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Engaging Victims in Peace-Making and Transitional Justice in Yemen

Executive Summary

We reject any political process that ignores our call for justice, or that seeks to compromise our demands in exchange for so-called political stability. Sustainable and lasting peace can only be achieved by welcoming reconciliation through justice.

The overwhelming majority of Yemenis today are victims of an almost decade-long war. More than 370,000 lives have been lost,[2] thousands detained, and millions displaced. On top of those directly impacted by the scourges of war, the psychological harm, deprivation of infrastructure and basic services, collapse of the health and educational systems, and the economic and social impact have led to a sense of collective grievance among Yemenis, many of whom believe that lasting peace cannot come without the pursuit of justice, truth, and redress, and their inclusion in Yemen’s peace process.

Against this backdrop, this report examines the United Nations’ approach to transitional justice in Yemen since 2011, specifically looking at the role of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and that of the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen (OSESGY). The first section of the report illustrates how an increased focus on transitional justice within the UN’s theoretical and operational framework, as articulated in the Secretary-General Guidance Note on transitional justice (2010,[3] 2023[4]), has led to more efforts to address transitional justice in UN mandates across the globe, such as in Syria, Libya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan, among others. Yemen, in contrast, stands as an anomaly, where despite references at the beginning of Yemen’s political crisis to the need for “full accountability” for human rights violations,[5] since 2015 there has been a notable absence of references to accountability or transitional justice by the Security Council, and a pervasive silence on its pursuit from all parties since.

To offer a comparative perspective, the second part of this report contrasts the UN approach to transitional justice in Yemen with that of Syria, where an early emphasis on human rights violations led to the formation of significant international bodies addressing accountability and justice, and where UNSC references to accountability were consistent, along with a focus on Syria’s enforced disappearances and detainees.[6] By contrast, the plight of detainees and the forcibly disappeared in Yemen, numbering in the thousands, has been subdued and divorced from its human rights component, and engaged with primarily within the parameters of prisoner exchanges that formed part of confidence-building measures between the warring parties. The mandate of the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, meanwhile, the only international body tasked since 2017 with investigating human rights violations in Yemen, was not renewed in 2021, in a blow to thousands of Yemeni victims.[7]

The third section of this report provides a comprehensive look at the evolving national frameworks established over the years to address issues of justice and reconciliation in Yemen, specifically looking at the experience of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), held between 2013 and 2014, and the establishment of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) in 2022. The NDC was deemed by many observers as the “core of Yemen’s political transition,”[8] engaging a broad scope of political parties and civil society actors and addressing national reconciliation and transitional justice as one of its core themes. Despite its shortcomings, it planted important seeds in the pursuit of justice, and for the first time put the plight of Yemen’s victims at the center of national deliberations. The establishment of a PLC almost a decade later, and the creation within its structure of a Consultation and Reconciliation Committee, has come with some subtle gestures by Yemen’s Executive to place transitional justice back on the political agenda. The path to justice, however, is long. Advocating for its inclusion requires bolstering nationally led and nationally owned efforts.

Last but not least, the final part of this report shines a light on Yemeni victims, arguing that it is their inclusion in the country’s political dialogue and peace process that will ultimately determine the shape of Yemen post-conflict. Consultations held with over 70 Yemeni victims and victims’ representatives make it clear that failing a more inclusive peace process, attempts to put an end to the endless cycles of war witnessed by Yemenis are futile, or incomplete. Despite a clear and urgent need to address these grievances, neither the Security Council nor other relevant UN actors have adequately addressed their plight. The limitations of UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which restricts interlocutors to the internationally recognized government and the Houthi group (Ansar Allah), exacerbate the situation, and many organizations and policy analysts are now calling for its amendment.

This report asserts the vital need to make transitional justice a central component of Yemen’s political process. It also advocates for a broader conceptualization of any transition to one that includes victims and a broader range of Yemeni voices. Based on desk work and field research, it aims to inform a diverse audience invested in transitional justice, including governmental entities, policy analysts, UN entities working on transitional justice, Yemeni civil society actors, academics, and policy audiences, as well as relevant international and domestic stakeholders. To draw attention to a more victim-centered approach to peace-building efforts in Yemen, the report concludes with a set of recommendations that aim to provide guidance for a more just political process in Yemen:


To the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, the United Nations Security Council, and the UN Secretary-General:

  • Empower the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Yemen with a dedicated transitional justice mandate and adequate human resources to address transitional justice in political negotiations and related processes.
  • Broaden the scope of Resolution 2216 to include Yemeni civil society organizations in negotiations for a political settlement in Yemen.
  • Incorporate transitional justice concerns at multiple levels – Security Council resolutions and press statements, briefings on Yemen by the Special Envoy and other UN representatives, Secretary-General reports, and so forth – to strengthen engagement with transitional justice and its inclusion in peace efforts.
  • Support the integration of transitional justice into peace negotiations in Yemen by identifying possible approaches to addressing issues of accountability and grievance, and ensuring these are grounded in the local context.
  • Strengthen the engagement of the Office of the Special Envoy with victims and their representatives to increase the Office’s understanding of victims’ needs and their expectations of justice and accountability, including in UN-led peace efforts.
  • Enhance the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Yemen by appointing an international human rights expert tasked with identifying ways to integrate transitional justice elements in the peace process and any future peace agreement.
  • Strengthen the transitional justice component of the United Nations’ operations and activities in Yemen, ensuring that transitional justice plays a cross-cutting role across all of its work in Yemen.

