An Analysis of the Civil War in Yemen – Law and Terrorism Final Paper

Introduction and Evaluation of the War’s Effects

The civil war in Yemen has birthed one of the most serious man-made humanitarian disasters ever recorded in modern history. Within a period of four years, deadly clashes between the Saudi supported Yemeni Government and the Iran-aligned Ansar Allah (Houthi) rebels has resulted in unimaginable misery inside the Arabian Peninsula nation.  Current estimates of the death toll from both sides is 50,000, a figure that is expected to rise if the parties involved fail to arrive at an amicable political settlement (“World Report 2019: Rights Trends in Yemen,” 2019). The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that the Yemeni population is now on the brink of famine owing to a Saudi-led blockade on the country’s port cities.  The conflict has created optimum conditions for depravation and abuse all too common during strife.   

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Yemeni women and children are now regarded as a vulnerable segment of the population due to the civil war. The anarchy and lawlessness witnessed around the country is now linked to elaborate human trafficking rings targeting the aforementioned population. The United Nation (UN) recently highlighted the increased susceptibility of Yemeni women and children to human bondage (Blumi, 2018, p. 76). Criminal organizations have taken advantage of this turmoil, using at-risk victims from poor families as sex workers locally and abroad. In addition to this, warring factions are now recruiting children to fill the ranks of various military outfits. These children are often coerced into joining these groups and threatened if they harbor any reservations. As new entrants to the war, they further contribute to the destabilization that usually follows, now linked to the malnutrition that women and children face.  Constant air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition have also destroyed homes in rebel strongholds with a majority of the victims being women and children.

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The civil war in Yemen has also affected the country’s education system and degraded the government’s ability to provide this essential service to its people. Children are, for the most part, out of school in regions affected by the war.  A majority of Yemeni parents intentionally prevented their children from attending school as a precautionary measure. 69, of the 3600 schools were occupied by armed groups which increased the likelihood of them being targeted by airstrikes (UN Children’s Fund, 2015). In addition to this, schools were periodically bombed during the conflict. Those that survive the onslaught were then used as temporary shelters to house thousands of refugees fleeing the war.  The Yemeni government has conceded that its limited manpower has worsened the situation in the country (Phillips, 2017). Government officials cannot solve emerging problems in the education system owing to inadequate financial resources. Schools remain closed since the government has been unable to reconstruct damaged facilities, provide supplies and pay teacher salaries.

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            The quality of life has also been affected as a result of the civil war. Hardships are now typical in Yemen. The indiscriminate nature of the war leaves opposing forces with no option other than to use unconventional techniques to win the war. For instance, the use of anti-personnel improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has been rampant in Houthi strongholds. Even though these mines originally target Yemeni government forces, civilians also fall victim when they accidentally step them.  Mines have maimed a large section of the population in Aden and Sa’naa, with thousands more grappling with serious injuries resulting from these accidents. Additionally, civilians also face constant danger due to an increased frequency in airstrikes by Saudi-led coalition. These precision strikes target Houthi command and control centers to destroy critical military hardware, but also end up impacting civilians.

Analysis of the Civil War in Yemen

Background and Perspective on the Conflict

            The Yemeni Civil War is a fragmentary war pitting the Addrabbuh Hadi-led government against Ansar Allah group (Houthis) for control of the country. The Houthi armed group first emerged in 2004 when their Zaidi Shia leader, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, was assassinated for fomenting anti-government sentiments in Sa’dah Governorate (Brandt, 2017). He openly opposed government policies and was constantly at odds with the ruling class. Although a government military crackdown managed to calm the situation albeit momentarily, clashes soon emerged when peace agreements were disregarded. The group later emerged in 2011 during the Yemeni Revolution when they openly called for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. By 2014, the group was linked to the Houthi-Sunni conflict that emerged in the country which soon spread to Sana’a Governorate. A decisive battle was later fought between Yemen Army forces and the Houthis in which culminated in the later sizing control of the Yemeni Capital Sa’naa in late September of the same year. Their influence as a political outfit also surfaced during this period when they forced the government to resign power and cede power to their opponents. However, things escalated in January when the presidential compound in the capital Sa’naa was overrun by Houthi fighters. In a press statement prepared by the group’s communications wings, the primary reason for this course of action was the suggestion that the country would be administered better of it was divided into six federal regions. It later prompted President Hadi’s government to resign prompting dissolution of the national assembly. Later, the Revolutionary Committee was formed to administer the region and began its operations by first placing Hadi under house arrests. After quietly slipping from the compound on 21st January, he gave a televised address in which he described the Houthi’s as unconstitutional usurpers. He was later publicly denounced by his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who urged him to go into exile.     

