UN-Broken Ceasefire in Yemen Shows UN and Diplomacy Can End Conflict – The Organization for World Peace
The ceasefire between Houthi rebels and the former government is a cautious but positive step towards a stable peace between Yemen’s warring factions and gives hope that the longstanding conflict is nearing its end. The active involvement of the United Nations in brokering the ceasefire and the pressure on both sides to engage in peace talks has shown that international institutions and diplomacy have a crucial role to play in bringing conflicts to a peaceful end around the world.
This is Yemen’s first coordinated ceasefire since 2016 and includes a cessation of all attacks from inside and outside the country. It also allows the resumption of commercial flights to the country’s capital, Sana’a, and for fuel ships calling at the rebel-held port of Hodeida. The two-month truce has mostly kept in the first week with oil shipments reaching Hodeida, including vessels blocked from entry for over 80 days.
The conflict began in 2014 when Houthi rebels took Sanaa after years of political instability in Yemen that led to the ouster of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. This quickly escalated into a bitter proxy war between the former government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, and the Iran-backed Houthis. To make matters worse, radical Islamic groups quickly became involved, including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
It can also be argued that the international community is to blame. The United States, United Kingdom, France and Australia have 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 considering labeling the Houthi as a terrorist organization, which would prevent humanitarian aid from being sent to rebel-held areas where civilians are at risk of starvation.
The UN has also imposed an arms embargo on the Houthis at the UAE’s urging. While preventing weapons from entering conflict zones is admirable, it has created an unbalanced situation where civilians in rebel-held areas are now vulnerable to unsupported attacks.
Fighting was fierce, with daily airstrikes by Saudi and UAE forces, as well as indiscriminate rocket attacks launched from Houthi-controlled 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 remains highly volatile, the ceasefire provides a much-needed respite for civilians grappling with a desperate humanitarian situation that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people, including children. To make matters worse, the ongoing conflict has crippled the country’s economy and destroyed its infrastructure, pushing even more people into extreme poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition.
The United Nations has previously described Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the numbers back up the legitimacy of that claim. It is estimated that over 20 million People are in dire need of humanitarian assistance and 4.2 million people have been internally displaced. Women and girls in particular have been disproportionately affected by the conflict: 3 million are at risk of gender-based violence, a 63 percent increase in the past two years. Child marriages also take place to reduce the number of mouths to feed and to serve as a source of income to buy food and electricity. This reveals an increasingly desperate situation.
Nonetheless, it must be said that the recent ceasefire, if it holds, represents a significant step forward. Through its efforts, the United Nations has and can play a crucial role in ending the conflict. First and foremost, the United Nations must involve all key stakeholders in any upcoming peace negotiations, as only then can a meaningful agreement be reached. The United Nations currently only recognizes the Houthis and the previous government, which has previously led to deadlocked talks. A better solution is to expand the negotiations to reflect the complexity of the conflict by including tribal, separatist and civil society groups. This ensures that Yemen is better represented, giving the peace talks a better chance of success.
The West must also halt all military aid to the Saudi-led coalition. First and foremost, this would minimize the coalition’s ability to attack civilian infrastructure through the use of advanced weapons that have already claimed the lives of many innocent civilians.
With the UN-backed arms embargo against the Houthis still in place, it would also remove a long-held obstacle to negotiations, which would hopefully lead to progress in peace talks. The United Nations must also pressure the regional actors involved, namely Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran, to find a mutually beneficial solution to the conflict. With Yemenis themselves being most affected by this proxy conflict, it is important that these nations find common ground through diplomacy to end human suffering and attacks on civilians. This can be achieved through multilateral talks led by the United Nations and through the imposition of sanctions on those who stand in the way of a peace agreement or break the ceasefire.
Finally, as the ceasefire holds and peace talks move forward, it is vital that the United Nations and regional partners provide adequate humanitarian assistance to help those suffering hunger and malnutrition. Funds should also be made available to support the country’s reconstruction, including support to revitalize the economy and infrastructure such as roads, bridges and buildings. This will help Yemenis 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 that has turned into a proxy struggle, disproportionately affecting the lives of innocent civilians through brutal conflict and state collapse. As the regional powers, the West and the United Nations are all involved in this struggle, they all have a moral obligation to ensure the ceasefire holds and peace talks continue so Yemenis can dream of a brighter, peaceful future.