Below you will find some resources that we hope you will find helpful to understanding the roots of the conflict in Yemen as well as recent efforts to stop U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war there. Please note that the people and events listed below are part of a highly contested history and that most all of them will have been experienced and recorded multiple ways. These resources are therefore meant as a jumping-off point to explore general themes and not as an ironclad version of history.
Please see our “Take Action” section below for information on groundbreaking legislation currently working its way through the U.S. Congress to stop U.S. participation in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Or, simply call (833) STOP-WAR to connect with your representatives in Congress. You do not need to be an expert in Yemen to make this call. You do not need to keep track of bills, nor even know the names of your Senators and Representative. All you need is your zip code and you will be updated on bills before you are connected to the offices of your Members of Congress.
Welcome to our glossary, tailored to help you understand ongoing conflicts in Yemen, including the Saudi-led war which began in 2015, as well as recent efforts to end U.S. participation in that war.
Ali Abdullah Saleh. President of Yemen from the time of its unification as a modern state in 1990, and military leader of the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) before that. Saleh ruled with brutality and greed until he was ousted in 2011 by widespread demonstrations that Yemenis called the “Revolution of Dignity.” Saleh was implicated in the deaths of over 200 protestors in 2011, and of human rights abuses throughout his rule. Saleh was also accused of siphoning the country’s oil wealth as well as vast sums of money from Saudi Arabia and later the United States, making himself extremely rich, while Yemen remained the poorest country in the Middle East. Saleh was killed in 2017 by Houthi rebels with whom he had briefly allied in an effort to oust his successor President Hadi before backtracking and making public statements that indicated he was turning again to Saudi Arabia.
The Yemeni “Revolution of Dignity.” A mostly non-violent uprising in 2011 that saw thousands of Yemenis take to the streets in an effort to oust President Saleh from office. Although Saleh was known as a brutal dictator responsible for extrajudicial executions, disappearances, and an extremely restrictive media environment, the complaints that prompted most Yemenis to the streets appear to have been economic in nature, including prevalent joblessness, poverty, and lack of social services. The Yemeni Revolution of Dignity followed similar uprisings in Tunisia where President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted, and occurred simultaneously with uprisings in Egypt where Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. However, unlike Ali and Mubarak who were both tried for numerous crimes, President Saleh was not detained nor prosecuted.
The “Negotiated Settlement.” An effort of the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council to end the unrest in 2011. According to the settlement, signed by President Saleh in November 2011, Saleh was to step down from power in exchange for immunity from prosecution from the many crimes alleged against him, including the killing of demonstrators in the 2011 uprisings. In his place was put his deputy of more than 20 years, Abraddah Mansour Hadi.
Abraddah Mansour Hadi. President Saleh’s deputy of more than 20 years, and Vice President since 1994. According to the GCC’s negotiated settlement, Hadi would stand for election in 90 days, which he did, although he was the only candidate on the ballot. He was then to serve a two-year term before again facing election again in 2014. However, at the National Dialogue Conference of 2013-2014, his mandate was extended by an additional year without election.
Southern Movement. Established in 2007, the Southern Movement is an umbrella organization of many groups, some of them militant, some not, aiming to gain autonomy or independence for historic South Yemen, formerly a Marxist state called the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, that was joined to the northern theocratic Yemen Arabic Republic in 1990. Many leaders associated with the Southern Movement boycotted the National Dialogue Conference that followed the Revolution of Dignity, and those that did participate ultimately rejected its outcome, arguing that historic South Yemen should not be split into two federal units, but should remain as one.
Muhammad bin Salman (MbS). The Crown Prince and current Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He was appointed by his father to this position in June of 2017 after serving as the Minister of Defense for two years beginning in January 2015. MbS is known as the lead prosecutor of the war in Yemen and has also been implicated in directing the brutal death and dismemberment of Washington Post reporter and Saudi dissident, Jamal Kashogghi.
War Powers Resolution of 1973. Also the War Powers Act of 1973, this legislation passed in the wake of the Vietnam War, reaffirming the power of U.S. Congress to declare war as laid out in the U.S. Constitution. According to this legislation, the President is required to report to Congress within 48 hours if U.S. military forces are called into action. If the President does commit U.S. forces to military action without Congressional approval, it takes only one member of Congress to force a vote on the issue. The War Powers Resolution is currently being used by Members of Congress to trigger votes on ending U.S. military participation in the war in Yemen.
