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Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Enhancing Government Engagement

Location

During the period from May 2013-March 2014, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) paired with Partners Yemen (PY) to establish Justice and Security Dialogue (JSD) in the Yemeni governorates of Abyan and Marib.  USIP and PY selected these insecure regions with the hope that “programming would assist underserved populations and prevent possible overlap with other ongoing dialogue activities.”[1]JSD goalsfocused on coordinating national and local government engagement, and both JSDs sought greater reactivation of state services.

Original conferences took place in Aden and Sanaa.  However, JSD project funds later shifted toward smaller meetings, with the intent “to allow local“[allowed] local officials and community stakeholders more time and space for collective decision-making and problem-solving.”[2]The JSD meetings incorporated government officials across various political sectors, citizen groups, civil society groups, and local stakeholders such that the JSDs effectively “facilitated meetings between national and local actors.”[3]

            Yemeni JSD programs in Abyan and Marib revealed the following lessons:

  • Successful JSDs incorporate various interest groups in community dialogue.   JSDs best mobilize populations through trust building and the development of common vision.
  • Programs should emphasize the development of explicit, community-driven goals.  JSDs succeed mostwhen local communities build their own goals and “buy into” programs.
  • Encourage improvements to governance and rule of law regardless of difficulty in implementation.Programming in less secure areas, such as Yemen, requires flexibility. 
  • Monitor the effects of concurrent events.  Yemen’s National Dialogue Conferencecreatedawareness for reform but detracted attention and resources from local-level JSD progress.

II.  Context

Like many Middle Eastern countries, the Arab Spring rattled Yemen.  The 2011 protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime demonstrated that the government was not responsive enough to the community and proved the regime’s inability to stop violence from occurring throughout the nation.[4]The uprisings therefore gained significant momentum and culminated with President Saleh’s transition out of power in accordance with a pact signed by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 2011.  Thus began Yemen’s two-year transition period under President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.The National Dialogue Conference (NDC) played a key role during this period.  Lasting from March 2013 to January 2014, the NDC incorporated a wide variety of Yemeni movements such as the Houthis, al-Hiraak, and several civil society groups.  The program aimed to address power sharing between the dominant movements as well as “gaps in rule of law and basic rights protection; weak government institutions and poor governance; widespread corruption; [and] the deep political patronage networks and cooption of state institutions.”[5]

However, the crisis in 2011 left Yemen in turmoil, and the national government struggled to assert its authority throughout different regions of the country.Rural areas particularly lacked a substantial state government presence.  By the end of 2011, the World Bank estimated Yemen’s poverty level at 54.5 percent and noted, “the security situation remains precarious with armed insurrections in the north and south, and [with] increased activity from Islamic militants.”[6]

The United States Institute for Peace (USIP) sought to address these post-conflict reconstruction and governance issues on the local scale by working as a complement to the NDC. Specifically, Yemeni citizens did not feel confident that local government officials could restore local security and justice systems.[7]  USIP determined that in 2011, these local governments “needed support and top-down decision making from the national dialogue if there were to kickstart global change.”[8] Since many protestors cited complaints about justice and security as key grievances against President Saleh, members of the international community identified Justice and Security Dialogues (JSDs) as “as a way to bridge the gap between citizens and the government and to raise the voice of civil society and youth in reform measures, contributing toward a peaceful resolution”[9] of a nearly civil war-like situation. 

III.  Main Actors

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and Partners Yemen (PY) served as the key actors in the Justice and Security Dialogue (JSD) Program.  Founded by Congress in 1984, USIP is a federally funded but nonpartisan and independent organization that engages “directly in conflict zones and by providing analysis, education, and resources to those working for peace.”[10]  The USIP governing board consists of the Secretaries of State and Defense as well as the President of the National Defense University and twelve presidential appointees.

Partners Yemen (PY) is a branch of Partners for Democratic Change.  Partners for Democratic Change aims to “local leaders and create partnerships that transform conflict, strengthen democratic institutions, and achieve sustainable development.”[11] The organization was created after the end of the Cold War, and it focuses on improving rule of law within country’s legal systems.[12]PY is no exception to this.  Founded in 2009, PY works “to support civil society development, conflict resolution, leadership development, and civic engagement.”[13] Some of PY’s other programs have included youth development for conflict resolution, women’s engagement projects, and transitional awareness programs.

