Saudi Arabia and Yemen have agreed to exchange detainees after conducting talks in Switzerland, with the aid of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations.
The Houthi group, aligned with Iran, has announced that it will release 181 detainees, including 15 Saudis and three Sudanese, in exchange for 706 prisoners from the Yemeni government. The statements were made on social media by the head of the Houthis’ prisoner affairs committee Abdul Qader al-Murtada. Despite the announcement, Saudi Arabia has not confirmed or denied the statement by al-Murtada.
The Stockholm Agreement, brokered by the United Nations in December 2018, emphasized the importance of a detainee exchange program as a key confidence-building measure. Under the agreement, the parties committed to releasing all detainees held in connection with the conflict, including prisoners, missing persons, arbitrarily detained individuals, forcibly disappeared persons, and those under house arrest, without any exceptions or conditions. Despite the agreement, progress towards releasing detainees has been slow, with only a few exchanges coordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in 2020 and 2022, alongside smaller deals directly between the warring parties.
Following the announcement of the detainee exchange agreement between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, there is optimism that this could be a crucial step toward ending the ongoing conflict in the region. The UN’s special envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, had already informed the UN Security Council that various diplomatic efforts were underway to end the fighting. Additionally, the recent resumption of ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia this month is also expected to support these diplomatic efforts toward lasting peace in Yemen.
This comes after years of fighting between the Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, which has left the country on the brink of famine and has killed thousands of civilians. The conflict began in 2014 when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and forced the internationally recognized government into exile. Since then, the Saudi-led coalition has been fighting to restore the government, resulting in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Despite a UN-brokered ceasefire, the parties have yet to reach a lasting peace agreement.