Yemen stands on the brink of civil war amid deepening political tensions and an uptick in sectarian violence, United Nations Special Adviser Jamal Benomar warned today as he explained that only through dialogue could the country achieve a peaceful political transition.
Briefing the Security Council via video conference in a rare Sunday session, Mr. Benomar told the UN body that Yemen was on a “rapid downward spiral” as the conflict took on “worrying sectarian tones and deepening north-south divisions.”
“Emotions are running extremely high and, unless solutions can be found, the country will fall into further violent confrontations,” Mr. Benomar declared. “Events in Yemen are leading the country away from political settlement and to the edge of civil war.”
The situation in Yemen has been rapidly deteriorating since the country formed a new Government in November 2014 aimed at ending a period of political turbulence and bringing about a full transition towards democracy. Nonetheless, the country has continued to be plagued by violence and mass political demonstrations despite UN efforts to bring about a peaceful political resolution.
Just over a month ago, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced serious concern about developments following the abduction by the opposition group Ansarallah of President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi's chief of staff and the resignation of the President and Prime Minister amid a takeover of the capital, Sana'a by secessionist Houthi militants. This followed a steady deterioration since the beginning of the year as Government forces clashed with militant groups throughout the capital.
At the same time, the Secretary-General has recently warned that “widespread and lethal” attacks by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and escalating hostilities between AQAP and the Houthis have also pushed the country to the edge of civil war. These developments, coupled with a burgeoning humanitarian crisis which has enveloped an “astounding” 61 per cent of the population, now threaten regional and international peace and security, according to Mr. Ban.
The effects of this continuing instability have transformed Yemen into a patchwork of simmering feuds – an explosive mix of unresolved grievances which risk inundating the entire peace-making process. In the oil-rich province of Mareb, for instance, the situation has become very tense with many locals fearing an imminent confrontation between Houthis and tribesmen. Meanwhile, in the South, the situation remains volatile with Southerners, long marginalized and excluded from Yemeni political life, now demanding full separation.
Most recently, on 20 March, two suicide bombers targeted the mosques in the country's capital, Sana'a, during Friday prayers, killing at least 126 people and wounding scores of others. The terrorists also attacked a government building and mosque in Sa'dah, in the country's northwest.
In today's Security Council briefing, Mr. Benomar added that the ongoing instability would only serve the interests of AQAP which, in turn, he said would “cause further chaos” throughout the country, transforming it into a “Libya-Syria combined scenario.”
Meanwhile, pre-empting criticism of the UN-brokered political talks, the UN envoy also admitted that the international community had no other alternative but to continue in its calls for restraint, de-escalate the situation, and engage all sides, including Yemen's 12 political parties and the Houthis, in the political process.
“I urge all sides in this time of rising tension and inflammatory rhetoric to appreciate the gravity of the situation and deescalate by exercising maximum restraint,” Mr. Benomar concluded. “Peaceful dialogue is the only way forward.”
In a Presidential Statement, the Security Council, for its part, reaffirmed its “strong commitment to the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity” of Yemen, adding that it supported the “legitimacy” of President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi and condemned the “ongoing unilateral actions” taken by the Houthis which are undermining the country's political transition.
“The Security Council deplores that the Houthis have not implemented its demands in resolution 2201 (2015) to withdraw their forces from government institutions, including in the capital Sana'a, and normalize the security situation in the capital and other provinces, and relinquish government and security institutions,” the Statement continued while also reiterating the Council's “concern” at the ability of AQAP “to benefit from the deterioration of the political and security situation” in Yemen.
“The Security Council reiterates that the solution to the situation in Yemen is through a peaceful, inclusive, orderly and Yemeni-led political transition process that meets the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Yemeni people for peaceful change and meaningful political, economic and social reform.”