A look at a humanitarian crisis from a geographical, political, social, legal and economical perspective; The policies and involvement of global governments and intergovernmental organizations; The international human rights bodies of law that are supposed to act as protection from horrendous events such as this.
Yemeni Crisis 2011-present
Counter-terrorism or border expansion?
Yemeni Crisis 2011-present
A report on the Yemen famine and rebel war
By Mahmoud Elmasry
History and Politics
The Republic of Yemen, commonly known as Yemen, was once divided into two states; The Yemen Arab Republic and The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, or North Yemen and South Yemen respectively. Following the introduction of Islam in Yemen at around 630 A.D., North Yemen has been ruled been a handful of Arab caliphates, most notably Imam Yahya of the Shi’a Zaydi dynasty in 1918 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
South Yemen faced a different type of administration however, after the city of Aden came under British rule in 1939 and used it as a strategic port for trade between British India and the Red Sea, as well as a fueling station for ships passing through the route from the Suez Canal. The City of Aden was colonized and a protectorate was formed until the British withdrew after an armed struggle with two nationalist groups.
Relations between both North and South were mostly neighborly, until a short-lived proxy war between the two states broke out in 1972 over border disputes, with the North being supported by Saudi Arabia and the South being supported by the Soviet Union. There were no territorial changes because of this conflict, in fact it sparked unification talks between the two states and the Cairo Agreement was signed by both states in October 28, 1972.
Another short-lived conflict broke out in February of 1979, lasting a month due to a failed rebellion in the North that was aided by the South. By May 1988, both States renewed unification talks, wrote up a joint agreement and founded an investment company to exploit resources within their border. The Republic of Yemen was officially declared on May 22, 1990, signaling the beginning of a unified era between the Yemenis and a decade of prosperity. Ali Abdullah Saleh (Northern Leader) was appointed president of Yemen, while Ali Salim al-Beidh (Southern Leader) was appointed prime minister of Yemen.
Geography and Economy
The Republic of Yemen is in South-Western Asia, at the end of the Arabian Peninsula. Its territory encompasses an area of 527,968 kilometer squared, making it the second biggest country in the region after Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia borders Yemen from the north, Oman borders Yemen from the East, the Arabian Sea borders Yemen from the South and the Red Sea borders Yemen from the west. Yemen faces harsh droughts due to the hot climate, and only about 2.2% of the country’s territory can sustain growing crops, therefore producing 0.6% permanent crops.
However, 41.1% of the land is suitable for grazing, the process through which livestock feeds on grass to convert it into meat, milk and other dairy products. In Yemen, the average farmer would between 10 to 150 sheep and goats, and a maximum of three cattle, and the forage produced by them only amounts to 25% of the country’s food, with the remaining 75% being exported into the country. This is due to environmental factors such as long periods of drought and prevalence of diseases but is also caused by human factors such as growth in population and overgrazing.
The city of Aden is important for trade, having access to the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea and the Arabian sea makes it the ideal location for a port. This port would be important for merchant shipping, ship refueling, fisheries and naval passage. However due to political instability and economic failure, plans to invest in and develop the port have been halted. It is estimated that these bodies of water can produce 840,000 tons of fish each year, including tuna, mackerel, sardines, shrimp, shark, lobsters and squids.
Having access to all these bodies of water does not help Yemen’s water crisis, as they do not contain freshwater or potable water. Yemen is ranked amongst the highest countries in the world struggling with water sustainability, ranking in 4th place under the 2017 Fragile States Index by Fund for Peace. As a matter of fact, the World Bank has issued a report that states more than 85% of water withdrawal goes straight to the country’s agriculture, with 60% of it being used to grow Qat alone.
This is a problem as less than 10% of the scarce freshwater is withdrawn for domestic use (drinking, cooking, and hygiene) and less than 5% is used in other industries. A UN Water Statistic on the issue has found that the demand for water in the country is estimated to be 3.4 billion cubic meters per year, but the actual renewable water source amounts only for 2.5 billion cubic meters per year. This means that about one-third of the country is directly cut off from drinking water, while an additional 40% are struggling to meet standards of life.
