Global Appeal for Ceasefire Requires Commitment and Accountability in Yemen
The recent outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic poses a global threat that requires global solidarity and a focus on joint efforts to face this unprecedented challenge. Yemen is not an exception, but after experiencing more than five years of war, the country is extremely unprepared to face the pandemic. As much as the coronavirus represents a global threat, it could also be an opportunity to start a new phase of peace.
We, in the Women4Yemen Network, welcome the call of the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire to focus on “the true fight of our lives”. We also welcomed the initial positive responses by the Yemeni conflict parties: the Yemeni government, Ansar Allah movement (known as the Houthi group), and the Southern Transitional Council (STC), who all expressed their willingness to accept the UN-brokered calls. However, despite these statements, armed escalation continues to threaten the momentum:
- Territorial expansion and continuation of domestic warfare: The Houthi group have continued their territorial expansion and broken their cease-fire declaration.
- Missile attacks on Riyadh by the Houthi group.
- Airstrikes by Saudi Arabia on Sanaa. A recent airstrike took place on March 30, following the attacks by the Houthis.
The Women4Yemen Network wishes to highlight the challenges to peace since the signing of the Stockholm Agreement, in order to draw upon new strategies and lessons learned:
- Lack of fair peace monitoring mechanism:
While the UN Envoy to Yemen’s mandate is to lead mediation, there has to be strong monitoring of the peace efforts and the identification of any violation to the peace commitments by any actor.
- Rewarding a culture of violence:
The exclusion of non-violent actors such as women, youth and other groups can send a message that using violence is the way to be heard.
- Shrinkage of state presence against the rise of armed groups:
The state institutions are no longer functioning and there is an increasing dominance of non-state armed groups and new groups such as the Southern Transitional Council, supported by the UAE. The Yemeni government is under the control of Saudi Arabia. UN reports warn of the risk of undermining of Yemeni state presence due to the coalition led by the Saudis and Emirates.
- Increased oppression of women peacebuilders and activists:
Various reports show that women peacebuilders and activists are facing unprecedented attack, particularly by the Houthi group. Women peacebuilders in Houthi-controlled areas face threats of their organizations being shut down as well as extreme restrictions around conducting meetings.
The Houthis have continued their strong territorial advance, even after signing the Stockholm Agreement. They moved towards Hajour and Dali. Recently the Houthi group seized Al Jawf after fierce local fights, causing massive displacement. They also started a new attack against Ma’rib, despite their public announcement of ceasefire.
Risk of losing pockets of stability:
Governorates like Marib and Jawf are considered pockets of stability, hosting a huge number of displaced people from other conflict-affected areas. However, the recent attacks threaten these pockets and it is already causing a humanitarian crisis and further displacement. Yemen has some of the highest rates of internal displacement in the world.
Regional negative interference:
Regional countries, mainly Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Iran, continue their negative interference by supporting proxy armed groups and political movements.
Countries like the US, Canada, France, Germany and the UK continue to sell weapons to the Arab led coalition led by Saudi Arabia, despite the human rights violations. This will have a negative impact on the peace process in Yemen.
Attacks on health facilities:
Health infrastructure is hugely impacted and attacked by all parties to the conflict.
Control of aid:
Houthi authorities created an agency called NAMCHA (National Authority for Management and Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Response) that controls and dictates aid allocation. There have been reports of some UN agencies being complicit with Houthi militants and supporting their agenda. Houthis are aware of the funding cycle and they put pressure on the UN and other international agencies to respond to their agenda.
In addition to the above threats, the Women4Yemen Network has made a number of observations via its work and networks that should be highlighted and addressed:
1. Lack of pressure on non-state actors:
We observed that the international community does not seems to have the tools or mechanisms to question and pressure non-state actors like the Houthi armed group or the STC. This will impact lasting peace. This unbalanced approach will not limit the extra state armed activities and will promote a culture which rewards violence and where people tend to join non-state militants.
2. Lack of monitoring of peace agreement commitments/breaches:
During the various peace brokered initiatives, there has not been clear monitoring of the peace progress and commitments made by the negotiating parties.
3. Gulf conflict impacts negatively on the war in Yemen:
After the rivalry between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, the conflict has resulted in polarization and new alliances with these countries that are mostly not nationally driven and this has greatly affected social cohesion.
4. Business cycle of development/aid:
According to reports, the Houthis obstruct aid and force organizations to follow their conditions. Many international organizations find themselves obliged to request permissions and accept conditions forced on them by the Houthi group. This is observed to be closely linked to the inability to assert pressure on non-state actors like the Houthis. The impact goes beyond the cases of corruption found by some UN agencies, but there is poor reporting of the current conditions for fear of retaliation and shutdown. This situation is problematic and requires more engagement and new approaches from donors and implementing agencies.
Women4Yemen Network believes that there are some opportunities that could be built on to resume peace negotiations and reach peace.
1. Convening of the parliament in Sayuon:
The convening of Parliament in the city of Sayuon is a positive and strategic step towards strengthening the State of Yemen.
2. Building trust measures:
This approach is important to at least address some of the imminent issues concerning people and to mitigate the tension.
3. Prisoners swap:
Last February, a major step was made with the signing of an agreement to swap more than 1,400 detainees under the auspices of the United Nations.
4. Riyadh agreement
The Saudi-brokered agreement is an opportunity to address the power conflict in the south.
5. Release of the Bahai detainees
Houthi declared the release of the Bahai detainees, a religious minority in Yemen, and this should be followed by the release of all arbitrary detainees and other deescalating acts.
6. Release of detainees by the Yemeni government
The Yemeni government announced the release of more than 470 prisoners from detention facilities under the government’s control as a precautionary measure against coronavirus.
We believe that for the global ceasefire to be implemented on the ground, there should be commitment from all parties, including regional and international actors, to support the peace process in Yemen. Also, there should be more work towards accountability and peace monitoring to ensure more commitment in the future. Below are our recommendations:
1. For immediate action:
- Release of all prisoners by all conflict parties amid the threat of the coronavirus outbreak.
- Put pressure on the Houthi group to stop the domestic attacks including shelling, landmines, detaining journalists, activists and women.
- Prioritize the protection of women and women peacebuilders and support all peace activities in Yemen as per the UNSCR 1325.
2. Necessary conditions for a lasting and inclusive peace:
- All parties should work together to revive the political negotiations and women should be included, with at least 30 percent representation.
- Establishment of a peace monitoring group to assess the progress of peace efforts and flag any breaches by all conflict parties.
- Inclusion of peace stakeholders like women and youth.
- The peace fostered by the UN should exert more focus on the regional and international conflict actors, primarily Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran. They should be clearly identified as part of the Yemen conflict, including the countries that sell weapons to conflict parties.
- Continuation of the trust building measures launched by the UN Envoy to Yemen.
- The UN and the international community should ensure less international and regional interference in Yemen in order for the domestic peace negotiations to succeed.
- The international community should protect and empower civil society and include this as one of the items of the peace negotiations.
3. Priorities for Humanitarian relief and recovery:
- The Houthi group should lift all the restrictions on civil society organizations.
- 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 UN should consider relocating 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 should harness up-to-date technical measures to provide assistance which can ensure better accountability and monitoring. The aid should be directed more towards economic growth rather than relief support.
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Photo courtesy: Pulitzer-award winner Maad Alzekri