Friends Committee on National Legislation. The policy and lobbying arm of the Quakers, located in Washington, DC. Founded in 1943, the FCNL develops policy and lobbies on issues of peace and justice, nuclear non-proliferation, the environment, and good government.
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1990: Modern-day Yemen is established, a process involving the joining of two very different states – the theocratic Yemen Arab Republic in the north run by strongman military leader Ali Abdullah Saleh; and the mostly secular Marxist People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in the south. The unification process is said to be dominated by Saleh, who benefits from the weakening of PDRY (often called “South Yemen”) as a result of the dissolution of its supporter the Soviet Union.
Upon unification of Yemen, Saleh becomes President, a position he will hold for over 30 years. Throughout his rule, Saleh is known as a brutal dictator responsible for disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and an extremely restrictive media environment. Saleh is also known for his corruption and for siphoning off the country’s oil wealth and taking millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia and later the United States while Yemen at large remains impoverished.
1994: Citing the domination of northern interests in the new Yemen, southern leaders attempt to secede and re-form a state in South Yemen. Saleh’s forces quickly put down the rebellion, sending many of South Yemen’s military and political leaders into exile. This marks the beginning of ongoing efforts in the south to gain autonomy and independence.
1994: A militant group called “Ansar Allah,” (“Supporters of God”) forms in northern Yemen. Inspired by Hussein Badressin al-Houthi who founded an auxiliary revivalist group called the Believing Youth, Ansar Allah is often called “the Houthis.” Founded originally to support the revival of Zaidi Shiaism in the new Yemen, the Houthis’ platform quickly expands to more broadly challenge President Saleh’s rule.
October 12, 2000: United States interest in Yemen increases after suicide bombers attack the U.S. Naval vessel the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 soldiers and injuring 39.
September 2001: Following the September 11 attacks, the U.S. declares the War on Terror. Seeing Saleh as an ally in this fight, the U.S. gives hundreds of millions of dollars to the Yemeni government to combat terrorism and begins to train and arm government fighters, sparking local criticism that Saleh is beholden not only to Saudi Arabia, but now to the United States.
November 2002: The U.S. drone war in Yemen begins. The U.S. launches the first known targeted assassination as part of its “War on Terror.” (The U.S. drone war in Yemen has killed more than 1,000 and is detailed in this timeline from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.)
June 2004: The Houthis stage the first of many uprisings that will take place over the next six years against Yemen’s government forces. The Houthis exploit widespread resentment against Saleh for his relationship with Saudi Arabia and the United States, for his corruption, as well as his apparent lack of concern for Yemeni poverty.
Saleh’s government forces respond with a bombing campaign in northern Yemen, focused in and around the Houthi stronghold of Saada in northern Yemen, leaving tens of thousands of mostly non-combatants in need of shelter, food, water, and healthcare. During this time, Saleh’s government forces as well as the Houthis use blockades as a tactic, worsening the humanitarian crisis.
2007: The struggle for independence in south Yemen turns militant with the formation of multiple militias organized under an umbrella organization called the Southern Movement.
December 2010: The Arab Spring begins in Tunisia as thousands of demonstrators take to the streets and successfully remove strongman leader, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
January 2011: In Egypt, thousands take to the streets to remove President Hosni Mubarak from power.
January 2011: In Yemen, thousands rise up in protest of President Saleh, primarily focused on the country’s dire economic situation and on the recent moves in the Yemeni parliament to rewrite the constitution to make Saleh President for life. Many of the demonstrators wear pink ribbons to indicate their commitment to non-violence.
November 23, 2011: In adherence with a peace deal brokered by the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council, President Saleh resigns in exchange for immunity from prosecution for him and for his family members, many of whom he had appointed to key military and government posts. In accordance with the deal, Saleh transfers the Presidency to his Vice President of 17 years, Abradduh Mansour Hadi. President Hadi is to stand for election in 90 days. However, when Election Day comes, President Hadi is the only candidate on the ballot.
2013-2014: Also part of the GCC peace deal is that a National Dialogue Conference will be held to aid in the transition from Saleh’s rule. At this conference, multiple parties including the Houthis and the Southern Movement meet to discuss the expansion of civil and political rights and to decide upon new federal boundaries in order to increase regional autonomy. Both the Houthis and the Southern Movement reject the new federal boundaries, the Houthis arguing that poorer areas will be isolated from needed resources, and the Southern Movement arguing that historic South Yemen should be one unit. However, with strong backing from Saudi Arabia, it is decided that the plan will move forward and that the Presidential term of Hadi will be extended one more year to implement it.
