Implementing Stockholm:

The Status of Local Security Forces in al-Hodeidah

Mareike Transfeld

YPC Policy Report   •   November 30, 2019

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Main Findings

  • The survey results obtained by the Yemen Polling Center do not indicate overwhelming support among the population of al-Hodeidah governorate for Ansarallah, the de facto authority in the governorate. A plurality view Ansarallah as a militia rather than a legitimate state actor. A third said the group is undermining security.
  • When asked which actor should have authority over security provision, 24 percent cited the police and security forces, whereas only 7 percent said Ansarallah. The percentage that prefers the police and security forces is only close to half the national average.
  • Ansarallah took advantage of the institutions already in place and adjusted them to serve its own interests. In particular, to establish its own system of control, the group introduced a system of supervisors to existing semi-formal institutional arrangements.
  • In areas under Ansarallah’s control, aqils now operate under Ansarallah supervisors, have less responsibility for security concerns and no longer provide government services to their communities. In al-Hodeidah areas controlled by military forces supported by the Saudi-led coalition, the aqils — along with the police — are said to have been sidelined by those militaries.
  • Nearly all respondents in urban areas confirmed that there is a police station in their neighborhood and said that it was functioning. Forty-three percent said they would first inform the police in case of an emergency, while 2 percent said they would notify Ansarallah authorities.
  • Among Yemeni governorates in 2019, al-Hodeidah had the highest rates of insecurity and the highest rates of citizen concern about their living conditions. Half of al-Hodeidah respondents to Yemen Polling Center surveys had lost their job or their income, and nearly all respondents reported that their children did not go to school.
  • In the current political context, the manner in which local security forces function essentially renders them “Ansarallah security forces.” Without reforms or restructuring, there are no neutral “local forces” to whom Ansarallah could hand over security for the city of al-Hodeidah.

Conclusions & Recommendations

Local security forces, namely the police and the aqils, remain legitimate in the eyes of alHodeidah residents. This suggests that with adequate political and material support, the police together with their informal partners could play a significant role in a transitional security arrangement in urban areas of al-Hodeidah. The profile of local police and informal actors, however, has undergone change after Ansarallah’s penetration of security structures. In the current political context, the manner in which local security forces function basically renders them “Ansarallah security forces.” Without reform or restructuring, there are no “local forces” to whom Ansarallah could hand over security for the city. Currently, residents of al-Hodeidah are avoiding authorities as much as possible and taking their personal security into their own hands. Civic figures who participated in focus group discussions in al-Hodeidah underlined the need for awareness campaigns on how residents can better protect themselves and training in first aid. Residents have little knowledge of how to respond in case of emergencies of various types, such as medical emergencies or war-related injuries. While civic engagement in itself has become a security risk in Ansarallah-held al-Hodeidah, interview participants suggested developing cartoons and drawings that could be distributed to residents through social media. Many stressed the importance of civil society actors there. Activists and journalists pointed to the responsibility of civil society organizations and leaders to raise awareness about community safety and human rights despite the scope of their activities being restricted. Many also underlined the need to train police in community policing and the rule of law.26 No doubt, civil society figures should play a role in shaping a transitional security arrangement in line with the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement. Committees bringing together civic figures, local politicians, aqils and the police administration could draw up models for future local security arrangements. For these committees to be accepted by the population and to be effective, the selection process of members is key. Members could be determined through a dual-track system with both a top-down (selection) and bottom-up (election) process and including consideration of figures who have remained in the city and those who were forced out. Such committees cannot, however, be effective without the backing of all the warring parties. While civil society should play a role in shaping the transitional security arrangement, it is clear that the residents of al-Hodeidah want state institutions to have authority over security provision. These institutions must be responsive to the needs of the community.