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UN missed opportunity to avert violence in Yemen

Embargoed until 00:01 Wednesday 15 October 2014 

As Houthi rebels continue to exert their control over Sanaa, Yemen, a new report reveals that the United Nations failed to address the brewing conflict between the Houthis and the central government which lies behind the current escalation of violence.

The UN and the Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, played a central role in spearheading and nurturing Yemen’s political transition process when the Yemeni president stepped down after 33 years of dictatorship in 2012.

But the report, Mediating Transition in Yemen: Achievements and Lessons, details how the Office of the Special Advisor focused solely on the central transition process while conflict amongst the Houthis and other armed groups intensified.

Houthi rebels took over Sanaa on 21 September 2014 and now control the streets and key government institutions, possessing the same veto power over top appointments that Hezbollah wields in Lebanon – which they exercised on 7 October 2014 in rejecting the president’s candidate to lead the new government.

UN engagement in Yemen’s peace process was undermined by internal tensions, a lack of Arabic-speaking staff and bottlenecks as the Special Advisor possessed sole decision-making power says the report.

“The UN’s engagement in Yemen highlights the power and potential of UN diplomacy. Yemen was on a fast track to descending into complete violence and chaos, not unlike Syria”, said report author Steven A. Zyck, a research fellow in the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute.

“But it’s also a cautionary tale that shows what happens when those working in political transitions focus solely on bureaucratic institutional processes while failing to engage with the political realities on the ground. The UN helped prevent Yemen from becoming another Syria, but it failed to cement the country’s temporary stability and nurture genuine peace,” said Zyck.

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To arrange interviews with Steven Zyck, the researcher behind the report please, contact Tania Cheung at [email protected] or +44 (0) 207 922 0348.

Note to editors:

Mediating Transition in Yemen: Achievements and Lessons is published by the International Peace Institute.