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Will state-led mass killing occur in Yemen?

We recently asked our Expert Opinion Pool, "Before 1 January 2015, will an episode of state-led mass killing occur in Yemen?"

According to our statistical risk assessments, Yemen ranks among the 20 countries worldwide at greatest risk of an onset of state-led mass killing. In spite of that relatively high risk, we hadn't asked our opinion pool about the risk of this outcome earlier in the year, but the recent failure of talks between rebel Houthis and the government prompted us to change that. Beginning in late August, “The Houthis, who have been fighting for years for more power for their Zaydi Shi'ite Muslim sect in north Yemen, have massed tens of thousands of supporters on the outskirts of Sanaa to press the government to quit and to restore fuel subsidies” according to Reuters.

Since then, Houthi protesters have waged a 3-week civil disobedience campaign in Sanaa, increasingly escalating tactics to include blocking major roads, in an attempt to force the government to resign. The situation has deteriorated with reports of Yemeni soldiers firing on protesters attempting to storm the capital building on September 9th. In addition to the protests in the capitol, Houthi rebels in the North have continued to clash with Yemeni Army and Yemeni-backed tribesmen.

As of writing, talks between both sides continued but a deal had not been reached. In the South, Yemen faces a separatist movement in addition to an insurgency led by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. On Monday, International Crisis Group issued a Conflict Alert saying that “Yemen’s troubled transition is at a crossroads more dangerous than any since 2011…The situation is tense and the possibility of violence real.”

Despite the heightened conflict, our Expert Opinion Pool sees the likelihood of a state-led mass killing episode occurring in Yemen before the end of this year at only 12 percent. Perhaps this forecast reflects the fact that this conflict has already run for years without producing a mass-killing episode and therefore may be unlikely to do so in the next several months. As one forecaster noted in a comment,

“Even though the core protests have been nonviolent, there are plenty of armed Houthis to fight back if state forces start attacking. So I think that, if escalation occurs, a hotter civil war is much more likely than an episode of mass killing.”