Steps toward governance in Yemen

Today, the choice between an end to the armed conflict with negotiations for a renewal of a Yemeni State on the basis of the con-federal system proposed and continued fighting in the hope that one faction become a “winner-take-all” is relatively clear. The Association of World Citizens (AWC) is resolutely for an end to the armed conflict with serious negotiations on the structure of a future State.

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By Rene Wadlow

Shall we not learn from life, its laws, dynamics, balances?
Learn to base our needs not on death, destruction, waste, but on renewal.”

— Nancy Newall

Two useful steps were taken on the long road toward relative peaceful governance in Yemen.  The first need of the country is an end the Saudi-led aggression and the civil war conditions.  Without an end to the armed violence and insecurity in many parts of the country, it is impossible for the people of Yemen to decide on the structure of the State and the institutions of the society. Thus two useful steps to end the armed conflict have been taken by negotiations held in Sweden and a vote in the U.S. Senate

On 6 December 2018, U.N.-led negotiations on the armed conflict in Yemen opened in Stockholm, Sweden under the leadership of the U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. There were representatives from two of the major factions, the Yemeni Government now located in the southern port of Aden, and the rival Houthi who control the traditional capital of Sana’a. The talks were planned to last a week and to focus on confidence-building measures such as an exchange of prisoners and on humanitarian aid.

On 13 December 2018, at the end of the week of talks, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said a framework for political negotiations  would be discussed at a new round to be held at the end of January 2019. In the meantime a ceasefire and a pulling back of troops around the port city of Hodeidah had been agreed. A Redeployment Coordination Committee, chaired by the U.N. will oversee the ceasefire and the redeployment.

A consequence of the bombing in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition is the starvation of the civilian population due to lack of food and water. Due to the widespread use of defoliants in the Vietnam war, there was written as Article 54(2) of the 1977 Additional Protocol I, a prohibition to destroy foodstuffs, crops, drinking water installations and irrigation works. Yemen is, at the best of times, short of food and drinking water installations. The bombing has deliberately increased the hardships as well as increasing the number of displaced people with the resulting lack of access to food and water.

The continued aggression of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition against civilians in Yemen, the use of U.S.-made cluster munitions in violation of the Convention of Cluster Munitions, the large-scale displacement of people and the wide-spread hunger highlight the relation among human rights violations, arms control, meeting basic needs and the resolution of armed conflicts through negotiations in good faith.

It is felt by the U.N. staff and the parties represented that it is too early to undertake direct discussions on political issues, especially issues concerning the structure of government which will only start next January. However, developing broadly-agreed-upon structures of governance are crucial to a resolution of the armed conflict.

Also on 13 December, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution, 56 to 41, calling for an end to U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led military campaign, especially the sale of weapons and midair refueling of the massive air campaign started by the Saudis in 2015. The resolution effort was led by Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Mike Lee of Utah, both long-time critics of U.S. support in the Yemen war.  While the resolution by itself will not stop U.S. involvement, it is a good sign of “the way the wind is blowing”.

There are two major issues that shape the future. The first is the possibility of forming a decentralized but relatively inclusive central government. Yemen remains largely a tribal society with political decisions made by the tribal head. Tribes usually have a specific geographic base. Thus, a central government requires participation by members from the major tribal groups However, through economic development, people from different tribes now live in the cities and larger towns. These more urbanized populations do not depend as much on the decisions or views of the chiefs.

The second major issue concerns the ability of Yemen to remain as one State or again to split into two with Sana’a as the capital of one State in the north and Aden as the capital of another State in the south. The two States were the political structure until 1990 when the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, with its center in Aden, combined with the Yemen Arab Republic in the north to become the Republic of Yemen. Leading up to 1990, there was wide hope that the union of the two States would lead to increased economic well-being. In practice, there has been little improvement. If there has been an improvement, it is because of external economic factors and not directly linked to the union. The lack of improvement in the south has led to resentment in the south and on the part of some persons, a desire for southern separation. Now, some in the south have formed militias. It is difficult to know how far they will push for separation and the creation of an independent State. Already in 1994, there had been armed attacks to push for a return to an Aden-based State.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has been concerned with three issues in the Yemen conflict:

  1. The violation of international humanitarian law, involving attacks on medical facilities, medical personnel and the use of weapons banned by international treaties, especially cluster munitions. The AWC had been particularly active in promoting a treaty on the prohibition of cluster munitions.
  2. Humanitarian relief, especially food aid. With the Saudi-led blockage of ports and air fields, it has been difficult for the UN or relief organizations to bring in food supplies. It is estimated that some eight million people suffer from famine-like conditions and that some 18 million others are in conditions of food insecurity. The fighting makes certain roads unsafe, preventing the delivery of food and other relief supplies.
  3. The creation of a Yemen confederation. While the form of State structures depends on the will of the people of Yemen (if they were able to express themselves freely), the AWC proposes con-federal forms of government which maintain cooperation within a decentralized framework as an alternative to the creation of new independent States. In 2014, a committee appointed by then president Abu Hadi proposed a six-region federation as the political structure for Yemen. The AWC believes that this proposal merits close attention and could serve as a base of a renewal for an inclusive Yemen government.

Today, the choice between an end to the armed conflict with negotiations for a renewal of a Yemeni State on the basis of the con-federal system proposed and continued fighting in the hope that one faction become a “winner-take-all” is relatively clear. The AWC is resolutely for an end to the armed conflict with serious negotiations on the structure of a future State.

Rene Wadlow is president of the Association of World Citizens.

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of TransConflict.

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