National dialogue could make or break Yemen’s transition – UN envoy

29 May 2012

Yemen’s national dialogue conference, slated for next year, will be crucial for the democratic transition underway in the country, which is dealing with serious security concerns, an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and many unresolved conflicts, a senior United Nations official said today.

“The success or failure of the national dialogue is likely to make or break Yemen’s transition,” the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, told the Security Council in a briefing.

He added that helping to ensure the success of the all-inclusive dialogue, initial preparations for which have begun, will be the UN’s top priority in Yemen in the coming months. The outcome of the conference will feed into the constitution-making process that is to conclude in late 2013, enabling general elections to take place in February 2014.

Warring factions in Yemen signed an agreement in November 2011 on a transitional settlement under which former president Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to step down, following widespread protests similar to those seen across the Middle East and North Africa as part of the so-called “Arab Spring” pro-democracy movement.

In his remarks to the Council, Mr. Benomar noted that the transition remains “largely on track,” with President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi Mansour, who came to power in February’s election, continuing to take important steps to advance the process.

At the same time, the transition is taking place against “a backdrop of serious security concerns, an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and many unresolved conflicts,” said Mr. Benomar. “The timeline for the transition is very tight and there is no time to lose.”

One of Yemen’s key challenges, he said, is to assert the authority of the State in an environment that is dominated by a multitude of armed non-State actors competing for power. Al-Qaeda, in particular, continues to pose a major threat, he noted, adding that underlying causes of tension remain in place.

“Obstructionist moves to impede President Hadi’s reorganization and control of the military and security forces could derail Yemen’s fragile transition process and could result in serious instability,” the envoy said. “All efforts must be made to keep the transition on track.”

Mr. Benomar said the national dialogue conference could be an essential step towards this end.

“If it is well prepared and gains legitimacy in the eyes of all Yemeni constituencies as a forum for shaping the framework of Yemen’s future, it could become an important vehicle for democratic empowerment and for creating a positive political dynamic in Yemen towards greater stability and security,” he said.

To be successful, the national dialogue process must be designed and driven by the Yemenis themselves, the envoy stressed. “While this will require strong international support, its footprint should be light,” he said.

Based on consultations with Yemeni actors, the UN will provide support in four key areas: political facilitation; technical support; capacity-building; and a public information and awareness campaign.

Mr. Benomar also reported that Yemen’s security situation remains a source of major concern, noting that military restructuring and steps toward a unified command will take time and sustained support.

The Government’s overall security capacity remains “limited,” he said, while also noting that “separatist sentiments” in the south have been on the rise and incidents of abduction, assassination and hostage-taking have increased in the past few weeks.

At the same time, the current scale of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is “unprecedented” and the figures are much bleaker than previously reported. Ten million people – almost half of the country’s entire population – are food insecure, with half of those severely food insecure and in need of immediate assistance. Almost one million children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition.

To address the growing humanitarian needs in Yemen, the UN’s humanitarian response has been significantly expanded in 2012, but delivery of assistance still faces a number of challenges, key among them are capacity, security and funding, said Mr. Benomar.

“Both the Yemeni Government and the international community must prioritize this acute humanitarian crisis,” he stated.

The $455 million Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is currently only 43 per cent funded. However, since the original appeal, the number of people in acute humanitarian need has increased, and the financial requirements are being revised, he said.


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