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A Spotlight on Yemen’s path to peace (Part 2)

Hilly sandy shoreline viewed from water level away from shore

Part 1 of this series addressed the factors surrounding the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, concluding that legitimacy is arguably the single most important resource for governments recovering from civil war.

In terms of regional and international pressure, Yemen’s neighbour Saudi Arabia remains the most dominant regional pressure and vocal actor in the Yemen conflict. The UAE is another major player with heavy influence in the region. The success of peace processes and efforts to legitimise Yemen’s Government continue to be hindered by these two States who fuel the Saudi-led coalition’s financing and arming of non-state militias, many of which are against the Yemeni Government they purport to support. According to the Yemen Data Project, allied and Saudi Arabian air assets have engaged in over 20,000 airstrikes on Yemen from the commencement of the conflict, with two thirds of the strikes destroying civilian targets such as hospitals, marketplaces, education centers, religious institutions, and essential local infrastructure.

The US continues to play a vital role in facilitating the work of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, while avoiding culpability for the atrocities and destruction caused by US-supplied precision-guided missiles to Yemeni civilians. Its military and strategic-level support to the Saudi-led coalition remains largely unchanged under both the Obama and Trump administrations, and the US’s primary involvement in the conflict remains defined by power struggles in the Gulf. While on the exterior, the US supports the signing of peace agreements in Yemen, lasting peace requires a series of extra commitments to assure success. One such commitment could be ceasing the facilitation and financial support to arms deals to Saudi Arabia and the UAE as a measure of responsibility to the peacebuilding process. Instead, on four separate occasions the current US President has prevented Congress’s attempts at ceasing weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE by vetoing the bills since April 2019.

The fierce internal conflict between the political stakeholders who are united in opposition of the Houthis Rebels, but remain divided by their desire for power, is another significant barrier to peacebuilding in Yemen. This vulnerability is continually exploited by external powers which prevent resolution of the conflict and the subsequent reassembling of the Yemeni parliament and reinstatement of an equitable, inclusive and trusted decision-making process that is democratic rather than authoritarian. Support from the international community is vital to rebuilding Yemen’s legitimate government by giving it a stronger presence in liberated areas of Yemen and supporting the rebuilding of state institutions, such as the judicial system, security forces, and trusted financial institutions.

A key challenge to creating peace in Yemen is the meaningful inclusion of all genders in the course of conflict resolution and during peace negotiation and processes. Despite the establishment of the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ (WPS) agenda by the UN Security Council in 2000 through the adoption of UNSCR 1325, the burden of compliance for integrating gender perspectives is on member states and, in the case of Yemen, women continue to be marginalised from international and state-level peace negotiations. This is due to a number of overlapping and deeply ingrained factors, primarily the cultural inferiority of women stemming from conservative religious and cultural practices, and traditional gender roles. The 2018 release of UNSCR 2451 which ‘underlines the importance of the full participation of women … in the political process’ in Yemen was not met with the practical support or diplomatic commitment to bridge the gap between local, national and international peace talks. The inclusion of this principle from both UNSCR 1325 and 2451 is essential if stakeholders want to achieve an effective and all-encompassing peace process which yields lasting results. Although the framing of conflict and security issues in both these resolutions is founded on more traditional concepts of conflict and security, the elimination of unemployment and poverty remain the key “security” priorities for Yemen’s women.

The advancement of the WPS agenda – and pushing beyond the protection pillar – requires formal recognition and support to women’s meaningful participation during peace negotiations and agreements. Grassroots activism represent a form of networked advocacy that is critical in a conservative country like Yemen where the UN and other international aid actors are moreover politically motived and controlled, and ineffectual in their continued promotion of women’s participation. As an example of a grass-roots mobilisation effort supporting the peacebuilding process within Yemen’s civil society, Muna Luqman, the Executive Director of the Food4Humanity Foundation and co-founder of Yemen’s largest network – the Women Solidarity Network – along with the support of women peace builders, have used their voice and influence to secure the release of hundreds of detainees, mediate armed disputes over vital resources like water and medical aid supplies, and negotiated temporary cease fires to allow safe passage for vulnerable Yemeni’s and humanitarian aid. Luqman’s continued fight for a comprehensive approach to peacebuilding and getting women a seat at the peace process table is part of a bigger attempt to mainstream a gender perspective and provide women the momentum to transform their perceived value to decision-making in the face of patriarchal gender norms and misogynistic attitudes.

The conflict in Yemen is a crucial and on-going case study for both Australia and the ADF to look at the continuance and re-occurrence of conflict that has seen Yemen stuck in the conflict resolution phase and unable to effectively transition to peacebuilding and institute sustainable peace. The Yemen conflict has several complex and overlaying factors that have challenged peacebuilding, including the absence of legitimate government, regional and international pressure, and a lack of inclusive peace processes. When the conflict appears to be de-escalating, many setbacks transpire, and obstacles in the peacebuilding process continually re-emerge.

The Yemen conflict has been characterised by an incoherent and uncoordinated level of recovery efforts, including the Stockholm Agreement, along with both UNSCR 2451 and UNSCR 2452, a transition to humanitarian action, and premature and ineffectual attempts of economic recovery and governance development in the area of state-building. An inclusive approach that is vocally supported by international influences, like Australia, will allow for a well-defined understanding of what is needed as the nexus between policy and practice, and to ensure that Yemen’s own priorities, timeframes, and objectives are all coordinated in a collective effort to bring about a coherent and effective response to conflict.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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