Three Protestors Killed In Yemen As Saudi-Backed Alliance Strains

Protesters returned violently to the streets of southern Yemeni cities like Aden and Mukalla, which are held by an unsteady alliance between the secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the Saudi-backed Hadi government. Protestors gathered to express their anger at deteriorating economic and social conditions. Caused by continuing difficulty accessing basic-necessities and with the local currency, the Rial, losing 36% of its value in July according to the Associated Press, compounding shortages of food, medicine, and more. One protestor was killed in Aden on Tuesday, and two were killed in Mukalla on Wednesday, according to Reuters, as protestors threw stones, blocked streets, and burned government buildings and cars, while police and security forces reportedly fired live rounds to disperse the crowds

The STC called for more protests on Wednesday against what a spokesperson called the Hadi occupation, while the Hadi government has vowed to protect protestors, but says it will punish those who damage property. Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Marta Hurtado condemned the use of live ammunition against protestors, and stated that “only law enforcement officials trained in…the relevant human rights standards,” should be responding to protestors. She reminded the Hadi and Saudi governments that “an armed conflict or any declared state of emergency or curfew do not exempt the Government or de facto authorities from their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law.”

It seems evident that the same political intransigence that has caused the continuing crisis in Yemen drove these protests to death, with international politicking fanning the flames of conflict and making the situation worse. Echoing UN Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Khaled Khiari in August, who condemned combatants for “weaponizing the economy,” and implored the Hadi government to “allow the entry of all essential commercial supplies – including fuel ships – to Hudaydah without delay,” to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population of Yemen. Actors outside of Yemen are using the conflict to push their own foreign policy agenda, with the Yemeni people continuing to pay the price for it.

STC and the Hadi government have a history of conflict over differing goals, and each has international backers, with the United Arab Emirates the Saudi government respectively backing either side. This week’s protests follows similar protests earlier this March when protestors in Aden and Sayoun stormed government buildings, though with no deaths reported. Al-Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal described poor economic conditions as a contributing factor, as well as friction between the security forces and the STC, with the latter condemning the former for firing shots in the air to disperse the protestors. While tensions between the Saudi-backed Hadi government and the ostensibly allied UAE backed STC continues to flare up in violence and rhetoric, this political conflict is only the newest chapter in the now seven-year tragedy that surrounds the Yemeni Civil War, a disaster the UN has continually described as the world’s worst current humanitarian crisis. The population of Yemen continues to endure waves of starvation, cholera, as well as COVID-19, without even mentioning the suffering brought about by military destruction.

Yet, there are certain actions and factors that can be taken to potentially make peace a possibility in Yemen. According to the Council on Foreign Affairs, a thawing in relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran, the primary international backer of the Houthis, with Saudi Arabia may bring a chance at lessening the intensity of conflict in Yemen. Michael Wahid Hanna and Peter Salisbury of Foreign Affairs argue that the previous peace talks haven’t been inclusive of enough parties related to the conflict. Instead, focusing on the two principal combatants, the Houthis and the Hadi government. To this end, the Panel of Experts on Yemen addressed to the President of the Security Council has recommended to the Security Council to consider resolutions to call on Iran, the UAE, and other non-state actors in Yemen “to refrain from taking actions that may undermine the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Yemen.” Perhaps, these actions could open a path to make peace talks more comprehensive in scope.