'Yemen, as a state, has all but ceased to exist'

A 329-page report by the UN's panel of experts on Yemen was published last week, and it makes grim reading. Yemen, as a state, has all but ceased to exist, it says.

It also notes that during the three-year conflict there have been "widespread violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by all parties to the conflict". 

The experts add that they have seen no evidence to suggest that appropriate measures were taken by any side to mitigate the devastating impact of their attacks on the civilian population. 

The report's introduction is reproduced in full below. 

After nearly three years of conflict, Yemen, as a state, has all but ceased to exist. Instead of a single state there are warring statelets, and no one side has either the political support or the military strength to reunite the country or to achieve victory on the battlefield.

In the north, the Houthis are working to consolidate their hold on Sana’a and much of the highlands after a five-day street battle in the city that ended with the execution of their one-time ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, on 4 December 2017. In the days and weeks that followed, the Houthis crushed or co-opted much of what remained of the former president’s network in Yemen.

In the south, the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi was weakened by the defection of several governors to the newly-formed Southern Transition Council, which advocates for an independent south Yemen. Another challenge for the government is the existence of proxy forces, armed and funded by member states of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, who pursue their own objectives on the ground. The battlefield dynamics are further complicated by the terrorist groups Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) (Da’esh), both of which routinely carry out strikes against the Houthis, the government and Saudi Arabia-led coalition targets.

The end of the Houthi-Saleh alliance opened a window of opportunity for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and forces loyal to the Government of Yemen to regain territory. This window is unlikely to last for long, however, or to be sufficient in and of itself to end the war.

The launch of short-range ballistic missiles, first by forces of the Houthi-Saleh alliance and subsequently, following the end of the alliance, by Houthi forces against Saudi Arabia, changed the tenor of the conflict and has the potential to turn a local conflict into a broader regional one.

The panel has identified missile remnants, related military equipment and military unmanned aerial vehicles that are of Iranian origin and were brought into Yemen after the imposition of the targeted arms embargo. As a result, the panel finds that the Islamic Republic of Iran is in non-compliance with paragraph 14 of resolution 2216 (2015) in that it failed to take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of Borkan-2H short-range ballistic missiles, field storage tanks for liquid bipropellant oxidizer for missiles and Ababil-T (Qasef-1) unmanned aerial vehicles to the then Houthi-Saleh alliance.

The Houthis have also deployed improvised sea mines in the Red Sea, which represent a hazard for commercial shipping and sea lines of communication that could remain for as long as six to 10 years, threatening imports to Yemen and access for humanitarian assistance through the Red Sea ports.

Yemen’s financial system is broken. There are competing central banks, one in the north under the control of the Houthis, and one in the south under the control of the government. Neither is operating at full capacity. The government is unable to effectively collect revenue, while the Houthis collect taxes, extort businesses and seize assets in the name of the war effort. 

Yemen has a liquidity problem. Salaries throughout the country often go unpaid, meaning that medicine, fuel and food, when available, are often prohibitively expensive. New profiteers are emerging as a result of the war and the black market now threatens to eclipse formal transactions.

Although Ali Abdullah Saleh is now deceased, it is likely that Khaled Ali Abdullah Saleh, acting on behalf of Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, will continue to control the wealth of the Saleh family. There is no indication, as yet, as to whether he will use this wealth to support acts that threaten the peace, security or stability of Yemen.

Throughout 2017, there have been widespread violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by all parties to the conflict. The air strikes carried out by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and the indiscriminate use of explosive ordnance by Houthi-Saleh forces throughout much of 2017 continued to affect civilians and the civilian infrastructure disproportionally. The panel has seen no evidence to suggest that appropriate measures were taken by any side to mitigate the devastating impact of these attacks on the civilian population.

The rule of law is deteriorating rapidly across Yemen, regardless of who controls a particular territory. The government of Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Houthi-Saleh forces have all engaged in arbitrary arrests and detentions, carried out enforced disappearances and committed torture. The Houthis have summarily executed individuals, detained individuals solely for political or economic reasons and
systematically destroyed the homes of their perceived enemies. The Houthis also routinely obstruct humanitarian access and the distribution of aid.

Following the missile attack on Riyadh on 4 November 2017, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition ordered the closure of all land crossings into, and all seaports and airports in Yemen. Entry points under the control of the government of Yemen were quickly re-opened, while those under the control of the Houthis, such as Hudaydah, remained closed for weeks. This had the effect of using the threat of starvation as an instrument of war.

Delays and unpredictability resulting from the current inspection regime for the Red Sea ports have created additional barriers and business risks for shippers and importers supplying Yemen. The confidence of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the United Nations inspection process must be improved to ensure an increased flow of essential supplies and humanitarian aid through the Red Sea ports.