The War in Yemen: 2011-2018: The elusive road to peace

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Working paper 18-1 November 2018

By Sonal Marwah and Tom Clark

Executive summary

The United Nations (UN) has played a key role in most recent peace processes, but has not, thus far, been an effective force for peace in Yemen, which is now the site of one of the world’s bloodiest internationalized civil wars. Instead, the flow of the conflict has been dominated by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), in which Saudi Arabia plays a leading role.

The military attacks on behalf of the internationally recognized Yemeni government by a coalition of Middle Eastern states led by Saudi Arabia (“the coalition”), which began in March 2015, mark the collapse of the GCC process for a peaceful political transition. In April 2015, the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2216 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, authorizing an arms embargo on the Houthi-Saleh forces and legitimizing the coalition’s military actions. The conditions laid out in Resolution 2216 formed the only stated international basis for a political solution to the war in Yemen.

In this report, we outline the conflict and its impact on Yemenis. We then examine the role of the global arms trade in this conflict. Coalition members began with generally unhindered access to hi-tech military equipment. It is apparent that the ongoing transfer of arms and ammunition to coalition forces—and Saudi Arabia in particular—has fueled their efforts. Houthi forces, as well, seem to have benefited from an influx of weapons from outside—in this case, Iran.

Next, we consider the prospects for peace. Resolution 2216 was never supported by all actors in the conflict and the path it proposed has already proven unworkable. A more open-ended approach is needed. At one point, Resolution 2216 calls for “a peaceful, inclusive, orderly and Yemeni-led political transition process that meets the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Yemeni people, including women, for peaceful change and meaningful political, economic and social reform.” Here is a better starting point.

We believe that the UN needs to take up its traditional role as the intergovernmental organization that coordinates and builds peace, rather than endorsing an externally developed process. The transfer of weapons must be more effectively controlled and tracked. As well, the original arms embargo on Yemen should be extended to all parties involved in the conflict. There is extensive evidence that the Saudi-led coalition has used arms in violation of international humanitarian law and human-rights law. Under these conditions, no state should supply Saudi Arabia or other coalition members with weapons that could be used in Yemen.

Photo: Al-Mazraq camp houses about 5,000 people and was established in 2001 by the United Nations in Hajjah province to accommodate Yemenis displaced from the capital, Sana’a. Annasofie Flamand/IRIN

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