In his report today to the Security Council during the open session today, 11-June, Mr. Jamal Benomar the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Yemen briefs the security council with the updated political transition in Yemen after the official launch of the second general sessions of the National Dialogue.
Yemen is in the heart of its transition. Only a few days ago, I sat at the side of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Secretary-General of the GCC, Dr. Abdel-Latif al- Zayani, to witness the 565 delegates of the National Dialogue Conference celebrate the midway mark of their deliberations with the launch of the 2nd Plenary Session.
Delegates from all of the major political groupings in the country, including women
and youth are, together, shaping the future of their country. In a country awash with arms and a history of conflict, such an inclusive process of dialogue is a great achievement. It shows the commitment of the Yemeni people to choose dialogue over violence and consensus over division.
Yet as the sad incident of Sunday shows, this transition is delicate. I regret to inform the Council that a clash erupted between security forces and Ansar Allah demonstrators outside the National Security Bureau in Sana’a, resulting in the death of several individuals and injuries to dozens more.
Nevertheless, Yemen is the only country in the region to emerge from the violence of 2011 with a peacefully negotiated agreement including a clear road-map and time- line for a broad-based democratic transition. The Government and people of Yemen are to be congratulated for standing by their words despite the challenges, and I urge them to stay the course.
For the past few weeks, delegates have been divided into nine Working Groups, deliberating upon all the major issues facing the country, including the long-standing conflicts related to the North and the South. As is to be expected when such large and diverse groups sit together, including political opponents and even enemies, existing wounds and grievances have been difficult to overcome and good will has been tested. Deep divisions remain in the more contentious Working Groups such as on Sa’ada and the South. These will require careful facilitation and maximum good will on all sides.
Still, I am pleased to report that progress has been achieved across the board. The majority of Working Groups have submitted their reports to the Plenary. Over 100 recommendations, many of them involving constitutional guarantees for human rights, have been submitted to the Plenary for endorsement. Despite the deep divisions in the Saada group, they managed to achieve consensus on a common vision of the roots of the conflict. Going forward, the delegates still need to build consensus over major issues including the structure of the State, the system of government, and addressing the questions of the South and of Saada. This work will be substantially assisted by the creation of the National Dialogue Consensus Committee which was recently established with the tasks to harmonise and reconcile the various recommendations and to assist in the reaching of consensus.
My team and other contributors have been working closely with the Conference bodies to share the full range of international experience, expertise and facilitation. While we have no recipes to solve Yemen’s many challenges, sharing comparative experiences from other country situations has enabled the delegates to make more informed decisions as they explore different options. The next and final session of the Plenary and Working Groups will be critical in reaching agreement on the principles and main contours of a future Constitution.
I am pleased to note that the “dialogue” is extending well beyond the Conference. Men and women in Yemen are engaged in discussions and debates about the problems of their country and its possible future. People are participating in seminars, round- tables, and open tents put up in town squares. The developments within the National Dialogue Conference’s Working Groups are discussed daily in television and radio programmes, newspapers and new media. In the past few weeks, the Working Groups began their outreach to citizens across various parts of the country. Collectively, they have visited 18 Governorates, and have spoken to over 12,500 people of all ages and backgrounds including members of local authorities, NGOs, labour unions, women’s and youth groups.
On one such visit, a delegation member of the Military and Security Working Group was moved to tears at a visit to the Political Security Headquarters. She stated that, for her, this represented the “breaking of a wall of fear”. In 2011, it would have been unthinkable for a delegation comprised of women and youth to be welcomed at the headquarters of an intelligence agency. As President Hadi has remarked, we are engaged in more than a political transition; we are witnessing a transformation of the political culture.
The National Dialogue now underway will be followed by a constitutional drafting process. The Government of Yemen has committed to make this constitution-making process fully transparent and inclusive. The new constitution will be confirmed by a referendum followed by general elections for a new government, which will be endowed with full popular legitimacy. We understand there are no guarantees for what lies ahead. It is an undertaking of great hope in a fragile environment, where a range of perspectives and diverse interests are seeking to realize a new and better order.
In order to develop the foundations of a new Constitution, National Dialogue will need to find a consensual settlement to the Southern question. This is being addressed by a dedicated Working Group with a specific composition weighted in favour of the Southern Movement, “Hiraak”. They will soon begin to debate proposals on the status of the South and a new State structure for Yemen. Yet, some Hiraak remain outside the process. The NDC in its first plenary, called for a committee to be set up to reach out to other Southern leaders. It is important for this to occur.
In the South, the streets are heating up. Pent-up resentment of more than two decades of unaddressed grievances and systematic marginalization is reaching a tipping point. Southerners have grown wary of promises unmet. Since February, there has been a significant increase in the frequency and number of demonstrators flooding to the streets. Organized acts of civil disobedience have been observed weekly, sometimes resulting in injuries and deaths. The establishment of the two Commissions to address the unlawful or illegitimate seizure of property and unjust dismissals from military and civil service was an important first step in addressing main grievances. But while the huge task of collecting complaints and related submissions is well underway, the Commissions need far greater resources to accomplish their tasks and deliver effective remedies. Moreover, without further confidence-building measures by the Government or tangible improvement in people’s daily lives, the voices of discontent will amplify, narrowing the space for dialogue.
