EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
On 3 November 2002, an unmanned U.S. “Predator” aircraft
hovering in the skies of Yemen fired a Hellfire missile at a car carrying a
suspected al-Qaeda leader, four Yemenis said to be members of the Aden-Abyan
Islamic Army, and a Yemeni-American who, according to U.S. authorities, had
recruited volunteers to attend al-Qaeda training camps. All six occupants were
killed. Almost two months later, three American missionaries were shot and
killed in the Yemeni city of Jibla.
These incidents, only the latest in a series involving Yemen,
reinforced its image as a weak and lawless state with porous borders, a
sanctuary for al-Qaeda operatives, a country with tenuous government control
over vast parts of its territory and dominated by a culture of kidnappings and
endemic violence. The October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, the arrest earlier in 2002 of several Yemenis in the
United States and Pakistan suspected of membership in the al-Qaeda network, the
capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibah, a Yemeni citizen accused of being a key plotter
of the 11 September 2001 attacks in the U.S., and the attack on the French oil
tanker Limburg in October 2002 have
all contributed to this perception. Indeed, during the past year, the U.S.
has sent special forces to Yemen
and neighbouring countries, with the purpose of pursuing presumed members of
the al-Qaeda network and associated organisations in Yemen.
The Yemeni reality is, of course, vastly more complex than
the headlines it generates and presents a conundrum for international
policymakers. Signs of potential instability are offset by significant positive
political developments. Yemen
has made substantial progress since its unification in 1990 and civil war in
1994. A nascent democracy with the most open political system in the Arabian
Peninsula, its government has shown a general commitment to
developing the instruments of a modern state and has cooperated with
international efforts to uproot the al-Qaeda network.
Concerns that areas of rural Yemen
increasingly will become a magnet for members of al-Qaeda fleeing Afghanistan
are legitimate but appear exaggerated and, more importantly, can lead to
wrong-headed policy conclusions. In contrast to Afghanistan
under the Taliban, Yemen’s
central government has not offered direct support to that international
terrorist organisation. Al-Qaeda has used Yemen
as a staging and recruitment area on account of the presence of thousands of
veterans who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan
in the 1980s, but has not been able to establish large bases. A variety of
politically motivated attacks on foreign and Yemeni targets have taken place in
recent years but these have been conducted by diverse actors driven by diverse
political goals. Detailed, reliable information about such attacks is scarce,
and in most cases it is impossible to discern whether they are personally,
financially or politically motivated. Organisational and financial relations
between al-Qaeda and two home-grown Islamist militant groups, the Islamic Jihad
Movement (IJM) and the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army, remain murky, although it is known
that there have been personal links between Osama bin Laden and members of the
IJM in the past.
An exclusive focus on terrorism – and on combating it almost
exclusively through military means – would present two sets of risks. First, it
could obscure, and therefore leave unaddressed, the domestic roots of the many
problems that confront Yemen.
Endemic urban and rural violence there reflect a host of interlinked factors. These
include widespread poverty, rapid population growth, an uneven distribution of
scarce natural and other resources, a heavily armed civilian population that is
dispersed throughout remote and often inaccessible regions, a state often
unable to extend its authority to rural areas, porous borders and smuggling,
weak political institutions, popular disenchantment with the slow pace of
democratisation and lingering social, economic and religious cleavages.
The central government has yet to exert full control over
tribes in remote areas and faces difficulties in exerting control over
religious education in both public and private schools. Parts of the population
continue to resist stronger government authority, and many discontented young
men and women have been attracted to a variety of home-grown Islamist
movements. That Yemen
continues to be marred by violent clashes and hostage taking – including by the
authorities – is a function of all these complex factors, not one alone.
A second risk, is that the Yemeni government may, like other
states, use the cover of anti-terrorism efforts to pursue its own, unrelated
political objectives and that it might bend the rule of law in ways that risk
generating broader anti-government feeling, thus creating new recruitment
opportunities for militant Islamist groups. Branding government disputes with
tribes as counter-terrorist operations is one example, as is direct government
intervention in tribal disputes motivated by the affiliation of senior
officials with one of the conflicting tribes.
