Photo: The flag of South Yemen on Sirah Castle in Aden (Ahmed Shehab)

Urgent Perceptions on the «Special Frame» of South Issue


Wed, 05-04-2023 01:24 PM, Aden

It is apparently more appropriate to allow a special Southern committee, which represents the biggest number of Southern components and political parties, to formulate the special negotiating frame related to South Issue.

Farida Ahmed (South24) 

On March 8th, the Consultation and Reconciliation Commission (CRC), which supports the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) and is composed of bodies within the Internationally-recognized government, announced its approval of three important documents after long discussions. They include the CRC’s internal regulations, the general frame of the comprehensive peace vision, and the principles of reconciliation among the parties and political components of the legitimate government. The issuance of such a statement at this time, amid the tension within PLC and its incompatibility around many files since its inception, paves the way for rearranging the status quo. It can serve as a possible attempt to defuse the differences which began to emerge on the surface during the past months by putting important formulas of provisions and principles. Accordingly, the United Nations (UN) Special Envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg in his latest briefing to the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Yemen has “welcomed the recent efforts of the Government of Yemen through the ongoing work of the Consultation and Reconciliation Commission”. He added that he “stands ready to work with the Yemeni parties and support them so that when the political process starts, they can engage with confidence and a clear sense of direction”. 
Despite the importance of what CRC proposed to PLC as being an assisting body that provides proposals and visions related to reconciliation among the legitimacy components as well as offers ideas related to the CRC, regulations, and negotiations, this is not ultimately binding. It is subject to consultation and deliberations among PLC members before reaching the final formula. For example, the legal draft submitted by Hamoud Al-Hatar was rejected by Southerners as they saw it as a coup against the outputs of the Riyadh Consultations and PLC as well as an attempt to give Rashad Al-Alimi more powers beyond his supposed role. STC submitted alternative documents which are still under discussion. This means that CRC is not authorized to submit final solutions to the situation in Yemen without deliberating on them. 
It is important to say that the outputs of CRC may be binding to the government and PLC’s Chairman Rashad Al-Alimi but they can be negotiated by PLC alone. In other words, CRC's decisions will be binding to Al-Alimi if the PLC does not oppose them. Nonetheless, there are Yemeni parties that raise doubts about the work of CRC which is led by STC leader Mohammed Al-Ghithi. They fear that the CRC's activities may be the beginning of alienating or dissolving one of the state institutions. They refer to the Yemeni parliament which is chaired by "Sultan Al-Burkani". This is although the parliament has been suspended since the Houthi coup against the state in 2014. 
In this regard, it is worth mentioning that the latest Yemeni parliamentary election was held in 2003. The House of Representatives can't hold its sessions due to the lack of a legal quorum and the divisions among its members between those who are controlled by the Houthis and those who joined the legitimate body and live currently in several capitals abroad. Therefore, their participation will be difficult if the parliament decides to hold its sessions. Moreover, the parliament lost a lot of its legislative powers since the Gulf initiative which stipulated that its decisions have to be issued by consensus rather than the majority. Furthermore, the shape and formula of the consensus have changed since then. This is due to the changes in the Yemeni scene since the Houthi coup and the subsequent Riyadh Agreement to the GCC Consultations in Riyadh in 2022. Thus, the CRC has become the one that expresses such a consensus with its final form. 
In the second document submitted by CRC as part of "the general framework for a comprehensive peace vision", the commission has been keen to maintain, in form and content, the legitimate aspirations of all parties. This is despite the criticism by Southern parties towards the content of the document which was not published completely. On top of that is the matter of putting (a special negotiating frame to the issue of South Yemen) as part of the negotiations which aim at stopping war and comprehensive political operations before deciding on issues and priorities of the negotiations. It is an important point that Southerners have always been keen on in general. Similarly, it was one of the important outputs of the GCC Consultations in April 2022 which recognized that the “South Issue should be included in the agenda of negotiations for ending the war to put a special negotiating framework for it in the comprehensive peace process". 

