A point on the situation in Yemen

News Releases - Yemen is now in a disastrous situation. The country is deeply engaged in a war which involves numerous actors: the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Houthis and the coalition, each one of them seeking to promote its own interests. Foreign ambassadors have left the country to seek refuge; mostly in Saudi Arabia. According to precepts of international public law, there still is a population as well as a territory, but there is no government exercising sovereignty and ensuring proper governance. From this point of view, international observers can conclude that Yemen cannot be considered as a state yet. What happened to the country to reach this point, where there seems to be no turning back? What is the current situation? How does it affect the population?


I. A summary of the escalating conflict

During the Yemeni presidential elections of 2012, Hadi was elected president by gathering 99.8% of votes. He was the only candidate and he was supported by the Gulf monarchies. He put into place a national unity government and in 2013, he launched a national dialogue process in order to draft a new constitution and prepare the next elections. The main proposal was to transform Yemen into a federal state, to satisfy the claims of the inhabitants in the south whom do not identify with the northern part of the country.

However the project intended to give to the Zaydis, a Shiite minority community where the Houthis are from, a territory without any access to the sea. Houthis were already marginalized due to their religious beliefs but also within national economic and social policies. Consequently, those two factors led the Houthis to take up arms. They seized the capital in September 2014, causing the flight of the President Hadi from Sanaa. The country is also a refuge for Al Qaeda. Their relations with the Houthis are hateful and the two groups confront each other when operating in the same area. The Islamic State is, however, in the process of supplanting them in the region and the tensions between the three groups are exacerbated.

For the past months, the Houthis have extended their influence to the West, where they took the strategic port of Hodeida on the Red Sea and central as well as southern parts of the country, where oil regions are located. The Saudis and their Sunni allies would not in any case let the Shiite rebels which are backed by Iran, seize the oil supplies. Saudi Arabia intervened as it wanted to stop the Shiite "contagion" in the region where it claims to be the leader. Surprisingly Saudi Arabia has partnered with Iran in the fight against the Islamic State. The creation of a coalition including Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, to intervene in a country supported by Iran reinforce the Saudi authority in the area and reassures its people. It is therefore the coalition’s duty to curb the spread of the Islamic State, which recently committed suicide attacks in Aden, the largest port city in the south of Yemen.

The United States also participate in this conflict by providing information and assistance, as the Wall Street Journal revealed: "US strategists use information flows from Yemen reconnaissance over flights to help Saudi Arabia to decide what it must bomb and when". Lately, discussions are taking place between the US and Iran, now that the nuclear agreement is ratified, to begin real peace negotiations in Yemen.

II. The consequences on the humanitarian situation

In four months, 4 900 died - half of them are civilians - and about 1.3 million have been displaced. The High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN's International Organization for Migration also announced that 114 000 people have fled Yemen. They are mostly going to Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, Omen and Saudi Arabia since the conflict escalated in March. The humanitarian situation is deteriorating really fast.

Commercial imports, which amounts to 90% of the supply of fuel and food in Yemen, are blocked by the coalition. It has a very serious impact on the situation as this could be considered as a war crime because the coalition uses starvation. Therefore, half of the population is facing food insecurity issues and over 15.2 million people lack access to basic health care. According to Xavier Guinotte, deputy director of MSF operations, "many medical facilities have been destroyed and there is a lack of staff after the flight of many expatriates". Not to mention that more than 20 million people are deprived of drinking water, which contributes to the spread of diseases that could largely be avoided.

Finally in October, the United Nations Human Rights’ Council adopted a resolution by consensus, which clearly lacks the opening of an international inquiry to examine the resurgence of abuses in the country. Several members of the coalition have openly disclaimed the opening of this investigation, which could reveal outrageous violations of international humanitarian law to the public. Mr O'Brien, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations for Humanitarian Affairs, with the support of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, called on the parties on behalf of the international community, to calm down the hostilities but the situation is far from being settled…


Sarah Lenczner

External contributor



Yemen: UN warns of ‘untenable’ humanitarian situation and steep increase in civilian causalities, UN News Centre, 2015
< http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=51762#.VhUDwLTtmko >

UN: Rights Council Fails Yemeni Civilians, Human Rights Watch, 2015
< https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/10/02/un-rights-council-fails-yemeni-civilians >

GRAFF Valentin, L’article à lire pour comprendre la situation au Yémen, 2015
< http://www.francetvinfo.fr/monde/proche-orient/yemen/larticle-a-lire-pour-comprendre-la-situation-au-yemen_863903.html >

LOMBARDI Roland, Crise au Yémen : ces raisons qui expliquent vraiment l’intervention militaire saoudienne, 2015
< http://www.atlantico.fr/decryptage/crise-au-yemen-ces-raisons-qui-expliquent-vraiment-intervention-militaire-saoudienne-roland-lombardi-2066899.html >

Yémen : Voyage au cœur du chaos, Spécial Investigation – Canal +, 2015
< https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPE60ByG5Nk >