Yemen faces a number of challenges in its ongoing democratic transition, including the restructuring of the military and an acute humanitarian crisis, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today, while adding that the country can have a successful outcome.
“While tremendous challenges remain, I am convinced that Yemen has the potential to be a prosperous country, a country that can enjoy stability and that is governed according to the genuine will and aspirations of all its population,” the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, said in his briefing to the 15-member body.
“Change in the region has all too often been accompanied by sacrifices that should not have been necessary and that we cannot ignore,” he stated. “But Yemenis have shown us that the time of the gun as a tool to answer the legitimate aspirations of citizens has passed, and that a peaceful transformation can emerge from the ashes of conflict.”
On 23 November 2011, warring factions in Yemen signed an agreement on a transitional settlement in the wake of widespread protests similar to those seen across the Middle East and North Africa, and the resignation of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The country has been undergoing a democratic transition under a Government of National Unity led by President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi, who came to power in an election in February.
Today’s briefing comes on the heels of an agreement reached last week to resolve the last contentious issue of the allocation of seats for the all-inclusive national dialogue conference that is a key element of this transition.
The agreement paves the way for the holding of the national dialogue, which is scheduled to take place later this year and the outcome of which will feed into a constitution-making process that is to conclude in late 2013, enabling general elections to take place in February 2014.
“The upcoming national dialogue provides an opportunity for Yemenis to build a future that meets the aspirations of all,” Mr. Benomar stated. At the same time, he noted that the country still has a long way to go.
“We cannot overlook the fact that the road ahead remains long and arduous and Yemen continues to face grave challenges on multiple fronts,” he said, citing, among others, the “difficult” issue of restructuring the military.
The armed forces, he explained, remain divided between two sides – one is the powerful Republican Guards led by the son of the former president and the other is the First Armoured Division led by a general who broke away from the regime during last year’s uprising. In addition, corruption and a system of patronage remain widespread throughout the military.
While the President has taken “initial and courageous” steps to address the reform of the military, this “formidable” task of integrating the military and security forces under one command will remain a serious challenge during the transition and will require systemic, organized, institutional reform, said Mr. Benomar.
State authority remains limited in parts of Yemen, terrorism remains a serious threat and the country is “awash with arms,” he added.
“In terms of governance, one year into the transition, it is clear that the honeymoon period is over,” the envoy stated. “Yemenis now expect the Government to deliver, to provide better security for the nation and basic social services.”
He added that the distrust between the two principal political blocs constituting the Government of National Unity has never dissipated and remains entrenched, with disputes over civil service appointments just one example of the issues polarizing the two sides.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in Yemen remains an “acute crisis,” with humanitarian staff reporting that nearly half the population suffers from the lack of food security and that an alarming number of people live on the edge of starvation.
A quarter of a million children are severely malnourished and at risk of dying without proper nutrition intervention; access to clean water eludes more than half the population; and basic health care remains “an aspiration” for nearly a quarter of the population, said Mr. Benomar. The $585 million Yemen humanitarian response plan for 2012 is only 57 per cent funded so far.
“For the country to move forward, a true reckoning with past injustices and steps to heal old wounds are essential,” he noted. “There is a strong sense among Yemenis that the transition will remain in suspension in the absence of reconciliation efforts, including restitution or compensation for victims as well as guarantees against recurrence and end to impunity.”
In addition to all of this, the UN official noted that the transition remains threatened by those who still have not understood that change must occur now. “Spoilers of all sorts have not given up. They remain anxious to impede this transition and to profit from instability,” he said.
Mr. Benomar also voiced the UN’s determination to continue supporting a transition that is “unique in the region” and one that is based on a clear roadmap.
“It is a transition that enjoys the overwhelming endorsement and support of the population. It is a transition that offers the opportunity for meaningful participation by all – men, women, young and old,” he said. “It is a transition that offers a genuine opportunity to unlock the potential that we all see in Yemen.”