Constitutional Transitions visiting fellow George Anderson recently travelled to Yemen, where he is deeply involved with the United Nations team advising that country’s National Dialogue Conference and leadership. His latest trip, from November 1 to November 13, was his fifth this year.
Following the removal from power of Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012, Yemen embarked on an ambitious transitional process, supported internationally by the Gulf Cooperation Council, the United Nations, and others. A key stage of the process began in March this year with a National Dialogue Conference (NDC) composed of over 500 delegates. The NDC was tasked with discussing “all of Yemen’s moving parts,” according to Anderson, including highly contentious topics such as the constitution, federalism, and the challenges of dissident groups from the South and North. The NDC was scheduled to complete its work in September, and to provide guidance to a smaller committee that would begin drafting the new constitution in December.
Anderson’s latest trip was in the context of trying to assist with the conclusion of the NDC so that the process can move on to drafting a new constitution. The dialogue has permitted Yemenis to have a truly frank and prolonged discussion for the first time of both their grievances and their hopes, and it has promoted large elements of consensus. However, there are a few outstanding issues, particularly questions of state structure, immunities for members of the past regime, and adjustments to the transitional roadmap that are proving very difficult and delaying the conference’s end. On the first issue, the parties appear committed to some form of federalism, but have not yet agreed upon the number of states or the powers they will be granted. The immunity issue is important, given the fears of many that those who committed crimes under the previous regime may return to power. Various proposals have been raised as to who will be permitted to run for political office. The roadmap issue—including the timing of elections—is especially thorny, though it does not fall clearly within the jurisdiction of the NDC. The original proposal to have a draft constitution completed in December, to be followed rapidly by a referendum and elections, is not feasible, and the parties are divided on how to proceed.
Despite these lingering problems, Anderson notes the NDC has achieved many successes. The Conference has largely resolved issues related to constitutional rights provisions, independent commissions, and the role of the military. Most importantly, the process has kept Yemen on the path to peaceful transition, avoiding the threat of civil war. “What we’re seeing in Yemen is how difficult it can be to federalize a country which is deeply divided,” Anderson said. “But unlike in nearby states, the lid has stayed on.”
Introducing 2013-14 CT Fellow George Anderson
(12 October 2013)