The aftermath of airstrikes in Sa'ada, Yemen, in August 2015 (OCHA/Philippe Kropf)

Yemen - looking beyond counterterrorism

Today’s report by the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee on the crisis in Yemen calls for an independent investigation into suspected breaches of international humanitarian law, including by the Saudi-led coalition forces. In her evidence submission, Dr Sarah Phillips drew on research supported by DLP to highlight the risks of an international response to Yemen that focuses on counterterrorism and is dominated by Saudi Arabia.

The conflict in Yemen has left at least 6,000 people dead and 82% of the population in need of assistance. Evidence to the IDC’s inquiry ‘strongly suggests’ that breaches of IHL have occurred, undermining aid efforts as well as the protection of civilians.

IDC Chair Stephen Twigg MP explained that the report also asks Parliament’s Committees on Arms Export Controls to consider ‘suspending UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia until there is evidence that there is no “clear risk” that arms exported from the UK might be used in the commission of a serious violation of IHL’.

Though peace talks began at the end of April, it is likely that the conflict will continue to have profound consequences for essential services such as water, education and health. 

Yemen specialist Dr Sarah Phillips of the University of Sydney, whose research includes studies on the country for DLP, was among those who submitted evidence to the inquiry. Like other experts, she highlighted the ‘paradox of arms and aid’ that is a focus of the report. In her evidence submission she noted, ‘To Yemenis, it seems that to support the coalition’s military campaign while hoping for better humanitarian outcomes is a glaringly contradictory approach to their country’s continuing tragedy.’

She called for Western governments to change their approach, by no longer largely outsourcing foreign policy on Yemen to Saudi Arabia, and no longer seeing Yemen primarily as a security risk to be contained.

Her DLP paper Yemen: Developmental Dysfunction and Division in a Crisis State noted that international actors' focus on counterterrorism in relation to Yemen helped to entrench anti-developmental incentives within the Yemeni regime. It meant that Western governments prioritised stability (stasis) over the change citizens had long called for.

Her IDC submission advises that ‘continuing to allow Saudi Arabia to dominate the international response to Yemen will profoundly undermine the country’s longer-term prospects for inclusive development’.

Dr Phillips’ current research for DLP, in partnership with Oman specialist Dr Jennifer Hunt, contrasts the apparently intractable dysfunction of the Yemeni state with the remarkable developmental progress achieved by its neighbour Oman. The contrast is stark, given that 50 years ago the economic and political circumstances of both countries were broadly comparable. The study’s findings will be published this summer.

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About DLP

The Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) is an international research initiative that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development.

DLP focuses on the crucial role of home-grown leaderships and coalitions in forging legitimate political settlements and institutions that promote developmental outcomes, such as sustainable growth, political stability and inclusive social development.

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