Twenty-third Annual General Meeting, Wednesday 1 June 2016
The situation in Yemen
At last year's AGM, outgoing Chairman Dr Noel Brehony gave a detailed account of the internal developments in Yemen, leading up to the prospect of a round of peace talks that might at that time be going to start in Geneva. I think that I can be more brief because sadly there have been too few devel- opments to give hope that a real end to Yemen's calamitous civil conflict is in sight. The talks foreseen by Noel were delayed and delayed, while fighting continued, with the attendant destruction of property and infrastructure, and causing death and devastating hardship to the population.
It was only in April this year that UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed succeeded in persuading some of the parties to the conflict to attend peace talks in Kuwait. These are representatives of the internationally recognised government of Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi on the one side, and represen- tatives of the Huthis and the part of the GPC that remains loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh on the other. A cease-fire was supposed to begin on 10 April, and the talks on 18 April. I think that we have to be cautious about the prospects for these talks. The cease fire has been repeatedly broken by both sides, and the talks have dragged on now for over a month. There have been repeated appeals from Ould Cheikh Ahmed and the inter- national community – and of course from Yemenis – for the two sides to reach some sort of agreement and agree on a pathway to peace. But I have to agree with our Journal editor Helen Lackner who has recently written about the talks, and who said “their main achievement is that they have not definitively broken down. Insofar as any negotiations are taking place, it is thanks to the systematic interventions from the Shaykh of Kuwait or other senior figures from different countries to bring one or the other side back to the table after their routine, almost daily, walk outs.” That sums it up pretty well. And of course they are not the only ones involved in this complex set of struggles. The Saudis have continued their bombing – perhaps with less intensity – and threatening overflights. The status of the south is not part of this discussion. Separate attacks are happening by and against elements fighting under the banners of al-Qaeda and ISIS. And what about the youth who sparked things off in 2011? Will some sort of resolution between the Huthis and Saleh on the one side and Hadi's govern- ment (such as it is) leaving the original players in power provide a stable solution? Or will it at best reset the clock to 2011 for it all to start over again?
Nevertheless, there are occasional small optimistic signs. The sides seem to have agreed on a prisoner exchange on the eve of Ramadan which starts in a very few days. We must hope that both sides will release their captives. And Ramadan falls this year at the hottest time of the year, when every- thing is lacking – water, food, electricity to power fans or air conditioners. Anyone who has lived in Aden or Hodeida at this time of year will know how extreme the discomfort can be.
The humanitarian situation may be deteriorating slightly less rapidly than before, but I don't think that there is any evidence that it is getting better. The UN World Food Programme warns that it simply doesn't have the funds to provide what is needed. The House of Commons International Development Committee issued its fourth report on Yemen recently, noting that “the humanitarian response to the crisis has been significantly under- funded, with last year’s UN Fund just 56% funded and with the UN 2016 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan requesting $1.8 billion to reach over 13 million people in need.” It also noted that civilians are bearing the brunt of the fighting. In particular the impact on children has been severe: the number of children not able to attend school has nearly doubled since the start of the crisis, with 47% of Yemen’s school age children currently not attending. It also reports that attacks on facilities and medical staff, coupled with a severe lack of medical supplies, have left the health sector in a state of collapse. Whatever happens in Kuwait, or on the ground in Yemen, the country is going to need a lot of help to get back even to where it was in 2011.
• 23 October 2015: HE Edmund Fitton-Brown, HM Ambassador to Sana‘a, “Prospects for a Return to a Peaceful Transition in Yemen”
• 8 December 2015: Joint Event with the RSAA. Panel Discussion on The War in Yemen: Political and Social Developments, with Nawal al- Maghafi, Baraa Shiban, Noel Brehony, and Natalie Roberts of MSF
• 26 February 2016: The Reverend Peter Crooks – “A Work of Faith and a Labour of Love” – Report on the Ras Morbat Eye Clinic, Christ Church Aden
• 4 April 2016: Brian Whitaker, “Yemen: What Went Wrong 1990-2016”
• 5 May 2016: Dr Michael Fradley, “Endangered Archaeology in the Mid- dle East and North Africa” his talk on the damage to Yemen’s cultural heritage included showing satellite imagery.
The Society also issued the following:
• 22 December 2015: Christmas Message – The situation in Yemen
• 28 January 2016: Newsletter.
The Society's new website, www.b-ys.org.uk, launched in September last year, does us credit, thanks to the efforts of Thanos Petouris in particular, and has had over 3,600 visits. We also get a good bit of interest in the Society’s Facebook group page, with over 1300 members, of whom almost 40 are classed as recent.
