The United Nations has been facilitating Yemen’s political transition since 2011, when the country was on the brink of civil war, and fighting killed and wounded hundreds. Yemenis rallied in squares, demanding that President Ali Abduallah Saleh step down.
Special Adviser Jamal Benomar assumed a good offices role on behalf of the Secretary-General, helping to pave the way for a peaceful transition that responded to Yemenis’ aspirations for democratic change.
In April 2011, President Saleh refused to sign a Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, leading to continued political deadlock. In November 2011, face-to-face negotiations between the ruling party and the opposition, facilitated by Special Adviser Benomar, led to the signing of a Transition Agreement in Riyadh on 23 November. The agreement served as a roadmap for the transition and secured inclusive participation, including for youth and women in the political process for the first time.
A milestone was marked on 21 February 2012, when presidential elections transferred power to the then Vice-President Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi in a largely peaceful environment with high voter participation. A National Unity Government was formed under the leadership of Prime Minister Mohamed Basendwa.
The Security Council has been closely monitoring the situation since the start of the uprising in 2011 and has been supporting the transition, speaking with one voice. Two resolutions, 2014 (2011) and 2051 (2012), were unanimously adopted and Council members visited Sana’a in January 2013, following a visit by the Secretary-General in November 2012.
In its resolution 2014, the Security Council called for a political settlement and requested the Secretary-General to continue his good offices. Resolution 2051 reaffirmed the need for the full and timely implementation of the Transition Agreement.
Special Adviser Benomar has been travelling frequently to Yemen and the region since April 2011, leading the UN’s efforts on the ground. In addition, he established an office in Sana’a in mid-2012 to provide substantive support through political facilitation, technical assistance and outreach initiatives.
18 March 2013 saw the successful launching of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference, after preparations by a technical Preparatory Committee involving all major political factions, women, youth and others. Working with a high degree of consensus, and the active support of the Special Adviser, the Preparatory Committee agreed on the structure, organization, and rules of procedure of the National Dialogue Conference.
The Special Adviser and his team developed an integrated United Nations programme in support of the national dialogue process, including the establishment of a secretariat and the provision of technical expertise.
The 565 delegates of the National Dialogue Conference represent all Yemeni constituencies and address subjects such as the conflict in the North and the South, political and security reforms, the state structure, governance, rights and freedoms, and transitional justice. In September 2013, the Conference is expected to conclude with an agreement on a set of principals that will segue into a constitution-drafting process and holding a referendum and general elections in 2014 as specified in the Transition Agreement.
Challenges persist, however, in spite of the relative stability in Yemen. They range from longstanding conflicts in the North and South to Al-Qaeda-linked terrorism and armed groups, and from targeted killings of military and government officials to the legacy of past human rights violations.
The humanitarian situation remains extremely grave. Nearly half the population is food insecure and has no access to clean water and other basic services. A quarter of a million children are severely malnourished and at risk of dying. Thousands of youth suffer unemployment and investors face high risk economic opportunities. But Yemen’s political transition is one of a kind in the Middle East. It is the only negotiated and most inclusive transition, with a clear roadmap for peaceful change.
In exercising the good offices of the Secretary-General, Special Adviser Benomar and his team will continue to support the transition in close cooperation with the Yemenis, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the European Union, as well as other international partners.