On the ground in Yemen, USIP and PY interacted with local governance and popular committees.  At the time of the JSD program, popular committees existed in Yemen both in support of and in opposition to President Hadi.  Popular committees refer to the local tribal paramilitary groups that work with the official Yemeni military.[14]  These groups control local security in regions where the Yemeni military does not meet the area’s needs.  Popular committees commonly “provide security services such as protecting public facilities, fighting crime, arresting suspects, and guarding roads.”[15]During the JSD process, popular committees held significant power in Abyan.  As a result, USIP and Partners Yemen involved the popular committees in order to encourage power sharing with local governments and to coordinate checkpoint security.[16]  The regional popular committees proved willing to engage in conversation despite their varying levels of trust in local government.[17]

IV.  Explanation of “Justice and Security Dialogue” Programs

USIP implements Justice and Security Dialogue (JSD) programs in transitioning countries in order to “identify challenges to justice and security, [and] bridge the gulf of mistrust between civilian police and local communities by nurturing communication, cooperation, andrecognition that justice and security are two sides of the same coin.”[18] USIP emphasizes that JSDs develop according to a country’s individual needs.

Generally, JSD methodology follows three main principles: partnerships, process, and pragmatism.  Partnerships take place across all levels of government and society and “are sustained and strengthened by constant consultation and by collaboration in the conceptualization of programs.”[19] This constant collaboration emphasizes the importance of a communicative and clear process, granting stakeholders the liberty to determine their own objectives.[20]  Lastly, JSDs foster pragmatic methods “for parties to mutually engage nonviolently and [to] document the challenges… to increase the sustainability of the resolutions.”[21]The combination of these principles thus aims to construct a stronger national dialogue and more responsive government system.

V.  Program Implementation and Results

The idea for Yemeni Justice and Security Dialogue (JSD) programs developed prior to the beginning of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC).  While the NDC worked on promoting national-level conversation, the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) and Partners Yemen (PY) fostered conversation on the local level, encouraging local governments to take initiative during the transition and NDC period.  The process relied upon the following: the interaction of officials and the connection of officials to their citizens, the development of lists of regional demands, and the submission of formal letters explaining these demands to national offices with PY’s assistance.[22]  The JSDs realized these steps by facilitating meetings between various levels of government officials.

In Abyan, a region previously controlled by Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula’s Ansar al-Sharia, “security was a patchwork of loose Popular Committee control, still frequently contested by Ansar al-Sharia in many areas and creating a security vacuum in others.”[23] However, JSD in Abyan saw progress due to “a memory of what state-controlled and -enforced rule of law looks like, and a common belief that restoring this state presence was necessary for stability.”[24] USIP and PY hosted a conference for Abyanis in Sanaa in order to encourage conversation and information gathering and sharing among local leaders.  At the conference, local officials interacted with national officials, including the minister of defense, the prime minister, NDC delegates, and officials from theses offices.[25]  Abyanis participating in the JSD were thus able to communicate their concerns and desires to the national government through face-to-face interaction and dialogue.  Specific outcomes of the dialogue in Abyan included the transition of some popular committee-held checkpoints to government security forces, as well as “small gains in local cooperation and security coordination,”[26] among others.

In Marib, the program’s concluding meeting demonstrated JSD programs’ potential for creating sustainable outcomes such as local cooperation.  PY invited representatives from the Sheba group and the Marib issues group to attend the program’s final meeting in March.  Together, participants established a “justice and security vision,” which all of the meeting participants endorsed.[27]PY considered this final dialogue significant due to the level of cooperation and engagementthat it required.  The meeting incorporated thirty Maribi JSD members, local interest group and civil society representatives, and national leaders, all of whom sought national implementation of their common requests for reform.[28]

However, USIP notes that the JSD in Marib was less successful than the JSD in Abyan for a number of reasons.  Firstly, in the governorate of Marib, local and national government lacked a positive initialrelationship.  Many local Maribisinstead shared “a common perception… that state actors in the governorate were there to protect state interests rather than to serve the population.”[29]  Such negative views of the state and its intentions thus hindered the realization of some JSD goals.  Further, despite improvements to local cooperation in the short term, the tribal system still greatly dominated Maribi politics and society.  As a result, “the degree of local cooperation was simply too low for many of the cooperative proposals made.”[30]  Program leaders thus questioned the sustainability ofMaribi cooperation after JSD completion.

The recognition of more specific goals also contributed to the greater success of the Abyani JSD to its counterpart in Marib.  For example, “whereas the Abyan JSD wanted to refurbish specific courts, or have a specific judge assigned to the court, Maribi demands were much broader in scope—for example, calling for the creation of a formal justice system in the governorate.”[31]  USIP acknowledges that greater resources were required to bring dialogue into existence in Marib than in Abyan, requiring that, “much time was invested in building consensus and bringing the parties closer together.”[32]

VI.  Lessons Learned

Overall, the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) and Partners Yemen (PY) determined that the Yemeni Justice and Security Dialogue (JSD) model “did help to address the gap between local and national decision-making… [establishing] the strongest reason for trying to replicate JSDs in other governorates”[33] throughout the government transition period. Further, though the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) sought to address issues plaguing the nation, the NDC also created competition for the JSDs in terms of resources and officials.  At times, the JSDs could not move forward due to needs for prerequisite decisions on the national level.[34]  For the NDC remained the institutional focus of Yemeni politics, so “while awaiting the outcome of the NDC, Yemeni ministries and institutions largely put on hold decisions that mighthave led to stronger service provision.”[35]

