The ceasefire between Houthi rebels and the former government is a tentative but positive step towards a stable peace between warring parties in Yemen, leading to hopes that the longstanding conflict is nearing its end. The United Nations’ active involvement in brokering the ceasefire, and the pressuring of both sides to conduct peace talks, has shown that international institutions and diplomacy have a vital role to play in ending conflicts peacefully around the world.
This is the first coordinated ceasefire in Yemen since 2016 and includes a cessation of all attacks from within and from outside the country. It also allows for commercial flights to resume into the nation’s capital, Sanaa, and for fuel ships to enter the rebel-held port of Hodeida. The two-month ceasefire has mostly held in its first week, with oil shipments reaching Hodeida, including vessels that have been prevented from entering for over 80 days.
The conflict began in 2014, when Houthi rebels took Sanaa after years of political instability within Yemen that led to the toppling of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. This quickly turned into a bitter proxy war between the former government, supported by the Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi’s. Adding further complication, radical Islamic groups quickly became involved, including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
It can also be argued that the international community is culpable. The United States, United Kingdom, France and Australia have all provided military aid to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which has directly impacted the lives, and deaths, of innocent civilians. Many of these countries are also currently weighing up labelling the Houthi’s as a terrorist organization, which would prevent humanitarian aid from being sent into rebel-held areas where civilians are facing starvation.
The UN, pushed by the UAE, also has an arms embargo in place against the Houthi’s. While preventing weapons entering conflict zones is admirable, this has created an unbalanced situation, with civilians in rebel-held areas now at the mercy of attack without support.
The fighting has been bitter, with daily airstrikes conducted by Saudi and UAE Forces as well as indiscriminate missile attacks launched from Houthi-held areas or from Iranian territory. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in Yemen, including children.
While the situation in Yemen is still very much unstable, the ceasefire offers a much needed respite for civilians who are dealing with a desperate humanitarian situation that has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people, including children. Making matters worse, the ongoing conflict has crippled the nation’s economy and destroyed its infrastructure, plunging even more people into extreme poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition.
The United Nations has previously called Yemen the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet and the numbers attest to the legitimacy of this claim. It is estimated that over 20 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance and 4.2 million people have been internally displaced. Women and girls in particular are disproportionately affected by the conflict, with 3 million at risk of gender-based violence, an increase of 63 per cent over the last two years. Child marriages are also taking place to reduce the number of mouths to feed and to act as a source of income to buy food and power. This reveals an increasingly desperate situation.
Still, it must be said that the recent ceasefire, if it holds, is a significant step forward. Through their efforts, the United Nations has and can play a vital role in ending the conflict. First and foremost, the United Nations needs to include all significant players in any upcoming peace negotiations as, only then, will a meaningful agreement be able to be made. The United Nations currently only recognizes the Houthi’s and the former government, which has previously resulted in stalled talks. A better solution is to broaden negotiations to represent the complexity of the conflict by including tribal groups, separatists and civil society groups. This will ensure that Yemen is better represented, and this gives peace talks a better chance of success.
The west also needs to halt all military aid to the Saudi-led coalition. This would, first and foremost, minimize the capability of the coalition to attack civilian infrastructure through the use of advanced weaponry that has already cost the lives of many innocent civilians.
With the United Nations-backed arms embargo still in place against the Houthi’s, this would also remove a long-held barrier to negotiations, which would hopefully lead to progress in peace talks. The United Nations also needs to pressure the regional actors involved, namely Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran to find a mutually beneficial resolution to the conflict. With Yemeni’s themselves being most affected by this proxy-conflict, it’s important that these nations find common ground, through diplomacy, to put a stop to human suffering and attacks on civilian populations. This can be achieved through multilateral talks led by the United Nations and by implementing sanctions on those who stand in the way of any peace deal or break the ceasefire.
Finally, if the ceasefire holds and peace talks progress, it’s vital that the UN and regional partners provide adequate humanitarian aid to help those facing hunger and malnutrition. Funds should also be provided to help rebuild the country, including assistance to revive the economy as well as infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and buildings. This will assist Yemeni’s to, slowly, emerge from a disastrous decade of political instability, economic collapse and crippling conflict.
The conflict in Yemen is a prime example of a civil war turned proxy struggle that disproportionately affects the lives of innocent civilians, through brutal conflict and state collapse. With regional powers, the west and the United Nations all involved in this struggle, they are all morally obligated to ensure that the ceasefire holds, and peace talks continue so Yemeni’s can dream of a better, peaceful future.