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            Putting this conflict into perspective first requires a comprehensive understanding of all the factions directly involved in the conflict. The most prominent are the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels from the mountainous Sa’dah Governorate. The Yemeni government views the Houthi armed movement as a ragtag terrorist group hell-bent on deposing democratically elected leaders. On the other hand, the Houthi armed movement strongly believes that the current Yemeni government is illegitimate and has actively participated in the persecuting its own people. President Hadi currently administers his government from Aden while Houthi forces occupy the capital Sa’naa and assert that they are Yemen’s official government. In the midst of this chaos, terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have taken this opportunity to capture territories in the west of the country. Gulf regional powers are aware of the power that the Houthi armed movement wields and are keen to ensure that their attempts to consolidate power within Yemen are thwarted. To this end, the Saudi-led coalition launched military operations deep into Yemeni territory with the main aim being the destabilization of the Houthi armed movement.  Throughout the conflict, the Houthis have been accused of being Iran’s proxies aiming to spread its Shia influence in the region. Although unconfirmed, these allegations prompted the United States and Gulf powers to support the Yemeni government’s efforts to quell the Houthi insurgency. The United States has actively provided military support to the Yemeni government and also carried out drone strikes in the region during the reign of President Hadi.

Laws of War In Relation to the Yemeni Civil War          

Laws of war were designed to govern the demeanor of warring parties during conflict. They are constituents of international law concerned with the declaration of war, terms of surrender, types of weapons allowed in the conflict and the treatment of enemy combatants and prisoners of war. It is critical to acknowledge that the International Humanitarian Law (ILH) does not consider the Yemeni Civil War as an international conflict (The Geneva Academy, 2019).  This conclusion is drawn from the Geneva Conventions of 1949 which classifies a conflict as either being international or non-international.   International states involve two warring states while non-international conflicts of armed forces fighting a state. There are a number of conditions that must be satisfied for a conflict such as the Yemeni Civil War to be regarded as a non-international conflict under International Humanitarian Law (ILH).

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            The foremost indicator in this respect is the intensity of the hostilities. A conflict’s intensity is usually determined by assessing its duration, number of direct skirmishes, weapons used, caliber of munitions, number of casualties and civilians fleeing the war zone. A conflict’s situation may also be considered dire when the United Nations Security Council becomes directly involved in an effort to bring an end to the hostilities. The presence of an elaborate command structure and an organized fighting force are also issues that come into play when deciding whether to classify conflict as a non-international skirmish (Phillips, 2017). Moreover, the control of vast swathes of land and the possession of sophisticated weaponry is a factor that comes into play when assessing whether a conflict has attained the thresholds provided. This group must also an ability to acquire a vast array of its weaponry and use it with precision. The presence of a highly trained outfit that uses military tactics and strategy also comes into play. A group that indicates such a high level of organization is usually open to negotiations as a viable option seeking to cease hostilities.  The only way that a non-international conflict becomes an international one is if a third States emerges as a principle player in the conflict and exerting control over an armed group.

            The Yemeni Civil War is regarded as a non-international as per International Humanitarian Law (ILH) regulations. The Ansar Allah group (Houthis) is an armed movement that is in conflict with the Yemeni government. The Houthis have displayed their militaristic capabilities that have allowed them to overrun government installations and control vast territories. Their capabilities were in full display when the managed to include the capital Sa’naa within its sphere of influence. Government officials have claimed time and again that Iran is allied to the Houthis. However, no concrete evidence has emerged linking Iran to the Houthis or their role as chief financiers. According to a UN Panel of Experts report on the conflict in Yemen, Iran does not wield sufficient control over the Ansar Allah group for the war to be regarded as an international conflict (United Nations Security Council, 2019). The Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Additional Protocol II are both applied in reference to the Yemeni Civil War.  It is now quite apparent that the Houthis are under an efficient command and control infrastructure making it possible for them to conduct a sustained military campaign.

