War by Remote Control

War by Remote Control

The Sana’a Center Editorial

The Yemen conflict is quickly becoming a model for how a non-state actor can effectively employ unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, as a force equalizer in 21st-century wars. 

Particularly in 2019, Houthi forces’ deployment of explosive-laden drones on long-range kamikaze missions has allowed them to continually extract costs from their adversaries far beyond the frontlines. In January, a Houthi spokesperson declared this the “Year of the Drones” just after Houthi forces flew a UAV into a military parade at Al-Anad air base in Lahj governorate killing, among others, the Yemeni government’s military intelligence chief and the army’s deputy chief of staff. Houthi UAV attacks this year have also regularly targeted civilian airports and military bases in southern Saudi Arabia, with Saudi authorities confirming almost 50 injured and one killed in attacks on Abha airport alone in June. This is even with Saudi and Emirati air defenses taking out many drones before they reach their target. 

Guerilla tactics against a superior military force have long emphasized political impact over military effectiveness. The Houthi use of drones is a modern twist on asymmetric warfare, with the advantages of being able to reach deep into a rival’s territory and hit a specific target without incurring casualties and at relatively low cost. While various insurgent groups have sought to utilize drones similarly, the Houthis appear to be the first to have mass deployed them on the cheap as precision-guided weapons.   

Yemen is no stranger to drones; the United States carried out its first extra-judicial killing of a suspected Al-Qaeda member in the country using a drone-fired missile in 2002. In almost two decades since, American drones have increasingly prowled above Yemen to strike suspected terrorists below. The times when these drones also bombed civilians in their homes, at weddings and at funerals have almost mythologized them in many communities as death brought from the sky. Both the Houthis, in their attacks on Saudi civilians, and the Saudis, in their airstrikes on civilian targets in Yemen, are following the American legacy of impunity in this regard.

US drones, however, are no longer beyond reach. In early June a Houthi-fired missile took down an American MQ-9 Reaper drone over Hudaydah governorate. In an unrelated incident later in the month, the Houthis’ regional patron, Iran, shot down a US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Amid already heightened US-Iran tensions, the incident almost sparked open conflict between the countries. Had it been a conventional manned aircraft and had a US serviceman been killed or captured, Washington would likely have responded aggressively. However, that the UAV was a piece of machinery – albeit worth US$130 million – allowed President Donald Trump to talk tough but back down from actually carrying out strikes on Iran. 

The United States pioneered UAVs and through the 2000s had a near monopoly on weaponized drone technology. In wanting to maintain operational flexibility in places like Yemen, however, it failed to push for international norms regarding drones in conflict zones before their use had already become widespread. This valuing of short-term gain over long-term strategic interest appears to be coming back to haunt the United States and its allies in the region. Now, armies around the world are deploying drone technology, including Iran; the Houthis’ own UAVs mimic Iranian models, according to the UN’s panel of experts on Yemen. 

The Yemen conflict, with its expanding use of drones and attempted measures to counter them, should be seen as a harbinger of the decreasing leverage of conventional military superiority in wars by remote control.

This editorial appeared in Drone Wars — The Yemen Review, June 2019

Previous Sana’a Center Editorials: 

Drone Wars – The Yemen Review, June 2019

Drone Wars – The Yemen Review, June 2019

Algharbi Al-aala village perched on the edge of a cliff in western Mahweet governorate, pictured June 25, 2019 // Photo Credit: Asem Alposi

The Sana’a Center Editorial

War by Remote Control

The Yemen conflict is quickly becoming a model for how a non-state actor can effectively employ unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, as a force equalizer in 21st-century wars. 

Particularly in 2019, Houthi forces’ deployment of explosive-laden drones on long-range kamikaze missions has allowed them to continually extract costs from their adversaries far beyond the frontlines. In January, a Houthi spokesperson declared this the “Year of the Drones” just after Houthi forces flew a UAV into a military parade at Al-Anad air base in Lahj governorate killing, among others, the Yemeni government’s military intelligence chief and the army’s deputy chief of staff. Houthi UAV attacks this year have also regularly targeted civilian airports and military bases in southern Saudi Arabia, with Saudi authorities confirming almost 50 injured and one killed in attacks on Abha airport alone in June. This is even with Saudi and Emirati air defenses taking out many drones before they reach their target. 

Guerilla tactics against a superior military force have long emphasized political impact over military effectiveness. The Houthi use of drones is a modern twist on asymmetric warfare, with the advantages of being able to reach deep into a rival’s territory and hit a specific target without incurring casualties and at relatively low cost. While various insurgent groups have sought to utilize drones similarly, the Houthis appear to be the first to have mass deployed them on the cheap as precision-guided weapons.   

Yemen is no stranger to drones; the United States carried out its first extra-judicial killing of a suspected Al-Qaeda member in the country using a drone-fired missile in 2002. In almost two decades since, American drones have increasingly prowled above Yemen to strike suspected terrorists below. The times when these drones also bombed civilians in their homes, at weddings and at funerals have almost mythologized them in many communities as death brought from the sky. Both the Houthis, in their attacks on Saudi civilians, and the Saudis, in their airstrikes on civilian targets in Yemen, are following the American legacy of impunity in this regard.

US drones, however, are no longer beyond reach. In early June a Houthi-fired missile took down an American MQ-9 Reaper drone over Hudaydah governorate. In an unrelated incident later in the month, the Houthis’ regional patron, Iran, shot down a US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Amid already heightened US-Iran tensions, the incident almost sparked open conflict between the countries. Had it been a conventional manned aircraft and had a US serviceman been killed or captured, Washington would likely have responded aggressively. However, that the UAV was a piece of machinery – albeit worth US$130 million – allowed President Donald Trump to talk tough but back down from actually carrying out strikes on Iran. 

The United States pioneered UAVs and through the 2000s had a near monopoly on weaponized drone technology. In wanting to maintain operational flexibility in places like Yemen, however, it failed to push for international norms regarding drones in conflict zones before their use had already become widespread. This valuing of short-term gain over long-term strategic interest appears to be coming back to haunt the United States and its allies in the region. Now, armies around the world are deploying drone technology, including Iran; the Houthis’ own UAVs mimic Iranian models, according to the UN’s panel of experts on Yemen. 

The Yemen conflict, with its expanding use of drones and attempted measures to counter them, should be seen as a harbinger of the decreasing leverage of conventional military superiority in wars by remote control.


Contents

Developments in Yemen 

International Developments 


Children from Yemen’s Muhamasheen community in the city of Rada’a, Al-Bayda governorate, pictured June 8, 2019 // Photo Credit: Marwan al-Juraidy 

Developments in Yemen

Yemen’s Drone Wars 

Downed Drone Escalates US and Iran Tensions, Yemen “Key” Battleground 

June saw rising tension between Tehran and Washington, as the sides came close to an open conflict over a downed American drone. US President Donald Trump said he called off strikes on Iran on June 20, minutes before they were due to be launched. The strikes were threatened in retaliation to the June 20 downing of a US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.[1] Tehran said the US$130 million drone had violated Iranian airspace, while Washington said it was an “unprovoked attack.”[2] Trump tweeted on June 21 that he had called off the strikes after learning that they could kill 150 people.[3]

Prior to the downing of the drone, the US had blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, near the Strait of Hormuz, on June 13; Iran denied the accusations.[4] CENTCOM said an Iranian surface-to-air missile attempted to shoot down a US drone that had been deployed to the area for surveillance on the same day.[5] On June 18, Washington announced that 1,000 additional US forces would be sent to the region.[6]

Adding to the tension in the Gulf in June, an increase in Houthi attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia heightened hostility between Riyadh and Tehran (see ‘Houthi Forces Strikes Saudi Airports’). The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom contend that the Houthi attacks rely on Iranian weapons and technology.[7] 

On June 28 US special envoy on Iran, Brian Hook, said the fight against the Houthis in Yemen was a key front in the crisis with Iran.[8] “If we do not prevent Iranians from laying down deep roots in Yemen, they will be in a position to threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandab,” Hook said, adding that the US was “pushing back on Iran’s long game in Yemen.”

The United States imposed new sanctions against Iranian leaders on June 24, while Tehran reiterated that it would not comply with its commitments under the nuclear deal in the absence of relief from US sanctions promised in the 2015 agreement.[9] On July 1, Iran exceeded the nuclear deal’s 300kg limit on stockpiled low-enriched uranium, breaching the agreement for the first time, after failed efforts by European leaders to prevent any violation of the deal by Tehran.[10] President Trump pulled out of the deal in May 2018. 

Houthis Claim Drone Attacks on Saudi Airports  

A Houthi attack on a Saudi airport on June 23 killed one civilian and injured 21 more, Saudi state media reported.[11] Coalition spokesperson Colonel Turki al-Maliki did not specify the weapon used in the attack on Abha airport in southern Saudi Arabia – around 110 kilometers from the Saudi-Yemeni border. The Houthis said they had targeted Abha and Jizan airports with Qasef-2K drones that day.[12] An attack on Abha airport on June 12 injured 26 civilians, according to Saudi state media.[13]

The Houthis claimed successful attacks on Abha and Jizan airports and Khalid Air Base throughout June, though most of those acknowledged by the coalition were said to have been intercepted. The coalition said a Houthi projectile landed near a desalination plant in Al-Suqaiq on Jizan’s coast on June 19, causing no damage.[14] The Houthis said they had launched a cruise missile at the plant that had hit its target.[15]

There has been a marked increase in Houthi-directed attacks within Saudi Arabia in recent months. In May, the Houthis announced a new campaign against 300 military targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE in response to what they called the coalition’s spurning of peace efforts.[16] The Houthis also claimed successful strikes within Yemen. On June 3, Houthi media said a combat drone hit a military parade at the Ras Abas military camp in Aden, though the Saudi-led coalition said it intercepted the aircraft west of the interim capital.[17] On the same day, Houthi forces said they had launched a missile at Al-Hadabeh camp in Az-Zahir district, southern al-Bayda governorate.

Meanwhile, Houthi spokesperson Yahya Sarea said Houthi forces downed a US drone in Hudaydah governorate on June 6, which was followed by reporting on the incident in pro-Houthi media outlets in the days following.[18] United States Central Command (CENTCOM) later confirmed Houthi forces had shot down an American MQ-9 Reaper drone.[19] CENTCOM said a Houthi surface-to-air missile was used to hit the drone, which it called an “observation aircraft,” and that the capabilities shown in the operation indicated Iranian assistance. 

US Officials: Drone Attack on Saudi Pipeline in May Originated from Iraq

On June 28, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that a drone attack on a Saudi pipeline in May was launched from Iraq, not Yemen, citing unnamed US officials who had investigated the incident.[20] [21] Houthi forces said at the time that they had conducted the May 14 operation, which hit Saudi Arabia’s East-West Pipeline, resulting in a temporary closure but minimal material damage. 

Saudi Arabia blamed the armed Houthi movement for the attack, saying it was ordered and facilitated by Iran. The WSJ report cited the US officials as saying the drone attack was “more sophisticated” than previous Houthi-claimed attacks in Saudi Arabia, deploying different types of drones and explosives, and that Iran-backed Iraqi militias were likely involved. The distance of the attack from the Saudi-Yemen border, coupled with known Houthi drone capabilities, had already put the movement’s culpability for the May attack in question. 

The WSJ, citing expert opinion, said while air defenses in Saudi have already established countermeasures to defend against drone attacks from Yemen in the south, there are no such defenses prepared for drone attacks originating from over the Iraqi border in the north. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi denied the pipeline attack originated from Iraq.

 

Military and Security Developments

UAE Withdrawing Military Assets and Personnel from Yemen

In June, Sana’a Center sources among the anti-Houthi forces in the Red Sea city of Mokha reported that the UAE was undertaking a large-scale removal of its military assets and personnel. These included armoured vehicles, tanks, radar installations, helicopters and everything “important or heavy,” according to one source. This has left frontline anti-Houthi ground forces along the west coast without air support from UAE attack helicopters for the first time since they began advancing up the coast in early 2017. Local news outlets also reported on June 22 the departure of soldiers and military hardware via the oil port in Aden’s Al-Buraiqa district.[22]  

As of the beginning of July, the Washington Institute, citing UAE sources, reported that Emirati forces were 100 percent withdrawn from Marib governorate, 80 percent from Hudaydah governorate, had begun to draw down in Aden, and had reduced staff at a forward operating base in Eritrea by 75 percent.[23] The December 2018 Stockholm Agreement, reached between the Yemeni government and the armed Houthi movement, had redirected the coalition’s military efforts in Hudaydah onto the negotiations track, according to the institute, creating a window for the UAE – fatigued by the war and wishing to avoid a quagmire – to exit Yemen. Emirati officials, speaking to Reuters, appeared to concur with this assessment, saying that it was a “natural progression” for the ceasefire in Hudaydah – part of the Stockholm Agreement – to bring about a negotiated end to the war.[24] The same Emirati official, however, said the “troop movements” did not constitute a withdrawal from Yemen. Several western diplomatic sources characterized the UAE’s military drawdown as a redeployment of forces home in the face of rising regional tensions with Iran.

The UAE has established a heavy military presence in Yemen’s southern governorates and on the Red Sea coast since it entered the conflict as part of the Saudi-led coalition. It spearheaded a counterterrorism campaign in the first years of the current conflict, at a time when Al-Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP) held swathes of territory in the south — including the port city of Mukalla in Hadramawt governorate. Despite the current military drawdown, the UAE is expected to maintain its counterterrorism forces in Yemen.[25] The UAE has also provided financial and military backing for pro-separatist armed groups and spearheaded the offensive up Yemen’s western coast to Hudaydah. 

Fighting Between Anti-Houthi Forces in Various Southern Governorates

Tensions between coalition-backed groups and other anti-Houthi actors escalated in southern Yemen in June, resulting in armed violence in some cases. 

Fighting broke out in Shabwa governorate between a Yemeni army unit and UAE-backed forces. According to Sana’a Center sources in southern Yemen, as well as local news outlets, on June 19 clashes occurred in the city of Ataq between the government’s 21st Brigade and the UAE-backed Shabwa Elite Forces. Tensions were heightened by the Shabwa Elite Forces’ arrival days earlier and their establishment of military checkpoints in an area dominated by the Yemeni army’s Third Military Region units. A de-escalation committee was formed to resolve the conflict, but an agreement had not materialized as of this writing. The hostilities in Ataq were foreshadowed by clashes near an oil well in Shabwa’s Al-Marwahah area on June 16 between UAE-backed southern separatist fighters and the 21st Yemeni Army Brigade.[26]

There have been previous instances of armed clashes between the Shabwa Elite and the Yemeni army, often sparked by unofficial checkpoints. As with other southern governorates, UAE-backed southern separatist forces dominate along the coast in Shabwa, with the Third Military Region controlling inland areas. Separatist groups portray the Third Military Region forces as a northern military presence in their would-be independent southern state. Competition between these groups is partly driven by economic interests given the lucrative oil production and distribution in the area. Ataq City is also located on a strategic crossroads linking two main east-west roads. 

Tensions flared again in Socotra governorate between UAE-backed groups and those who oppose Emirati presence on the island, which lies off Yemen’s southeastern coast. Local media reported that an unidentified UAE-backed pro-Southern Transitional Council group blocked a convoy transporting the Minister of Fisheries Fahd Kafayen and the Governor of Socotra Ramzi Mahrous on June 18.[27] A statement issued by local authorities the following day said armed forces describing themselves as belonging to the UAE-backed Security Belt attacked Socotra port and clashed with the local Coast Guard.[28] According to local media, Socotra’s local security forces had prevented the offloading of a UAE-leased vessel containing military hardware and vehicles.[29] There were both anti-UAE and pro-STC protests in the days following, though no further reported violent incidents.[30]

Confrontations in Socotra have largely been avoided since the UAE deployed troops and weapons to the island in May 2018, which prompted criticism from the Yemeni government and an international backlash. In response, the UAE withdrew soon after. Abu Dhabi has deepened its footprint in Socotra in recent years, despite the island being largely isolated from the Houthi-Yemeni government conflict. Emirati-funded development and infrastructure projects (some going back decades) have support among the population, but there are concerns over long-term intentions given Socotra’s potential as an addition to the UAE’s growing portfolio of maritime facilities around the Yemeni coastline and Horn of Africa.[31] The UAE denies allegations it intends to establish de facto control of the island, saying it recognizes Yemeni sovereignty and is there for humanitarian purposes.

There are similar fears in Yemen’s Al-Mahra, centered on Saudi Arabia’s objectives in the eastern governorate. In June, local news outlets reported the coalition had dispatched an Apache helicopter after tribesmen blocked a pro-Saudi military convoy. Al-Masdar reported that the convoy was traveling from the coalition’s Khalidiya camp in Hadramawt governorate on June 3 when tribesmen intercepted them in Al-Mahra’s Shahin district.[32] Tribal sources said the helicopter fired at the area around the incident, without causing any casualties. Protests and sit-ins against the coalition military presence have become commonplace in Al-Mahra, where Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman seek leverage by backing prominent tribesmen with weapons, funds and the granting of citizenship. (For further details, see the Sana’a Center’s recent paper: Yemen’s Al-Mahra: From Isolation to the Eye of a Geopolitical Storm.)

Saudi Special Forces Capture Local Daesh Leader

On June 3, 2019 Saudi Special Forces, backed by US Special Operations, raided a house in Al-Ghaydah, the capital of Al-Mahra, Yemen’s eastern-most governorate.[33] The raid, which reportedly lasted only 10 minutes, netted the head of the so-called Islamic State group, or Daesh, in Yemen, Abu Osama al-Muhajir, as well as a number of other suspects, including the group’s financial chief.[34] According to a Saudi statement, there were also three women and three children in the home at the time of the raid.[35] There were no casualties, according to the Saudis.

Al-Muhajir, whose real name is Muhammad Qanan al-Sayari and is also known as Abu Sulayman al-Adani, has been under US sanctions since October 2017.[36] He has been the head of Daesh in Yemen since March 2017.  

Perhaps the most surprising thing about al-Muhajir’s arrest is where it took place. In Yemen, Daesh has been most active in Al-Bayda and remote areas of Hadramawt governorate, where for the past year it has been involved in a tit-for-tat guerilla war with AQAP militants. Al-Muhajir was arrested nowhere near those frontlines. Instead, he was over 600 miles away, near Yemen’s border with Oman. Saudi Arabia only announced Al-Muhajir’s capture on June 25, which may have been a result of wanting to get as much actionable intelligence as possible before Daesh realized Al-Muhajir had been compromised.  

Al-Muhajir’s capture comes at a difficult time for Daesh. Although the group continued to carry out sniper attacks and raids against AQAP throughout June, it is clearly losing the intra-jihadi fight. Daesh’s numbers are down, its brand is tarnished, and AQAP is showing signs of moving on to different targets.

On June 4, AQAP released a short statement to the “Muslims living in Shabwa,” warning them it was about to start attacking the Shabwa Elite Forces, a UAE proxy force.[37] “Do not congregate near them, ride in their vehicles or gather around their camps,” the statement said. Since then, AQAP has carried out a number of attacks against the group. Experts who track AQAP’s attack claims have pointed out that this is the first time AQAP has targeted the Shabwa Elite Forces in three months.[38]

On June 25, a suspected US drone strike in al-Bayda governorate killed five members of AQAP, including Al-Khadhr al-Tayyabi, an AQAP commander in Tayyab district.[39] The United States has not publicly claimed the strike.



Political Developments

Yemen’s Foreign Minister Steps Down After a Year in the Role 

Khaled al-Yamani, foreign minister for the internationally recognized Yemeni government, resigned June 10 after holding the position for just over a year, Al Arabiya reported.[40]

A government official, who spoke to the Sana’a Center on condition of anonymity, said Al-Yamani had grown frustrated at the presidential office’s interference in his ministry. According to the official Al-Yamani felt that the president’s office was relegating him to a largely symbolic figure by controlling decisions within his ministry, such as directly appointing foreign ministry officials, while in other cases refusing to allow ambassadorial vacancies to be filled. Financial and administrative decisions at the foreign ministry have also been controlled by a Hadi-appointed deputy minister, who reports directly to the president rather than the foreign minister. The official said Al-Yamani also felt he was being made a scapegoat for the tensions between the UN special envoy and President Hadi.  

Hadi accepted Al-Yamani’s resignation on June 17 — an unusually protracted lag. The president has not yet named a replacement, who will be the fourth foreign minister in as many years.

President Hadi Travels to the US for Medical Reasons

President Hadi left for the US on June 16 for routine medical tests.[41] Hadi is known to have a heart condition and receives regular check-ups and treatment at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Concerns were raised over the president’s health in August 2018 when he collapsed in Cairo just before he was due to give a speech. During the latter half of 2018, Hadi visited the Cleveland Clinic with greater frequency for tests and unspecified medical treatment, local news outlets reported at the time.

 

Economic Developments

Economic Committee Bans Oil Imports from Oman, UAE and Iraq Ports 

On June 21, the Yemeni government’s Economic Committee issued a circular stating that, effective immediately, the committee will not approve any fuel shipments arriving from Al-Hamriya Port in Sharjah, UAE, or any port in Iraq or Oman.[42] The Economic Committee also stipulated that importers must provide a certificate of origin from an official and impartial entity, accompanied by an official permit application form.[43] The Economic Committee characterized these conditions as an extension of Decree 75, issued in October 2018.[44]

The Economic Committee said the new conditions were part of its ongoing efforts to prevent “illegal fuel trade” and curb “fraudulent specifications” on fuel import applications. The blanket ban on Omani and Iraqi ports is a notable attempt to reduce the import of Iranian fuel. A key objective of Decree 75 was to prevent Houthi-linked importers from importing cheap Iranian fuel which could be sold on the local market for a huge mark up. It also sought to cut off Iranian fuel financing whereby direct financial assistance was reportedly being provided to the importer (and by extension to Houthi affiliates) through money exchange companies.[45]

Sana’a Center interviews with various officials working in the fuel import industry – including importers and brokers – as well as available vessel tracking information, suggest that Iranian fuel has continued to be imported in Yemen since Decree 75 was enacted, via Oman and to a lesser extent Iraq, albeit at a reduced rate. Various assessments since the introduction of Decree 75 – by the Economic Committee, the Aden central bank, and others – have indicated that the amount of Iranian fuel being imported via the United Arab Emirates has decreased. 

Yemeni Government Attempts to Establish Monopoly Over Fuel Imports 

On June 25 2019, the Economic Committee announced that the Yemeni government’s cabinet had unanimously approved the decision to designate the Aden Refinery Company (ARC) as the sole authority in Yemen permitted to import fuel.[46] Yemeni government officials, speaking to the Sana’a Center, said all ARC fuel shipments will initially be sent to Aden port. ARC will then allow the Yemen Petroleum Company (YPC) and private sector fuel traders to purchase fuel from the ARC in Yemeni rials; in turn, they will be able to distribute and sell fuel on the domestic market. The cabinet did not specify if the Yemeni government planned to arrange for fuel deliveries to other ports around Yemen, such as Hudaydah and Mukalla. The alternative would be the more costly and problematic option of overland transportation, which would be profitable for those fuel traders with sizeable fleets of fuel transportation trucks. 

The new arrangement has the potential to significantly benefit billionaire businessman Ahmed Saleh al-Essi, given his known influence over the ARC and with senior Yemeni government officials, including President Hadi and his sons.[47] Al-Essi’s marine transport company would also be a prime candidate for contracts to transport fuel from Aden to other ports in Yemen. 

Sana’a Center sources said the Yemeni government may look to set a unified price for domestic fuel sales, although it does not have any control over fuel prices in Houthi-controlled areas, where roughly two-thirds of the country’s population resides. Given the larger customer base in areas they control, Houthi authorities have used taxes and other fees on fuel sales to garner revenue. As of this writing, Houthi authorities have not responded to the Yemeni government’s new terms for importing fuel, but it is likely they will attempt countermeasures. 

Central Bank’s Marib Branch Connected to Aden HQ 

On June 15, the central bank branch in Marib governorate was connected to the central bank in Aden, the Economic Committee announced.[48] The central bank branch in Marib had been operating independently since August 2015, when the governor disconnected the local branch from the then-headquarters of the central bank in Sana’a. President Hadi ordered the relocation of the Central Bank of Yemen headquarters from Sana’a to Aden in September 2016.[49] The Marib branch was not reconnected, however, and thus local revenues, including those generated from oil and gas sales, were not transferred to the central authorities but remained in Marib.[50] 

Several Sana’a Center sources have said there is an account at the Marib central bank branch – funded mainly from deposits made by the state-run SAFER Exploration & Production Operation Company’s oil and gas operations – controlled directly by the Yemeni president and his vice president. Notably, there were special arrangements made such that this is the only account at the Marib central bank that will not fall under the purview, or scrutiny, of the Aden central bank despite the new connection.     

The connection of the central bank branch in Marib followed an agreement-in-principle reached May 31 between Central Bank Governor Hafedh Mayad and Governor of Marib Sultan al-Aradah during a meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which was also attended by the manager of the Central Bank branch of Marib, Jamal Qaid al-Kamal.[51]   

Prior to implementation on June 15, Mayad appeared to grow frustrated with the pace of developments following the agreement reached in Jeddah. In a June 7 statement, Mayad expressed his dissatisfaction that not all locally generated revenues in Marib and Al-Mahra governorates were being transferred to the central bank in Aden.[52]  Although the central bank branch in Al-Mahra has reconnected to Aden and is transferring some locally generated revenues, it is not transferring customs revenues from Nishtun port or from the Shahin and Sarfait land border crossings with Oman.



Yemeni Money Exchange Companies Launch 24-Hour Strike as Frustration Deepens

The Yemeni Exchangers Association announced a strike by its members in Sana’a on June 19.[53] The strike was suspended after 24 hours at the request of UN agencies and humanitarian organizations. The Yemeni Exchangers Association and the Yemen Banks Association (YBA) announced in a joint statement on June 20 that the strike would be suspended until June 30.[54] Both organizations said they would give the central banks in Aden and Sana’a time to reconsider their respective policies regarding the regulation of Yemeni money exchange companies.[55]

Money exchangers have said they are frustrated with the contradictory regulations imposed by Aden and Sana’a, in particular competing requirements to get an operating license from both central banks. The official window for submitting applications for license renewal closed, in both Sana’a and Aden, at the end of March 2019.

According to officials working in the banking sector who spoke with the Sana’a Center, the driving force behind the recent strike was the central bank in Aden’s requirement that money exchange companies submit detailed financial reports – a demand that has met strong resistance from authorities in Sana’a.[56] The central bank in Aden is asking money exchange companies to provide a breakdown of their financial transactions, including who their clients are and details of all inbound and outbound money transfers. Meanwhile, the Houthis are threatening to close down any Sana’a-based money exchange company found to have sent financial reports to Aden. 

Sources at the central bank in Aden told the Sana’a Center that the new policies aim to curb currency speculation, money laundering and terrorism financing. The central bank in Aden warned two money exchange companies – Swaid & Sons Exchange Company and Al-Akowa Exchange Company – via an official letter on June 17 that they would be blacklisted from regional and international financial networks due to allegations of money laundering. Houthi authorities are likely to respond. Overall, the escalating economic warfare between the warring parties is narrowing the space for financial institutions and businesses to operate in the country.

If members of the Yemeni Exchangers Association decided to close their branches for a longer period, this could destabilize the Yemeni rial. Yemeni money exchangers are  key conduits for currency transfers and a mass closure would likely reduce the flow of remittances entering Yemen. This would hinder an essential lifeline for many people struggling to deal with the country’s economic collapse and humanitarian crisis. Money exchange companies are also vital for domestic transfers. Before the conflict escalated in March 2015, less than 10 percent of Yemenis had a bank account and thus money exchange companies are the primary means of transferring money domestically.

Economic Developments in Brief

  • June 17: The manager of the central bank branch in Al-Mahra, Juman Awad Juman, met with local banks and fuel importers to discuss measures to enhance the circulation of cash in the governorate. Juman also implored fuel importers to deposit revenues from domestic fuel sales in Yemeni bank branches in Al-Mahra.[57] 
  • June 23: The Houthis appointed Mohammed Yahya Mohammed Ghober as General Executive Manager of the National Bank of Yemen. The National Bank of Yemen (NBY) is the only bank in Yemen that is headquartered in Aden. The decision to appoint Ghober and enhance the authority of the Sana’a-based NBY can be interpreted as an indirect riposte from the Houthis to previous Yemeni government moves made regarding the banking sector, such as the establishment of a parallel administration for CAC Bank in Aden, headed by Hamid al-Hamdani.

 

Humanitarian Developments 

World Food Programme Partially Suspends Aid Deliveries in Sana’a

The World Food Programme (WFP) announced on June 20 that it was partially suspending assistance to the capital Sana’a over the diversion of food aid in Houthi-controlled areas.[58] The move came after negotiations broke down with Houthi authorities on introducing controls that would ensure aid reached vulnerable Yemenis. An investigation by The Associated Press released in December 2018 revealed that aid deliveries were being stolen on a massive scale and sold on the open market in Houthi-controlled areas, and that Houthi authorities were engaging in fraud by manipulating the lists of beneficiaries and falsifying records.[59]

WFP Executive Director David Beasley had issued a final warning during a June 17 briefing to the UN Security Council.[60] Beasley said that despite improvements in early 2019, WFP had continued to receive reports about food aid theft. One-third of respondents to a survey in Sa’ada governorate, the ancestral heartland of the Houthi movement, had not received food aid in April, he said. Beasley acknowledged reports of food diversion were not unique to Houthi-controlled areas, but said the Yemeni government had demonstrated willingness to cooperate in solving aid delivery challenges in areas under its control. 

The WFP and Houthi authorities disagree on using biometric data registration to identify beneficiaries and monitor distribution.[61] The biometric system – which employs iris scanning, fingerprint and facial recognition to ensure aid deliveries reach intended recipients – is currently used in areas controlled by the internationally recognized government. However, Houthi authorities have rejected it, saying it runs “counter to national security.”[62] 

Beasley told the Security Council that signed agreements with authorities in Sana’a were never implemented.[63] In May, the WFP had threatened to begin the phased suspension of operations in Houthi-controlled areas if no agreement could be reached.[64]

In a June 21 interview with Reuters, Beasley called on what he described as “good Houthis” to reach an accommodation with the UN agency while accusing “hardliners” within the movement of only caring about profiteering and destabilization.[65] He said he and his teams had been in contact with Houthi leaders, including Abdulmalik al-Houthi, to discuss solutions. With agreement on a control mechanism for deliveries, the WFP head said operations in the capital could resume “within hours.” 

The move to suspend aid delivery in Sana’a City initially will affect 850,000 people, the WFP said. Nutrition programs targeting malnourished children, pregnant women and nursing mothers in the capital will continue to operate. Beasley has warned the WFP would consider suspending food aid in other areas of Yemen as well.[66] Overall, Beasley described the humanitarian situation in the country as “catastrophic” and said 20 million people did not have enough to eat.[67] In May, the WFP delivered monthly rations, cash, or vouchers to 10.2 million people in the country.[68]

MSF CRASH: Aid Delivery Lacks Transparency, Severity of Yemen’s Humanitarian Crisis Overblown  

Aid operations in Yemen lack transparency and UN agencies have relinquished management of aid distribution to local political authorities, according to new research by members of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).[69] The report also said that the characterization of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as “the worst in the world” was probably inaccurate.

Conclusions of the research were shared on June 20 by MSF’s Centre de Réflexion sur l’Action et les Savoirs Humanitaires (MSF CRASH), essentially an internal think tank that conducts research on MSF actions and aid practices in the field. The report noted that in Houthi-held areas, the WFP has given responsibility for aid operations to the ministries of Health and Education, despite their lack of independence from the belligerents. While partnerships with governing administrations are not unique to Yemen, the report highlighted the lack of UN control over implementation in Yemen and the massive quantities of aid involved in the country. It also noted that UN agencies operating in Yemen published scarce details or data about their work, or about how funding was allocated or used. Regarding food aid, publicly available data is limited to the number of people receiving food nationally, with no accounting of how this number is calculated, MSF CRASH said.

The report said UN organizations were promoting descriptions of the situation in Yemen that were disconnected from the reality on the ground. The frequently used characterization of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis as the “worst in the world” was likely incorrect, the report said, adding that it was impossible to accurately assess the humanitarian situation in Yemen. Aid workers interviewed by MSF staff pointed to problems with the diagnostic tools used to classify food insecurity, difficulties in accessing parts of the country and pressure by belligerents to inflate figures. MSF teams on the ground had encountered pockets of malnutrition, but these did not indicate a pre-famine or famine situation. The report also said many organizations were surprised at the discrepancy between very high reported levels of food insecurity and low mortality and malnutrition indicators. 

Despite these issues, MSF CRASH said figures from UN OCHA’s financial tracking system showed Yemen has received more than US$11.2 billion in aid since 2015.[70] The Saudi government said in April that coalition countries had contributed more than $US18 billion in support of the Yemeni people over the last four years.[71]

UN Humanitarian Chief Urges Donors to Fulfill Pledges 

In a June 17 briefing to the UN Security Council, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock urged donors to fulfil their pledges to Yemen, noting that only 27 percent of the $4.2 billion needed for the 2019 humanitarian response had been received.[72] 

Lowcock said access constraints had prevented or delayed aid deliveries to more than 1.5 million people in April and May, while dozens of pockets of famine-like conditions have been confirmed across Yemen. 

For the second straight month, Lowcock sounded the alarm about the potential dangers related to the SAFER oil tanker moored off the Red Sea Coast (for more information, see An Environmental Apocalypse Looming on the Red Sea).[73] If the tanker were to rupture or explode, an estimated 1.1 million barrels of oil could pollute the Red Sea. He noted that Houthi-affiliated authorities granted permission in June for an assessment team to visit the SAFER tanker. A senior official at SAFER told the Sana’a Center that as of the end of June, the assessment had not been conducted. 

  • June 4: Houthi forces arrested dozens of people in Ibb and Dhamar governorates who celebrated Eid al-Fitr on June 4, Al Masdar reported.[74] Riyadh announced that the holiday marking the end of Ramadan would begin June 4, while Houthi authorities declared June 5 the first day of Eid. Those arrested were released after signing pledges not to support Saudi Arabia. This is likely the first time in 1,400 years that people living within Yemen’s current geographic boundaries have celebrated Eid on different days. 
  • June 25: More than 80,000 people in Yemen have been affected by flash floods and torrential rain, among them displaced people in makeshift shelters, the International Organization of Migration reported.[75] The worst-affected governorates were Aden, Abyan, Hajjah, Ibb and Taiz governorates, the IOM said. 
  • June 29: Airstrikes by the Saudi-led military coalition killed at least seven members of one family, including a woman and four children, in Taiz governorate, Yemeni officials told The Associated Press.[76]

The lush mountains of the Al-Udayin area of Ibb governorate, pictured June 17, 2019 // Photo Credit: Asem Alposi

International Developments

Western Countries’ Arms Sales to Riyadh Face Increasing Scrutiny 

Congressional, court and media scrutiny of arms sales and military support to Saudi Arabia put some western governments on the defensive in June, though promises were made and steps are being taken to keep the weapons flowing. 

Concerns about arms sales to the kingdom and its coalition allies fighting in Yemen increased after the October 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Criticism grew louder in the US Congress and restrictions were imposed in some European countries, but June reports provided some details about recent deals as well as ongoing commercial and military cooperation. Newly released results of a UN inquiry on the Khashoggi killing, which described a gruesome premeditated murder and coverup, could fuel fresh scrutiny. The inquiry found “credible evidence” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman should be investigated in Khashoggi’s killing and urged the international community to sanction individuals allegedly involved, including the crown prince [see ‘UN Expert: Mohammad bin Salman Should be Investigated in Khashoggi Killing’].[77]

United States: Congress Targets ‘Emergency’ Arms Sales

US lawmakers took steps in June to block the Trump administration’s plan to bypass Congress and push through US$8 billion in emergency arms sales including bombs, ammunition and aircraft maintenance support to Saudi Arabia, citing the prospect of war with Iran for its urgency.[78] Rare bipartisanship allowed measures blocking the sales to pass the Senate, but despite certain US House agreement, President Donald Trump already has promised to veto the measures. 

Trump made clear in a June 23 interview with NBC News that he prioritizes US jobs and economic development over humanitarian concerns in Yemen and Khashoggi’s killing. Saudi Arabia buys “massive amounts” of military equipment, which translates into American jobs, Trump said, adding: “That means something to me.”[79]

United Kingdom: Court Orders Reassessment of Weapons Exports

A British court ordered the government to reconsider its arms export licenses to Saudi Arabia because it had not assessed whether the Saudi-led military coalition had violated international humanitarian law in Yemen. The decision does not stop sales, but the government – which plans to appeal – said it would not grant new arms export licenses to Saudi Arabia while it considers the judgment. 

Just ahead of the UK Appeals Court ruling, The Guardian detailed in its own investigation just how lucrative and deep the commercial defense relationship is with Saudi Arabia, with thousands of jobs and tens of billions of pounds a year at stake.[80] The report concluded that without the flow of UK military equipment, half of the Saudi Royal Air Force fleet would be grounded within weeks.[81] A former official from the UK Ministry of Defense told the Guardian that Riyadh’s participation in the conflict was dependent on BAE Systems, which provides services — and 6,300 personnel — to Saudi Arabia under contract to the British government. 

The investigation also highlighted that UK government officials were aware of the Saudi air force’s questionable targeting practices. A former senior British official told The Guardian that Yemeni government officials would receive WhatsApp messages claiming there were Houthis at a location shared via Google Maps pins. “On that basis, an awful lot of the targeting was conducted without any verification whatsoever,” the former official said. 

Switzerland: Bern Bans Aircraft Maker from Saudi Arabia, UAE

On June 26, Switzerland banned Pilatus Aircraft Ltd from operating in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.[82] Pilatus provides technical support, replacement parts management and repairs to its PC-21 aircraft in the Middle East. The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) found that these services amounted to logistical support, and that providing them to the armed forces of Saudi Arabia and the UAE breached the Federal Act on Private Security Services Provided Abroad as they were incompatible with Swiss foreign policy objectives. The FDFA ordered Pilatus to discontinue these services to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and reported it to the Attorney General for failing to declare its activities. 

France: Arms Sales to Riyadh Jump 50%

Paris acknowledged in June it had sold around 1 billion euros worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in 2018, a 50 percent rise on the previous year, saying its arms export procedures comply with international treaties.[83] 

 

At the United Nations 

UN Expert: Mohammad bin Salman Should be Investigated in Khashoggi Killing

The release of a UN inquiry on June 19 into the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi brought fresh scrutiny of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and his potential role in the October 2018 killing.[84] The report, by UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, said Khashoggi was “the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law.” Callamard found “credible evidence” that the crown prince should be investigated in the killing, maintaining it required significant government coordination, resources and finances. Every expert consulted by the UN special rapporteur found it “inconceivable” that the crown prince could have been wholly unaware of the operation, according to the report. 

The UN special rapporteur said investigations by Saudi Arabia and Turkish authorities in Istanbul, where the killing took place, had failed to meet international standards. The crime scene, she said, was “thoroughly, even forensically” cleaned by a Saudi team, which may amount to obstructing justice. Meanwhile, she said the ongoing trial of 11 alleged suspects in the killing in Saudi Arabia, “fails to meet procedural and substantive standards” and should be suspended.

The report concluded that the murder was an “international crime” over which states could claim universal jurisdiction. Among the recommendations, the report called on the UN to initiate a follow-up criminal investigation into the execution; the US to open an FBI investigation and to determine the responsibility of the Saudi crown prince; and the international community to impose sanctions on individuals allegedly involved in killing Khashoggi, including the crown prince. 

Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir dismissed the report’s findings as “baseless accusations.”[85]

UN: No Houthi Presence at Hudaydah Ports

No Houthi forces have been detected in Hudaydah’s three strategic ports since their declared unilateral withdrawal in May, the UN mission responsible for monitoring a cease-fire in the governorate said in June.

Coast Guard forces were maintaining security at the ports of Hudaydah, Salif and Ras Issa, General Michael Lollesgaard, head of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC), reported in a statement released June 12.[86] The United Nations Mission in Support of the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) has not witnessed any Houthi military presence at those ports since beginning regular patrols May 14, according to the statement.

The long-stalled pullout was part of the Stockholm Agreement, the UN-mediated deal signed by the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the armed Houthi movement in December 2018.[87] Houthi forces’ withdrawal took place May 11-14 under UN supervision[88] and drew a fiery response[89] from the Yemeni government, which argued it was not genuine and violated past resolutions. The Yemeni government also demanded[90] As the Sana’a Center has previously noted, according to international diplomatic sources who spoke with the Center, Houthi leader Abdelmalik al-Houthi  had told the UN special envoy on several occasions since summer 2018 that the armed Houthi movement was willing to remove its troops from the ports and submit to UN supervision of port operations. However, Al-Houthi had insisted that Houthi-appointed personnel would remain in control of port operations.[91]

Lollesgaard said in his statement that the United Nations was unable to verify whether the Coast Guard was operating with the agreed-upon 450 personnel. He also noted that while military manifestations had been dismantled in Salif and Ras Issa ports, useable military positions remained in Hudaydah port; he called on Houthi authorities to remove all of these, specifically trenches.[92] 

Lollesgaard urged the warring parties to finalize negotiations on outstanding issues so both phases of the Hudaydah withdrawal plan could be carried out concurrently. In a June 10 letter[93] to the UN Security Council, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said his special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, also was facilitating negotiations on the issue. The two-phase withdrawal envisions redeploying fighters 18 to 30 kilometers from Hudaydah, allowing for total demilitarization of the city and the return of civilian life.[94]

The UN special envoy briefed the Security Council on June 17 about Hudaydah and progress fulfilling the Stockholm Agreement. He noted that the number of civilian casualties in Hudaydah governorate had been reduced by 68 percent in the five months after the cease-fire came into effect, down from some 1,300 civilian casualties in the five months prior.[95] Griffiths called on the parties to agree on withdrawing from the city and stressed he prioritized elements of the deal related to port revenues. UN-mediated talks in May between Houthi and Yemeni government delegations in Amman had failed to reach an agreement on what to do with revenues from Hudaydah’s ports.[96] Houthi negotiators had sought an agreement on port revenues that would entail the Yemeni government paying civil servant salaries in Hudaydah and across Yemen; the government position was that an agreement on port revenues would entail them paying salaries in Hudaydah governorate, and then taking a gradual approach to paying salaries in remaining northern areas. At the UNSC in June, Griffiths said he hoped to build on the Amman meetings and hold discussions with both sides in the near future. The Sana’a Center spoke with both the Yemeni government and Houthi delegations to the Amman talks, and both reported that, as of the end of June, there had been no followup on the Amman talks. 

The special envoy also expressed disappointment about the lack of progress on the prisoner and detainee exchange agreed to during the Stockholm talks. President Hadi specifically raised this issue in a letter he sent to the UN Secretary-General on May 22 rebuking Griffths’ conduct.[97] A diplomatic source told the Sana’a Center that Griffiths had informed the Security Council he would move on prisoner-exchange discussions if no further progress was made on Hudaydah. Such a meeting likely would be in the Jordanian capital of Amman, the source said, where two rounds of unsuccessful talks regarding a prisoner exchange were held in January and February 2019.[98] 

Countries Affirm Support for UN Yemen Envoy

Security Council members tried to heal the rift between the Yemeni government and Griffiths following their disagreement over Houthi forces’ withdrawal from the Hudaydah ports (for more information, see The Yemen Review: May 2019).[99] On June 10, the Security Council publicly “underlined its full support” for the special envoy.[100] It also called on all parties to “engage constructively and continuously” with Griffiths, an implicit rebuke of President Hadi’s threat in May to cease cooperation.

Hadi had sent a letter May 22 to the UN Secretary-General in which he threatened to stop cooperating with Griffiths. Guterres, through a UN spokesperson, quickly expressed full confidence in his special envoy.[101] However, he also offered to open a dialogue on Hadi’s concerns, and Rosemary DiCarlo, under-secretary-general for political affairs and peacekeeping, was dispatched to Riyadh.

On June 10, the same day as the Security Council declaration, Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf affirmed the kingdom’s support for Griffiths [102] DiCarlo also met with Hadi while in Riyadh to discuss Griffiths’ work and how to move ahead with the Stockholm Agreement.  

Signs of reconciliation could be seen at Griffiths’ June 17 briefing to the Security Council. Yemeni Ambassador Ali Fadhel al-Saadi told the council that the internationally recognized government was determined tocooperate with the UN special envoy.”[103] According to a Sana’a Center diplomatic source, Griffiths later highlighted this during closed-door consultations, noting that this was the first such statement since Hadi had threatened to cease cooperation in May. This change in course, the source noted, came after UNSC members had been pressuring the Yemeni government to calm tensions and work constructively with Griffiths.[104] In a further effort to mend relations, Griffiths met June 22 with Yemeni Vice President Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar in Riyadh.[105]

 

In the United States

Acting Secretary of Defense Steps Down, Withdraws Nomination

On June 18, President Donald Trump announced that Patrick Shanahan had stepped down as acting secretary of defense and had withdrawn his nomination for the job.[106] Mark Esper,  secretary of the army and a former executive at the defense firm Raytheon, replaced Shanahan and is expected to be nominated for the permanent position. This will likely further extend what is already the longest period that the Pentagon has gone without a confirmed chief, after Secretary of Defense James Mattis stepped down in December 2018. On the same day as Shanahan’s resignation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa, Florida, where he met with Commander Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie to discuss escalating tensions with Iran.[107] This was an unusual move by a secretary of state, whose remit lies in the diplomatic sphere. Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, both considered hawks on Iran who see the armed Houthi movement as an Iranian proxy force, have been increasingly forceful in directing Washington’s Iran policy in recent months, both in regards to Yemen and the wider Middle East. 