Oher Yemeni-related events
• 11-13 September 2015: Friends of Soqotra 14th Annual Meeting in Portugal, Conservation of the Natural and Cultural Heritage of Socotra
• 22 October 2015: SOAS Yemen Society, SOAS MENA Society and LSESU Middle East Society hosted a panel event on the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen (Baraa Shiban and Nawal Al-Maghafi)
• 14 November 2015: Workshop on post-war reconstruction of the Yemeni health care system at the MEDACT Forum “Health through Peace”, organised by Kate Nevens, Sharif Ismail, and Taher Qassim
• 16 November 2015: Saferworld launched their report “Federalism, Conflict and Fragmentation in Yemen” written by Peter Salisbury
• 10 December 2015: The Overseas Development Institute hosted a seminar on “Yemen's Forgotten War”, chaired by our former chairman, Dr Noel Brehony
• 4 March 2016: Oxfam’s invitation to gala film screening, Regent Cinema, London W1: “I am Nojoom age 10 and divorced”, directed by Khadija Al-Salami
• 11 March 2016. Launch of the Yemen Growth Forum at SOAS with a panel discussion “Yemen: A Forgotten Crisis”, with André Heller Pérache, Rasha Mohammed, and Rawan Shaif
• 17 March 2016: Prof. Trevor Marchand, “Building Traditions in Highland Yemen” (MBI al Jaber Foundation lecture)
• 21 March 2016: Dr Elisabeth Kendall, “The War Drags on for What?” or- ganised by the European Atlantic Group in the House of Commons
• 4 June 2016: Yemen International Health Workshop on the “Impact of War on Health in Yemen” in Liverpool
• 13 June 2016. Chatham House launched their report “Yemen: Stemming the Rise of a Chaos State”, written by Peter Salisbury, which is available online.
A number of other workshops on Yemen were hosted by the Foreign Office, Chatham House, and the European Council on Foreign Relations.
New books on Yemen
A quick look on Amazon reveals quite a number of new releases of books on Yemen, though many turn out to be reprints, or compilations of earlier articles.
• Rebuilding Yemen: Political, Economic, and Social Challenges, edited by Dr Noel Brehony and Dr Saud al-Sarhan, in the Gulf Research Centre Series published by Gerlach Press
• Helen Lackner's Yemen’s ‘Peaceful’ Transition from Autocracy: Could it have succeeded? published by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. This is available online at: www.idea.int/publications
• Migration from Yemen IB Tauris (UK) Collective volume of conference papers; edited by Dr Noel Brehony, with a foreword by Muhammad Bin Dohry, to be published in approximately November 2016
• A Year in Yemen by Nathan Tamblyn.
I might note here also the substantial Crisis in Yemen, 4th report produced by the House of Commons International Development Committee which came out just over a month ago. It is available on line.
We have seen a small number of new members – ten or a dozen – this year. We regret to note the death of the following members since the last AGM:
Mr Jeffery Orchard
Wing Commander John Lacey Ireland OBE
Hugh Leach OBE
Until relatively recently I had been an ordinary member of the Society, like many of you here today, and I don't think that I appreciated enough how much work goes into keeping the Society going. I think that I would like to start by giving special thanks to our Hon Secretary, Audrey Allfree, for the immense amount that she does, co-ordinating, organising, corresponding, minute-taking and following up. She has been a tower of strength to me in my first year as Chairman and I pray that she will continue to do so.
As I mentioned, running the Society can be more of a commitment than one expects, and unfortunately Peter Welby, who took over as Hon Treasurer from John Mason last year, found that he would be unable to continue in that role. Fortunately, Audrey spotted that we might have an ideal candidate to take over in the form of John Huggins, who is a profes- sional accountant and happens to live only a short distance from ex- Treasurer John Mason. He brings valuable experience of working with registered charities, and has brought our accounts into line with Charity Commissioners' requirements and expectations. He agreed to be co-opted as Hon Treasurer and the Committee hopes that the meeting will formally elect him in that position today.
I would also like to highlight the important work done by our Journal editor, Helen Lackner, who has maintained the high standard of the Journal while also researching and writing on Yemen.
Most of the members of the executive committee have agreed to continue to serve though a couple of our new names elected last year found that unfortunately distance and other commitments meant that they could not become as involved as they had hoped. Our constitution states that the committee should consist of the officers plus between three and ten ordi- nary members. Provided the remaining committee members are re-elected this year we will still have the required number on the committee, but we would welcome nominations or volunteers, and especially some younger faces, to help to keep this Society vital and relevant.
I need also to mention ex-members of the committee who continue to support and to offer advice and suggestions, and we must continue to thank Thanos Petouris for his sterling work in managing the website and the BYS Facebook page. Finally, I'd like to thank our events secretary, Helen Balkwill, for her valuable support, including standing in for Audrey as secretary whilst Audrey was away.