On Tuesday, October 2, 2018, Professor Paul Williams spoke to a small group of students about the struggles of peace negotiations and post-conflict constitution drafting in Yemen. Professor Williams served as an advisor to the Yemen Constitution Drafting Committee and worked with the UN Special Envoy to Yemen before the most recent outbreak of violence began. He started by addressing how the complex legal history of Yemen creates a multitude of issues that hinder the development of peace negotiations. From Yemen’s colonization by several different countries to the formation of democracy, the country’s multifaceted and winding history has fractured the population’s identity. The oil reserves in the nation’s southern region add additional complications and pressures from multiple world powers, including the United States, Iran, and Great Britain, who seek to protect their interests.
Today, the Houthis control Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, along with Hodeidah, a vital port which provides the most humanitarian aid to the Yemen population. Professor Williams noted that the Houthis were never expected to take power; prior to their 2014 coup,the Houthis were an overlooked and considered an undervalued minority in Yemeni society. When the Houthis first attacked the Yemeni government, the government did not view them as a serious threat, but the minority group had very quietly and systematically developed their infrastructure, finances, and forces. The confluence of this unexpected power and the government’s inability to gather the necessary forces allowed the Houthis to uproot the sovereign government.
Professor Williams stated that the Houthis’ power over the port of Hodeidah may lead to a humanitarian crisis as the Houthis have begun using food as a weapon. Approximately twenty-five million Yemeni citizens have faced starvation and water shortages, making the humanitarian aid sent through Hodeidah invaluable. With control over the port, the Houthis regulate who receives the aid and where the aid is distributed. Professor Williams noted that with the decreased availability of food and water, the possibility of famine lingers. which would almost certainly prompt an outcry for peace negotiations not only from the Yemeni population, but also from the rest of the world.
Professor Williams concluded by stating that, despite the continuously mounting and complex barriers, the possibility of an all-out war serves as a strong incentive for all powers with a vested interest in Yemen to continue negotiating for peace and fuels the UN’s position that negotiations are possible. All parties involved recognize the untold damage war would do to the population as well as the parties’ interests in Yemen, but tension between powers in and outside of Yemen continues to escalate and create substantial barriers to peace.