Yemen suffered for decades from consecutive political crises and armed conflicts instigated by the geo-political situation, and the national, regional and international policies. These factors have negatively affected the livelihoods of people which were worsened by the corruption of the ruling regime, exclusion of all parties, and monopoly of power and wealth. The little margin of existing democracy did not tamper the increased national resentment running counter to the oppressive political regime.
National resentment was first noticed through limited protests in the southern governorates mid 2007 decrying the exclusion and marginalization of the South of Yemen. In 2001, these protests have turned into a massive popular uprising in the entire country. Yemen was one of the countries that joined the so-called ‘Arab Spring’.
The 2011 uprising continued for a year, faced by unprecedented violent oppression by the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The uprising reached an end by the GCC-brokered initiative signed by all political parties and sponsored by the UN. The GCC initiative put a deal in place that involved transferring Saleh’s powers to his Vice President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi and launching the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). It was agreed that the NDC would include all social and political fractions in Yemen to lead to the transition period laying the foundation for a federal state of six regions and drafting the new constitution.
The NDC marked the beginning of the transitional period where all fractions, movements and entities joined, including the Ansar Allah Movement (the Houthi Group). The Houthis had a greater share of participation in proportion to its size according to some analysts. All the political movements that joined the NDC agreed on the draft of the new constitution. However, the GCC deal and the NDC process ignored two major issues – the arms possessed by the Houthi group and the amnesty provision granted to the former President Saleh from all major human rights violations committed during the three-decade ruling.
Such situations added more challenges to the already fragile context of Yemen. This was worsened by the vivid loyalty and affiliation to the powerful dominant international powers which happened after the 2011 uprising and leading to the complete failure of the transitional period and the political agreements. Taking advantage of the political unrest and the absence of transitional justice, the Houthis were encouraged to expand their territorial hold considerably in the northern governorates starting from Amran and eventually leading to the takeover of the capital city of Sana’a in September 2014. The Houthis territorial advance was supported by the former president Saleh’s forces. The political interface was completely changed as the Houthi groups with Saleh forces forced President Hadi, politicians, and the government to flee outside the country and then continued their territorial expansion. This marked a new political scene marked by the threat of violence.
The human rights situation in Yemen was not perfect, and the grip of the Houthis over the capital in 2014 made it worse. Not only human rights, but the entire political domain was negatively affected as a result. The Houthis along with their patron Saleh and his loyalist forces attacked the state’s structure, getting hold of most of the army’s weapons and military apparatuses and continued their territorial advance.
Their vicious attacks also reached those human rights activists and political opponents, who are opposing their coup. They also attacked all political, civil and media freedoms which were deteriorating the humanitarian situation and made the country a battle ground for an open proxy conflict.
The Houthi and Saleh forces surrounded the presidential palace and other key locations, effectively placing President Hadi and his prime minister under house arrest. They also dissolved the parliament and announced a revolutionary committee to be responsible for ruling the country. After a month of the coup, Hadi managed to escape and reached Aden announcing it as a temporary capital, yet his presidential palace was attacked by naval missiles in al-Ma’ashiq palace in Aden.
Hadi and prominent figures of his cabinet managed to escape to Saudi Arabia calling on Saudi Arabia and the Arab League for a military intervention. Hadi has officially addressed the UN Council to put an end to the territorial expansion of the Houthis and Saleh forces.
The Saudi Kingdom was the country most concerned by the escalation in Yemen and the grip of the country under the Houthi and Saleh forces, who have obvious alliances with its regional enemy Iran. The de facto authority of the Houthis made several economic, oil-related, and political deals with Iran along with opening a new weekly airline between Sana’a and Tehran. This was mounted by the military maneuvering over the border of Saudi Arabia, along with the striking anti-Saudi sentiment and public threats.
On March 26, 2015, the Saudis formed a 10-nation coalition with five gulf countries, plus Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan to fight Saleh and Houthi forces. The Arab coalition named its operations (the Decisive Storm) The Arab Coalition forced a naval blockade and cut all supplies to Houthis and the military units loyal to Saleh. The Arab Coalition justified its operations by request of Yemeni president Hadi and stating that they were in line with the Joint Arab Defense agreement and the UN resolutions about the peaceful political transition in Yemen.
The airstrikes were meant to target the military sites and infrastructure, yet the operations reached civilian targets and caused critical damage to the country’s infrastructure. It resulted in the death and injury of thousands of civilians including women and children. The Arab Coalition declared following some tragic events that it would open transparent investigations and it has also acknowledged the responsibility of some of the airstrikes and promised to take more compensatory measures for the affected victims.
In April 14, 2015, the Security Council issued resolution 2216 under Chapter VII reaffirming its support for the legitimacy of Hadi as the President of Yemen. The resolution “Demands that all Yemeni parties, in particular the Houthis, fully implement resolution 2201 (2015), refrain from further unilateral actions that could undermine the political transition in Yemen, and further demands that the Houthis immediately and unconditionally: (a) end the use of violence; (b) withdraw their forces from all areas they have seized, including the capital Sana’a; (c) relinquish all additional arms seized from military and security institutions, including missile systems; (d) cease all actions that are exclusively within the authority of the legitimate Government of Yemen.
The resolution called for “all Yemeni parties, in particular the Houthis, to abide by the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative and its Implementation Mechanism, the outcomes of the comprehensive National Dialogue conference, and the relevant Security Council resolutions and to resume and accelerate inclusive United Nations brokered negotiations.”
On October 2, 2015, The Human Rights Council adopted in its 30th session a resolution proposed by the Group of Arab States to request the High Commissioner of Human Rights to provide Yemen with technical assistance in the field of human rights and to assist with a national independent commission of inquiry (appointed by President Hadi) to investigate all previous violations since 2011.
On May 23, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon declared the start of peace negotiations between the Yemeni conflicting parties but they were repeatedly delayed. The last round of negotiations held in Kuwait in late April 2016 did not lead to any peaceful solution; it lasted for three months and the conflicting parties agreed on holding further future talks.
The armed conflicts in Yemen resulted in severe fractions inside the security and army apparatuses. The first group are those who are loyal to the former President Saleh and the Houthi groups on one side. The second group are the loyalists to President Hadi and the legitimate government, along with popular resistance formed in the south, north and the east as regular forces operating under the national army.