 


This report was prepared by (in alphabetical order): Ali Abdullah, Waleed Alhariri, Ryan Bailey, Hamza al-Hamadi, Hussam Radman, Gregory Johnsen, Spencer Osberg, Hannah Patchett, Ghaidaa al-Rashidy, Susan Sevareid, Sala al-Sakkaf and Holly Topham


The Yemen Review – formerly known as Yemen at the UN – is a monthly publication produced by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies. Launched in June 2016, it aims to identify and assess current diplomatic, economic, political, military, security, humanitarian and human rights developments related to Yemen.  

In producing The Yemen Review, Sana’a Center staff throughout Yemen and around the world gather information, conduct research, and hold private meetings with local, regional, and international stakeholders in order to analyze domestic and international developments regarding Yemen.

This monthly series is designed to provide readers with contextualized insight into the country’s most important ongoing issues.


Endnotes

  1. Nasser Karimi and Jon Gambrell, “Iran shoots down US surveillance drone, heightening tensions,” The Associated Press, June 20, 2019, https://www.apnews.com/e4316eb989d5499c9828350de8524963. 
  2. Patrick Tucker, “How the Pentagon Nickel-and-Dimed Its Way Into Losing a Drone”, Defense One, June 20, 2019, https://www.defenseone.com/technology/2019/06/how-pentagon-nickel-and-dimed-its-way-losing-drone/157901/
  3. Donald J Trump Twitter Post, June 21, 2019. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1142055388965212161.
  4. Martin Chulov and Julian Borger, “Iran-US dispute grows over attacks on oil tankers in Gulf of Oman,” The Guardian, June 15, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/15/iran-us-divisions-deepen-over-gulf-of-oman-oil-tankers-attack.
  5. “Statement from US Central Command on attacks against U.S. observation aircraft,” US Central Command, June 16, 2019, https://www.centcom.mil/media/statements/statements-view/article/1877252/statement-from-us-central-command-on-attacks-against-us-observation-aircraft/
  6. Nicole Gaouette, “US sending 1,000 additional troops to Middle East amid Iran tensions,” CNN, June 18, 2019, https://edition.cnn.com/2019/06/17/politics/us-additional-troops-iran-tensions/index.html.
  7. “Yemen and the region: joint statement by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK and the US,” UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, June 23, 2019, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/statement-by-saudi-arabia-the-uae-the-uk-and-the-us-about-the-situation-in-yemen-and-the-region.
  8. Patrick Wintour, “Iran says progress made in nuclear talks is still not enough,” The Guardian, June 28, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/28/world-powers-iran-nuclear-deal-abandoned-us.
  9. “Treasury Targets Senior IRGC Commanders Behind Iran’s Destructive and Destabilizing Activities,” US Department of the Treasury, June 24, 2019, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm716; Patrick Wintour, “Iran’s ultimatum on breaching nuclear deal puts EU3 on the spot,” The Guardian, June 26, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/26/iran-ultimatum-on-breaching-nuclear-deal-puts-eu-3-on-the-spot.
  10. Patrick Wintour, “Iran breaks nuclear deal and puts pressure on EU over sanctions,” The Guardian, July 1, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/01/iran-breaks-nuclear-deal-and-puts-pressure-on-eu-over-sanctions; David E. Sanger, “European Talks With Iran End, Leaving Nuclear Issue Unsettled,” The New York Times, June 28, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/28/us/politics/europe-iran-nuclear-deal.html. 
  11. “Command of the Joint Forces of the Alliance ‘Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen’: Attack on Abha International Airport by Houthi Terrorist Militia Supported by Iran and Targeting Civilians,” Saudi Press Agency, June 24, 2019, https://www.spa.gov.sa/1937370
  12. “The Yemeni Aviation is again attacking the Abha and Jizan airports,” الطيران اليمني المسير يهاجم مجددا مطاري أبها وجيزان السعوديين, Al-Masirah, June 23, 2019, https://www.almasirah.net/details.php?es_id=41504&cat_id=3
  13. “Coalition Forces Command Alliance Support for Legitimacy in Yemen: A terrorist act targeting Abha International Airport,” Saudi Press Agency, June 24, 2019. https://www.spa.gov.sa/1933676
  14. “Allied Forces Command Coalition Support for Legitimacy in Yemen: A Rejected Extrusion Killed by the Iranian-backed Houthi Terrorist Militant Near the Brother’s Desalination Plant,” Saudi Press Agency, June 20, 2019. https://www.spa.gov.sa/1936330
  15. Yahya Sarea Facebook Post, June 19, 2019. https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=622060211609586&id=100014168372521
  16. “Yemen’s Houthi group says will target UAE, Saudi vital military facilities,” Reuters, May 19, 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-houthi/yemens-houthi-group-says-will-target-uae-saudi-vital-military-facilities-idUSKCN1SP0PZ
  17. “Yemen’s Houthis launch drone attack on Saudi-led coalition military parade in Aden, “ Reuters, June 3, 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security/yemens-houthis-launch-drone-attack-on-saudi-led-coalition-military-parade-in-aden-idUSKCN1T30V7?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Reuters%2FworldNews+%28Reuters+World+News%29
  18. Yahya Sarea Facebook Post, June 6, 2019. https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=613743839107890&id=100014168372521.
  19. “Statement from US Central Command on attacks against U.S. observation aircraft,” US Central Command, June 16, 2019, https://www.centcom.mil/media/statements/statements-view/article/1877252/statement-from-us-central-command-on-attacks-against-us-observation-aircraft/
  20. “U.S.: Saudi Pipeline Attacks Originated From Iraq,” Isabel Coles and Dion Nissenbaum, Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-saudi-pipeline-attacks-originated-from-iraq-11561741133
  21. “An Environmental Apocalypse Looming on the Red Sea — The Yemen Review, May 2019,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, June 6, 2019. http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/7504#Houthis-Attack-Saudi-Pipeline
  22. “In conjunction with the arrival of Sudanese troops .. Emirati troops leave Aden” بالتزامن مع وصول قوات سودانية.. قوات إماراتية تغادر عدن. Al Masdar Online, June 22, 2019. https://almasdaronline.com/articles/168817
  23. Elana DeLozier, “UAE Drawdown May Isolate Saudi Arabia in Yemen”, July 2, 2019, The Washingron Institute, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/uae-drawdown-in-yemen-may-isolate-saudi-arabia
  24. Aziz El Yaakoubi and Lisa Barrington, “Exclusive: UAE scales down military presence in Yemen as Gulf tensions flare,” Reuters, June 28, 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-exclusive/exclusive-uae-scales-down-military-presence-in-yemen-as-gulf-tensions-flare-idUSKCN1TT14B
  25. Elana DeLozier, “UAE Drawdown May Isolate Saudi Arabia in Yemen”, July 2, 2019, The Washingron Institute, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/uae-drawdown-in-yemen-may-isolate-saudi-arabia
  26. “Shabwa: Three members of the government forces were injured in clashes with gunmen backed by the UAE,” شبوة.. إصابة ثلاثة من افراد القوات الحكومية بمواجهات مع مسلحين مدعومين من الامارات
  27. “Pro-UAE forces assault Socotra governor’s convoy and Minister of Fisheries,” Al Masdar Online, June 18, 2019. https://almasdaronline.com/article/pro-uae-forces-assault-socotra-governors-convoy-and-minister-of-fisheries
  28. “Local authorities explain the latest military developments in Socotra,” Aden Al Ghad, June 19, 2019. https://adengd.net/news/391674/
  29. Ibid.
  30. “Condemned the violence carried out by pro-UAE .. A stop in Socotra to support the legitimate authorities,” نددت باعمال عنف قام بها موالون للامارات.. وقفة في سقطرى لدعم السلطات الشرعية, Al Masdar Online, June 24, 2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/168911
  31. Zach Vertin, “Red Sea Rivalries: The Gulf, the Horn, and the new geopolitics of the Red Sea”, Brookings Institute, June 26, 2019, https://www.brookings.edu/research/red-sea-rivalries-the-gulf-the-horn-and-the-new-geopolitics-of-the-red-sea/
  32. “Al-Mahra.. Tribal people intercept Saudi military convoy in Shihen Directorate,” Al Masdar Online, June 3, 2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/168233/. 
  33. Kareem Fahim and Missy Ryan, “Saudi Arabia announces capture of an ISIS leader in Yemen in US-backed raid,” The Washington Post, June 25, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/saudi-arabia-announces-capture-of-islamic-state-leader-in-yemen-in-us-backed-raid-backed/2019/06/25/79734ca2-976a-11e9-9a16-dc551ea5a43b_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d2d1a3a98210
  34. “هذه تفاصيل إلقاء القبض على زعيم تنظيم داعش في اليمن” (“The details of the capture of a Daesh leader in Yemen,”) Independent Arabia, June 25, 2019, https://www.independentarabia.com/node/35801/الأخبار/العالم-العربي/هذه-تفاصيل-إلقاء-القبض-على-زعيم-تنظيم-داعش-في-اليمن. 
  35. “Joint Forces Command of the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen: Saudi Special Forces Capture Leader of Daesh (ISIS) Branch in Yemen,” Saudi Press Agency, June 25, 2019, https://www.spa.gov.sa/viewfullstory.php?lang=en&newsid=1938103#1938103.
  36. “Counter Terrorism Designations,” US Department of the Treasury, October 25, 2017, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20171025.aspx; “Treasury and Terrorist Financing Targeting Center Partners Issues First Joint Sanctions Against Key Terrorists and Supporters,” US Department of the Treasury, October 25, 2017, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/sm0187.aspx.
  37. Aaron Y. Zelin, “New release from Al-Qa’idah in the Arabian Peninsula: ‘Statement’.” Jihadology, June 4, 2019, https://jihadology.net/2019/06/04/new-release-from-al-qaidah-in-the-arabian-peninsula-statement-2/.
  38. Elisabeth Kendall Twitter Post, June 8, 2019, https://twitter.com/Dr_E_Kendall/status/1137266320867844097.
  39. “ بينهم قيادي بارز.. مقتل خمسة من عناصر القاعدة بغارات يعتقد انها امريكية في البيضاء” (“Five Al-Qaeda members, including senior leader, killed by suspected US air strike in al-Bayda”), Al Masdar Online, June 25,2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/168912. 
  40. “Yemeni FM Khaled Al-Yemany submits his resignation: Al Arabiya,” Al Arabiya, June 10. https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2019/06/10/Yemeni-FM-Khaled-Al-Yemany-resigns-Al-Arabiya.html
  41. “Urgent: Hadi leaves for America,” Al-Mashad Al-Yemeni, June 16, 2019. https://www.almashhad-alyemeni.com/136373
  42. Economic Committee Facebook Page, June 22 2019, https://bit.ly/2KAE5z9.
  43. Ibid.
  44. Ibid.
  45. “Beyond the Business as Usual Approach: Combating Corruption in Yemen”, Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, November 10, 2018, sanaacenter.org/publications/main-publications/6614
  46. Economic Committee Facebook Page, June 26, 2019, https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=382832005679393&id=272799003349361
  47. “Beyond the Business as Usual Approach: Combating Corruption in Yemen”, Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, November 10, 2018, sanaacenter.org/publications/main-publications/6614
  48. Economic Committee Facebook Page, June 16, 2019, https://bit.ly/2LdyEWA
  49. Mansour Rageh, Amal Nasser and Farea Al-Muslimi, “Yemen Without a Functioning Central Bank: The Loss of Basic Economic Stabilization and Accelerating Famine”, Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, November 2, 2016, sanaacenter.org/publications/main-publications/55.
  50. “Yemen president names new central bank governor, moves HQ to Aden,” Reuters, September 18, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-cenbank/yemen-president-names-new-central-bank-governor-moves-hq-to-aden-idUSKCN11O0WB
  51. “A crucial agreement in the city of Jeddah between Mayad and Al-Aradah on linking the bank in Marib with the Central Bank in Aden,” Aden al-Ghad, June 1, 2019, https://bit.ly/2IDC2Iy
  52. Hafedh Mayad Facebook Page, June 7, 2019, https://bit.ly/2ZLjxrf. Accessed June 24, 2019.
  53. Official Yemeni Exchangers Association document seen by the Sana’a Center on June 19, a copy of which is available upon request. 
  54. Official Yemeni Exchangers Association and Yemen Banks Association document seen by the Sana’a Center on June 20, a copy of which is available upon request.
  55. Ibid.
  56. Sana’a Center interview on July 19, 2019.
  57. “Meeting in Al Mahrah discusses the activation of the monetary cycle in the banking system,” Yemen News Agency (SABA), June 17, 2019, https://www.sabanew.net/viewstory/50696.
  58. “World Food Programme begins partial suspension of aid in Yemen,” World Food Programme, June 20, 2019, https://www1.wfp.org/news/world-food-programme-begins-partial-suspension-aid-yemen.  
  59. Maggie Michael, “AP Investigation: Food aid stolen as Yemen starves,” The Associated Press, December 31, 2018, https://www.apnews.com/bcf4e7595b554029bcd372cb129c49ab.  
  60. “United Nations Officials Urge Parties in Yemen to Fulfil Stockholm, Hodeidah Agreements, amid Security Council Calls for Opening of Aid Corridors,” United Nations Meetings Coverage and Press Releases, June 17, 2019, https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/sc13845.doc.htm.
  61. Aziz El Yaakoubi and Lisa Barrington, “Yemen’s Houthis and WFP dispute aid control as millions starve,” Reuters, June 4, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-wfp/yemens-houthis-and-wfp-dispute-aid-control-as-millions-starve-idUSKCN1T51YO
  62.   “UN gives ultimatum to Yemen rebels over reports of aid theft,” The New Humanitarian, June 17, 2019, http://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2019/06/17/un-yemen-rebels-aid-theft-biometrics
  63.   “Yemeni children ‘dying right now’ due to food aid diversion Beasley warns,” UN News, June 17, 2019, https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/06/1040651
  64. “World Food Programme to consider suspension of aid in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen,” WFP, May 20, 2019, https://www1.wfp.org/news/world-food-programme-consider-suspension-aid-houthi-controlled-areas-yemen
  65. Michael Holden “WFP hopeful Yemen’s ‘good’ Houthis will prevail to allow food aid suspension to end,” Reuters, June 21, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-wfp/wfp-hopeful-yemens-good-houthis-will-prevail-to-allow-food-aid-suspension-to-end-idUSKCN1TM1YR.  
  66. “United Nations Officials Urge Parties in Yemen to Fulfil Stockholm, Hodeidah Agreements, Amid Security Council Calls for opening of Aid Corridors,” United Nations, June 17, 2019, https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/sc13845.doc.htm
  67. “Yemeni children ‘dying right now’ due to food aid diversion Beasley warns,” UN News, June 17, 2019, https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/06/1040651,
  68. “Emergency Dashboard – May 2019,” World Food Programme, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/WFP-0000105646.pdf
  69. MSF noted several of its members had contributed to its study and that its conclusions were based on reviews of aid organization documents and interviews with aid workers in Yemen. “Yemen: questions about an aid system,” MSF Crash, June 20, 2019, https://www.msf-crash.org/en/blog/war-and-humanitarianism/yemen-questions-about-aid-system. 
  70. “Humanitarian aid contributions,” Financial Tracking Service, UN OCHA, https://fts.unocha.org.
  71. “KSA and UAE provide USD200 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen,” Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – Washington D.C., April 9, 2019, https://www.saudiembassy.net/news/ksa-and-uae-provide-usd-200-million-humanitarian-assistance-yemen.
  72. “Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Yemen,” Relief Web, June 17, 2019, https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/under-secretary-general-humanitarian-affairs-and-emergency-relief-coordinator-mark-19.
  73. “An Environmental Apocalypse Looming on the Red Sea — The Yemen Review,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, May 2019. http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/7504.
  74. “ لاحتفائهم الثلاثاء بالعيد.. الحوثيون يخطفون عشرات المدنيين في ذمار وإب” (For their celebration Tuesday Eid .. Houthis kidnapped dozens of civilians in Dhamar and Ibb), Al Masdar, June 4, 2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/168259.
  75. “IOM helps nearly 30,000 people in Yemen rebuild shelters destroyed by floods,,” International Organization for Migration, June 25, 2019, https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/iom-helps-nearly-30000-people-yemen-rebuild-shelters-destroyed-floods. 
  76. Ahmed Al-Haj, “Yemeni officials say Saudi airstrikes kill 7,” June 29, 2019, The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/yemeni-officials-say-saudi-led-coalition-airstrikes-kill-7/2019/06/29/fdf161bc-9a53-11e9-9a16-dc551ea5a43b_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.99fcd1463277.
  77. “Annex to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions: Investigation into the unlawful death of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” United Nations Human Rights Council, 
  78. Susannah George, “Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales as Trump vows veto,” The Associated Press, June 20, 2019, https://www.apnews.com/4169fdfbcd0a411b914b2e22fb21e932.
  79. “President Trump’s full, unedited interview with Meet the Press,” NBC News, June 23, 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/president-trump-s-full-unedited-interview-meet-press-n1020731.
  80. Arron Merat, “‘The Saudis couldn’t do it without us’: the UK’s true role in Yemen’s deadly war,” The Guardian, June 18, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/18/the-saudis-couldnt-do-it-without-us-the-uks-true-role-in-yemens-deadly-war.
  81. Arron Merat, “‘The Saudis couldn’t do it without us’: the UK’s true role in Yemen’s deadly war,” The Guardian, June 18, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/18/the-saudis-couldnt-do-it-without-us-the-uks-true-role-in-yemens-deadly-war.
  82. “FDFA bans Pilatus from supplying services in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, June 26, 2019, https://www.admin.ch/gov/en/start/documentation/media-releases.msg-id-75587.html.
  83. John Irish, “French weapons sales to Saudi jumped 50 percent last year,” Reuters, June 4, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-defence-arms/french-weapons-sales-to-saudi-jumped-50-percent-last-year-idUSKCN1T51C0.
  84. “Annex to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions: Investigation into the unlawful death of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” United Nations Human Rights Council, June 19, 2019. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session41/Documents/A_HRC_41_CRP.1.docx
  85. Nick Hopkins and Stephanie Kirchgaessner, “‘Credible evidence’ Saudi crown prince liable for Khashoggi killing – UN report,” The Guardian, June 19, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/19/jamal-khashoggi-killing-saudi-crown-prince-mohammed-bin-salman-evidence-un-report.
  86. “Note to Correspondents: United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement – Statement by the Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee,” United Nations Secretary-General, June 12, 2019, https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/note-correspondents/2019-06-12/note-correspondents-united-nations-mission-support-the-hudaydah-agreement-statement-the-chair-of-the-redeployment-coordination-committee.
  87. “Full Text of the Stockholm Agreement,” Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, December 13, 2018, https://osesgy.unmissions.org/full-text-stockholm-agreement.
  88. “Note to Correspondents: Statement by the Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee,” United Nations Secretary-General, May 14, 2019. https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/note-correspondents/2019-05-14/note-correspondents-statement-the-chair-of-the-redeployment-coordination-committee-scroll-down-for-arabic.
  89. “Letter dated 13 May 2019 from the Permanent Representative of Yemen to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council,” signed by Yemeni Ambassador Abdullah Ali Fadhel Al-Saadi, May 13, 2019. https://undocs.org/pdf?symbol=en/S/2019/386.
  90. Ibid.
  91. “An Environmental Apocalypse Looming on the Red Sea — The Yemen Review, May 2019”, Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, June 6, 2019, sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/7504#Hudaydah-and-the-Stockholm-Agreement
  92. “Note to Correspondents: United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement – Statement by the Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee,” United Nations Secretary-General, June 12, 2019, https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/note-correspondents/2019-06-12/note-correspondents-united-nations-mission-support-the-hudaydah-agreement-statement-the-chair-of-the-redeployment-coordination-committee
  93. “Letter dated 10 June 2019 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations, June 12,2019, https://undocs.org/S/2019/485.
  94. Edith Lederer, “UN Envoy: Yemen parties agree on initial Hodeidah withdrawals,” The Associated Press, April 15, 2019, https://www.apnews.com/8f254a6838f54166bf7a5ab50f7904a8
  95. “Briefing of the UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen to the Open Session of the UN Security Council,” Office of the UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, June 17, 2019, https://osesgy.unmissions.org/briefing-un-special-envoy-secretary-general-yemen-open-session-un-security-council.   
  96. Spencer Osberg and Hannah Patchett, “An Unending Fast: What the Failure of the Amman Meetings Means for Yemen”, Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, May 20, 2019, sanaacenter.org/publications/analysis/7433
  97. “An Environmental Apocalypse Looming on the Red Sea — The Yemen Review,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, May 2019. http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/7504.
  98. “The Supervisory Committee on the Implementation of the Prisoner Exchange Agreement Continues its Work,” Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, February 8, 2019, https://osesgy.unmissions.org/supervisory-committee-implementation-prisoner-exchange-agreement-continues-its-work.
  99. “An Environmental Apocalypse Looming on the Red Sea — The Yemen Review,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, May 2019. http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/7504.
  100. “Security Council Press Statement on Yemen,” Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Yemen, June 10, 2019, https://osesgy.unmissions.org/security-council-press-statement-yemen.
  101. “In Addition to the Presidential Extension Letter, Guterres Renews ‘Confidence’ in Griffith,” News Yemen, May 25, 2019, https://www.newsyemen.net/news41847.html.
  102. “Saudis Express Support for Embattled UN Yemen Envoy,” France 24, June 10, 2019, https://www.france24.com/en/20190610-saudis-express-support-embattled-un-yemen-envoy.
  103. “United Nations Officials Urge Parties in Yemen to Fulfil Stockholm, Hodeidah Agreements, amid Security Council Calls for Opening of Aid Corridors,” United Nations Meetings Coverage and Press Releases, June 17, 2019, https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/sc13845.doc.htm.
  104. Diplomatic sources told the Sana’a Center in May that several P5 ambassadors to Yemen met with President Hadi in Riyadh to express their support for Griffiths in an effort to reduce tensions.
  105. “UN Special Envoy Meets with the Government of Yemen in Riyadh to Advance the Peace Process in Yemen,” Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, June 26, 2019, https://osesgy.unmissions.org/un-special-envoy-meets-government-yemen-riyadh-advance-peace-process-yemen.
  106. Donald J Trump Twitter Post, June 18, 2019. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1141027593774346240.  
  107. “Pompeo at Centcom: ‘Trump does not want war with Iran,” Rachel Franzin, The Hill, June 18, 2019. https://thehill.com/policy/defense/449109-pompeo-at-centcom-trump-does-not-want-war.  
A Houthi Masterclass in Dystopia

A Houthi Masterclass in Dystopia

The Sana’a Center Editorial

The international educational non-profit organization AMIDEAST opened an office in Sana’a in 1981, before the Yemen Republic was even a country (the unification of North and South Yemen occured in 1990). Since then tens of thousands of Yemenis have passed through the institution, receiving education, training, accredited testing and exchange opportunities that allowed them to proceed to further education at universities around the world. They brought this education back to Yemen. AMIDEAST alumni have gone on to become ministers in the government, high-level bureaucrats and leaders in the private sector, academia and civil society. In an impoverished country starving for minds able to create opportunities for economic and social development, the impact of AMIDEAST in fostering Yemen’s intelligentsia has been significant.

Even under the massive challenges posed by the ongoing conflict, AMIDEAST had kept its doors open to Yemenis. However, on May 30 this year, AMIDEAST announced that the Houthi authorities had forced its Sana’a office to close, without any justification. In doing so the Houthi authorities closed a gate through which potential agents of socio-economic progress could develop. Indeed, closing AMIDEAST was closing arguably the most significant window through which Yemenis with potential have been able to access the world of opportunity.  

For paranoid ideologues, the intellectual advancement of individuals within a society is the ultimate threat to the cohesion of a totalitarian dogma. Put directly: how could the head of the armed Houthi movement, Abdelmalik al-Houthi, retain his veneer of absolute authority if those under his fist were able to articulate better ideas than he? Rather than being seen as an opportunity to advance collective good, these free thinkers are seen as a menace to entrenched Houthi interests. The greatest threat to Abdelmalik Al-Houthi is not the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, or the Yemeni government; rather, it is the possibility that those within his ranks will one day see that there is more to life than war, and that there is so much more meaningful possibility to life than martyrdom.  

The Houthi authorities’ campaign to send Yemen back to the dark ages of thought did not begin with closing AMIDEAST. Since overtaking Sana’a in 2014 the Houthi leadership has aggressively pursued a campaign to restructure the minds of the population under its control. Religious zealots now occupy most ministries in the government, in particular the Ministry of Education, headed by Abdelmalik’s older brother, Yahya al-Houthi. A UN-sanctioned arms dealer is also a member of the cabinet. Of late, the primary school curriculum has been reworked to expand religious studies that in reality do not study religion at all — rather, they teach that there is one interpretation of the divine, the Houthi interpretation, and all others are heretical. Educational advancement for Houthi leaders has meant taking children from orphanages, giving them guns and sending them to the frontlines to learn how to kill or be killed. At the same time Houthi authorities have blocked vaccination campaigns for hundreds of thousands of children and, during the holy month of Ramadan, looted aid from the mouths of the hungry.

The mixing of men and women at cafes and universities has been banned, while religious-based female militias — known as Zainabiat — now pass as women’s liberation. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan and the so-called ‘Islamic State’ group, or Daesh, Houthi forces have bombed the homes of those who have opposed them and proudly posted the videos on YouTube. They have imposed martial law and systematically arrested or otherwise censored imams, civil society leaders, journalists and activists, and sentenced members of religious minorities to death in kangaroo courts. Houthi forces have planted millions of landmines in civilian areas across the country. Indeed, a Houthi leader once gloated to a prominent human rights activist that domestic landmine production was a market that the Houthis have mastered; such should indicate the Houthi ideal for technological advancement. And the trump card in their hands are the millions of people who live under their sway, who are better understood as hostages rather than citizens.

Yemeni institutions have long been riddled with corruption. Among the new elements that the Houthi authorities are introducing, however, is mass indoctrination. The armed Houthi movement is a militia that is better understood as an ideologically driven mafia, one that has through the course of the conflict rapidly learned how to manipulate the international community and garnered its own ambitions for statehood. The reconfiguration of education is among the primary means through which the Houthis are laying the foundations for their dystopia.[1]

This editorial appeared in An Environmental Apocalypse Looming on the Red Sea — The Yemen Review, May 2019

Previous Sana’a Center Editorials: 


Endnote

  1. ‘Dystopia’, a noun meaning an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. The opposite of utopia.
An Environmental Apocalypse Looming on the Red Sea — The Yemen Review,  May 2019

An Environmental Apocalypse Looming on the Red Sea — The Yemen Review, May 2019

A view from the deck of the FSO SAFER oil terminal moored offshore of Ras Issa port // Photo Credit: SAFER

 

The Sana’a Center Editorial

A Houthi Masterclass in Dystopia

The international educational non-profit organization AMIDEAST opened an office in Sana’a in 1981, before the Yemen Republic was even a country (the unification of North and South Yemen occured in 1990). Since then tens of thousands of Yemenis have passed through the institution, receiving education, training, accredited testing and exchange opportunities that allowed them to proceed to further education at universities around the world. They brought this education back to Yemen. AMIDEAST alumni have gone on to become ministers in the government, high-level bureaucrats and leaders in the private sector, academia and civil society. In an impoverished country starving for minds able to create opportunities for economic and social development, the impact of AMIDEAST in fostering Yemen’s intelligentsia has been significant.

Even under the massive challenges posed by the ongoing conflict, AMIDEAST had kept its doors open to Yemenis. However, on May 30 this year, AMIDEAST announced that the Houthi authorities had forced its Sana’a office to close, without any justification. In doing so the Houthi authorities closed a gate through which potential agents of socio-economic progress could develop. Indeed, closing AMIDEAST was closing arguably the most significant window through which Yemenis with potential have been able to access the world of opportunity.  

For paranoid ideologues, the intellectual advancement of individuals within a society is the ultimate threat to the cohesion of a totalitarian dogma. Put directly: how could the head of the armed Houthi movement, Abdelmalik al-Houthi, retain his veneer of absolute authority if those under his fist were able to articulate better ideas than he? Rather than being seen as an opportunity to advance collective good, these free thinkers are seen as a menace to entrenched Houthi interests. The greatest threat to Abdelmalik Al-Houthi is not the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, or the Yemeni government; rather, it is the possibility that those within his ranks will one day see that there is more to life than war, and that there is so much more meaningful possibility to life than martyrdom.  

The Houthi authorities’ campaign to send Yemen back to the dark ages of thought did not begin with closing AMIDEAST. Since overtaking Sana’a in 2014 the Houthi leadership has aggressively pursued a campaign to restructure the minds of the population under its control. Religious zealots now occupy most ministries in the government, in particular the Ministry of Education, headed by Abdelmalik’s older brother, Yahya al-Houthi. A UN-sanctioned arms dealer is also a member of the cabinet. Of late, the primary school curriculum has been reworked to expand religious studies that in reality do not study religion at all — rather, they teach that there is one interpretation of the divine, the Houthi interpretation, and all others are heretical. Educational advancement for Houthi leaders has meant taking children from orphanages, giving them guns and sending them to the frontlines to learn how to kill or be killed. At the same time Houthi authorities have blocked vaccination campaigns for hundreds of thousands of children and, during the holy month of Ramadan, looted aid from the mouths of the hungry.

The mixing of men and women at cafes and universities has been banned, while religious-based female militias — known as Zainabiat — now pass as women’s liberation. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan and the so-called ‘Islamic State’ group, or Daesh, Houthi forces have bombed the homes of those who have opposed them and proudly posted the videos on YouTube. They have imposed martial law and systematically arrested or otherwise censored imams, civil society leaders, journalists and activists, and sentenced members of religious minorities to death in kangaroo courts. Houthi forces have planted millions of landmines in civilian areas across the country. Indeed, a Houthi leader once gloated to a prominent human rights activist that domestic landmine production was a market that the Houthis have mastered; such should indicate the Houthi ideal for technological advancement. And the trump card in their hands are the millions of people who live under their sway, who are better understood as hostages rather than citizens.

Yemeni institutions have long been riddled with corruption. Among the new elements that the Houthi authorities are introducing, however, is mass indoctrination. The armed Houthi movement is a militia that is better understood as an ideologically driven mafia, one that has through the course of the conflict rapidly learned how to manipulate the international community and garnered its own ambitions for statehood. The reconfiguration of education is among the primary means through which the Houthis are laying the foundations for their dystopia.[1]


Contents

Developments in Yemen

International Developments

Endnotes


FSO SAFER oil terminal offshore of Ras Issa port // Photo Credit: SAFER

Developments in Yemen

An Environmental Apocalypse Looming on the Red Sea

Throughout April and May there has been rising concern that an oil terminal offshore of Ras Issa port, which has fallen into disuse with more than 1 million barrels of crude oil onboard, will unleash an environmental disaster in the Red Sea.

The Floating Storage and Offloading (FSO) terminal, owned by Yemen’s national oil company SAFER Exploration and Production Operation Company – more commonly known as SAFER – is a converted single-hulled oil tanker, built in Japan in 1976, with the capacity to hold some 3 million barrels of oil. Yemen first acquired the vessel in 1986 and subsequently SAFER permanently moored it some four nautical miles offshore of Ras Issa port, attached it to 430-kilometer-long pipeline, and installed equipment allowing for the transfer of crude oil to other tanker vessels. FSO SAFER subsequently became Yemen’s primary export point for light crude, which originated from more than 400 SAFER wells in Marib governorate’s Block 18.

Initially envisioned as a temporary measure to facilitate Yemen’s oil exports, in the decades since FSO SAFER went into operations the planned construction of a land-based export terminal at Ras Issa did not materialize. Following the escalation of the ongoing conflict in March 2015, the Marib–Ras Issa pipeline ceased operations and exports from FSO SAFER halted.

The UN estimates that some 1.12 million barrels of oil remained onboard, while a former SAFER official who spoke with the Sana’a Center said the amount ranges from 1.2 million to 1.3 million barrels. In either case, it is more than four times the amount of oil released in the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, widely regarded as one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in history. The Red Sea – which supports a high level of marine biodiversity as well as fishing and tourism industries in eight bordering countries – is a far smaller and more contained body of water than the North Pacific where the Exxon Valdez disaster occurred, meaning an oil spill of a comparable quantity would have a far more concentrated impact on the areas it reached.    

Following the halt in exports from FSO SAFER in 2015, staff were withdrawn and regular maintenance ended. Published estimates indicated that the aging vessel had previously required some US$10 million in annual maintenance. The onboard generators subsequently ceased functioning due to a lack of diesel, meaning they were no longer able to pump inert gas into the holding tanks. Thus, for four years, highly flammable and explosive gasses emitted from the crude oil have likely been building up in those tanks.

In August 2018 the UN Office for Project Services issued a tender for a technical assessment of FSO SAFER to appraise its condition, and to determine what steps would be necessary to repressurize the tanks with inert gas and remove the crude oil. The tender was awarded the same month, but the assessment has yet to be carried out.

Warring Parties’ Brinkmanship and Preemptive Accusations   

Since April 2019 there has been a rush of public statements and recriminations issued regarding the potential environmental disaster.

On April 9, Houthi media reported that the Houthi authorities’ Minister of Oil and Minerals, Ahmed Abdullah Daris, had made “several appeals” to the UN to allow the crude oil onboard FSO SAFER to be exported to reduce the risk of disaster. The minister said that, regarding the UN, “We hold them fully responsible for any oil spill.”

On April 15, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, briefed the UN Security Council on FSO SAFER, saying “without maintenance, we fear that it will rupture or even explode, unleashing an environmental disaster in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.” He added that his office had been working with “all parties” – but specifically with funding from Riyadh and Abu Dhabi – and that he hoped the technical assessment would be carried out soon. (In early May the company which won the UN tender said it would begin the assessment when the Hudaydah area was secure enough to send in its personnel.)

On April 21, senior Houthi leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi said FSO SAFER had been disconnected from the Ras Issa-Marib pipeline. He then accused the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE of preventing the sale of the oil onboard FSO SAFER since 2015.[2] The crude oil onboard is estimated to be worth US$80 million. Al-Houthi added that the aforementioned states would be responsible for any environmental catastrophe related to the vessel.[3] He followed this statement with another on April 30, when he urged the United Nations to develop a fuel export mechanism for Yemen that would include the oil onboard FSO SAFER.[4] In exchange for this mechanism, he said, the Houthi authorities would do their part to meet local fuel needs and deposit fuel revenues from domestic sales in both the central bank branches in Sana’a and Aden for the payment of public sector employee salaries.

At a press conference in Riyadh on April 29, coalition spokesperson Colonel Turki al-Maliki blamed the Houthis for risking environmental disaster by refusing to allow FSO SAFER to be offloaded. An official from SAFER told al-Mushahid media that removing the oil from FSO SAFER was a “very complicated issue” due to political differences between the warring parties in Yemen’s conflict.  

In separate meetings in the first week of May, representatives from both the Yemeni government and the Houthi leadership met with UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande, at which they both blamed the other side for blocking the unloading of the FSO SAFER and called on the UN to intervene.   

For the necessary maintenance work to be carried out conflicting parties will need to arrive at a settlement over what to do with the oil onboard. Sana’a Center interviews through May with various stakeholders indicated that powerful commercial interests in Yemen are also maneuvering to secure a portion of any oil sales. Although SAFER is responsible for the oil production and owns the vessel FSO SAFER, the Government of Yemen’s Ministry of Oil and Minerals by law owns any oil and gas produced at SAFER fields in Marib.

Despite the imminent potential for environmental disaster, a solution among the many actors directly and indirectly involved would still appear to be some way off. Economic and political interests overshadow the looming environmental catastrophe. An unwillingness among different actors to agree on how to divide up the potential crude oil sale revenues stems from an inherent distrust and unwillingness to concede any ground to perceived adversaries, while each party is also attempting to leverage the prospect of an environmental catastrophe over their opponents.

 

Hudaydah and the Stockholm Agreement

Houthi Troops Stage Contentious Withdrawal from Hudaydah Ports

In May, controversy surrounded the withdrawal of Houthi forces from three Red Sea ports in and around Hudaydah City. Yemen’s warring parties had agreed in December 2018 to withdraw troops from the city and the ports of Hudaydah, Saleef and Ras Issa as part of the Stockholm Agreement — the UN-mediated deal between the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the armed Houthi movement.[5] However, implementation of the deal stalled amid wrangling over the details of the mutual redeployment of forces and the composition of local security forces to replace withdrawing troops.

On May 10, General Michael Lollesgaard, chair of the UN Redeployment Coordination Committee, announced during a press conference in Hudaydah that the UN had accepted the Houthi leadership’s offer to unilaterally withdraw its fighters from all Hudaydah ports.[6] The decision followed an agreement reached in April between the warring parties on a phase one plan for troop withdrawals — which entailed coalition and Houthi forces pulling back several kilometers from the current frontlines (for more information, see The Yemen Review: April 2019).

The withdrawal of Houthi forces and their replacement with Houthi-administered Coast Guard personnel took place between May 11 and 14 and was confirmed by the United Nations Mission in Support of the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) monitors on the ground.[7] On May 12, General Lollesgaard welcomed the handing over of port security to the Coast Guard and characterized the withdrawal as the first part of the broader phase one redeployment plan for Hudaydah. UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths reiterated that UN inspectors had verified the Houthi forces’ withdrawal from the three ports during a May 15 briefing to the UN Security Council.[8] According to international diplomatic sources who spoke with the Sana’a Center, in conversations between Houthi leader Abdelmalik al-Houthi and the Special Envoy since the summer of 2018, the former had, on several occasions, stated that the armed Houthi movement was willing to remove its troops from the ports and submit to UN supervision of port operations. However, al-Houthi had insisted that Houthi-appointed personnel would remain in control of port operations.

The UN’s confirmation of the Houthi forces’ withdrawal in May sparked a fierce reaction from the Yemeni government, which accused the Houthi movement of engaging in a “theatrical play” in Hudaydah. Among Yemeni government officials and their supporters, the move was reminiscent of the Houthi leadership’s announcement 0n December 29, 2018, shortly after the Stockholm Agreement was reached, that their forces had withdrawn from Hudaydah port. In reality, however, it was a staged media event, following which Yemeni government officials accused the Houthi leaders of simply moving their fighters and loyalists into positions in port management and the Coast Guard. In a letter to the UNSC on May 13, the Yemeni mission at the UN argued that the most recent unilateral Houthi withdrawal was not genuine and violated past agreements, including UNSC Resolution 2451 and 2452, which established the mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement.[9]

The Yemeni government said it would not engage in discussion about future steps until it had the right to verify the unilateral withdrawal through the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC), the UN-chaired body set up to monitor and implement the Stockholm Agreement. In particular, it sought to check the list of Coast Guard members responsible for security at the ports.[10] The government has accused the Houthi movement of having fighters don coast guard and police uniforms to maintain their control over the ports.[11]

During a briefing to the press on May 15, head of the UNMHA General Michael Lollesgaard outlined the UN’s rationale for accepting the Houthi movement’s offer to withdraw from the ports.[12] The general said the UN made the decision because the top priority and urgency was facilitating port operations, and after months of negotiating with little progress, the UN could not wait for both parties to agree on how to implement the phase one withdrawal. This, while also trying to meet the May 15 deadline established by the “Quad” – a multilateral group consisting of the United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – in April for the implementation to begin.[13]

Responding to the Yemeni government’s criticism over the lack of joint verification, Lollesgaard contended that there was never a plan to engage in a full vetting of Coast Guard personnel during phase one. This would have been impossible to carry out without a broader agreement on the composition criteria for local forces that would assume security control from withdrawing troops, he said. The general acknowledged that Houthis partisans may be members of the Coast Guard, saying “I knew, everyone knew, also the government knew, that there might be non-Coast Guard Houthis among the guys going around in Coast Guard uniforms.”[14]

Tensions Inflamed Between the Hadi Government and the Special Envoy

With disagreement over the verification of the Houthi withdrawal persisting, the Yemeni government began to directly criticize the UN Special Envoy. In a series of tweets on May 17, head government representative to the RCC Major General Saghir bin Aziz characterized the Houthi withdrawal as the group allowing the UN conditional access to the Red Sea ports. He went on to accuse Griffiths of protecting the Houthi movement and “trying to impose them on the Yemeni people and legitimize their presence.”[15] On May 22, Yemen’s parliament sent a letter to Prime Minister Maeen Abdelmalek Saeed saying the Special Envoy was no longer a neutral party and “not welcome” by the legislature.[16] The body also urged the government to not engage in any further negotiations with the UN until Griffiths demonstrates a commitment to upholding UN Security Council resolutions related to Yemen, in particular UNSC Resolution 2216. Speaker of Parliament Sultan Barakani did not sign the letter, which is normally the endorsement parliamentary statements should receive to be considered official.  

On May 22, President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi wrote to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres rebuking Griffiths’ conduct and threatening to cease cooperation with the Special Envoy. In the letter, Hadi accused Griffiths of dealing with the Houthi movement as a de-facto government, overstepping his mandate by adopting a political framework for negotiations outside the scope of the agreed upon resolutions, and ignoring parts of the Stockholm Agreement related to the exchange of prisoners and lifting the siege on the city of Taiz. The letter also criticized what it called Griffiths’ “weak understanding of the nature of Yemen’s ongoing conflict, especially the ideological, intellectual and political elements of the Houthi militia.” Hadi asked the UN Secretary-General to review Griffiths’ alleged transgressions and respond accordingly, warning that the Yemeni government would no longer tolerate Griffiths’ continued appointment as Special Envoy unless the alleged violations ceased.

On May 24, a spokesperson for Gutteres said the UN Secretary-General maintained full confidence in his Special Envoy to Yemen. Gutteres then offered to open a discussion between the UN and Hadi regarding the issues raised in the letter. The Secretary-General assigned the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs and Peacekeeping Rosemary Dicarlo to meet with the Yemeni government, a senior Yemeni government official told the Sana’a Center. The crux of the Yemeni government’s complaint, the official added, was twofold: that Griffiths was exceeding his mandate; and that the Houthi movement sought to hand the administration of Hudaydah’s ports to the UN, a move rejected by the Yemeni government as a breach of Yemen’s sovereignty.

Griffiths, meanwhile, asked the Permanent 5 (P5) members of the Security Council during closed-door consultations on May 15 to pressure the Hadi government to tone down its public antagonism toward the UN Special Envoy’s office. According to Sana’a Center sources, the UN envoy criticized the Yemeni government for its approach, which he said was not constructive, and for its delay in implementing phase one of the pullback agreement. Several P5 ambassadors to Yemen met with Hadi in May in Riyadh to express their support for Griffiths in an effort to reduce tensions, diplomatic sources told the Sana’a Center.

Griffiths sought a statement of support from the P5, according to Sana’a Center sources, but was unable to gain buy-in from China. The UN Special Envoy then approached the 15-member Security Council, where Kuwait sought to include the perspective of the Saudi-led military coalition in the statement. The US attempted to add text on Iran to the statement, prompting Russia to request its own inclusions. By month’s end a draft text had not been finalized.  

Despite the rising tensions in May, it is unlikely that Griffiths will leave his post in the near term: changing a UN envoy is not a swift process, while politically the UN cannot be seen to be capitulating to the demands of any one side.

UN to Support Port Management, Operations in Hudaydah

In his May 15 briefing to the Security Council, the Special Envoy said the UN was ready to play a “leading role” supporting the management and operation of the ports by the Red Sea Ports Corporation, following the Houthi withdrawal.[17] The UN would also seek to enhance monitoring by the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM), which inspects all ships entering Hudaydah port, he said.

Further, Griffiths announced that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) would begin public work schemes on May 18 to upgrade the efficiency of Hudaydah port. The projects — which are expected to employ 4,000 people — include plans to install navigation lights, repair watchtowers and perimeter fences, upgrade the port’s berths and de-mine the facility’s perimeter.[18]

UN-led Amman Talks Fail to Resolve Impasse on Hudaydah Ports’ Revenue

On May 14-16, representatives from Yemen’s divided central bank met in Amman for UN-mediated talks to discuss how to handle the revenues from Hudaydah, Saleef and Ras Issa ports, Yemen’s busiest for commercial and humanitarian shipments. The Stockholm Agreement stipulates that revenues from the ports should be deposited in the Central Bank of Yemen’s (CBY) Hudaydah branch, and used to help pay civil servant salaries in Hudaydah and elsewhere in the country. Hundreds of thousands of civil servants, the majority of whom are living in Houthi-controlled areas, have not been paid a regular salary in almost three years.

In an indication of the highly charged political semantics surrounding the talks, members of the Aden CBY delegation told the Sana’a Center that the talks were not, in fact, a meeting of central bank delegations. Rather, they describe the talks as a meeting of central bank officials from Aden and Houthi representatives, given that the Yemeni government recognizes the legitimacy of only the Aden-based central bank.

The talks ended with no agreement aside from a commitment to meet again.

(For a full analysis, see the Sana’a Center’s recent publication: ‘An Unending Fast: What the Failure of the Amman Meetings Means for Yemen’)


The Souk al-Milh (the Salt Market) in Sana’a’s Old City on May 8, 2019 // Photo Credit: Asem Alposi 

Frontlines and Security

Houthis Attack Saudi Pipeline, Increase Cross-border Actions

From mid-May there was an increase in claimed Houthi attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia. On May 14, the Houthi-run al-Masirah news outlet reported that Houthi forces had launched an attack on the Saudi ARAMCO East-West pipeline, targeting two pumping stations using seven drones.[19] Later that day, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al-Falih said that armed drones had targeted the oil facility, causing a fire and minimal damage.[20] He added that the attack not only targeted Saudi Arabia but “the safety of the world’s energy supply and the global economy.” The price of the benchmark Brent crude oil increased in price more than US$1 per barrel on the global market, to US$71, by day’s end.[21]

The 1,200 km-long East-West pipeline traverses Saudi Arabia from the eastern oil fields to the Red Sea port city of Yanbu on the western coast. The pipeline can transport almost 5 million barrels of oil per day and offers a means to bypass the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has repeatedly threatened to close to shipping in the event of a war. The attack took place on a section of the pipeline that lies some 800 kilometers from the Saudi-Yemen border; this is far beyond the combat range of any known Houthi drone technology to date.

