Tuesday,18 December, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)
Tuesday,18 December, 2018
Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Rights debate, internal disputes

While observers had been waiting for the Houthi-Salah alliance to collapse, what occurred in Yemen is the opposite: tensions erupting on the side of the Hadi government, writes Hossam Radman


Rights debate, internal disputes
Rights debate, internal disputes

اقرأ باللغة العربية

The magnitude of the humanitarian catastrophe created by the war in Yemen is a matter of general consensus in the international community. But the question of who has the authority to investigate it is a subject of heated controversy at present in the corridors of the UN.

The parties that are competing to perpetrate human rights violations on the ground in Yemen are also rivalling to claim a monopoly on the right to investigate and report on the horrors. So far, the internationally recognised government of Yemen, backed by Riyadh and Washington, has secured the “legal” title to do this through the agency of the National Commission created by President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and which is charged with following through on reports of rights violations against civilians whether perpetrated by the forces of the Houthi-Saleh alliance or by the Saudi-led Arab coalition.

However, this measure, which was taken in accordance with the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2016 that granted the coalition the right to intervene in Yemen, is still the source of criticism and bitter sarcasm, not just on the part of the Houthi-Saleh alliance but also in many prominent international rights advocacy circles.

In the opinion of many, it does not make sense for Riyadh to be “both adversary and arbitrator” when it comes to the question of human rights violations in Yemen. Therefore, no sooner did the 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) convene than calls rang out for the creation of an impartial international commission.

In his address to the UNHRC, UN High Commissioner of Human Rights Prince Zeid Raad Al-Hussein reported that the UN had verified 5,144 civilian deaths in the war in Yemen, most of which were from strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, and stressed the urgent need for an international investigation. He added: “The minimal efforts made towards accountability over the past year are insufficient to respond to the gravity of the continuing and daily violations involved in this conflict.”

This is the third time Prince Raad has called for an international investigation into human rights violations in Yemen. His appeal has been echoed by numerous human rights organisations, most notably Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Also, a week ago on Wednesday, the Netherlands and Canada unveiled a draft resolution calling for the creation of an independent international commission “to bring to justice perpetrators of violations and abuses, including those who may have committed crimes of war and crimes against humanity”. Many countries voiced their support for the three-page draft resolution when diplomats met to discuss modifications.

There were distinct political dimensions to this rights investigation dispute. A salient instance was Chinese direct intervention. Beijing’s delegate at the Human Rights Council meeting, which was boycotted by the Arab countries that support “legitimacy” in Yemen, said: “We agree with these actions, including the creation of an independent international investigatory commission, in order to encourage a political solution to the Yemeni crisis.”

Both Beijing and Moscow found the rights issue the most suitable avenue to having a say in the Yemeni crisis. The preparations for military arrangements that are to be put in place in the strategic Red Sea port city of Hodeida are among developments that have prompted them in this regard. In April, Russia cautioned against the grave humanitarian repercussions from battles along the western coast where Arab coalition forces are working to reach and secure control over Hodeida governorate.

Just as the Arab coalition’s military push in western Yemen enjoys US air and naval support, so too does the Arab position on the rights investigations enjoy US diplomatic backing. Washington’s representative at the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, Michelle Robit, expressed her government’s fears that the creation of a completely independent international investigatory committee “would probably not lead us to where we want”.

The position conforms perfectly with the Saudi arguments presented by its ambassador. Abdel-Aziz Al-Wasel, who held that the Yemen national commission was in a better position to pursue the investigations at the present time. Al-Wasel told journalists, “We have no objection to the investigation per se. We are discussing timing and whether the time is suitable to create an international commission in light of the difficulties on the ground.”

The US-Gulf resistance to the Dutch-Canadian sponsored resolution is, at least in part, driven why the fear that the human rights dimension of the Yemeni crisis could become a new means to pressure the coalition into yielding to proposals for a political solution that, from the Saudi perspective, will fall short of the goals of its war in Yemen.

In a related development, the UN has appointed a new deputy special envoy to the secretary general on Yemen. The newly appointed deputy is Al-Sayed Main Sharim, who said that he planned to open a permanent office in Aden. Aden, for its part, is under considerable pressure to embrace UN peace-making efforts.


DIFFICULTIES ON THE GROUND: Regardless of what the Saudi ambassador meant by “difficulties on the ground”, there are many developments to lend the expression considerable credibility.

Whereas some weeks ago, the enemies of the insurgent alliance had been banking on a rupture in Sanaa, internal conflicts have erupted in Aden and Marib instead. Meanwhile, the Houthi-Saleh alliance has succeeded in preserving a minimal level of internal cohesion in preparation for a new round of warfare that may be the fiercest yet.

After friction between the two halves of this alliance escalated to intermittent armed skirmishes, leading to the death of a prominent member of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) Party, they returned to the dialogue table to draw up new rules.

Houthi harassment of Saleh reached a peak when Saleh Al-Sammad, president of the Supreme Political Council, introduced structural changes into some of the ministries held by Houthis. The moves were meant to target the pro-Saleh bureaucratic base. The GPC described the decisions as unilateral and contrary to the spirit of consensus.

However, instead of triggering a renewed deterioration in the relationship, it became an important platform for reconciliation efforts. These were crowned by a direct meeting between the senior leaders of the Saleh and Houthi factions, which resulted in a number of understandings. While the substance of most of these agreements remains unknown, it is clear that they have resulted in a restoration of calm between the two sides, militarily and in the media.

While temperatures dropped in Sanaa, they soared in the climate of internal disputes in Aden and Marib, the two most important liberated cities controlled by the Hadi government. The temporary capital, Aden, has been the scene of a series of clashes and skirmishes between the Security Belt forces supported by the UAE and consisting mostly of factions from the Southern Movement, and Presidential Guards forces subordinate to President Hadi and close to Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar and Riyadh. The confrontations culminated in the Security Belt forces’ seizure of control over military points in the southeastern sector of the city, which contains the beginning of the link road between Aden and Abyan.

With this development, the UAE has once again succeeded in securing the balances of military power in its favour in most of the cities of the Yemeni south.

In Marib, meanwhile, fierce clashes erupted between central security forces and armed groups belonging to the Obeida tribe after a member of that tribe was killed at a security checkpoint in the governorate. Observers do not believe that this incident foreshadows a protracted conflict along the lines of the southern case. However, they see it as an important sign of the prevalence of tribal coalitions and their central role in the creation of centres of power and authority. This sharply contradicts the widely circulated media image of Marib as a centre that embraces all “liberationist and republican” forces.

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