The recent opening of the national dialogue conference is a major milestone for Yemen’s political transition, but serious challenges remain, including unrest in the south of the country, a senior United Nations official warned today.
Special Adviser Jamal Benomar said Yemen continues to stand as the only example in the region of a peaceful negotiated transition that is based on a comprehensive roadmap and a genuine national dialogue.
“The National Dialogue Conference has opened a new chapter in the transition for which Yemenis are now writing their own pages… They are now deciding their own future,” he told reporters in New York after briefing the Security Council in a closed-door session.
He said the opening on 18 March of the conference – which will feed into a constitution-making process and pave the way for general elections in 2014 – was “an historic moment” for Yemen, which has been undergoing a democratic transition led by President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi.
“Groups, which only a year ago were engaged in armed clashes, are now gathering in the same hall discussing a common future for their country,” he noted, adding that this is in marked contrast to the tragic events of two years ago, when 45 peaceful demonstrators were killed and 200 were injured on 18 March 2011.
At the same time, Mr. Benomar noted that “serious” challenges remain, including unrest in the south of the country, where a civil disobedience movement is now attracting large numbers to the streets.
“The calls for secession have grown. After nearly two decades of discrimination, repression, and unaddressed legitimate grievances, the people in the south are weary and sceptical of promises of reform.
“Many Yemenis agree that the resolution to the ‘Southern question’ holds the key to the success of Yemen’s transition,” he added.
Mr. Benomar has been reaching out to leaders in the south and has consistently conveyed the message that the only means to a resolution is through dialogue.
“I am pleased to report that many have reaffirmed to me their rejection of violence and their commitment to dialogue,” he said.
“The Yemeni Government will need to undertake immediate confidence-building measures in the south to address the long-standing grievances of southerners over unlawful or illegitimate seizure of property and unjust dismissals from military and civil service,” he added.
Another challenge for the country is the ongoing humanitarian crisis, marked by lack of basic services, as well as alarming rates of food insecurity and malnutrition, especially among children.
According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), more than 10 million people – almost half the country’s population – are estimated to need food assistance. In addition, child malnutrition rates are among the highest in the world with close to half of Yemen’s children under five years – two million children – stunted and one million acutely malnourished.
Mr. Benomar appealed to donors to fulfil their pledges to the 2013 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan, which requires $716 million to provide emergency and early recovery assistance to 7.7 million of the country’s most vulnerable. So far, the plan is only 22 per cent funded.
He also said that attacks on infrastructure intensified during the first week of the national dialogue, with nine attacks reported on electricity transmission lines and five on fuel pipelines. There have been several assassination attempts in Sana’a targeting Government officials and, in one case, a delegate to the conference.
In addition, the transition timeline remains a serious challenge, with less than a year remaining to hold the conference, and conduct the constitution-making process, including the referendum, electoral reforms, and the general elections.
Reforms to restructure and unify the armed forces have been announced, but are still to be implemented, Mr. Benomar added.