The country’s economy heavily relied on oil, petroleum and natural gases, but the production of those has been franchised to foreign oil companies and even though it did bring in an unprecedent amount of income that began to boost the country’s economy, it didn’t make as much as the neighboring countries who have focused their industries on producing their oil and natural gases themselves. It was stated that the revenue was used to provide citizens income from national government programs, with it accounting for 67% of source of income for those programs, but most of it went straight into the pockets of high government officials and people with investments in it.
Other natural resources include minor coal, gold, copper, lead and nickel deposits but they’re not significant. The oil resources have been increasingly reducing and have been estimated to run out by late last year. There have been no official reports to confirm whether that has happened or not.
Society and Government
The population of Yemen is estimated to be around 28,610,105 people, whereas 92.8% of it consists of Yemenis and other Arab nationalities, 3.7% consists of Somali refugees, 1.4% consists of European and North Americans, 1% consists of Afro-Arab residents (Sudanese), and 1.0% consists of Indo-Pakistani laborers. The official language of the country is Arabic, with multiple dialects that differ from each sector and/or tribe. Only 70.1% of the population is literate, with citizens 15 years old and over being able to read and write. Of those 70.1% only 55.5% are women, while 85.1% are male. 80% of the population is estimated to be below poverty line, facing challenges such as food security, water security and insufficient health services. An estimated 55% of the workforce was laid off, while 1.7 million households involved in the agricultural industry have been severely constrained. 46% of all 5-year olds are malnourished and UNICEF estimated that one child dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes.
Islam makes up 99.1% of Yemen’s religious groups. Sunni Muslims alone make up 65% of Yemeni religious groups, while Shi’a Muslims make up 34.1% of Yemeni religious groups. Other religious minority groups make up the remaining 0.09% of Yemeni religious groups, consisting of Ismaili Muslims, Jews, and Christians. The Zaydi Shi’a predominate in Yemen’s politics, occupying both political and economic capitals Sanaa and Aden, thanks to the Houthi rebels. Sunni Muslims make up most of the population, following the Shafii school of law. This school of law was tolerant of Shi’a Muslims and that’s why there was never any conflict between both sects of Islam until Saudi started disseminating the Wahabi school of law into Yemeni education, which is extremely intolerant of Shi’a Muslims. The Ismaili Shi’a Muslim sect are the more liberal sect of the religion, and are estimated to make up close to 1-2% of the Yemeni citizens. Yemenite Jews predominated in the past after Jews migrated to Yemen post-Roman defeat. It is estimated that there has been over 530,000 Yemenite Jews until the arrival of Islam in the 7th century, which saw the decrease of Yemenite Jews to only 50 Yemeni citizens in 2017, with the rest having immigrated to Israel, Britain and the United States.
Children aged 0-14 make up most of the population with 39.83%, totaling 11,167,043. Young Adults aged 15-24 make up 21.21% of the population, totaling 5,945,561. Adults aged 25-54 years make up 32.27% of the population, totaling 9,048,385. Middle-age Adults aged 55-64 make up 3.94% of the population, totaling 1,105,732. Seniors aged 2.75% 353 make up 2.75% of the population totaling 770,108. Life expectancy rate is 66.24 years, infant mortality rate is 44/1000 births, high degree of risk for major infectious diseases including bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, Cholera and Typhoid fever. Growth projections show an increase in the population that should reach 60 million by the year 2050 although the fertility rate will see a drastic decrease whereas currently it’s 4.2 children per woman, but by 2050 it’s expected to go down to 2.45 children per woman.
There are 22 governorates in Yemen, each with their own Governors who administer them. The government of Yemen is currently still in transition due to the resignation of their president, who halted the progress on the newly drafted Constitution. The legal system is a mix of Sharia law, Napoleonic Law, Common Law and Customary law, and the Government of Yemen has not submitted an International Court of Justice jurisdiction declaration or sign the International Criminal Court Rome Statute and thus cannot be prosecuted by either International Law Organizations.