At this time, although power has been transferred to Hadi, many of the country’s military forces continue to be allied with Saleh. These forces, including Saleh himself, now join with the Houthis to oppose Hadi. As implementation of the NDC plan is to begin, the Houthis strengthen in numbers, and advance towards the capital of Sanaa.
September 2014: The Houthis, partnering with military forces loyal to President Saleh, capture the capital of Sanaa, forcing Hadi into house arrest. Hadi resigns and flees to Saudi Arabia in January of 2015.
March 2015: A coalition of mostly Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates launch an air war on Yemen with the stated purpose of defeating the Houthis and reinstalling President Hadi. However, in the ensuing bombing campaigns, the coalition targets civilian areas, water and electricity sites, sewage facilities, and health-care facilities.
Soon after the Saudi-led intervention begins, the Saudi-led coalition levies a devastating blockade of Yemeni ports, saying that Iran is smuggling weapons to the Houthis and that a blockade is essential to prevent these weapons from entering Yemen. As a result of this de-facto blockade, millions of Yemenis are without desperately needed medicine, food, and clean water, leaving them on the brink of starvation, and sparking a cholera epidemic.
The United States, under President Barack Obama, supports the war effort, sending weapons, logistical support, intelligence and targeting support, and midair refueling of Saudi planes.
The war in Yemen strengthens Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, which capitalizes on the chaos and moves in to capture ungoverned spaces. ISIS in Yemen also exploits the chaos and misery on the ground to increase its presence, opening training camps. The 2017 Worldwide Threat Assessment published by the U.S. intelligence community concluded that, “AQAP and ISIS’s branch in Yemen have exploited the conflict and the collapse of government authority to gain new recruits and allies and expand their influence.”
All of the parties to the conflict demonstrate a near-total indifference to the welfare of Yemeni civilians, which continues to this day. The humanitarian crisis continues to worsen as all sides to the conflict block humanitarian aid
September 2016: Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Al Franken (D–Minn.) introduce legislation to block a $1.15 billion tank sale to Saudi Arabia. The Senate votes the measure down 71-27.
April 2017: The United Nations declares that the Saudi-led war in Yemen has created the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” with two-thirds of the population in need of humanitarian aid, millions without access to safe drinking water, schools and hospitals destroyed, and children starving and forcibly recruited to fight.
.June 2017: Senators Chris Murphy, Rand Paul, and Al Franken introduce legislation to block a $550 million sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia that would replenish the stockpiles of bombs Saudi Arabia is using for its war in Yemen. The Senate votes down the measure 53-47.
September 2017: In the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) invokes the War Powers Resolution of 1973 in order to force a vote on a resolution to stop U.S. military participation in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Passed after the Vietnam War, the War Powers Resolution of 1973 reaffirms that it is the role of the U.S. Congress to declare war and that, when a President sends U.S. forces into hostilities without Congressional authorization, special procedures can be used to trigger a debate and a vote on that military action. If Congress does not authorize war, U.S. military support will be removed. The bill has three co-sponsors in addition to Khanna, who are Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.).
November 2017: The U.S. House passes a non-binding resolution sponsored by Rep. Ro Khanna that affirms that U.S. support of the war in Yemen is unauthorized, but does not withdraw U.S. military assistance from the war.
February 2018: Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) invoke the War Powers Resolution to force a vote on Senate Joint Resolution 54 to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. This is the first time the War Powers Resolution has been used to force a vote in the Senate to end U.S. military action.
March 2018. S.J. Res 54 comes to a vote, but is voted down in a vote of 55-44.
June 2018: A companion bill to S. J. Res 54 is introduced in the House (H.Con.Res. 138), this time with more co-sponsors including Adam Smith (D-Wa.), ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees the Pentagon, and Eliot Engel (D-NY), ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which oversees the State Department.
August 2018: The Associated Press reports that the Saudi coalition in Yemen has been paying off Al Qaeda fighters to leave certain areas of Yemen, sometimes allowing them to retreat with arms and equipment, sometimes paying for their continued operation, and has even recruited hundreds of AQAP fighters to join their ranks to fight the Houthis. A follow on investigation from the Guardian in December 2018 reports that a UAE-supported chief of security in Aden is a former AQAP member.
August 2018: A school bus carrying Yemeni children is bombed while passing a crowded marketplace, killing 40 Yemeni boys aged 6-11, and 11 adults, and wounding many more. Analysis finds that the bombs were made by Lockheed Martin, in the United States.