To embassies, country representatives, and members of the international community:

  • Support the Consultation and Reconciliation Committee in incorporating a transitional justice approach to reconciliation and contribute to their technical capacities and expertise to address the structural roots of conflict and recurring violence in Yemen.
  • Strengthen the capacities of the National Commission for the Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights to design and implement approaches that place the needs of victims and survivors at the center of the recommendations in its periodic reports, such as the establishment of specialized courts and prosecution offices for human rights violations.
  • Promote a long-term approach to transitional justice in Yemen by acknowledging its role in peace efforts and its contribution to national reconciliation.
  • Support collective action among Yemeni victims’ groups and networks, civil society, and broader social and political movements to generate the advocacy, mobilization, and support needed to carry forward a transitional justice agenda.[9]
  • Make accessible internal reports and other documentation about transitional justice in Yemen that have been carried out since 2014.

To the internationally recognized government:

  • Support efforts in the House of Representatives to proceed with the ratification of core international human rights treaties and their optional protocols.
  • Support the House of Representatives in its efforts to resume its legislative activity and align Yemeni domestic law with its international human rights obligations under the conventions it has ratified.
  • Support governmental institutions in enhancing policy coherence on transitional justice issues and foster technical cooperation between these and the Consultation and Reconciliation Committee.
  • Increase technical cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other international agencies to develop a national transitional justice policy that incorporates a victim-centered approach based on an assessment of the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference.
  • Promote a victim-centered approach to the UN-mediated peace process that is inclusive of victims’ needs for justice and reparations and promotes national reconciliation.
  • Strengthen the participation of the state in international discussions, meetings, and other multilateral efforts that focus on accountability and transitional justice and on the nexus between these and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the objectives set forth by the UN Secretary-General in the New Agenda for Peace.[10]

To Yemeni and international non-governmental organizations:

  • Develop a more systematic process of information gathering on the conflict-related needs of victims in Yemen based on participatory and community approaches that encourage the participation of women, children, religious and racial minorities, and other marginalized groups.
  • Develop understanding and knowledge-sharing on how victims’ groups and associations are organized in Yemen, considering their different capacities, activities, and geographic reach, and the grievances they represent.
  • Strengthen Yemeni knowledge production in the field of transitional justice and reconciliation and support Yemeni knowledge platforms, ensuring information is available for public use.
  • Identify concrete activities and opportunities that strengthen the nexus between transitional justice and peacebuilding in Yemen, and support track II civil society organizations in Yemen in the application of a transitional justice approach in their activities.
  • Contribute to the mobilization of Yemeni civil initiatives that promote victim-centered approaches and the integration of transitional justice into peace-building efforts in Yemen.
  • Identify key issues in the inclusion of victims and their representatives in peace negotiations in Yemen, including entry points for the introduction of transitional justice measures and the types of tension these might generate.

This report was produced as part of the Yemen International Forum 2022, organized by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies in cooperation with the Folke Bernadotte Academy, and with funding support from the Government of the Kingdom of Sweden.

  1. The Yemen Declaration for Justice and Reconciliation was launched in July 2023. Signed by several dozen Yemeni civil society organizations, the Declaration sets out the principles and priorities for post-conflict justice as defined by Yemenis. It also demands a victim-centered approach and advocates for an inclusive, sustainable, and just peace in Yemen. See “The Yemen Declaration for Justice and Reconciliation,” Yemen Justice, 2023,
  2. A UNDP report estimated that by the end of 2021 the war would have caused 377,000 deaths. 154,000 of these were estimated to be due to direct combat and violence, while 223,000 (nearly 60 percent) were because of indirect causes such as lack of access to food, water, and healthcare. See, Taylor Hanna, David K. Bohl, and Jonathan D. Moyer, “Assessing the Impact of War in Yemen: Pathways for Recovery,” UNDP, 2021, of War Report 3 – QR_0.pdf
  3. “Guidance Note of the Secretary-General: United Nations Approach to Transitional Justice,” United Nations Digital Library, March 10, 2010,
  4. “Guidance Note of the Secretary-General on Transitional Justice: A Strategic Tool for People, Prevention and Peace,” UN OHCHR, October 11, 2023,
  5. See UNSC Resolution 2051, adopted in June 2012; UNSC Resolution 2140, adopted in February 2014; UNSC Resolution 2014, adopted in 2011; and UNSC Resolution 2201, adopted in February 2015. All UNSCRs are available at;cbtype=yemen
  6. In June 2019, a landmark UNSC resolution was adopted on missing persons, making it obligatory for “parties to armed conflict to take all appropriate measures, to actively search for persons reported missing, to enable the return of their remains and to account for persons reported missing “without adverse distinction.” See, “Security Council Adopts First-Ever Resolution on Persons Reported Missing during Armed Conflict, as Speakers Call for Greater Political Will to Address Problem,” United Nations, June 11, 2009,
  7. “‘We have failed Yemen’: UN human rights council ends war crime probe,” The Guardian, October 7, 2021,
  8. Erica Gaston, “Special Report: Process Lessons Learned in Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference,” United States Institute of Peace, February 7, 2014,
  9. “Toward Victim-Centred Change: Integrating Transitional Justice into Sustainable Peace and Development,” 2023 Report of the Working Group on Transitional Justice and SDG16+, September 18, 2023,
  10. “A New Agenda for Peace,” United Nations, July 2023,