The war in Yemen, which escalated in March 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition intervened on behalf of the internationally recognised government against Huthi rebels aligned with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, has turned a poor country into a humanitarian catastrophe: hunger and fighting could provoke mass famine and waves of refugees; the conflict could destabilise Saudi Arabia; and both sides appear locked in a cycle of escalating violence, derailing UN peace talks. Crisis Group’s focus is on the negotiations: introducing ourselves at key points, shaping the debate, proposing solutions and encouraging stakeholders to modify positions based on our analysis. Concerted effort is required to convince the parties to accept the UN’s roadmap as the basis for a compromise that would end foreign intervention and allow Yemenis to make peace.
A Huthi offensive threatens to engulf Marib, a province controlled by Yemen’s internationally recognised government and full of internally displaced people. Outside powers should act now to halt the fighting, which could deepen the existing humanitarian crisis and ruin peace efforts elsewhere in the country.
Huthi forces continued their advance into govt-held Marib governorate in north and cross-border attacks between Huthis and Saudi Arabia escalated late month, raising risk of more intense fighting in April if parties do not heed UN’s call for ceasefire; fighting continued on other fronts including along Red Sea coast. In north, Huthis 2 March claimed to have taken control of al-Hazm, capital of al-Jawf governorate, and continued advancing east toward Marib governorate. Fighting between govt forces and Huthis in central Marib in March left hundreds injured and killed from both sides. Huthis and govt forces continued fighting in Sirwa district in western Marib and in areas of eastern al-Jawf. Clashes between Huthis and govt-aligned forces also ongoing along Red Sea coast. Govt 12 March said it was withdrawing military observers from UN outposts around Hodeida after Huthi sniper reportedly killed one; govt boycotted meetings of Redeployment Coordination Committee, UN-chaired body tasked with overseeing ceasefire around city. In south, with forces aligned with separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) repeatedly preventing Saudi forces from taking control of strategic locations in Aden, Saudi officials 15 March allegedly barred senior STC officials from flying from Jordanian capital Amman to Aden. STC leaders warned of further unrest in Aden if Riyadh did not adjust course. To slow spread of COVID-19, Huthis 14 March cancelled flights in and out of Sanaa; govt same day cancelled flights from Aden and Seiyoun. Discussions in Amman over prisoner swaps between govt and Huthis halted as meetings were cancelled due to COVID-19. Following his 23 March call for global ceasefire to limit COVID-19 outbreak, UN Sec-Gen Guterres 25 March urged Yemen’s warring parties to end hostilities and restart talks. Saudi-led coalition, govt, Huthis and other armed actors 25 March expressed support for UN appeal. But cross-border war escalated late March as Huthis 27-28 March launched drone and missile attacks on Riyadh and Saudi economic and military installations in provinces along border. Riyadh responded with airstrikes on Huthi positions in northern Yemen, Sanaa and Hodeida.
The UN General Assembly kicks off on 17 September amid general scepticism about the world body’s effectiveness in an era of rising great-power competition. But the UN is far from paralysed. Here are seven crisis spots where it can make a positive difference for peace.
Yemen’s anti-Huthi coalition has begun to splinter, with sharp fighting between Saudi- and Emirati-backed elements in the country’s south. With UN assistance, the Gulf monarchies should urgently broker a ceasefire as a prelude to an expanded peace process encompassing southern secessionists and others now excluded.
The UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement to stop fighting around Yemen’s Red Sea city of Hodeida is faltering as violence on other front lines and across the Saudi border escalates. The UN and P5 should stabilise the Stockholm Agreement and push conflict parties toward national peace talks.
Two successive U.S. administrations have backed the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention in Yemen, helping deepen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Congress should continue pressing the White House to end this support, while working to strengthen its war powers role in the future.
A Saudi-led coalition attack on the city of Hodeida risks plunging millions of Yemenis into famine and will meet fierce resistance from Huthi rebels. The U.S. should stop enabling coalition offensives and international stakeholders must quickly place Hodeida under UN control.
Now [Yemen's] fate is linked to a much bigger picture in a three-dimensional chess game.
[The Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] hasn’t posed the kind of threat to the West it did a decade ago in a number of years.
For now, neither the Houthis nor the Saudis wish to abandon the talks, but the de-escalation process is under severe strain.
A successful agreement [between the Yemeni government and southern secessionists] would keep a lid on violence long enough to allow progress in other parts of the country.
It has been politically more convenient to lay the blame for Houthis at Iran’s door than to say that the Houthis’ rise was the product of a series of internal political miscalculations and misplaced international priorities.
Without a political settlement, Yemen threatened to play a role as a trigger or to become embroiled in a wider regional conflict, in particular if a Houthi or Houthi-claimed attack was successful.
Out of a Moment of Crisis, a Chance for a Solution.
Originally published in Foreign Affairs
For the first time in years, a viable pathway to peace in Yemen is in view. But obstacles remain, chiefly the gaps between the conflict parties’ positions.
Since the September attack on Saudi oil facilities, Riyadh and the Houthis have taken a step back from all-out war. All parties, including the United States, should seize this rare opportunity to resolve the conflict.
Originally published in Foreign Policy
A Huthi suspension of hostilities in Yemen and an apparently positive Saudi Arabian response offer a chance to avoid regional conflagration. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 - Third Update for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to encourage inclusive dialogue between the warring factions, which can lead to intra-Yemeni negotiations.
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The third update to the Watch List 2019 includes entries on Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Sudan and Yemen.