Conflict Alerts # 177, 15 October 2020
In the news
On 12 October, Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi rejected a peace proposal by the UN Special Envoy for Yemen claiming that the proposal fell outside the agreed framework. Earlier, the President had supported the envoy's appeal to hold a ceasefire and implement the Stockholm Agreement of 2018 in Hodeida.
In the first week of October, clashes intensified in Hodeida between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government forces. As of 12 October, 38 civilians lost their lives, mainly from shellfire. One health centre was also hit restricting access to medical care to at least 32,173 households.
Issues at large
First, the humanitarian cost. The Saudi-led coalition's restriction on imports to block food, fuel, medical supplies to Houthi-controlled areas has left millions homeless and on the verge of hunger and medical risks. Yemen is battling a cholera outbreak currently. Further, The UN World Food Programme accused the Houthi groups of diverting their food aid to Houthi combat units. Currently, 20 million Yemenis are food insecure.
Second, the failure of the Stockholm Agreement. The Stockholm Agreement signed in 2018 called for a ceasefire in Hodeida, the exchange of over 15,000 prisoners between the warring sides, and the formation of a joint committee to de-escalate the conflict. According to the UN, the implementation of this Agreement has been ineffective with no significant progress.
Third, the regional politics surrounding the Gulf of Aden. The Saudi-led coalition which backs the Yemeni government faces divisions within itself. In April, the UAE, another significant member of the coalition, declared the South Transitional Council (STC) would self-govern the Gulf of Aden. The STC is a separatist group seeking control of south Yemen. The announcement was a violation of the Riyadh Agreement of 2019 which provided for a reshuffling of the Hadi government to include the STC representation and place their armed forces under government control.
Fourth, arms supply and involvement of international actors. The West, especially the US and the Saudi-coalition share a common threat, a growing Iranian influence in the region, and increasing Islamist radicals in Yemen owing to the instability. Though the US Congress raised objections on military sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE as it could worsen the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, President Trump has vetoed any move to stop military trade with Saudi Arabia putting the US at the risk of committing war crimes. Other suppliers of arms include France, Australia, Canada.
Any escalation in the Yemen conflict could have implications throughout the region. Yemen's Gulf of Aden is a transit route for much of the world's oil shipments. While all members of the Saudi-coalition aim at containing Iran, it is important to resolve the divergent ambitions in the coalition. In the current scenario, the prospects of peace are low. In 2018, UN-backed peace negotiations made progress by limiting violence but failed to bring an end to the conflict. Any new peace resolution needs accountability on the part of all parties involved, including suppliers of arms.