War and Peace in the Land of Yemen
Six years have passed and Yemen is still looking to get out of the tunnel, and the civilian population is still paying the price for the horrors of war and ongoing conflict. With the high death toll from the war, according to international reports, reaching 233,000 people, including 131,000 indirectly as a result of the spread of famine in many areas, or the lack of clean water, services and sanitation facilities. Among the victims of direct hostilities, 3,153 children were killed and 5,660 others injured, over the past five years. These reports also estimated that, since the beginning of the conflict, military operations have displaced more than 3.6 million civilians, including 158,000 displaced people in 2020 only, indicating an escalation of the conflict amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
This tragedy of the war’s escalation and the loss of life and, as a result of the intensity and frequency of the military attacks, undoubtedly violate international humanitarian law and the principles of international law, as a result of the unlawful use of force in populated areas, and the unlawful killing of individuals by all the parties to the conflict. Such were the findings of the UN Panel of Eminent Experts on Yemen’s third report to the Human Rights Council under the title “Pandemic of Impunity in a Tortured Land,” in September 2020.
The report highlighted the lack of accountability for the parties responsible for the violations, or failure to take the necessary measures to implement the civilian victims’ rights to protection. The report warned that the administration of justice in Yemen has been severely compromised, with dire consequences for fair trial rights, and survivors’ lack of access to justice, as a result of the lack of the means and capabilities to conduct independent and credible investigations of these grave violations.
The Group of Eminent Experts raised alarm that no one was held accountable for the violations identified by the Group of Eminent Experts, and the report recommended the need to refer the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court, expand the list of individuals responsible for violations, and support the establishment of an international criminal justice mechanism to investigate international crimes committed during the conflict, especially with the involvement of third parties in the transfer and sale of weapons that contribute to prolonging the conflict, and thus the gravity of the violations.
The Experts noted that “No state can now claim to be unaware of the scale of the violations and the destruction that is occurring in Yemen” and advised that Other States operating in Yemen must abide by their extraterritorial human rights obligations.” Nonetheless, the Experts held the Yemeni government primarily responsible for fulfilling its obligation to implement human rights throughout its entire territory, including the parts that it lost control over through limits to its actual powers.
The report detailed the scope of accountability in non-criminal justice. The Group of Eminent Experts stated that the parties to the conflict do not prioritize victims` rights, and the Group emphasized its importance and the need to include the right of victims to obtain effective remedies, and that reparation is not limited to the monetary aspect. In the first place, it must include restitution, by restoring the victim`s status from restoring property and social life to what it was before the violations occurred, physical and psychological rehabilitation, strengthening integration into society, satisfaction, and ensuring non-repetition. The Group of Eminent Experts cautioned that the design of compensation measures must be undertaken with community participation, taking into account gender equality, and be integrated with prosecutions, and that there are many aspects of compensation and reparation that could be initiated, even as the conflict continues.
With the same regard to the right of victims in the inevitable transitional justice process to end this tragedy, and to develop a realistic reform program that includes political, economic and social aspects, HIC-HLRN has sought to address the root causes of the conflict and war in Yemen. In cooperation with the United Institute of Peace, HLRN and Members of the Coalition in Yemen, a project on reparation for victims of land grabbing, to emphasize the principle of reparation for damage in economic crimes, including the plunder of lands, toward the recovery of stolen property. These acts are considered among the root causes of conflict and instability in Yemen, including the emergence of the Houthi rebellion. The objectives of transitional justice, in particular national reconciliation, require collective and cooperative effort among all parties embodied in democratic institutions.
Through that project, HLRN sought to produce guidelines and recommendations, and to design technical tools to build local capacities including civil society, to contribute to achieving restorative justice and enhance its concept toward permanently resolving the conflict in the land of Yemen. The human rights approach on which the project was based was presented to provide a mechanism to limit future disputes over land, through a framework of human rights principles and corresponding state obligations that will benefit decision makers and those in charge of the transitional justice process in Yemen within the constitutional committee.
The study presented by the Network on the objectives, methodology, and results of the reparation project for victims of land violations, dealt with the land issues as a major factor in the conflict, land’s pivotal role in building a lasting peace process in Yemen and in how the Yemeni government can address the issue of land restitution as an essential part of the transitional justice process. The resulting quantification of values at stake for victims should help guide that process toward lasting results based on human rights principles, as well as provide a technical tool that can help in calculating losses and reparations entitlements, for land violations as a result of confiscation or destruction due to war, or forced eviction. The study concluded with a set of recommendations That can be used to develop a strategy to avoid future conflicts.
The study dealt with emblematic case collected by the field-research teams, which consisted of 15 male and female researchers, who applied the “Loss Matrix” to calculating values at stake in three governorates that witnessed serious violations in relation to land plunder, namely Aden, al-Hudaydah and Ta`iz. These field studies gathered data on losses arising from land grabbing under the previous regime, in addition to the destruction of their infrastructure in the ongoing civil war since 2015. This tool was based on the basic principles and guidelines of the United Nations, and the reparations framework through a methodology that has been used successfully in Cameroon and Egypt, with remarkable legal results in India and Kenya.
The study findings focused on the type of justice that the reparation project sought for land victims, which is concerned with restorative justice, as it prevents such violations from occurring in the future. Achieving restorative justice is also the responsibility of the government, in its various spheres. It will be obligated to create a sustainable framework in which all institutions of governance and the various segments of civil society, including the private sector, can play a role in preventing these violations or damages, and this is what it aims to and reinforces by the the quantification of losses, reparation for victims of land violations in Yemen. Also, restorative justice will allow transitional justice plans a degree of flexibility in accommodating traditions and local mechanisms for resolving conflicts, especially the tribal mechanisms that have filled the vacuum created by weak state institutions. This means that restorative justice is vital to respond to local needs, and to address economic and social problems, and remedy human rights violations, which differ in the south from the north, especially with regard to victims of land rights violations..
The study noted in its recommendations, the main role of civil society organizations, in supporting the vision of restorative justice, to build peace at the level of local communities, allowing them on an equal footing in the production of knowledge and the establishment of mechanisms that are compatible with the reality of each region in building a fundamental peace in all parts of Yemen, to promote civic action and not to marginalize the justice claims of local communities in any political process of mediation in peace. This is supported by the project to support reparations for victims of land rights violations, whether they suffered from the practices of the former regime of Ali `Abdullah Salih, or from the consequences of the current ongoing conflict.
Among the most important recommendations coming out of the study is that justice is the primary factor in managing natural resources and making room for vulnerable communities, especially women, to participate in the management of water and land resources locally. The study concluded with recognition of the necessity of establishing an observatory of land conditions in Yemen.
A National Land Observatory is a mechanism that acts as an objective and unbiased resource, to promote transparent, comprehensive and evidence-informed decision making regarding the land resources in the country. The Land Observatory proposal emphasizes the fact that land is a national issue and should be managed collectively, but outside of the self-interest of political parties, the military and inter-tribal competition. This neutrality of the Land Observatory’s neutral and conciliatory nature is vital, especially with regard to issues (access to land, disputes over land, large-scale land tenure, sustainable use of land, land reform, and other issues). It is envisioned to take into consideration a diversity of perspectives generally concerned with the issue of land in processes that bring together individuals, civil society, institutions, companies and state organs (central and local), for collaborative innovation.
Photo: View of the Yemeni countryside. Source: Essam al-Kamaly.