As a matter of fact, since the outbreak of the conflict in Yemen in 2014, the delegations of previous negotiations were formed without the presence of Southerners who can represent their stances independently. The delegations were usually between 8-12 members from the legitimacy and the same number from the Houthi side. All these delegations were led by Yemeni foreign ministers in the legitimate government. They can be reviewed as follows: 
Geneva Negotiations [1] were held between June 16th-19th 2015. They included 8 members for each party and were led by the then Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin. 
The Kuwaiti Consultations were held on August 6th, 2016. The Legitimacy delegation was represented by 12 members and was modified one time. The delegation was led by former Foreign Minister Abdulmalik Al-Mikhlafi. 
The Stockholm Conference was held on December 13th, 2018. The delegations consisted of 12 members led by the former Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Yamani. 
In October 2022, a new delegation consisting of the 8 members of PLC and led by Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak was announced. However, no formal decision has been issued about the delegation which has not made any negotiations yet. 
On March 8th, CRC announced the need to support and accelerate the formation of a joint negotiating delegation that represents PLC and handles the negotiation file. This suggests that the aforementioned delegation led by “Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak” has not been approved yet and is not a final one. 
It is expected that a new negotiation delegation will consist of 8 or 12 persons. It is more likely that the number of Southerners will be at par with Northerners, especially following the condition of putting a special negotiating frame to the South Yemen issue. 
Form and determinants
What does the special framework mean? Is it a reference frame? -The reference frame is the set of concepts and the cognitive vocabulary that a person uses to understand a specific topic or determine the action that he will take regarding it- Is it a negotiating frame that sets the rules governing the negotiation process and the procedural mechanisms guiding and facilitating them? Or is it a solution frame that reviews the problem, its roots, causes, and consequences before offering possible solutions at the end? Or is it another form other than those aforementioned? 
In general, the term “special frame” refers to the methodology or the way used to treat a certain issue. This term suggests the framework put to solve problems or the difficulties related to a certain issue which requires strategic thinking, deep analysis, and the ideal coordination of efforts. 
As for negotiations on controversial issues among the countries or regions within the same country, several frames can be used. For example, the direct and open negotiation framework among the disputing parties can be used to determine the points of disagreement and find consensus solutions. Moreover, the mediation frame can be used to facilitate understanding among the parties of the conflict and motivate them to reach a comprehensive and permanent solution. The legal and institutional negotiating frame can be used to determine the legal framework which can be used to solve the conflict and ensure that the parties will be committed to the agreement. [1]
In general, different frames can be used to treat disputable issues among the countries or among regions inside the country itself. The suitable frame should be determined according to each case and the surrounding circumstances. 
On the other hand, there has been no clarity about who will set this frame. Although CRC renewed pointing to itself in the second document in its general conference in Aden statement, it left it open and vague. This in turn raises some questions: Will a Southern-Southern committee be formed to approve it or a Southern-Northern one? Will it be determined by an international mediator? For example, the formation of “The Southern-Northern Committee can lead to extending the period of discussions and widening the severity of the disputes regarding methodology, standards, terminology, and mechanisms on which this frame should be based. This would prolong the circle of the discussions instead of holding a dialogue for solving the “South Issue” to be a dialogue on the mechanism of establishing this frame. 

