An air strike hits Sana'a in 2015. Two years on, the war in Yemen shows no sign of ending. Image credit: Ibrahem Qasim.

The humanitarian situation

"The inhumanity of using the economy or food as a means to wage war is unacceptable"
On February 21 the UN’s Yemen Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick addressed the impact of the conflict and related food crisis in Yemen. In particular, he expressed his deep concern at the escalation of hostilities on the Red Sea front. This is preventing the flow of life-saving supplies, and worsening the already appalling humanitarian situation.

Around two third of the Yemeni population – 17 million people – are food insecure. There have been many difficulties in reaching around two million of those at risk. McGoldrick said that “the inhumanity of using the economy or food as a means to wage war is unacceptable and is against international humanitarian law.” 

No end to the fighting

Airstrikes and clashes between the warring parties continued in most areas. Clashes and tensions continued in Marib, Taiz, Aden, Al Jouf, Lahij, Saadah, Hajjah, Hodeidah, Sana’a, and Dhamar governorates. Hostile exchanges in urban and rural areas are expected to escalate.

In the most recently opened front, from Dhubab to Mukha City, the clashes and the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have forced thousands of civilians to flee the area. Aerial bombardment of roads and bridges continues, especially in Al Hodeidah governorate. Al Hodeidah port was also targeted. Humanitarian ships and supplies were forced to redirect, putting the Yemeni food market at greater risk. This situation, in addition to price increases, a fuel shortage and public sector salary crisis, means that famine is becoming a realistic possibility.

Peace efforts: going nowhere?

The US continues to support the UN-led process
A meeting of the Yemen ‘Quartet’ (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States) was held on February 16 on the sidelines of the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting in Bonn, Germany. The acting spokesperson for the US Department of State, Mark Toner, said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with his counterparts from the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, in addition to the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.  The meeting “explored the current situation in Yemen and how the international community can work together to strengthen cooperation to resolve the conflict.” According to the State Department, the US continues “to support the UN-led process and the work of the UN Special Envoy,” and noted “The urgent need for the delivery of humanitarian assistance throughout the country.”

Arms sales and arms use

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Saudi Arabia was the second-biggest arms importer for 2012-2016, which includes the first two years of the Yemen campaign. Other reports note that, for example, smart bombs made in Scotland were dropped in Yemen by UK-trained air forces. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Rights Watch UK submitted documentation for UK legal cases concerning arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Besides public infrastructure, which is continuously attacked, during February civilians were targeted again and again – killed in residential areas. On February 16, the coalition targeted a gathering for a woman’s funeral in the Arhab district of Sana’a governorate. At least 25 casualties were reported.

Prisoner swaps

The swap was the outcome of a tribal and mediation and negotiation process
In the first week of February, a prisoner exchange took place between Saudi-backed Yemeni troops and Houthi forces in Dhamar and Sana’a governorates. One of the mediators said that 58 Houthis captured in Al Jouf governorate were released in exchange for 54 prisoners from the other side. The swap, which was the outcome of a tribal mediation and negotiation process, took place in Al Qaniyah area on the border between Marib and al Biadha’a governorate in the middle of the country.

The chairman of the Prisoners and Abductees Coordinating Body, Abdullah Al Khadhami, said that the effort was initiated by prisoners themselves. He added that there have been other successful exchanges, with 127 prisoners released in different waves of swaps.

Since the outbreak of the conflict in Yemen in March 2015, limited prisoner exchanges have been carried out. There have been some swaps between the southern Hirak forces and Ansar Allah (Houthi) troops. Houthi forces have from time to time announced the unilateral release of hundreds of prisoners.

In one case, in Taiz governorate, 194 prisoners from both sides were released after tribal mediation.

For the first edition of Peacewatch: Yemen, please click here

Peacewatch is published by Peace Direct to highlight local peacebuilding initiatives in conflict zones. Please note that the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Peace Direct. Follow the links below for background information on the events discussed in this article: 

Atlantic Council 


Human Rights Watch (1) 

Human Rights Watch (2) 

Reuters (1)

Reuters (2) 

Security Council Report 

Washington Post