In a tweet on May 16, Prince Khalid Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister — who, since his appointment in February has been increasing his engagement on the Yemen file — said that Iran ordered the Houthi movement to carry out the attack.[22] Iran’s foreign ministry and the Houthi leadership denied the claims.[23][24] Houthi spokesman Mohamed Abdel Salam said that the attack marked a “new phase of economic deterrence” in response to the coalition’s intervention in Yemen.[25] In an interview, Houthi leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi said that his forces had stepped up cross-border attacks after the Saudi-led military coalition spurned “peace initiatives” by the movement.[26]

A spate of further attacks against Saudi Arabia followed. On May 20, Saudi Arabia said it had intercepted two missiles directed at Mecca and Jeddah, though the Houthis denied targeting Mecca.[27][28] Between May 20 and May 23, the Houthis claimed three drone attacks on Najran Airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia.[29] The Houthis said that the attacks were aimed at military facilities, while Riyadh said that civilian infrastructure was the target. On May 26, Saudi state media said that the Saudi Royal Air Force had intercepted an aircraft carrying explosives near its southern border with Yemen.[30] Images accompanying the report showed the wreckage of a drone, which Riyadh said was targeting Jizan airport in the southwest of the country.

The immediate military impact of these attacks appeared limited. In the case of the pipeline attack, even with a temporary shutdown Saudi oil deliveries were unaffected.[31] It did, however, expose the vulnerability of economic targets that are difficult to defend against unconventional attacks. For the Houthis, the attacks also showed off their growing drone capabilities and increasing ability to retaliate against, and impose costs on, a conventionally superior adversary that has, after more than four years of a relentless bombing campaign, already deployed most of its capacity for battlefield escalation. The pipeline attacks also demonstrated a clear avenue – that being energy prices – by which the implications of the Yemen War could be globalized.   

The increased frequency of Houthi cross-border attacks coincides with an escalation in tensions between Iran and the United States. What was previously a largely economic confrontation took a decisive turn in early May when the US announced that it would deploy the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to the Persian Gulf. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the deployment was in response to a “credible threat” from Iran, though critics of the move have questioned the intelligence behind the assessment. The series of Houthi attacks began days after four ships – including two Saudi oil tankers – were sabotaged near the Emirati port of Fujairah, with what oil shipment industry bodies believe were waterborne improvised explosive devices.[32] Concerns have centered on regional waterways – key artilleries for oil shipments from Middle East crude producers. Prior to the Fujairah attack, the US Maritime Administration updated its advisory to say there was an increased likelihood that Iran or its proxy forces would threaten US commercial or military vessels in the region – including the Bab-el-Mandeb strait off Yemen’s coast.[33]

Riyadh Calls Emergency Mecca Summit of Arab Leaders

On May 19, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud called for an emergency summit of Arab leaders to discuss the tanker and pumping station attacks, which the Saudi Press Agency described as a threat to “regional and international peace and security and for the supply and stability of world oil markets.”[34] Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was also invited to the event, staged on May 30. The invitation was notable, given that since June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have led a host of Arab nations in severing diplomatic relations with Doha and imposing a land, sea and air embargo on Qatar.  

At the summit King Salman told attendees that Iran was in “outrageous defiance” of UN peace treaties.[35] In a communique at the end of the meeting, the six Gulf Cooperation Council states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE – voiced support for Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in responding to the attacks, though without specifying what that should entail. The Iraqi delegation warned against a war with Iran, while days after the meeting Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani questioned the wisdom of a hardline “Washington” stance toward Iran.[36]     

Saudi-Led Military Coalition Airstrikes Hit Frontlines Across Yemen

Coalition airstrikes in May were concentrated on active frontlines, targeting Houthi positions in northwest Al-Dhalea, western Marib, northern Hajjah and northern Sa’ada governorates, along with the capital, Sana’a.[37][38][39][40]

Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Maliki said a series of airstrikes in Sana’a during May targeted Houthi drone capacity.[41] Strikes on May 16 were concentrated on Daylami Air Base, which adjoins Sana’a Airport to the north of the city. The coalition said that these were “legitimate military targets” and referred to the attack two days prior on Saudi oil pumping stations.[42] However, airstrikes also hit a residential building, resulting in the death of at least five children and injuries to 16 others, according to UN reports.[43]

Heavy fighting Over Strategic Town in al-Dhalea

Houthi forces continued to push into al-Dhalea governorate, central Yemen, on several axes during May – though at a slower pace than the previous month. The town of Qa’atabah, within the district of the same name, located in the center of the governorate, was the main site of contestation. In the first week of May, Houthi forces approached from positions to the west and northwest, and approached the Sanah area to the south of Qa’atabah town. Simultaneously, they pushed toward the north of the town in an attempt to sever the main highway running north to the frontline in the Murays area. Houthi forces to the north of Qa’atabah proceeded to outflank anti-Houthi forces and fighting reached the northeast of the town.[44] In mid-May, anti-Houthi forces, backed by coalition airstrikes, pushed Houthi forces out of the town and away from the highway to the north. The second half of the month saw anti-Houthi forces move toward Houthi positions to the west of Qa’atabah, repelling attempted counterattacks.

The town of Qa’atabah lies on the intersection of two main roads: one running east-west to Ibb governorate and the other connecting Sana’a and Aden. There were no reliable estimates regarding casualties, however the intensity of the fighting and level of physical destruction had observers believing there were many dozens of casualties among both warring parties and civilians. Fighting has also periodically cut off the north-south road, increasing journey times between Aden and Sana’a. Use of heavy weapons caused extensive damage in the north of the town where the hostilities were concentrated. Murays area in northern Qa’atabah district and al-Azariq district, western al-Dhalea, also continued to see heavy clashes though little frontline movement.

Several anti-Houthi forces were fighting in al-Dhalea; southern groups backed by the UAE have a strong presence – chiefly the governorate’s Security Belt forces and the Giants Brigades – along with Yemeni army brigades, the Presidential Protection Brigades, the National Resistance Forces – led by Tariq Saleh, the nephew of the late former President Ali Abdullah Saleh – local units and tribal forces. Following the deployment of the National Resistance Forces from the west coast to al-Dhalea, Sana’a Center sources indicated that Tariq Saleh’s forces were seeking to open a new frontline in al-Hasha district, which the Houthis took control of in April.

The diversity of anti-Houthi actors active in al-Dhalea has spurred tension between the groups, which escalated into violence on May 8. A statement from the Presidential Protection Brigades said that a battalion belonging to the 33rd Armored Brigade (under the command of al-Dhalea Governor Ali Muqbel) rejected the arrival of one of their units in Qa’atabah, compelling them to withdraw back toward Aden – at which point they were stopped by Security Belt forces and engaged in clashes which they said resulted in an unspecified number of deaths.[45] Distrust has pervaded the anti-Houthi camp in al-Dhalea since claims by UAE-backed southern separatist groups in April that forces aligned with the pro-government Islah party deliberately withdrew from areas in the north of the governorate to leave the way open for a Houthi advance.[46]

In the face of the Houthi push southward, on May 18 the president of the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), Aidarous al-Zubaidi, announced the creation of a “joint operations room” comprising all southern separatist forces.[47] He said that this would involve a unified command and control, as well as greater direct coordination with the Saudi-led military coalition. Along with the threat of the Houthi advance into historically southern territory – and the perceived incapacity of divided anti-Houthi forces to prevent it – al-Zubaidi’s announcement was also a timely political move. As the STC is pushing for a seat at the table in UN-backed talks, the creation of a unified and formalized parallel military force could be used as leverage in strengthening the case for southern independence. Indeed, al-Zubaidi’s rationale went beyond the fight against the Houthis; he used his speech to reiterate demands for UAE-backed forces to take over security in the Hadramawt Valley, where military divisions allied to President Hadi and Vice President Ali Mohsen dominate. In April, the city of Sayoun in the Hadramawt Valley also hosted the Hadi government’s first parliamentary session since the outbreak of the war, following a deal between the coalition to choose an alternative location to Aden, where UAE-backed forces dominate.  

New Anti-Houthi Offensive Begins in Taiz

On May 24, anti-Houthi forces in Taiz launched a new offensive to take control of the entire governorate.[48] The campaign is being led by Maj. Gen. Samir Al-Sabri, commander of the Taiz Axis – an umbrella group encompassing an array of anti-Houthi groups. Hostilities have since been concentrated in the north, northeast and west of Taiz City, which has been under semi-besiegement since the early months of the war.

Anti-Houthi forces retook most of the governorate’s Red Sea coastline and some areas south of Taiz City in early 2017, but frontlines have since been largely static. Houthi forces are currently in control of most of the north of the governorate, as well as some central areas. Taiz is of great strategic and symbolic importance to both sides as a population center, industrial hub and a link between the north and south of the country. The governorate has seen some of the highest levels of violence during the conflict and with that, some of the highest levels of destruction and humanitarian need.



AQAP vs Daesh Rivalry Continues

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the so-called ‘Islamic State’ group, or Daesh, continued to clash in al-Bayda governorate throughout the month of May. Both groups claimed multiple attacks against the other.

On May 21, AQAP released a video entitled “Prisoners of the Khawarij in Yemen,” which features a onetime Daesh fighter detailing his experience as a Daesh prisoner. The video is interspersed with segments showing what appeared to be a seven-cell cement brick prison, which AQAP claimed was built and run by Daesh. The video concluded with AQAP blowing up the prison to chants of “Allahu Akbar.”

May also saw the release of another AQAP video, the seventh in the group’s running series – “God Testifies that They are Liars” – designed to highlight what it called Daesh’s “hypocrisy” and attacks against civilians and non-combatants in Yemen.

Multiple Yemeni news sites reported that a US drone strike hit a vehicle in the Wadi ‘Abiydah region of Marib governorate on May 6, killing at least four people. The US military has not yet acknowledged the reported strike. A few days after the reported strike, however, AQAP announced that one of its members had been “martyred” in a US drone attack, but provided few details.

On June 1, Yemeni media quoted a military source as saying that AQAP carried out an attack on a military checkpoint in Hadramawt manned by soldiers from the Yemeni Army’s 23rd Brigade. The attack killed one soldier and wounded two others, and followed the arrest of two suspected AQAP members.  

Yemeni Forces Arrest Leading AQAP Figure

On May 19, Yemeni government forces arrested Bilal al-Wafi, known as Abu Waleed, in a raid in western Taiz City. Al-Wafi is a prime suspect in the killing of International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC)C staff member Hanna Lahoud in April 2018. Lahoud was a Lebanese national who headed the ICRC’s program to support detainees in Yemen. In October 2018, the US Treasury placed al-Wafi on its list of Specially Designated Nationals associated with terrorism.

 

Humanitarian Issues and Human Rights

In Focus: The Muhamasheen, the Most Disenfranchised Community in Yemen  

No community in Yemen has suffered the consequences of the current war as harshly as the Muhamasheen (Marginalized), a Yemeni underclass of up to 3.5 million people that has experienced centuries of discrimination, exploitation and poverty.[49]

Discrimination against Yemen’s Muhamasheen (sing. Muhamash) manifests in multiple ways, blending elements of both racism and a caste system. The minority group mostly resides in slums on the outskirts of cities, often without electricity, clean water or secure shelters.

The war has greatly magnified the Muhamasheen community’s poverty, displacement and food insecurity, while prejudice against the group has hindered their access to humanitarian aid and made it harder for those who have been displaced by fighting to find safe shelter. Although humanitarian agencies often feature the Muhamasheen in fundraising and publicity photographs documenting the Yemeni crisis, humanitarian aid to the community is far less consistent than for other groups, and in some areas the Muhamasheen have been systematically excluded from assistance.

The widespread economic collapse and loss of livelihoods driven by the conflict has created competition for the low-paid jobs which were once reserved for the Muhamasheen. Prior to the conflict the government’s Cleaning and Improvement Fund, which is responsible for waste management, was primarily staffed by Muhamasheen. However, garbage collectors were among the public sector workers who lost their income due to the conflict. UN agencies and other donors have stepped in to finance the Cleaning and Improvement Fund, creating livelihoods opportunities, but some Muhamasheen told the Sana’a Center that they have not benefited from these jobs, which have been taken instead by internally displaced people (IDPs) and others in need from outside the Muhamasheen community.

For several months, the Sana’a Center has been conducting interviews with Muhamasheen from across Yemen about how the conflict has affected them. In Bajel district, northeast of Hudaydah City, an aid worker for an international humanitarian organization told the Sana’a Center that the Muhamasheen were rarely included on beneficiary lists. He supervises a cash-for-work project with the Cleaning and Improvement Fund which does not include any Muhamasheen beneficiaries, even though the community is disproportionately unemployed and lacking access to basic necessities in the district. The Muhamasheen’s lack of social or political power means they also lack representatives to lobby local community leaders for their inclusion, he said. Meanwhile, a supervisor for the Cleaning and Improvement Fund in Bajel said he was punished and nearly fired by his manager when he included Muhamasheen on a list of proposed beneficiaries to an international organization. His manager was under pressure from community leaders, district officials and local Houthi authorities, who insisted on vetting the list of names proposed as beneficiaries, he said.

A Muhamash who did secure work with the Cleaning and Improvement Fund in Bajel said he tried to advocate for more people from his neighborhood, al-Dhalam, to be given work through the program. Al-Dhalam is populated by Muhamasheen, most of whom live in tents without sanitation or water. He asked a local committee member, who identifies local beneficiaries for international humanitarian organizations, to include Muhamasheen from al-Dhalam as workers on the cleaning project and as beneficiaries of shelter and sanitation projects; the committee member refused and told him “these people are like cows.” While some Muhamasheen in the area do receive sporadic monthly food baskets, the aid is inconsistent and rations are often shared with families who have not been able to register, he added.

A teacher in al-Mahaniah in Bajel district told the Sana’a Center that many Muhamasheen had fled to the area to escape frontlines; they moved into existing Muhamasheen communities, which already lacked proper sanitation, contributing to increased cases of cholera.

To read the full Sana’a Center report on how the conflict has impacted Muhamasheen across Yemen, see: The Historic and Systematic Marginalization of Yemen’s Muhamasheen Community.

UN Threatens to Suspend Food Aid Over Houthi Interference

The World Food Programme (WFP) said on May 20 that it would implement a phased suspension of its aid operations in Houthi-controlled areas unless it is given access and freedom to select beneficiaries.[50] Houthi leaders have denied humanitarian workers access to populations in need, blocked aid convoys and interfered with food distribution, the WFP said. The UN agency said it has also faced “repeated obstacles” to the independent selection of food aid recipients and the roll out of a biometric registration system. The WFP’s statement followed a report by CNN on May 20 accusing Houthi authorities of manipulating humanitarian aid.

The WFP said on December 31, 2018, that it had uncovered evidence that humanitarian supplies were being diverted in Houthi-controlled Sana’a and other parts of the country, after an AP investigation revealed that various factions and militias were blocking food aid, diverting it to frontline fighters and selling it for profit.[51] In May, the WFP said recent talks with Houthi leaders had not produced tangible results, and that despite positive commitments by some Houthi leaders, others had “broken assurances” on stopping food diversions and allowing biometric registration. The suspension of food aid is a last resort, the WFP said; the agency aims to feed 12 million Yemenis in 2019.

Lowcock: Fighting, Restrictions Continue to Impede Humanitarian Response

On May 15, the UN Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock told the UNSC that ongoing violence remained an impediment to aid operations, forcing humanitarian agencies and traders to seek alternative routes via back roads, mountain passes, and insecure territory.[52] Briefing the council, Lowcock also cited restrictions on the movement of goods and staff, the majority of which were reported in Houthi-controlled areas. In February and March, more than 900,000 people experienced delays or interruptions in aid assistance.

A cholera outbreak that has affected 300,000 people this year and the specter of famine, with 10 million Yemenis still reliant on emergency food assistance for survival, were the most immediate humanitarian challenges facing Yemen, Lowcock said.

In early May, a UN mission made the second visit to the Red Sea Mills in Hudaydah since September 2018. The UN team traveled from Aden to Hudaydah on May 5 through territory controlled by the internationally recognized Yemeni government, Lowcock said. Technicians are assessing damage, repairing equipment and processing any grain that can be salvaged, he added, an operation that was expected to take several weeks. The silos were hit by gunfire on May 10, WFP spokesperson Herve Verhoosel said, but the incident caused no casualties and the perpetrator was not known.[53] In September 2018, the mills held 51,000 tons of grain, enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month, but an inspection by the WFP in March found that some of the grain was infested by insects.[54]

On the issue of funding, Lowock announced that the UN had received 20 percent of the required resources, up from 6 percent in April. The UN humanitarian chief thanked Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular for the funding they had provided in the last month, which came from a pledge announced in November 2018. Lowcock later traveled to Riyadh on May 23 to discuss the joint US$1 billion commitment the countries made in Geneva in February.

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore also briefed the UNSC on May 15 on the critical situation facing children in Yemen.[55]  She told the council that eight children were killed, injured or recruited to fight every day, and that a child dies from preventable causes every 10 minutes in Yemen. As a result of the dire food crisis, 360,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and half the children under five years old in Yemen — 2.5 million — have experienced irreversible stunting. Fore also noted that the UN had recorded the recruitment and use of over 3,000 children since the war began by all parties to the conflict.[56]

 

Political Developments in Brief

  • April 29: The Governor of Socotra Ramzi Mahrous rejected the formation of any security organizations outside of the Yemeni state and local authorities. This was a direct rebuke of the UAE’s recent attempts to establish in the Socotra archipelago its own proxy security forces, similar to the UAE-backed Security Belt forces in Aden, the Hadrami Elite Forces in Hadramawt and the Shabwani Elite Forces in Shabwa. The governor reiterated this position again toward the end of May, following the arrival of UAE-trained security forces and equipment to Socotra.
  • May 5: In a rare rebuke of Saudi Arabia, the Government of Yemen Minister of Interior Ahmed al-Misri criticized Riyadh’s moves to assert its authority in the eastern Yemeni governorate of Mahra, bordering Oman. “The Yemeni government wanted our allies in the coalition to march with us north, not east,” he said in a public statement, adding that the Yemeni government’s partnership with the Saudi-led military coalition is meant to be against the armed Houthi movement, not for the management of “liberated” areas.
  • May 5: Media reports emerged that Houthi leader Abdelmalik al-Houthi had appointed his uncle, Abdel-Kareem al-Houthi, as interior minister in Sana’a. Abdel-Kareem is one of the most powerful Houthi figures through his leadership of the movement’s executive office and his close ties with Tehran. He replaced Abdulhakim al-Maori, who died in April in a hospital in Beirut, Lebanon, where he was receiving treatment for a chronic illness, according to media reports.
  • May 17: Saudi Arabia released Mohammed Abdulllah bin Keddah, the former governor of al-Mahra, from house arrest and allowed him to return to the eastern Yemeni governorate following tribal protests in al-Mahra against his detainment.

Economic Developments in Brief

  • Throughout May the Houthi-run Yemen Petroleum Company (YPC) continued to oversee an ongoing demonstration outside the UN compound in Sana’a. The YPC announced the beginning of the protest on March 24 to denounce fuel importation constraints associated with the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) and the Yemeni government’s Decree 75, which went into effect in the last quarter of 2018 and imposed new requirements for traders to be allowed to import fuel.
  • May 6: Butchers in Sana’a went on strike after the Houthi authorities imposed an 8,000 Yemeni rial (YR) tax on calves and a YR 4,000 tax on goats. This came after having already imposed a tax of YR 3,000 per calf and YR 1,000 per goat entering the Sana’a market. The tax increase came during Ramadan, typically a period of higher food consumption. he strike ended three days after the Houthi authorities repealed the taxation.
  • May 11: Government of Yemen Minister of Oil and Minerals Aws al-Oud announced that the government is focused on completing a number of energy projects, particularly the construction of a pipeline that will connect Block 18 in Marib governorate to west Aayad in Shabwa governorate before being sent to Nashima port, which is located near Belhaf.[57] The planned pipeline is viewed as a means of enabling the Government of Yemen to export oil from Marib via Shabwa, with the Marib-Ras Issa pipeline offline and Ras Issa under Houthi control. Al-Oud said the project would be completed in the next five-to-six months, although it is unclear what security measures are in place to ensure the safe transportation of crude oil from Marib to Shabwa.
  • May 14: The Houthi-controlled Ministry of Education in Sana’a criticized UNICEF for cutting the cash distributions to teachers without consulting the ministry. UNICEF in March started paying teachers US$50 monthly, in local currency, to encourage them to continue working in the absence of regular salaries. Sana’a Center sources indicated that UNICEF had uncovered that Houthi authorities in the education ministry had been diverting large amounts of the aid intended for teachers.
  • May 15: Aden Refinery Company (ARC) announced a new tender for the provision of fuel for electricity power generation in Aden on May 15.[58] The terms and conditions stipulated that applicants must be able to deliver 40 tons of diesel and 30 tons of mazut with all applications to be submitted within six-days of the announcement of calls for applications.

 

Shoppers fill the streets in Aden’s Crater Market on May 24, 2019 // Photo Credit: Tarek Mostafa

International Developments

In the United States

Amid Escalation with Iran, Trump Administration Expedites Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE

On May 24, the Trump administration used an emergency powers provision to push through weapons sales worth billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, citing the threat posed by Iran and its regional proxy forces. A memorandum justifying the move focused primarily on the Houthis, their alleged links with Iran, and cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia.[59] In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the move a “one-time event” intended to “deter Iranian aggression.”[60] Congress can introduce legislation to block or modify foreign arms sales up until the point of delivery. However, a provision in the Arms Export Control Act allows the executive branch to waive the required review period if an “emergency exists” which requires the timely sanctioning of sales “in the national security interests of the United States.”[61]

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the administration had failed to clearly identify an emergency threat or explain how the weapons would combat this threat.[62] He added that bipartisan efforts were underway to counter the administration’s move. There were also voices of dissent within Trump’s party; Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that he opposed the arms sales, citing the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.[63]

The White House announcement came amid escalating tensions between the US and Iran and followed a spate of Houthi cross-border attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia, which Riyadh claimed were ordered by Iran (see ‘Houthis Attack Saudi Pipeline’). Pompeo said the waiver would allow the completion of 22 pending sales to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan – worth an estimated $8.1 billion in total. This includes $2 billion worth of proposed sales of precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia held up for over a year by Senator Menendez. Menendez maintains that the Trump administration has not provided adequate information to allay bipartisan concerns about whether the weapons would be used to kill Yemeni civilians, or that they would be used as an effective means to counter Iran’s role in Yemen.

Senate Upholds Veto on Resolution Demanding End to Coalition Military Support

On May 2, the US Senate upheld President Donald Trump’s veto of a bipartisan resolution to end military assistance to the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen.[64] The 53 to 45 vote failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. While one of the resolution’s sponsors called on the House of Representatives leadership to pursue a lawsuit at the Supreme Court, the court’s conservative majority would make chances of success slim (for more information on the presidential veto, see: The Yemen Review, April 2019).

Washington Appoints New Ambassador to Yemen

On May 18, the new US Ambassador to Yemen Christopher Henzel arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to take up his duties. US embassy staff to Yemen are currently based both in Riyadh and Amman. Henzel was previously the chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Riyadh. He replaced Matthew Tueller, who had served as the ambassador to Yemen since May 2014 and who will now be the new US ambassador to Iraq.

 

In Europe

France Calls for End of Yemen War, Cracks Down on Journalists Over Yemen Leaks

On May 28, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian labeled the Yemen conflict a “dirty war” and called on Saudi Arabia and the UAE to end it. He added that “we must be extremely vigilant with arms sales to these two countries,” which Le Drian said France was being.

Meanwhile, French journalists were facing possible jail sentences in May after refusing to answer questions from French anti-terror police over their April report on the widespread use of French-made weapons in the war in Yemen.[65]  The journalists published classified military documents on the website Disclose which contradicted the French government narrative that French arms were only being used by the Saudi-led military coalition for “defensive” purposes (for more information, see The Yemen Review: April 2019).

On May 15 and 16, France’s domestic intelligence service the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) summoned the cofounders of Disclose, Geoffrey Livolsi and Mathias Destal, and Radio France reporter Benoit Collomba, to a hearing to discuss the leaks, but the journalists refused to reveal information about their sources or work. After opening an investigation into the incident on national security grounds last month, the DGSI accused the journalists of handling classified documents without authorization and “compromising the secrecy of national defense,” which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Human rights groups have condemned the French government’s actions as “an unacceptable attack on press freedom and the protection of journalists’ sources.”[66]

Belgian Foreign Minister Calls to Suspend Saudi Arms Sales

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said in May that Brussels must move to suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia after an investigation claimed that the Saudi military used Belgian-made weapons and technology in operations in Yemen.[67] The investigation, led by NGO #BelgianArms, included two videos from 2016 and 2017 which it said showed Saudi national guards troops bombarding Houthi positions with tanks equipped with cannons and munitions produced by Belgian arms producer Mecar. The investigation also said that FN F2000 assault rifles were being used in Yemen, made by Belgian firearms manufacturer FN-Herstal.[68] In February, Amnesty International also documented the use of FN-Herstal manufactured Minimi machine guns by the Emirati-backed Giants Brigade during the 2018 offensive in Hudaydah governorate.[69]

The Belgian constitution vests authority to grant arm export licenses to the producer region. Belgium’s Walloon regional government has previously said that weapons sold to Saudi Arabia were intended only for domestic use. Wallonia had placed an embargo on new export licenses to Saudi Arabia following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018. However, #BelgianArms reported that Belgian-made weapons were still being exported to Riyadh under licenses granted before the embargo, with at least three weapon shipments sent from Antwerp to Saudi Arabia since the decision.

Italian Union Workers Protest Yemen War

On May 20, union workers in the Italian city of Genoa refused to load generators onto a Saudi ship that was also transporting arms in protest against the conflict in Yemen. Italian union leaders expressed concern that the generators could be used for military purposes and said they would not “be complicit in what is happening in Yemen.”[70] Earlier in May the Saudi vessel had picked up weapons in Antwerp, Belgium, before docking in Le Havre, France where protesters prevented the loading of further arms. The ship’s final destination was Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

 


This report was prepared by (in alphabetical order): Ali Abdullah, Waleed Alhariri, Ryan Bailey, Anthony Biswell, Hamza al-Hamadi, Gregory Johnsen, Maged al-Madhaji, Spencer Osberg, Hannah Patchett, Ghaidaa al-Rashidy, Sala al-Sakkaf, Victoria K. Sauer, Holly Topham, and Aisha al-Warraq.  


The Yemen Review – formerly known as Yemen at the UN – is a monthly publication produced by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies. Launched in June 2016, it aims to identify and assess current diplomatic, economic, political, military, security, humanitarian and human rights developments related to Yemen.  

In producing The Yemen Review, Sana’a Center staff throughout Yemen and around the world gather information, conduct research, and hold private meetings with local, regional, and international stakeholders in order to analyze domestic and international developments regarding Yemen.

This monthly series is designed to provide readers with contextualized insight into the country’s most important ongoing issues.


Endnotes

  1. ‘Dystopia’, a noun meaning an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. The opposite of utopia.
  2.  Mohammed Ali al-Houthi (@Moh_Alhouthi), April 21, 2019 https://twitter.com/Moh_Alhouthi/status/1120092336208404482. Accessed May 28, 2019.
  3.  Ibid.
  4.  Mohammed Ali al-Houthi (@Moh_Alhouthi), April 30, 2019 https://twitter.com/Moh_Alhouthi/status/1123309142305845249. Accessed May 28, 2019.
  5.  “Full Text of the Stockholm Agreement,” Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen,” December 13, 2018, https://osesgy.unmissions.org/full-text-stockholm-agreement. Accessed May 23, 2019.
  6.  “Note to correspondents: Statement from UN Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement,” UN Secretary General, May 10, 2019, https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/note-correspondents/2019-05-10/note-correspondents-statement-un-mission-support-the-hudaydah-agreement-scroll-down-for-arabic-version. Accessed June 1, 2019.
  7. “Statement by the Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee,” United Nations. May 14, 2019, https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/note-correspondents/2019-05-14/note-correspondents-statement-the-chair-of-the-redeployment-coordination-committee-scroll-down-for-arabic Accessed May 24, 2019.
  8.  “Briefing of Martin Griffiths, UN Special Envoy for Yemen, to the Security Council,” United Nations, May 15, 2019, https://osesgy.unmissions.org/briefing-martin-griffiths-un-special-envoy-yemen-security-council-1 . Accessed May 24, 2019.
  9.  “The Position of the Yemeni Government on the withdrawal of the Houthis from the ports of Hodeidah, Salif, and Ras Issa,” Letter to the President of the Security Council from the Permanent Representative of Yemen to the United Nations, May 13, 2019. https://undocs.org/pdf?symbol=en/S/2019/386. Accessed June 5, 2019.
  10.  “The Position of the Yemeni Government on the withdrawal of the Houthis from the ports of Hodeidah, Salif, and Ras Issa,” Letter to the President of the Security Council from the Permanent Representative of Yemen to the United Nations, May 13, 2019.
  11.  Mina Aldroubi, “Yemen Parliament snubs UN over Hodeidah Deal,” May 22, 2019,https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/yemen-parliament-snubs-un-over-hodeidah-deal-1.864830. Accessed May 24, 2019.
  12.  “Press briefing by Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard, Head of the UN Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA),” United Nations, May 15, 2019, http://webtv.un.org/watch/press-briefing-by-lieutenant-general-michael-lollesgaard-head-of-the-un-mission-to-support-the-hudaydah-agreement-unmha/6037265939001/. Accessed May 27, 2019.
  13. Ibid.
  14.  Ibid.
  15. Ali Rabih, “Yemen’s Legitimacy Accuses Houthis, UN Envoy Office of Thwarting Jordan Meetings,” Asharq al-Awsat, May 17, 2019, https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1726706/yemens-legitimacy-accuses-houthis-un-envoy-office-thwarting-jordan-meetings. Accessed May 27, 2019.
  16.  Mina Aldroubi, “Yemen Parliament snubs UN over Hodeidah Deal,” May 22, 2019, https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/yemen-parliament-snubs-un-over-hodeidah-deal-1.864830. Accessed May 24, 2019.
  17. ”Briefing of Martin Griffiths, UN Special Envoy for Yemen, to the Security Council,” United Nations, May 15, 2019, https://osesgy.unmissions.org/briefing-martin-griffiths-un-special-envoy-yemen-security-council-1 . Accessed May 24, 2019.
  18.  Ibid.
  19.  “The implementation of a major military operation against Saudi targets,” تنفيذ عملية عسكرية كبرى ضد أهداف سعودية, Al-Masirah, May 14, 2019, https://www.almasirah.net/details.php?es_id=39684&cat_id=3&fbclid=IwAR0Gj2TG-x_gCib2AFiwDxjS0iMb6CKALMuJcFA0D8eywAm8ISpkpx9eNsY. Accessed May 31, 2019.
  20.  “Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources announced that two pumping stations for the East-West pipeline were targeted by a terrorist attack,” عام / وزير الطاقة والصناعة والثروة المعدنية يعلن استهداف محطتي ضخ لخط أنابيب ” شرق ـ غرب ” بهجوم إرهابي ، ويؤكد أن هذه الأعمال التخريبية تستهدف إمدادات النفط للعالم, Saudi Press Agency, May 14, 2019. https://www.spa.gov.sa/1923805 Accessed May 31, 2019.
  21.  “Saudi Arabia says its oil pipeline was hit by drones,” The Associated Press, May 15, 2019. https://www.apnews.com/63d729241e0645539dad32f57de7bc95. Accessed May 31, 2019.
  22.  Khalid bin Salman Twitter post, May 16, 2019. https://twitter.com/kbsalsaud/status/1128948695230287872. Accessed May 31, 2019.
  23.  “Iran denies ties to Houthi drone attack on Saudi oil installations,” Reuters, May 17, 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-iran-denies/iran-denies-ties-to-houthi-drone-attack-on-saudi-oil-installations-idUSKCN1SN1S9. Accessed May 31, 2019.
  24.  “Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of ordering drone attack on oil pipeline,” Reuters, May 16, 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-iran/saudi-arabia-accuses-iran-of-ordering-drone-attack-on-oil-pipeline-idUSKCN1SM0WJ. Accessed May 31, 2019
  25.  “Abdulsalam: Targeting Aramco a New Phase of Economic Deterrence,” Al-Masirah, May 15, 2019. http://english.almasirah.net/details.php?es_id=6914&cat_id=1. Accessed May 31, 2019
  26.  “Houthi leader says drone attacks a response to spurned Yemen peace moves,” Reuters, May 26, 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-houthis/houthi-leader-says-drone-attacks-a-response-to-spurned-yemen-peace-moves-idUSKCN1SW0S1. Accessed May 31, 2019
  27.  “Saudi Arabia says it intercepted Houthi missiles in Mecca province,” Reuters, May 20, 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-security-houthi/saudi-arabia-says-it-intercepted-houthi-missiles-in-mecca-province-idUSKCN1SQ23D. Accessed May 31, 2019
  28.  Yahea Sarea Facebook post, May 20, 2019, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=603297266819214&id=100014168372521.
  29.  “Yemen’s Houthis say they attacked Saudi’s Najran airport by drone,” Reuters, May 23, 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-saudi-drone/yemens-houthis-say-they-attacked-saudis-najran-airport-by-drone-idUSKCN1ST1HJ. Accessed May 31, 2019
  30.  Saudi Press Agency Twitter post, May 26, 2019. https://twitter.com/spagov/status/1132673414064427009. Accessed May 31, 2019
  31.  “Sabotage incident targeted Saudi Aramco facility,” Saudi Aramco, May 14, 2019, https://www.saudiaramco.com/en/news-media/news/2019/sabotage-incident-targeted-saudi-aramco-facility. Accessed June 2, 2019.
  32.  “INTERTANKO/OCIMF maritime security update on Fujairah attacks,” Oil Companies International Marine Forum, May 31, 2019, https://www.ocimf.org/news/press-releases/intertankoocimf-maritime-security-update-on-fujairah-attacks.aspx. Accessed May 31, 2019
  33.  “MSCI Advisory: 2019-006-Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, Bab-el-Mandeb, and Red Sea-Threats to U.S. Interests from Iran,” United States Maritime Administration, May 11, 2019. https://www.maritime.dot.gov/content/2019-006-persian-gulf-strait-hormuz-gulf-oman-arabian-sea-gulf-aden-bab-el-mandeb-and-red. Accessed May 31, 2019
  34.  “Saudi King calls Gulf, Arab summits in Mecca on May 30”, Al Arabiya English Sunday, 19 May 2019, https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2019/05/19/Saudi-King-calls-emergency-meet-of-Gulf-Arab-leaders.html. Accessed June 5, 2019.
  35.  Marwa Rashad, Aziz El Yaakoubi, “Saudi Arabia says firm stand needed to deter Iran, Iraq demurs”, Reuters, May 30, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-summit/saudi-arabia-says-firm-arab-stand-needed-to-deter-iran-idUSKCN1T00OC. Accessed June 5, 2019.
  36.  “Qatar expresses reservations over Mecca summit outcome”, Al Jazeera English, June 3, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/06/qatar-expresses-reservations-mecca-summit-outcome-190602192326096.html. Accessed June 5, 2019.
  37.  “Coalition bombing militia positions north of Al-Dhalea,” التحالف يقصف مواقع الميليشيات شمال الضالع, Yafa News, May 28, 2019. http://yafa-news.net/archives/390362. Accessed May 31, 2019
  38.  “Marib .. Coalition fighters targeting Houthi communities in Sarawah,” مأرب.. مقاتلات التحالف تستهدف تجمعات حوثية في صرواح,
  39.  “Coalition fighters target a Houthi training camp in Hajjah,” مقاتلات التحالف تستهدف معسكر تدريبي للحوثيين في حجة, Barakish Net, May 14, 2019. http://www.barakish.net/news02.aspx?cat=12&sub=23&id=679849. Accessed May 31, 2019
  40.  “Coalition targets Houthi strongholds in Sa’ada” مقاتلات #التحالف تستهدف معاقل #الحوثي في #صعدة, Aden Lang, May 8, 2019. https://adnlng.info/news/117500/
  41.  “Alliance talks about the implementation of a qualitative operation in Sana’a,” التحالف يتحدث عن تنفيذ عملية نوعية بـ«صنعاء», Mareb Press, May 2, 2019. https://marebpress.net/news_details.php?lang=arabic&sid=150703. Accessed May 31, 2019
  42.  “”Alliance starts specific targeting operations of Houthi military sites,” Al-Bayan, May 17, 2019. https://www.albayan.ae/one-world/arabs/2019-05-17-1.3562358. Accessed May 31, 2019
  43.  “Deadly Yemen airstrikes that claim children’s lives in capital Sana’a, strongly condemned by UN,” UN News, May 17, 2019. https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/05/1038651. Accessed May 31, 2019
  44.  “Confrontations are the most violent in Qa’atabah north of Al-Dalea, the loss of civilian casualties and the mass exodus of the population,” مواجهات هي الأعنف في قعطبة شمال الضالع وسقوط ضحايا مدنيين ونزوح جماعي للسكان, Al-Masdar, May 11, 2019. https://almasdaronline.com/articles/167483. Accessed May 31, 2019
  45.  “Forces loyal to Yemeni President: We were prevented from fighting the Houthis in the south,” قوات موالية للرئيس اليمني: تم منعنا من قتال الحوثيين جنوبا. Arabi 21, May 8, 2019. https://m.arabi21.com/story/1179388. Accessed May 31, 2019
  46.  “BG Al-Awlaki: Security Belt forces foil Houthi advance toward Al-Dalea,” Aden Press, April 6, 2019. http://en.adenpress.news/news/2901. Accessed May 31, 2019
  47.  “Expanded meeting of the leaders of the southern resistance: Text of the speech of Aidrous Al- Zubaidi in the meeting,” Al Baud 4, May 19, 2019. http://albaud4.net/news/5907. Accessed May 31, 2019
  48.  “Taiz Commander confirms continuing military operations for liberating the province,” Yemen National Military Website (YNMW), May 26, 2019. http://en.26sepnews.net/2019/05/26/taiz-commander-confirms-continuing-military-operations-for-liberating-the-province/. Accessed May 31, 2019
  49. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues,” United Nations Human Rights Council Thirty-First Session, January 28, 2016. Available at http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/31/56. Accessed June 4, 2019
  50. “World Food Programme to consider suspension of aid in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen” Reliefweb, May 20, 2019, https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/world-food-programme-consider-suspension-aid-houthi-controlled-areas-yemen.Accessed May 28, 2019.
  51. “‘Stealing’ food from hungry Yemenis ‘must stop immediately’, says UN agency,” UN News, December 31, 2018, https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/12/1029542. Accessed May 31, 2019; Maggie Michael, “AP Investigation: Food aid stolen as Yemen starves,” The Associated Press, December 31, 2018, https://www.apnews.com/bcf4e7595b554029bcd372cb129c49ab. Accessed May 31, 2019.
  52.  “Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Yemen,” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, May 15, 2019, https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/under-secretary-general-humanitarian-affairs-and-emergency-relief-coordinator-mark-18 Accessed May 27,, 2019.
  53.  “Key Yemen grain silos come under fire: UN” France 24, May 10, 2019, https://www.france24.com/en/20190510-key-yemen-grain-silos-come-under-fire-un. Accessed May 28, 2019
  54.  Infested Yemen food aid needs fumigation to feed millions: WFP,” France 24, March 20, 2019, https://www.france24.com/en/20190320-infested-yemen-food-aid-needs-fumigation-feed-millions-wfp. Accessed May 31, 2019.
  55.  “UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore addresses the UN Security Council on Yemen in New York,” UNICEF, May 15, 2019, https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/unicef-executive-director-henrietta-fore-addresses-un-security-council-yemen-new. Accessed May 27, 2019.
  56.  “UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore addresses the UN Security Council on Yemen in New York,” UNICEF, May 15, 2019, https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/unicef-executive-director-henrietta-fore-addresses-un-security-council-yemen-new. Accessed May 27, 2019.
  57.  “Al-Oud Talks About Group of Projects to Implemented this Year to Develop Oil Sector,” Saba Net, May 11, 2019, https://www.sabanew.net/viewstory/49471. Accessed May 28, 2019.
  58.  “Aden Refinery Announces Public Tender to Buy Fuel for Power Stations,” Saba Net, May 15, 2019, https://www.sabanew.net/viewstory/49618. Accessed May 28, 2019.
  59.  “Memorandum Of Justification For Emergency Arms Transfers And Authorizations To The Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, And The Hashemite Kingdom Of Jordan To Deter Iranian Malign Influence,” https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/files/live/sites/almonitor/files/documents/2019/memorandum_justification_emergency_arms_transfers_saudi_uae_jordan.pdf. Accessed May 27, 2019.
  60.  “Emergency Notification of Arms Sales to Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia,” U.S. Department of State, May 24, 2019, https://www.state.gov/emergency-notification-of-arms-sales-to-jordan-the-united-arab-emirates-and-saudi-arabia/. Accessed May 27, 2019.
  61.  See Section 36. “Arms Export Control Act,” https://legcounsel.house.gov/Comps/Arms%20Export%20Control%20Act.pdf. Accessed May 27, 2019.
  62.  “Menendez on Trump Admin’s Decision to Flout Congress’ Role in Approving Arm Sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE,” May 24, 2019, https://www.menendez.senate.gov/news-and-events/press/menendez-on-trump-admins-decision-to-flout-congress-role-in-approving-arm-sales-to-saudi-arabia-uae. Accessed May 27, 2019.
  63.  Chris Mills Rodrigo, “Graham: ‘I’ve got a real problem’ with arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” The Hill, May 26, 2019.
  64.  Patricia Zengerle, “Senate upholds veto of Yemen resolution in victory for Trump Saudi policy,” Reuters, May 2, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-saudi-yemen/senate-upholds-veto-of-yemen-resolution-in-victory-for-trump-saudi-policy-idUSKCN1S81UU. Accessed May 30, 2019; “S.J.Res.7 – A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress,” https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-joint-resolution/7. Accessed May 27, 2019.
  65.  Ryan Gallagher, “France takes unprecedented action against journalists who published secret government document,” The Intercept, May 17, 2019,  https://theintercept.com/2019/05/17/france-takes-unprecedented-action-against-reporters-who-published-secret-government-document/. Accessed May 29, 2019; “Made In France,” Disclose, April 15, 2019, https://made-in-france.disclose.ngo/en/chapter/yemen-papers. Accessed May 29, 2019.
  66.  “Yemen inquiry poses direct threat to press freedoms,” AFP, May 15, 2019, https://www.voanews.com/a/4918664.html. Accessed May 29, 2019.
  67.  “Foreign Minister calls for an end to Belgian weapon exports to Yemen,” VRT NWS, May 10, 2019, https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/en/2019/05/10/foreign-ministers-calls-for-an-end-to-belgian-weapon-exports-to/. Accessed May 29, 2019.
  68.  “Proof that Belgian arms sold to Saudi Arabia are being used in Yemen,” Brussels Times, May 8, 2019. https://www.brusselstimes.com/all-news/business/56362/proof-that-belgian-arms-sold-to-saudi-arabia-are-being-used-in-yemen/. Accessed May 29, 2019.  
  69.  “#Belgianarms needs a parliamentary inquiry,” Amnesty International, May 8, 2019. https://www.amnesty.be/infos/actualites/belgianarms?lang=fr. Accessed May 29, 2019.
  70.  “Italian unions refuse to load Saudi ship in protest over Yemen war,” Reuters, May 20, 2019, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-yemen-security-italy-arms/italy-unions-refuse-to-load-saudi-ship-in-protest-over-yemen-war-idUKKCN1SQ18B. Accessed May 28, 2019.
Game of Parliaments – The Yemen Review, April 2019

Game of Parliaments – The Yemen Review, April 2019

A view of Al Saleh Mosque in Sana’a, inaugurated in November 2008 and named after former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, which Houthi authorities have taken to calling “The People’s Mosque,” on April 26, 2019 // Photo Credit: Asem Alposi 

The Sana’a Center Editorial

Yemen’s Game of Parliaments 

April saw the most powerful monarchy in the world – one with few democratic inclinations of its own – send armed forces and air defenses into its southern neighbor to surround a session of parliament and ensure it proceeded. The session was held in neither Yemen’s capital, nor the government’s interim capital; the members of parliament (MPs) were elected 16 years earlier – so long ago that 39 of them had since passed away; and, despite members being promised 500,000 Saudi riyals each just to attend, the session did not make quorum. But such was the case for legitimacy last month in Sayoun, Hadramawt governorate, where President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi convened the Yemeni government for the first time in four years – before traveling back to his home-in-exile in Riyadh.

Simultaneously, 600 kilometers away in Sana’a, the armed Houthi movement – which deposed Hadi in a 2015 coup with the help of the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, whom they later murdered – was racing to assert its own legitimacy, staging bi-elections to replace 24 of the deceased MPs. The Houthi leadership, since taking control of the capital, has also regularly staged parliamentary meetings lacking quorum. The reality is that while neither of Yemen’s warring sides can rightly claim the constitutional authority to carry out the functions of parliament, their attempts to do so magnify the rupture of parliament as a national institution.

For Hadi, the Sayoun session was a double-edged sword. While it ostensibly demonstrated that he was at the head of a government, reconvening MPs also demonstrated that there is a government beneath him – one which would constitutionally have the right to replace him should the president die or be otherwise unable to fulfill his duties. Put differently: the only real leverage Hadi had over his Saudi patrons was that they needed him, even if only as a figurehead, to legitimize their intervention in Yemen; now, Riyadh has a plausible Plan ‘B’. 