Timeline of Events
On August 1993, the Prime Minister and former leader of South Yemen Ali Salem Al-Beidh withdrew to the city of Aden, after claiming that the southern areas of Yemen were still being marginalized and were under attack by militias from the North. This lead to an attempted split of the country yet again after President Ali Abdullah Saleh declared a state of emergency and discharged the Prime Minister and all government members from the South due to the political deadlock and sparse fighting that occurred from the Prime Minister’s withdrawal. On the 21st of May 1994, Former Prime Minister Al-Beidh declared the independence of the South from the Republic of Yemen, restoring it back to the Democratic Republic of Yemen. This sparked a civil war that lasted till the 7th of July 1994, when the northern forced captured the city of Aden. Ali Salem Al-Beidh and the other southern government members abdicated and fled to Oman, and are sentenced to death in absentia.
Then on October 2000, an Al-Qaeda suicide attack on US Naval Vessel USS Cole damaged it and killed seventeen US Personnel in the port of Aden. Ten chief suspects were arrested and held in custody in an Aden prison, but eight of them successfully managed to escape two years later. A constitutional referendum was held on the 20th of February 2001 after the events of the civil war and the run-up to the referendum saw a spike in violence by Al-Qaeda. The newly reformed government’s crackdown on Al-Qaeda saw the extradition of 100 foreign Islamic Clerks who were suspected of inciting the Al-Qaeda movement. Eight months later, Al-Qaeda retaliate with an attack on Oil Supertanker MV Limburg in the Gulf of Aden, substantially damaging and costing Yemen a substantive lost in port revenue while killing one crew member and injuring 12 others.
Due to the political instability caused by Al-Qaeda, the Houthis resurge with a revolt in June of 2004 that lasted till August 2004, led by the Shi’a cleric and Houthi leader Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi. This war had led to the death of 522 people, with 2,708 people injured and $270 million dollars lost in damages. The Houthis claimed the revolt was due to the persecution and discrimination of the south by the north, but the government claims the Houthis were attempting to overthrow the government and force the conversion of Yemen to a Shi’a state. Hussein al-Houthi was killed on the September of 2004 and his brother, Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, resumed leadership of the Houthi rebels and started another revolt from March to April of 2005 that led to the death of 200 people. A pardon was given to the Houthis after both the president and the leader came to an agreement to end the fighting on May 2005.
2008-2010 saw a period of sporadic fighting between citizens, rebels and the army due to separatist movements, violent demonstrations for electoral reform and failed terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda. The events of the 2011 Arab Spring spark a revolution in Yemen, which caused President Saleh to denounce remaining as president for another term or handing the presidency over to his son. Deputy president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi is handed over the presidency and was officially inaugurated as president after the elections in February 2012. 2014 saw the National Dialogue Conference reforming the constitution of Yemen, followed by an approval to transition to a federation of six regions instead of 22 governorates but the Houthi rebels manage to take over the capital of Sanaa and rejected the draft constitution. In 2015 an IS terrorist attack destroyed two Shi’a mosques and killed 137 people and Saudi-Led Coalition launched air-strike attacks on the Houthi rebels while imposing a naval blockade. In 2016, The UN sponsored peace talks between both parties and in 2017, A UN sponsored 72-hour ceasefire was broken by both parties and the Houthi rebels fired missiles into Saudi Arabia who managed to recapture Aden. The Local Al-Qaeda leader and militants were killed by a US raid.
The Crisis and Rights Violations
The Human Rights Watch released its World Report 2018, which listed the record of human rights violations of Yemen in 2017. The Saudi-led coalition has been responsible for ninety-one unlawful airstrikes that claimed the lives of 1,055 civilians, including an attack on a boat carrying Somali refugees. The airstrikes have also devastated infrastructure such as mosques, houses, hospitals and schools. It also reported that both the Houthi Rebels and the Government Armies have been firing artillery indiscriminately, striking populated neighborhoods, injuring and killing civilians, and devastating infrastructure relentlessly. Six Governorates have fallen victim to landmines, despite Yemen being party to the 1997 Landmine Ban Treaty. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and maimed as a result and more will follow as there are no trained personnel that can clear the landmines. It has also been reported that the Saudi-led Coalition has been using six types of prohibited cluster munitions produced from the US, the UK and Brazil but they’re not party to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.