Air strike in Sanaa, Yemen, 5 November 2015

Political situation Disintegration of a country – rival power groups

The establishment of the Republic of Yemen in 1990 and the Arab Spring reform movement twenty years later gave rise to hopes that the country would stabilise and become more democratic. However, these hopes have not been fulfilled.

The current (2021) Fragile States Index (External link) published by the non-governmental organisation Fund for Peace lists Yemen as the world's most fragile state. Rebels from the Houthi movement have been fighting against the country's government since 2004. Large parts of the north of the country are under their control. In 2015, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened in the conflict. The coalition supports the official government under President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi. Some southern regions, especially around the port city of Aden, are controlled by the Southern Transitional Council, which advocates independence for the country's southern part. Other players in the conflict are members of the Al-Qaeda and “Islamic State” terrorist networks.

According to the United Nations, the conflict had already claimed an estimated 233,000 lives by 2020. Of that number, 131,000 people had died from indirect consequences such as food shortages and inadequate health care. Since then, the situation has continued to deteriorate, among other things as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Human rights

Experts consider the human rights situation in Yemen to be disastrous. Especially since the beginning of the intervention of the military coalition in 2015, serious human rights violations have increased significantly.

A report published by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (External link) in September 2020 accuses both sides of actions that may amount to war crimes, including the killing of civilians, torture, rape, and the recruitment of child soldiers. There are massive restrictions on the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press.

Diplomatic efforts

For the first time in more than two years, direct talks were held in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2018 between the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government under President Hadi. The talks had been brokered by UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. The two sides agreed some first steps to settle the conflict, including a ceasefire for the region around the main port, Hodeidah; the withdrawal of troops; and a prisoner exchange.

However, in June 2021, as he was preparing to leave his post, Griffiths noted that these efforts had not been successful. Notwithstanding international diplomatic efforts and strong civil society and community activism within Yemen, he said, the conflict parties had not managed to reach a political settlement that would end the war and usher in a just and sustainable peace.