Last week, the United Nations (UN) arranged a ceasefire between the Houthi rebel group and the Yemeni government. Yemen currently faces the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world resulting from years of internal violent conflict. A week of peace deliberations in Sweden led to the leaders of both sides withdrawing the forces that occupy the port city of Hodeidah. This decision allowed the UN to send in neutral forces to observe the ceasefire and set up humanitarian aid. The fragile ceasefire is intended to allow necessary items to pass through the port and reach the people of Yemen. While vulnerable, this agreement provides hope for an end to a brutal war that has left millions displaced and suffering.
The civil war in Yemen started in 2011 during the Arab Spring, a series of Muslim country uprisings calling for democratic leadership. President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to step down and his vice president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, replaced him. The Houthis, a Muslim Shia group fought back against this decision. The Houthis were able to take control of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, causing President Hadi to flee the country in 2015. Both sides have international support, with some likening the civil war in Yemen to a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran has been supporting the Houthis, violating a UN embargo by providing the Houthis with weapons. Saudi Arabia has created a coalition with several countries including Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt to militarily support the Yemeni government.
The UN describes Yemen’s situation as “the worst man-made humanitarian crisis in the world.” Hodeidah is one of the largest ports in the country and its safety and accessibility play an important role in bringing necessary supplies to fight the humanitarian aid crisis. Currently controlled by the Houthis, the government fighters were closing in on Hodeidah, fighting right up until the ceasefire was put into effect. UN officials say defusing tensions in Hodeidah and restoring the port to full operation could save millions of Yemenis from famine and open the way for a wider peace process. A UN resolution came on Friday, which allowed a team to be deployed to Yemen to monitor if sides were following the ceasefire. The language of the resolution required international partnership. Russia did not want to condemn Iran for providing arms to the Houthis. The United States wrote their own draft, including the condemnation of Iran without the focus on humanitarian aid. U.S. diplomat Rodney Hunter stating “We hope that in the days to come Iranian missiles or misdeeds do not shatter the promise of peace […] this council may come to regret this omission.” A compromise was eventually made and with a resolution and monitoring in place, the next step is to commit to reconvening again sometime in January. The U.K. foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, admitted “there was light at the end of the tunnel, Yemen was still very much in the tunnel.”
The ceasefire in Hodeidah is a huge step for ending the civil war in Yemen and resolving the humanitarian needs of the Yemeni people. The steps taken and the compromises made show that world leaders are prioritizing peace in Yemen, and will not stand by and watch people suffer. However, the debate over the resolution shows that the most powerful supporting countries are not able to let go of rivalries. The United States assigning blame to Iraq shows that its desire for punishment for perceived wrongdoing takes precedence over aid to the people of Yemen. Powerful supporting countries need to lead the way for people on the ground in Yemen to set aside vengeance and trust that both sides will do their part in maintaining peace. The humanitarian crisis must become the central issue, with less vitriol and focus on punishment. Solutions focused on promoting the well-being of the people of Yemen will produce a united society that will be more conducive to peace.
The UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock stated that Yemen is in a descent towards famine. While there are uncertainties about whether the ceasefire will hold, talks in Sweden show that both sides are willing to compromise and that bigger countries are willing to work for a resolution. The ceasefire is the first crucial step in preventing the impending famine, and thousands of other preventable deaths. If famine is not prevented, the division and blame from both sides will only increase. Countries must continue to support enduring peace talks to prevent an onset of famine, and a continuing cycle of violence and death.
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