One Year Since the Stockholm Agreement: Yemen’s Fading Hopes for Peace
A year since the Stockholm Agreement, the war in Yemen rages on and civilians continue to suffer. Warring parties must immediately agree to a nationwide ceasefire and restart peace talks.
On 13 December 2018, warring parties in Yemen came together to sign the Stockholm Agreement. But one year on, the lives of people across Yemen continue to be devastated by the conflict, and civilians in Hudaydah and in Taiz — two places that were key features of the agreement — continue to suffer as a result of not being able to access adequate food, water, and healthcare.
The longer the conflict continues, the more conditions for ordinary civilians will deteriorate. It has recently been estimated that five more years of conflict would cost an additional 29 billion US dollars in humanitarian aid alone; the fighting that Yemen has already seen is said to have set the country’s human development back by 21 years already.
In December 2019, Oxfam spoke to civilians from Taiz and from Durayhimi, a part of Hudaydah that has been effectively blocked off for civilians since early 2019 due to ongoing fighting and the dangers involved in travelling along the roads out of the area. We wanted to understand what their lives are like, one year on from the signing of the Stockholm Agreement. Below, we recount the stories of Nuha, Aisha, Wafa, Musa and Huda. All of them were hopeful when the agreement was signed a year ago, but as Musa told us: “Our hopes for peace have come to nothing.”
Their stories show how vital it is that warring parties in Yemen respect the terms of the Stockholm Agreement without delay, and declare a nationwide ceasefire so that long-overdue peace talks can resume.
Nuha’s story (Taiz): “I wish for an end to the war.”
Before the war, Nuha and her family lived a comfortable life in Taiz city. Her husband was a construction laborer, and never struggled to put food on the table for his family. But all that changed when conflict reached Taiz. One day while at work, Nuha’s husband was caught in crossfire. A stray bullet hit him in the chest and he died instantly.
“My husband was a peaceful man. He never hurt a living thing. I was shocked to learn of his fate, and I am still shocked to this day. I still find it hard to believe that he is gone.”
Nuha and her eight children now together live in one small room, unable to afford anything larger. They survive on the basic assistance that they receive from aid agencies.
“I wish for an end to the war. Haven’t people suffered enough? We can hardly survive. Sadness fills everybody’s heart — just look around you. Many have lost someone dear to them: husbands, fathers, sons. We want an end to this conflict. War only creates destruction.”
Aisha’s story (Taiz): “Death roamed the streets”
Aisha lives alone in a small room in Houd Al-Ashraf, a neighbourhood in Taiz. Now in her mid-80s, Aisha has three sons who all moved away years ago.
Shortly after the war started, Aisha lost her job in a hospital. Over the past three years her pension money has also run dry, so the only support Aisha receives is from aid agencies and her neighbours. She is struggling with poor health, but is unable to visit her sons due to the blockade on Taiz city. Travelling the roads out of Taiz is expensive and dangerous, and many of them are blocked or strewn with landmines.
Aisha told us that she is terrified of what might happen if the fighting doesn’t end soon:
“[When there was fighting on the ground] we used to hide here terrified as the clashes went on around us. We could hear the shelling and gunfire. We would barely dare to go outside, and never after sunset — even if it was an emergency. Death used to roam the streets then.”
Wafa’s Story (Taiz): “We still carry my mother’s pain in our hearts.”
Wafa lives with her parents, three brothers and two sisters in their home in Taiz. Shortly after the conflict broke out, Wafa’s mother Jamila was diagnosed with cancer. But the closure of the cancer treatment center in Taiz meant that the family’s only option was to seek treatment elsewhere. All of the roads out of Taiz were either blocked or too dangerous to travel, however, and as the family tried to find a way out Wafa could only watch as her mother’s condition deteriorated.
“She was in so much pain. It broke my heart to see her that way.”
Finally, one of the roads to Sana’a opened and Jamila was able to travel with her husband. But when she reached Sana’a, Jamila was given devastating news: the doctors told her that the cancer was too advanced for her to receive treatment. She was too late. Soon after that, while still in Sana’a, Jamila passed away.
“She was far from her family, and we weren’t even able to say goodbye to her before she died. It wasn’t even possible to transport her body back to Taiz. She was buried in Sana’a and we can’t even visit her grave now.
“This not just our story; many others are going through the same thing. We will always carry this pain in our hearts.”
Musa’s story (Al-Durayhimi): “Our hopes for peace have come to nothing.”
Prior to the outbreak of conflict in Yemen, Musa and his family lived a comfortable life. His father sold vegetables in the market and his mother stayed at home to take care of his nine siblings. However, when fighting broke out they found themselves in the middle of the fighting:
“Mortar shells hit us from all sides. My father told my mother to leave the village with the children, so that we would be far from the violence — we were only supposed to stay for two or three days, until the situation improved.”