All of this also took place within the context of the Houthi forces’ most significant battlefield gains since the Saudi-led coalition began its intervention in the Yemen conflict in 2015. Advances in al-Dhalea and nearby governorates showed that, after four years on the defensive, Houthi forces still have fight left in them. With December’s United Nations-brokered Stockholm Agreement and the ceasefire around Hudaydah port which it precipitated, the Houthi forces’ greatest battlefield vulnerability was neutralized, and they were free to refocus their efforts elsewhere. The Houthi forces’ gains in April are also forcing the Saudi-led coalition and the Yemeni government to recalibrate and redeploy. This underlines two other apparent issues: (1) it is highly unlikely the Hudaydah ceasefire will translate into a wider peace agreement, and (2) if it was not already painfully obvious after more than four years of attrition, this war is unwinnable.

In considering that, one must weigh that the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has estimated that the conflict will claim the lives of nearly a quarter of a million people in Yemen – due to either hunger or violence – if it continues through 2019. The country has already been pushed back decades in terms of development, and will continue its regression as long as the conflict continues. This begs the question: when this game of parliaments ends, what will be left to govern?


Contents

Developments in Yemen

International Developments

Endnotes


Developments in Yemen

Political Developments

Hadi Government Holds Parliamentary Session Despite Falling Short of Quorum

April saw an escalation on the latest battleground between President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government, the armed Houthi movement and southern separatists: Yemen’s legislative institutions. On April 13, the internationally recognized government opened its first parliamentary session since the beginning of the conflict — the same day that by-elections were held in Houthi areas for vacant parliamentary seats.[1] The meeting also came only two months after the separatist Southern Transitional Council’s (STC) would-be parliament, the Southern National Assembly, held their second session in Mukalla, Hadramawt governorate.[2]

Formal outcomes of the April 13-16 parliamentary session, staged in Sayoun, Hadramawt, were limited to the ratification of the new state budget and the election of a new speaker — Sultan al-Barakani, a veteran figure in the General People’s Congress (GPC) party and former party whip during former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule. MPs also thanked the Saudi-led coalition for its intervention in the Yemen conflict. At the meeting’s conclusion, Barakani adjourned parliament until after Ramadan, which this year runs from early May to early June.

The 301-seat House of Representatives was elected in 2003, with its term extended in 2009 through a deal between former President Saleh and opposition parties, and then again in 2011 by the Gulf Initiative that aimed to resolve Yemen’s political crisis following the Arab Spring uprisings. Thus, the Parliament has not seen a general election in 16 years. In that time 39 seats have been vacated due to the deaths of MPs, with 11 of these seats filled by local by-elections in 2008. This left 273 living MPs who could potentially have attended the April session in Sayoun. According to the Yemeni constitution, parliamentary quorum requires the attendance of at least half of the members plus one – a mark which the Sayoun session failed to meet, with only 118 MPs present. The STC said that the parliamentary session was unconstitutional and those STC members who are also member of the House of Representatives did not attend.




Regardless of the event’s questionable legality, staging it offered the Hadi government an opportunity to assert its continued international recognition and the continuity of parliament as an institution. However, pervasive insecurity in Aden – and southern separatists’ de facto authority there – undermined prospects to convene parliament in Aden – the Yemeni government’s interim capital. Sana’a Center sources also reported that the United Arab Emirates – a member of the regional military coalition intervening in Yemen on behalf of the government, but also a primary backer of the STC – refused to allow the parliament to meet in Aden or Mukalla, its main zones of influence in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, which heads the regional military coalition, provided a heavy security presence for the event. In the evening prior to the opening session Saudi air defenses positioned around Sayoun shot down almost a dozen aerial drones, according to Sana’a Center sources.

On April 30, members of the Yemeni parliament then met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh. At the meeting, the parliamentarians gave bin Salman a letter formally requesting that Riyadh ease the increasing restrictions, fees and deportations it has been imposing on Yemeni workers in the kingdom. More than a million Yemeni expatriates work in Saudi Arabia, collectively sending home billions of dollars annually; however, Saudi policies to nationalize its labor market have in recent years forced tens of thousands of Yemenis to return home.[3]  

Houthis Stage By-Elections

The Houthi authorities – who have regularly held parliamentary sessions in Sana’a with fewer than the legal minimum required attendees – sought to assert their own legitimacy in April by filling the seats of deceased lawmakers. On April 15, the Houthi-controlled Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum (SCER) said that 24 of the vacant seats in Houthi-controlled areas had been filled, and the new lawmakers were sworn in on April 17. The four remaining vacant parliamentary seats are in territories controlled by anti-Houthi forces. Both the Hadi government and the Houthi leadership denounced the parliamentary moves of the other as illegal.

 

Military and Security Developments

Houthis Forces Make Largest Territorial Advances Since 2015

While the UN-brokered ceasefire generally held in Hudaydah City, frontlines in other areas saw increased hostilities in April. Al-Dhalea governorate – situated in Yemen’s southwest – saw some of the most intense fighting, as well as neighboring governorates of Abyan, Lahj and al-Bayda. Major escalations took place in al-Dhalea’s northern and western areas bordering the governorates of Ibb and Taiz, respectively, where Houthi forces made gains in Qa’ataba and Hasha districts. Houthi forces also claimed to have taken control of Dhi Na’im district in neighboring al-Bayda governorate. Given their strategic location between Sana’a and Aden, al-Dhalea and al-Bayda act as a gateway between Yemen’s northern and southern governorates. Houthi forces made headway into areas historically seen as part of southern Yemen, giving additional symbolic value to these territorial gains.



In al-Dhalea, fighting has been centered on the mountainous areas of al-Oud — strategically located along the border between al-Dhalea and Ibb and only sparsely populated by remote villages with minimal road access.[4] Yemeni media outlets reported that the Houthi advance was bolstered by support from local tribal leaders and high-level defections within anti-Houthi forces.[5] Houthi forces were largely pushed out of al-Dhalea in 2015, though they maintained a foothold in parts of the northern Damt and Qa’ataba districts.

Toward the end of the month, fighting picked up in al-Dhalea’s western Hasha district. After making rapid advances in the preceding days, on April 24 Houthi forces reportedly took control of the Dhawran area in the center of Hasha.[6] In the last days of April, Houthi forces were in the process of pushing eastwards from Hasha into al-Azariq district.

Houthi forces also made advances in neighboring al-Bayda governorate, taking control of Dhi Na’im district on April 20.[7] Al-Bayda’s local police chief, Brigadier General Ahmed Ali Mohammed al-Humiqani, resigned shortly after, citing the “neglect” of the governorate by the Hadi government and the Saudi-led military coalition in the face of Houthi advances.[8] By the end of the month the increased violence had severed most road networks between northern and southern areas, posing severe risks for both humanitarian operations and the commercial distribution of goods (see ‘Fighting Severs North-South Access Roads, Threatens Aid Operations’ and ‘Severe Shortage of Basic Commodities Imminent’).

Coalition Deploys Reinforcements, Tariq Saleh Given Expanded Role

The Yemeni armed forces and pro-government media reported that coalition airstrikes targeted Houthi positions in northern al-Dhalea, as well as Houthi reinforcements in Ibb and Dhamar, which were reported to be on their way to the frontlines.[9] Anti-Houthi reinforcements also arrived from other governorates; on April 7, the Aden al-Ghad news outlet quoted military sources as saying that forces affiliated with Tariq Saleh’s Republican Guard deployed to the Murays area of Qa’ataba, from their base in Mokha, Taiz.[10]

According to Sana’a Center sources, for several weeks in April, Saleh was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman, and Prince Fahd bin Turki, commander of the coalition joint forces. The same sources said that coalition leaders have become frustrated with anti-Houthi forces’ lack of progress and aim to transfer greater military responsibilities to Saleh, including the responsibility for the entire western Tihama coast.

Anti-Houthi Forces in Hajjah Push South

In Hajjah governorate on Yemen’s northwestern coast, anti-Houthi forces continued their offensive in Abs district, where ground forces are pushing south in the direction of Hudaydah governorate. Fighting in early April was concentrated in the Bani Hassan area, where UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said 100,000 people were displaced due to the violence.[11]Further north in Hajjah, there was fighting around Nar mountain, close to the Saudi border, and in the Ahem Triangle area. These locations lie northeast and south of the Houthi-controlled Haradh city, respectively, which anti-Houthi forces are attempting to encircle.

Saudi Air Force Bombs Checkpoint in al-Mahra

On April 18, Saudi Apache attack helicopters bombed Labib checkpoint, on the western border of al-Mahra governorate in eastern Yemen. The region, which borders Oman, has to date been isolated from the conflict against Houthi forces that is raging in the country’s western areas. There have, however, been recurring tensions in al-Mahra regarding a growing Saudi military presence in the governorate, which many locals view as an attempt by Riyadh to secure the area for the building of an oil pipeline and to gain greater influence in the region, which borders both Oman and the Gulf of Aden.[12]

Local media reported that the airstrikes on the checkpoint came after the convoy of Governor Rajih Bakrit, who is Saudi-allied, was engaged in a firefight with local tribesmen manning the position.[13] This was the first time the Saudi Air Force has been employed in Riyadh’s dispute with locals in al-Mahra, and as such represents a significant escalation of the situation. Days later, reports emerged that Riyadh was pressuring the Yemeni government to issue an official decree to replace local forces at Labib checkpoint with a Saudi-allied militia, spurring local tribesmen to send reinforcements to buttress the checkpoint.[14]   

 

Economic Developments

Warring Parties’ Economic Conflict Spurs Fuel Shortages in Northern Yemen

In April, Houthi-controlled areas experienced widespread fuel shortages. The average black market fuel price more than doubled, with 20 liters of gasoline increasing from YR 7,400 to YR 16,000 between April 1 and April 25. The fuel crisis resulted from a drop in deliveries to the Red Sea port of Hudaydah, which began in March though existing stocks delayed the market impact until April. At various points in April there were a dozen or more tanker vessels moored offshore waiting to offload fuel, with Houthi authorities and the Government of Yemen’s Economic Committee trading blame as to why the ships remained idle.

At the heart of the issue was the ongoing struggle between the warring parties over the regulation of imports and control of the country’s currency stocks. Since the Yemeni government’s Decree 75 came into effect in October 2018, the Economic Committee has increasingly sought to regulate fuel imports, with fuel importers’ previously unregulated demand for foreign currency being seen by many as the primary cause of the domestic currency’s past instability.[15]

Under Decree 75, all fuel importers must apply to the Economic Committee to qualify to import fuel, with the committee’s decisions in this regard enforced by the Saudi-led coalition’s naval forces. Among the requirements is that traders must provide three years of bank statements to qualify to import fuel – a clause that has disqualified many Houthi-aligned traders who are new to the market. Importers must also document how they intend to finance the delivery and pay the exporter. Houthi authorities retaliated by threatening the country’s major bankers and traders – most of whom are based in Sana’a – not to work with the Economic Committee.

Until the end of March 2019, the central bank in Aden was offering foreign currency funds to only a limited number of fuel importers, though all traders were free to import fuel if they met the Economic Committee’s requirements. On April 2, the CBY in Aden adopted a unified mechanism for importing fuel. Under this mechanism, all fuel importers must purchase foreign currency from the central bank in Aden – via deposits at select commercial banks which would then be transferred to the Aden central bank – in order to obtain the importation license. While this would help ease downward pressure on the Yemeni rial in the local currency market, it would also draw large amounts of cash out of Houthi-controlled areas and magnify the cash liquidity crisis there.

Anticipating this move, in March the Houthi authorities began pressuring importers in areas under their control to place orders for fuel without applying to the Economic Committee for a license. The result was that in April numerous tankers carrying fuel arrived in the Red Sea, passed the through the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) in Djibouti – which inspects all ships entering Hudaydah port – but were then denied permission from the Saudi-led coalition to dock and offload.    

On April 15, the Economic Committee posted a chart online listing 12 vessels carrying an estimated total of 68,600 tons of petrol and 153,000 tons of diesel destined for Yemen.[16] According to the chart, at that time only one ship, belonging to the World Food Programme, had been granted approval to dock and offload fuel by the Economic Committee. The Economic Committee said that eight additional vessels would be granted approval if the importers submitted their applications.[17] The fuel crisis in northern Yemen only began to recede on April 25, with the importers having submitted their applications, which the Economic Committee approved, and the tankers were allowed to dock, with the Houthi authorities’ acquiescence. As of April 30, however, at least nine tanker ships remained idle in the Red Sea; these were divided between vessels for which the importer had not submitted an application to the Economic Committee, and those that had and were approved but the Houthi authorities were barring from offloading.  



Fuel Crisis Becomes Political Football Between Warring Parties

Over the course of April, the coverage of different pro-government and pro-Houthi sources on Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms highlighted how the fuel crisis was heavily politicized. There was a feverous exchange of visuals and infographics that were designed to cast blame for the crisis on their political opponents.

The Yemeni government claimed the Houthis were responsible for the crisis through pressuring fuel importers to stop submitting fuel import applications to the Economic Committee, and encouraging certain fuel importers to send fuel shipments to Yemen despite the fact that they were unlikely to obtain authorization from the Economic Committee. The Houthis meanwhile framed the crisis as being a symptom of the Yemeni government’s actions, and specifically the implementation of Decree 75.

Severe Shortage of Basic Commodities Imminent

On April 15, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned that commercial food imports into Yemen through Hudaydah and Saleef ports were down 40 percent during the first three months of 2019 compared to the last quarter of 2018, in a briefing to the Security Council.[18]

Prominent Yemeni food importers told the Sana’a Center in April that a severe shortage of basic commodities was likely to begin in June. Many importers have ceased new orders because of the central bank in Aden’s requirement that importers must purchase letters of credit using Yemeni rial banknotes, and Houthi authorities’ ban on commercial banks transferring cash liquidity from Sana’a to Aden. The importers said that once current commodities stocks are exhausted, shortages will ensue.

The importers also said that the closure of most roads between Sana’a and Aden due to an escalation in fighting (see ‘Houthis Forces Make Largest Territorial Advances Since 2015’) would severely disrupt commercial deliveries and operations. Most of Yemen’s manufacturing capacity is located in Houthi-controlled areas, while currently only Aden port can receive containerized cargo (Hudaydah and nearby ports can currently only receive bulk cargo). A prolonged closure of the roads would lead to a shortage of imports for many factories in the north, while finished products would be unable to reach the south.

Aid Recipients Still Losing Out to Currency Arbitrage

On March 10, UNICEF announced that it would pay US$50 monthly, in local currency, to 136,000 teachers and school staff to help keep classes for children running. The Sana’a Center has since learned that the UN exchanged its foreign currency at a rate of YR 480 per US$1, at a time when the market exchange rate was YR 580 per US$1, meaning the Yemeni banks performing the exchange — Alkuraimi Bank for Islamic Microfinance and Al Amal Microfinance Bank — profited YR 100 per US$1 exchanged. As the Sana’a Center has previously reported, Yemeni banks have regularly profited from currency arbitrage when handling funds from international organizations entering the country, at the expense of aid recipients.[19]

Houthi Authorities Attempt an Electronic Rial Payment System, Again  

The Houthi authorities have been suffering from a liquidity shortage in local currency banknotes since the Yemeni government fragmented the central bank management between Sana’a and Aden in September 2016.[20] Two currency-related factors have contributed to the intensifying liquidity crisis in Houthi-controlled areas: the Houthi authorities’ consistent refusal to allow the circulation of new banknotes printed by the central bank in Aden, and their inability to replenish physical currency banknotes – meaning bills printed prior to September 2016, many of which are damaged and would otherwise be replaced, are still in circulation.

In an attempt to address the liquidity crisis and ensure partial salary payments to public servants working in areas under its control, the Houthi authorities’ so-called ‘National Salvation Government’ in Sana’a began implementing an electronic rial system at the end of April. The Houthi-run Yemen Petroleum Company (YPC) was selected for the initial trial of this system after other public institutions – including the Yemeni Telecommunications Corporation – outright refused to receive salary payments via the electronic system. The YPC employees’ syndicate organized large demonstrations against adopting the new payment system, leading Houthi authorities to imprison three syndicate members. (As of writing, it is not clear whether the system would be implemented.)

In March 2018, the Houthi authorities launched a pilot program for an electronic rial system.[21] The Sana’a Center Economic Unit’s analysis is that attempts to electronically replace domestic currency banknotes will create pressure on the local currency through increased demand for imported commodities. This will quickly lead to a price disparity in the market where vendors will charge one price in exchange for physical banknotes and another for electronic rials. A similar price disparity was observed when Houthi authorities attempted a voucher payment system in April 2017.[22]

Central Bank in Aden Offers Commercial Banks Preferential Exchange Rate

On April 22, the central bank in Aden announced that it would – in exchange for physical domestic banknotes – sell Yemeni commercial and Islamic banks foreign currency at a rate of YR506 per US$1, or the current market rate if the rate was lower than YR506-US$1.[23] As part of this new incentive, the central bank in Aden is also offering to facilitate foreign currency deposits to the accounts that Yemeni banks hold with correspondent banks abroad, to help underwrite the letters of credit and financial transfers for fuel, food and medicine imports.

As with other efforts the Aden central bank and Economic Committee are making to supply the market with foreign currency, while this move will help ease downward pressure on the Yemeni rial it will also draw physical currency out of Houthi-controlled areas and magnify the liquidity crisis there.

The government’s new banking policy was likely introduced in response to steps the Houthi authorities took in March to ban Yemeni banks from opening letters of credit with the central bank in Aden for food and medicine importers headquartered in Houthi-controlled areas.[24] These are among the measures the government and the Houthi authorities have recently taken – new, divergent and conflicting regulations – that make it difficult for Yemeni banks to operate.

Other Economic Developments in Brief

  • April 6: As part of an annual series of meetings, a Yemeni government delegation traveled to Washington, D.C. for a 10-day trip to meet with officials from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the US Treasury Department and US State Department.[25] The delegation, which was mainly comprised of senior representatives of the Central Bank in Aden, notably included the banks’s governor Hafedh Mayad and Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Najeeb al-Awj.
  • April 12: The central bank in Aden announced that flour would be added to the list of essential commodities for which the bank will issue letters of credit, financed by the US$2 billion deposit Saudi Arabia made in January 2018.[26]
  • April 24: The central bank in Aden announced the arrival of the first financial transfer from the Saudi government as part of the agreement reached on March 31.[27] The agreement stipulates that Riyadh will direct foreign funds it is transferring into Yemen – both payments to local stakeholders and financial assistance for the Yemeni government’s military and civilian budgets – through the Central Bank in Aden. According to a banking source close to the developments, the total amount of the Saudi transfers is an estimated $120 million per month.[28]
  • April 27: Yemen’s Development Champions – a group of prominent Yemeni business people and economic experts – held their fifth forum in Amman, organized by the Sana’a Center and partner organizations.[29] Over three days, the Champions discussed mechanisms to restructure public finances and  secure the return of Yemeni capital post-conflict.
  • April 28: Houthi leader Abdelmalik al-Houthi met with heads of banks and financial institutions in Yemen to discuss ways to increase state revenues, specifically through Zakat and taxation, according to sources who attended the meeting and spoke to Sana’a Center.[30] Bankers also raised concerns that prospective Houthi plans to confiscate the assets and accounts of political rivals from the banks would be deeply problematic for them, to which al-Houthi responded that he would explore an asset freeze instead.  

 

Humanitarian and Human Rights Developments

UNDP: Conflict Responsible For 233,000 Deaths

The conflict in Yemen will have claimed 233,000 lives by the end of 2019, either by fighting or through lack of access to food, health services and infrastructure, according to a study commissioned by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).[31] Sixty percent of these deaths will be children under five. (An April 23 report from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project stated that fighting alone had killed more than 70,000 people since 2016.[32])

The report examines the impact of the conflict on Yemen’s development. It finds that the war has already reversed Yemen’s development gains by 26 years: if the conflict continues until 2030, it will set back Yemen’s development by nearly four decades. Child mortality has risen from 46.3 deaths per 1,000 births in 2014 to 69.6 in 2019; this figure could reach 136.6 in 2030 if the conflict is not resolved. The percentage of people in extreme poverty has nearly tripled during the conflict, from 18.8 percent in 2014 to 58.3 percent in 2019. The report estimates that if the war continues until 2022, it will cost 482,000 lives; this figure is projected to rise to 1.8 million should the conflict persist until 2030. Meanwhile, Yemen has lost US$89 billion in economic output from the conflict, and the GDP per capita (at purchasing power parity) has sunk by US$2,000 during the war. If the conflict continues, lost economic output will rise to $US181 billion by 2022 and to US$657 billion by 2030, the study forecasts.

The study also offers a projection of a counterfactual scenario in which the conflict did not happen. In 2014, half the population of Yemen lived in poverty and the country was struggling with food insecurity and poor infrastructure; Yemen was unlikely to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 even in the absence of conflict. But the country was steadily improving. The conflict — which the UNDP describes as a “war on children” — has decimated a generation, reversing development gains for those who survive. The impact of the conflict will last far beyond 2030, the report notes; as well as the damage to infrastructure, many of those who survive the conflict will have suffered stunted growth, which can lead to lower educational achievements and lost wages.

Fighting Severs North-South Access Roads, Threatens Aid Operations

Increased fighting, damage to infrastructure and intensified security concerns have threatened the humanitarian response in al-Dhalea and potentially other governorates further north. On April 22, pro-government media outlets reported that Houthi forces detonated explosives on al-Watif Bridge in al-Dhalea’s Qa’ataba district, which connects Ibb and al-Dhalea.[33] The bridge lies on one of the roads connecting Aden to Sana’a and was the only main north-south route still generally accessible. Alternative routes were often largely impassable. The Sana’a Center was shown video of one instance at al-Khla mountain in Yafa’a district, Lahj governorate, where a line of hundreds of truck had broken down trying to traverse a twisting mountain road.   

On April 23, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said that it had been forced to suspend or relocate its critical programming due to the fighting.[34] This included mobile health clinics and cholera treatment in al-Dhalea governorate. The IRC said the severing of the road between Sana’a and Aden had also complicated the transport and delivery of medical and food supplies around Yemen.

Local Authorities Detain Thousands of Migrants in Aden

Eight migrants have died from preventable illnesses and at least two were shot in makeshift migrant detention camps set up in April in Aden, Lahj and Abyan governorates, the International Organization for Migration said on May 2.[35]  They were among around 5,000 irregular migrants, mostly Ethiopians, detained by local authorities in April, the IOM said. Yemeni security officials told the Associated Press on April 24 that police had detained 5,000 migrants who were trying to cross into Saudi Arabia.[36] The IOM said the detainees, including hundreds of children, were being held at al-Mansoura football stadium in Aden City and at a military camp in Lahj.[37]

On April 25, some migrants escaped after local youths opened the gates of al-Mansoura stadium, but they were subsequently recaptured and held at another stadium in Sheikh Osman. The IOM said the stadiums and the military camp were not fit to accommodate large numbers of people; they lack clean water, safe sanitation and risk the spread of disease. The eight migrant deaths were caused by complications from acute watery diarrhoea (AWD), the IOM said; authorities at the military camp in Lahj have detected 200 cases of AWD among 1,400 detainees. On April 30, guards opened fire on migrants at the al-Mansoura football stadium, injuring two people including a teenage boy who may be paralyzed for life as a result.

UNSC Briefing: More than 100,000 Displaced in Hajjah, Cholera in Resurgence

On April 15, the UN Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that despite the ceasefire largely holding in Hudaydah governorate,  fighting to the north in Kushar district, Hajjah governorate, had displaced 50,000 people since February.[38] In Abs district, nearly 100,000 people had been displaced in the last two weeks, he said. Lowcock warned of catastrophic consequences if fighting damaged or cut off the main water source in Abs, which serves over 200,000 people, or if the battle moved south toward Hudaydah governorate, which could result in the displacement of up to 400,000 residents.

The under-secretary also noted a resurgence of cholera in the country. Despite efforts to counter the epidemic, nearly 200,000 suspected cases have been reported by humanitarian agencies in 2019, triple the number during the same period in 2018, he said. The first week of April saw the highest number of suspected cholera infections since January 2018, with 31,126 suspected cases in 22 of Yemen’s 23 governorates, according to a report by the European Commission.[39] Amid the breakdown of the country’s health system, more than 3,300 cases of diphtheria have also been reported since 2018, which marks the first outbreak of the infection in Yemen since 1982.

Lowcock said that the UN and partner organizations continued to face several hurdles related to the delivery of aid in the country. The World Food Programme (WFP) continues to face challenges accessing the Red Sea Mills in Hudaydah, which contain enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month. The UN had briefly gained access to the mills on February 26 for the first time in six months.[40]

Saudi, UAE Not Fulfilling Funding Pledges to Yemen

On the issue of funding, Lowcock noted that the United Nations Yemen Response Plan had only received $276 million so far this year, 10 percent of what was pledged by donor countries at the High Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen, held on February 26 in Geneva, Switzerland.[41]

The largest pledges came from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who each promised $750 million. According to Sana’a Center sources, the British government has been pressuring both Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed to disburse the promised funds. Several Sana’a Center sources said that the countries leading the anti-Houthi military coalition in Yemen appear to be delaying payment until they receive assurances of favorable media coverage and visibility. In October 2018, a leaked UN document showed that Saudi Arabia had forced the UN to accept certain public relations conditions that would positively highlight Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen in exchange for Saudi and Emirati funding for humanitarian relief efforts.[42] According to the leaked document, Saudi demands included that certain UN agencies publish articles in major Western newspapers highlighting the Saudi financial to relief efforts in Yemen. In addition, Saudi Arabia stipulated that aid agencies operating in Yemen agree to a local visibility plan that would ensure that “donors get deserved recognition and not be overshadowed by the recipient’s agencies’ visibility.”[43]

Other Humanitarian and Human Rights Developments in Brief

  • April 4: Médecins Sans Frontières suspended patient admissions to its emergency hospital in Aden.[44] On April 2, armed men threatened guards and medical staff before kidnapping a patient at the facility. The patient was found dead later that day on a street in the al-Mansoura district of Aden.
  • April 7: Fourteen children were killed and 16 critically injured, most under the age of nine, in a blast near two schools in Sana’a.[45] Houthi authorities said a Saudi-led military coalition airstrike hit houses and a school in a residential area in the capital. The coalition denied carrying out any strikes in the area.[46]  
  • April 12: 238,000 people in 45 districts in Yemen are at risk of experiencing Integrated Phase Classification 5 (IPC5) levels of food insecurity, according to the Assessment Capacities Project.[47] Level IPC5 indicates an extreme lack of food and other basic needs leading to starvation, death and destitution.
  • April 24: Médecins Sans Frontières reported that many Yemeni mothers and children are dying because they cannot reach medical facilities in time to be saved.[48] The report noted that the conflict has severely reduced the number of operational health facilities, while available facilities are often difficult to reach due to the fighting and shifting frontlines.
  • April 27: Seven members of a family, including two women, were killed in a bombing in al-Dhalea governorate, Yemeni officials said.[49]
  • April 29: A woman and her four sons were killed by a rocket that hit their home in Jabal Habashi, a district in Taiz governorate. The rocket was fired by Houthi forces, according to Al Masdar.[50]
  • April 29: Houthi forces detained 21 people during a raid in Bani Khalid in Dhamar governorate, Al Masdar reported.[51]

International Developments

At the United Nations

UN Special Envoy Briefs Security Council on Withdrawal Plan for Hudaydah

Diplomatic efforts related to Yemen at the United Nations in April continued to focus on implementing the terms of the Stockholm Agreement — the UN-mediated deal agreed to by the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the armed Houthi movement.[52] Since the signing of the agreement in December 2018, little progress on fulfilling the terms of the deal has been witnessed on the ground. Both sides in the conflict continue to cling to their own interpretations of the terms agreed to in Sweden and accuse the other party of violating the agreement. The primary stumbling block to the deal’s implementation concerns the mutual redeployment of forces from frontlines in the port city of Hudaydah. The Stockholm Agreement called for both sides to withdraw troops from the city and the ports of Hudaydah, Saleef and Ras Issa, and for the troops to be replaced with local security forces. However, the composition of the local security forces has been a major issue of contention among the warring parties, which thus far has blocked the implementation of the deal (for more information, see The Yemen Review: February 2019).[53]

In mid-April, the UN said that the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the Houthi movement had agreed to a detailed plan for phase one of the withdrawal of military forces in Hudaydah. UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, who chaired the December 2018 peace talks in Sweden, announced the agreement on April 15 during a briefing to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).[54]  The agreement was reached after negotiations between the parties and the chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) General Michael Lollesgaard. In an interview with Reuters, Griffiths said the UN did not “have an exact date at the moment for the beginning of this physical redeployment,” adding that it hoped to see the withdrawal begin in “a few weeks.”[55]

If both parties adhere to the terms of the redeployment plan, it will mark the first major voluntary drawdown of forces during the conflict in Yemen. According to a UN official who spoke to the Associated Press, phase one would entail coalition and Houthi forces pulling back several kilometers from the current frontlines.[56] The second phase — intended to demilitarize the city and allow for the return of civilian life — would see the further redeployment of fighters 18 to 30 kilometers from the city, depending on the location. The official noted that opposing forces are currently deployed only 100 meters apart in some areas of Hudaydah City.

Griffiths acknowledged during the Security Council briefing that getting the parties to agree on the phase one redeployment plan for Hudaydah had been a “long and difficult process.”[57] The UN envoy had announced progress in March toward implementing phase one of the proposed withdrawal, which he said would be presented to the parties through the RCC for endorsement. However, mistrust led both sides to trade accusations over delays in agreeing to the withdrawal and warnings that open conflict could resume in the city (for more information, see The Yemen Review: March 2019). General Lollesgaard was also unable to hold a joint meeting of the RCC and had to meet separately with Yemeni government and Houthi representatives to discuss the operational details of the plan.[58]

The Stockholm Agreement called for a second round of negotiations between the warring parties in January, but these were postponed due to the lack of progress in implementing the December deal. Diplomatic sources told the Sana’a Center that, subject to progress in Hudaydah, further negotiations could be held after Ramadan. Berlin is among the locations being discussed to host the talks.

In related news, Germany announced that it would contribute 10 soldiers and police officers to the UN observer mission overseeing the ceasefire in Yemen’s Hudaydah. The United Nations Mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) was formed in January and calls for 75 observers to monitor the ceasefire in the contested port city. According to Sana’a Center sources, only 13 UN observers had actually been deployed in Hudaydah as of the end of April.

Regarding the other aspects of the Stockholm Agreement, no developments were reported in April on the Statement on Taiz. The agreement also included a prisoner exchange deal, which was initially envisioned to take place in January but stalled amid disagreements between the warring parties over the lists of prisoners to be released. Representatives of the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the armed Houthi movement are expected to meet in Amman, Jordan on May 12 to discuss the prisoner swap.

Recent escalations on Yemen’s frontlines (see ‘Houthi Forces Make Largest Territorial Advances Since 2015’) are an illustration of the strictly defined parameters of December’s Stockholm Agreement. Amid UN-backed talks and the shuffle diplomacy of the UN special envoy, both the Houthis and the Government of Yemen have kept a military solution firmly on the table. MPs gathered for the parliamentary meeting in Sayoun reaffirmed their resolve to take Hudaydah by force should the political track fail to deliver a timely outcome.[59] Meanwhile, the Houthis recently announced new missile capabilities and, in a television interview, leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi said that his forces would target Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Dubai should the coalition-backed offensive on Hudaydah City resume.[60]

 

In the United States

Trump Vetoes Legislation To End US Support for Coalition In Yemen

On April 16, President Donald Trump vetoed a bipartisan resolution that would end US assistance to the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen. “This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members,” Trump said in his veto message.[61] He added that, apart from its operations against Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) and the so-called ‘Islamic State’ group, or Daesh, the US was not engaged in the “hostilities” that the legislation seeks to prohibit. On May 2, Republicans in the Senate blocked a resolution that would have overturned the president’s veto.[62]

The US announced an end to aerial refueling for Saudi-led coalition aircraft in November, but still provides intelligence, advisory and logistical assistance. The nature and scope of US support in the war against the armed Houthi movement has been suspected to extend further than publicly acknowledged by the US government; in May 2018, the New York Times reported that US ground troops stationed on Saudi Arabia’s southern border assisted in locating and destroying Houthi weapons caches.[63] Since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October last year at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul there has been growing support in Congress for greater scrutiny of Washington’s role in Yemen, including from some Republican lawmakers.

While the resolution was not expected to become law, the veto sends a message of enduring US support for the Saudi-led coalition. Trump’s veto message positions the war in Yemen within regional power struggles, with frequent mention of Iranian support for the Houthis and what he calls Tehran’s “malign activities” in the country. However, growing weariness with the implication for the US of regular coalition airstrikes against civilian targets — as well as the Trump administration’s apparently boundless carte blanche for Saudi Arabia — has begun to create a gulf between the executive branch and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The business-as-usual signal also comes as Trump seeks large troop withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan that he said were in line with his promise to end costly military interventions abroad. An apparent drawdown in forces abroad may go some way to assuaging critics of America’s “endless wars,” but indications are that covert operations and the type of indirect support seen in Yemen has either continued or expanded during Trump’s tenure.[64]

CENTCOM Confirms 8 Strikes Against AQAP Militants in First Quarter of 2019

On April 1, United States Central Command (CENTCOM) said that it had carried out eight strikes targeting AQAP militants in the first three months of 2019.[65] In January, two strikes hit Marib governorate, while six strikes were conducted in al-Bayda governorate in March.

CENTCOM said that one of the January strikes killed Jamal al-Badawi, one of the alleged plotters of the 2000 USS Cole bombing in Aden. In 2003, a US grand jury indicted al-Badawi for his role in the attack, in which 17 American sailors were killed.[66] While the Pentagon is required to release reports on its counterterrorism strikes for purposes of transparency around civilian casualties, other government agencies do not face the same accountability obligations. In March, the White House overturned an executive order that required all “relevant agencies” to provide information related to counterterrorism strikes “outside areas of active hostilities” — which the vast majority of Yemeni territory is designated to be.[67] This removes oversight of any covert CIA operations in Yemen. In May 2017, President Trump gave the CIA new authority to conduct drone strikes, reversing efforts by President Obama’s administration to limit Langley’s drone program.[68]  

Yemeni media outlets reported two strikes in April, one in Mahleh district, west Marib, on April 15, and the other in Shibam city, central Hadramawt, on April 7.[69] The news reports described the bombings as US drone strikes. There has been no confirmation by CENTCOM, although the Pentagon rarely issues press releases so soon after a strike unless it involved a high-profile target. Determining responsibility for airstrikes has become more difficult as the Yemen war has progressed, with coalition member states carrying out a relentless air campaign, Houthi forces demonstrating increasing capabilities in deploying militarized drones, and the United Arab Emirates quietly expanding its own drone operations in Yemen with the support of Chinese UAV technology.[70]

Trump Seeking ‘Terrorist’ Designation for Muslim Brotherhood 

On April 30, the White House announced that it was working to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a “foreign terrorist organization.” While some former US officials have expressed skepticism that such a designation could meet legal standards, if successful the move would have wide-ranging financial, legal and political implications for the group and its affiliates across the region, including the Islah party in Yemen. 

US Arms Sales to Saudi, UAE Exceed $68 billion During Yemen War

The US has made deals for at least US$68.2 billion worth of arms and military training with Saudi Arabia and the UAE since 2015, according to data collected by the Security Assistance Monitor, a US think tank, and collated by Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ).[71] The figure includes commercial and government arms deals. A US State Department official told ARIJ that American weapons deals to the Saudi-led coalition since the start of the Yemen conflict totaled around $67.4 billion.

 

In Europe

Leaked Document Details Use of French-Made Weapons in Yemen Conflict

April saw the release of classified military documents detailing France’s involvement in the war in Yemen. The documents, produced by the French Directorate of Military Intelligence, were obtained by Disclose, a French investigative news organization, and provide insight into the Saudi-led coalition’s widespread use of and dependence on Western military hardware.[72]

The documents reveal details on the use of specific French-made weapons in the conflict. One classified report, entitled “Yemen: security situation,” includes maps outlining the position of French-made weapons inside Yemen and along the Saudi border. This report was delivered to French President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and France’s defense and foreign ministers in early October 2018. As of September 25, 2018, 48 French-built CAESAR howitzer cannons were positioned along the Saudi-Yemeni border. The report says the artillery is being used to “backup loyalist troops and Saudi armed forces in their progression into Yemeni territory.” The report noted that 436,700 people in Yemen’s Hajjah and Sa’ada governorates fell within range of the artillery fire. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, France has sold 132 CAESARs to Saudi Arabia since 2010. The leaked military report also states that 129 additional CAESAR howitzers are set to be delivered to Saudi Arabia between now and 2023.

The report revealed that French-made tanks were being employed in the conflict. French intelligence estimated that 70 Leclerc-type tanks were stationed in Yemen, with the Emirati military employing around 40 Leclerc tanks at military camps in Mokha, Taiz governorate, and al-Khawkhah in Hudaydah governorate. While the report stated that the tanks had not been “observed on the front line[s]” during the conflict, this narrative was contradicted by Disclose after examining satellite imagery and video shot on the ground in Yemen. The Leclerc-type tanks were deployed in several major coalition offensives, including on the frontlines in Hudaydah in November 2018 as part of the coalition’s efforts to capture the strategically-important port city. According to the US-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, the tanks were responsible for 55 civilian deaths during the fighting in Hudaydah.

French-made equipment is also helping the coalition carry out airstrikes in Yemen. According to the leaked documents, Saudi aircraft have been equipped with Damocles pods, which are made by French defense group Thales and maintained by French engineers. The Damocles pod allows pilots to guide missiles via laser to targets on the ground. The technology is also employed on the Emirati air forces’ French-made Mirage fighter planes, which “operate over Yemen.” According to the documents, the UAE had purchased French-made guided missiles for the Mirage aircraft, including Black Shaheen missiles co-developed by France and the UK, and AASM missiles manufactured by the French defense firm Safran. Other French-made equipment is playing a part in non-combat support operations for the coalition. Cougar combat helicopters have been used to transport Saudi troops. In addition, A330 MRTT tanker aircraft, which are built by the European multinational cooperation Airbus, operate from the Saudi air base in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and play a key role in air-to-air refueling operations for combat aircraft over Yemen. In the report, French military intelligence estimates that the Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition has carried out 24,000 airstrikes in Yemen since the beginning of Operation Decisive Storm in March 2015.

Leaked Documents: Saudi Forces ‘Ineffective’, Dependent on Western Support

Overall, the documents paint a negative picture of Saudi military capabilities and highlight how Western arms sales and military advice have supported the anti-Houthi coalition in prosecuting the war in Yemen. The appendix of the report notes that military equipment from the US, the UK, France, Sweden, Austria, South Korea, Italy, and Brazil are all being employed by the coalition to facilitate combat operations. It also describes the Saudi military as operating “ineffectively” and hints that US military backing for coalition partners may be broader than what has been publicly acknowledged by Washington. According to one of the leaked documents, the Saudi air forces’ Close Air Support operations are being supported by “targeting effectuated by American drones.”[73] This information contrasts with the White House’s contention that the US military is not directly involved in hostilities in Yemen.[74]

The revelations from the documents also appear to contradict previous public pronouncements by the French government, which has long contended that French weapons sold to the coalition were being used solely for defensive purposes. During an interview with a French radio station on April 18, Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly said that French weapons were “not being used in any offensive in the war in Yemen” and that no evidence existed linking French arms to civilians deaths in the country.[75] France’s domestic intelligence agency is investigating the leaks, which a judicial source characterized as “a compromise of national defense secrecy,” France 24 reported. Responding to the newly-revealed information on the scale of French weapon sales to the coalition, Human Rights Watch called on France and the UK to follow Germany’s lead and halt arm exports to Saudi Arabia, arguing that it is the only position “in line with EU obligations.”[76]

UK Foreign Secretary Hosts Meeting of ‘Quad’ Ministers on Yemen

On April 26, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt hosted a meeting in London on the UN-led peace process for Yemen.[77] The gathering brought together ministers from the so-called ‘Quad’ nations – including Hunt, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayid bin Sultan, and Acting US Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Satterfield – and UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths. In the lead up to the London meeting, the Emirati foreign affairs minister hosted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the UAE on April 18, during which both officials agreed that all parties in the Yemen conflict “must make good on the commitments they made in Sweden,” the US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said.[78] Bin Zayed also met with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Paris on April 24.[79]

According to Sana’a Center sources, the four-party discussions between the US, UK, Saudi and the UAE focused mainly on the future political process in Yemen. While the same group of countries had met in the Polish capital Warsaw in February, the sources described the recent meeting as more forward-looking and encouraging.[80]

Germany Approves Shipment of Weapon Parts to Saudi Arabia and the UAE

Germany’s Federal Security Council approved the shipment of weapon parts to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, German media reported on April 12.[81] The reports followed a March decision by Berlin to extend its halt on arm exports to Saudi Arabia (for more information, see The Yemen Review: March 2019).[82] The ban – which was initially put in place in October 2018 after Saudi agents murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul – was renewed for six months until September 30, 2019. However, the recent extension made an exception for joint EU armament projects after pressure from France and the UK. Accessories for the Cobra artillery tracking radar systems, developed jointly by Germany and France, were also approved for export to the UAE. The decision by the Federal Security Council drew criticism from the German opposition, with The Left deputy parliamentary leader Sevim Dagdelen describing the move as “a violation of current European law.”

Rights Groups Join Legal Challenge to UK Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam and Rights Watch UK in April joined a legal appeal that seeks to end Britain’s weapon exports to Saudi Arabia.[83] The case, which was filed by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) at the Court of Appeal in London and heard from April 9 to 12, challenged the legality of arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Part of the hearing was closed to the public so the government could provide classified evidence. The challenge before the Court of Appeal seeks to overturn a July 2017 ruling by the High Court in London, which said that it was legal for the British government to continue authorizing arm exports to Saudi Arabia.

During the appeal, CAAT argued that British-made weapons were being employed in violations of international law in the conflict in Yemen.[84] Legal counsel for CAAT also cited the humanitarian impact of the Saudi airstrikes, including damage to civilian infrastructure that has contributed to the outbreak of cholera and a food crisis in the country. In addition, CAAT argued that Saudi Arabia’s “indiscriminate” targeting had failed to take “feasible precautions” to differentiate between civilians and combatants, which has led to disproportionate death or injury to civilians.

Meanwhile, legal counsel for the government contended that Secretary of State for Legal Trade Liam Fox, as representative for the government, was entitled to take into account the reliability of reported Saudi violations of international law and factor them into the overall analysis for the decision on whether British military exports to Riyadh should continue. Since the beginning of the conflict in Yemen in 2015, the UK has licensed 4.7 billion British pounds worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, CAAT alleges.

Pope Condemns Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

On March 31, during an interview with Spanish news program Salvados, Pope Francis criticized nations selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, saying they had “no right to talk about peace.”[85] The pontiff’s statement came in response to a question about the Spanish government’s sale of weapons to Riyadh. Pope Francis commented that Spain was not the only country selling arms to Saudi Arabia, and the actions of those nations were “fomenting war in another country,” in reference to the conflict in Yemen.

Hadi Government Blocks EU Delegation from Visiting Sana’a

At the end of April, a planned European Union parliamentary delegation visit to Sana’a was canceled after the Yemeni government blocked approval for the trip with the Saudi-led coalition, which controls Yemeni airspace, according to Sana’a Center diplomatic sources.

 


This report was prepared by (in alphabetical order): Ali Abdullah, Waleed Alhariri, Ryan Bailey, Anthony Biswell, Hamza al-Hamadi, Bilqees al-Lahbi, Maged al-Madhaji, Farea al-Muslimi, Spencer Osberg, Hannah Patchett, Ghaidaa al-Rashidy, Sala al-Sakkaf, Victoria K. Sauer, Holly Topham, and Aisha al-Warraq.  


The Yemen Review – formerly known as Yemen at the UN – is a monthly publication produced by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies. Launched in June 2016, it aims to identify and assess current diplomatic, economic, political, military, security, humanitarian and human rights developments related to Yemen.  

In producing The Yemen Review, Sana’a Center staff throughout Yemen and around the world gather information, conduct research, and hold private meetings with local, regional, and international stakeholders in order to analyze domestic and international developments regarding Yemen.

This monthly series is designed to provide readers with contextualized insight into the country’s most important ongoing issues.


