We need to talk about Yemen

The Next Century Foundation has been much engaged in work on resolving the Yemen crisis. Our recent focus has been over the potentiality of an autonomous South Yemen and Ansar Allah’s engagement with Iran. Furthermore, the urgency of the humanitarian crisis remains a constant threat.

One of the more surprising revelations in the context of our engagement with Yemen has been regarding the future of South Yemen. Advocates of the Ansar Allah movement (generally referred to in the Western Press as the “Houthis”) tend to take the position that a referendum on the future of South Yemen is a tangible possibility, however, only on condition that the South initially submits to Ansar Allah control. The Next Century Foundation welcomes the notion of a referendum though we are concerned by the lack of clarity as to whether this will be a referendum of the views of all Yemenis North and South or a referendum that assesses the aspirations of the Southerners. The endorsement and provision of a referendum are crucial elements in the peace process as the potentiality of an autonomous South Yemen could initiate the end of the conflict.

Nonetheless, Yemen’s Southerners are always keen that supporters of Ansar Allah understand that South Yemen will not fall into the hands of Ansar Allah, as demonstrated with the failure of their previous endeavour in 2015.

However the key question remains regarding the eligible participants in any referendum; would it be limited to Southerners, or would it be for the whole of Yemen to decide the future of the South?

The concept of an autonomous South Yemen also begs questions regarding the governmental structure of the country, specifically the implementation of federalism. As previously stated by the Next Century Foundation, federalism is a viable solution that would help address calls for an independent South Yemen as well as allow Yemen to remain a united country, thus meeting the demands of both Ansar Allah and the Southerners.

The involvement of foreign powers in the Yemen conflict remains a problem. Too many foreign powers are involved in the conflict. Some argue with some justification that the conflict in Yemen is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The involvement of Iran in supporting the Ansar Allah movement certainly disturbs many Southerners. Some from South Yemen call for the Ansar Allah movement to cut ties with Iran. An unlikely split. Advocates of Ansar Allah strongly disagree with the narrative that Iran is complicit in the conflict as well as its relations with the movement. Moreover, they believed that attention should be turned to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and their role as “occupiers”. Supporters of Ansar Allah claim that Iran is not physically involved in the conflict, whereas Saudi and UAE forces are currently on the ground in Yemen.

The humanitarian crisis continues. The Secretary-General of the United Nations recently produced a report on children and the armed conflict in Yemen. The report provided an insight into the six violations committed against children by the parties involved in the conflict, these violations include the recruitment of children, the killing and maiming of children, as well as the refusal of humanitarian access. According to the report, between January 2019 and December 2020 more than 3,500 children were victims of one or more violations. The treatment of children is of grave concern as is the risk of famine and starvation of the Yemeni people. In February 2021, the United Nations announced that 16 million Yemenis were in danger of starvation and famine including five million people who are “just one step away from famine”. Months later, the situation remains the same. Despite newly acquired funding from the United Nations, the European Union and the United States government, Yemenis continue to face a deteriorating fate. For instance, the United Nations General Assembly raised approximately $600 million, yet $1 billion of humanitarian aid remains unfunded. The World Food Programme has just announced that unless they receive further funding, they will be forced to cut food rations for three million people. Until adequately funded humanitarian assistance is provided to Yemenis alongside an end to the conflict, Yemeni suffering continues.

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