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Tuesday, 16 July 2024
Do not support Yemen unless accountability and judiciary mechanisms are reformed

It has become clear to everyone who follows the Yemeni issue that just and sustainable peace cannot be achieved without reforming state institutions, especially the oversight bodies to combat corruption, achieve social justice, and establish the foundations of equal citizenship and good governance.

The Yemeni population is living in tragic conditions today, where more than 70% of the people (at least 17 million people, mostly women and children) need emergency humanitarian aid. Despite that, support for Yemen, whether through humanitarian aid or direct support to the government, should only take place alongside and after reforming the supervisory and judicial institutions, and imposing institutional reforms on state agencies, especially financial and legal.

These measures will not only contribute to achieving the maximum benefit from the state’s local resources and from aid, but also, as indicated by the feminist roadmap to peace presented by the Peace Track Initiative, are imperative to reach sustainable peace as part of the good governance principle currently and beyond the peace agreement moving forward.

In the past seven years, the international community has donated more than $20 billion in humanitarian aid, yet the suffering of the Yemeni people continues to deteriorate! The international community is still interested, albeit relatively, in supporting Yemen through several meetings of the Friends of Yemen and the Donors Conferences, the last of which was on March 16, 2022, when $1.3 billion was pledged with the aim of alleviating the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen.

But even within the framework of humanitarian aid, two different points of view emerge in this regard, the first: from the point of view of Yemeni institutions, which complain that donors have not fulfilled their obligations, thus the Yemeni government finds itself facing a responsibility that it cannot financially commit to, and the second, from the donors point of view who complain that the Yemeni government lacks the most basic elements of efficiency to make the best use of their aid, and therefore it must establish mechanisms to speed up the absorption of donor aid.

This is what prompted some international humanitarian organizations to work directly on the ground in distributing aid and other relief projects. But even these projects have no real oversight, especially in light of the armed conflict, as international organizations cannot come themselves to monitor the ground, so they do so through their representatives, whether from Yemeni civil society organizations or from local experts.

As for government institutions, we see today some measures taken by officials, especially the presidency, by changing some ministers under the pretext of a ministerial reshuffle, without clarity as to why the persons in question were removed.

The decisions are not accompanied or preceded by any legal action against the dismissed official, the possibility may be that the decision is arbitrary or that this political change comes against the background of a political agreement by the senior leadership to create a consensual work environment, according to the political quota system that has emerged and dominates this stage.

What is needed is a clear criteria for nominations and clear and legally valid procedures in the face of officials who violate their duties and conduct illegal actions in state institutions. Anyone who is accused of corruption, whatever its kind or form, must be referred to legally competent judicial authorities.

Accountability should not be limited to the dismissal of the incumbents from the executive authority, but should extend to the recovery of illegally obtained funds, and if it is not possible to prosecute as a result of the current situation (the war), a reconciliation approach should be made through a deal to recover even if some of the looted funds. Sanctions should be imposed such as travel ban, and other solutions in case the corrupt official refuses to reconcile or be held accountable.

Experience has proven that the presence of strong oversight and monitoring bodies and anti-corruption systems is imperative to the success of any political process and halting economic deterioration, especially in times of armed conflict. We have seen, for example, the successful experience of Tanzania and others in combating corruption and alleviating popular discontent when they focused on such mechanisms.

While legal accountability constitutes an important challenge for the political leadership at the present time due to the complete and partial disruption of the role of the judiciary and the delay in the process of reforming the judicial system, there are other institutions that would help and accelerate the establishment of good governance and the rule of law at this stage. These bodies, if empowered, would directly contribute to confidence-building measures and positively encourage peace talks towards a political settlement and the transitional phase after the signing of a peace agreement.