October 2018: Washington Post reporter and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashogghi is murdered and dismembered at the Saudi embassy in Turkey. In the following weeks and months, it appears increasingly likely that the highest levels of the Saudi government including Crown Prince and deputy Prime Minister Muhammad bin Salman, also the lead prosecutor of the war in Yemen, are responsible for the death.
November 2018: The Trump administration announces it has ended mid-air refueling of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
November 15, 2018: Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.) and co-sponsors introduce “The Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2018,” with provisions including the suspension of weapons sales, sanctions on persons blocking humanitarian aid, sanctions on persons supporting the Houthis, and on those responsible for the death of Jamal Khashogghi. Crucially, it includes an unconditional two-year ban on selling bombs to Saudi Arabia.
December 2018: The Senate votes to end U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia, passing Senate Joint Resolution 54 (the War Powers Resolution bill sponsored by Bernie Sanders, Mike Lee, and Chris Murphy) with 56 votes. In the U.S. House, Speaker Paul Ryan blocks voting on the companion legislation, embedding language in a procedural vote that accompanies the 2018 Farm Bill stating that certain provisions of the War Powers Resolution do not apply when it comes to Yemen for the remainder of the 115th Congress.
December 2018 – With it now clear that there are enough votes for passage of Yemen war powers legislation in the U.S. Senate, the Yemeni government and the Houthis sign the Stockholm Agreement creating a demilitarized zone along the Red Sea and committing to more peace talks through a UN-led peace process.
January 2019 – 116th Congress seated
January 31, 2019: Bills using the War Powers Resolution to end U.S. support of the war in Yemen are introduced in the U.S. House and Senate. In the House, this is the fourth time that Democrat Ro Khanna has introduced legislation to end U.S. support of the Saudi-led war in Yemen, H.J. Res. 37). The companion Senate bill is introduced by Senators Bernie Sanders, Mike Lee, and Chris Murphy (S.J. Res. 7).
February 13, 2019: The U.S. House passes Ro Khanna’s legislation to end support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. The Senate bill, which passed by 56 votes in the previous congress, awaits a vote.
Please go to “Take Action” for information on current bills and call (833) STOP-WAR to be connected with your Senators and, if appropriate, your Representative in the House to urge passage of crucial legislation currently working its way through the U.S. Congress. You do not need anything except for your zip code and you will be connected to the right place and told which legislation is currently on the table. This action will take you all of seven minutes.
In this Episode...
Heather Roberson Gaston
Talking Human Rights host and creator Heather Roberson Gaston is a writer, adviser, and educator in the field of human rights. She holds an undergraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of California at Berkeley; a Master’s in Human Rights from Columbia University; and a Certificate in the Advanced Study of Central and Eastern Europe from the Harriman Institute.
Heather co-authored Macedonia: What Does it Take to Stop a War? a graphic novel based on an early solo research trip to the Balkans as an undergraduate. She is now working on a narrative work exploring the many lives and deaths of the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement, for which she spent the better part of a year living and working in Israel and the West Bank.
Our guest for Episode 1, Kate Gould is the Legislative Director for Middle East Policy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Kate is one of only a handful of registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C. working to advance human rights and support diplomatic solutions to resolve disputes between the U.S. and Iran and the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Israel/Palestine.
Kate was named as one of the “Top Lobbyists of 2018” by The Hill She was profiled in 2015 as the “Quaker Lobbyist Behind the Iran Deal Fight,” by Congressional Quarterly.
Before taking her current post at FCNL, Kate taught Palestinian school teachers for AMIDEAST in the West Bank city of Hebron while coordinating a radio program on peacebuilding for a think tank in Jerusalem.
Sibet Partee is Talking Human Rights’ fearless Assistant Producer and Editor. A graduate of University of Virginia where she studied English Literature and co-founded UVA’s podcast network, Sibet has worked on all aspects of the Talking Human Rights launch.
Based in New York City, Sibet also acts in various productions and is studying improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Sibet is credited as series assistant producer and editor, a catchall title that (Heather writes) doesn’t do justice to the full range of her talents in episode planning, social media advising, mic training, and other training and consulting that turns out to be necessary for Heather who has been out in the field interviewing people for 15 years, but has never done so on air. If you would like to see more of Sibet’s work and if you would like to hire Sibet for your podcasting needs, head on over to sibet.com