The flag of the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen [South Yemen] is hoisted at the United Nations Headquarters. December 12, 1967 (Al-Omari Net - Enhanced by South24 Center)

What are the Legal Options to Restore the State of South?


Thu, 25-05-2023 03:25 PM, Aden

Southerners are apparently closer than ever from restoring their state. However, the legal options which applies to South Yemen has largely remained a pressing question.

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24)

On May 22, 1990, a "unity" agreement was announced between the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen and the Yemen Arab Republic. The agreement which was signed on November 30, 1989 was largely undermined by the Northern party's coup against the Southern partner and the armed invasion of South Yemen in 1994. 

At that time, Southern President Ali Salem Al-Bidh announced the disengagement between South and North on May 21, 1994 and the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Yemen. This came weeks after the speech delivered by the then Northern President Ali Abdullah Saleh on April 27 of the same year in which the war was declared. However, Al-Bidh's move didn't succeed.

Due to this war and the subsequent complete alienation at all levels, Southerners began their social and military activities to reject the outcome of the war. Two years after the war, the armed movement “Hatm” was established. Later, a number of sporadic protests emerged that called for fixing the unity path, however, they didn’t receive any response. These activities reached its peak in 2007 by launching the peaceful Southern Movement (Hirak) in different Southern cities and villages which increased the ceiling of demands to restore South State.

After more than two decades, the victorious unity regime began internal disintegration and division due to the expansion of the so-called “Arab spring revolutions“ in 2011, led by the Muslim Brotherhood (A main party in the unity regime) in the Arab states including Yemen.

In the subsequence events, Ali Abdullah Saleh was overthrown from his position as the state president and the Houthis entered the "line of revolution and opposition" until they seized Sanaa in late 2014 and began their war by allying with Saleh against South Yemen.

With Gulf support, Southerners managed to expel the Northern forces in 2015 and establish the Southern Transitional Council (STC) in 2017 under which most of the Southern movements and parties joined as well as the Southern Resistance and variable factions of the Southern society.

With these developments, Southerners are apparently closer than ever from restoring their state. However, the typical legal option which applies to South Yemen has largely remained a pressing question. This is despite the Disengagement Declaration which could not be applied as a result of the Northern military victory in 1994.

In addition to disengagement, a referendum is one of the options that are being discussed. Experts believe that this does not apply to the legal status of South Yemen as a state that had full sovereignty and independence until before 1990.

The restoration of the state

Dr. Aidrous Al-Naqib, the Head of the Southern Institution for Studies and Research agrees that the restoration of South state has become imminent.

He told "South24 Center": "When we talk about the restoration of South state, one has to notice that this has become closer than ever for Southerners and that there is a sort of duality our Southern people live between the liberation of land on one hand and maintaining the link with the 1994 on the other hand due to the ongoing war with the Houthis”.

“Today, some elements or components don't only support the hypothesis of the establishment of the South state but they underscore the inevitability that the approach of adopting the restoration of South state should win to declare it in the possible conditions and time," he added.

Al-Naqib stressed that the upcoming state "will be different in form and content from its previous historic experiences". He pointed to indications about the conviction by influential political and national Northern figures of the Southerners' right.

The expert believes that the "dual mode may be an obstacle in the way of declaring the Southern state. However, there is a legal dimension to restore the Southern state. This is included in the UN's documents and the two UNSC’s resolutions no. 924 and 931 in 1994".

The two resolutions "refused imposing the unity by force and called for a dialogue between the two states to resolve the matter". In this regard, Al-Naqib said: "Dialogue be then was about one state or disengagement".

He added that the Vienna Convention in 1961 related to the international agreements among the states stipulates that "if one state repudiates or violates the items of the bilateral agreement, the other state has the right to distance itself from it".

According to Al-Naqib,"this also supports the Southerners' right to restore their state even if they are 30 years late in achieving this right".

The accurate legal description 

As for the accurate legal description of the status of South Yemen, Al-Naqib said "one has to pay attention to restoring the South state according to the borders of May 21, 1990". He added: "We didn't separate as we are not a minority region within a historically stable state, but we had engaged in a bilateral partnership between two sovereign states".

"This partnership failed and ended by the war that thwarted the agreement signed on November 30, 1989 which preceded the May 22 Unity Declaration. Therefore, the legal description of this case is the restoration of the Southern state and the disengagement from the Northern state," he added. 

Al-Naqib pointed out that "legal experts make a distinction between separation, self-determination and disengagement. The latter is always built on the basis that there is an agreement between two parties and that one of them wants to withdraw from it due to the failure of this agreement. This exactly was the case in the November 30, 1989 Agreement and the May 22, 1990 Declaration".

