Editor's note: This article is adapted from a paper presented at the Yemen D.C. Conference, which was convened in Washington by DAWN, the Tawakkol Karman Foundation and the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University.
A devastating war is still being waged against the political will of Yemenis and their right to a dignified life. With the revolution of 2011, Yemenis chose to move toward the future in peace. The Houthis shattered that dream with their armed coup in 2014 and 2015, when they invaded the capital, Sana'a, and took control of state institutions, despite a comprehensive national dialogue that had resulted in a national consensus for a new draft constitution after the fall of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
More than eight years of war brought on by the Houthis have killed any hope for Yemen's newborn democracy and the right of Yemenis to freely choose their representatives and rebuild the institutions of their state. A radical, armed group that monopolizes power and is backed by Iran, the Houthis claim their right to rule Yemenis through divine selection.
Today, devastation is sown in every corner of Yemen. There is no family in Yemen that has not suffered. Everyone has been burned by the fire of this war, young and old, men and women. Yemen, as a state, has lost many of its components and institutions, and Yemenis have lost many of their fundamental rights. They have also lost the dream of the future that drove their popular revolution 12 years ago.
Yemen, as a state, has lost many of its components and institutions, and Yemenis have lost many of their fundamental rights. They have also lost the dream of the future that drove their popular revolution 12 years ago.
- Tawfik al-Hamidi
The Houthis turned against the state, against the Yemeni constitution, and against the consensus at the National Dialogue Conference of 2013-14. Then, the Saudi-led coalition intervened militarily, on March 26, 2015. They did so at the request of Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in order to deter the Houthi aggression, based on Article VI of the Arab League Charter, which was referred to in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216.
However, the Saudi-led coalition deviated from supporting the Yemeni cause. This deviation opened the door to chaos in southern and western Yemen, which exacerbated the country's tragedy and the fighting within the pro-government camp. In the summary of its third report to the Security Council, the U.N.'s Panel of Experts on Yemen said: "After nearly three years of conflict, Yemen, as a state, has all but ceased to exist. Instead of a single state, there are warring statelets, and no one side has either the political support or the military strength to reunite the country or to achieve victory on the battlefield."
Regional intervention in Yemen has complicated the situation and escalated the war between Yemeni parties. Iran and the groups linked to it in Iraq and Lebanon continue to indirectly provide military and logistical support to the Houthis. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates created facts on the ground that complicated the matter politically and militarily, taking control of many Yemeni islands and other vital sites. The Emiratis built military bases in the gas port of Balhaf in Shabwa in the east, another on Perim Island in the west, and a third on Socotra Island in the south. Saudi Arabia also started building a military base near Oman in al-Mahra governorate in eastern Yemen, where it has consolidated its military presence.
This was not by chance, but rather comes within the framework of the disappearing Yemeni state. Saudi Arabia and the UAE went too far in their tampering with Yemeni sovereignty by effectively changing the constitutional system of government on April 7, 2022—transferring all powers of Yemen's president and vice president to a new Presidential Leadership Council, without consulting Yemenis. The sweeping change was announced in Riyadh, with a new, weak government subordinate to the Saudis and Emiratis that is unable to contain their influence.
The various warring parties have all committed egregious violations that amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes, including indiscriminate bombing of civilians, whether by shells, Houthi missiles, or through the airstrikes of the Saudi-led coalition. This war has destroyed Yemen's infrastructure—schools, hospitals, bridges, and so much more, turning the country into a giant ruin.
We at the SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties have issued 30 reports documenting numerous violations, such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance, abuses against women, the enlisting of child soldiers, holding illegal trials against journalists and human rights activists, and running secret and illegal prisons.
The humanitarian crisis during the eight years of war has compounded the suffering of civilians. The Saudi-led siege, blockading Yemen's ports, deprived Yemenis of their human rights, including their economic rights. The warring parties established a war economy and black markets, which have brought them new wealth amid the bloodshed, along with the parasitic class of merchants who have emerged loyal to them. This war economy has been a key factor in the continuation of the war. Yet the prices of basic commodities have risen, and many Yemeni families can no longer afford anything but a single daily meal. The value of Yemen's currency has collapsed. When the salaries of public employees were cut, many Yemenis were forced to start the journey for a new homeland, which led many migrants to their death at sea or in the desert. In the Houthi-besieged city of Taiz, residents are still waiting for promises to open roads, according to last year's U.N.-brokered cease-fire agreement, so that they can move freely and reunite with their families.
The war has destroyed everything beautiful in Yemen. A discourse full of hatred has prevailed. Social media has turned into another battlefield of the war, fueled by external parties inciting violence and division.
Yemen must be liberated from its dependence on outside powers, whether in Sana'a from Iran, or in Aden from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
- Tawfik al-Hamidi
The international community was present from the beginning of this war. There have been three different U.N. special envoys to Yemen since 2015. But unfortunately, the U.N.'s role as mediator was fragile. It seems that the international community was not serious in dealing with the Yemeni issue. Yemen has been forgotten, leaving Yemenis to their destiny, which has been manipulated from the outside.
The Yemeni war is described as a "non-international armed conflict," or an internal conflict, under international law. That legally obligates the parties to the conflict to comply with the rules of international humanitarian law, customary international law and the basic principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in war, such as the prohibition of direct attacks on the civilian population. In 2016, the U.N. Human Rights Council agreed to form an independent investigative committee to monitor war crimes and other atrocities in Yemen. But its mandate was not renewed in 2021.
It is imperative that the international community take a step forward to activate mechanisms for international accountability by establishing a special court for Yemen or referring Yemen's file to the International Criminal Court, even as we are aware of the challenges and obstacles in this path. It would open for us, as Yemenis, a door of great hope for future accountability for the crimes committed during the war. Yemenis have full faith that the path of criminal accountability in Yemen will contribute to curbing the violations practiced by the warring parties. It should also exclude from any potential transitional phase in Yemen those whose hands are stained with Yemeni blood.
After eight years of devastating war, all free Yemenis and supporters of Yemen must cooperate to raise their voice strongly—to stop the war today, restore the Yemeni state, and build stability and peace. There are, I believe, three main steps that would take Yemen out of the pain of war.
The first is to restore confidence between Yemeni parties by emphasizing the return of the state's legal and constitutional institutions into entirely Yemeni hands. A political transition should be drafted with international guarantees that ensure genuine political partnership among Yemenis and accountability for perpetrators of war crimes. The second step is the humanitarian approach, and it is broader than just providing food. It means also resolving issues of destroyed infrastructure—most of all, homes—and targeting the war economy and those profiting from the continuation of the war. The third is to enforce the principle of accountability against human rights violators to prevent future violations. This requires building a legal system capable of addressing the issue locally and ensuring that there is no impunity. As part of these three steps, the circle of political and diplomatic dialogue in Yemen should be expanded to include parties and persons not involved in the war, including Yemenis abroad, whose voices should be heard.
Yemen must be liberated from its dependence on outside powers, whether in Sana'a from Iran, or in Aden from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Yemenis themselves should be sitting at the negotiation table to complete what was started in the National Dialogue Conference nearly 10 years ago. Yemen's state institutions must be returned to Yemenis, so that they may achieve their stalled dream of equality, justice, stability and peace.