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.
Alongside the battles over territory, the parties to Yemen’s war are embroiled in fights for control of key parts of the country’s economy. The latter struggle causes great civilian suffering. The new UN envoy should make it a central task to achieve an economic truce.
Govt forces regained some positions from Huthis in southern Hodeida amid ongoing fighting around Marib city, tit-for-tat violence at Saudi border escalated, and protests erupted in south. On Red Sea coast, govt-aligned Joint Resistance Forces reclaimed some areas in southern Hodeida province lost during Nov withdrawal, including most of Hays district and al-Udayn junction, temporarily cutting off Huthi supply lines from Taiz province. Joint Resistance Forces then focused operations on northern Maqbana axis in western Taiz, notably to gain economically strategic Saqim custom point. In Marib governorate, fighting remained focused around al-Balaq mountain range encircling Marib city. In blow to govt forces, clashes with Huthis 13 Dec reportedly killed senior govt military commander. Elsewhere, govt forces achieved minor gains in western Shebwa while fighting in al-Dhale and al-Bayda governorates slowed. Huthis continued cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia (see Saudi Arabia). Saudi-led coalition responded with airstrikes in Sanaa, Saada, Taiz, Marib and Hodeida governorates; notably, airstrike 3 Dec struck vehicle in Maqbana, Taiz province, killing five civilians and five Huthi fighters; coalition 20 Dec struck targets at Sanaa International Airport. Huthis 21-27 Dec halted humanitarian flights entering capital Sanaa. In south, protests over currency collapse and high food prices early Dec erupted in Aden, Hadramawt, Abyan and Taiz governorates; notably, hundreds 5 Dec protested in Taiz city calling for removal of Taiz governor and PM Abdulmalik Saeed. On political front, tribal members 6 Dec launched sit-in in Nisab district, Shebwa province, calling for removal of govt-aligned governor and protesting economic deterioration; President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi 26 Dec replaced governor with member of parliament aligned with former ruling General People’s Congress party. Economic situation im-proved with Riyal dropping to below 1,000 to U.S. dollar after govt 6 Dec replaced governor and deputy governor of govt-controlled Central Bank. Internationally, UN Envoy Hans Grundberg 13 Dec concluded visit to Oman’s capital Muscat where he met Yemeni and Omani officials, including Huthi chief negotiator Mohammed Ab-dul Salem, while Huthis continued to deny Grundberg entry into Sanaa. Grundberg 14 Dec briefed UN Security Council emphasising dire economic situation and need for negotiations even without ceasefire.
The Huthis have taken al-Bayda, the southern approach to Marib and its oil reserves. A battle for this prize likely would not conclude the war, however. The new UN envoy should work to avert that showdown while revamping the framework for making peace in Yemen.
International efforts to end the war in Yemen are stuck in an outdated two-party paradigm, seeking to mediate between the Huthis and their foes. As it pushes for renewed talks, the UN should broaden the scope to include Yemeni women’s and other civil society groups.
Yemen’s terrible war grinds on, despite a COVID-19 epidemic that has deepened what was already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Stopping the fighting is urgent. Diplomats should adopt an inclusive, multiparty framework for talks to replace today’s flawed model.
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.
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.
From an Iranian perspective, their ally in Yemen the Houthis appear very close in effect to winning the war in the north, if not the entire country.
If anything, it is amazing how little the pandemic has affected the fighting [in Yemen].
The Huthis [in Yemen] have gone from being a relatively contained rebel movement to de facto authorities who (control) the capital and territory where more than 20 million people live.
The Houthis appear to calculate that if they win in Marib, they will have won the war for the north of Yemen while humiliating the internationally recognized president. That is a considerable prize for their side, as it would also allow them to dictate terms for an end to the war.
The good news is that there is clearly more focus on direct negotiations with the Houthi leadership in Sanaa [...] The bad news is that this hasn’t yet closed the gap between the Houthis’ and the Saudis’ positions. Until that happens, we won’t see much movement.
There are probably multiple agendas at play in Marib but the most urgent is the Houthis' belief they can take Marib city and end the war for the north [of Yemen].
Originally published in Foreign Affairs
The UN is recruiting a new envoy to broker peace in Yemen. More important than who gets the job is how UN member states and the mediator perceive its purpose, interpretations of which have limited the UN to the flawed two-party framework adopted since 2015.
UN-led, U.S.-supported efforts to reach a nationwide ceasefire in Yemen have made little progress. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2021 – Spring Update, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to send more aid to Yemen, and push the UN to increase diplomatic outreach, especially to the Huthis, the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council.
Every year Crisis Group publishes two additional Watch List updates that complement its annual Watch List for the EU, most recently published in January 2021. These publications identify major crises and conflict situations where the European Union and its member states can generate stronger prospects for peace. The Spring Update of the Watch List 2021 includes entries on Bolivia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Ukraine and Yemen.
Online Event to discuss International Crisis Group's report The Case for More Inclusive – and More Effective – Peacemaking in Yemen