The Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies (CHS) in partnership with the Arab Center Washington DC (ACW), and DeepRoot Consulting are organizing a two-day online academic conference on February 14-15, 2022.
This symposium comes at a time of increased global concern for the future of Yemen, as diplomatic processes have failed to deliver peace or much humanitarian relief since the outbreak of the war there in 2014. As such, this is a critical time to examine the current political, economic, humanitarian, and security situation in the country and sketch out a vision for a comprehensive and sustainable peace for all Yemenis.
Each day will begin with an opening session with keynote remarks followed by two panels. The opening sessions will highlight United Nations, US Government, Yemeni government, and Houthi perspectives on the conflict, and each of the four panels will feature prominent academics and researchers specialized in Yemeni affairs and will focus on one important aspect of the conflict in Yemen, including: understanding and analyzing the conflict in Yemen at its current stage; implications of developments in Gulf relations on the conflict in Yemen; previous experiences in reconciliation, dialogue, and mediation, and opportunities to reactivate the peace process; and, opportunities and challenges for recovery, reconstruction, and development, including the handling of internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Interpretation in Arabic and English will be available during the conference, and the sessions will be livestreamed on the websites and social media platforms of all three organizing partners. Following the conference, the papers presented will be peer-reviewed and published into a book in both Arabic and English.
Day 1: Monday, February 14
On February 14, 2022, US Special Envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking and Mohammad Al-Amrani, Director of the Technical Office for Consultations and Member of the Yemeni government negotiating team, presented two keynote addresses at the conference titled “The Conflict in Yemen: Current Situation and Future Prospects.” The conference is a joint activity by the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies (CHS) in Doha, Qatar, Deep Root Consulting, and Arab Center Washington DC. CHS Director Sultan Barakat introduced the speakers.
Timothy Lenderking presented the perspective of the United States government. He reminded everyone of the tragic events and humanitarian conditions in Yemen, saying that the message moving forward is one of resilience in the face of all odds. He affirmed that the United States is committed to resolving the Yemen crisis on the basis of negotiations because, he stressed, there is no military solution to the conflict. Lenderking reiterated that the United States is not interested only in a cease-fire or a short halt in the fighting but rather in “ending the conflict and helping Yemen get back on its feet.” He admitted that he, his team, and the American government need suggestions and assistance from the international community to achieve these goals. He said that he started his mission this year by calling on all parties to the conflict to de-escalate and seek common ground and compromise. Lenderking reminded the audience that the United States has provided Yemen some $400 million in humanitarian assistance since the beginning of the crisis seven years ago and over $200 million to fight the COVID-19 epidemic in the country. He urged regional and international donors to keep their promise of securing over $2 billion in pledged funds for Yemen.
Lenderking reiterated the US government’s position on needed reforms in Yemen and improvement of daily life for ordinary Yemenis by addressing salaries, infrastructure, and fuel issues. He said that although Yemen is currently experiencing an escalatory military cycle, he stressed that “the United States does not support a military solution, and from my engagement with our international partners, they do not, either.” What matters, Lenderking continued, is that the parties to the conflict themselves should feel their own responsibility regarding both escalating and de-escalating the conflict as well as toward their obligations to international humanitarian law. The United States has thousands of citizens living in the Gulf and they, too, are in danger of being affected by the escalation, noting that their safety is “the top US national security priority.” He added that the Houthis’ attack on Marib has been the principal obstacle to peace efforts, as they are expanding the conflict and waging war on Yemenis and others. He said that their recent losses and setbacks should remind them that there is no military solution to the conflict. Lenderking ended his address by stressing that American diplomatic efforts have led to two important building blocks for peace in Yemen: there is international consensus on the need for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and there is momentum around an inclusive peace that encompasses all parties in the country.
Presenting the official Yemeni government position, Mohammed Al-Amrani lamented what he characterized as an absence of a political process since the Stockholm Agreement of 2018 that resolved the crisis around the western coastal city of Hodeida. He blamed that absence on “the Houthis’ noncommitment to the peace process and to their insistence on securing concessions and satisfying their own demands, no matter how small or serious.” In fact, over the last two years, he added, there has been what he called an “illusion” in the international community about a political process. The reality was that the Houthis kept the process mired in small procedural issues and avoided large and consequential strategic matters. He said that this Houthi behavior could be explained by certain factors. First, philosophically speaking, the Houthis feel that they have a millennial and God-given right to what they demand. They also truly believe that there only is a military solution to what they believe to be a proxy war by outsiders. Second, a political process requires two parties to participate. The Houthis, he said, have been absent from this process by insisting on their demands alone and avoiding compromises. Third, Amrani continued, there is the Iranian agenda that tries to sow confusion and chaos in Yemen and the region. This helps the Islamic Republic to secure influence for itself in the Arabian Peninsula.