On the other hand, some may believe that the international mediator, in light of his commitment to the principles and the standards of international law such as the UN Envoy, can offer such a facilitated special frame and set the determinants and mechanisms of its work. This will be attained in cooperation with the negotiating delegations of both parties or even. This can happen before by special meetings devoted to this purpose with the active parties. Usually, the UN relies upon frameworks that constitute a sound base to address very important issues within or between the countries. The UN Envoy in his first UNSC briefing in September 2021 stressed that “the impact of the conflict on the diverse range of grievances and demands in the Southern governorates cannot be ignored” adding that “Peace in Yemen will not be sustained in the long term if Southern voices do not play a part in shaping it responsibly”. 
However, it is apparently more appropriate to allow a special Southern committee which represents the biggest number of Southern components and political parties to formulate the special negotiating frame related to the issue of Southern people according to the suitable and unanimous descriptions for the status of South Yemen, whether through the comprehensive solution consultations and during the transitional phase, as well as after the transitional phase. 
It is important to say that the international community deals with any negotiations regarding the crisis in Yemen according to the “legitimacy and coup” rule only”. This is the furthest point reached by different Yemeni parties currently through the documents submitted by CRC and hailed by the UN. Moreover, Grundberg will be obligated to discuss the previous three references. This includes the outputs of the National Dialogue in 2013, which are included in CRC's documents even ostensibly. In return, the Yemeni legitimacy would be committed during its negotiations with the Houthis by including the South Issue as part of the negotiation process. This is according to the references signed among the legitimacy parties represented in the Riyadh Agreement and the outputs of GCC Consultations as well as the recent decisions of the Consultation and Reconciliation Commission that have been in place so far. 
An official document about the special negotiating frame on the South Issue can also be issued, whether by CRC to be binding on the delegation of legitimacy in the upcoming negotiations, or to be signed by PLC’s members directly before the beginning of the negotiations. If the matter is controversial, and this framework is established with the help of an international mediating body, then the mediator will issue a binding declaration about it. 
This would guarantee that Northern parties within the legitimacy won’t abandon or turn away from the framework in favor of the progress of the negotiations, especially if the legitimacy delegation finds points of agreement with the Houthis on specific issues related to North Yemen. 
Setting the special frame for the South Issue will serve as the first serious condition which can be submitted by the legitimate government among their previously unmentioned conditions. This would serve as a strong pressure card on the table of any incoming negotiations in front of the Houthis who used to put conditions and gain their fruits. 
Ultimately, it is related to the Southerners’ ability to pressure, whether by approving a negotiating framework within the legitimacy in the face of the Northern stance which sticks with unity, or later by confronting the Houthis with it. Additionally, this would mitigate regional and international pressure by submitting a vision that is more suitable for their political and military entitlements on the ground. 
Determining the proper status and characterization 

The proposed Southern-Southern committee will have to put two perceptions on two stages. The first one is a proposal that will be applied during the transitional phase following the final solution negotiations in Yemen. This aims at setting an approach that will give a special administrative and military status to South Yemen. This would ensure not to invade the Southern governorates if the comprehensive settlement agreement collapses during its implementation. 
The second one is the post-transitional phase proposal which is likely to be approved by the final solution negotiations in Yemen. In this stage, Southerners can put the final and latest solutions to solve the problem of South Yemen. This will depend on the visions agreed upon within South Yemen for the form of the state (federal, confederation, the establishment of two states) subject to the laws of (self-determination, disengagement, or independence). 

It is important for the Southern committee and the members of the Southern delegations participating in the legitimacy to determine the appropriate characterization for the political and legal status of the form of the country which they call for. Many Southerners face clear conflicts in the names which confuse most of them sometimes. This also applied to observers and those who are interested in the Yemeni affair and the special status in South Yemen. Paying attention to such matters before engaging in a negotiation process with other Yemeni parties would help in crystallizing clear political positions as well as drawing peace lines and paths without complications. 

However, the special negotiating frame for the South Issue will remain one of the options Southerners can go to, among many other options that they may find themselves forced to do if this framework stumbles. These options could be political or military. “South24 Center” will discuss these available options in an incoming political seminar

Farida Ahmed 

Executive Director of South24 Center for News and Studies

[1] William Ury, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (Penguin Books, 2011) / - Carrie Menkel-Meadow, Thomas J. Stipanowich, and Andrea Kupfer Schneider, Negotiation: Processes for Problem-Solving (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business, 2016)

South IssuePeople of SouthSpecial FrameFrameworkRiyadh ConsultationsPeace ProcessYemen warCRC