The referendum 

On the other hand, talking about a referendum among Southerners to determine their future and restore their state is part of proposals to resolve South Issue. However, this option does not legally apply to the status of South Yemen according to Al-Naqib.

Over the past period, a referendum was officially proposed as a tool to organize a number of files as part of the South state itself and not as a tool to restore the state. This includes what the Southern National Pact stipulated on May 8 on the name of the desired state.

Dr. Omar Bajardana, the Chairman of the Knowledge Center for Studies and Strategic Research believes that "referendum is not a valid option legally in light of the challenges, changes and accumulations that happened during the unity".

Bajardana told "South24 Center": "I would say that that disengagement is the best legal option for what happened after invading South Yemen militarily in 1994 especially that this measure was taken by the former Southern President Ali Salem Al-Bidh on May 21, 1994".

Al-Naqib believes that "the referendum option is no longer possible today especially that it is not among the requirements of the current stage for declaring South state".

He added: "South Yemen lives the status of two states situation with North Yemen and just needs to be officially recognized. Therefore, we say that the best option for us and our brothers in North is to sit in a bilateral negotiation table to officially ratify the mechanisms to move to the two states, recognize each of them and determine the options of the future partnership between the two states".

The fears related to the demographic changes in South Yemen since 1990 till now have enhanced the rejection of holding a referendum to resolve South Issue. In this regard, social expert Dr. Fadl Al-Rubaie said that the “file of displaced people in South Yemen is a demographic political time bomb”.

He told “South24 Center’’: “South Issue has clearly emerged with the failure of the unity project. This made the other party think from the very beginning about the issue of demographic dominance. Therefore, the society in North Yemen has been recruited and mobilized against South Yemen”. 

He noted that the state of “political displacement” from North to South has reached its climax over the past 8 years with the outbreak of the war in 2015. We don’t deny that there are humanitarian displacement cases but this aspect was deployed in another dimension”. 

Al-Rubaie mentioned indications about such a plot by saying: “We noticed earlier that ID cards were issued for Northerners in South Yemen through rig operations in the civil registration authority. Unfortunately, the state established for them a special unit affiliated with the cabinet and allocated a major budget for it”.

As for the legal aspect, Al-Rubaie said: “Those people should not be counted as part of South Yemen’s residents. Southerners can distinguish between the pre and post 1990 residents”.

He believes that this would disturb any referendum. He stressed the importance of delivering the file of Northern displaced persons in South to the hands of Southern officials. Al-Rubaie proposed counting the displaced persons in South and limiting their presence through administrative measures”.

The application of disengagement

Experts spoke to “South24 Center” and agreeed that disengagement is the typical legal option of restoring the South state. To achieve this, Al-Naqib believes that there are steps that should be taken.

He said: “In case of reaching an initial agreement over the Northern-Southern bilateral negotiation which should be done and not to draw a link between South Issue and the dichotomy of legitimacy and coup, I think that negotiation should include the following elements:

1- Determining the mechanism to move from the non-state to the two-state status and selecting the one that would help to safely reach this situation”.

2- Determining the basic principle of the basic principles of the relationships between the two states. 

3- Determining a time range that guarantees paving the political court to move to the two state status and identifying the obligations of the two parties towards each other, including the essential guarantees related to the joint interests between the two states as well as the Southerners' interests in North and the Northerners' ones in South.

4- Determining the future partnerships between the two states, as South Yemen is not forced to choose between full integration or war and boycott in light of the presence of a middle choice.

Al-Naqib pointed out that Southerners and Northerners in two independent states “can build tens of partnerships in the fields of economy, investment, security, diplomatic international relationships, tourism and land, sea and air transportation as well as benefiting from their mutual relationships”.

Dr. Omar Bajardana called the “STC” to “intensify its diplomatic and legal role and find a proper ground". He added that "the states and organizations tasked with political decision-making should reach a consensus on the necessity of disengagement and the recognition of the South state".

“This is the most successful and best option for the complicated and specified status caused by the 1994 war. The geographical and military reality of the establishment of the two states is existent. There is nothing left but the political and legal application to impose this reality," he added.

On the other hand, Northern experts and officials doubt the moves that describe the legal status in South Yemen. However, it seems that the reality in South Yemen is heading towards the two-state solution.

Abdullah Al-Shadli

Journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies

South YemenNorth YemenYemeni Unity1994 WarDisengagementMay 22July 7Aden