The Hague, Netherlands – The second Yemen International Forum (YIF) came to a close on June 15, after four days of dialogue and workshops featuring a diverse group of local and international actors. The conference, hosted by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, is the largest of its kind, and welcomed more than two hundred and fifty delegates to address numerous issues related to the ongoing conflict in Yemen and pathways to an inclusive, just, and sustainable peace. The final day included sessions on transitional justice, economic reform, political transformation, and southern priorities, capping a comprehensive program examining transformative solutions to the country’s protracted crises.
Thanking participants for their valuable contributions to the conference, often after making a long and difficult trip, Waleed Alhariri, the Director of the Yemen International Forum, noted the diversity of the conference and its commitment to the underrepresented groups who lack a place at the table. “This forum was designed based on the aspirations of the Yemeni people, because the people of Yemen know its problems best,” he told the audience. “This is and always will be a platform for you, all Yemenis, and all marginalized groups, to discuss the future of their country.” Alhariri noted that the Sana’a Center’s work to facilitate and center Yemeni-Yemeni discussions was just getting started: “We won’t stop here – the dialogue that we aspire to promote must remain a sustainable and evolving process of renewal.”
Rana Ghanem, Assistant Secretary General of the Nasserite Party and a member of the Consultation and Reconciliation Commission, spoke passionately about opportunities afforded by dialogue: “The war confirmed that there can be no victor from violence, and there is no way for us, as Yemenis, except to return to the dialogue table, and we must keep it permanently open to solve our problems and reach a just and sustainable peace.” Ghanem asserted that diplomacy and intervention could not succeed if they did not meet Yemenis’ aspirations for their own future, and asked participants to build on the work of recent days: “The implementation of the ideas, solutions, and visions proposed in this forum, to pave the way toward the future and plan for it, is a shared responsibility among all of us… that we may extricate our country from the devastation, destruction, and dispersion that has afflicted it, and move toward peace, security, and prosperity you deserve.”
During the closing remarks, Ghanem highlighted the participation of members of the Southern Transitional Council in this year’s forum as an indication of “their willingness to engage in bold dialogues that touch the roots of our problems in Yemen, foremost of which is the southern issue, to develop perceptions, proposals, and ideas to face all challenges and reach a comprehensive, just and sustainable peace for all.” She expressed regret that Ansar Allah (the Houthi movement) failed to “attend and participate in such dialogues and platforms that bring together Yemenis to think openly and freely about the peace we seek for our country, instead of continuing the intransigence and isolation that distances them every day from the different Yemeni spectra and components.”
Ghanem ended on a hopeful note, echoing a perception among participants that the conference represented the beginning of the broader movement for Yemenis to shape the narratives and parameters of a future settlement. “I hope the day comes when we achieve peace in my country, and we can talk about this forum as an inspiration for other people around the world.”
The closing session also saw the announcement of a declaration for justice and reconciliation, signed by over forty Yemeni NGOs. The declaration was a result of numerous discussions between local organizations to set common principles and address new and existing grievances in order to halt the cycles of violence in the country. Transitional justice was a major theme of this year’s forum, and Maysaa Shuja Al-Deen, a senior researcher at the Sana’a Center, discussed how the pre-forum consultations had informed the declaration: “The discussions stressed the importance of a victim-centered approach, so we must support them and design transitional justice centered on this approach.” Such work is extremely difficult in a country that remains politically and militarily divided, with generations of victims from the eight-year-old civil war and a series of conflicts in recent decades. Shuja El-Deen emphasized the importance of undertaking such efforts now, with an eye toward the country’s long-term stability and reconciliation: “Documentation must be addressed, as documentation is important not only for accountability, but most importantly, it is vital for memorializing and historical narrative.”
During the closing remarks of the forum, Mayor Jan van Zanen welcomed delegates to The Hague, the ‘City of Peace,’ and praised the inclusiveness of the talks: “Renewed efforts have been made to strengthen mutual trust, and mutual trust is always the start of community building: of living and working and studying and thinking in peace together.” Van Zanen said the city was honored to host the event: “You have my full and profound respect for your efforts and I am very proud that you chose to do this in our city.”
He joined other prominent international officials that addressed the participants over the four-day event, including H.E. Paul Huijts, Secretary General of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs; H.E. David Gressly, United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen; H.E. Ambassador Peter-Derrek Hof, Dutch Ambassador to Yemen; H.E. Guusje Korthals, Deputy MENA Director at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Gabriel Munuera-Viñals, EU Ambassador to Yemen; H.E. Sarhan Al-Minaikher, GCC Ambassador to Yemen; H.E. Hans Grundberg, UN Special Envoy for Yemen; and H.E. Wolfgang Amadeus Brülhart, Swiss Special Envoy to MENA.
The YIF 2023 was organized by the Sana’a Center of Strategic Studies, an independent think tank focused on Yemen, with the support of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the European Union, the Kingdom of Norway, Open Society Foundations, and the Folke Bernadotte Academy. The first YIF, held in Stockholm in June 2022, was attended by over 200 Yemeni and international actors invested in the promotion of peace in Yemen.