The terror status will hurt the Houthis from several sides as the group will now struggle to access financial, commercial and arms routes.
The UN Security Council has classified Yemen’s Houthis as a "terrorist group" for the first time and expanded an arms embargo against the organisation backed by Iran.
The move was welcomed on Tuesday by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The OIC said in a statement that it hopes the UN’s decision will contribute to ending the actions of the Houthis and their supporters, adding that the threat of the Houthi militias to the Yemeni people, international shipping and neighbouring countries will be limited.
Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf, the secretary general of the GCC, expressed satisfaction over the UN’s decision to contribute towards ending the activities of the Houthis, stopping bloodshed of the Yemeni people, and stopping the supply of missiles, weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) targeting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The bill submitted by the UK to the Security Council was adopted by 11 votes in favour and none against while Ireland, Mexico, Brazil and Norway abstained.
Russia voted in favour after abstaining on the council vote a year ago to renew UN sanctions on Yemen.
Combating smuggling of arms
The adopted bill calls on member-states to "increase their efforts to combat the smuggling of arms and components by land and sea" and urges them to fulfil their obligations to prevent such transfers.
Yemen has been engulfed by violence and instability since 2014, when the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels captured much of the country, including capital Sanaa.
The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, the United States and UN sanctions monitors have accused Iran of supplying the Houthis with arms, which both Tehran and the group deny.
The coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the government from Sanaa. The group says it is fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.
Mohamed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthi supreme revolutionary committee, criticised the decision for ignoring "crimes" by the coalition and said in a Twitter post that any arms embargo that does not apply to the Western-backed alliance "had no value”.
“Houthis hijacked the government”
“The designation of Houthis as terrorists by the UN Security Council will hurt the group and whoever supports or deals with them,” Dr. Ebtesam Al-Ketbi, founder and president of the Emirates Policy Center tells TRT World.
Al-Ketbi explains, “It is an important step to legitimise attacks against Houthis who hijacked a legitimate government and asked people to legitimise them.”
“Houthis practice terrorist acts. They don’t represent components of the Yemini people and they didn’t agree to talk even before the UN's decision.”
No peace without Houthis
Dr Elisabeth Kendall, Senior Research Fellow in Arabic & Islamic Studies, at the Pembroke College in University of Oxford, is, however, unsure about the efficacy of the UN move.
“While many acts of the Houthi leadership can be viewed as terrorist, the issue is that labelling the entire movement as terrorist is unlikely to help secure a sustainable resolution to the Yemen conflict,” she tells TRT World.
“There can be no peace settlement in Yemen without the Houthis being a part of it. This places one more stumbling block in the path of mediation efforts. Rather than sidelining Houthi hardliners, it is likely to strengthen their position.
“Other elements in the resolution that support a more inclusive political process should be welcomed.”
Kendall adds that there is a real risk that the terrorist designation will hamper the distribution of life-saving aid to those in Houthi-controlled areas who need it most, despite the resolution noting that this is not the intention.
No legal force
The UN has never achieved consensus on the meaning of the term “terrorism” and has not have specific procedures in place for designating groups as terrorist organisations, taking a case-by-case approach through detailed resolutions.
Diplomats involved in drafting the text of Houthis’ designation as “terrorist group” and UN officials say that the term has no legal force and does not mean the entire Houthi community has been designated as a terrorist organisation.
Designating the Houthis as terrorists will serve only to confirm their existing biases, according to the Foreign Policy.
By the end of 2021, with military victory in the oil-rich governorate of Marib in sight, the Houthis had become maximalist in their political demands and became hostile toward UN efforts at diplomacy, likely perceiving that there was no point in negotiating until they had fully seized Marib.
In 2021, many Western officials were debating how to deal with the Houthis once they had scored such a major, possibly decisive, victory in the war.
However, this year, the Houthis suffered several military setbacks in the Shabwa and Marib regions that brought two years of their expansion to a halt and tipped the conflict back to something close to a military equilibrium for the first time in several years.
Talk, not label
There are valid arguments for pressuring the Houthis to bring them back to the negotiating table.
According to scholar Sophie Haspeslagh, the terrorism label and associated designations since 2001 have likely prolonged rather than shortened conflicts globally, from Afghanistan to Colombia.
Designations deepen political polarisation, foster incentives for non-designated groups to pursue maximalist demands, and make third-party mediation, vital to resolving conflicts through political settlements, harder at times by criminalising even limited contact with designated groups.
Group’s designation in FTO
The UAE has also asked the US to reinstate the Houthi terrorist tag after recent attacks to bring the the rebels to get the group back to the table and negotiate an end to the war.
Designating Houthis by the US Foreign Terrorist Organisation can lead to criminal and financial penalties. However, the Yemeni government would likely see a US designation as an opportunity to retrench its position and refuse negotiations with a group that, however onerous, controls parts of Yemen where an estimated 20 million people live.
The Security Council resolution notes the international consensus that there is no military solution to the war in Yemen and that “the only viable path forward is dialogue”.
Yet, they acknowledge that a designation is unlikely to damage the Houthis or change their approach to the conflict.
But a designation would serve to escalate the conflict, not help bring it to an end, wasting rather than building upon the current pressure on the Houthis. Ultimately, this will have to be achieved with diplomacy, not labels.
READ MORE: Where is Yemen’s conflict(s) headed?