Sweden Agreement, December 2018 (UN)

UN Efforts in Yemen: Managing Crisis or Peacemaking?


Fri, 19-08-2022 07:34 PM, Aden

Waddah Al-Oubali (South24)

In April 2011, the Yemenis held big hopes upon the UN role after the appointment of Diplomat Jamal Bin Omar as the UN Envoy to Yemen. At that time, the UN was the typical body to solve conflicts and re-adjust the balances in the country due to the tools and capabilities it had at all levels. However, none of those hopes has been achieved.

In fact, the decline of the UN performance has not been limited to the era of Jamal Bin Omar. If this was the case, it would be because the man himself lacks the experience and the capabilities needed to carry out the reliable UN role to solve the conflict during this important period. It was possible to contain these escalatory events before sliding into the current situation. This includes the Houthi coup against the legitimate authority on September 21st, 2014.

With the UN trajectory continuing on the same approach and direction with three other envoys who were appointed after Omar in three different phases of the conflict, Yemen has witnessed further deterioration and violent waves. The sufferings caused by the war multiplied leading to a big frustration towards the UN performance. This made its role in the whole subsequent events unwelcomed regarding many of them. The common denominator among all warring parties in Yemen is the lack of trust in the UN role and not relying upon it as well as looking at it as part of the problem not the solution according to the prevailing impression for most Yemenis. 

It is clear that all the UN envoys failed in their UN tasks to solve the crisis in Yemen. Some contributed to complicating it due to possible miscalculations or by lifting the solution's expectations ceiling through bypassing important details or seeking for achieving personal gains or not resisting pressures whether from local, regional or international parties. [1]

Tweeting out of tune

What is remarkable in the UN role in Yemen in particular is that it has not gone deep into knowing the details and secrets of the Yemeni crisis and depends on wrong readings for reality. It also relies upon reports of some studies and research centers backed by some regional actors. The UN depends on these reports as references and bases which inspire its plans and programs. These reports upon which the UN and its envoys rely are written in a way that serves limited goals in favor of their backers. In this case, it is hard for any UN envoy to diagnose the Yemeni problem or realize its main interiors to begin a solution. The UN's moves based upon these reports make all the envoys' efforts collide with the refusal of some of these parties and the resentment of others. 

A Peace sponsor or part of the problem

Looking at the UN role in Syria, Libya and Yemen, it does not seem that there is an essential breakthrough achieved by the UN through their successive envoys on the three countries which largely share similar conflicts and problems. Sometimes, the UN envoy’s role apparently was like a supervisor on the conflict in an indirect way. 

Moreover, he makes shuttle tours whose highly-costs are deducted from the financial balances delivered by a number of international donors for these countries. These UN tours were limited to exploring and reading the perspectives of the conflicting parties as well as receiving their proposals. All of these proposals represent one-sided views which often reflect the opposite conditions of the warring parties. 

On the other hand, the UN has not shown seriousness and firmness, but it gave some parties a negative area for dodging, maneuvering and manipulating. This area was exploited and developed by some parties and made it one of its fronts it uses to disperse the UN and the international efforts as well as play on the tone of the UN’s exaggerated caution.

Strangely enough, the UN has not changed or altered this path which has not achieved any positive results. This is despite the available opportunities through which the UN trajectory can be corrected by benefiting from the failures of the former envoys. However, it's remarkable that the same path is being adopted by most envoys. They even rely on their predecessors’ approach as if they made achievements although they haven’t made any advanced moves since the beginning of the conflict 8 years ago.

It is also clear that “each UN envoy has his own calculations in the Yemeni crisis file. However, the most important elements which were able to guarantee the success of each envoy are his hard work, the independence of his decision and not to side  with any party, whether local or regional, related to the conflict” [2].

Investing in the conflicts 

When we speak here about the feelings of frustration towards the UN and its role, criticism is not limited to its political and diplomatic role only. The current crisis in Yemen revealed several aspects for the UN’s exploitation of conflicts. For example, statistics and investigative press releases revealed huge amounts of money which are spent on the UN programs' employees and the representatives of its aid and humanitarian organizations. Over past years, it became clear that the aid that the UN is supervising its distribution has not reached the beneficiaries except for   a small share that does not exceed 25 percent of the total allocations approved for international programs. The employees and the representatives takeover %75 of those balances under many names. 

Moreover, previous reports pointed out that ‘more than 10 aid workers affiliated with the UN who were appointed to deal with the Yemeni  humanitarian 5 years ago are accused of illicit profiting and cooperating with all warring parties to enrich themselves through food products, medicine, fuel and international donated-money [3].

Programs exploited by the Houthis

The UN has provided programs and ongoing humanitarian support in the areas controlled by the Houthis through various trajectories and ways. This is despite the warnings it received regarding the type of support which could fuel the conflict. For example, on May 29th, 2019, the UN delivered twenty 4×4 Toyota cars [4] under the slogan of “Demining Program”. This happened although the UN priory knew that the Houthis are the biggest user of mines among the warring parties. However, the UN kept providing this support under this pretext in a way that contradicts the facts. The Houthis have exploited this support and shifted those cars for military use on the fronts. These cars appeared during their military show early August in the 4th Military Region in Dhamar Governorate. The UN Cars were monitored in the Houthi military show after they painted it with camouflage color similar to military vehicles. On top of them, the Houthis deployed high-precision thermal Kornet missile launch bases. *

Furthermore, the Houthis pose constant pressures against the aid agencies and force them to employ persons affiliated with them. They threaten the agencies to abolish their visas. The aim behind this is to control their moves and the way of implementing their projects. Officials told AP that the number of employees who help those fighters is not clear and that several incidents during the latest years indicated that the UN employees may be involved in stealing aid. [5]

UN and the relaying the conflict 

The ceiling of expectations reached an unprecedented low level about the UN role to solve the conflict or reach a final limit to it in Yemen. It emerged lately that the UN envoy revolves around a nothingness framework which is not related to the nature and the root of the problem. He just activates and holds nominal events such as a workshop in Sweden which were being limited to Yemeni comedians and artists. They sometimes emerge   by creating tribal positions using the names of tribal sheiks for students and expatriates to hold workshops and seminars in Amman. Sometimes, they use some female elements that have no legal capacity to make nominal events under the slogan of “the feminist components”. All these events are apparently an attempt to cover the preceded failure of the UN Envoy “Grundberg”. This failure was repeated a lot over past years. 

The UN Envoy’s focus on some files and ignoring other drastic issues of the conflict such as “the South issue” indicates a lack of understanding of the sensitivity of this basic file. The envoy has to push forward this file in a parallel path to the one that aims to solve the conflict with the Houthis. Without moving forward these paths simultaneously, the UN efforts apparently won’t be able to make a real peace in Yemen. This will just relay the conflicts and keep them open on each other. 

Waddah Al-Oubali
Non-resident Fellow at South24 Center for News and Studies.Expert and Military Analyst.
*These allegations have not been verified by “South24”

UNYemen WarYemenHouthisUN Trock