Amrani explained that the fourth consideration is the escalating cost of the war. The Houthis have lost many fighters on the battlefield and they feel that at present, they cannot end the fighting or join a peace process before they can show a victory. Fifth, Amrani said, is the poor performance by international envoys who, so far, have equated Houthi behavior with that of other actors, thus conferring impetus and misplaced importance to militias in the country. Sixth, there is the consideration of state-versus-militia that robs the former of its position as the legitimate authority and the latter as the usurper of same. Amrani believes that there have not been “many good tools in the hands of international emissaries to pressure the Houthis in an effective manner. Pressure was always exerted on the government because it is the party that is in touch with the outside world and the international community.” Finally, there has been an attempt to give excuses to the Houthis, despite their obstructionism, which Amrani noted gave the impression that the international community may not have been as committed as it should have been to finding a solution to the Yemeni conflict.
PANEL 1 – Mapping the Conflict: Causes, Actors, and Dynamics
PANEL 2 – Evolving Gulf Interventions and Policies Toward the Conflict in Yemen
Day 2: Tuesday, February 15
On February 15, 2022, Muin Shreim, the Deputy Head of Mission of the Office of the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen (H.E. Hans Grundberg), and Abdul Malik Al-Ejri, Member of the Political Bureau for Yemen’s AnsarAllah, presented two keynote addresses at the second day of the conference titled “The Conflict in Yemen: Current Situation and Future Prospects.” The conference is a joint activity by the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Doha, Qatar, Deep Root Consulting, and Arab Center Washington DC (ACW). ACW Director Khalil E. Jahshan introduced the speakers and facilitated the sessions.
Muin Shreim advocated for inclusive and sustainable solutions for the conflict in Yemen, which he called one of the largest and worst humanitarian crises in the world. He said that in reality, Yemen cannot be governed by one political party, no matter how powerful it is militarily, as a military victory would only lead to more destruction and instability and further deteriorated living conditions and fragmentated institutions. Rather, what is needed is a political settlement that takes into account the interests of local actors. He explained the UN Special Envoy’s efforts as consisting of two simultaneous tracks: 1) to reach agreement between parties in the conflict through a national cease-fire to facilitate travel and transportation of goods, by opening Sanaa Airport and lifting limitations on Hodeida Port; and 2) to hold inclusive and comprehensive consultations with a broad range of Yemenis to achieve real change. Shreim said that he hopes the consultations will lead to a multi-track process through which all Yemenis could find solutions for security, economic, and political priorities. On the first track, Shreim continued, Special Envoy Hans Grundberg has worked with the parties of the conflict to achieve immediate de-escalation, even as AnsarAllah demands the opening of Sanaa Airport and Hodeida Port before reaching a cease-fire. On the second track, he has worked with Yemeni stakeholders on efforts to reach a framework that moves from a fragmented to a comprehensive approach in addressing political, military, and economic challenges.
Shreim said that pursuing these tracks together allows flexibility and takes advantage of opportunities; this type of approach also ensures that the process does not become hostage to particular problems like lack of progress in one specific area. The aim is to work for important short-, medium-, and long-term needs by understanding the Yemeni context and including all voices in order to create consensus. In addition, he noted an urgent need to overcome preconditions that parties put forth in the political process. Shreim said that the consultations by the UN Special Envoy have included broader groups like political parties, civil society organizations, representatives of economic, political, and women’s organizations, affirming that the consultations will also help build momentum and support for the political process, both domestically and internationally. He explained that after the consultations, the parties will be invited to hold direct negotiations on these tracks and pursue a clear vision for a sustainable and inclusive solution based on a broad range of opinions.
Abdul Malik Al-Ejri reiterated AnsarAllah’s support of the work of the UN Special Envoy to reach a political settlement for Yemen, and echoed the belief that the only sustainable solution is a political and not military one. He spoke of the “unseen” victims of the war—those who suffer and die daily because of the siege of the country—and pointed to the devastating results of the “economic tools of war.” The lack of food, medical supplies, and critical equipment because Hodeida Port and Sanaa Airport are closed by the Saudi-led coalition constitutes a vicious form of collective punishment, Al-Ejri argued, saying that any peace initiative that does not address this situation will not be sustainable. The United Nations and parties to this conflict have failed to find agreement to a solution in Yemen because such collective punishment was used as a bargaining chip to put pressure on AnsarAllah in negotiations. “We reject this,” he said, adding that the blockade against Yemen, which has led to famine and collective punishment of the Yemeni people as a whole, is a violation of international law.
As for steps moving forward, Al-Ejri said that any permanent solution cannot materialize unless the parties are committed to a political solution, and this can only happen after lifting the blockade and opening the seaport and airport. Only then can negotiations take place regarding military de-escalation. He asserted that AnsarAllah have been demanding a political framework since 2015, but that they reject the requirement that they first withdraw from Sanaa and hand over weapons; this would be putting the cart before the horse and would place them in a weak position, he said. Such demands largely address the concerns of actors like Saudi Arabia and do not take into account the interests of the Yemeni people, he argued, saying that “we are interested in the humanitarian file” as a priority. Because of the siege, Al-Ejri stressed, the 20 million people under the authority of AnsarAllah have no economic resources and “we will not allow the killing of the Yemeni people economically with the current blockade.”
PANEL 3 – Reactivating the Peace Process: Lessons Learned and Pathways Forward
PANEL 4 – The Future of Yemen: Recovery, Reconstruction, and Development