Jane Marriott, British Ambassador to Yemen

Jane Marriott

British Ambassador to Yemen

Part of UK in Yemen

13th August 2014 Sana’a, Yemen


Spanish philosopher George Santayana said that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Yemenis have very good memories and yet the cycles of violence, revenge and power continue. As we saw in the National Dialogue, most Yemenis want peace, stability and basic economic and social rights. The NDC outcomes gave Yemen a plan to get there.

Yet I worry about the repeated cycles of violence. Of actions and reactions. Of the inability of this country to stand back and think about the long term, rather than short-term individual or party gain.

Believe it or not, the United Kingdom has experienced similar cycles in its recent history. The “problem” of Northern Ireland looked intractable but in 1995, a dialogue was opened, leading to full participation of all parties in the political process.

While the Yemen and North Ireland situations are not analogous, the people of Yemen need some form of substantive peace process if the cycle of violence is to be broken and trust is to be restored. The international community can certainly help with this, but the decision to stop the bloodshed, to talk, and to disarm, is one that can only be taken by the individuals, the groups and the parties involved in the fighting. It is their responsibility to help create a different, more peaceful future for Yemen and all its people – who have demanded change. I hope they will step up to the challenge.

Here’s how it happened in Northern Ireland.



The problems in Northern Ireland can be traced to its history of population migration and the subsequent unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity.  During the civil rights movement of the 1960s a Catholic paramilitary group, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was formed from within the minority Catholic population with the aim of forcing the unification of the North and South Ireland. This political goal was contested by the majority Protestant population.  Over the next 30 years the IRA conducted a campaign of terror attacks against Britain and the Protestant community. In response Protestant groups formed their own paramilitary organisations to conduct terror attacks against the Catholics. These military groups were represented by political parties, the IRA by Sinn Fein, the Protestant groups by the Progressive Unionists amongst others.


The peace process started in the late 1980s when links were developed between the British Government and key members of the Catholic and Protestant communities who were connected to the paramilitary groups. By 1994 these links were sufficiently well developed for talks between Sinn Fein and British officials. Both sides were told that ‘disposal’ of arms would be necessary for full involvement in inter-party talks.

In March 1995 the Washington Principles for entry into substantive negotiations were stated, these were:

  • A willingness in principle to decommission progressively;
  • A common practical understanding of what decommissioning would actually entail;
  • In order to test the practical arrangements and to demonstrate good faith, the actual decommissioning of some arms as a tangible confidence building measure to signal the start of a process.

A British-Irish statement of 28 November 1995 announced the launching of a new ’twin track’ process to make progress in parallel on all party negotiations and decommissioning.

  • The political track – to invite parties for intensive preparatory talks for the proposed all party talks, and
  • The decommissioning track – to establish an international body to oversee the decommissioning issue.


The International Body (“the Mitchell Commission”) held a series of meetings. It found that each side had concerns which deserved to be understood and addressed by the other side:

  • Those who insist on prior decommissioning need to be reassured that the commitment of others to peaceful and democratic means is genuine and irreversible.
  • Reassurance for those giving up weapons that the process is genuinely inclusive and meaningful.
  • That decommissioning take place alongside all-party negotiations, rather than unrealistically rushing it.

The parties had to affirm their total and absolute commitment:

  1. To democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues.
  2. To the total decommissioning of all paramilitary organisations.
  3. To agree that decommissioning must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an independent commission.
  4. To renounce for themselves, and to oppose any effort by others, to use force, or threaten to use force, to influence the course or the outcome of all-party negotiations.
  5. To agree to abide by the terms of agreement reached in all-party negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful methods in trying to alter any outcome with which they disagree.
  6. To urge that “punishment” killings and beatings stop and to take effective steps to prevent such actions.

The Commission also noted that: decommissioning should not require any party to be seen to surrender; the process “should result in the complete destruction of armaments” but should not expose individuals to prosecution; the process had to be mutual, offering the “parties an … opportunity … to build confidence one step at a time during negotiations”; and that information received by the Commission is confidential.


In September 2005, The Commission published its final report on acts of IRA decommissioning. It was “…satisfied that the arms decommissioned represent the totality of the IRA’s arsenal”. The Protestant paramilitaries finally decommissioned their weapons in January 2010, also confirmed by independent observers.

Today Sinn Fein and the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party share power in Northern Ireland’s government.

1 comment on “MAKE PEACE, NOT WAR

  1. Santayana might as well have missed out the restrictive covenant on that. We are doomed to repeat it anyway because our past was dictated by our natures and wishes, and until human nature changes, we will do the same thing ad infinitum.

    We have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, etc, accounting for a factor of 1024 ancestors every 2 centuries, a million every 4, and a milyard every 6 centuries, and because the children who don’t inherit the family name and property marry elsewhere and the women moved with their chap, everyone is related to everyone who lived in 1400, if they have current day descendents.

    This hasn’t stopped history repeating itself again and again.

    The European contingent has honest and capable people and the Flynn effect existed because we selected out lamb thieves, not to mention sheep thieves, and because the lack of a welfare state in the industrial revolution, selected out non techies.

    Other parts of the world consist of the descendents of Alexander the Great’s soldiers.

    Every attempt to outwit mother nature has failed. She is merciless in seeking efficiency.

    So perhaps we should ignore the philosophers, and instead conclude that “If we forget human nature we can be lured into believing the study of history can make us change the future. ”

    That said, I completely agree with your sentiment.

    As always, though it may seem not, I have the best interests of everyone I care about at heart.

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