WFP decision to halt aid is an indicator of a larger problem of crushed civil space, affecting the lives of millions of Yemenis and threatening opportunities for sustainable peace
Herve Verhoosel, the senior spokesperson of the World Food Programme (WFP), announced the suspension of aid on the back of repeated interference of some Houthi leaders in their work. “Our greatest challenge does not come from the guns” but instead from “the obstructive and uncooperative role of some of the Houthi leaders in areas under their control,” he said in the statement issued on May 20th.
Women4Yemen Network believe that this statement is an indicator of a larger and more serious problem that needs immediate attention from the UN Envoy’s Office and the international community. The widespread corruption in aid and development projects is enabled by the extensive and systematic crackdown on civil society by the de facto Houthi authorities in Sanaa. This has resulted in the absence of accountability and monitoring.
The diversion of aid is one of many outcomes of the tight grip of the Houthi authorities in the north. Since they took control of the capital of Sanaa in 2014, Houthis have shut down local civil society organizations, created new ones that are loyal to them and implement their agenda, abducted and forcibly disappeared civil society activists, and even intimidated INGO staff. According to local sources, some of the challenges the civil society organizations are facing are:
- Difficulty to issue or renew licenses to operate. Some organizations are forced to pay bribes in order to get a license or to look for people in connection with the Houthi group in order to get the license issued.
- Difficulty to work in peace building or protection projects. In fact, Houthis forbid the use of the word “peace” in any civil society documents or events.
- Freezing of the bank accounts of some civil society organizations.
- Shutting down of some of civil society organizations.
- Houthis successfully pressure some international organizations to work with Houthi-loyal organizations.
- Activists, including women, in peace and humanitarian fields are subjected to arrest and retaliation. Read our report: https://bit.ly/2Wb1hu6 and the Women Solidarity Network report on: #FreeAwfaa campaign https://info861663.wixsite.com/freeawfaa
- According to the Washington Post, aid agencies and NGOs have been ordered to hire Houthi representatives and loyalists as part of their local teams.
Women4Yemen Network consider the WFP’s threat to withdraw support to the areas under Houthi control a response that is too little too late. It will also not solve the problem. UN agencies and INGOs need to address the larger problem which is the crackdown on civil space, as that will leave long term negative effects on Yemenis, beyond lack of access to humanitarian assistance. It is undermining the grassroots peace activism essential to support peace processes.
To address this problem, we recommend the following:
- The international community should protect and empower the civil society and include it as one of the items of the peace negotiations.
- The Houthi group should lift all the restrictions on the civil society organizations.
- The Houthi group should provide a license to all organizations, including women-based organizations, with no biases.
- The international community should support the UN to resume its work in Yemen as the situation in the country cannot afford to lose support. According to UN agencies, the country is on the verge of a famine. The international community should put pressure on the Houthi group to stop interference in food aid in particular, and in civil society in general.
- The international community should work to support the protection of women in light of UN resolution 1325 and professionals working in aid and civil society.
- The UN should consider reallocating its headquarters away from the Houthi-controlled capital of Sana’a. This will improve partnership with civil society organizations and allow for accountability and monitoring needed for aid effectiveness.
- The UN can harness up-to-date technical measures to provide assistance which can ensure more accountability and monitoring. The aid also should focus more on economic growth, more than relief support. Read our blog: https://bit.ly/2HLGHaZ
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