This report was developed with the support of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

 

 


Endnotes

  1. “Yemen leader-in-exile Hadi returns for meeting of divided parliament,” Reuters, April 13, 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-election/yemen-leader-in-exile-hadi-returns-for-meeting-of-divided-parliament-idUSKCN1RP0CS. Accessed May 1, 2019.
  2. “Diplomacy Sinking at Hudaydah Port — The Yemen Review, February 2019,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, March 7, 2019, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/7162. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  3. “Saudi Arabia’s ‘Deportation Storm’,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, April 9, 2019, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/7303. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  4.  “صور للجبال تنشر لأول مرة | العود .. أسد العرين الذي يحرس الضالع” (“Mountain Photos Published For The First Time: Oud … Lion Areen Guarding Al-Dhale”), Maeen Press, April 7, 2019, https://maeenpress.net/newsyemen/6914/. Accessed May 2, 2019.
  5.  “Paving the way for al-Houthi to the secession border… Al-Masdar online traces the details of the full story of Al-Oud front,” Al Masdar, April 21, 2019. https://almasdaronline.com/articles/166834. Accessed May 2, 2019.
  6.  “Al-Dhale .. Houthi gunmen control first security point in Al-Azariq and captivate one of its members,” Al Masdar, April 26, 2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/167005. Accessed May 2, 2019.
  7. “After nearly five years of steadfastness the Houthis control Thi Na’em in Al-Baydha,” Al Masdar, April 21, 2019, https://almasdaronline.info/articles/166811. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  8.  “Al-Baydda provincial police chief resigns from position to protest the failing of resistance,” Al Masdar, April 21, 2019, https://almasdaronline.info/articles/166812. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  9. “Coalition airstrikes target Houthis’ reinforcements in Al-Dhale,” September Net: Yemen National Military Web, April 4, 2019, http://en.26sepnews.net/2019/04/04/coalition-airstrikes-target-houthis-reinforcements-in-al-dhale/. Accessed May 2, 2019; “اخر اخبار اليمن – طيران التحالف يدمر عددًا من الأطقم العسكرية ويستهدف تعـزيزات لمليشيا الحوثي في #إب” (“Aviation Alliance destroys a number of military crews and targets reinforcements of the militia Houthi in Ibb”), 7adramout Net, April 5, 2019, https://www.7adramout.net/adnlng/2320217/اخر-اخبار-اليمن—طيران-التحالف-يدمر-عددًا-من-الأطقم-العسكرية-ويستهدف-تعـزيزات-لمليشيا-الحوثي-في-إب.html. Accessed May 5, 2019. 
  10. “قوات تابعة لطارق صالح تصل الضالع لصد هجوم الحوثيين” (“Troops of Tariq Saleh arrive at al-Dhalea to repel the Houthi attack”), Adengd, April 7, 2019. http://adengd.net/news/378257/. Accessed May 2, 2019.
  11. “Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Yemen – New York, 15 April 2019,” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), April 15, 2019, https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/under-secretary-general-humanitarian-affairs-and-emergency-relief-coordinator-mark-17. Accessed May 2, 2019.
  12. “The UN’s Stockholm Syndrome: The Yemen Review, March 2019,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, April 8, 2019, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/7269#Tribesmen-Clash-With-Saudi-Troops-in-al-Mahra. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  13. “اباتشي السعودية يستهدف نقطة أمنية في المهرة ولجنة الاعتصام: لن نقف مكتوفي الايدي” (“Saudi Apache targets checkpoint in Mahra. Sit-in committee: we will not stand by”) Al Mawqea Post, April 18, 2019, https://almawqeapost.net/news/39857. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  14. “بضغوط من الرياض.. توجيهات رئاسية بتسليم نقطة أمنية في المهرة للقوات السعودية والقبائل تتداعى” (“Under pressure from Riyadh… Presidential directives to hand over.a checkpoint in Mahra to Saudi forces, tribes object”), April 21, 2019, Al Mawqea Post, https://almawqeapost.net/news/39901. Accessed May 5, 2019.  
  15. “The Yemen Review – October 2018,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, November 10, 2018, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/6620. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  16. Economic Committee, April 15, 2019, https://bit.ly/2ZGHiRY. Accessed April 29, 2019.
  17. Ibid.
  18. “Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Yemen,” Reliefweb, April 15, 2019, https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/under-secretary-general-humanitarian-affairs-and-emergency-relief-coordinator-mark-17. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  19. “Yemen Economic Bulletin: How currency arbitrage has reduced the funds to address the humanitarian crisis,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, September 6, 2017, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/analysis/4740. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  20. Mansour Rageh, Amal Nasser and Farea Al-Muslimi, “Yemen Without a Functioning Central Bank: The Loss of Basic Economic Stabilization and Accelerating Famine,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, November 2, 2016, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/main-publications/55. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  21. “Yemen at the UN – March 2018 Review,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, April 7, 2018, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/yemen-at-the-un/5563. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  22. “Yemen at the UN – April 2017 Review,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, May 8, 2017, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/yemen-at-the-un/99. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  23. Central Bank of Yemen Aden. 2019. “Announcement for all commercial and Islamic banks” Facebook. April 22, 2019, https://www.facebook.com/AlbnkAlmrkzyAlymnydnCentralBankOfYemenAdenBr/posts/1541450912651819?__tn__=-R. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  24.  Sana’a Center interview on March 22, 2019.
  25.  Central Bank in Aden, April 6, 2019, https://bit.ly/2XTHg7A. Accessed, April 29, 2019. 
  26.  Central Bank in Aden, April 12, 2019, https://urlzs.com/Rycd. Accessed April 29, 2019.
  27.  Central Bank in Aden, April 24, 2019, https://bit.ly/2GJNRKR. Accessed April 29, 2019.
  28.  Sana’a Center interview on April 4, 2019.
  29. “Development Champions Forum Concludes Fifth Meeting,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, May 1, 2019, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/news/7348. Accessed May 6, 2019.
  30.  “خاص- زعيم مليشيا الحوثي يلتقي مديري البنوك في صنعاء” (“Special – Houthi militia leader meets bankers in Sana’a”), Khabar News Agency, April 28, 2019, https://www.khabaragency.net/news110311.html. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  31. “Assessing the impact of war on Development in Yemen,” United Nations Development Programme, April 23, 2019, https://www.undp.org/content/dam/yemen/General/Docs/ImpactOfWarOnDevelopmentInYemen.pdf. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  32. “Yemen war death toll surpasses 70,000,” Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, April 23, 2019, https://www.acleddata.com/2019/04/18/press-release-yemen-war-death-toll-surpasses-70000/. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  33. “The militia bursts the “al-Watif” bridge between Ibb and al-Dhale and cuts the highway,” (“المليشيا تفجر جسر “الوطيف” الواصل بين إب والضالع وتقطع الطريق العام”), Al Sahwah Net, April 22, 2019. https://alsahwa-yemen.net/p-29342. Accessed May 2, 2019.
  34. “Yemen: Uptick in fighting forces IRC to suspend critical life-saving programming,” International Rescue Committee, April 23, 2019, https://www.rescue.org/press-release/yemen-uptick-fighting-forces-irc-suspend-critical-life-saving-programming. Accessed May 2, 2019.
  35. “Migrants die while detained in inhumane conditions in Yemen,” International Organization of Migration, May 2, 2019, https://www.iom.int/news/migrants-die-while-detained-inhumane-conditions-yemen. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  36. “Yemeni officials say 5,000 migrants detained in Aden,” The Associated Press, April 24, 2019, https://www.apnews.com/a288c477980e4c1a8a14dd17eb67288e. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  37. “Deep Concern as Thousands of Migrants Rounded Up in Yemen,” Reliefweb, April 26, 2019, https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/deep-concern-thousands-migrants-rounded-yemen. Accessed April 27, 2019.
  38. “Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Yemen,” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, April 15, 2019, https://m.reliefweb.int/report/3084613. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  39. “ECHO Daily Flash,” European Commission, April 25, 2019, https://erccportal.jrc.ec.europa.eu/ECHO-Flash/ECHO-Flash-List/yy/2019/mm/4. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  40. “Diplomacy Sinking at Hudaydah Port — The Yemen Review, February 2019,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, March 7, 2019, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/7162. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  41. “Yemen: Donors pledge US$2.62 billion to support a massive humanitarian operation,” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, February 26, 2019, https://www.unocha.org/story/yemen-donors-pledge-us26-billion-support-massive-humanitarian-operation. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  42. Patrick Wintour, “Saudis demanded good publicity over Yemen aid, leaked UN document shows,” The Guardian, October 30, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/oct/30/saudis-demanded-good-publicity-over-yemen-aid-leaked-un-document-shows. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  43. Ibid.
  44. “MSF suspends hospital admissions in Aden after patient is kidnapped and killed”, Médecins Sans Frontières, April 04,2019, https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/news-stories/news/yemen-msf-suspends-hospital-admissions-aden-after-patient-kidnapped. Accessed April 27,2019.
  45. “The United Nations children’s fund says a blast near two schools in Yemen’s rebel-held capital Sana’a killed 14 children and critically injured 16,” SBS News, April 9, 2019, https://www.sbs.com.au/news/un-condemns-deadly-yemen-school-blast. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  46. “Yemenis recount horror of mysterious blast in capital,” The Associated Press, April 8, 2019, https://www.apnews.com/18074f37e82d4546b9bc4768f3c59829. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  47. “Yemen drivers of food insecurity,” ACAPS, April 12, 2019, https://www.acaps.org/sites/acaps/files/products/files/20190411_acaps_yemen_analysis_hub_drivers_of_food_insecurity_in_ipc_5_districts_in_yemen.pdf. Accessed April 27, 2019.
  48. “Complicated delivery: The Yemeni mothers and children dying without medical care”, Médecins Sans Frontières, April 9, 2019, https://www.msf.org/complicated-delivery-yemeni-mothers-and-children-dying-without-medical-care. Accessed April 28, 2019.
  49. “Yemen officials say bombing kills 7 family members,” The Associated Press, April 27, 2019, https://www.apnews.com/53fa92b22d504376a07266f584b522c2. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  50.  “مقتل أم وأربعة من أبنائها جراء سقوط صاروخ للحوثيين على منزل غرب تعز” (“A mother and her four sons were killed when a Houthi rocket hit a house west of Taiz”), Al Masdar, April 29, 2019, https://www.almasdaronline.com/articles/167078. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  51.  “مليشيات الحوثي تداهم قرية في آنس بذمار وتعتقل 21 مواطناً” (“Houthi militias raided a village in Anas Bhammar and detained 21 citizens”) Al Masdar, April 29, 2019, https://https://www.almasdaronline.com/articles/167128. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  52.  “Full Text of the Stockholm Agreement,” Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Yemen,” December 13, 2018, https://osesgy.unmissions.org/full-text-stockholm-agreement. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  53.  “The Yemen Review: February 2019”, Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, March 7, 2019, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/7162. Accessed May 6, 2019.
  54. “Starvation, Diplomacy and Ruthless Friends: The Yemen Review 2018,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, January 22, 2019, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/6808. Accessed May 5, 2019; “Briefing of Martin Griffiths, UN Special Envoy for Yemen to the Security Council,” Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, April 15, 2019, https://osesgy.unmissions.org/briefing-martin-griffiths-un-special-envoy-yemen-security-council. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  55. Aziz El Yakkoubi, “U.N. envoy sees troop withdrawal in Yemen’s Hodeidah within weeks,” Reuters, April 18, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security/u-n-envoy-sees-troop-withdrawal-in-yemens-hodeidah-within-weeks-idUSKCN1RU265?il=0. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  56. Edith Lederer, “UN Envoy: Yemen parties agree on initial Hodeidah withdrawals,” The Associated Press, April 15, 2019, https://www.apnews.com/8f254a6838f54166bf7a5ab50f7904a8. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  57. “Briefing of Martin Griffiths, UN Special Envoy for Yemen to the Security Council,” Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, April 15, 2019, https://osesgy.unmissions.org/briefing-martin-griffiths-un-special-envoy-yemen-security-council. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  58.  “Yemen Brief and Consultations,” What’s in Blue, April 15, 2019, https://www.whatsinblue.org/2019/04/yemen-briefing-and-consultations-8.php. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  59. “نص البيان الختامي الصادر عن جلسات مجلس النواب في سيئون” (“Text of the final statement issued by the meetings of the House of Representatives in Sayoun”),  Rai Al-Yemen, April 17, 2019. https://raialyemen.com/news5495.html. Accessed May 2, 2019.
  60. “متحدث القوات المسلحة يكشف عن صاروخ باليستي جديد” (“Armed Forces spokesman reveals new ballistic missile”), 26 September News, April 13, 2019, https://www.26sep.net/news_details.php?sid=154009. Accessed May 5, 2019. 
  61. “Presidential Veto Message to the Senate to Accompany S.J. Res. 7,” April 16, 2019, Presidential Memoranda, US White House, https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/presidential-veto-message-senate-accompany-s-j-res-7/. Accessed April 29, 2019.
  62. “Senate fails to override Trump’s veto of resolution demanding end to U.S. involvement in Yemen war,” The Washington Post, May 2, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/senate-fails-to-override-trumps-veto-of-resolution-demanding-end-to-us-involvement-in-yemen/2019/05/02/4bd0a524-6cf9-11e9-8f44-e8d8bb1df986_story.html?utm_term=.b419e87decd8. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  63. Helene Cooper, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Eric Schmitt, “Army Special Forces Secretly Help Saudis Combat Threat From Yemen Rebels,” The New York Times, May 3, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/03/us/politics/green-berets-saudi-yemen-border-houthi.html. Accessed April 30, 2019.
  64. Stephen Tankel, “Donald Trump’s Shadow War,” Politico, May 9, 2018, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/05/09/donald-trumps-shadow-war-218327. Accessed April 29, 2019.
  65. “CENTCOM Yemen Strike Summary Jan. 1 – Apr. 1, 2019,” US Central Command, April 1, 2019. https://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/PRESS-RELEASES/Press-Release-View/Article/1801674/centcom-yemen-strike-summary-jan-1-apr-1-2019/. Accessed May 1, 2019.
  66. Gregory Johnsen, “US Military’s Ambiguous Definition of a ‘Legitimate’ Target,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, February 20, 2019, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/analysis/7076. Accessed May 1, 2019.  
  67.  “The UN’s Stockholm Syndrome – The Yemen Review, March 2019,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, April 29, 2019, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/7269#White-House-Revokes-US-Military-Drone-Strike-Reporting-Requirement. Accessed April 29, 2019.
  68.  “Trump gives CIA authority to conduct drone strikes: WSJ,” Reuters, March 14, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-cia-drones-idUSKBN16K2SE. Accessed April 29, 2019.
  69.  “A violent explosion shakes the city of Shibam in Hadramout,” Cratersky, April 7, 2019, https://cratersky.net/posts/13666. Accessed April 30, 2019; “A US plane kills two people in Mahal, Marib,” News Yemen, April 15, 2019, https://newsyemen.net/news40341.html. Accessed April 30, 2019.
  70. “Stockholm Agreement Meets Yemeni Reality – The Yemen Review, January 2019,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, February 11, 2019, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/7027#Houthi-UAV-attacks-Coalition-Airstrikes-in-Retaliation. Accessed April 30, 2019; Rawan Shaif and Jack Watling, “How the UAE’s Chinese-Made Drone Is Changing the War in Yemen,” Foreign Policy, April 27, 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/04/27/drone-wars-how-the-uaes-chinese-made-drone-is-changing-the-war-in-yemen/. Accessed April 30, 2019.
  71.  Frank Andrews, “التكلفة الحقيقية لصفقات السلاح الأميركية لحلفائها في حرب اليمن” (“The real cost of US arms deals to its allies in the Yemen war,” Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism”), April 9, 2019, https://arij.net/report/التكلفة-الحقيقية-لصفقات-السلاح-الأمي/. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  72. “Made In France,” Disclose, April 15, 2019, https://made-in-france.disclose.ngo/en/chapter/yemen-papers. Accessed May 4, 2019.
  73. Alex Emmons, “Secret Report Reveals Saudi Incompetence and Widespread Use of U.S. Weapons in Yemen,” The Intercept, April 15, 2019, https://theintercept.com/2019/04/15/saudi-weapons-yemen-us-france/. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  74. “US lawmakers vote to end US support for war in Yemen,” The Guardian, February 14, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/feb/13/us-congress-house-yemen-war-trump-saudi-arabia. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  75. “French weapons not used against civilians in Yemen: minister,” Reuters, April 18, 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-france-arms/french-weapons-not-used-against-civilians-in-yemen-minister-idUSKCN1RU0H0. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  76. “UK, France Should Join German Saudi Arms Embargo,” Human Rights Watch, April 12, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/12/uk-france-should-join-german-saudi-arms-embargo. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  77. “Yemen: Foreign Secretary to host meeting with Saudi, Emirati and US counterparts,” Foreign & Commonwealth Office, UK Government, April 26, 2019, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/yemen-foreign-secretary-to-host-meeting-with-saudi-emirati-and-us-counterparts. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  78. “Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting With Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates,” US Mission United Arab Emirates, https://ae.usembassy.gov/secretary-pompeos-meeting-with-foreign-minister-sheikh-abdullah-bin-zayed-al-nahyan-of-the-united-arab-emirates/. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  79.  “Abdullah bin Zayed meets French Foreign Minister,” The National, April 25, 2019, https://www.thenational.ae/uae/abdullah-bin-zayed-meets-french-foreign-minister-1.853356. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  80.  “Jeremy Hunt to chair Yemen Quad meeting on next steps in peace process,” Foreign & Commonwealth Office, UK Government, February 13, 2019, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/jeremy-hunt-to-chair-yemen-quad-meeting-on-next-steps-in-peace-process. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  81.  “Germany exporting weapons to Saudi Arabia and UAE — reports,” Deutsche Welle, April 12, 2019, https://www.dw.com/en/germany-exporting-weapons-to-saudi-arabia-and-uae-reports/a-48296155. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  82.  “Bundesregierung verlängert Rüstungsembargo gegen Saudi-Arabien,” (“Federal Government extended arms embargo against Saudi Arabia”) Spiegel Online, March 29, 2019.
  83.  “Saudi Arabia: Fresh legal challenge to stop UK government supplying arms for use in Yemen,” Amnesty International, April 8, 2019, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/04/saudi-arabia-fresh-legal-challenge-to-stop-uk-government-supplying-arms-for-use-in-yemen/. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  84.  Owen Bowcott, “UK arms sales are factor in humanitarian crisis in Yemen, court hears,” The Guardian, April 9, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/09/uk-arms-sales-are-factor-in-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen-court-hears. Accessed May 5, 2019.
  85. Andrea Germanos, “Pope Francis: Govts that sell arms to Saudi Arabia ‘have no right to talk about peace,’” Common Dreams, April 3, 2019, https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/04/03/pope-francis-govts-sell-arms-saudi-arabia-have-no-right-talk-about-peace. Accessed May 5, 2019.

 

Saudi Arabia’s ‘Deportation Storm’

Saudi Arabia’s ‘Deportation Storm’

The Sana’a Center Editorial

March marked four years since Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates led a coalition of Arab states into a military intervention in Yemen. The campaign’s initial moniker, ‘Operation Decisive Storm,’ would now seem farcical if the consequences of the conflict, which continues to rage around the country, were not so utterly tragic. Yemenis and those who follow events in the country are already well aware of how the war and economic collapse have laid waste to the structures of society and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

There is a second assault against Yemen in which Saudi Arabia is engaged, however, one that is today going almost entirely unnoticed as world powers focus on salvaging the stalled United Nations-led peace process. Whether or not they succeed in saving the Stockholm Agreement from its current slide into irrelevance, or are eventually able to move toward a comprehensive political resolution to the conflict, if Saudi Arabia continues to expel Yemeni expatriate workers at pace it will condemn its southern neighbor to many more years of instability, insecurity and humanitarian crisis.

For decades, poor job prospects at home have driven waves of Yemenis to seek work abroad, mostly in Saudi Arabia, and mostly as unskilled or semi-skilled laborers. Given the irregular nature of much of their work, accurate statistics are difficult to come by, but available best estimates are that more than a million Yemenis currently work in Saudi Arabia. After large-scale oil exports from Yemen dried up following the coalition military intervention four years ago, remittances from these expatriate workers – worth billions of dollars annually – became Yemen’s largest source of foreign currency. This money helped prevent Yemen’s plight from being far worse: it slowed the Yemeni rial’s depreciation, supplied the local market with foreign currency to finance imports, and provided millions in Yemen with an income as unemployment soared.

In recent years, however, Saudi Arabia has stepped up its campaign to nationalize its workforce. This has included barring expatriate workers from many occupations, increasing the fees and levies those legally registered in the kingdom must pay to remain, and carrying out mass arrest campaigns and forcibly deporting unregistered workers. This has already led to tens of thousands of Yemenis being forced out of work and back to Yemen. In a soon-to-be released study, Sana’a Center researchers found that should Riyadh follow through with the labor market reforms it has already announced, more than 70 percent of Yemeni expatriates in Saudi Arabia may lose their jobs as of 2020. This would give new thrust to the suffering of Yemenis and their country’s dissolution.

Regardless of whether the current conflict ends or not, the return of hundreds of thousands of unemployed laborers to Yemen and the loss of their remittances would undermine any foundation upon which to build socio-economic and political stability in the country for years to come. Indeed, the economic hardship and social instability that resulted from Saudi Arabia expelling roughly a million Yemeni workers in 1990 in many ways helped set the stage for Yemen’s current volatility.  

Saudi Arabia is the largest donor to the multi-billion dollar international aid effort in Yemen. It is also the party most responsible for Yemen needing such enormous amounts of assistance; by expelling Yemeni workers Riyadh will ensure this remains the case into the foreseeable future. If the aim of Saudi rulers is to avoid a failed state along the kingdom’s largest land border, a far better policy prescription would be to expel Yemeni government leaders, whose members have luxuriated in Riyadh hotels since 2015, to make them earn their keep back home, and allow the Yemeni workers to stay.   

This editorial appeared in The UN’s Stockholm Syndrome – The Yemen Review, March 2019 

The UN’s Stockholm Syndrome – The Yemen Review, March 2019

The UN’s Stockholm Syndrome – The Yemen Review, March 2019

A fishmonger in the Saddam Neighborhood Market, in al-Salakhana, Hudaydah City, sells his catch on March 25, 2019 // Photo Credit: Abduljabbar Zeyad

The Sana’a Center Editorial

Saudi Arabia’s ‘Deportation Storm’

March marked four years since Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates led a coalition of Arab states into a military intervention in Yemen. The campaign’s initial moniker, ‘Operation Decisive Storm,’ would now seem farcical if the consequences of the conflict, which continues to rage around the country, were not so utterly tragic. Yemenis and those who follow events in the country are already well aware of how the war and economic collapse have laid waste to the structures of society and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

There is a second assault against Yemen in which Saudi Arabia is engaged, however, one that is today going almost entirely unnoticed as world powers focus on salvaging the stalled United Nations-led peace process. Whether or not they succeed in saving the Stockholm Agreement from its current slide into irrelevance, or are eventually able to move toward a comprehensive political resolution to the conflict, if Saudi Arabia continues to expel Yemeni expatriate workers at pace it will condemn its southern neighbor to many more years of instability, insecurity and humanitarian crisis.

For decades, poor job prospects at home have driven waves of Yemenis to seek work abroad, mostly in Saudi Arabia, and mostly as unskilled or semi-skilled laborers. Given the irregular nature of much of their work, accurate statistics are difficult to come by, but available best estimates are that more than a million Yemenis currently work in Saudi Arabia. After large-scale oil exports from Yemen dried up following the coalition military intervention four years ago, remittances from these expatriate workers – worth billions of dollars annually – became Yemen’s largest source of foreign currency. This money helped prevent Yemen’s plight from being far worse: it slowed the Yemeni rial’s depreciation, supplied the local market with foreign currency to finance imports, and provided millions in Yemen with an income as unemployment soared.

In recent years, however, Saudi Arabia has stepped up its campaign to nationalize its workforce. This has included barring expatriate workers from many occupations, increasing the fees and levies those legally registered in the kingdom must pay to remain, and carrying out mass arrest campaigns and forcibly deporting unregistered workers. This has already led to tens of thousands of Yemenis being forced out of work and back to Yemen. In a soon-to-be released study, Sana’a Center researchers found that should Riyadh follow through with the labor market reforms it has already announced, more than 70 percent of Yemeni expatriates in Saudi Arabia may lose their jobs as of 2020. This would give new thrust to the suffering of Yemenis and their country’s dissolution.

Regardless of whether the current conflict ends or not, the return of hundreds of thousands of unemployed laborers to Yemen and the loss of their remittances would undermine any foundation upon which to build socio-economic and political stability in the country for years to come. Indeed, the economic hardship and social instability that resulted from Saudi Arabia expelling roughly a million Yemeni workers in 1990 in many ways helped set the stage for Yemen’s current volatility.  

Saudi Arabia is the largest donor to the multi-billion dollar international aid effort in Yemen. It is also the party most responsible for Yemen needing such enormous amounts of assistance; by expelling Yemeni workers Riyadh will ensure this remains the case into the foreseeable future. If the aim of Saudi rulers is to avoid a failed state along the kingdom’s largest land border, a far better policy prescription would be to expel Yemeni government leaders, whose members have luxuriated in Riyadh hotels since 2015, to make them earn their keep back home, and allow the Yemeni workers to stay.   


Contents

The UN’s Stockholm Syndrome

Developments in Yemen

International Diplomatic Developments

Endnotes


The UN’s Stockholm Syndrome

Special Envoy Hostage to His Own Peace Plan

In March, as with the two month previous, there was no meaningful progress toward implementing the various aspects of the Stockholm Agreement – the United Nations-mediated deal between the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the armed Houthi movement. Instead, March saw continued ceasefire violations around the Yemeni port city of Hudaydah and the warring parties issuing sabre-rattling castigations against each other. UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, who chaired the December 2018 talks in Sweden, has been unable to gain traction with the warring parties in implementing the Stockholm Agreement. Indeed, in the months since the talks what has become apparent is that the Special Envoy has effectively become hostage to the same ambiguities he and his team wrote into the deal to have it secured.[1] 

As the Sana’a Center previously reported, with the December 13 end-date for the talks in Sweden looming, mediators had pushed for a deal to be reached to show results. They were ultimately successful, but not through securing sincere compromises from the belligerents. Rather, the purposeful use of imprecise language in the deal made the commitments it stipulated vague enough for the warring parties to walk away with significantly different – and self-serving – interpretations of what they had agreed to. The UN’s attempts to implement the agreement on the ground thus stalled almost immediately.   

For instance, the most significant aspects of the Sweden deal relate to a ceasefire around and phased mutual withdrawal of forces from the port city of Hudaydah. Following the withdrawal of forces, the agreement stipulated that security in Hudaydah would be “the responsibility of local security forces in accordance with Yemeni law.” Given that both warring parties consider themselves legitimate authorities, their interpretations of “Yemeni law” and the “local security forces” it mandates differ wildly. Both sides have sought to have these security forces composed of their respective partisans. While the UN-chaired Redeployment Coordination Committee meetings have brought the belligerents together, the makeup of the local security forces has remained an intractable impasse. The Stockholm Agreements’ other key features – regarding a prisoner exchange and the formation of a joint committee for Taiz City – have, likewise, progressed little.

The same agreement which the Special Envoy inked between the parties has also effectively disarmed him given that, even with implementation stalled, both belligerents have grounds to claim that they are still acting within its parameters. The diplomatic capital that Griffiths, the UN Security Council, the United States, the United Kingdom and others have poured into the Stockholm Agreement has also essentially ensured that, for the time being at least, there is no plausible alternative – Griffiths is committed to the deal that shackles him.


Graphic: Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies

“Last Chance Saloon” for Peace Process: UK Foreign Secretary  

In an attempt to salvage the Hudaydah Agreement, on March 1 UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt embarked on a three-day regional tour including a visit to Aden, the temporary capital of the internationally recognized Yemeni government.[2] Hunt’s visit to Yemen was the first by a Western foreign minister since the Saudi-led military intervention began in March 2015, and the first by a UK Foreign Secretary since 1996. In Aden, Hunt met with his Yemeni government counterpart Khaled al-Yamani. During his regional tour Hunt also met with Yemeni President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdelsalam and Omani ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Muscat, Oman; and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

The focus of Hunt’s meetings was the stalemate surrounding the Stockholm Agreement. “We are now in last chance saloon for the Stockholm peace process,” Hunt said in a statement from Aden, warning that the process could be dead “within weeks” if both sides did not stick to the commitments made in Sweden.[3]

UN Special Envoy Pushes Phased Redeployment of Forces

Sana’a Center sources reported growing frustration at the United Nations Security Council in March over the lack of progress in implementing the Sweden deal. The UK — penholder of the Yemen file at the UN Security Council (UNSC) — requested a closed consultation at the UNSC for March 13 with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths and the chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) General Michael Lollesgaard, to discuss the lack of progress on the Stockholm Agreement. There, Griffiths informed the Security Council of new operational details he said may break the impasse in Hudaydah. These were not made public, but according to Sana’a Center sources Griffiths proposed placing additional UN monitors at the ports in Hudaydah after the withdrawal of Houthi forces, and delaying discussions on the composition of local security forces and the coast guard to the next phase of the process.  

The Hudaydah agreement calls for the redeployment of forces away from the city and ports of Huydadah, Saleef and Ras Issa, and for local security forces to take responsibility for the area. The makeup of these forces has been a contentious issue (for more information see The Yemen Review: February 2019).[4] Griffiths also implied that if challenges persisted he may explore the option of reconvening a new round of UN-led peace consultations; according to the Stockholm Agreement these should have taken place in January, however the Special Envoy had previously stated that there needed to be more progress on implementing the Stockholm Agreement before the next round of talks could be held (for more details, see Special Envoy: “We Need to Remain Hopeful”).[5] Griffiths also told the permanent five (P5) member countries of the council that their direct support would play a significant role in his ability to convene a new round of talks.

Prior to the closed consultations, the Special Envoy met with ambassadors of the P5, who welcomed Griffiths’ proposal in a statement on March 12.[6] The P5 urged both parties “to begin implementation of the proposal in good faith without further delay and without seeking to exploit the redeployments by the other side.”[7] In general, however, March was marked by a slowdown in activity on Yemen at the Security Council, compared to recent months. Sana’a Center diplomatic sources said the Special Envoy had recommended that council members limit their press statements in March, given the warring parties’ current hyper-sensitivity and propensity to exchange blame for not implementing their part of the agreement.

On March 19, the Special Envoy announced that following consultations with the warring parties, “there is significant progress toward an agreement to implement phase one of the redeployments of the Hudaydah agreement.” In a statement, Griffiths said that operational details would be presented to the parties for endorsement shortly.[8] Reuters reported that Houthi forces had agreed to withdraw in two phases.[9] In the first phase, Houthi forces would withdraw five kilometers from the ports of Saleef and Ras Issa. Then, Houthi forces and coalition forces would both withdraw one kilometer from the “Kilo 7” area and the Saleh City district. The second phase would see both sides withdraw their troops 18 kilometers from Hudaydah City and move their heavy weaponry 30 kilometers outside the city, according to Reuters. As of writing, there has been no observable movement toward the implementation of such a plan.  

GoY, Houthis Exchange Vitriol; Hudaydah Headed for “Explosion”

On the same day that Griffiths announced “significant progress” on the Hudaydah agreement, the head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, told the Associated Press that the armed Houthi movement would not give up Hudaydah and accused the internationally recognized Yemeni government of misinterpreting the deal. Al-Houthi said that the movement had agreed to withdraw its forces but would remain in control.[10] “We agree on the redeployment according to the presented mechanism, but withdrawal as they are promoting, is impossible,” he said.

Also on March 19, the deputy foreign minister for the Houthi government, Hussein al-Ezzi, held a press conference on the Stockholm Agreement during which he blamed President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government for the delays in implementing the agreement.[11] Hadi’s government had misinterpreted the issue of redeploying forces in Hudaydah, al-Ezzi said.  

On March 20, the spokesperson for the Yemeni government, Rageh Badi, responded to the statements by al-Ezzi and al-Houthi at a press conference in Aden.[12] Badi characterized the Houthi officials’ comments as a “renunciation of the Hudaydah agreement and a declaration of war,” adding that developments were moving toward an “explosion of the situation” in Hudaydah. The internationally recognized Yemeni government believed the armed Houthi movement could seek to resume the war within days, the spokesperson said. Asked about Griffiths’ new proposal on the redeployment of forces in Hudaydah, Badi said the Yemeni government had not been informed about it. After Griffiths’ statement on the issue, the Yemeni government contacted Lollesgaard for further details, said Badi, and the RCC chair responded that the proposed arrangements would be shared in the coming days.

Ceasefire Violations See Heaviest Fighting Since December

Over the course of the month, Hudaydah saw recurrent spikes in armed clashes, though no changes in frontlines. These included gunfire on March 3 in the frontline areas of al-Halqa market, the July 7 neighborhood and Street 50 in the east of the city.[13] Hostilities were also reported in other parts of the governorate, in the districts of Durayhimi, Tuhayta and Hays, to the south of the city. UNICEF said that an attack in Tuhayta killed five children while they were “playing at home” on February 29.[14]

On March 9, clashes escalated again in Hudaydah city, this time involving heavy artillery according to local reports.[15] A fire broke out at Ikhwan Thabit industrial complex in the east of the city amid the hostilities, damaging a food packaging factory. On the night of March 24, the city saw some of the heaviest fighting since the beginning of the ceasefire, with local residents reporting exchanges of heavy weapon fire.[16] The fighting was concentrated in the July 7 neighborhood in the east of the city and on the southern outskirts.

Stockholm Agreement-Related Developments in Brief:

  • March 4: The internationally recognized Yemeni government, the UAE and Saudi Arabia wrote to the UN Security Council, rejecting claims of ceasefire violations by coalition forces. An annex to the letter listed 1,754 alleged Houthi violations since the start of the ceasefire in Hudaydah on December 18, 2018, which the coalition members said had killed 125 coalition forces and wounded 780. The coalition members blamed the armed Houthi movement for “months of stalling tactics” over the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement, and called for the deployment of more UN monitors to Hudaydah.
  • March 20: Khaled al-Yamani, foreign minister in the internationally recognized Yemeni government, wrote to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to complain about a meeting on March 16 between Houthi representatives and staff from the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) and the Special Envoy’s office. Al-Yamani accused the envoy’s office of overstepping its authority by discussing a mechanism to move UNVIM’s work from Djibouti to Hudaydah port with Houthi representatives.[17] Further discussions on this move, which was agreed during peace talks in Sweden in December, should not take place until after the redeployment of forces in Hudaydah, al-Yamani said. Further, he added that the Yemeni government should be involved in these discussions.

Developments in Yemen

Military and Security Developments

Major Clashes Between Anti-Houthi Forces in Taiz City

Clashes broke out in Taiz City between anti-Houthi forces shortly after the arrival of the new governor, Nabil Shamsan, in March. Since the beginning of the conflict there have been regular spates of violence between rival armed groups in Taiz — Yemen’s third largest city — where power and security in government-controlled areas is divided between different local actors.

Shamsan arrived in the southwestern governorate on March 17, with fighting erupting the following day after the killing of Lieutenant Colonel Abdallah Moqbil, an officer in the 22nd Mechanized Brigade – a military unit dominated by the political Islamist party, Islah.[18] The alleged perpetrators were aligned with the UAE-backed Salafist militia leader, Adel Abdu Farea, who is more commonly known as Abu al-Abbas. Since helping to prevent a full Houthi takeover of Taiz in the first months of the war, the Abu al-Abbas Brigades have competed with Islah-affiliated forces for influence in the city. In August 2018, following violent clashes between the two groups, they agreed to a mutual redeployment of forces away from the city. However, by month’s end most of Abu al-Abbas’ forces had relocated – though the group maintained security at its headquarters – while Islah-affiliated forces asserted greater control.[19]

Following the March clashes, Shamsan announced a crackdown on gunmen in the city, demanding that those responsible for Moqbil’s death be handed over to the local police.[20] He also called for the withdrawal of these armed groups from the city and the removal of unofficial checkpoints. However, more heavy armed clashes followed, including in residential areas. In a statement, the Abu al-Abbas group said that it played a vital “social and civic” role in Taiz and bemoaned its “lack of formal acceptance” despite its role on the frontlines of the fight against the Houthis.[21] On March 23, the Abu al-Abbas group agreed to withdraw from their main base in the city — the Hayel Compound — and allow local police to takeover security.[22] Days later, Islah released a statement saying that it had no militia operating outside state security structures and that the party was the victim of a smear campaign. In an Islah-organized rally on March 30 to mark the onset of fighting in Taiz four years ago, participants carried placards showing images of Saudi and UAE leaders and banners with slogans supporting coalition member states.[23]

Civilian casualties were reported in parts of the city, although no aggregate death tolls were provided.[24] Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said it had treated 49 injured in the fighting and received two dead, but the fighter/civilian composition of this number is not clear.[25] A Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) study found that the rate of civilian casualties in Taiz had doubled since December 2018.


Graphic & Research: Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies

 

Houthis Subdue Tribal Uprising in Hajjah

Following weeks of fierce clashes in Kushar district, Hajjah, Houthi forces defeated local tribesmen and exerted control over the area in March. While the local Hajur tribe had remained neutral during the current conflict, tensions with Houthi forces escalated in mid-February in the mountainous Kushar district, through which Houthi supply routes run toward Haradh City and the Midi frontline. Houthi forces responded to the uprising with decisive force, likely in an effort to quell any nascent tribal rebellions in other areas under their control. The coalition airdropped military, food and medical supplies from the onset of the hostilities; observers reported that this support was inadequate and that the coalition had thus lost an opportunity to advance on Houthi supply lines between Sana’a and Sa’ada.[26]

There is an effective siege on the area and displacement has soared; the Norwegian Refugee Council recorded 3,700 newly displaced families from Kushar district.[27] At a governorate level, internal displacement has more than doubled over the past six months, from 203,000 people to 420,000. At least 22 civilians were killed in aerial attacks on March 10-11, pushing the UN to release a statement on the developments in Hajjah, which had until then received scant attention internationally.[28][29] 

By mid-March, the fighting had largely subsided following the killing of tribal leader Abu Muslim al-Zakri and the subsequent surrender of other prominent figures.[30] [31] A campaign of mass arrests followed and Houthi forces have since resumed their focus on the Midi front and fighting around Haradh.

War Between AQAP and Daesh Escalates

On March 24, the ongoing clashes between al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the so-called ‘Islamic State’ group, or Daesh, intensified when a Daesh suicide bomber managed to detonate his explosives inside the house of an AQAP commander in al-Bayda governorate. The commander, Abu Wafa al-Suraymi, was killed along with several other individuals. AQAP retaliated by overrunning several nearby Daesh positions, sparking a number of clashes across the governorate of al-Bayda.

But in its effort to carry out what it describes as “economic warfare” Daesh may have overstepped. In the area in al-Bayda near where it carried out the suicide attack it also destroyed a well along with an agricultural water pump. This damage to infrastructure upon which locals depend allowed AQAP to, within days, team up with tribes in the area to go after Daesh. They even placed a 5 million Yemeni rial bounty on the head of Khalid al-Marfadi, a Daesh leader in al-Bayda. (In October 2017, the United States sanctioned al-Marfadi for his actions on behalf of Daesh in Yemen.)

The US military was also active in al-Bayda, carrying out six airstrikes in March. These are the first acknowledged strikes by the US in Yemen since January, when it carried out two: one in Marib, which killed Jamal al-Badawi, and one in al-Bayda. The US did not release the number of casualties it believed it killed in the six strikes.

In Abyan governorate, Security Belt Forces, which are trained and backed by the UAE, arrested an alleged AQAP explosives expert named Abd al-Qadir al-Mawt, who was believed to be behind a series of assassination operations. One week after his arrest on April 1, Abd al-Qadir al-Mawt’s body was reportedly discovered on the side of the road near where he had been captured.   

Other Military and Security Developments in Brief:

  • March 1: A civilian was killed and several injured when Houthi gunmen exchanged fire at a mosque in Mudhaykhira district, Ibb governorate. Local media said the fighting was a result of a dispute over the ownership of a qat farm, and came days after another incidence of Houthi infighting in northern Ibb.[32]
  • March 12: There were reports of an explosion in the town of al-Dhalea during clashes between government-affiliated security forces and UAE-backed Security Belt forces. Casualties and injuries were reported on each side, and locals blocked roads the following day in demonstrations against the fighting.
  • March 13: Units within the Shabwah Elite Forces exchanged fire in Nassab district, Shabwah governorate, when a commander refused to follow the orders of a superior.[33] The clashes were attributed to “tribal conflicts and affiliations.” Local media said this is the first time that clashes have occurred between UAE-backed security force units, which have led a counterterrorism campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and have since become the main security actor in the oil-rich southern governorate.
  • March 14: At least 30 Yemeni government allied soldiers were either killed or injured by coalition airstrikes in the mountainous area of al-Rabaa in Barat al-Anan district, Al Jawf governorate.[34]
  • March 25: Two Saudi soldiers were released through mediation after being detained by Bani Nouf tribesmen in al-Jawf governorate while they were traveling from the al-Yutama region to the governorate’s capital, al-Hazm.[35] There have been no reports on the status of six Yemeni soldiers who were also detained. Al-Masdar online quoted tribal sources as saying that the tribesmen were seeking the release of two members that were arrested in al-Mahra governorate over a year ago while they were traveling to the Shahin border crossing to enter Oman.[36]
  • March 27: Saudi forces deployed around Socotra airport following the death of Saudi officer Abdul Latif al-Qahtani.[37] The cause of the officer’s death was unknown at the time of writing. Saudi troops arrived in Socotra in May 2018 to defuse escalating tensions over a UAE troop presence in the archipelago, and the status of Socotra has since been a source of tension within the Saudi-led coalition.[38] Some locals have accused the UAE of attempting to takeover the UNESCO-protected island, a claim that Abu Dhabi denies. The UAE’s presence on Socotra began with reconstruction projects following two destructive cyclones in 2015.

 

Political Developments

Aden Protesters Take Aim at UAE-Backed Security Forces

In the first week of March, there were demonstrations in Aden following the killing of a key witness in a child rape case involving members of the UAE-backed Security Belt forces. Raafat Danbaa was abducted from his home in the city’s Mualla district on March 2, shot, and later died in hospital.[39] Danbaa had testified against three Security Belt fighters, in a trial that saw two of the men convicted and sentenced to imprisonment. Yemen’s interior ministry said it would task a commission with investigating Danbaa’s murder.

On March 18, local media reported that protesters had blockaded the main road in Aden’s Al-Buriqah district, following the death of a fish vendor in prison.[40] Protesters claimed that Majid al-Dawabia, who had been held for months, was “tortured to death” and buried without his family’s knowledge. UAE-backed forces have de facto security control over Aden and Abu Dhabi has been accused of human rights abuses in prisons it runs in southern governorates, including allegations of arbitrary arrest and torture. On March 23, security forces shot dead three civilians and injured more in Al-Buriqah while trying to reopen a road blocked by demonstrators protesting the arrest of two men.[41] Local sources said the clashes could have led to a “massive human disaster,” given their proximity to Aden’s oil refinery.

Tribesmen Clash With Saudi Troops in al-Mahra

In Yemen’s eastern governorate of al-Mahra, there were clashes around the Shahen border crossing with Oman after local tribesmen blocked the passage of Saudi shipping containers entering the country.[42] A presidential committee was dispatched to the governorate to mediate between the parties, but departed on March 25 with no agreement reached, according to al-Masdar Online.[43][44] There have been long-running sit-ins and demonstrations against Saudi Arabia’s military deployment in al-Mahra, which began in November 2017, despite the governorate remaining largely isolated from the direct impacts of the Yemen conflict. Local autonomy has been central to the protests, with anger often being directed against Saudi forces asserting control over various ports and border crossings. In November, at least one protester was shot dead and several more injured in demonstrations against the establishment of a coalition checkpoint near Nashton seaport, al-Anfaq district.[45]

The al-Mahra and Socotra People’s General Council – a political group formed in the wake of the 2011 uprising that seeks to revive the al-Mahra Sultanate – held a meeting on March 27, which the Council’s chairman Sultan bin Isa al-Afrar billed as an effort to encourage unity between al-Mahra’s actors and foster stability.[46] Al-Afrar has been one of the most prominent voices opposing Saudi presence in al-Mahra, but during the meeting he confirmed the council’s support for the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led military coalition. A group of tribal leaders issued a statement shortly after the meeting, however, saying that their voices were not represented during the meeting.[47] Tribal opposition to Saudi Arabia’s presence in al-Mahra is not unanimous; Riyadh first established influence among tribes in the governorate in the 1980s, which included offering Saudi citizenship to prominent sheikhs.

Saudi Arabia has launched a range of development projects in al-Mahra and claims that its security presence is focused on preventing weapons smuggling into Yemen.[48] The establishment of military bases, takeover of sea and airports, and reports of a planned pipeline running from Saudi Arabia, through al-Mahra to Yemen’s southeast coast, have raised concerns regarding Riyadh’s long-term military and economic designs on the eastern governorate.[49] Al-Mahra has historical ties to Oman and longstanding informal trading practices between the two are seen as being under threat by Saudi Arabia’s military buildup in the governorate.  There has also been a backlash to a growing presence in al-Mahra of adherents to the Salafist Dar al-Hadith school, which some locals claim is facilitated by Saudi Arabia and the pro-Saudi governor, Rageh Bakrit.[50]

Houthi Authorities Announce Parliamentary Election Date

Houthi authorities announced that elections would be held on April 13 to fill empty seats in Yemen’s parliament.[51] There are currently 34 constituencies without a representative, half of which are in Houthi-controlled areas, where would-be candidates were asked to submit their requests to run through newly formed local committees. Despite not reaching the required minimal attendance, parliamentary sessions have continued in Sana’a since the Houthis took control of the capital.

At the end of March, reports in Yemeni and Emirati media quoting Yemeni lawmakers said that preparations were underway for a parliamentary session under President Hadi.[52][53] While the Hadi government is confident that enough lawmakers can be gathered for a legal parliamentary session, this calculation likely includes members of the separatist Southern Transitional Council, which has set up its own rival legislative bodies.

In February, President Hadi issued a directive to relocate the country’s electoral commission to Aden and reiterated plans to call a parliamentary session after the Houthis announced their intention to hold elections.[54] Yemen’s last parliamentary elections took place in 2003 and no sessions have been held since the beginning of the conflict.


Source: Central Bank of Yemen; Sana’a Center Economic Unit

Economic Developments

Houthis Restrict Import Financing, Risking Major Humanitarian Fallout

At the beginning of March, Houthi authorities banned Yemeni banks from opening letters of credit (LCs) with the central bank in Aden for food and medicine importers headquartered in Houthi-controlled areas.[55] Since June 2018, the central bank in Aden has been offering to underwrite the import of rice, wheat, sugar, milk, cooking oil, and certain types of medicine at a preferential exchange rate – which since late 2018 has been YR440 per US$1 – from funds allocated from the US$2 billion Saudi deposit.[56] Although companies that are headquartered in Aden are exempt from the Houthi ban, the reality is that most food and medicine importers are headquartered in Sana’a.

If enforced, the ban will almost certainly increase the local market prices of food and medicine and put downward pressure on the value of the Yemeni rial. Importers unable to obtain the LCs underwritten by the Aden central bank will need to purchase US dollars from the market, where the market rate in March averaged YR570-580 per $US1. Traders will inevitably pass these costs onto consumers, while increased demand in the market for foreign currency will drive down the value of the domestic currency and further erode local purchasing power. The ban will thus magnify the severity of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, already the worst in the world.

