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Fighting first broke out in Yemen in 2014, and the UN Development Programme estimates that, to November 2021, 377,000 people have been killed through direct and indirect means. The World Food Programme has described Yemen as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” with 24 million now in need of humanitarian assistance.

The conflict has its origins in 2011, when President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to resign following popular protests. Following an UN-backed transition negotiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took power in 2012. Despite attempts to negotiate a new political settlement, conflict broke out in 2014 and the capital, Sana’a, was captured by Houthi rebels. The following year, a Saudi-led coalition intervened in support of the internationally recognised Hadi Government.

This briefing provides a summary of key events in the conflict, concerns for human rights, and ongoing peace negotiations. This includes the April 2022 ceasefire, which expired in October, Hadi handing power to a presidential council, and hopes for further negotiations in 2023.

Current political control

Yemen is now divided between the Houthi rebels in the north of the country, which includes the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, and the internationally recognised Government, which controls much of the south and east of the country. The US and Saudi Arabia judge the Houthis to receive military support from Iran.

Authority in the south is split between the Government and the Southern Transitional Council, a UAE-backed separatist group. In 2020, the two agreed to enter into a coalition Government. However, much of their agreement remains unimplemented, with a lack of integration between their forces.

In 2021 and 2022, fighting focused on the city of Marib, which is the last northern stronghold of Yemen’s recognised Government. The Houthis have also been blamed for several missile and drone attacks on areas within Saudi Arabia and the UAE. While January 2022 saw the UN warn that participants were “doubling down” on military options, a ceasefire was agreed in April and ran to October 2022—see below. Although this has now expired, there has been no sustained fighting since.

Human rights abuses and arms sales

The UN, NGOs and UK Government have raised concerns about human rights abuses committed by all sides in the conflict. These include indiscriminate shelling of civilians and air strikes against civilian areas.

UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia have proved controversial, as the Saudis have been accused of committing breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL) during its military operations in Yemen. The UK Government has argued there is “not a clear risk” that these UK military exports are used to violate IHL.

Negotiating a political settlement  

The UK is the penholder for Yemen at the UN Security Council. Acting as a penholder means the UK often takes the lead on Council activities relating to the country and the drafting of relevant resolutions.

Ceasefire in 2022 and further talks in 2023

The first nation-wide ceasefire in the conflict for six years was agreed in April 2022. This partly reflected that both sides were struggling militarily. The truce was renewed twice but expired in October.

April 2022 also saw Hadi hand power to a presidential council. This was believed to be the result of pressure from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who pledged financial support to Yemen’s Government shortly after Hadi announced his decision. The UK and US have been among those to welcome the action, but the Houthis argue the government remains illegitimate.

While the ceasefire has expired, there has been no return to high-level conflict, though some fighting has been reported.

From April 2023, there have been further peace talks between the Houthis, the internationally recognised government, and Saudi Arabia, brokered by Oman. A major prisoner swap occurred the same month. Both the UN and UK have welcomed these initiatives and argue momentum is building for peace.

The decision of Iran and Saudi Arabia to re-establish diplomatic relations in April 2023 is expected to further facilitate negotiations towards a ceasefire in Yemen, though some challenges remain between the parties to the conflict.

Yemen’s humanitarian crisis

A summary of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is described in the separate Library briefing: UK aid and Yemen’s humanitarian crisis (CBP09326). This also includes details on UK aid spending in the country.

Update log

May 2023: Updated details on negotiations during 2023 (section 3).

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