Amat Alsoswa Discusses Yemen Conflict at Georgetown

Amat Alsoswa discussed the supply shortages (pictured above) resulting from the blockade of the Hodeidah port. (Wikipedia)

Amat Alsoswa discussed the supply shortages (pictured above) resulting from the blockade of the Hodeidah port. (Wikipedia)

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security (GIWPS) hosted Yemen’s minister for human rights and first female cabinet member, Amat Alsoswa, on February 8 to discuss prospects for peace in the Yemeni Civil War. Alsoswa has had a long career in diplomacy, serving as Yemen’s first female ambassador to Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, as well as the assistant secretary-general, assistant administrator, and eventually regional director of the United Nations Development Programme’s Regional Bureau for Arab States. The minister was accompanied by Ambassador Barbara Bodine, the former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, as well as Ambassador Melanne Verveer, the executive director of GIWPS.

Bodine opened the event by characterizing Yemen as an idiosyncratic place, bereft of natural resources. The country’s resulting 90 percent import dependency is essential to understanding the current war, which has severely inhibited food, water, medical supplies, and commercial goods from reaching the civilian population.

Bodine also said that the entrance of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates into the conflict was key to understanding it. These actors internationalized the conflict, devolving into a proxy war between the region’s most powerful countries on top of a civil war with deep historical roots. In attempt to prevent Yemen’s Shia opposition from seizing power, Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of nine African and Middle Eastern countries to intervene in the conflict on behalf of Yemen’s Sunni government. The U.S. has lent logistical and military support to the Saudi effort. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s great adversary, Iran, supports the Shia Houthi opposition.

Alsoswa focused her remarks on an essential component of the humanitarian crisis, the port of Hodeidah. Hodeidah is the port of entry for 80 percent of Yemen’s imports, making it essential to peacebuilding. Political manipulation of the city and the food and aid that passes through it has created catastrophic humanitarian lapses.

The intentional deprivation of civilians as a strategy of war makes the situation not only a humanitarian crisis but also an abuse of human rights, Alsoswa said. She pointed to the bombing of marketplaces, school buses, and funeral homes as cases of deliberate civilian harm, rather than mere collateral damage. Regarding the current peace talks over the removal of Yemeni and Houthi forces now inhibiting the operation of Hodeidah’s port, Alsoswa seemed optimistic.

Looking beyond Hodeidah, Alsoswa highlighted two priorities for peacebuilding. First, she stressed the complicity of the U.S. in Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. For the U.S., peacebuilding must include ending support to the Arab coalition and increasing the provision of aid, the ambassador argued. Alsoswa warned that Yemen’s path forward will not and cannot be something constructed by foreign powers.

Alsoswa also said that women have proved perhaps more patriotic than men, becoming an “organic and integral part” of peacebuilding. Nevertheless, such inclusion will prove difficult in the face of decision makers largely intolerant of female voices. The most recent peace talks have involved just one woman on behalf of the government and none on behalf of the Houthis. Alsoswa called on the UN to include the involvement of women in any mandate for peacebuilding and security.