Houthis Continue Attempts to Undermine GoY Fuel Import Regulations

On March 24, the Houthi-run Yemen Petroleum Company (YPC) organized a protest by its employees in front of the United Nations office in Sana’a.[57] YPC announced that the protest was to denounce fuel importation constraints associated with the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) and the Yemeni government’s Decree 75.[58]

Among the conditions of Decree 75 is that traders must provide three years of bank statements to the Yemeni government-appointed Economic Committee in order to be permitted to import fuel into Yemen. The Saudi-led military coalition is helping to enforce the committee’s decisions regarding which ships may dock and offload fuel in Yemen. Many Houthi-associated traders only began importing fuel through Hudaydah port in 2016, and used money exchange companies to facilitate their fuel imports. They are not able to provide the requisite bank statements and thus under Decree 75 are barred from continuing to import fuel. In response, Houthi authorities have been attempting to both circumvent and undermine Decree 75.

Hadi Appoints Hafedh Mayad as Central Bank Governor

On March 20, President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi announced the appointment of Hafedh Mayad as the new governor of the central bank in Aden, replacing Mohammed Zammam.[59] Mayad’s experience includes six years as the chairman of the Cooperative and Agricultural Credit Bank (CAC Bank) in Sana’a (2004-2010), and his current positions as chairman of CAC International Bank in Djibouti (2012-present) and head of the Yemeni government-appointed Economic Committee, established in August 2018.[60] Mayad is also a member of the Development Champions, a group of eminent Yemeni experts who regularly convene under a program run by the Sana’a Center and partner organizations. His appointment as governor brings to an end months of speculation over anticipated changes to the leadership of the central bank in Aden, owing to an alleged breakdown in the relationship between President Hadi and the outgoing governor, Zammam.

The relationship between Hadi and Zammam deteriorated after the latter spoke with the central bank governor in Sana’a, Mohammed Sayani, in a video conference call that was facilitated by the UK government, according to various high-level sources who spoke with the Sana’a Center. The call occurred in December 2018, while Zammam was in Amman, Jordan, for weeklong talks between officials from the central bank in Aden and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and while Sayani was attending the UN-sponsored peace talks in Sweden. Zammam conducted the phone call without prior authorization from Hadi, according to several sources who spoke with the Sana’a Center.

The following month, accusations of corruption emerged against the central bank in Aden.[61] On January 20, Hafedh Mayad publicized a letter he sent to Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed calling for an investigation into the central bank in Aden’s foreign currency purchases between November 4 and November 29, 2018.[62]

It is unclear at this stage what the impact of Mayad’s new appointment will be on the Economic Committee. The committee’s primary responsibilities include the stabilization of the Yemeni rial and the implementation of Decree 75.[63] One arrangement the Yemeni government is considering, according to Sana’a Center sources, is the integration of  the work of the Economic Committee within either a new advisory body or the Supreme Economic Council, which the prime minister has reportedly been planning to reassemble since late 2018.

Three days into his tenure, Mayad announced that the central bank in Aden was preparing an emergency response plan to tackle currency instability in Yemen. Among the first steps, Mayad said the central bank in Aden would seek meetings with the boards of directors of Yemeni money exchange companies.[64]

Mayad is the fourth person to govern the central bank in four years; given that Yemeni by-laws regarding the central bank stipulate that the governor’s term should be five years – notwithstanding exceptional circumstances – the legality of President Hadi’s turnover of the governorship is questionable.  

Houthis Crack Down on Money Exchange Companies

On March 4 the Yemeni Exchangers Association (YEA) issued a statement expressing its concerns over the contradictory regulations the central banks in Aden and Sana’a have imposed on exchange companies. A prominent representative of a money exchange company who spoke with the Sana’a Center said if YEA members’ concerns were not addressed they would close all their branches across Yemen in protest. According to one well-informed source, the Houthis responded to the YEA by threatening to permanently close any money exchange company that participated in the protest.[65]

On March 7, local media reported that Houthi security had forced unlicensed money exchange companies in Sana’a to close.[66] The report cited an official at the Sana’a central bank as saying the closures would be extended to all Houthi-held urban areas, and that unlicensed money exchangers would only be allowed to remain open in remote areas, where there is no licensed service provider.

TeleYemen Headquarters Moved to Aden

On March 12, state-run telecommunications company TeleYemen completed the transfer of its headquarters from Sana’a to Aden.[67] According to a Sana’a-based source working in the telecommunications sector, Houthi authorities in Sana’a are expected to lose an estimated YR27 billion of the firm’s annual government payments as a result of the company’s relocation to Aden. As part of the procedure, the Yemeni government has informed Yemeni banks of the new personnel in charge in Aden and told them to reject any documentation provided by Sana’a-based officials.

 

Humanitarian Developments

Taiz Facing Water Crisis

The return of IDPs to Taiz and the approach of summer have exacerbated a growing water crisis in the city, the Associated Press (AP) reported in March.[68] Prior to the current conflict Taiz had a relatively functional public water system which – though beset by corruption and the depletion of wells that led to intermittent shortages – generally delivered water to people’s homes. With the advent of the ongoing conflict, however, the local authorities have lost the ability to operate the water network, leaving many residents dependent on distribution points run by private companies or charities.

A humanitarian worker in Taiz told the Sana’a Center that prices for water have spiked in the last three months. A water truck carrying 5,500 liters of water used to cost 7,000 Yemeni rials but this price has doubled since the beginning of the year, the aid worker said. A decree from the Ministry of Local Authorities setting water prices has been ignored by water truck owners, who justify their prices by pointing to the difficulties they face in collecting water, he added. While water shortages are not new to Taiz, the situation worsened during the war when Houthi forces took control of al-Hima, where water wells are located, while wells in al-Dhabab were cut off by fighting, the humanitarian worker said.

Yemen is the most water-poor country in the world, and many projects seeking to address this crisis have been suspended due to the war, former Yemeni water and environment minister Abdulsalam Razaz Saleh told the Lobelog in March.[69] Meanwhile solutions like desalination of seawater require stability and an end to the conflict, he said.

Infestation Threatens Red Sea Mills Grain Stores

Thousands of tons of grain stored in the Red Sea Mills near Hudaydah City is infested with insects, the World Food Programme (WFP) said in March.[70] Due to the conflict the UN had lost access to the mills in September 2018. At that time they held 51,000 tons of grain, enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month. Following a negotiated agreement between the warring parties, a WFP team was able to visit the silos in February and carry out an assessment. WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel said the grain would need to be fumigated before it could be milled for flour. He added that the WFP is awaiting clearance from local authorities to return to the mills and begin the process.

Save the Children Reports Spike in Suspected Cholera Cases

A surge in suspected cholera cases in March saw 40,000 new cases reported in two weeks, more than a third of whom were children, Save the Children reported on March 26. Cholera infected an average of 1,000 children each day in March, according to the organization, which warned that the arrival of heavy rains could worsen the spread of the outbreak.

The conflict-driven destruction of Yemen’s sanitation system, the contamination of water supplies and the displacement of families – who are subsequently left without access to clean water – have created the “perfect conditions” for the rapid spread of cholera, Save the Children said. The group added that widespread malnutrition has diminished many people’s immune systems and increased the fatality rate of the disease. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that the current spike in the recorded numbers could also be linked to early rains, increased willingness to seek treatment and better disease surveillance. According to data from Yemen’s Ministry of Public Health and Population, as of March 17 there were 108,889 suspected cases of cholera and 190 associated deaths in Yemen.

UNICEF reported in March that children living in protracted conflicts were almost three times more likely to die from diarrhoeal disease linked to unsafe water and sanitation than by violence directly linked to conflict. Children under five, meanwhile, are 20 times more likely to die from diarrhoeal disease due to unsafe water and sanitation than from violence.  

UNICEF Announces Support for 136,000 Teachers and School Staff

On March 10, UNICEF announced that it has started paying cash incentives to teachers in Yemen who have not received salaries in over two years. The UN agency will pay $50 monthly, in local currency, to 136,000 teachers and school staff to help keep classes for children running.[71] UNICEF said initial payments had already reached almost 100,000 of the intended recipients. It added that, due to various conflict-related factors, some 2 million school-age children in Yemen are unable to attend classes.

 

Human Rights and War Crimes Developments

In Focus: Persecution of Baha’i Religious Minority in Yemen

March 21 marked Nowruz, the Baha’i New Year (also the Persian New Year), though celebrations were restrained in Yemen for the religious minority. Baha’is fear to meet, even privately, amid ongoing persecution and incitement against them by the armed Houthi movement, a Baha’i spokesperson told the Sana’a Center in March.

The Baha’i faith, a monotheistic religion, was founded in Iran in the mid-nineteenth century. Its roots are in the Babi religion, which was founded in the 1840s by Iranian merchant Ali Mohammed al-Shirazi, known as the Bab. Baha’is believe the Bab and Bahá’u’lláh – one of the Bab’s followers and the eventual founder of Baha’ism – were manifestations of God. Persian authorities at the time accused the Bab of heresy and he was publicly executed in Iran in 1850. Bahá’u’lláh was also persecuted and imprisoned in Iran, before being exiled to Baghdad and later Constantinople. The Ottoman government exiled Bahá’u’lláh to a penal colony in Akka, Palestine in 1868, where he remained until his death in 1892. Until this day, Baha’is continue to face persecution in Iran, where they are routinely harassed, prosecuted and imprisoned for practicing their faith, and Iranian authorities regularly destroy their places of burial, according to Human Rights Watch.[72] Iran’s constitution does not recognize Baha’is as a religious minority.

Estimates of the Baha’i population in Yemen vary from one thousand to several thousand.[73] It is believed that the Bab brought his teachings to Yemen during a visit to Mokha in 1844.[74] Yemenis were also exposed to the Baha’i faith by the followers of Bahá’u’lláh who traveled through the Bab al-Mandeb Strait en route to visit Bahá’u’lláh in Palestine. Today, Baha’is are spread across the country, though with concentrations in Sana’a, Taiz, Hudaydah, and elsewhere. Baha’i spokesperson Abdullah al-Olofi told the Sana’a Center that while Baha’is were historically respected in Yemen due to their high levels of education, when awareness of the faith grew, some Baha’is lost prominent public sector jobs and members of the faith were excluded from government employment. Amnesty International also documented how they faced discrimination before the current conflict under late President Ali Abdullah Saleh.[75]

The Baha’i faith preaches universal peace, the equality of the sexes, compulsory education, the abolition of economic inequality, and harmony between religion and science. Baha’i teachings call on followers to serve humanity and do community service in the goal of universal fellowship, and this has been a factor in their persecution in Yemen. “Our people are involved in community initiatives but unfortunately all of that was taken as accusations of making Muslims convert to Baha’ism,” al-Olofi said. Indeed, in December 2013 the National Security Bureau in Sana’a arrested Hamed bin Haydara, a member of the Baha’i community, with Amnesty International saying he has been tortured in custody.[76]

Since the Iran-backed armed Houthi movement took control of Sana’a in a coup in September 2014, discrimination against the Baha’is has escalated. On August 10, 2016, armed officers from Yemen’s National Security Bureau arrested 65 men, women and children at a youth workshop in Houthi-controlled Sana’a in what Amnesty International described as “a blatant case of persecution of a minority faith.”[77] Their phones, documents and passports were confiscated, and they were only released after relatives paid fines, according to the Baha’i International Community, an NGO representing Baha’is globally.[78]

On January 8, 2015, Houthi authorities charged bin Haydara with collaborating with Israel.[79] The Baha’i Universal House of Justice is based in Haifa, in Israel, because Bahá’u’lláh lived, died and was buried in the area, prior to the establishment of the state of Israel. Bin Haydara was also charged with apostasy, insulting Islam and trying to convert Muslims to the Baha’i faith through charitable giving.  

In April 2017, Houthi-Saleh authorities in Sana’a issued arrest orders for 25 Baha’is. The UN Special Rapporteur described the court summons and arrest orders as “an act of intimidation pressuring the Yemeni Baha’is to recant their faith.”[80] Five Baha’is, including tribal leader Walid Ayyash, were arrested by Houthi authorities in Sana’a and Hudaydah in May 2017. In October 2017, Ayyash’s brother Akram Ayyash was arrested in a raid by Houthi security forces on a Baha’i gathering in Sana’a to celebrate a holy day, the Baha’i International Community reported.

On January 2, 2018, the Specialized Criminal Court in Sana’a sentenced Hamed bin Haydara to death.[81] The court also called for the dissolution of all Baha’i assemblies, the Baha’i International Community said. Bin Haydara is one of six Baha’is currently imprisoned by Houthi authorities. Another 19 Baha’is, including a woman and a child, have been forced into hiding with their families, according to the Baha’i International Community.[82] These Baha’is are being tried in absentia on charges of apostasy and espionage, according to al-Olofi, who himself was arrested by Houthi authorities for three days in October 2018. The same judge who sentenced bin Haydara to death is presiding over the other trials, raising fears that more death sentences will be issued.

A Baha’i among the 19 on trial in absentia told the Sana’a Center that he and his family went into hiding when the armed Houthi movement began its campaign against Baha’is. Hundreds of Baha’is living in Houthi-controlled areas did the same, he said, adding that “many lost their jobs, their children did not go to school, all this because we fear that they will catch us.” The charges facing him and other defendants are fabricated, he said, noting that they were the same charges that the Iranian government has used to persecute Baha’is for more than 50 years. “The fabrication of the charges is initiated by Iran and its leaders in coordination with the Houthis in Yemen to continue our persecution here,” he said.  

The claim that Baha’is are linked to the Israeli government or engaged in espionage is “a fantasy,” he said. Haifa is a holy place to Baha’is because Bahá’u’lláh was exiled to the area by a decision of the Ottoman authorities in coordination with Iran; Baha’i holy places are in present-day Israel, as are Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites, he noted. “The Baha’i faith is a religion that calls for peace and love, and its principles are based on the oneness of Allah and that all the prophets and messengers are from one source of guidance, namely, Allah,” he said. He urged the international community to protect Baha’is from injustice and oppression “because the situation is getting worse.”

The Baha’i International Community also says that Houthi persecution of Baha’is is directed by Iran. The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, has said that “the persistent pattern of persecution of the Baha’i community in Sana’a mirrors the persecution suffered by the Baha’is living in Iran.”[83]

Al-Olofi said that Baha’is in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen were no longer able to meet as a community, and that they lived under the constant surveillance of Houthi authorities. The Baha’i spokesperson said Baha’is had been increasingly targeted since a televised speech by Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi on March 23, 2018, in which he described the Baha’i faith as “satanic” and said Baha’is are “waging war on Islam and are sponsored and given freedom by Israel to incite Muslims in Yemen to convert.”[84] Al-Houthi urged Yemeni society to stand against Baha’is, a call that al-Olofi said gave a green light to all Yemenis to attack and harass Baha’is.

Meanwhile, the Houthi-controlled Ministry of Information has held workshops to train Yemenis to respond to the Baha’is’ “war of doctrine” through traditional and social media, while incitement against Baha’is has also been broadcast on Yemeni TV and radio, the Baha’i International Community reported.[85]

While the main threat facing Baha’is in Yemen comes from the armed Houthi movement, Baha’is have also been targeted by other extremist groups. Abdullah al-Zindani has called on all Islamic groups to campaign against Baha’is and said they were planted in Yemen by the United States.[86] Al-Zindani’s father is Abdulmajid al-Zindani, who played a key role in the formation of the Islah party.

Despite the rising persecution, few Baha’is have left Yemen, al-Olofi said. He urged authorities to respect Baha’is as Yemenis who have rights enshrined in the constitution, which states that Yemen should abide by international human rights law. He called for freedom of religion in Yemen, which he said most Yemenis believed in. “We need to be recognized as Yemeni citizens who have rights,” he said.

UN: 22 Civilians Killed in Hajjah Airstrike

An airstrike by the Saudi-led military coalition killed at least 22 civilians in the  Kushar district of Hajjah, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande said on March 11.[87] Ten women and 12 children were killed, Grande said, while 30 people, including 14 children, were injured. Some of the injured children were sent to hospitals in Abs and Sana’a, she added.

The Kushar district witnessed fierce clashes in early March, before Houthi forces defeated local tribesmen and took control of the area (For more information, see: “Houthis Subdue Tribal Uprising in Hajjah”’).

Other Human Rights and War Crimes Developments in Brief:

  • March 10: Women held a demonstration in Sana’a to protest the security chaos in the city and the rise in abductions of girls.[88] According to al-Masdar Online, there have been repeated disappearances of girls in Sana’a, including a 12-year-old who disappeared on her way home from school on March 8.
  • March 11: The Yemeni Coalition for Monitoring Human Rights Violations said it had observed 5,113 cases of the recruitment of child soldiers in Yemen in the past four years.[89]
  • March 11: Some 3,000 detainees are held in the Houthi-run prison in Dhamar, south Sana’a, making the facility the second largest prison used by the armed Houthi movement, according to al-Masdar Online.[90]
  • March 12: Ten Yemeni journalists are facing trial at a special criminal court in Sana’a charged with collaborating with enemy forces, which carries the death penalty, according to Reporters Without Borders. They are among 16 journalists detained by the armed Houthi movement.[91]  
  • March 14: Two children were returned to their families after being held hostage by tribesmen in Marib for five years.[92] The children, who are the grandsons of a businessman from Taiz, were released after mediation by their mother and an activist, Laila Thawr.  
  • March 14: The Abductees’ Mothers Association held a demonstration in Ibb to demand the release of their sons who were detained by the armed Houthi movement.[93] The association said there have been 563 cases of attempted financial extortion concerning the detainees.[94]
  • March 18: An aid worker from Action Against Hunger was killed in shelling in Hudaydah City.[95]
  • March 19: Activists in Yemen reported that Houthi authorities informed bus companies that they were barred from issuing tickets to women traveling without a mahram, or male member of their immediate family as an escort.  
  • March 24: Médecins Sans Frontières said it had treated 49 wounded and received two dead over four days of intense fighting in Taiz City which forced a public hospital to close.[96]
  • March 26: Seven people were killed when a missile hit a petrol station near a hospital in a rural area 100 kilometers north of Sa’ada, Save the Children reported.[97] Four children, a health worker and a security guard were among those killed.
  • April 1: The Abductees Mothers Association issued a statement calling for the release of dozens of “academics, journalists and students” it said were being held in a political security prison by Houthi authorities in Sana’a.[98] The statement said the prisoners were being tortured, held in degrading and deplorable conditions, and denied medical care.

Members of the second batch of Brigade 22 recruits march in formation during a graduation ceremony in Taiz City on March 11, 2019 // Photo Credit: Hossam Alqoliaa

International Diplomatic Developments

In the United States

White House Revokes US Military’s Drone Strike Reporting Requirement

The United States will no longer provide reports on some drone strikes it conducts outside “areas of active hostilities,” including death tolls. On March 6, the White House revoked part of the reporting requirement, which was introduced in 2016 under the Obama administration as an effort to improve transparency around the US drone campaign.[99]

The State Department told the Washington Post that the reports were redundant given requirements on civilian casualty reports mandated by legislation passed in Congress last year.[100][101] It added that policy amounted to “superfluous reporting requirements, requirements that do not improve government transparency, but rather distract our intelligence professionals from their primary mission.” The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, (D-CA), criticized the move, calling it a “troubling retreat from transparency,” and added that he would pursue mandatory reporting in the drafting of the Intelligence Authorization Act – the annual funding bill for intelligence activities – later this year.[102]

By revoking section 3 of Executive Order 13732, deaths resulting from some US strikes can now go unreported in Yemeni governorates not designated as areas of “active hostilities” – which in practice will mean all but certain parts of Abyan, Shabwah and al-Bayda.[103] This will diminish oversight and room for scrutiny of these controversial operations in Yemen; Marib and Hadramawt governorates, for example, have been frequent targets for strikes since the US drone war in Yemen began in 2002. In that time US drones have killed more than 1,000 people in the country, including at least 200 civilians.[104] A study by the Associated Press found that civilians accounted for nearly a third of total deaths from US drone strikes in 2018.[105] Pressure is also being exerted in Yemen over these extrajudicial killings; a March report from The National Commission to Investigate Alleged Human Rights Violations detailed civilian casualties as a result of drone strikes since 2015 and claimed that these operations are carried out by the US “in partnership” with the Yemeni government.[106]

The use of drone strikes against US-designated terrorist suspects began under President George W. Bush in the context of the post-9/11 “War on Terror”. President Barack Obama introduced legislation aimed at improving transparency, but simultaneously expanded the campaign, overseeing a tenfold increase in strikes worldwide compared with his predecessor.[107]

The incumbent President Donald Trump has gradually been whittling down measures to improve oversight of US drone strikes and assessments of civilian casualty risks. During his first months in office, Trump reportedly declared parts of three Yemeni governorates — Abyan, Shabwah and al-Bayda — “areas of active hostilities.”[108] Not only did this permit strikes without White House authorization, but the Defense Department was also no longer required to submit target lists for review by other government agencies — drastically reducing civilian oversight. In late 2017, Trump reportedly removed guidance on targets — opening the way for drones to strike low-level militants who pose only a questionable threat to US national security.[109]

The State Department has said that new requirements for civilian casualty reporting make the Obama-era requirements redundant. Yet Larry Lewis, a former State Department adviser who helped create the executive order requiring the reporting, said that the decision creates a “transparency gap” as this new legislation obligates only the Defense Department to submit reports, excluding other US agencies or bodies involved in the use of force.[110] This type of oversight is particularly important now; in March 2017, the Wall Street Journal said that Trump had expanded the CIA’s authorization to conduct drone strikes, reversing Obama-era efforts to transfer permissions solely to the US military.[111]

Officially ending this reporting requirement may not be in itself of great consequence, however, as the Defense Department did not issue such a report in 2017.

Senate Follows House in Voting to End US Involvement In Yemen War

On March 13, the Senate voted 54-46 to end US military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.[112] The vote followed the House of Representatives passing a similar bill in February.[113] Senate Joint Resolution 7 invokes the War Powers Act and instructs the president to remove US forces from “hostilities in or affecting Yemen” unless Congress provides authorization otherwise.[114] This is the second time legislation invoking the War Powers Act regarding the Pentagon’s role in Yemen has passed the Senate; another bill was voted through in December of last year, but did not make it further before the end of the congressional session.

US assistance includes intelligence support, training, and maintenance of coalition aircraft. The resolution specifies mid-air refueling as one of the prohibited activities, and while this support ended last year there is currently no legislation to prevent its resumption.

The White House has previously said that it would override any attempts by Congress to curb US involvement in Yemen. In comments to reporters shortly after the vote, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the legislation would be a gift to Iran and that ending assistance to the coalition would “prolong the conflict by handicapping our partners in the fight.”[115]

The House of Representatives will have to approve the Senate version of the bill before it moves to President Trump’s desk. Regardless, the legislation’s impact is likely to be symbolic rather than legal; there is not the majority in Congress to override an almost-certain presidential veto, and there is a debate over whether US actions in Yemen qualify as “hostilities.”

 

In Europe

UK Special Forces Reportedly Injured Fighting Houthis

The UK government in March admitted its indirect support of the Saudi-led aerial campaign in Yemen, and a UK newspaper reported that elite British troops were fighting in Yemen.

Responding to a written question by Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Minister for the Armed Forces Mark Lancaster said that members of the UK’s Royal Air Force on secondment to BAE Systems in Saudi Arabia had “provided routine engineering support” for Saudi aircraft militarily engaged in Yemen.[116] RAF staff had also provided “generic training support” to aircrew from the Royal Saudi Air Force, Lancaster said. RAF personnel were not, however, involved in planning or loading weapons for operational sorties, the minister said.

On March 23, the UK’s Mail on Sunday reported that up to 30 British Special Boat Service (SBS) forces were engaged in combat operations against Houthi forces in Sa’ada governorate.[117] An SBS source told the newspaper that the elite forces’ principal role was training and mentoring, but that troops had also engaged in firefights. According to the report, at least five British soldiers have been injured in combat. Mark Field, Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign Office, said he would investigate the allegations.[118]

Germany Extends Saudi Arms Export Ban But Exempts Joint EU Ventures

After weeks of heated debates between the governing coalition parties in Germany, Berlin extended its halt on arms exports to Saudi Arabia in March, while making an exception for joint EU armament projects.[119] On March 28, German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert announced that the suspension of arms exports to Saudi Arabia, imposed in October 2018 after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, would be renewed for six months until September 30. Until then, no new arms export licenses will be granted.

Existing arms export licenses for joint European projects will be extended until the end of 2019, but assembled weapons systems are barred from being delivered to Saudi Arabia or the UAE during this period.

This arrangement follows pressure on Berlin from France and the UK. France’s ambassador to Germany, Anne-Marie Descôtes, in a recent working paper said the German export control system was unpredictable and harmed “our bilateral cooperation in the field of defense.”[120] Descôtes said Germany’s ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia damaged the work of French and European companies, some of whom had been waiting for the delivery of German components for joint weapons projects for more than a year. German arms export policies were also discussed during UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s three-day visit to Gulf countries in March.[121] During a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on March 2, Hunt distanced himself from German restrictions on arms to  Saudi Arabia, according to a report by Intelligence Online.[122]

BAE Systems plc, a British multinational defense company, relies on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the report noted. BAE Systems holds a 37.5 percent share of the European missile producer MBDA, whose sale of Meteor missiles to Riyadh may be affected by the German ban. The propulsion systems for the Meteor missile are built in Germany.

Court Orders Berlin to Investigate US Base Over Drone Campaign

On March 19, a German court ruled that the government must take measures to determine the legality of US drones strikes conducted with the assistance of an American air base in Germany.[123]  

The lawsuit was filed by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights on behalf of three Yemeni nationals whose relatives were killed in a US drone strike in Hadramawt in 2012.[124] Their claim that Germany was complicit in the lethal strike had been dismissed by a lower court.

The Muenster Administrative court on March 19 said that evidence suggested the Ramstein US air base played a “central role” in relaying flight control data used for drone strikes in Yemen. A 2015 report by The Intercept called Ramstein Air Base the “high-tech heart of America’s drone program,” citing US intelligence documentation, which they said showed the communication architecture supporting the strikes.[125] The court ordered the German government to determine if US drone strikes controlled by the air base complied with international law, and to pressure the US to abide by international law if necessary. The case is to be reviewed by the Federal Administrative Court, and the German government said it would study the ruling.

 

Other International Diplomatic Developments

Southern Transitional Council Leader Visits UK, Russia

In March, the head of the Southern Transitional Council (STC), Aidarous Al-Zubaidi, visited the UK and Russia. Al-Zubaidi met with UK parliamentarians in London on March 6 and with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov in Moscow on March 19.[126] The STC’s UK parliamentary visits were facilitated by the British-based organization Independent Diplomat, assisted by the public relations firm Quatro, which was enlisted by the UAE. The STC delegation discussed the movement’s aspirations for southern independence and lobbied for their inclusion in the UN-led peace process. On March 20, the Russian ambassador to Yemen, Vladimir Dedushkin, met with Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed in Aden, and said Moscow planned to reopen a consulate in Aden, the capital of the internationally recognized Yemeni government.[127]

Malaysian, Indonesian Captives Freed after Omani Mediation

In March, Oman helped secure the release of an Indonesian and a Malaysian held captive in Yemen, the state-run Oman News Agency reported.[128]

Oman reached an agreement with authorities in Sana’a for the captives’ release at the request of the Indonesian and Malaysian governments, the report said. They were transferred to Oman on March 11 to be repatriated to their countries. Oman has previously mediated the releases of prisoners held by the armed Houthi movement in Yemen.


This report was prepared by (in alphabetical order): Ali Abdullah, Waleed Alhariri, Anthony Biswell, Hamza al-Hamadi, Gregory Johnsen, Farea al-Muslimi, Spencer Osberg, Hannah Patchett, Ghaidaa al-Rashidy, Sala al-Sakkaf, Victoria K. Sauer, Holly Topham, and Aisha al-Warraq.  


The Yemen Review – formerly known as Yemen at the UN – is a monthly publication produced by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies. Launched in June 2016, it aims to identify and assess current diplomatic, economic, political, military, security, humanitarian and human rights developments related to Yemen.  

In producing The Yemen Review, Sana’a Center staff throughout Yemen and around the world gather information, conduct research, and hold private meetings with local, regional, and international stakeholders in order to analyze domestic and international developments regarding Yemen.

This monthly series is designed to provide readers with contextualized insight into the country’s most important ongoing issues.


This report was developed with the support of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

 

 


Endnotes

  1. The term “Stockholm Syndrome”, named after a hostage situation that took place in the Swedish capital in 1973, refers to a mental condition in which hostages develop an enforced psychological dependence on their captors. For details, see https://www.britannica.com/science/Stockholm-syndrome
  2.  “Press Release: Foreign Secretary visits Yemen to bolster support for UN peace process,” The National Archives Government of UK, March 3, 2019, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/foreign-secretary-visits-yemen-to-bolster-support-for-un-peace-process. Accessed March 23, 2019.
  3.  “UK’s Hunt says Yemen peace process ‘could be dead within weeks’,” Reuters News, March 3, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-hunt/uks-hunt-says-yemen-peace-process-could-be-dead-within-weeks-idUSKCN1QK0FV. Accessed March 24, 2019.
  4.   “Diplomacy Sinking at Hudaydah Port – The Yemen Review, February 2019,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, March 7, 2019, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/7162. Accessed March 24, 2019.
  5.  “Stockholm Agreement Meets Yemeni Reality – The Yemen Review, January 2019,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, March 11, 2019, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/7027#Special-Envoy-We-Need-to-Remain-Hopeful. Accessed March 23, 2019.
  6.  US Embassy in Yemen, “Statement from the Ambassadors of the P5 Countries to Yemen,” March 12, 2019, https://ye.usembassy.gov/statement-from-the-ambassadors-of-the-p5-countries-to-yemen/. Accessed March 24, 2019.
  7.  Ibid.
  8.  “Statement by The Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, on the Implementation of the Hudayda Agreement,” UN Office of the Special Envoy for Yemen, March 19, 2019, https://osesgy.unmissions.org/statement-special-envoy-secretary-general-yemen-martin-griffiths-implementation-hudayda-agreement. Accessed March 23, 2019.
  9.  Mohamed Ghobari, “Heavy weapons fire rocks Yemen’s Hodeidah as U.N. pushes to clinch troop pullout,” Reuters News, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-yemen-security/heavy-weapons-fire-rocks-yemens-hodeidah-as-un-pushes-to-clinch-troop-pullout-idUKKCN1R6200. Accessed March 25, 2019.
  10.  Ahmed al-Haj, “AP Interview: Yemen’s rebels say they won’t give up port,” The Associated Press, March 19, 2019, https://apnews.com/030f408b58bc4dec9cde4b11e8439873. Accessed March 24, 2019.
  11.  Al Masirah Video Channel, وقائع المؤتمر الصحفي لنائب وزير الخارجية حسين العزي” (“Proceedings of the Press Conference of Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein Al-Ezzi”), YouTube Video, March 18, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrGKlSVIbPo. Accessed April 1, 2019.
  12.  Yemen Arab Roots, “ناطق الحكومة اليمنية : الحوثيون يتخلّون رسميا عن اتفاق السويد ولم تصلنا أية أفكار جديدة من “غريفيث”” (Yemeni government spokesman: The Houthis officially quit the Swedish agreement and we have not received any proposals from Griffiths”), YouTube Video, March 21, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywdOCQoblz0. Accessed April 1, 2019.
  13.  “Hodeidah witnessed the fiercest clashes between government forces and Houthis for months,” Al-Mashhad Al-Yemeni, March 3, 2019, https://www.almashhad-alyemeni.com/128078. Accessed April 1, 2019
  14.  “Violent deaths of five children in Hudaydah a harsh reminder that war rages on after Yemen pledging conference,” UNICEF, March 2, 2019, https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/violent-deaths-five-children-hudaydah-harsh-reminder-war-rages-after-yemen-pledging. Accessed April 1, 2019.
  15.  “معارك عنيفة شرقي الحديدة تسفر عن قتلى حوثيين وحريق التهم مصنعاً,” (“Heavy fighting east of Hudaydah results in Houthi deaths and a factory fire”),  al-Masdar Online, March 9, 2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/165117. Accessed April 1, 2019.
  16.  Mohamed Ghobari, “Heavy weapons fire rocks Yemen’s Hodeidah as U.N. pushes to clinch troop pullout,” Reuters, March 25, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security/heavy-weapons-fire-rocks-yemens-hodeidah-as-u-n-pushes-to-clinch-troop-pullout-idUSKCN1R614F. Accessed April 1, 2019.
  17.  Mareb Press, March 21, 2019, https://marebpress.net/news_details.php?sid=148983. Accessed March 24, 2019.
  18.  “Clashes in Taiz following the killing of an officer of the government forces by gunmen close to Abu Al-Abbas,” Al-Masdar Online, March 18, 2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/165497. Accessed March 25, 2019.
  19.  Islah’s Political and Military Ascent in Taiz”, Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, November 12, 2018, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/6634. Accessed April 5, 2019.
  20. “The security campaign is continuing,.. Taiz police arrest security wanted and others killed in clashes,” Al-Masdar Online, March 21, 2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/165630. Accessed March 25, 2019.
  21.  Eastern Front for Popular Resistance “Taiz” – Abu Abbas Front, Facebook Post, March 22, 2019, 11:00pm, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=2068393649940100&id=808611169251694.  Accessed March 25, 2019.
  22.   “Taiz.. Official Committee receives the headquarters of “Abu Abbas” gunmen and agreement on a mechanism for deployment of the police,” Al-Masdar Online, March 24, 2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/165710 Accessed March 25, 2019.
  23.  “Thousands participate in a rally called for by the Islah party in Taiz demanded the liberation of the city completely,” Al-Masdar Online, March 30, 2019. https://almasdaronline.com/articles/165978. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  24.   “Taiz.. Security campaign stops firing after it progresses in areas where militants are stationed and waiting for wanted extradition,” Al-Masdar Online, March 23, 2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/165663. Accessed March 25, 2019.
  25.  “People unable to access lifesaving care amid heavy fighting in Taiz city,”  Médecins Sans Frontières, March 24, 2019, https://www.msf.org/yemen-forty-nine-wounded-and-two-dead-after-four-days-heavy-fighting-taiz-city. Accessed March 27, 2019.
  26.  “A Grim Anniversary: Yemen After Four Years of the Saudi-led Military Intervention,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, March 26, 2019, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/analysis/7239. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  27.  “Update on situation in Hajjah and Hodeidah,” Norwegian Refugee Council, March 13, 2019, https://www.nrc.no/news/2019/march/on-the-record-update-on-situation-in-hajjah-and-hodeidah-yemen/. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  28.  “Twenty-two civilians killed, including children, in north Yemen: U.N.” Reuters, March 11, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security/twenty-two-civilians-killed-including-children-in-north-yemen-un-idUSKBN1QS27W. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  29.  “Dozens killed and injured by new attacks in western Yemen, UN coordinator condemns ‘outrageous’ toll,” UN News, March 11, 2019, https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/03/1034491. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  30.  “The president and his deputy are proud of the martyrdom of resistance leader #Hajour,” الرئيس ونائبه يعزيان في استشهاد قائد مقاومة #حجور, Aden Lng, March 11, https://adnlng.info/news/113316/. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  31.  “Al-Houthi campaign in Hajur continues.. Kidnapping, storming houses, looting cars,” Al-Masdar Online, March 20, 2019. https://almasdaronline.info/articles/165565, Accessed April 2, 2019.
  32.  “Six dead and wounded in clashes between Houthis in a mosque in Ibb province,” Al-Masdar Online, March 2, 2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/164869. Accessed March 24, 2019.
  33.  “Armed clashes between the factions of the “elite” forces,” اشتباكات مسلحة بين فصائل قوات “النخبة” الشبوانية, Aden Post, March 13, 2019, http://aden-post.com/news/63079/. Accessed March 18, 2019.
  34.  “Military source: About 30 government soldiers killed and wounded by coalition raid in Al-Jawf,” Al-Masdar Online, March 14, 2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/164869. Accessed March 18, 2019.
  35.  “Release of Two Saudi soldiers kidnapped about two weeks ago in al-Jawf,” Al-Masdar Online, March 25, 2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/165748. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  36.  “Tensions between government forces and tribal gunmen in al-Jawf after the abduction of two Saudi and six Yemeni soldiers,” Al-Masdar Online, March 14, 2019, https://www.almasdaronline.com/article/tensions-between-government-forces-and-tribal-gunmen-in-al-jawf-after-the-abduction-of-two-saudi-and-six-yemeni-soldiers. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  37.  “Socotra.. Saudi forces deployment after mysterious death of senior officer at Governorate airport,” Al-Masdar Online, March 30, 2019. https://almasdaronline.com/articles/165976. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  38.  Eleonora Ardemagni, “Vying for Paradise? What Socotra Means for the UAE and Saudi Arabia,” Middle East Centre Blog, London School of Economics, June 11, 2018, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/mec/2018/06/11/vying-for-paradise-what-socotra-means-for-the-uae-and-saudi-arabia/. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  39.  “In Aden angry protests continue against the backdrop of the killing of the young man Raafat Danbaa,”  “عدن.. تواصل الاحتجاجات الغاضبة على خلفية مقتل الشاب رأفت دنبع,” Aden News, March 4, 2019, http://aden-news.net/aden-65982. Accessed March 19, 2019.
  40.  “Citizens close the streets of Al-Buriqah to protest the death of a detainee under torture in Al-Jala’a camp,” “مواطنون يغلقون شوارع البريقة احتجاجاً على وفاة معتقل تحت التعذيب في معسكر الجلاء,” Yemen Now, March 18, 2019, https://yemen-now.com/news4994801.html. Accessed March 19, 2019.
  41.  “Civilians killed and wounded after security forces campaign to open road closed by protesters in Aden,” March 23, 2019, Al-Masdar Online, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/165658. Accessed March 19, 2019.
  42.  “Al-Mahrah: Re-opening of border cargo port after closure due to clashes between the army and tribes against the Saudi presence,” Al-Masdar Online, March 13, 2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/165275. Accessed April 1, 2019.
  43.  “Presidential Commission arrives in Al-Mahrah after escalating tension between security forces and anti-Saudi presence tribes,” Al-Masdar Online, March 17, 2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/165438. Accessed April 1, 2019.
  44.  “An official talks about the fail the presidential commission to reach a formula that ends the tension in Al-Mahrah,” Al-Masdar Online, March 28, 2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/165893. Accessed April 1, 2019.
  45.  “Al-Mahrah: Protesters killed by security bullets after protesters protest against creation of security point,” Al-Masdar Online, November 14, 2018, https://almasdaronline.com/article/al-mahrah-protesters-killed-by-security-bullets-after-protesters-protest-against-creation-of-security-point. Accessed April 1, 2019.
  46.  “Sultan Abdullah bin Issa Al-Afar heads an extended meeting of elders and social figures and calls on them to maintain the stability of the skilled,” السلطان عبدالله بن عيسى آل عفرار يرأس لقاء موسع للشيوخ والشخصيات الإجتماعية ويدعوهم الحفاظ على استقرار المهرة, March 27, 2019, Al-Moheet Press https://almoheetpress.net/news9863.html. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  47.  Elisabeth Kendall, Twitter Post, March 30, 2019, https://twitter.com/Dr_E_Kendall/status/1112014943103127552. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  48.  “Saudi Arabia Launches 8 Projects, in Al-Mahra Governorate, Yemen,” Saudi Press Agency, August 1, 2019, https://www.spa.gov.sa/viewfullstory.php?lang=en&newsid=1792586. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  49.  “Document reveals the intention of Riyadh to establish an oil port in eastern Yemen,” وثيقة تكشف عزم الرياض إنشاء ميناء نفطي شرق اليمن‎, Arabi21, August 20, 2018, https://bit.ly/2HS8Hej. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  50.  “Meet the female activists standing up to fundamentalism in eastern Yemen,” The Sunday Times, February 10, 2019, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/meet-the-female-activists-standing-up-to-fundamentalism-in-eastern-yemen-tdr5l8v9j. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  51.  “Houthis decide next month to fill vacant parliamentary seats,” “الحوثيون يحددون الشهر المقبل موعداً لملء المقاعد البرلمانية الشاغرة,” Al-Awsat, March 15, 2019, https://bit.ly/2FDdePo. Accessed March 19, 2019.
  52.  “Parliamentarians confirms to Al-Masdar online that they have received a call for a meeting. Will the Council really be convened this time and where?” Al-Masdar Online, March 31, 2019, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/166028. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  53.  “Yemen’s parliament to hold first session since civil war started,” The National, April 1, 2019, https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/yemen-s-parliament-to-hold-first-session-since-civil-war-started-1.843711. Accessed April 2, 2019.
  54.  “Diplomacy Sinking at Hudaydah Port – The Yemen Review, February 2019” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, March 7, 2019, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/7162. Accessed, April 1, 2019.
  55.  Sana’a Center interview on March 22, 2019.
  56.  “Yemen at the UN – June 2018 Review,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, July 17, 2018, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/yemen-at-the-un/6262. Accessed March 25, 2019.
  57.  Yemen Petroleum Company, March 24, 2019, https://www.facebook.com/ypcye.OilNews/photos/a.1012954425382461/2434619376549285/?type=3&theater. Accessed March 25, 2019.
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  90.  “(منطقة عبور المسافرين التي تحولت إلى مثلث برمودا.. “المصدر أونلاين” يتتبع خارطة السجون الحوثية في ذمار (تقرير خاص” (“The transit area of travelers that turned into the Bermuda Triangle.. ” al-Masdar Online” tracks the map of Houthi prisons in Dhamar (Special Report).”), al-Masdar Online, March 11, 2019,
  91.  “Ten Yemeni journalists held by Houthis now face possible execution,” Reporters without Borders, March 12, 2019, https://rsf.org/en/news/ten-yemeni-journalists-held-houthis-now-face-possible-execution. Accessed April 4, 2019.
  92.  “مأرب: وساطة تنجح بإعادة طفلين إلى أسرتهما بعد 5 سنوات من الإحتجاز” (“Marib: Mediation succeeds in returning two children to their families after five years of detention”), The Yemen, March 14, 2019,
  93.  “أمهات المختطفين في إب: تعرض 563 من أسر المختطفين للابتزاز المالي” (“Mothers of Abductees in Ibb: 563 abducted families were subjected to financial extortion,” al-Masdar Online, March 14, 2019,
  94.  Abductees Mothers Association, Twitter post, March 14, 2019, 3:45 a.m., https://twitter.com/abducteesmother/status/1106144387397009409?s=20. Accessed April 1, 2019.  
  95. Yemen: Action Against Hunger Colleague Killed in Violence in Hodeidah.” Action Against Hunger USA,  March 19, 2019,
  96.  “People unable to access lifesaving care amid heavy fighting in Taiz city,” Medecins Sans Frontieres, March 24, 2019, https://www.msf.org/yemen-forty-nine-wounded-and-two-dead-after-four-days-heavy-fighting-taiz-city. Accessed March 25, 2019.
  97.  “Seven killed in bombing of Save the Children supported hospital in Yemen,” Save the Children, March 26, 2019, https://www.savethechildren.net/article/seven-killed-bombing-save-children-supported-hospital-yemen. Accessed March 31, 2019.
  98.  Abductees Mothers Association, Twitter post, April 2, 2019, 12:49 a.m., https://twitter.com/abducteesmother/status/1112985490645553158?s=20. Accessed April 4, 2019.
  99.  “Executive Order on Revocation of Reporting Requirement,” March 6, 2019, https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-revocation-reporting-requirement/. Accessed March 14, 2019.
  100.  Missy Ryan, “Trump administration alters Obama-era bill on civilian casualties in U.S. airstrikes,” The Washington Post, March 6, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/white-house-weakens-obama-era-rule-on-civilian-casualties/2019/03/06/b2940dfe-4031-11e9-9361-301ffb5bd5e6_story.html. Accessed March 14, 2019.
  101.  H.R.2810 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2810/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22national+defense+authorization+act%22%5D%7D&r=2. Accessed March 14, 2019.
  102.  “Schiff Statement on Trump Cancellation of U.S. Report on Civilian Deaths in Drone Strikes,” U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, March 6, 2019, https://intelligence.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=613, Accessed March 14, 2019.
  103.  “United States Policy on Pre- and Post-Strike Measures To Address Civilian Casualties in U.S. Operations Involving the Use of Force,” copy published in the Federal Register of the National Archives, originally signed on July 1, 2016, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2016-07-07/pdf/2016-16295.pdf. Accessed March 14, 2019.
  104.  Ibid
  105.  Maggie Michael and Maad al-Zikry, “Hidden toll of US drone strikes in Yemen: Nearly a third of deaths are civilians, not al-Qaida,” The Associated Press (via The Military Times), November 14, 2018 https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2018/11/14/hidden-toll-of-us-drone-strikes-in-yemen-nearly-a-third-of-deaths-are-civilians-not-al-qaida/. Accessed March 27, 2019.
  106.  “Sixth report: on the work of the National Commission to investigate allegations of human rights violations,” التقرير السادس : عن أعمال اللجنة الوطنية للتحقيق في ادعاءات انتهاكات حقوق الإنسان, The National Commission to Investigate Alleged Human Rights Violations, March 28, 2019, https://bit.ly/2uH8YrC Accessed April 2, 2019.
  107.  Obama’s Covert Drone War in Numbers: Ten Times More Strikes than Bush,” The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, January 17, 2017, https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2017-01-17/obamas-covert-drone-war-in-numbers-ten-times-more-strikes-than-bush. Accessed March 26, 2019.
  108.  Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt, “Trump Administration Is Said to Be Working to Loosen Counterterrorism Rules,” The New York Times, March 12, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/12/us/politics/trump-loosen-counterterrorism-rules.html. Accessed March 14, 2019.
  109.  Luke Hartig, “Trump’s New Drone Strike Policy: What’s Any Different? Why It Matters,” Just Security, September 22, 2017, https://www.justsecurity.org/45227/trumps-drone-strike-policy-different-matters/. Accessed March 14, 2019.
  110.  Larry Lewis, “Reflecting on the Civilian Casualty Executive Order: What Was Lost and What Can Now Be Gained,” Just Security, March 12, 2019, https://www.justsecurity.org/63202/reflecting-civilian-casualty-executive-order/. Accessed March 25, 2019.
  111.  “Trump gives CIA authority to conduct drone strikes: WSJ,” Reuters, March 14, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-cia-drones-idUSKBN16K2SE. Accessed March 14, 2019.
  112.  Catie Edmondson, “Senate Votes Again to End Aid to Saudi War in Yemen, Defying Trump,” The New York Times, March 13, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/13/us/politics/yemen-saudi-war-senate.html. Accessed March 24, 2019.
  113.  “Diplomacy Sinking at Hudaydah Port – The Yemen Review, February 2019,” The Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, March 7, 2019, http://sanaacenter.org/publications/the-yemen-review/7162#New-Fronts-Open-in-Congress-Targeting-US-policy-in-Yemen. Accessed March 25, 2019.
  114.  “S.J.Res.7 – A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress,” https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-joint-resolution/7?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22yemen%22%5D%7D&r=3&s=1. Accessed March 24, 2019.
  115.  Pompeo, Mike. Twitter post, March 15, 2019, 1:06pm. https://twitter.com/secpompeo/status/1106647775368888320?s=12. Accessed March 26, 2019.
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  117.  Marc Nicol, “Our secret dirty war: Five British Special Forces troops are wounded in Yemen while ‘advising’ Saudi Arabia on their deadly campaign that has brought death and famine to millions,“ Daily Mail, March 23, 2019, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6843469/Five-British-Special-Forces-troops-wounded-Yemen-advising-Saudi-Arabia-campaign.html. Accessed March 31, 2019.
  118.  “Minister Pledges To Investigate Allegations Linked To UK Special Forces In Yemen,“ Forces Network, March 27, 2019, https://www.forces.net/news/special-forces/minister-pledges-investigate-allegations-linked-uk-special-forces-yemen. Accessed March 31, 2019.
  119.  “Bundesregierung verlängert Rüstungsembargo gegen Saudi-Arabien um sechs Monate,” Spiegel Online, March 29, 2019, http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundesregierung-verlaengert-ruestungsexportstopp-fuer-saudi-arabien-um-6-monate-a-1260215.html. Accessed 30 March, 2019.
  120.  Anne-Marie Descôtes, “Vom ,German-free’ zum gegenseitige Vertrauen,” Federal Academy for Security Policy, March 26, 2019, https://www.baks.bund.de/de/arbeitspapiere/2019/vom-german-free-zum-gegenseitigen-vertrauen. Accessed 30 March, 2019.
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  124.  “Jemeniten verklagen Deutschland. Welche Rolle spielt Ramstein im US-Drohnenkrieg?,” (“Yemenis sue Germany. What role does Ramstein play in the US drone war?”)
  125. Jeremy Scahill, “Germany is the Tell-Tale Heart of America’s Drone War,” The Intercept, April 17, 2015, https://theintercept.com/2015/04/17/ramstein/. Accessed March 19, 2019.
  126.  Adalah Yenen, “Shady M. Qubaty moderating Adalah’s panel in the UK Parliament on The Rule of Law in Yemen,” YouTube Video, March 7, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMOgouMzrm4. Accessed April 1, 2019; “President Al-Zubaidi holds a meeting with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Baghdanov,” Southern Transitional Council Official Website, http://en.stcaden.com/news/8569. Accessed April 1, 2019.
  127.  Mazen AbdulMalek Saeed, Twitter post, March 20, 2019, 10:53 a.m.,
  128. “The Sultanate Assists in Reaching Agreement with Yemeni Authorities for Return of Indonesian, Malaysian Citizens,” Oman News Agency, March 11, 2019, https://www.omannews.gov.om/ona_eng/index.html#/searchlabel3/379859. Accessed April 4, 2019.

