The conflict in Yemen shows no sign of ending. The Saudi-led coalition continues its aerial bombardment, there are ground clashes on all active fronts, and land mines are still being planted. The useless UN peace process is ongoing, arms are still being sold, Al-Qaeda and Islamic State on the Arabian Peninsula are expanding, countless US drones fly overhead, and the humanitarian situation has brought Yemen to the brink of famine.
Peacebuilding in a time of war
This catastrophe has nonetheless not stopped some Yemeni NGOs from carrying out their work. These include, for example, the Middle East Foundation for Development and Human Rights. The Foundation was established in Sana’a in 2009 as an independent NGO promoting peaceful coexistence and equality in Yemen.
Abdullah Allaw is Chair of the Foundation, which works with government and others to enforce the rule of law, raise public awareness of human rights conventions, and cooperate with international organisations and the public and private sector on these issues. Its aim, according to Allaw, is simple: for Yemenis to enjoy equality and justice, under the rule of law, without discrimination. He says that despite the war, the organisation has done its best to develop mechanisms to train and develop the skills of young people and activists. Supporting poor, marginalised and minority communities to make their voices heard is important to their work.
Documenting the conflict
One area Allaw’s team has focused on is the west coast of Yemen, which is suffering badly from the humanitarian crisis. The Foundation has mobilised its teams to visit the Al Tihita area of Al Hodeidah governorate, to observe and report on the situation there. The objective is to attract attention to the tragic condition in the villages of the area. Poor families are living in a critical situation, with little attention from the official local authorities and the international humanitarian effort.
The Foundation team went through the district, investigating the circumstances in these areas and learning about the human suffering of the inhabitants. Nearly 1000 people are suffering from acute malnutrition and are threatened with starvation, and there is a lack of safe drinking water.
Allaw says that extreme poverty is also spreading throughout the region, where most people do not participate in any trade other than fishing. “The daily food of most of the people who were interviewed was bread with tea, often without sugar,” he said. According to Allaw, residents depend on the sea for their livelihood, but the Coalition has repeatedly targeted their boats, making people reluctant to take to the water for fear of bombardment. Warning leaflets have been dropped by coalition aircraft asking fisherman and other people to avoid coastal areas and not go in to the sea. But the Coalition has still attacked after the warnings, and the airstrikes do not distinguish between civilian and military forces, which Allaw says do not actually exist in this area.
The foundation has made an urgent appeal to provide assistance to the population here, and called on all parties, including international humanitarian organisations and the Yemeni private sector, to intervene to save those at risk of starvation.
Allaw and his staff have also started to focus on the violation of socioeconomic and human rights, addressing questions of accountability for perpetrators. During the 26 months of the war, the organisation has documented all kind of violations using field visits, interviews, official reports and other investigative techniques.
The port of Hodeidah – a new front?
“We want peacebuilding and effective follow-up work to support a lasting agreement with collective and organised civil action. But as we start acting and mobilising, the Coalition has threatened to close the port of Hodeidah and start a new military front there, which will increase the suffering of Yemenis. We condemn this strongly,” Allaw says.
There is lots of fabricated news that the port has been used for arms smuggling, he adds. The Foundation has visited the port and found that large parts of it were destroyed. According to Allaw, officials there have done nothing for two years except wait for aid ships, and do their best to facilitate the work of the international agencies and the Yemeni commercial sector.
Allaw and the Foundation are deeply concerned that the accusations [of arms smuggling] will lead to more suffering and increase the challenges for humanitarian work, which at Al Hodeidah is carried out on the basis of all existing regulations on port and harbour operations, as well as the Coalition’s blockade and other rules. Moreover, UN staff and many other observers are present everywhere. The implications of targeting the port would be serious: it is already under siege, like the rest of Yemen, and this is a key factor in the country’s hunger. 70% of Yemenis depend on supplies arriving from the port.
“Targeting Al Hodeidah will be a violation of all international conventions of civil ports as well as the Geneva Conventions. It will be another war crime against humanity and the Yemeni people,” Allaw concludes.