Rise to Peace blog

The Forgotten Tragedy of Yemen

Yemen, a beautiful country with a rich culture and history, has been in a state of intractable crisis for years, following the scenarios of Somalia and Afghanistan. According to UNICEF, Yemen is home to one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world. It has been estimated that 24 million people are in need of assistance and more than 100,000 people have been killed since 2014 when conflict erupted between Iranian-backed Houthi rebels (Shia) and the Saudi-backed Sunni government.

At the same time, the United States has implemented a counter-terrorism operation against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), thereby complicating the conflict even further. Despite the suffering and severe situation, there has been limited international attention to the conflict and the situation in Yemen has often been coined as “The Forgotten War”.

The Causes of the Conflict

Until 1990, Yemen consisted of two independent countries: YAR North Yemen and PDRY South Yemen. However, the unification sparked conflict and a civil war, which was eventually won by President Saleh who represented the north. While President Saleh had been the ruler for decades, he was ultimately ousted in 2012.

Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi won the 2012 elections to become Yemen’s president. His presidency was characterized by various issues, such as corruption and food insecurity.

The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels used this to their advantage and seized control of parts of Yemen in 2014. The Houthis slowly advanced into the capital Sanaa and forced President Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia.

Violence From All Parties

In April 2015, the UN Security Council adapted Resolution 2216 that acknowledged Hadi as the legitimate president. Around the same time, a Saudi-led coalition launched a bombing campaign under the name of Operation Decisive Storm. The indiscriminate Saudi air strikes have been unrelenting and have targeted civilians, schools, markets, and hospitals.

In January 2022, dozens of people were killed when the Saudi-led coalition bombed a detention center in Northern Yemen, resulting in the deadliest month in Yemen since the conflict started.

At the same time, the Houthi’s have attacked the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with drones and missiles thereby spreading the war across borders. This Houthi attack was in response to an airstrike that killed Houthi members one day prior and was part of a larger Houthi strategy to end the involvement of the UAE in the conflict.

Special Attention: Children and Women

Actors on all sides of the conflict have recruited child soldiers, with some under the age of 15. The majority of child soldiers were recruited by the Houthi rebels, around 1,940 children in 2019.

Furthermore, there has been severe violence specifically targeted against women and girls.  According to UNFPA Yemen, “incidents of gender-based violence have reportedly increased by over 63 percent […] with over 10,000 such cases of violence reported in 2016 alone.”

Prospects of Peace

Due to the complexity of the conflict and the variety of actors involved, including Western states that sell arms to the Saudi-led coalition, it is difficult to determine effective solutions. Analysts point out that the distinction between civil war and sub-conventional conflict is blurred, thereby complicating the possibilities of a peaceful resolution.

It is not only analysts, but also others that worry about the future of Yemen. Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, mentioned in statement to the Security Council in February 2022 that the crisis “shows no sign of abating.” Instead, there is an escalation with on average, 21 civilians killed or injured every day by violence.

Ultimately, innocent Yemeni civilians are paying the heaviest price for the enduring conflict. The fear and reality are that until diplomacy is effective and all parties involved in the conflict realize that war is not the answer, innocent people will continue to shoulder the burden of the conflict.


 Vibeke Gootzen, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

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