On Wednesday, 26 civil society groups released one of the most important NGO statements of the past four years of the war and humanitarian disaster in Yemen. The statement, drafted by Yemeni experts from across the country, and supported by national, regional, and international organizations, sets out 10 priorities for governments, armed groups, and the United Nations to advance peace, human rights, and justice.
The statement calls on the international community to intensify their efforts to relaunch peace negotiations, welcomes the work of the UN Group of Eminent Experts, calls on states to cease arms transfers to all local and regional parties active in Yemen’s wars, and calls on the UN envoy to prioritize human rights. It demands that all ports to Yemen be opened, and calls for action to address the economic collapse. It calls on the Houthis to stop landmine use and to submit landmine maps to the UN envoy.
Joint civil society work in Yemen has been rare. Restrictions on movement, targeting of civil society by all sides, and the extreme levels of violence have made it exceedingly difficult for Yemeni civil society to organize together, and to speak out on the war. Limits on humanitarian access and visa restrictions have also made it difficult for Yemeni and regional and international organizations to collaborate.
The civil society statement notes that the “war has made life a more difficult choice than death.” Thousands of Yemenis have been killed or injured by all sides of the war in Yemen; forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and torture are common; and journalists and activists have faced attacks and threats for their work. Millions of Yemenis experience food insecurity and the risk of famine. Impunity for abuse is the norm.
As international pressure mounts following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, there is rightfully renewed scrutiny of the United States and European countries’ support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and in particular, the continued sale of arms despite evidence of grave violations. These arms transfers should come to a halt. What’s more, Yemeni civil society knows all too well how blockades, severe restrictions on access, and targeting of journalists by all sides have prevented the realities and views of Yemenis on the ground from reaching the world. The opening of all land, sea and air crossings and the end to the siege of cities are urgently needed to ensure the free flow of information, and people’s access to food, education, family, and medical care.
The 10 priorities set out in the new NGO joint statement reflect the concerns of millions of Yemeni civilians and the experience and expertise of Yemeni researchers and humanitarian and human rights advocates working across the country, from Aden to Taiz, Sana’a, Hadramout, Shabwa, Hajjah, and Marib. During recent visits to Marib and Hadramout, we personally met with scores of civilians and civil society representatives who shared their experiences of abuse, and their hopes for peace and justice. Each governorate in Yemen faces unique challenges and has been affected by the war in different ways, but the statement reflects shared, high-level, priorities and practical demands that could alleviate suffering of millions and pave a path toward peace. The UN envoy should put these ten priorities forward in his peace process plan.
The statement follows in full:
The undersigned local, regional, and international organizations follow with great concern the military operations across Yemen and the collapsed September 2018 Geneva peace talks. The Yemen war has led to an economic and social collapse, including a currency crisis which puts millions of Yemenis on the verge of famine.
Recalling the August 2018 report of the UN Group of Eminent Experts, which found that all parties to the conflict have committed grave human rights violations, including some that may amount to war crimes, the undersigned organizations:
- Call on the UN envoy, the United Nations and the international community – particularly the UN Security Council members – to intensify their efforts to re-launch negotiations between the conflicting parties. The organisations also call on local and regional parties to cooperate fully, immediately, and unconditionally with the efforts of the UN envoy.
- Welcome the renewal of the Group of Eminent Experts as an important step towards putting an end to impunity for violations against civilians in Yemen. The organizations also call on all parties to cooperate with the Group and facilitate its work. They call on the Group to expand its framework and scope of work to all across Yemen, in cooperation with Yemeni civil society.
- The organizations call on all governments to immediately cease arms sales or transfers or military support / aid to any regional or local actor participating in Yemen war, and work effectively toward holding accountable those accused of grave violations of Human Rights in Yemen.
- Call on the UN envoy to prioritize human rights at the heart of the next political process and integrate human rights within his de-escalation plan and measures.
- Call on the Government of Yemen and the Saudi-led coalition to shoulder their legal, functional and historical responsibility in relation to stopping the economic collapse in the country. The undersigned organizations call on the Houthi armed group to submit state revenues to the necessary financial institutions, and call on the Yemeni government to pay public salaries throughout the country, and address the administrative failures and corruption allegations.
- Call on the Saudi-led coalition to immediately open all sea, land, and air ports, and call on the coalition, the Yemeni government, the Houthi armed group, and forces aligned to these actors, to stop the siege of cities (e.g., Taiz and other provinces) and obstruction of the movement of people, trade, and humanitarian aid within and to Yemen.
- Call on the Houthi armed group, the Yemeni government, and the Saudi-led coalition to respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law and to stop targeting civilians and civilian objects.
- Call on the parties to the conflict to release all detainees, abducted, and disappeared persons, including journalists, religious minorities, and politicians, and to lift the restrictions on local and international organizations.
- Call on the Houthi armed group to halt the use of landmines, and to present a map to the UN envoy of all the mines that they have planted, in preparation for their removal.
- Call upon all parties to the conflict to stop the recruitment of children, and to demobilize those recruited.
- Call on international humanitarian and relief organizations to coordinate their money transfers to the country with the Central Bank of Yemen, and use their financial assets abroad to facilitate the purchase of basic commodities, medicine, and fuel imports.
Yemenis have paid a heavy price for this war. The war has made life a more difficult choice than death. It is time for international and regional actors to join together for peace instead of war.
The undersigned organizations reiterate that the only solution in Yemen is a political solution. Therefore, we repeat our call on the UN Security Council to adopt a Resolution committed to a timeline for a new, more comprehensive peace process to work towards an inclusive political solution in Yemen. We call on the international community to use its leverage to punish and deter anyone who obstructs peace efforts or violates human rights in Yemen.
October, 24, 2018
Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies (TBC)
Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Wogood Foundation for Human Security
Musaala Organization For Human Rights
Improve Your Society Foundation
Mwatana For Human Rights
Percent Foundation for Polling
Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient – CARPO
Yemen Peace Project
Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)
Rights Watch UK
Win Without War
Dhameer Foundation for Human Rights
Human Rights First
Resources Foundation for Human Rights
Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect
Veterans Against the War
Stanford International Human Rights Clinic
University Network for Human Rights
NYU School of Law Global Justice Clinic
Project on Middle East Democracy
The authors, Farea al-Muslimi and Sarah Knuckey, visiting a prison in Mukalla, Hadramout, in September 2018.