The role of the international community and the policy
choices it makes are critical. While the government of President Ali Abdallah
Salih appears committed to cooperate with U.S.
efforts to root out al-Qaeda, it also fears that excessive alignment with Washington,
particularly should it attack Iraq,
could generate a domestic backlash. Large numbers of Yemenis remain staunchly
opposed to any deployment of U.S.
forces in their country and an American presence, therefore, needs to be
limited, fully coordinated with the Yemeni authorities, and geared toward
to handle security problems arising within its territory. The international
community also would be well advised to expand its assistance beyond security
in order to help Yemen
tackle some of its underlying economic and political problems.
relationship with neighbouring Saudi Arabia
is equally complex. While a recent agreement resolving longstanding border
disputes has the potential to improve relations, Riyadh
continues to provide direct subsidies to a number of tribal leaders – making
the task of building an effective central government all the more challenging.
is not a failed or failing state but it is a fragile one. The varied and, at
times, contradictory pressures it faces – from the U.S. to take stronger action
against suspected al-Qaeda followers; and from the very militant groups the
U.S. seeks to root out and that seem to thrive on the expanding U.S. presence
in the Middle East – could put it at risk. Add to this the tensions created by
a possible war on Iraq and the continued confrontation between Israel and the
Palestinians, and the carefully constructed edifice of the Yemeni state – a
work still in progress – may yet come apart. The disintegration of the Yemeni
state would present its citizens, their region and the international community
alike with a set of challenges far graver and more complex than any confronted
during the recent past.
To the International Community, especially the U.S.:
On fighting terrorism
Yemeni sovereignty and carefully calibrate any direct military operation inside
the country to avoid a large-scale presence that would galvanise public opinion
and boost the popularity of extremist groups and organisations.
2. Assist in
developing more effective border interdiction to impede the smuggling of
weapons and persons into and via Yemen, most importantly by obtaining far more
involvement and cooperation of neighbouring states – Saudi Arabia to the north
and Oman to the east, but also the United Arab Emirates farther east because of
smuggling routes across the vast al-Rub al-Khali Desert.
On Strengthening an Effective and Democratic State
3. Expand and
improve international development assistance by:
(a) targeting development initiatives to rural areas;
(b) working more directly with local communities to implement
development projects; and
coordination among donors so as to reduce regional inequalities in aid
5. Strengthen Yemen’s judicial system by:
(a) assisting in the development of an independent and efficient
judiciary, particularly in rural areas where Yemenis – in its absence – tend to
resort to traditional, tribal dispensation of justice and often to violence to
resolve disputes; and
(b) modernising and upgrading traditional modes of conflict
resolution and conflict management, including possibly by creating mobile
mediation committees staffed by local mediators, assisted where necessary by
international conflict resolution experts, and seeking cooperation with Yemeni
non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
6. Support the
timely and effective deployment of national and international election
observers, ensuring that they are familiar with the tasks of the Supreme Commission
for Elections and Referendums and deployed well before the parliamentary
7. Support the
further development, democratisation and professionalisation of local
government, making local councils that have been elected but are not functioning
properly a priority for international assistance.
support for existing Yemeni human rights bodies, including by helping the
parliamentary committee on human rights to investigate abuses more thoroughly
and to disseminate its findings.
9. Provide support
for awareness campaigns regarding family planning and water conservation,
particularly for large qat
10. Respect the
sovereignty and authority of the central government by channelling financial
and other assistance through it instead of directly to tribes and tribal
11. Encourage Saudi Arabia to abjure its traditional policy of
interference in domestic Yemeni politics so that it can become a powerful force
for strengthening the Yemen state.
To the Yemeni Government:
12. Continue to
uproot the al-Qaeda network and deny its operatives access or shelter in Yemen and otherwise cooperate
internationally against terrorism.
13. Take action
to enhance popular trust in the government and effectiveness of state
(a) eliminating irregularities in local, parliamentary and
presidential elections and perceptions of gerrymandering in tribal regions;
(b) fighting corruption including by enforcing existing penal
provisions punishing bribery;
(c) putting an end to the practice of government hostage-taking;
(d) ceasing human rights violations, for example by ending
detention of citizens without due process and by holding accountable soldiers
and security officials who transgress their authority.
14. Promote the
even distribution of services and employment opportunities in different regions
as part of a broader effort to reduce regional rivalries and tribal conflicts,
including by diversifying the economy to provide job opportunities beyond
15. Provide the
military, police and other security forces with education in human rights and
appropriate law enforcement techniques and press for the development of a
strict disciplinary code of conduct for these forces that would end the general
practice of impunity.
16. Reform the justice system by:
(a) enabling the judiciary to function independently without
executive or other interference;
(b) implementing swiftly judicial decisions including those
directed against government officials; and
(c) establishing an independent system of promotion on the basis
of seniority and merit so that the executive no longer makes these
Amman/Brussels, 8 January 2003