The application of the Additional Protocol II also means that the conflict is evaluated for breach of customary international law. The breach of stipulations clearly spelled out in the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Additional Protocol II may warrant prosecutors to refer the case to the International Criminal Court.  Armed groups are expected to take responsibility when credible allegations surface pointing to direct violations of International Humanitarian Law (ILH).  Human rights laws apply unequivocally in armed conflict where an infringement on this provision may lead to dire conflicts. However, the Yemeni conflict presents a complex situation for laws of war.  States involved in the conflict such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia are not listed as signatories under the human rights charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  Prosecuting them for supposed violations of human rights treatise will be an uphill task for bodies seeking to apply customary international law.

Negotiations Aimed at Pacifying the Yemeni Civil War

Regional and international powers have expressed their desire to see immediate end to hostilities in Yemen. The death toll currently stands at 56,000 with 1.4 million Yemenis currently facing starvation (Orkaby, 2019). Any proposals and negotiations discussed thus far are first aimed at addressing these issues to ensure that there is a return to normalcy in the country. Additionally, discussions focusing on appropriate power transfer schemes are critical when attempting to formulate a lasting political solution to the conflict. Reconciliation attempts were bore fruit when warring parties agreed on a proposal to hold presidential elections in February 2012. Nevertheless, heavy fighting continued during this period before the Ansar Allah group seized Sa’naa, Yemen’s political capital.

Attempts to end the turmoil in Yemen have their roots in the 2011 failed mediation attempts by the Gulf Co-operation council. Its main aim was to charter a course towards the transition of power in Yemen. President Saleh had initially indicated that he would be signing a deal to relinquish power but soon backtracked. After months of political posturing over this particular deal, no solution was arrived at and the country erupted in sporadic violence. He later   flew with his close advisors to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where he signed the proposed proposal for political transition. Abbu-Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi took power under the new agreement with former President Saleh being granted immunity by the Assembly of Representatives of Yemen (Orkaby, 2017). Negotiations began officially in May 2015 when Saudi Arabia proposed a cease fire for a period of five days. Ansar Allah and their allies accepted these terms. The cease-fire was proposed as the only viable way through which humanitarian aid could enter the Yemeni hinterland.  Essential supplies and medical aid could now be transported around the country to aid those in need.  In that same year Oman emerged as a major peace broker in the conflict when it presented its plan to both Saudi Arabia and Iran.

            The December 2018 negotiations in Sweden were a high profile affair that attempted to   de-escalate and end the conflict in Yemen. The 10-day talks were convened under the United Nation’s auspices to formulate a clear plan that would end the war. Both parties agreed to allow the United Nations to lead efforts to formulate a workable political settlement. The killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was widely cited as the reason for Saudi Arabia’s censure on this matter in favor of the United Nations. In addition to this, both the Obama and Trump Administrations have actively campaigned for negotiations as the only feasible solution that would bring peace to the region (Ulrichsen, 2018, p. 23). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has, within the past one year urged warring parties to engage in talks as a precursor to a peace deal. Confidence building dealings are an important ingredient to successful negotiations since they are an indication of a willingness to follow through on specific accords. The December 2018 negotiations are the most successful thus far where the evacuation of injured Ansar Allah fighters, guaranteed safe passage to the negotiations and prisoner exchange were all agreed upon. De-escalation was an integral part of the negotiations. The Saudi-led blockade on the port city of Hudaydah has affected the country’s population negatively and the chief reason why the Yemeni population faces the risk of starvation.


The Yemeni Civil War is a modern-day that threatens to the peace and security of the gulf region in the Middle East. Conflict between the Yemeni government supported by the Saudi-led coalition and the Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed movement has resulted in a humanitarian crisis the likes of which has never been witnessed in the region. International Humanitarian Law (ILH) classifies the conflict as a non-international skirmish that can be solved using negotiations aimed at pacifying Yemen and introducing a lasting political solution.

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