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Fragility and Rule of Law in Yemen

Fragility and Rule of Law in Yemen
Yemen’s ongoing civil war has brought about significant changes to its traditional justice systems, both formal and informal. The conflict has led to the fragmentation of the justice system along the lines of different authorities in control of various areas of the country, resulting in a complex network of parallel legal structures. It has also exacerbated pre-existing challenges to the rule of law and the delivery of justice, with citizens bearing the brunt of the problem. The conflict has contributed to an increase in disputes, further complicating the already complex legal landscape and impacting the fragility and rule of law in Yemen.

According to the United Nations (U.N.), “Poverty often stems from disempowerment, exclusion and discrimination. The rule of law fosters development through strengthening the voices of individuals and communities, by providing access to justice, ensuring due process and establishing remedies for the violation of rights.”

History of Yemen

Yemen’s history has been shaped by the interplay between religion and politics since Islam’s adoption in the 7th century AD. The country was ruled by successive dynasties of Imams from the Zaydi sect until parts of North Yemen came under Ottoman rule in the 19th century. The Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) was established after a revolution led by Colonel Abdallah al-Sallal in 1962, leading to a civil war between traditional royalists and new republicans. The Marxist National Liberation Front took control of South Yemen in 1967, leading to conflict with the YAR until the two unified in 1990, forming the Republic of Yemen. Yemen’s complicated history has resulted in ongoing conflict and instability.

Rule of Law

Tribal affiliation is a significant aspect of social identity in Yemen, with three major tribal confederations historically dominating the north and east regions. Non-tribal areas are prevalent in the west and south. About one-quarter to one-half of Yemenis identify with a tribe. Tribalism has a substantial influence on politics and social organization, and customary laws significantly impact legislation implementation and dispute resolution.

Yemen merged two former states in 1990 to form a multiparty representative democracy. The conflict between Northern and Southern political leaders followed the first legislative elections, leading to the defeat of Southern forces in 1994. Opposition parties, media and non-governmental organizations faced curtailment of freedom. In 2011, mass uprisings, along with external pressure, forced President Saleh to step down and a new president came into power in 2012.

Weak public administration has long plagued Yemen, with a complex history that has resulted in state fragility, ineffective institutions and corruption of the rule of law in Yemen. The country has struggled to develop effective civil service reforms, which often have links to the broader political and administrative context.

Unfortunately, implementing public sector management reforms in developing countries is notoriously difficult. The country has struggled to establish a stable government, with civil war, political turmoil and foreign interventions hindering progress. As a result, Yemen’s public sector is severely lacking, with weak institutional capacity, corruption and political interference.

Public institutions, including the rule of law-related institutions, are dysfunctional. The country’s administration is unable to effectively deliver basic services to the population, including health care, education and infrastructure, a situation that most harshly affects the country’s poorest. According to the World Bank, about 78% of Yemeni people live in poverty due to several compounding issues.

Impact on the People

The conflict in Yemen, between the Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, is causing harm to civilians, restricting access to aid and leading to displacement. The Houthi rebels have targeted Marib and launched missile strikes in Saudi Arabia, worsening the situation. The U.S. ended support for offensive operations but continues to send weapons to the coalition. The economic crisis has led to food and medicine shortages, a lack of clean water and protests in southern Yemen. The security forces’ response has led to further unrest. Urgent international action is necessary to address the humanitarian crisis and promote peace.

The situation in Yemen stands as one of the worst humanitarian crises globally, with 24.1 million people facing the risks of hunger and disease and 14 million people requiring acute humanitarian aid due to the ongoing conflict since 2015. The economy has suffered, causing widespread poverty and severe food insecurity. More than 40% of households struggle to secure their minimum food needs due to the historic depreciation of the Yemeni riyal, infrastructure disruption and financial service disruptions.

Taking Action

In April 2022, President Hadi transferred authority to a “Presidential Leadership Council,” prompting an economic aid package of $3 billion from Saudi Arabia and $300 million in humanitarian aid from the UAE. However, long-term structural reforms are still necessary.

Promoting Inclusive Access to Justice in Yemen (PIAJ) is a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) initiative that aims to strengthen the rule of law in Yemen and ensure access to justice, among other endeavors. The project will focus on the areas of Sana’a and Aden Governorates, the initial pilot program locations and then Hodeidah (and possibly Hadramout). It will also prioritize the most marginalized and impoverished groups. The project began in 2021 and will end in 2024.

With the support of organizations like the U.N., there is potential for Yemen to strengthen the rule of law, enhance access to justice and progress towards greater stability.

– Noura Matalqa
Photo: Flickr