Since the turbulent reunification of North and South Yemen in 1990 and the secession attempt in 1994, the country has seen several episodes of violence on public and private land redistribution, which in particular had left many southerners dissatisfied and angry. Subsequent poor land management led to the creation of illegal settlements and lack of investments and policies, which further reduced land available for agricultural purposes. In order to address the matter, the Presidential Decree Number 2 of 2013 was issued, establishing a Special Commission to address disputes on land in the Southern Yemen Governorates. The scope of work for the newly established Commission is to cover violations against public or private lands since 1990. In order to achieve the results as outlined in the decree, the Commission has the power to summon witnesses, collect all the necessary information and documentation necessary to solve cases and/or provide solutions that the government can implement. In Art. 6, the decree established that the Commission should give consideration and precedence to specific cases that can have an impact at the national level. Particular attention is given to the non-use, or lack of investments in potentially fertile land. The apparent intention is to revitalize Yemen’s agricultural sector and provide access to land for cultivation.
Unfortunately the decree is not addressing some of the most problematic areas in Yemen’s land management. First of all, it’s not clear what type of legal sources the Commission would apply to address the land cases. Yemeni law presents a unique rule of law system where three different layers can be identified. In the first instance, the statutory law with the national Constitution and the Yemen real estate law provides a general framework for private land management. Second, the Shari ‘a law and the Islamic Waqf law that regulates the management of religious endowment. In addition, the customary law, the most applied form particularly in the rural areas of Yemen, creates community consensus around a land property dispute.
A second area of concern, apparently not specifically considered by the Decree, emerged from the recent conflict in Abyan governorate between elements of Ansar al Shari’a and the Government, that has had a consistent impact on land disputes. Hundreds of land cases that were standing in the courts for years were resolved by the rebels through a strict application of the Shari’a law. The decisions were also strictly enforced. At present, it is not clear if those decisions can still be considered valid, or must be brought back to normal courts or addressed by the Special Commission.
In Yemen, land and property has historically represented a cause of conflict within a community and between different communities. Any solution from the Commission should address the need of the population of having a rule of law system to effectively solve land cases and enforce the decision among the involved parties.