The Yemen Ceasefire: A Successful Truce or a Humanitarian Lull?

Image from Wikimedia Commons

A sign of hope has reached the crisis in Yemen, as the internationally-recognized Yemeni government and Houthi rebels have reportedly reached a ceasefire. However, critics remain unsure of the promise this truce holds.

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the conflict, which began when a Saudi-led coalition organized a military campaign to prevent Iran-allied Shiite Houthi rebels from taking control of the country. The military coalition, which is fighting on behalf of the Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government, is led by Saudi Arabia and supported by other allied forces, including Britain, France, and the United States. Saudi Arabia and its allies stepped up their intervention in response to Yemen’s international plea for assistance during their time of crisis. The Houthi armed group, on the other hand, is supported by those loyal to Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh as well as parts of the army.

Since the beginning of the conflict, the Houthis have been able to take control of key areas such as Ibb and Taiz, securing a stronghold in the country. They also took complete control of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital city, back in January 2016. However, it has been reported that the Saudi-led coalition has been able to reclaim control of more than eighty-percent of the country’s land. Even more so, the chaos has allowed other armed groups, such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, to increasingly gain support, particularly in the southern parts of the nation, and perpetuate more violence.

The warring sides, in consultation with the United Nations (UN) Special Envoy for Yemen, have reportedly agreed to a ceasefire that will end all hostilities until peace talks can begin. Media outlets report negotiations will take place on April 18, 2016. The Associate Press (AP) reported that, “Yemeni Shiite rebels and the internationally-recognized government have agreed to begin a ceasefire for a week or two before their next round of negotiations, which are expected in April, Yemeni officials said on Sunday [March 20, 2016]. The officials participated in Sunday’s talks in Sanaa, the capital, between the rebels and the U.N. envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.”

Having agreed to the ceasefire, the Houthis must surrender their weapons and withdraw from all land they have seized. The AP mentions officials have recognized this as “a first step for the warring sides to show their good intentions.”

According to a report published by the  UN News Centre, the peace talks will focus on these areas:

  1. The withdrawal of military and armed groups;
  2. The surrender of weapons to the state;
  3. Temporary security measures;
  4. The reestablishment of state institutions and political dialogue;
  5. The formation of a committee for prisoners and detainees.

Fox News explains, “[the negotiations] aim to reach an agreement to end the conflict and allow the resumption of political dialogue leading to a peaceful transition based on a regional peace initiative, a national dialogue and U.N. Security Council Resolutions.”

Image from Wikimedia Commons

The ceasefire comes at a time when the military conflict is said to be at its worst. Jan Egeland, Secretary-General for the Norwegian Refugee Council, says, “with the world looking the other way, the last 12 months of fighting in Yemen have pushed an entire nation into the abyss.”

The World Weekly published some startling facts about the Yemen conflict. According to the United Nations, there have been 3,218 civilian casualties and almost 9,000 casualties reported in total. This is compounded by a staggering 19.3 million people who lack access to clean water, and 1 in 10 Yemenis are reported to have been displaced due to the conflict.

Reports accuse all parties involved, even the Saudi-led coalition that is supposedly trying to restore peace in the nation, of committing heinous human rights violations. Foreign Policy remarks that, “The facts speak for themselves, and evidence of violations of international humanitarian law cannot be dismissed as mere hearsay, as the British government has attempted to do with U.N. reports. Amnesty International and other organization have presented compelling evidence over the past year that indicates all parties to the Yemen conflict have committed war crimes […] flooding the region with arms is akin to adding fuel to the fire.”

This is not the first time a ceasefire has been reached between the conflicting sides, with previous attempts failing miserably. In December, the first rounds of peace talks were held in Switzerland, but never continued. The AP explains, “previous attempts to implement ceasefire in Yemen have failed to take hold on the ground, with each side accusing the other of immediately violating the terms.”

While many are hopeful that this is the end of this heinous humanitarian disaster, others are not as optimistic. On March 21st, Saudi Arabian Defense Minister, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri commented that the ceasefire could only be seen as a humanitarian lull. He said, “I have mentioned that there is a lull, not a truce, something like a calm on the borders to allow for the delivery of food.” Saudi Arabia and the United Nations continue to provide imperative humanitarian aid to provinces and cities within Yemen, such as Sunni, Hodeidah and Dhali.

If history repeats itself, then this may not be the end to the Yemeni crisis. However, with the countless lives lost and displaced in the past year, there is no doubt that action must be taken to settle the conflict. No matter the promise this ceasefire holds, there is still an undeniable amount of work that must be done to resolve this crisis and further repair the damage done to the country. If the ceasefire proves to be a successful truce and not merely a humanitarian lull, media outlets will surely lessen their coverage of Yemen’s situation. But this does not mean all is resolved. It is best not to look at this ceasefire as a potential end to the conflict, but the beginning of a long road to recovery.