Among these measures is the need to restructure the Supreme National Authority for Combatting Corruption and the Central Organization for Control and Accountability, and the Supreme Authority for Oversight of Tenders and Auctions through which the role The Central Bank for Control and Accountability, and the judicial authority through which the role of the Public Funds Prosecution is activated and strengthened. These reforms must begin with the appointing of persons of competence, experience and integrity and holding them accountable through a transparent mechanism.

Moreover, empowering oversight entities must be taken seriously and their staff must be protected. We can’t afford to repeat failures of the past, such as when the Financial Disclosure Law No. (30) of 2006 by the Supreme National Anti-Corruption Authority was mocked or when the corruption cases reported by the Central Organization for Control and Accountability were ignored and not referred to the Public Prosecutor for consideration.

Reform also includes giving these bodies power and providing them with protection. We still remember how a whistle blower in the Electricity Corporation Syndicate was attacked with acid after exposing the corruption of a senior official, or when the director of legal affairs in the Electricity Corporation was fired after refusing to sign off on a suspicious operation.

The other pillar of accountability is the civil society, especially the independent media. Civil society is closest to the people and has the responsibility to represent their interests. Therefore, it has the right to be informed of the responsibilities entrusted to the current authority and its plans towards combating corruption, especially with regard to dealing with financial affairs (revenues), including the humanitarian aid.

These oversight entities have the right to see the reports of international donor organizations working in the relief and development field, and to conduct field reports to evaluate the impact and provide feedback on the various projects in a neutral manner. These different bodies constitute an integrated system of oversight and accountability, especially those related to the recovery of funds.

The country’s leadership needs to be in constant contact with the aforementioned supervisory authorities and to demand reports covering the past nine years before moving forward. Political and or legal decisions regarding those who are proven to be involved in institutional corruption need to be validated and made public to win the trust of the people. The main priority now should be to recover much-needed state funds to support the process of institutional reforms and the economy on the one hand, and to absorb donor aid in a transparent and pragmatic manner on the other.

The presence and efficiency of these oversight institutions will contribute to building trust, not only between the conflicting parties, but will also increase the confidence of the international community in the Yemeni government, rebuild the people’s confidence in its leadership and state institutions, build ownership to the political process and accelerate the restoration of stability.

The international community should not be just point fingers at the Yemeni government and demand it to carry out various reforms, but rather it should be a real partner in achieving these reforms. Experts who are familiar with Yemeni affairs should be sent to the field and conduct direct assessments of the various oversight bodies and hold meetings with those concerned in these bodies discussing the current situation and needs.

A joint action plan for rapid reform, including training, financial and logistical support, management of information systems, digitization and transparency should be designed and implemented. Mechanisms for transparency should be set in place through periodic public reports, townhall and community meetings, and an interactive media strategy to show that we are serious about reforming the state institutions being transparent as we do it.

It is not enough to send aid to Yemen, or to support the government in its agenda. The humanitarian support that the donors take from the pockets of their taxpayers will be simply wasted or at least grossly misused. And the national resources and treasures of Yemen will continue to be abused prolonging the conflict and the suffering of the Yemeni people.

* Heba Aidarous is a university lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Aden, a lawyer and legal advisor, and a defender of human rights and the cultural heritage of Aden. She obtained a master's degree in criminal law in 2014, and is currently a researcher on scholarship in the Arab Republic of Egypt to obtain a doctorate degree from the Faculty of Law - Ain Shams University. Heba serves as the president of the Sawasiya Human Rights Organization. Previously, she headed the follow-up team for the affairs of detainees and forcibly disappeared persons in 2016, and was the ambassador of Yemen to the International Federation for the Defense of the Rights of the Child in 2018. Heba was a member of the administrative body of the Al-Amal Foundation for Outstanding Students in Aden in 2018, and worked as a member of the Support and Decision-Making Center of the Southern Transitional Council, then was previously head of the legal department of the Southern Transitional Council. Heba is a member of the Women’s Solidarity Network, and a recipient of the Peace Track Initiative's Feminist Leaders Fellowship

By: Heba Aidarous