 

The Apology of Aid

The Apology of Aid

Of the 40 nations and international organizations that offered up funds at last month’s High Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were by far the largest donors. Between them they committed more than half of the US$2.62 billion raised. These two nations, given how they have pursued their military intervention in Yemen since 2015, also bear primary responsibility for creating and perpetuating the country’s humanitarian crisis. The next largest donor was the United Kingdom which, along with the United States, has provided crucial political and military support to the Saudi-led military coalition and leveraged its permanent seat at the UN Security Council to undermine attempts to hold the parties of the conflict accountable for war crimes.

Diplomacy Sinking at Hudaydah Port  – The Yemen Review, February 2019

Diplomacy Sinking at Hudaydah Port – The Yemen Review, February 2019

Al-Muhdhar mosque in Tareem, Hadramawt governorate, which appears on the 500 rial Yemeni banknote, is thought to have been built in the 5th century by the ruler at the time, Omar al-Muhdhar bin Abdul Rahman al-Saqqaf. The surrounding town is a historic center for Islamic scholarship. Pictured here on February 3, 2019 // Photo Credit: Naif M. Alnajm  

The Sana’a Center Editorial

The Apology of Aid

Of the 40 nations and international organizations that offered up funds at last month’s High Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were by far the largest donors. Between them they committed more than half of the US$2.62 billion raised. These two nations, given how they have pursued their military intervention in Yemen since 2015, also bear primary responsibility for creating and perpetuating the country’s humanitarian crisis. The next largest donor was the United Kingdom which, along with the United States, has provided crucial political and military support to the Saudi-led military coalition and leveraged its permanent seat at the UN Security Council to undermine attempts to hold the parties of the conflict accountable for war crimes.

With a handful of exceptions, most donor countries at the pledging event – whether through their diplomatic support, their arms sales, or through their silence – have been accomplices to the war in Yemen and the horrors it has wrought. In 2016, Saudi Arabia also threatened to withdraw hundreds of millions of dollars in UN aid funding in a successful blackmail of then-UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, forcing the latter to remove the kingdom from a UN report that said it was guilty of killing and maiming children in Yemen.               

In this light, most of the governments pledging to finance the UN humanitarian effort in Yemen last month cannot be seen as altruistic actors grounded in moral conviction. Rather, humanitarian aid – alongside weapons, sanctions and diplomatic maneuvering – has become an integral part of the tool kit nations involved in this conflict deploy when expedient. For whatever else it is, giving to the aid effort in Yemen is an attempt to save face for those parties who have helped facilitate, and often profited from, the single largest manifestation of human suffering in the modern era. Their aid offering is an apology for failing to take real action to stop this outrageous, ongoing atrocity.

US and UK officials have often argued that their support of the Saudi-led military coalition has actually helped reduce the war’s toll on civilians. The argument is that through their diplomatic support the US and UK have maintained access and influence with Saudi and Emirati decisionmakers, and that through providing such things as precision-guided weapons, coalition aircraft have been able to clearly discern and strike targets on the ground. The reality, however, is that unwavering diplomatic support for Riyadh and Abu Dhabi has simply normalized the coalition’s reckless behaviour, and rather than preventing civilian casualties, the continued provision of advanced weaponry has enabled the coalition to carry out precisely-guided war crimes.

UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations operating in Yemen have for years been calling on the international community – in particular the US, UK and the UNSC – to call out the coalition for its wrongdoings. This begs the question, however: are these humanitarian actors in Yemen adhering to any greater principles than the governments they criticize? The aid funding raised last month is, of course, only half the equation. The other half is where this money ends up going in Yemen – something that has become increasingly problematic the longer the conflict has persisted.

Individual aid workers, both foreign and local, have regularly made immense personal sacrifices while working to alleviate the suffering of Yemenis. At times this has come at the cost of their own lives. However, in private conversations with staff from UN agencies, INGOs and local NGOs operating in Yemen, aid workers have told the Sana’a Center that they and their organizations have long been aware that the armed Houthi movement has been manipulating and abusing the humanitarian effort on a massive scale. This has involved both orchestrated and systemic directives from the central Houthi leadership, as well as opportunistic profiteering by local forces. The abuses include direct and widespread theft and extortion of aid; diverting aid deliveries to the Houthis’ prefered recipients; manipulating the movement and operations of aid organizations; forcing aid organizations to employ Houthi partisans; denying visas and travel permits to aid workers in retaliation for perceived transgressions; harassing, threatening and imprisoning aid workers, among many others abuses.

Faced with escalating interference with their personnel and operations, aid organizations had, until recently, remained silent. Their argument was that criticizing and calling out Houthi forces for offenses would invite retaliation and risk their losing access to vulnerable populations. This silence, however, has normalized and implicitly facilitated Houthi forces’ behavior. Recent media investigations – notably by the Associated Press – have exposed the issue and forced the World Food Program (WFP) to publicly condemn the Houthi forces’ abuse of the aid effort. This has both put the WFP’s essential operations in many parts of Yemen at risk, but it has also broken the silence.

Without international humanitarian aid it is clear that the humanitarian crisis would be far more dire. What is also clear is that aid organizations’ failure to hold Houthi forces accountable has allowed this belligerent party to, in many ways, craft the humanitarian effort in the areas it controls to serve its vested interests. Internationally, the emphasis on aid has also warped popular perceptions of the conflict and allowed members of the international community to shirk their responsibility to take concrete steps to stop the war.

Should enough political will arise in Western capitals, and enough international diplomatic pressure be brought to bear on the warring parties, this conflict would end and the immediate threat of mass starvation in Yemen could be quickly addressed. Short of this, no amount of aid will be sufficient to halt the growing humanitarian disaster.


Contents

Diplomacy Sinking at Hudaydah Port

International Diplomatic Developments

Developments in Yemen


Diplomacy Sinking at Hudaydah Port

Stockholm Implementation Stalls as Ceasefire Violations Mount  

Efforts to implement the Stockholm Agreement – reached between the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the armed Houthi movement at United Nations-sponsored peace talks Sweden in December 2018 – continued to face implementation challenges in February. While during negotiations in Hudaydah last month the warring parties agreed to a phased approach in mutually redeploying forces away from the port and city, implementation stalled over disagreements regarding the composition of the local forces that would take over security. Both parties took intractable positions in seeking to ensure control over these forces, with little apparent room for compromise between them.  

Regarding the other aspects of the Stockholm Agreement, negotiations on a prisoner exchange continued without significant progress, while no developments came regarding the city of Taiz. Meanwhile, there were regular ceasefire violations in and around Hudaydah City and the wider governorate in February. One positive development was that both parties agreed to allow the UN access to the Red Sea Mills grain storage facility in Hudaydah for the first time in six months.

RCC Agrees on Phased Approach to the Hudaydah Agreement

The Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) met for the third time on February 4-5. The RCC was formed to support and facilitate implementation of the Hudaydah agreement, one of three agreements reached in Sweden. The UN chartered a boat, which it anchored in the Red Sea, to provide a neutral venue for the meeting; the previous meeting, scheduled for January 8, had been derailed after Houthi negotiators refused to enter Yemeni government-held territory to attend.

The UN said that the February meeting brought the parties “closer to agreeing modalities for Phase 1 redeployment than they were six weeks ago,” though noted the complexities involved with “disengaging forces in close proximity of each other.” The meeting was the last convened by General Patrick Cammaert, whose departure as RCC chair was announced in January. In an interview with Dutch media in February, Cammaert said the Stockholm Agreement, while still a breakthrough diplomatically, was “to say the least, vague,” and that it “underestimated the deep, deep mutual distrust and hatred” between the warring parties. Cammaert was replaced by Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard, who assumed his duties on February 5.

Lollesgaard facilitated discussions at the fourth RCC meeting, held on February 16 -17 in Hudaydah City. The meeting resulted in “an agreement on Phase 1 of the mutual redeployment,” the UN said. The parties also agreed, in principle, on Phase 2 of the mutual redeployment, “pending additional consultations within their respective leadership,” according to a UN statement. UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths told Al-Arabiya that Phase 1 of the Hudaydah agreement entailed the redeployment of Houthi forces from the ports of Ras Issa, Saleef and Hudaydah, and both parties redeploying away from the road to the Red Sea Mills to allow access to the grain storage facility. Phase 2, Griffiths said, will lead to the demilitarization of Hudaydah and the city’s return to civilian life.

Differing Interpretations of ‘Local Security’ Create Impasse for Implementation

Despite reports that Houthi forces would withdraw from Saleef and Ras Issa ports on February 25, by the end of the month no withdrawal had taken place. Ambiguities in the text of the Hudaydah agreement continued to be used to delay progress on its implementation. The agreement calls for the redeployment of forces away from the city and ports of Hudaydah, Saleef and Ras Issa, after which security of the city and ports would be “the responsibility of local security forces in accordance with Yemeni law.”

Several international diplomatic sources, and sources in Yemen privy to the RCC meetings, outlined for the Sana’a Center the dynamics that unfolded related to the Hudaydah agreement in February. Among these were that parameters of withdrawal and the makeup of local security forces have been key points of contention in discussions to implement the deal. The forces discussed by the RCC were the port authorities, the coast guard and the security guards of state institutions.

As Khaled al-Yamani, foreign minister for the internationally recognized Yemeni government, said that the government’s position was that security should be handed over to the local forces who were in place before the armed Houthi movement took control of state institutions in 2014. The government’s view was that if it were to redeploy its troops away from Hudaydah without securing authority over local security forces, it will have lost the opportunity to take control of the city.

Meanwhile, Houthi negotiators sought to hand over control to the current local authorities, which include personnel appointed by Houthi authorities. After taking control of the capital Sana’a in 2014, the armed Houthi movement formed a Supreme Revolutionary Committee and later the Supreme Political Council (SPC) to serve as Yemen’s interim authority, with responsibility for making security appointments, among other tasks. The SPC, however, disregarded governorate-level security and public service rules and regulations in personnel appointments. For Houthi negotiators, personnel the SPC hired into Hudaydah’s local authorities are entitled under Yemeni law to retain their posts under the Hudaydah agreement.

Yemeni government negotiators, however, maintained that Yemeni law does not apply to the armed Houthi movement, which it considers a rebel group. The Yemeni government had previously pointed out that the current commander of the coast guard is also a Houthi commander who had never served in the coast guard before.

A UN official said that until the composition of security forces in Hudaydah is resolved, no progress will be possible on any part of the Stockholm Agreement.

Meanwhile, regular armed skirmishes continued in Hudaydah city throughout the month, with each side reinforcing positions and buttressing their defenses. Hostilities also continued in districts in the south of the governorate, which also fall into the ceasefire zone agreed to at the end of 2018.

Access Secured to Grain Stores at Red Sea Mills

Throughout February, UN Security Council member states and UN officials repeatedly called on the warring parties to allow access to the Red Sea Mills in Hudaydah. The facility stores enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month, which the UN previously warned was at risk of rotting. The UN gained access to the mills on February 26 for the first time in six months in a move UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described as a sign of progress. While the UN aid workers reported that there were some signs of infestation, there was no water damage to the stores.

Another UN official, however, said privately that allowing the UN to access the mills had not required the warring parties to pull back or concede anything of significance. Meanwhile, getting grain out of the mills would require some 1,500 trucks. For each delivery, Houthi forces would have to open a mined road; Houthi forces were unlikely to keep the road open as this would allow an opportunity for opposing forces to enter, the official explained.  

No Agreement on Prisoner Exchange

The Stockholm Agreement also included a prisoner exchange deal. While it was initially envisioned that the exchange could take place as early as January, the deal has also been beset by challenges which continued in February. The Supervisory Committee to implement the exchange, co-chaired by the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Yemen (OSESGY) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), held its second meeting on February 5 – 8 in Amman, Jordan. Representatives of the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the armed Houthi movement failed to finalize lists of prisoners to be released. The head of the Houthi delegation to the talks, Abdul Qader Murtada, told Reuters that the Yemeni government had accounted for just one tenth of the 7,500 Houthi prisoners held in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Houthi representatives recognized only 3,600 of 9,500 names of detainees submitted by the Yemeni government, the Houthi official said.

Meanwhile, alongside the prisoner exchange talks, a Sub-Committee on Dead Bodies and Human Remains held its first meeting and agreed on a joint plan of action and a timeline to exchange bodies. Representatives of the Yemeni government and the Houthi movement agreed to release 1,000 bodies from each side in three stages, beginning with the release of bodies from morgues, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

No Progress on Taiz

No progress was reported in February on the Statement of Understanding on Taiz, which was the third aspect of the Stockholm Agreement, along with the prisoner exchange and the Hudaydah agreement. Taiz City has been among the most active frontlines in the conflict, with Houthi forces applying a siege to large portions of the city for almost four years (see below ‘Taiz in Focus’). In a briefing to the UN Security Council, the UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths said that warring parties had reaffirmed their commitment to the statement, and he pledged to “focus all our efforts on meaningful steps to make a difference in Taiz.”


Farmers were harvesting potatoes at the end of the season in al-Wadi district, Marib governorate, on February 17, 2019 // Photo Credit Ali Owidha

International Diplomatic Developments

High Level Pledging Event for Yemen Raises US$2.62 Billion

International donors pledged US$2.62 billion at the High Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen on February 26 in Geneva. This was the third year running that Switzerland, Sweden and the UN have co-organized the event. The pledged funds were higher than in 2018, when donors promised $2.01 billion to fund the humanitarian response in Yemen. However, UNOCHA said that the UN Humanitarian Response Plan for 2019 will required US$4.2 billion to reach the 21.4 million people in need assistance and protection.

Of the 40 donor countries and organizations, the highest contributions came from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who pledged $750 million each, followed by the United Kingdom, which pledged to donate $261.44 million. Discussions at the event also included ways economic improvements in Yemen would help address the humanitarian crisis.

UN Special Envoy Briefs Security Council

In a briefing to the UN Security Council (UNSC) on February 19, the UN Special Envoy updated the council on progress on the Stockholm Agreement. He urged the warring parties to immediately begin implementing the agreed redeployment from Saleef and Ras Issa, and to agree on the details of the redeployment from Hudaydah port and city. All 15 members states of the Security Council delivered statements during the session and expressed concern over the continued deterioration of the humanitarian situation. They reaffirmed the council’s support to the Special Envoy and Lollesgaard, the new RCC chair.

Following the council’s public briefing, member states moved into closed consultations with the Special Envoy and were briefed by the RCC chair. Sources who attended the consultations told the Sana’a Center that while Griffiths expressed optimism about the ongoing efforts, Lollesgaard was more frank in discussing the challenges of implementation and highlighted the deep distrust between the warring parties in Hudaydah. When asked, neither the Special Envoy nor the RCC chair were able to confirm dates for the agreed redeployment, a reflection of the precarious situation in Hudaydah.

Also on February 19, during discussions between civil society groups and UNSC member states in New York, council members noted that while there were “carrots and sticks” that could be used in the future, there was no contingency plan in place if the Stockholm Agreement should fall apart and full conflict resume. Council members also warned that if violations of the ceasefire and international humanitarian law continued, and without real evidence of implementation of the Stockholm Agreement, the unity of the Security Council could erode.

The Security Council issued a press statement on February 22, stressing the importance of implementing the commitments of the Stockholm Agreement “without delay.” The UNSC expressed concern at continued reports of violations of the ceasefire. Member states reiterated their intention “to consider further measures, as necessary, to support implementation of all relevant resolutions.”

Other United Nations Developments in Brief:

  • February 4: The UN Security Council issued a Press Statement on Yemen, expressing concern regarding alleged ceasefire violations and the deterioration of the humanitarian situation, among other issues.
  • February 22: The UN Security Council issued a Press Statement welcoming the progress made in planning for the redeployment of forces in Hudaydah and urging immediate implementation of the agreement to redeploy forces from the ports of Hudaydah, Saleef and Ras Issa.
  • February 26: The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a routine/ technical resolution (2456 of 2019) renewing the mandate of the Sanctions Committee, established in 2014, for one year. In the resolution, the council also asked the Panel of Experts, which reports to the 2140 Sanctions Committee, to provide a mid-term update to the Committee by July 28, 2019.

 

In the United States

New Fronts Open in Congress Targeting US policy in Yemen

In February, lawmakers continued their legislative drive to either stop or limit US involvement in the Yemen conflict, building on the momentum established in Congress toward the end of last year. On February 13, in a 248-177 vote, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that would end support for the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen. The Senate was expected to consider a related bill shortly after the House vote, but Senate Republicans moved to block a vote on the legislation in its current form on February 25.

Following the House vote, the White House said that it would veto H.J.Res.37 should it make it to the Oval Office, echoing statements made after a similar resolution cleared the Senate in December. The resolution is not expected to become law; there is no two-thirds majority in Congress to override a presidential veto and the constitutionality of the War Powers Act (upon which the resolution is based) is fiercely debated. Even if it did enter into law, the wording of the legislation leaves enough wiggle room for the US to feasibly continue its support of the Saudi-led military coalition at its current level and scope.

While H.J.Res.37 lacks legal teeth, advocates of the bill say its symbolic and political weight could be brought to bear on the Trump administration, which may then push for concessions from the Saudi-led coalition. The administration has thus far, however, appeared somewhat impervious to this type of political pressure – especially when it comes to foreign policy.

Reintroduced legislation tying the conflict in Yemen to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is also currently under consideration. The Senate Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2019 would ban the sale of certain weapons to Saudi Arabia and prohibit aerial refueling of coalition aircraft – support which the US military announced the end of in November 2018. It also calls for sanctions on individuals impeding humanitarian access in Yemen. A broader bill in the House seeks to halt all “security assistance” and arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Also under consideration at committee stage is a bill that seeks to preclude any attempts to resume US aerial refueling of coalition aircraft.

It is unlikely any of these bills, as they currently stand, will become law. However, legislators could ultimately attempt to package the basic contents of these bills into amendments to larger, omnibus bills that are considered “must pass” and therefore more difficult for the White House to veto. This tactic was employed successfully last year with an annual defense spending bill that included an amendment requiring the US State Department to certify that coalition operations in Yemen had violated federal or international law in Yemen.

Other Developments in the United States in Brief:

 

In Europe

Senior MP Supports, Lords Criticize UK Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE

In February, debates about arms sales to Saudi Arabia continued in Europe, triggering tensions ins the UK, and between London and Berlin. A report published on February 16 by the Select Committee on International Relations, an all-party committee within the UK’s House of Lords, said the government’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia brought the UK “narrowly on the wrong side” of international humanitarian law. The committee called on the government to individually assess the implications of arms export licenses and to “be prepared to suspend some key export licences to members of the coalition.” The report also called for stronger diplomatic engagement by the UK government to support the UN-led peace process and the work of the UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, including through a more assertive role as penholder of the Yemen file at the UN Security Council. Notably, the report affirmed that Saudi Arabia’s “misuse” of its weaponry was causing civilian deaths.

Earlier in February, the head of the Commons’ Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC), Labour MP Graham Jones, had questioned the reliability of British NGOs’ casualty figures on Yemen, which he said were exaggerated. The arms export supervisor said Iran and the armed Houthi movement were primarily to blame for the Yemen war. The Houthi forces’ use of human shields could offset the effect of even “the wisest of consideration” of military actors, Jones said.

A legal debate over the lawfulness of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia is set resume in April and will likely fuel civil society pressure on British decisionmakers. In July 2017, the British High Court ruled in favor of the government in a lawsuit filed by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) on this matter. An appeal by CAAT is to be heard at the Court of Appeal in April 2019.

Arms Debate Triggers Dispute Between UK and Germany

The issue of arms sales to Saudi Arabia also sparked quarrels between the UK and Germany, when Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt criticized the halt of German arms exports to Saudi Arabia in a letter to his German counterpart on February 7.

On February 19, Der Spiegel leaked excerpts of the document, a day before Hunt’s visit to Berlin for Brexit talks.

In the letter, Hunt stated that the German halt in deliveries was harming the British and European arms industries; UK defense companies would be unable to fulfil Saudi orders for the Typhoon and the Tornado fighter jets, which rely on German parts, he wrote. Hunt called on Germany to exclude joint European projects from its arms embargo against Saudi Arabia, insisting that Berlin had “politically committed” itself to these projects and risked a “loss of trust in Germany’s credibility as a partner.” The current delay in German arms deliveries to the UK, France and other European countries was further endangering NATO’s defense capabilities, the UK foreign secretary added.

At a joint press conference in Berlin after their meeting in Berlin on February 20, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told his British counterpart that Berlin would not resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Future decisions on the issue would depend on developments in the Yemen war and the implementation of the Stockholm agreements, Maas said. Hunt, however, said that it was crucial to uphold strategic relations with Saudi Arabia, which had enabled the UK to push for the Stockholm talks.

Meanwhile, the French partially state-owned Naval Group signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia’s state arms producer Saudi Arabian Military Industries, paving the way for a joint venture to boost the Saudi navy.

Other Developments in Europe in Brief:

  • February 11-14: An EU mission led by the Head of the EU Delegation to Yemen Antonia Calvo Puerta visited Aden, following a similar visit to the southern city in January. The mission met with Yemeni government officials, including the deputy prime minister, various ministers and the governor of Aden to discuss current and future EU-funded development projects.
  • February 18: The Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union met and adopted conclusions on Yemen for the first time since June 2018. The Council welcomed the Stockholm Agreement and reiterated its support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yemen, for a UN-led negotiation of a political solution to Yemen’s conflict, and for the UN Special Envoy and the UN Mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA).
  • February 19-21: Following an official invitation by the European Parliament, a Houthi delegation met with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in Brussels, according to a statement by Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdulsalam. The delegation included Abdulsalam and Abdulmalek al-Ejri, who were both part of the delegation representing the armed Houthi movement at the UN-led peace talks in Stockholm in December 2018. According to Sana’a Center sources who attended the meeting, the Houthi officials presented the MEPs with a list of 300 prisoners who were among those that the Yemeni government had asked the Houthi movement to release as part of the Stockholm Agreement prisoner exchange. The Houthi officials alleged that these prisoners were member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Abdulsalam added that among them are “terrorists” that President Hadi’s government itself had imprisoned, when Hadi ruled from Sana’a.
  • March 1: UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt posted online a photo of himself and head Houthi negotiator Mohammed Abdel Salam, saying the two had met in Oman for talks on the Stockholm Agreement. Two days later Hunt was in Aden, where he met with Yemeni government Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani.  

 

Other International and Regional Diplomatic Developments

‘Quad’ Group meets in Warsaw

On February 13, the US held an international conference in Warsaw, Poland, widely viewed as an American effort to build international solidarity against Iran. While conference organizers said 60 states attended, few major European countries sent high level diplomatic staff.

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he would only attend the conference if a ministers from the so-called ‘Quad’ multilateral group – the US, UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – convened a meeting on the sidelines to discuss the situation in Yemen. Speaking to British media before the conference, Hunt said that the Yemeni peace process had entered an “absolutely critical phase” and that “we now have a shortening window of opportunity to turn the ceasefire into a durable path to peace.”  According to Sana’a Center sources, Yemen has become a priority for the UK foreign secretary, in part due to parliamentary pressure on the issue.

Following the quad meeting in Warsaw, the group issued a joint statement calling on all warring parties to “rapidly and fully implement” the Stockholm Agreement, and to redeploy their forces from Hudaydah city and ports, in line with their obligations under the agreement, with “no further delaying tactics.” The ministers discussed Iran’s “de-stabilizing effect on Yemen,” the humanitarian crisis and the need to stabilize Yemen’s economy, and agreed to “redouble their efforts to reach a political solution.”

Yemeni FM Interaction with Israeli PM Goes Viral

At the opening session of the Warsaw conference, as representatives of the various countries took their seats around the table, Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani was placed between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Later in the session, Netanyahu’s microphone failed to work as he attempted to address the delegates; al-Yamani lent him his own microphone, leading Netanyahu to joke that this signaled a new cooperation between the two countries.

Foreign ministers from Oman, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia also attended the session. Afterwards, Netanyahu proclaimed it a “historic turning point” and called on Arab states to continue normalizing ties with Israel.

Numerous internet memes depicting al-Yamani as being cosy with Netanyahu quickly went viral, however, and the Yemeni minister was widely panned across Yemen for what was said to be normalizing ties with Israel and abandoning the Palestinian cause. The Houthi press office issued a statement saying: “Al-Yamani’s act of sitting next to Netanyahu reflects the national treachery and moral bankruptcy of the Saudi-led government in Yemen.”

Al-Yamani himself blamed conference organizers for the “protocol error” in seating him next to the Israeli PM, and said that the Yemeni government “position on the Palestinian cause, people and leaders is unchangeable and non-negotiable.”

Morocco Withdraws from Saudi-led Coalition

The AP quoted Moroccan officials last month as saying that their government had stopped taking part in military action with the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen. Morocco has not shared details of its military role in Yemen, but Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said in January that the “form and the content” of Morocco’s military participation in Yemen had changed. Rabat recently recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia, amid rising tension with Riyadh over the conflict in Yemen, among other issues, the AP reported on February 8.

Morocco’s political and military support for the coalition had been waning throughout 2018. While Rabat’s withdrawal is likely to have little military impact on the coalition, as other coalition members face growing domestic pressure over their participation in the war on Yemen, Morocco’s stand could have a reputational price on Saudi Arabia.

Other International Diplomatic Developments in Brief:

  • February 4: During a visit to the UAE, Pope Francis criticized the war in Yemen, decrying “the logic of armed power” and singling out Syria and Yemen as evidence of the misery and death caused by conflict. The Pope had faced criticism over the visit to the UAE, as part of the Emirates’ self declared ‘Year of Tolerance’, due to its role in the Yemen war.
  • February 20: Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said that an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia was under review during a heated parliamentary session in which the government faced criticism over arms export licenses to Riyadh – and particularly over whether these arms would be deployed in the Yemen conflict.

Developments in Yemen

Military and Security Developments

Clashes Between Houthi Forces and Tribesmen in Hajjah

February saw the biggest clashes between Houthi forces and tribesmen in Hajjah since the beginning of the war, centered on the Kashar district of the northwestern governorate. Houthi forces have encroached on territory dominated by the powerful Hajur tribe since December, imposing what local tribal leaders have called a siege, and reportedly seeking new recruits in the area. Clashes escalated in mid-February when tribesmen cut off Houthi supply lines, prompting military retaliation and arrests, which were met with coalition airstrikes on Houthi positions. On February 23, Yemeni government forces ordered the deployment of seven battalions to Hajjah to “lift the siege” on the Hajur tribe.

There had been an understanding between the Houthis and the Hajur tribe since 2015, based on mutual non-interference. However, recent changes on battlefields in Hajjah appear to have altered this dynamic. Kashar district is strategically positioned on the edge of Yemen’s highlands, making it a potential stepping stone to the Houthi stronghold of Sa’ada for coalition-backed forces, which have been gradually advancing inland from Hajjah’s coast toward Haradh city. The epicenter of the fighting between Houthi forces and the Hajur tribe is the al-Obaisa area of Kashar, through which runs the main road leading from Haradh to the Yemeni highlands.


Source & Graphic: Ghaidaa Alrashidy

There were also smaller-scale clashes between Houthi forces and tribesmen in other governorates during the past month. Houthi forces destroyed the homes of tribal leaders in al-Dhalea, and backed Ryam tribesmen in clashes with members of the Bani Abbas tribe in al-Bayda governorate. In Ibb governorate’s Alkfar district, local recruitment attempts by the Houthis descended into fighting with Meftah tribesmen. Some media outlets have suggested these developments constitute a coordinated “tribal uprising” against the Houthis, a characterization that Dr. Khaled Fattah, an expert and author on Yemen’s tribes, told the Sana’a Center is inaccurate. Fattah said that these hostilities fall outside of the Houthi-Yemeni government dynamic, though adding that Houthi forces have responded to these localized armed confrontations with an iron fist to deter further destabilizing tribal-led challenges to their authority.

AQAP vs Daesh Rivalry Continues

Two key trends regarding al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the so-called ‘Islamic State’ group, or Daesh, continued throughout February. First, the number of attacks carried out by terrorist groups in Yemen continue to be well below 2017 and 2018 levels. For instance, AQAP claimed more than 200 attacks each of the last two years. This year AQAP has claimed only a handful of attacks.

Second, AQAP and Daesh continued to clash throughout February. The conflict, which began in July 2018 over a dispute at a checkpoint, has grown into a consuming struggle for the groups. Indeed, the vast majority of the attacks AQAP does carry out are now directed at Daesh, its jihadi rival. For instance, Elisabeth Kendall, who tracks the number of attacks closely, noted in mid-February that of AQAP’s 19 claimed attacks so far this year, 11 had targeted Daesh. Kendall also noted in a separate article that the jihadi infighting may be the result of seeds planted by “regional intelligence agencies.”

Whatever the reason, the jihadi civil war now appears to be the key struggle for both groups. The two sides snipe back-and-forth at one another on the battlefield and on media platforms. This month AQAP released the fifth in a series of videos entitled, ‘God Testifies that they are Liars’, designed to show Daesh’s misdeeds in Yemen. All of the fighting has taken place in al-Bayda, where Daesh is located and where AQAP has a strong presence. The few Daesh attacks targeting the Houthis have also taken place in al-Bayda. Daesh did not target any Yemeni or coalition affiliated forces in February.

On February 13, AQAP killed three members of the Security Belt Forces with a roadside bomb in Abyan. AQAP also carried out a handful of attacks against Houthi forces in al-Bayda, usually via roadside bombs.

Both AQAP and Daesh appear weaker than at any point in recent years. Each organization has fragmented and frayed, and each appears to be struggling to coordinate both its message and its men. Daesh is now, to judge from the publicly available evidence, no more than several dozen fighters. AQAP certainly has more men, but the disjointed nature of the organization under Qasim al-Raymi’s leadership, the difficulty in communicating across battlefronts in Yemen, and the number of spies that have infiltrated AQAP in recent years means that it has been severely hampered. Local cells in different parts of Yemen are still able to carry out attacks, but the group no longer acts as a single organization in Yemen.    

Heavy Airstrikes in Houthi-Held Areas

Airstrikes continued in and around Sana’a, where the coalition said it was conducting a campaign against Houthi drone facilities following an attack on a Yemeni government military parade in Lahj governorate in January. Heavy airstrikes against Houthi forces were also reported in Sa’ada, Hajjah, Marib and al-Bayda. Pro-Houthi media said that the group continued to fire ballistic missiles at targets in southern Saudi Arabia’s Jizan, Najran and Asir governorates throughout the month.

Other Military and Security Developments in Brief:

 

Political Developments

Warring Parties Tussle Over Parliamentary Legitimacy

Calls for elections by the Houthi leadership in early February prompted the Yemeni government to announce the relocation of the country’s election commission, as the warring parties sought to assert their legitimacy in Yemen. On February 2, the Supreme Political Council instructed the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendums (SCER), which has been under Houthi control since their takeover of the capital in 2014, to make preparations for elections to replace deceased Members of Parliament (MPs).

Two days later, President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi issued a decree to relocate the election commission to Aden and made fresh calls for a parliamentary session in the temporary capital. Yemen’s last parliamentary elections took place in 2003 and MPs have not sat in session since the outbreak of the current conflict. While minimum attendance requirements have precluded the reconvening of parliament in Aden, in January Hadi said that quorum had been achieved and that a session would soon be called. Efforts by Hadi and Saudi Arabia to convene Yemen’s parliament either in Aden or Riyadh have been ongoing since mid-2017, as yet without success.  

If Hadi were to convene parliament in Aden, such a move would likely prompt an escalation on another front in Yemen’s war: that between the Yemeni government and southern separatist groups. The self-styled representative of the southern independence cause, the Southern Transitional Council (STC), has consistently opposed Hadi’s calls for a meeting of parliament based on its current makeup. Given that some STC members are also still technically MPs, their refusal to attend a session would likely sink Hadi’s plans. It is also not clear whether the STC, who mostly control security in Aden, would even allow the parliament to convene in the city.

The STC’s Southern National Assembly held its second session in Mukalla, Hadramawt on February 16-17, during which STC Vice President Maj. Gen. Ahmed Said Ben Brik called on MPs to join the rival legislature. However, the Southern National Assembly also advocated rehabilitating the STC’s relationship with President Hadi, as one of the standout outcomes of the meeting. Sana’a Center sources say that that Hadramawt’s governor did not meet the STC leadership during their visit, nor did local leaders participate in the session.

New Houthi Security Chief

On February 18, Fawaz Hussein Nashwan replaced Abdullrab Garafan as head of the Houthi-controlled intelligence agency, the National Security Bureau (NSB). Garafan had held the position since Houthi authorities took hold of Yemen’s state security and intelligence apparatus in 2014. The NSB, which was established in 2002, is one of Yemen’s intelligence services, along with the Political Security Organization (PSO), created shortly after the unification of Yemen in 1990. Most civil and political prisoners detained by the Houthis are held by the NSB. In the past, the NSB imprisoned armed extremists and held Houthi leaders during the six wars the armed movement fought against the Yemeni government in Sa’ada governorate between 2004 and 2010.

Hadramawt and Marib Strategic Forum meets in Amman

On February 24-27, the Hadramawt and Marib Strategic Forum met in Amman, Jordan. The event brought together dozens of prominent participants from both governorates – including academics, activists, local authority representatives and journalists – to discuss mechanisms to establish peace and socioeconomic stability. The meeting was the third in a series of similar meetings of this Track II initiative,   organized by the Sana’a Center and the Oxford Research Group.

 

Economic Developments

Yemeni Banks Face Repercussions for Dealing with Central Bank in Aden

On February 10, members of the Houthi-run National Security Bureau (NSB) arrested three Tadhamon International Islamic Bank (TIIB) staff, including the treasury director, from the bank’s main branch in Sana’a. According to several Sana’a Center sources, the National Security Bureau forcibly intervened after Tadhamon refused to sell foreign currency to Houthi-linked businessman, Yahya Ali al-Habari, at a below-market exchange rate. Al-Habari, who is a prominent food importer, turned to Tadhamon after the Yemeni government-controlled central bank in Aden declined his request for import financing.

The central bank in Aden introduced a new import financing regime in mid-2018 through which traders who meet specified criteria could qualify for import financing at a preferential exchange rate (for details, see the Sana’a Center’s April, May, June, and October 2018 monthly reviews). For instance, on February 25, the Yemeni rial was trading on the local market in Aden at YR580 per US$1 while the central bank in Aden’s import financing mechanism was offering traders YR440 per US$1 to finance basic commodity imports.    

Foreign ministers from the so-called ‘Quad’ – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the US and UK – who met in Warsaw, Poland last month, issued a joint statement on February 13 condemning what they said was Houthi authorities’ “illegal interference” in Yemeni banking operations.

The NSB released all three Tadhamon employees in the last week of February.

The Houthi authorities had previously warned Yemeni banks against engaging with the central bank in Aden and the Yemeni government-appointed Economic Committee, particularly in regard to the new fuel and food import regulations (for more information see The Yemen Review – October 2018). However, in recent months several Yemeni commercial banks have opened their own connections to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) network via their Aden-based branches, according to Sana’a Center sources, with other banks looking to follow suit.

 

Aden to Increase Monitoring and Regulation of Money Exchange Companies

On February 10, the central bank in Aden issued a circular regarding the ongoing license-renewal application process for Yemeni money exchange companies. The bank’s new licensing requirements compel money exchange outfits to submit more detailed information regarding their recent transactions, as well as their local and regional financial networks. Yemeni money exchange companies have until the end of March to fulfill the new licensing obligations or risk being decertified.

The central bank in Aden’s efforts to increase monitoring and regulation of Yemeni money exchange companies form part of the Yemeni government’s broader strategy to try and redirect import financing back into the formal economy (i.e. the commercial banking sector). A multitude of challenges arising from the conflict have weakened Yemen’s banking sector (for details see the Sana’a Center’s recent paper: Revitalizing Yemen’s Banking Sector: Necessary Steps for Restarting Formal Financial Cycles and Basic Economic Stabilization). As a result, money exchangers and informal, unmonitored financial networks have handled exponentially larger volumes of currency transfers. This has facilitated both Houthi smuggling networks – in particular fuel smuggling via Iran, which has become a significant source of revenue for the group – and increased Yemen’s money laundering and terrorism financing risks.   

On March 4, the Yemeni Exchangers Association (YEA) issued a statement expressing its concerns over the contradictory regulations the central banks in Aden and Sana’a were imposing on exchange companies. The YEA stressed the negative impact that the economic tug-of-war between the warring parties is having on the banking sector and the overall economy, and appealed for the banking sector to be able to operate free from political interference.

A prominent representative of a money exchange company who spoke with the Sana’a Center said the YEA was planning to wait until the end of March, and the end of the new licensing application process, to see if its concerns are addressed. If not, the representative said YEA members would close all of their branches across Yemen in protest. Such a move would likely put pressure on the authorities in both Aden and Sana’a to act, and be destabilizing for the Yemeni rial exchange rate, given that money exchangers are the primary conduit for remittances, which are currently Yemen’s largest source of foreign currency.

It is important to note that the YEA and the majority of its members are based in the north. YEA members include the largest money exchange companies in Yemen: Al-Noman Exchange Company; Swaid & Sons Exchange Company; Al-Saifi Exchange Company; Al-Jazeera Ikhwan Company for Exchange; Al-Morisi Exchange Company; Al-Najm Express; Al-Yabani Company for Exchange; Al-Akowa Exchange Company; Al-Nasser Exchange Company; and Al-Hazmi Company for Exchange. A number of exchangers located in the south are not part of the YEA.

Government Announces Plans to Increase Oil Production in 2019

On February 10, the Minister of Oil and Minerals for the internationally recognized Yemeni government, Aws Abdullah al-Awd, announced plans to scale up oil production and exports in 2019. Al-Awd said the government aims to produce an average of 110,000 barrels of crude oil per day (bpd) and export an average of 75,000 bpd. Such projections represent a notable increase from 2018, when Yemen produced an average of 45,000 bpd.

Before the escalation of the conflict in March 2015, which was soon followed by the cessation of oil production and exports, Yemen’s total production was estimated at 193,000 bpd, according to the Yemen Petroleum Company (YPC). Given that Houthi forces currently control Yemen’s primary oil export terminal at Ras Issa port on the Red Sea coast, al-Awd said the government would build a new oil pipeline to the Arabian Sea to facilitate the increased exports.

Yemen’s most productive oil fields are Block 18 (most of which is in Marib governorate), Block 14 and Block 10 (both in Hadramawt governorate), which in 2018 produced an average of 4,000 bpd, 14,000 bpd, and 20,000 bpd, respectively. Prior to March 2015, Block 18, Block 14, and Block 10 averaged 40,000 bpd, 37,000 bpd and 50,000 bpd, respectively, according to the YPC.

The minister of oil and minerals also asserted that the government aimed to produce 6.7 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in 2019, around half of which is to be exported. For this to happen, the LNG export terminal located in Balhaf, Shabwa, would need to come back online. Despite repeated government assertions in 2018 that LNG exports were due to resume at Balhaf, this never materialized. And although the terminal is nominally under the control of the government, the UAE-backed Shabwani Elite Forces are stationed in Balhaf and in the vicinity of the export terminal.

 

Humanitarian Developments

Taiz In Focus: Poorly Coordinated and Irregular Humanitarian Assistance

The city of Taiz, in Yemen’s southwest, has been an active frontline in the conflict for almost four years and is among the areas worst affected by the ongoing humanitarian crisis. The city has also recently been the focus of both UN-sponsored peace talks between the warring parties and controversy regarding the diversion of humanitarian aid by armed groups in Yemen. In February the Sana’a Center carried out a series of interviews with residents and aid workers on either side of the front lines to assess their lived experience regarding the humanitarian situation and the international response. In sum, residents and humanitarian workers in Taiz said that not enough aid is reaching the conflict-ravaged city, and that humanitarian assistance is poorly coordinated and irregular.

Around 2.58 million of Taiz’s 3.07 million residents are in need of humanitarian assistance, with 81 percent of these requiring immediate assistance to save and sustain their lives, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). Due to multiple constraints, urgently-needed assistance is not arriving, humanitarian workers involved in aid distribution in Taiz told the Sana’a Center. Major roads leading to Taiz are either closed or difficult to access because of the conflict. Food delivery trucks are forced to take alternative routes on difficult roads, which has led to numerous vehicle accidents, while food aid is also regularly at risk of being commandeered en route by armed groups.

Delivering food assistance within Taiz City is also a difficult task, sometimes beset by protests from those who are not included on beneficiary lists. On February 11, at a food distribution point in Jabal Habashi, humanitarian staff denied assistance to a man seeking to use a food voucher in another beneficiary’s name. The man returned with armed men and took food by force, a field monitor for an international organization told the Sana’a Center. In response, the organization ceased operations for two days until the man’s father, a local sheikh, publicly apologized to staff and a local committee for the incident and returned the stolen food.

An aid worker in a Houthi-controlled district in Taiz said that while humanitarian organizations could access residents, the assistance available was chronically insufficient to meet local needs. Aid workers also a reported lack of coordination between aid organizations funded by different donors – including the UN, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Sometimes, several months passed between projects run by different organizations, during which residents were left without any assistance. While emergency livelihood assistance is needed, it does not provide a sustainable source of income for when funds dry up, aid workers warned.

Residents of Taiz City confirmed that they were not receiving enough food assistance and that deliveries were intermittent. A mother of five in the al-Masbah neighborhood said she received food baskets for three months in 2018. In January 2019, she was registered by a different organization and received one food basket, but she did not know if she would receive any further assistance. Meanwhile, she was struggling to feed her children and depending on occasional remittances from a brother-in-law working in Saudi Arabia.

