The situation in Yemen has continued to deteriorate, with devastating consequences for the civilian population. Three main factors are contributing to the catastrophe: (a) economic profiteering by all Yemeni parties, affecting human security; (b) continuous and widespread human rights and international humanitarian law violations, with impunity; and (c) escalations in fighting and its impact on civilians, including displacement.
The Government of Yemen lost strategic territory to both the Houthis and the Southern Transitional Council, both of which undermine the objectives of Security Council resolution 2216 (2015). Therefore, the Houthis are not the only force to which paragraph 1 of the resolution applies.
The activities of the Southern Transitional Council, under the leadership of Aydarus al-Zubaydi and Hani Bin Brik, constituted a violation of paragraphs 1 and 6 of resolution 2216 (2015), which demand that all Yemeni parties refrain from unilateral actions that undermine the political transition. The Southern Transitional Council’s unilateral declaration of self-administration in April 2020 led to significant destabilization in Abyan, Aden, Shabwah and Socotra.
The lack of a coherent strategy among anti-Houthi forces, demonstrated by infighting within them, and disagreements between their regional backers, has served to strengthen the Houthis. However, within the Houthi leadership, competing power brokers emerged, notably Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, Ahmed Hamid and Abdulkarim al-Houthi.
In territory controlled by the Government of Yemen, there is a risk of the disintegration of power into a patchwork of competing factions, as observed in Ta‘izz. There is opacity in the relationships between non-State armed groups and the Government of Yemen, as demonstrated by the illegal recruitment of fighters by Hamoud Saeed al-Mikhlafi. Confrontations in Shabwah between the Government of Yemen, the Southern Transitional Council and affiliated forces continues to pose a threat to stability.
There was limited progress regarding peace negotiations, with the exception of an exchange of 1,056 prisoners under the Stockholm Agreement. Developing national peace initiatives while working under the influence of wider regional struggles remains highly challenging. Conflicts in Yemen are overshadowed by tensions between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States of America.
The extent of external support for the parties to the conflict in Yemen remains unclear. The United Arab Emirates is a member of the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen, yet its support to the Southern Transitional Council undermines the Government of Yemen. An increasing body of evidence suggests that individuals or entities in the Islamic Republic of Iran supply significant volumes of weapons and components to the Houthis. The Panel is also investigating a group of individuals who travelled to Oman on “mercy flights” in 2015 and onwards to the Islamic Republic of Iran. One later publicly stated that he had received naval training in Bandar Abbas and went on to facilitate maritime smuggling for the Houthis.
The Houthis continue to attack civilian targets in the Saudi Arabia, using a combination of missiles and uncrewed aerial vehicles, while waterborne improvised explosive devices are regularly launched into the Red Sea. While most attacks are foiled by the Saudi military, the group’s ability to project power beyond Yemen remains a threat to regional stability and a challenge for future peace negotiations. There was an escalation of attacks on civilian vessels in the waters around Yemen in 2020; thus far, the identity of the attackers remains unclear.
The Panel documented several supply routes to the Houthis involving traditional vessels (dhows) in the Arabian Sea. Arms and equipment are trans-shipped in Omani and Somali waters to smaller boats, with the cargo being delivered to ports on the south coast of Yemen and smuggled overland to the Houthis or, in some cases, through the Bab-el-Mandab directly to Houthi-held areas. The lack of capacity of the Yemeni Coast Guard and prevailing corruption in areas held by the Government of Yemen are contributing factors that allow smuggling to flourish despite a number of high-profile seizures.
The economy of Yemen continued to contract, weighed down by double-digit inflation and a collapsing currency, which has a devastating impact on the population. Parties to the conflict appear to be indifferent to these developments, both remaining unaffected by the plight of Yemenis and continuing to divert the country’s economic and financial resources. The Houthis perform functions that are exclusively within the authority of the Government of Yemen, collecting taxes and other State revenue, a large portion of which is used to fund their war effort. The Panel estimates that the Houthis diverted at least $1.8 billion in 2019, originally destined to fill the coffers of the Government of Yemen, pay salaries and provide basic services to citizens, to fund their operations.
The Government of Yemen is, in some cases, engaging in money-laundering and corruption practices that adversely affect access to adequate food supplies for Yemenis, in violation of the right to food. The Government of Yemen implemented a scheme to divert funds from the Saudi deposit, in which $423 million of public money was illegally transferred to traders. A total of 48 per cent of this amount was received by the Hayel Saeed Anam Group.
All parties continue to commit egregious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including indiscriminate attacks against civilians, enforced disappearances and torture. The widespread use of landmines by Houthis poses a constant threat to civilians and contributes to displacement. Houthis continue to recruit children. Migrants are regularly victims of serious human rights abuses.
The Panel documented an alarming pattern of the repression of journalists and human rights defenders by the Government of Yemen, the Southern Transitional Council and the Houthis, comprising a blatant violation of the freedom of expression and impeding their capacity to identify and report on violations of internationa l humanitarian law and international human rights law, which can contribute to the protection of civilians.
Since the beginning of the conflict, there has been no significant initiative to hold perpetrators of violations to account. The absence of the rule of law and the dysfunction of the judicial system give leeway to impunity and contribute to the recurrence of violations.
Despite some progress made in the past few months, substantial hurdles to principled humanitarian action remain in Houthi-controlled areas. The Panel also documented obstruction to humanitarian assistance in Aden.