There should be no doubt that the only peaceful route to progress of any kind is through open dialogue and importantly, addressing the legacy of the past. The government has yet to meet its obligation to establish a Commission of Inquiry into the events of 2011 or to adopt a law on transitional justice. Only with critical steps like these can Yemenis ensure a path to national reconciliation and embrace a new Yemen. In the media, unfortunately, the partisan war continues to be played out. Misinformation, fabrication and incitement are rife. Its time for politicians to stop instrumentalizing the media. A media truce is badly needed.
Other serious challenges weigh heavily on the transition. The security situation remains fragile in many parts of the country. Despite all efforts to counter Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), they remain a lethal threat. Most recently, they have been trying to establish a foothold in Hadramawt with a view to control territory again.
The number of assassinations of mid and high level security officials has increased. Although participating in the political process, key political factions remain armed and appear to be amassing more weapons, creating the conditions for further violence and instability. Arms smuggling into Yemen continues with several shipments recently seized.
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen continues unabated, with more than half of Yemen’s population in need of humanitarian assistance to access food, health care, safe water and sanitation and more than one million children suffering from acute malnutrition. Meanwhile, as stability has improved, 90 per cent of those displaced by fighting in southern Yemen (162,000 people) has returned to their homes. In northern Yemen, the prospects for the return of 300,000 IDPs remain distant, and their basic needs are acute. Despite the gravity of the situation, the Humanitarian Response Plan is only 30 per cent funded to date.
Despite these challenges, the political transition in Yemen continues largely on course. Preparations for the electoral process by the elections commission are already under way, including steps to create a new biometric voter registry. Registration is scheduled to begin in September. The timeline leaves no room for any delays. For the success of the electoral and voter registration process, close cooperation and coordination will be critical among the political parties, donor community and the government. Political parties of the former opposition expressed concern that local authorities, most governors, security chiefs and electoral staff were all appointed under the former regime and are all linked to the ex-ruling party. They demand action be taken to build confidence in the electoral process. GPC leaders, on the other hand, are opposed to any change in appointments, viewing that to be contrary to the GCC Initiative and the Implementation Mechanism (“Transition Agreement”).
Critical steps have been taken to restructure the armed forces. Many of the military commanders who played major roles in the violent clashes of 2011 have been removed from their posts or been reassigned outside of the military. A new structure for the military is being implemented, including the establishment of seven military regions. Both the republican guard and the first armoured division have been dissolved and their units integrated in the new regional structure. Despite these substantial moves, much remains to be done to ensure the professionalization of the armed forces.
Let there be no illusion, there are those who wish to undermine the transition. Sabotage attacks on electricity lines have increased, causing misery and anger
throughout the country. Families are being plunged into darkness and unbearable heat. I have witnessed people’s resulting frustration, exhaustion and increasing anger. Last week, I spoke to many people in the city of Hudaydah, which has seen frequent protests in recent months. Here and in many parts around the country, patience is wearing thin. Attacks on oil and gas pipelines also continue. The interruption of Yemen’s energy exports and constant repairs of its electricity lines is costing Yemen hundreds of millions of dollars. And while the perpetrators of the sabotage are said to be known, impunity prevails. The people of Yemen are demanding justice. Those responsible for these crimes must be brought to account.
I reiterated in all my consultations with political leaders that the only way to a peaceful, stable and prosperous Yemen is through the National Dialogue and the transition process. All Yemenis have a solemn responsibility to advance their legitimate interests and aspirations through this process, in line with relevant Security Council resolutions and the Transition Agreement.
Yemenis have embarked on an extraordinary course, based on an agreed road- map. They deserve to be supported and are counting on the international community, especially this Council, to fully understand the importance of continuing to walk with Yemenis through the entire transition process, to meet the challenges; and to deliver all available political and financial support.
Perhaps the most important ingredient for a successful transition is the persistence of all those involved. Experience shows that there is no off-the-shelf recipe, perfect formula or predestined outcome. Yemen is its own unique country and people, with their own rich history and complex dimensions.
A new dynamic is emerging in Yemen with the new inclusive politics. Cooperation from all Yemeni sides is critical. And this cooperation is not always forthcoming. In tackling its own difficult political situation, Yemen needs at this time all the support of its friends. Unfortunately, despite substantial pledges of financial contributions through the Friends of Yemen process, so far very little of this has materialised in actual transfers, outside of the significant Saudi contribution. Here, I would like to pay tribute to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been the largest contributor and the first to deliver. I hope others will follow suit. This is the time to help Yemen by delivering on pledges and supporting the transition in every way. On the Government’s side, key reforms need to be completed as envisaged in the Mutual Accountability Framework.
For the Secretary-General, Yemen remains a priority and I will remain fully engaged with all sides to assist them along the way. I commend President Hadi for his
leadership and the efforts of the Government of National Unity led by Prime Minister Basendwa. The Yemeni people are counting on the Security Council to continue speaking in one voice in support of the transition. I commend the contributions and support of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Additionally, I want to thank the EU, Friends of Yemen and the active diplomatic community in Sana’a. Together, we must do everything possible to ensure that the progress we have seen in the National Dialogue and other areas will lead to meaningful changes in security, governance, and development, with concrete improvements in the lives of all Yemenis to a more peaceful, stable, democratic and prosperous future, in which human rights are protected by the rule of law. The Yemeni people are demonstrating that they deserve no less.