Truce Extension Preserves Fragile Peace In Yemen

The first week of June saw the renewal of a truce in Yemen, as both sides agreed to extend a cease-fire. The original truce between the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the Iran-supported Houthis was planned to end on Thursday, June 2nd. The United Nations, however, which has been a major party in orchestrating the cease-fire, announced that an agreement had been reached to extend the deal for a further two months, with the announcement coming just hours before the original truce was set to expire. This represents a continuation of what was the first national truce in the past six years in the conflict-ridden Arab nation.

The announcement received a positive reaction from many parties. UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg released a statement, writing that “The truce represents a significant shift in the trajectory of the war and has been achieved through responsible and courageous decision making by the parties.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council’s Yemen Country Director Erin Hurchinson agreed, saying that “The announcement of the truce extension today shows a serious commitment from all parties to end the senseless suffering of millions of Yemenis” and that it was a sign that “peaceful solutions to the conflict are a real option.”

As such, the latest news represents an encouraging sign that peace in Yemen may be an increasingly viable prospect after years of violence. The extension of the peace deal indicates there is a willingness on both sides to continue to negotiate and find a diplomatic solution rather than the military solutions that have been attempted in the past. It has also shifted in recent months from a focus on military issues towards a greater focus on political and economic ones, with new political coalitions and structures forming and the maintenance of public services regaining attention. This provides much-needed relief to the people of Yemen. At the same time, the last-minute nature of the announcement, as well as difficulty in enforcing the terms of the truce, mean there is still much work to do before greater reconciliation is possible.

The history of the conflict has shown enduring divisions, with fighting starting in 2014 when the Houthis, from northern Yemen, took over the capital Sanaa. In 2015, Saudi Arabia led a coalition in an attempt to restore the original government to power, prompting an escalation of conflict. With Iran backing the Houthis, the conflict evolved into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. So far, over 150,000 people have been killed, and it is frequently labeled “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” The truce has so far worked to limit the violence, with the Norwegian Refugee Council reporting that there was over a 50% drop in civilian casualties. However, Yemen continues to face problems, most notably in the city of Taiz, which, contrary to truce agreements, is still under partial siege, and also with high humanitarian needs, with the UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric stating that around 19 million Yemenis are expected to face hunger this year.

While these serious problems remain, the extension of the truce vindicates the UN’s effort to pursue diplomatic solutions in Yemen. The only way to resolve the humanitarian crisis is to end the conflict, and this announcement is a step in the right direction. However, the uncertainty of the extension and the continuation of civilian deaths and a blockade of Taiz indicate that, despite improvements, Yemen is still a long way off from complete resolution of conflict, and relative peace remains fragile. The next two months will no doubt prove crucial in determining whether a strong foundation for reconciliation can be built or whether Yemen will once again plunge into war.