use weapons that the US gave to Yemen previously, and counterterrorism military aid to the government is often used to maintain the government’s fight against the Houthis. Meanwhile, counterterrorism efforts against AQAP are undermined by the continuing chaos of the war and by the government’s prioritization of the fight against the Houthis which, at times, leads to cooperation between the government and AQAP.
Deep Root has published its Yemen Trend report for the month of July. The report focused on three components of the Yemeni crisis. The worsening cholera epidemic, the political turmoil and the ongoing military conflict.
Jacqueline Hazelton published a report in Lawfare magazine examining the merits of America's use of armed drones through the lens of the American grand strategy of restraint. The study is comprehensive, however it must be noted that due to the secrecy surrounding drone programs and the varying contexts in which drone strikes are carried out, it is difficult to empirically attribute public discontent and radicalization to drone strikes. While this is a limitation of study it is also Hazelton’s chief criticism of the US’ drone program. She argues that:
An article in the Washington Post analyzed the complicated relationship between the US and the UAE. The UAE’s desire for influence has driven it to enhance its international credibility by building up a sophisticated, capable military and increasing its involvement in conflicts. Much of the time, the UAE sides with the US: it leads in the fight against AQAP in Yemen and it has contributed troops in Western-backed conflicts such as in Somalia or Afghanistan. However, the UAE’s support for autocrats, its efforts in resisting peace, and its alleged illegal actions in conflict zones that risk US culpability have undermined the alliance between it and the US.
In a Chatham House article, Yemen expert Peter Salisbury warns that the flourishing war economy that sustains militia leaders, the Hadi government, and local stakeholders poses a threat to a diplomatic solution. Militia and political leaders fund their war efforts by taxing or establishing monopolies on resources. War has empowered militia leaders on all sides, and a peace process would strip these groups of their main source of authority.
Just Security published an op-ed today by YPP executive director Will Picard, warning of the dangers of a deal currently being negotiated in secret that could return former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to power. Saleh was ousted in late 2011, after a lengthy popular uprising and a schism within the regime. In 2014 he allied himself with the Houthi movement to orchestrate a coup, sparking the ongoing civil war in Yemen. While the UN-led peace process has stalled, it appears that that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are negotiating with Saleh's party to form a new government and end the Gulf states' military intervention. The new government would reportedly include Saleh's son and other members of the pro-Saleh branch of Yemen's ruling GPC party.
In an article in Just Security over the weekend, Stephen Seche and Eric Pelofsky provided recommendations to US policymakers regarding efforts to restart the peace process in Yemen, based on their meetings this month with Yemeni and Saudi officials in Riyadh. Stephen Seche, a former US ambassador to Yemen and the executive vice president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, and Eric Pelofsky, a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former special assistant to the president and senior director for North Africa and Yemen at the National Security Council, warned that “today, there appears to be no viable path to peace in Yemen.” They pointed out several challenges, including internal tension between actors on both major sides of the conflict and Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s refusal to endorse the UN Roadmap for Yemen as a basis for negotiation
The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) has released a report detailing the impact President Trump’s proposed budget will have on the Middle East and North Africa. Overall, the Trump administration’s budget request for FY18 proposes a 30% cut to foreign affairs funding. The budget is indicative of the Trump administration’s focus on the use of military force, with 80 percent of all foreign aid marked for military assistance. Humanitarian assistance faces a four percent funding cut, even as a number of conflicts spiral out of control and famine and disease ravage nations such as Yemen. The current budget requests only $35 million for Yemen, a nation that is currently dealing with massive food insecurity and the worst cholera crisis in the world. This represents a 37 percent decrease from FY17. According to the report, a decline in spending “may reduce the United States’ ability to respond to Yemen’s growing crisis.”
Search for Common Ground, an organization dedicated to conflict resolution, published a report outlining recommendations for securing peace in Yemen. The current conflict has deepened regional, political, religious, and tribal divisions, and has eroded the capacity of the centralized government to address disputes and needs. In the absence of state control, local organizations, such as civil society groups, have arisen to take responsibility. In order to establish peace and stability in Yemen, the international community must empower local leaders in their dispute resolution and peacebuilding efforts, which will facilitate social cohesion and bridge the divisions that prevent peace.