Locals in Taiz also told the Sana’a Center that several local factors were inflating food prices. Due to road closures, food is delivered to the city in smaller trucks that are able to navigate narrow roads; multiple vehicles are used to carry the load of one large truck. Deliveries from the Hoban area – the location of most of the governorate’s factories – to Taiz City takes up to five hours, for a journey that previously took 20 minutes. These factors increased fuel costs – which have become increasingly expensive due to fuel shortages – which in turn drive up the price of food, residents said.

The arrival of internally displaced people (IDPs) to Taiz governorate from Hudaydah in recent months has put added pressure on the humanitarian response. According to UNOCHA, the number of IDPs in Taiz has risen from 85,900 to 403,300 during the last year. In addition, around 110,000 people have returned to Taiz, UNOCHA said, noting that they faced difficulties due to the destruction of property and assets, which they could not afford to repair.

UNOCHA: 24 Million Yemenis in Need of Humanitarian Assistance

UNOCHA reported on February 14 that the number of people in acute need in Yemen rose by 27 percent during the last year. In its Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen for 2019, UNOCHA said that some 24.1 million people were in need – more than 80 percent of the population – including 14.3 million people in acute need who required immediate assistance to save and sustain their lives. In 2019, 3.3 million people remain displaced, up from 2.2 million a year earlier; this increase was partly because 685,000 people fled the escalating conflict in Hudaydah in 2018. More than one million people have returned from displacement to their places of origin. The humanitarian response is increasingly becoming the only lifeline for millions of Yemenis, the report noted.  

Some 20 million Yemenis are food insecure, including 10 million people suffering extreme levels of hunger and risk of starvation, while soaring fuel costs, due to scarcity, increase the cost to transport water, electricity, health and sanitation services, UNOCHA said. Basic, life-saving and protection services are urgently needed, as well as as advocacy with the parties to the conflict to ensure rapid, unhindered humanitarian assistance, the report said.

Briefing the UN Security Council on February 19, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said conflict, a failure to respect international law and the economic collapse in mid-2018 were the driving forces behind the deterioration outlined in the report. While funding is quickly becoming the biggest challenge facing the aid operation in Yemen, Lowcock said that humanitarian agencies were also dealing with constant operational obstacles, including visa delays and movement restrictions.

Other Humanitarian Developments in Brief:

  • February 4: The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a report in which it said cancer has become a “death sentence” in Yemen, given the collapse of the healthcare system, the lack of affordable treatment, and the cost and risk associated with travel to the few available treatment options. The WHO estimated that there are around 35,000 cancer patients in Yemen, including 1,000 children.
  • February 6: Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said it was “dismayed” by the findings of the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) in its investigation into the bombing of an MSF cholera treatment center in Abs on June 11, 2018. The JIAT, an investigative body appointed by the Saudi-led military coalition, found that a coalition airstrike targeted a weapons store for the armed Houthi movement. The JIAT said that MSF had not requested to add the site to a no-strike list or put signs on the building’s roof to mark it as a medical facility. MSF responded that it had shared its location with the coalition 12 times in writing, and that the compound displayed three distinctive logos. MSF said that JIAT’s “unacceptable and contradictory claims” had portrayed MSF as responsible for, rather than a victim of, the bombing.
  • February 13: The Ministry of Health in Sana’a said that 132 people had died from Swine flu in Yemen since 2018, and that the highest number of deaths were in Sana’a, followed by Amran and Ibb.
  • February 28: The Ministry of Public Health and Population reported 413,770 suspected cholera cases from January 1, 2018 to February 3, 2019, with 543 associated deaths. Children under 5 account for 32 percent of all suspected cases, while 22 of Yemen’s 23 governorates have been affected by the outbreak, the WHO said in a statement.  

 

Human Rights and War Crimes Developments

Investigation Links Arms Sale to UAE with Militia Threat in Yemen

An open source investigation published by Amnesty International on February 6 examined the impact of the international arms trade with the UAE on security developments inside Yemen.

Examining open-source evidence on arms used in the course of the Hudaydah battle, the report found that some arms and military vehicles sold to the UAE by the US, the UK, France, Germany and Belgium, among other countries, have ended up in the hands of UAE-backed local militias. These militias are largely unaccountable and some have been accused of committing war crimes.

The report concluded that arms sales to the UAE were in violation of the international Arms Trade Treaty, EU law, and in some countries, domestic law.

Other Human Rights and War Crimes Developments in Brief:

  • February 13: Houthi media outlets reported that eight fishermen were killed when a coalition airstrike hit their boat, north of the island of Badhei off of the coast of Hudaydah governorate. Médecins Sans Frontières confirmed that it had treated five injured fisherman after a “military attack” on their boat.
  • February 16: Awfa al-Naami, Saferworld Country Director in Yemen, was released by the Houthi authorities. She and a colleague were detained on January 28 by the Houthi-run National Security Bureau after being called in for questioning, sparking international condemnation and calls for their release. Prior to her detention, al-Naami had been subjected to a coordinated campaign of threats and intimidation for several months.
  • February 19: Artillery shelling killed eight civilians and injured another 10 at a market in the Mateenah area, west of al-Tuhayat district, Hudaydah governorate. The UN confirmed the attack, without specifying who was responsible. According to UN partners, 96 civilians have died and 175 injured due to hostilities in Yemen between January 1 and February 14.
  • February 20: UNICEF Yemen reported that 2,700 child soldiers had been recruited in the Yemen conflict. UNICEF also stated that two-thirds of all Yemeni girls were were married before the age of 18.
  • February 26: Amnesty International released its review of the human rights situation in Yemen in 2018, which found that all parties to the conflict had “committed war crimes and other serious violations of international law.”

This report was prepared by (in alphabetical order): Ali Abdullah, Waleed Alhariri, Ghaidaa Alrashidy, Anthony Biswell, Hamza al-Hamadi, Gregory Johnsen, Farea al-Muslimi, Spencer Osberg, Hannah Patchett, Sala al-Sakkaf, Victoria K. Sauer, Holly Topham, and Aisha al-Warraq.  


The Yemen Review – formerly known as Yemen at the UN – is a monthly publication produced by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies. Launched in June 2016, it aims to identify and assess current diplomatic, economic, political, military, security, humanitarian and human rights developments related to Yemen.  

In producing The Yemen Review, Sana’a Center staff throughout Yemen and around the world gather information, conduct research, and hold private meetings with local, regional, and international stakeholders in order to analyze domestic and international developments regarding Yemen.

This monthly series is designed to provide readers with contextualized insight into the country’s most important ongoing issues.


This report was developed with the support of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

 
Stockholm Agreement Meets Yemeni Reality – The Yemen Review,  January 2019

Stockholm Agreement Meets Yemeni Reality – The Yemen Review, January 2019

The sun sets behind a Dragon Blood Tree in the Deksem area of Socotra Island on January 14, 2019
// Photo Credit:
Naif Alnajm

Contents

Stockholm Agreement Meets Yemeni Reality

Developments in Yemen

International Developments


Stockholm Agreement Meets Yemeni Reality

Overview: Lofty Aims Face Challenging Reception

In January, the United Nations focused its Yemen-related efforts on implementing the Stockholm Agreement. The deal was reached in December at UN-sponsored peace talks in Rimbo, Sweden, between representatives of Yemen’s main warring parties – the armed Houthi movement and the internationally recognized Yemeni government. In it, both sides committed to a ceasefire in Hudaydah and a mutual redeployment of forces away from the port city, a prisoner exchange, and a statement of understanding regarding the city of Taiz. Clauses in the text of the agreement, however, contained a degree of ambiguity that left them somewhat open to interpretation, a factor that became increasingly problematic as the UN sought to implement the agreement and hold the parties accountable to their commitments.

As January progressed the challenges became apparent: deadlines for the implementation of the Hudaydah agreement were missed, the ceasefire was interrupted, the prisoner exchange was delayed, and fighting raged in and around Taiz City. As well, General Patrick Cammaert of the Netherlands, chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) that was formed to support and facilitate implementation of the Hudaydah agreement, said he would leave his post just five weeks after his appointment.

 

UN Efforts to Support the Agreement

On December 31, 2018, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres submitted a proposal to the UN Security Council (UNSC) on how the UN would support the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement. The UNSC requested the proposal on December 21 as part of Resolution 2541, which endorsed the agreement and authorized the deployment of an advance monitoring team, the RCC, to Hudaydah. Led by Cammaert, the team arrived in Yemen on December 22. The committee was tasked with overseeing the redeployment of forces, monitoring the ceasefire, ensuring security in the city, and opening up humanitarian access routes.

Guterres’ plan proposed sending 75 UN observers to Hudaydah for a period of six months. According to the proposal, the UN Mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) would be a “nimble presence.” The mission would be tasked with monitoring the compliance of parties to the ceasefire, the redeployment of belligerent forces from Hudaydah City and the ports of Hudaydah, Saleef, and Ras Issa, and mine action operations. In addition, the UNMHA would seek to establish and assess facts and conditions on the ground in an objective manner and engage with all relevant parties. The mission would report to the Secretary-General through the Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths and Under-Secretary-General for Political Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo.

Guterres also proposed that following the redeployment of warring parties from Hudaydah, the Yemen Rea Sea Port Corporation would take over management of three ports in the governorate: Hudaydah, Saleef, and Ras Issa. The UN, supported by the World Food Programme (WFP), would provide oversight and technical assistance to manage the ports. The WFP said in a report published on December 31 that it was waiting for authorities in Sana’a to approve staff visas before deploying an initial assessment team to Hudaydah in January. The WFP staff had yet to receive visas as of this writing, according to a Sana’a Center source aware of the proceedings.

On January 9, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths briefed the UNSC on progress in implementing the Stockholm Agreement. Griffiths said that after meeting  with the leaders of both main belligerent parties – including Houthi leader Abdulmalek al-Houthi during a two-day visit to Sana’a on January 5-6, and Yemeni President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on January 7 – they had each committed to implementing the UN agreement. The Special Envoy said the ceasefire in Hudaydah had largely held, with some exceptions, which had significantly decreased the level of violence. Regarding Taiz, Griffiths said humanitarian aid access needed to increase, but that to address this and other issues he hoped to convene first meeting of a committee on Taiz by the end of the month. Griffiths also said another supervisory committee meeting for the proposed prisoner exchange would be held in Jordan the following week.

On January 16, the UNSC unanimously approved Guterres’ proposal to support the Stockholm Agreement, adopting UNSC Resolution 2542 (2019). The text of the resolution was submitted by the United Kingdom, which has served as pen holder for the Yemen file at the UNSC since 2011. In voicing support for the technical resolution, permanent council members the United States, France and China also advocated the need to step up humanitarian assistance efforts. 

 

Stockholm Agreement’s Shaky Start in Yemen

Hurdles to Implementation in Hudaydah

Despite the ceasefire largely holding on the ground in Hudaydah, there was little progress toward the redeployment of warring parties away from front lines in the city. The original deadline for redeployment – January 8 – was not met. UN officials told the Associated Press (AP) that the work of the RCC and its head of mission General Cammaert was hindered by restrictions on their movement on the ground. While the RCC held two meeting sessions – in late December and early January – in Houthi-held territory, Houthi authorities refused to attend the subsequent RCC meeting in government-held territory on January 8, forcing Cammaert to shuttle between the warring parties. The UN then chartered a boat, which it anchored in the Red Sea, to have a neutral venue acceptable to both sides.  

Meanwhile, in an illustration of the uncertain security situation and the difficulties the UN mission is facing, Cammaert’s armored vehicle was struck by a bullet in Hudaydah on January 17. The head of mission and his team were leaving a meeting with representatives of the Yemeni government when the incident occurred. No one was harmed, and in response, Cammaert called for calm and the need for the warring parties to strengthen the ceasefire agreement, according to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric. The spokesman also reiterated that “all the parties in Yemen are responsible for the safety of all UN personnel.” The UN said it had no information about the source of the fire, while Houthi forces and the Yemeni government accused each other of firing the shot.

Localized fighting also continued in the first month of 2019, albeit not leading to any frontline changes. Each side accused the other of violating the shaky truce in clashes largely centered on the eastern and southern outskirts of the city and the Red Sea governorate’s southern districts — particularly Durayhimi, At-Tuhayat, Al-Jah and Hays.

The Yemeni government claimed to have recorded 745 ceasefire violations between December 18 and January 25, and said that Houthi forces continued to bolster their positions by digging trenches, erecting barriers and planting landmines. Houthi media published daily reports of alleged breaches by coalition-backed forces and claims that government-aligned forces have reinforced their positions to the southeast of Hudyadah airport and in the vicinity of the May 22 Hospital in the city’s eastern suburbs. The RCC, which is tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Hudaydah Agreement, has not assessed claims of violations by either side. The UN Secretary General’s January 7 and January 21 reports, however, highlighted the contested town of Durayhimi — located 15 km south of Hudaydah City — as the site of the majority of ceasefire breaches.

Accusations were traded over a fire at Hudaydah’s Red Sea Mills in the east of the city, where the World Food Programme is currently storing 51,000 metric tons of wheat. Two silos were damaged in the fire, which was reported on January 25, with the Saudi-led military coalition claiming a Houthi mortar attack was the cause and a Houthi official blaming coalition artillery fire. The storage facility, which is located close to the frontline between Houthi and government-aligned forces, has been inaccessible since September due to fighting and Houthi landmines in the vicinity. The Houthis said that on January 29, their demining team came under fire while working in the area around the Red Sea Mills, while the coalition countered that Houthi forces attacked a UN-backed team. Neither the UN nor the WFP has commented on the reports (see below ‘Fire Damages WFP Food Aid in Hudaydah’).

Cammaert’s Early Exit From UN Mission

It emerged in late January that General Cammaert would leave his post as chair of the RCC, just five weeks after his appointment. Media reports had indicated the Dutch general’s intention to step down, and his departure was later confirmed by the Special Envoy during a media interview on January 28. During the interview, the Special Envoy denied claims that Cammaert’s departure was due to  disagreements between them or because of Houthi pressure to replace him. The Special Envoy said that Cammaert had only intended to stay in Yemen “for a rather short period of time, to activate the RCC and lay the ground for establishing the Hudaydah mission.”

However, Sana’a Center sources aware of the proceedings said Cammaert and the Special Envoy had clashed at times over the methods of implementing the Hudaydah agreement and the roles of various UN agencies in the implementation. The lack of clear clauses in the agreement has proven to be a challenge, as the ambiguity allowed different interpretations. The UN Secretary General’s proposal for the UN Mission called on UN bodies to coordinate to support the Stockholm Agreement, but there has been a lack of consensus among UN entities on the roles and the level of involvement each should have, according to the same sources.

On the ground in Hudaydah, persons close to the proceedings told the Sana’a Center that Houthi authorities also grew frustrated with Cammaert. In one situation, Houthi authorities tried to prevent Cammaert from visiting the fire at the Red Sea Mills on the eastern outskirts of Hudaydah City, however the Dutch general had insisted.

General Michael Anker Lollesgaard of Denmark was appointed at Cammaert’s replacement on January 31, and arrived in Hudaydah in early February. Lollesqaard was a Force Commander in the UN Multidimensional Stabilization Mission in Mali in 2015 and 2016.

Prisoner Exchange Unrealized

In his previous briefing to the UNSC on December 14, the Special Envoy suggested that a prisoner swap between the warring parties could involve some 4,000 captives and take place by mid-January. However, following logistical delays, including slow approval from Jordan to host the prisoner exchange committee, the party representatives met in Amman on January 16-17 to discuss steps to implement the exchange. On January 16, Reuters reported that the two sides had exchanged lists of some 15,000 names. Days later the head of the Yemeni government delegation said that a final deal was expected by the first week of February.

According to the Stockholm Agreement, prisoners will be transferred via the Houthi-controlled Sana’a International Airport and the government-controlled Saiyun airport. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and UN will oversee the exchange, with the head of the government delegation saying the agreement to do so would likely be finalized by early February.

To assist the operation, the ICRC said it would provide 15 additional delegates and two planes, each with a capacity of 200 passengers, to shuttle detainees between Sana’a and Saiyun, according to a January 23 statement by Fabrizio Carboni, the regional director for the Near and Middle East for the ICRC. However, Carboni noted that these preparations would be “meaningless” unless the parties finalized the lists of detainees.

On January 29, Houthi forces released captured Saudi soldier Mousa Awji, who was in need of medical attention. Following Awji’s transfer from Sana’a to Riyadh, facilitated by the ICRC, Saudi Arabia released seven Houthi prisoners. However, as of this writing, the larger prisoner exchange deal had not been finalized.

No Progress on Taiz as Violence Escalates

As part of the Stockholm Agreement, the belligerents agreed to a “Statement of Understanding on Taiz.” According to the statement the parties pledged to form a joint committee with UN participation, including representatives from Yemeni civil society, with the committee to then determine its working mechanism and missions. The agreement lacked a timeframe or any clear terms of reference, and since the Stockholm Agreement there have been no announced steps taken to form the committee for Taiz.

Instead, Taiz saw an escalation in hostilities toward the end of 2018, which continued into the new year. Fighting between Houthi and government-aligned forces was concentrated in the southeast Hayfan district, the northwestern Maqbanah district and western Mawza district, though resulting in little frontline movement. There were increased clashes within Taiz City itself; on January 22, an alleged Houthi shell hit Freedom Square in the southeast of the city, killing more than a dozen civilians.

Special Envoy: “We Need to Remain Hopeful”

On January 28, the UN Special Envoy gave an interview with Asharq Al Awsat in which he said his level of optimism regarding the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement remained “10 out of 10… We need to remain hopeful and have faith in the process that we started.” In explaining the delays in implementing the agreement, Griffiths said the timelines had been ambitious and pointed to the complexity of the situation on the ground.

In Sweden, the warring parties had agreed to hold another round of talks in January. At the end of the month, however, the Special Envoy said that there needed to be more progress on implementing the Stockholm Agreement before the next round of talks could be held. As of this writing, no arrangements have been set for further consultations.

On January 30, the Saudi-led military coalition said it was ready to use “calibrated force” to compel the armed Houthi movement to abide by the Stockholm Agreement and withdraw its fighters from Hudaydah. As of writing, there had been no redeployment of forces away from the city, while the proposed humanitarian corridor between Hudaydah and Sana’a remained closed.


Developments in Yemen

Economic Developments

Corruption Allegations Against Aden Central Bank, YR Loses Ground

Fresh challenges to the Yemeni government’s ability to implement coherent economic policy emerged last month, as a feud between the heads of the central bank in Aden and the government-appointed Economic Committee spilled out in public accusations of corruption. The government established the Economic Committee in August 2018 for the express purpose of advising and assisting the Aden central bank in stabilizing the Yemeni rial. However, on January 20, committee head Hafedh Mayad posted online a memo that he had sent to the Yemeni prime minister, asking the latter to direct the Anti-Corruption Commission to open an investigation into the Aden central bank.

At issue were central bank purchases of some 448.5 million Saudi rials (SR) from the local market in November 2018. The bank had mobilized some YR 75 billion to buy the foreign currency to finance letters of credit for importers, a senior banking source in Aden told the Sana’a Center. Mayad, however, accused the central bank of paying above market price for the SR, with the difference between the market price and the price paid being valued at roughly 9 billion Yemeni rials (equivalent to roughly US$14.4 million relative to the average November 2018 exchange rate).

An initial Sana’a Center review, however, suggested that there had been no impropriety. The Yemeni rial had appreciated significantly throughout November 2018. Meanwhile, as the central bank was purchasing SR that month there was up to a 48 hour delay between when the bank agreed a purchasing price with currency vendors and when the actual trade of currencies was made. Thus, by the time of the actual trade the relative value of the currencies had often changed somewhat from the agreed price. This is the difference Mayad had erroneously interpreted as overpayment.

Despite this, following Mayad’s public accusation fear spread in the market of economic mismanagement at the Aden central bank. Senior banking sources in Aden told the Sana’a Center that currency traders themselves stoked these fears to depreciate the rial further, allowing them to purchase Yemeni rials at artificially low prices. The central bank in Aden compounded this market sentiment by not addressing the corruption allegations publicly.  

Meanwhile, in northern Yemen, the Houthi-run Yemen Petroleum Company (YPC), through the Payments and Foreign Currency Committee, increased its purchases of foreign currency in January to place new fuel import orders. A senior banking official in Aden estimated that the Houthi authorities purchased between SR 110 million and SR 130 million between January 23 and February 3.


Source: Sana’a Center Economic Unit

All the above factors helped force the market value of the YR lower in January, with the Yemeni currency beginning 2019 valued at roughly YR527 per US$1 and ending the first month of the year trading at YR570 per US$1.

UN to Channel Humanitarian Aid Through the Central Bank in Aden

On January 22, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, informed the Governor of the central bank in Aden, Mohammed Zammam, that the UN would channel humanitarian aid through the bank. The announcement was an agreement in principle with the details, such as the management framework and transparency mechanisms, yet to be determined.

Since the escalation of the conflict in March 2015 and the cessation of most oil exports, the international community has become the second largest source of foreign currency in the local market – the first being remittances. Most of the money that the donors allocated for humanitarian assistance in Yemen was channelled via the UN through its various agencies, and deposited in Yemeni commercial banks. In 2018 along, UN aid funding for Yemen totalled almost US$3 billion. The International Bank of Yemen (IBY) in particular has handled the largest share of these foreign transfers into Yemen, given its pre-established relationship with the international donor community. According to estimates that a number of senior banking officials provided to the Sana’a Center, over the course of the conflict IBY has handled up to US$1 billion annually from donors over the course of the conflict.

Channeling such a large source of foreign currency through the central bank in Aden should help the bank to better regulate the currency market and stabilize the Yemeni rial exchange rate.  

TeleYemen Headquarters Relocated to Aden

On January 13, the internationally recognized Yemeni government ordered the relocation of the state-run telecommunications company, TeleYemen, from Sana’a to Aden. According to a Sana’a-based source working in the telecommunications sector, the Houthi authorities in Sana’a stand to lose an estimated YR27 billion of the firm’s annual revenues.

Other Economic Developments in Brief:

  • In January the Yemeni government secured a year-long extension for a $60 million monthly fuel grant from Saudi Arabia for the provision of electricity in government controlled areas, according to a senior Aden-based banker who spoke with the Sana’a Center.
  • Early January: By the second week of January the central bank in Aden had made US$190m available in new financing of fuel and food importers, according to a well-informed Sana’a Center source. Importers themselves, however, appear reluctant to access the funds. Importers have expressed frustration regarding prolonged delays in the central bank processing import applications and issuing letters of credit.
  • January 12: The Governor of the Central Bank in Aden, Mohammed Zammam, stated that a total of US$441 million has been withdrawn from the US$2bn Saudi deposit thus far. In 2018 alone, US$314 million was withdrawn from the Saudi deposit; 61 percent of this was allocated to fund wheat imports while 20 percent was directed to rice imports. Since early December of 2018, the Central Bank in Aden has been offering a preferential exchange rate of YR440 per US$1 to import six essential food commodities: wheat, rice, sugar, cooking oil, corn and milk.

 

Political & Military Developments

Tensions Around Oil Facilities in Shabwah Governorate

On January 19, clashes broke out between units belonging to the Ataq Military Axis and forces loyal to the Belabid tribe near an OMV oil production facility in Arma, northern Shabwa. Fighting began after Belabid tribal forces attempted to block the passage of crude oil tankers from the site in Yemen’s Block S2, where Austrian oil and gas company OMV resumed production last year.

The tribesmen have demanded a role in delivery contracts, and began a sit in on January 23. Crude transport and provision of security around oil facilities in Yemen have long been a source of lucrative contracts, and the recent clashes in Shabwa highlight both potentially destabilizing local competition and questions over distribution of the spoils of renewed crude production.

Renewed Violence Among Anti-Houthi Forces in Taiz

In government-held areas of Taiz City, violence continued as various anti-Houthi groups competed for influence and territory.  On January 9, gunmen on a motorcycle assassinated a government soldier in the September Street area,  marking the first assassination of the year after a wave of targeted killings in 2018 prompted a security crackdown in the governorate. The day before, Brigadier Jamal al-Shamiri, commander of Taiz’s police force, survived the latest attempt on his life in the west of the city. On January 28, gunmen attacked a military police prison in the city, shooting dead a detained government soldier who was suspected of belonging to the so-called ‘Islamic State’ group, or Daesh.

In mid January a campaign against “extremist elements” began in Taiz City, led by the 35th Armored Brigade — a Yemeni army unit that operates in coordination with the UAE-backed Abu Abbas Brigades. Abu Abbas’ forces killed Anas Adel Abdul Jabbar and Walid Atef on January 19 in Al Mudhaffar district to the west of Taiz City. The two men were wanted by local police in relation to the assassinations of government military and security personnel in Taiz. Days later, there were reports of a wider campaign against alleged AQAP operatives in Taiz. Abu Abbas, whose forces are leading the campaign, is himself sanctioned by the US Treasury Department for alleged links to AQAP and ISIS — allegations that Abbas denied in a rare interview at the end of 2018.

Houthi UAV attacks, Coalition Airstrikes in Retaliation

The first month of 2019 also saw escalations on other fronts. A Houthi unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attack on al-Anad air base in Lahj on January 10 killed six soldiers and injured more than ten others. Among those killed was the Yemeni government’s military intelligence chief, General Mohammed Tamah and the Yemeni army’s deputy chief of staff, Major General Saleh al-Zindani, who died later in hospital. A number of high-ranking Yemeni government military figures and local officials were present at the air base at the time of the attack, where a military parade was taking place. The Yemeni government said that a local Houthi cell had orchestrated the attack and announced arrests the following week. A day after the attack in Lahj, Houthi media claimed that a Houthi UAV hit Saudi military positions in Asir, southern Saudi Arabia.

Houthi forces spokesman Yahya Sarea threatened further UAV attacks in 2019, which he dubbed the “year of the drones.” Since mid-2018, the Houthis have demonstrated growing UAV capabilities, mainly through the use of kamikaze (ramming) drones. While Sarea claimed that these weapons were locally manufactured, the Qasef K-2 drone used in the Al-Anad air base attack is an update on the Qasef-1 — a UAV that the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen said includes parts supplied by Iran, and is “virtually identical” to the Ababil-T Iranian drone. Tehran denies supplying drone or missile technology to the Houthis. The UN Panel of Experts report circulated in January also noted that Houthi forces have been increasing their use of remote-control waterborne improvised explosive devices in the Red Sea against both military and civilian vessels.

The Saudi-led coalition launched a series of airstrikes on Sana’a on January 19-20, which local eyewitnesses said were the most destructive of their kind in more than a year. The Saudi-led military coalition said that the strikes targeted military sites, including Al-Daylami air base and a UAV storage facility — indicating a retaliation to Houthi airborne attacks in previous weeks. On January 31, coalition jets bombed an alleged drone storage facility east of Sana’a city. The spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition, Colonel Turki al-Malki, said that this was part of an ongoing operation to eradicate the Houthis’ drone capabilities following the attack in Lahj. During January, coalition fighter jets also targeted a Houthi training camp in Dhamar governorate and Houthi gatherings and positions in Al-Jawf, Hajjah and Sa’ada, supporting continuing ground fighting in these governorates, and Nihm front in Sana’a.

Other Political and Military Developments in Brief:

  • January 4: Two members of the UAE-backed Shabwa Elite forces were killed in clashes with tribesmen in Marqa district, northwest Shabwa, following attempts to arrest two men. Following the clashes, Emirati Apache helicopters bombed houses in the area, killing seven civilians. Minister of Interior Ahmed Al-Maysari said that a commission would investigate the incident.
  • January 20: The accidental detonation of a mine killed five demining experts in Marib. The two South Africans, one Croatian, one Bosnian and one Kosovar killed in the blast were working for the “Saudi Project to Demine Yemen,” a Saudi-funded KSrelief project.
  • January 28: An explosion at a market in the government-held Mocha city, Taiz governorate, killed at least six civilians. Local officials suspect AQAP may have carried out the attack, although no claims have been made, while the Yemeni government’s Saba news agency blamed Houthi forces. The UAE has a heavy security presence in Mocha, which lies some 75 km north of the Bab al-Mandab strait. The port city also serves as a base to support coalition operations in neighboring Hudaydah governorate.

 

Humanitarian Developments

Emergency Relief Coordinator Updates UNSC

On January 9, the UNSC was briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock. Despite some positive indications following the Stockholm Agreement, Lowcock said the wider humanitarian situation in Yemen had not improved. Some 80 percent of Yemenis need humanitarian assistance, 10 million are on the brink of famine while more than 3.3 million remain displaced as result of the conflict. In response, the WFP plans to expand its operations in 2019 to reach 12 million people, Lowcock said. He called on the international community to consider additional funding for the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan at an upcoming February pledging conference.

While commending the progress made on the political front, Lowcock lamented that more focus was required on the humanitarian elements of UNSC Resolution 2541. The Under-Secretary said all parties must work for increased humanitarian access and the unfettered movement of aid workers and supplies. Lowcock called for access to Yemen’s Red Sea mills and for the opening of Ras Issa port, which has been closed since 2017 (see below ‘Fire Damages WFP Food Aid in Hudaydah’). Meanwhile, commercial fuel imports through Hudaydah and Salif ports were higher than at any point in 2017, but commercial food imports plummeted to their lowest since the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM) began reporting in 2016.

Touching on the economic situation in the country, Lowcock called for further interventions to stabilize the Yemeni rial (YR), noting that without additional measures the International Monetary Fund has estimated a depreciation to more than YR700 to US$1 in 2019. As January ended the YR was trading at YR570 per US$1 (see above ‘Yemeni Rial Exchange Rate). Given that Yemen is overwhelmingly dependent on imports to feed the population, even small depreciations in YR value pose an outsized food security threat for millions of Yemenis already on the cusp of famine.  

Fire Damages WFP Food Aid in Hudaydah

On January 25, two grain silos were damaged in a fire at the Red Sea mills, on the eastern outskirts of Hudaydah City. The UN said the fire was likely a result of mortar shelling. Some 51,000 metric tons of wheat belonging to the World Food Programme (WFP) was stored at the mills, enough to feed around 3.7 million people for a month. The WFP said it had been unable to access the stock – which accounts for a quarter of its wheat supplies in Yemen – since September 2018, due to fighting in Hudaydah.

The WFP urgently needs to access the mills to assess the damage and transport any unaffected wheat stocks to areas of Yemen where it is desperately needed, WFP Country Director Stephen Anderson said. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande described the loss as “heartbreaking” and noted that 20 million Yemenis were hungry and 250,000 faced near starvation. “This is the first time we are seeing conditions like this. We need this wheat,” Grande added.

Local Reaction to Reports of Stolen Food Assistance

Houthi officials responded on January 1 to allegations by the WFP that food aid was being stolen in areas controlled by Houthi authorities. An AP investigation published on December 31, 2018 found that factions and militias on all sides of the conflict were blocking food aid, diverting it to front lines and selling it for profit. The WFP then said it had uncovered evidence that an organization affiliated to Houthi authorities had misused aid and committed fraud. The WFP threatened to suspend some food shipments to Yemen if Houthi authorities did not take action within 10 days to investigate and stop the theft.

The head of the Houthi’s Supreme Revolutionary Council Mohammad Ali al-Houthi responded that the WFP had not communicated officially with Houthi authorities and called on the UN agency to provide proof for its allegations. He accused the WFP of distributing “rotten food” in Yemen, which he said Houthi authorities had blocked because it was not suitable for human consumption. Al-Houthi also said the WFP was politicized and that the allegations of theft reflected the food agency’s “subordination” to the US and the UK.

On January 6, the Yemeni government’s minister of local administration, Abdul Raqeeb Fatah, claimed that Houthi forces had stolen 65 percent of the humanitarian assistance sent to Yemen through Hudaydah port. He also accused Houthi militants of looting some 700 trucks carrying assistance, and detaining more than 88 relief and commercial vessels at Hudaydah and Saleef ports.

Responding to the WFP’s threats to suspend some food aid to Yemen, on January 9 more than 35 local organizations and charities called on the UN agency to reveal the corruption it alleged surrounded its work. The groups said the WFP’s “silence” was considered “collusion with the authorities to loot food from the mouths of the hungry people in Yemen,” the AP reported.

In a briefing to the UNSC on January 9, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said that the UN took misappropriation of aid seriously and had already contracted independent third-party monitors in autumn 2018. They found that 95 percent of intended food aid beneficiaries across Yemen were receiving food aid, although in some cases rations were incomplete. “These gaps could potentially be due to funding or access constraints, or other problems,” Lowcock said.

Other Humanitarian Developments in Brief:

  • January 2: UN DISPATCH reported that nearly 150,000 migrants arrived to Yemen in 2018, more than the number of irregular migrants who arrived in Europe that year.
  • January 3: Researchers said that the strain of cholera that caused the deadliest cholera epidemic in recorded history originated in East Africa and was brought to Yemen by migrants. The Yemeni health ministry reported almost 380,000 suspected cases of cholera between January 1, 2018 and January 6, 2019, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), including 517 deaths. More than 1.4 million Yemenis are suspected to have contracted cholera since October 2016, the WHO said.  
  • January 8: The Emirates Red Crescent opened a health center in al-Jubairah district in Hudaydah to provide services to 100,000 people.
  • January 9: The UN reported that “very limited numbers” of displaced people had returned to Hudaydah over the previous two weeks. Meanwhile, intermittent fire in Kilo 7 in Hudaydah City led to the displacement of 70 families.
  • January 18: Yemen country director of Save the Children Tamer Kirolos urged the parliaments of arms dealing countries “to take the historical responsibility and instruct their governments to stop all sales of military weapons or equipment to any party to the conflict in Yemen.” In a statement, he noted that 85,000 children may have died of extreme hunger since the war began.  
  • January 25: In an update to the UNSC, the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization said that the crisis in Yemen reached a critical point in late 2018. Around 65,000 people had reached the level of catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) and more than half the population were in urgent need of food and livelihood assistance. Without humanitarian assistance, a number of districts would likely be in famine, the UN agencies said.  
  • January 27: In Hajjah governorate, fighting displaced more than 300 families from Harad and Haryan to Abs during three weeks in January, according to a UN situation report. Abs district already hosts around 23,000 IDPs, many of whom have suffered multiple displacements and live in dire conditions, the UN said.

 

Human Rights and War Crimes Developments

Houthi Security Forces Detain Saferworld Country Director

On January 28, Houthi authorities detained  Saferworld Country Director Awfa al-Naami and her colleague in Sana’a. The Houthi-run National Security Bureau detained the NGO staff after they were called in for questioning at around 12:00 pm.

Al-Naami has faced interrogation before and in recent months has been subject to threats and intimidation by Houthi authorities. More than a dozen and local, regional and international organizations signed an appeal calling for al-Naami’s immediate and unconditional release.

Report: Houthi Forces Detain, Torture Women

Houthi authorities are holding dozens of women without charge, and torturing them and blackmailing their families, according to allegations by the Yemen Organization for Combating Human Trafficking, reported by the AP on January 17.

The organization’s founder Nabil Fadel said that Houthi authorities had been detaining women in recent months over allegations of prostitution and collaboration with the Saudi-led military coalition. A Yemeni lawyer told the AP that women had been rounded up in cafés and parks, and that families were searching for their missing daughters. Once granted release, the women were secretly detained in villas across Sana’a, the lawyer said.

The Houthil-run Interior Ministry responded to the allegations by saying they were rumors spread by the “mouthpieces of the mercenaries.” It said there were no secret prisons or arbitrary detentions, and that it would hold those behind the reports to account.

UPR Addresses Right to Mental Health in Yemen

On January 23, the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) 32nd Session of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) addressed Yemen. This entailed UN member states examining the Yemen’s human rights record over the past five years. The internationally recognized Yemeni government submitted and presented its own report at the UNHRC, as did civil society groups. The latter include the report ‘Yemen’s obligations to respect, protect, and fulfil the right to mental health’, jointly submitted by the Sana’a Center, Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic, and the Brown School at Washington University.

Subsequently, for the first time the right to mental health and adverse mental health impacts of the Yemen conflict on the population was raised by various UN member states, including Cyprus, Iceland, Malta, France, Switzerland, Brazil, and Slovenia. The Yemeni government was questioned and asked to provide information on its activities to promote and ensure psychosocial well-being, particularly regarding children affected by the conflict. In total, UN member states made 252 recommendations to the Yemeni government during the UPR review, 182 of which it accepted with the other 70 under further examination

Other Human Rights and War Crimes Developments in Brief:

  • January 19: Airstrikes by the Saudi-led military coalition hit seven military facilities in Sana’a, according to a coalition spokesman. The AP reported that the strikes hit a food factory, killing two workers. No other fatalities were reported, although other civilians were said to be wounded. A plastics factory was hit, causing a large fire, the AP said. The airstrikes were the first by the coalition since the Stockholm Agreement was signed in December 2018 (see above ‘Coalition Airstrikes’).  
  • January 21: Houthi forces stormed two homes in Dhamar and commandeered them as their headquarters, Al Masdar reported. Houthi gunmen also looted the properties, according to the report.
  • January 25:  One child and five soldiers were killed when two land mines exploded in al-Bayda. A passenger vehicle set off the first land mine, killing a child and wounding five adults. The soldiers rushed to help the wounded, and were killed when a second landmine detonated, Yemeni government security officials told the AP. The officials said Houthi forces had planted thousands of land mines across Yemen. The same week, five staff of an international demining team were killed by a landmine in Marib.
  • January 27: Eight people were killed and 30 injured when unknown assailants shelled a camp for displaced people in Hajjah, according to the UN.  

International Developments

New UN Panel of Experts Report

In January, a report by the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen was circulated among UNSC members states and discussed at a closed meeting of the council’s Yemen Sanctions Committee on January 18. The report investigated and assessed economic, humanitarian, security and human rights developments during 2018. The panel had met with a number of officials from the the internationally recognized Yemeni government, including President Hadi and then Prime Minister Ahmed Bin Dagher. However, the armed Houthi movement refused to cooperate with the panel, so the experts were unable to meet Houthi authorities or visit Sana’a. The Houthi authorities accused the panel of reporting false information in its 2017 report.

Last month’s report painted a bleak picture of the situation in Yemen, with a strong focus on the war economy and impediments to the delivery of humanitarian aid to and within Yemen, according to a copy of the report seen by the Sana’a Center. The report also gave greater attention to violations and obstructions by Houthi forces than the panel’s previous report.

Among the new findings, the Panel of Experts indicated that Houthi forces had advanced their capabilities in developing extended-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that could strike targets deep inside Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates (see above ‘Houthi UAV attacks). The panel also found that in 2018, Houthi forces were increasingly reliant on the import of high-value weapons components, which were integrated into locally assembled systems such as extended-range UAVs. This marked a change from previous years, the experts said, noting that in 2015 and 2016, complete or partially-assembled weapons systems were supplied to Houthi forces from abroad.

The threat to commercial shipping increased in 2018 as Houthi forces developed and deployed sophisticated weapons like anti-ship cruise missiles and Water-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices, the panel found. The panel concluded that Houthi forces were responsible for attacks on the crude carrier Abqaiq on April 3, 2018, and against the bulk carrier Ince Inebolu on May 10, 2018. Houthi forces also targeted a vessel carrying wheat to Yemen, the experts said, noting that this endangered the delivery of humanitarian assistance and increased the transaction costs of imports to Yemen.

The warring parties were implicated in obstructing the delivery of aid with excessive delays to shipments. The report notes that the Saudi-led military coalition’s continued ban on commercial flights from Sana’a International Airport was preventing civilians from accessing medical treatment outside the country.

Highlighting a link between food insecurity and the conflict, the panel said that hunger was a common reason for young men and children to sign up as Houthi fighters, as “people know that recruits will have access to food.” Recruits tend to come from the poorest families in rural areas, and can be as young as 16, the report said, adding that the majority were illiterate.

The panel reported that fuel from Iran was being used to finance the Houthi forces. The experts identified companies inside and outside Yemen operating as front companies using false documentation to conceal a fuel donation to an unidentified sanctioned individual. The revenue from the sale of this fuel was used “to finance the Houthi war effort,” the panel said. The fuel was loaded at ports in Iran using fake documents to avoid inspection by the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) for Yemen.

The panel also observed that the authority of the internationally recognized government continued to erode through 2018.  The panel pointed to four factors: the proliferation of militia groups and lack of de facto control over proxy military forces armed and funded by Saudi Arabia and the UAE; the challenges posed by the secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC) and its affiliates; the apparent lack of control over revenues from natural resources; and the continued control over Sana’a and other northern governorates by Houthi forces.

The panel’s report lists nine recommendations – six to the Sanctions Committee and three to the UNSC. The experts recommended that the UNSC should remind the Yemeni government and other parties to the conflict that corruption is a significant threat to peace and security in Yemen, and should urge the Houthis to ensure respect for humanitarian actors’ independence, neutrality and independence. It also suggested that the UNSC should remind the Yemeni government of its responsibilities to ensure adequate food for all Yemenis, and to ensure that import mechanisms facilitated the entry of food to all parts of Yemen.

The panel’s recommendations to the committee included measures to enhance the capacity of the UNVIM to identify networks using false documents. It also suggested that the committee should alert the International Maritime Organization of the risks posed by missiles and explosive devices in the Red Sea, and should notify the International Civil Aviation Organization of risks posed by IAVs and loitering munitions to busy international airports on the Arabian Peninsula.  

 

In the United States

Pressure Resumes in Congress to End US Role in Yemen

On January 30, lawmakers reintroduced legislation to end US involvement in the Yemen conflict. House Joint Resolution 37  and Senate Joint Resolution 7 invoke the War Powers Act, which asserts Congress’ sole authority to authorize the use of military force. In December, the US Senate voted to pass similar legislation – the first time a war powers resolution has passed a chamber of Congress. House Republicans blocked voting on a similar resolution in December, but with Democrats in key leadership positions following the 2018 midterm elections, H.J.Res 37 is almost certain to reach the floor. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who introduced the legislation said he expected a vote to take place in February.

Should the legislation pass both the House and the Senate, the White House has already indicated that President Donald Trump will veto it. There has also been a long-running debate over the constitutionality of the War Powers Act, which may obstruct its passage. Nevertheless, the legislation will add to the political pressure on the Trump administration, which faced growing criticism in 2018 over its support for the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen.

Other US Developments in Brief:

  • January 2: The US Senate confirmed Christopher Henzel as the new US ambassador to Yemen, replacing Matthew Tueller. Henzel has been the US Chargé d’Affaires at the US embassy in Riyadh since 2016, and faced a heated Senate hearing in December over coalition actions in Yemen.
  • January 7: US Central Command reported that it conducted a total of 36 strikes against targets in Yemen during 2018 — a marked decline from the 127 operations recorded for 2017. It is possible that not all strikes have been declared, given the US military’s established record of underreporting its use of drone strikes.
  • January 8: The Intercept released a previously unpublished Department of Defense report which said that there was no evidence that Saudi-led coalition member states had abused detainees in prisons in Yemen. A June 2017 investigation by the AP claimed that the UAE ran a network of secret prisons in southern Yemen where abuse and torture were rampant. The UN Panel of Experts also accused the UAE of violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in their report for 2017, citing arbitrary detention and mistreatment of prisoners. A 2018 annual defense spending bill required the DoD to provide a report to Congress assessing the Saudi-led coalition’s compliance with international humanitarian law.

 

In Europe

Control Arms UK Criticizes British Arms Sales to Coalition

The UK division of the international Control Arms Coalition submitted a report on January 23 to the Committee on Arms Export Control, a British parliamentary committee investigating UK arms exports. The report focused on the disparity between the UK’s international law obligations and its arms exports to members of the Saudi-led military coalition. Among other issues, the report stressed that the UK remained one of the main arms suppliers to coalition members, despite ongoing serious violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen. The report noted that the UK was falling behind other European states that successively halted the issuing of arms export licenses to coalition members in 2018.

Other European Developments in Brief:

  • January 8: For the first time since the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the European Union imposed sanctions on Iran, following alleged Iranian assassination campaigns against exiled dissidents on European soil. Since early 2018 the UK, Germany, France and Italy have been in talks with Iran to save the nuclear agreement, which the US announced it was pulling out of in May 2018. These negotiations have also concerned Iran’s wider regional engagement, including its role in the Yemen conflict and related peace efforts.
  • January 14: A joint European delegation, including the Head of the EU Delegation to Yemen Antonia Calvo-Puerta and French Ambassador Christian Testot, visited Aden for the first time since the outbreak of the Yemen war. They met with Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalek Saeed and the governor of the central bank in Aden.
  • January 24: The human rights subcommittee of the European Parliament held an exchange of views on the current humanitarian and human rights situation in Yemen, hearing from Yemeni and international rights activists and experts.
  • January 25: Reuters reported that the European Commission had added Saudi Arabia to a draft list of states considered to pose a threat to the financial system of the EU due to lax controls over the financing of terrorism and money laundering. The updated list is yet to be formally adopted.
  • January 25: The Guardian reported that UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was the first European foreign minister to agree to attend a controversial US-organized summit on Iran, to be held in Warsaw in mid-February. Hunt’s stipulation was that the UK, the US, the UAE and Saudi Arabia meet to discuss the current situation in Yemen on its margins.

The report was prepared by (in alphabetical order): Ali Abdullah, Waleed Alhariri, Ryan Bailey, Anthony Biswell, Hamza al-Hamadi, Gregory Johnsen, Sala Khaled, Spencer Osberg, Hannah Patchett, Hussam Radman, Victoria K. Sauer, Holly Topham, and Aisha al-Warraq.  


The Yemen Review – formerly known as Yemen at the UN – is a monthly publication produced by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies. Launched in June 2016, it aims to identify and assess current diplomatic, economic, political, military, security, humanitarian and human rights developments related to Yemen.  

In producing The Yemen Review, Sana’a Center staff throughout Yemen and around the world gather information, conduct research, and hold private meetings with local, regional, and international stakeholders in order to analyze domestic and international developments regarding Yemen.

This monthly series is designed to provide readers with contextualized insight into the country’s most important ongoing issues.

 

This report was developed with the support of the Kingdom of the Netherlands