The role of the international community in the implementation of the JSD programs provedessential. Ms. Erica Gaston, the creator of the JSD program in Yemen, acknowledged in an interview that international involvement in the JSD process was very important.  Though USIP and PY viewed the connection of local to national dialogue as the most important aspect of the project, the program required international funding to connect actors at conferences in different locations.[36]  Further, some Yemeni leaders viewed international involvement in the local dialogue process as a way to gain support for the national government, as well.[37]

Ms. Gaston also suggested that increasing the program duration would likely have been helpful in encouraging further discussion.  An effective JSD incorporates many interest groups to build a unified vision and plan for the community.  Therefore, JSDs demand trust building and time in order to fully build relationships.[38]A two-year process would thus have preferable, as government processes take time in Yemen, and it was necessary to submit reminders every two to three months to bring attention back to various issues.[39]Security issues in Yemen further complicated the implementation of the program.  Ms. Gaston explained that security issues proved to be one of the most difficult aspects of the Yemeni JSD project, as tribal feuds occasionally prevented officials from traveling between areas, and it was often difficult to find safe places for over twenty people to meet.[40]

Despite difficulties in implementation, the Yemeni JSD program suggested that, “each community has the ability to make progress along its own pathway.”  National political context, structural difficulties, and security concerns certainly affected the implementation and results of the JSDs in Yemen.  However, both the governorates of Abyan and Marib demonstrated some forward progress in conflict resolution, protection of the rule of law, and better facilitation of local to national government engagement.  In this way, the Justice and Security Dialogues indeed benefitted Yemen between May 2013 and March 2014.

 




[1]Erica Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” Building Peace 4 (2015), accessed November 15, 2015, http://permanent.access.gpo.gov/gpo57352/BP4-Justice-and-Security-Dialog..., 9.

[2] Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 19.

[3] Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 19.

[4] Interview with Erica Gaston, Skype, November 9, 2015.

[5]“Special Report: Process Lessons Learned in Yemen’s National Dialogue,” Erica Gaston, The United States Institute for Peace, accessed November 15, 2015,http://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/SR342_Process-Lessons-Learned-in..., 3.

[6]“Facing the Hard Facts in Yemen,” The World Bank, last modified September 26, 2012, http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2012/09/26/yemen-talking-points.

[7] Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 2.

[8] Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 2.

[9] Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 7.

[10]“About USIP,” The United State Institute of Peace, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/About-USIP_0.pdf.

[11]“Vision and Mission,” Partners Global, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.partnersglobal.org/who/vision-and-mission.

[12]“History,” Partners Global, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.partnersglobal.org/who/history.

[13]“Partners Yemen,” Partners Global, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.partnersglobal.org/network/yemen.

[14]“Map: Popular Committees in Abyan and Shabwah,” AEI Critical Threats, last updated July 25, 2012, http://www.criticalthreats.org/yemen/map-popular-committees.

[15]“The Popular Committees of Abyan, Yemen: A Necessary Evil or an Opportunity for Security Reform?”, Nadwa Al-Dawsari, The Middle East Institute, last updated March 5, 2014, http://www.mei.edu/content/popular-committees-abyan-yemen-necessary-evil....

[16] Interview with Erica Gaston, Skype, November 9, 2015.

[17] Interview with Erica Gaston, Skype, November 9, 2015.

[18]“Justice and Security Dialogue,” The United States Institute for Peace, last updated December 18, 2011, http://www.usip.org/publications/justice-and-security-dialogue.

[19]“Justice and Security Dialogue,” The United States Institute for Peace, last updated December 18, 2011, http://www.usip.org/publications/justice-and-security-dialogue.

[20]“Justice and Security Dialogue,” The United States Institute for Peace, last updated December 18, 2011, http://www.usip.org/publications/justice-and-security-dialogue.

[21]“Justice and Security Dialogue,” The United States Institute for Peace, last updated December 18, 2011, http://www.usip.org/publications/justice-and-security-dialogue.

[22] Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 23.

[23] Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 13.

[24] Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 21.

[25] Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 30.

[26] Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 31.

[27]Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 37.

[28]Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 37.

[29] Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 32.

[30] Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 33.

[31] Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 38.

[32] Gaston. “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 37.

[33] Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 40.

[34] Interview with Erica Gaston

[35] Gaston, “Justice and Security Dialogue in Yemen: Negotiating Local Sources of Conflict amid National Transition,” 41.

[36] Interview with Erica Gaston, Skype, November 9, 2015.

[37] Interview with Erica Gaston, Skype, November 9, 2015.

[38] Interview with Erica Gaston, Skype, November 9, 2015.

[39] Interview with Erica Gaston, Skype, November 9, 2015.

[40] Interview with Erica Gaston, Skype, November 9, 2015.