But Musa’s father stayed behind as the fighting intensified, and a stranglehold was imposed on Al-Durayhimi.
“We heard that my father was hit in his left leg by a mortar. But because of the siege, we couldn’t return home and he couldn’t leave.”
As a result of the siege on Al-Durayhimi, his father was unable to receive treatment for his leg. His health deteriorated, and six months later he died of his injury.
“[My father] was our everything. He was the source of tenderness and safety. I have never thought that we would lose that safety all of a sudden.”
When he heard about the Stockholm Agreement being signed in December last year, Musa was optimistic that things might change, that peace would finally return to Yemen, and that his family might be able to return to their home:
“We were optimistic. We thought that the war would come to an end and we would be able to return to living a normal life. But so far our hopes for peace have come to nothing.”
Huda’s story (Al-Durayhimi): “Why is it that ordinary people always bear the worst brunt of war?”
Huda fled her home, along with her husband and three daughters, when the conflict broke out in 2015. Previously, the family had lived and worked on the farm that they owned, making a good living. Their daughters attended school.
“This war had brought us nothing but destruction and hardship. When the conflict broke out, mortar shells hit houses and farms like raindrops. We had to flee our home and seek safety elsewhere.”
In addition to the fighting, the family were forced to leave Al-Durayhimi because Huda’s husband, who suffers from a chronic illness, was unable to access the medicine he needs. The siege on Al-Durayhimi has meant that they aren’t able to return to their home.
“We are homeless and my husband can’t work. We don’t have any source of income. I collect firewood from early morning to noon and then sell it to get some money for my family members.
“We were hopeful, when we heard about the Stockholm Agreement, that the war would end and we would be able to return home. But we’ve lost that hope — why is it that ordinary people always bear the worst brunt of war?”
One year on, and not a minute to lose
The Stockholm Agreement is frequently credited with having prevented a battle for the Red Sea port of Hudaydah, a vital lifeline for the Yemeni population given the fact that 70 per cent of goods imported to Yemen arrive through this port.
The agreement contained three parts:
1) The Hudaydah Agreement, which included a commitment to a ceasefire in the city of Hudaydah and the Red Sea ports of Hudaydah, Salif, and Ras Issa, as well as a “mutual redeployment of forces”;
2) The Taiz Understanding, whereby the parties agreed to establish a joint committee to address the situation in Taiz, a city that has been effectively under siege since the conflict escalated in 2015;
3) A prisoner swap agreement, aiming to release more than 15,000 prisoners and detainees.
The Stockholm Agreement signified an important moment of hope for the Yemeni population. It was the first time in over two years that the internationally recognised Yemeni Government and the Ansar Allah leadership had met, and it represented an important window of opportunity for further discussions.
The Agreement, however, had some faults: it contained some ambiguous elements that make implementation a challenge; it largely excluded women (only one woman was present amongst the delegates); and the Agreement was restricted to just two of the parties to the conflict.
Civilian casualties continue
Now, one year since Stockholm, Yemen’s almost five-year-old conflict rages on. In Hudaydah, despite the relative calm that marked the first two weeks following the signing of the Stockholm Agreement, violence continues in and around the city — including shelling, ground fighting, and recently the resumption of airstrikes. A quarter of all civilian casualties across Yemen in 2019 were recorded in Hudaydah governorate.
The internationally recognized government and Saudi-led coalition has accused Ansar Allah forces of over 11,000 violations of the agreement, while in turn Ansar Allah has blamed coalition and Government forced for over 35,000 violations. People living in frontline areas particularly suffer, and the stories above from Durayhimi reflect the everyday lives of its 7,000-strong population.
In Taiz, meanwhile, the siege has not abated and continues to suffocate the city and its people. Fighting escalated throughout 2019, with hundreds of civilian causalities reported , and most roads into Taiz city continue to be closed.
Moving Yemen toward peace
As ever, it is urgent that all parties to Yemen’s conflict commit to respecting the Stockholm Agreement in full and start to work towards its implementation.
However, the agreement is only part of what is needed in order to work towards ending the conflict. A nationwide ceasefire must immediately be put in place, and long-overdue peace talks should resume.
In order to be truly effective, these talks must include the voices of women, youth, and civil society representatives.
With the success of recent talks in Riyadh, and some progress on the prisoner swap agreement, there is a crucial window of opportunity that is now open for the warring parties to come together — and, for the sake of the countless Yemenis who continue to bear the brunt of the conflict, there’s not a minute to lose.
The entry posted on 12 December 2019, by Oxfam’s team in Yemen — with contributions from Abdulwasea Mohammed, Hannah Cooper, Ibrahim Alwazir, Omar Algunaid, Sagal Bafo, Taha Yaseen and Zeyad Sulaihi.
All names in the photos have been changed, to protect identities.
Read more about Oxfam’s humanitarian work in Yemen.