October 2014 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 September 2014
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In October, Special Adviser Jamal Benomar is expected to brief Council members in consultations on Yemen. 

Key Recent Developments

On 18 August, tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets in Sana’a and several other cities after Abdulmalek al-Houthi—the leader of the Houthis, a Zaidi Shi’a rebel group from the north—called for demonstrations against the “corrupt” government, which he said had failed to carry-out reforms. Al-Houthi called for President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi to dissolve the government and to reinstate fuel subsidies that were ended on 30 July, resulting in a near-doubling of prices. Following the first day’s demonstrations, armed Houthi rebels began arriving to Sana’a, establishing protest camps surrounding the city and close to government ministries. Houthi representatives insisted they would not use violence except in self-defence. Demonstrations and pro-government/anti-Houthi counter-protests gripped the capital during the next month, leading to fears that the situation could easily spiral into violence.

After a briefing with Benomar on 29 August, the Council adopted a presidential statement expressing grave concern about the deterioration of the security situation following the Houthis’ actions and said al-Houthi was undermining the political transition. The statement called on the Houthis to take several steps, including dismantling the protest camps. The Council further recalled that individuals or entities threatening Yemen’s peace, security or stability could be subject to targeted sanctions (S/PRST/2014/18).

On 2 September, Hadi dismissed his cabinet, repeated his offer he had made at the outset of the crisis, namely for the Houthis to participate in a new government, and agreed to partially reinstate fuel subsides. The Houthis rejected the concessions and vowed to escalate their civil disobedience campaign. Over the next week, nine Houthi supporters were killed in two incidents with security forces. Meanwhile, fighting continued in Al Jawf governorate between Houthis and armed groups affiliated with Al-Islah, Yemen’s Islamist political party. The Houthis also continued to occupy the city of Amran, seized in fighting in July, despite having agreed to withdraw.

Developments in Sana’a took a more violent turn starting 18 September. Houthi rebels besieged Iman University, run by a radical Sunni Islamist cleric in a suburb of Sana’a, and clashed with the military. By the next day, fighting expanded into the city between Houthis and forces loyal to General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, who is close to Al-Islah. Most security forces however refrained from confronting the Houthis. It is believed that former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was involved in this decision. Yemen’s state-run television station was shelled before being taken over by Houthi forces on 20 September; they also seized government buildings. During four days of fighting, at least 340 people, mostly combatants, were killed.

On 21 September, President Hadi along with Houthi delegates and major political parties signed an agreement to stop the fighting. It also addressed Houthi grievances. The Peace and National Partnership Agreement calls for establishing a new technocratic government within one month and reduces fuel prices by 25 percent. The deal stipulated that Hadi should appoint two advisors from the Houthis and the Southern Movement and a new prime minister within three days of its signing. At press time, the two presidential advisers were appointed, though a new prime minister had yet to be named. Despite the agreement, the following day Houthi forces took over the headquarters of the First Armoured Division, commanded by Al-Ahmar, who fled to Saudi Arabia. Al-Houthi made a speech on 23 September, announcing that he would build a government of national participation. In a speech that same day, Hadi described the Houthis’ take-over of Sana’a as a “conspiracy” and warned it could lead to civil war.

Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers met on 22 September in New York and issued a statement welcoming the Peace and National Partnership Agreement. The Council issued a press statement on 23 September that also welcomed the agreement as “the best means to stabilize the situation and prevent further violence” and underlined the need for all parties, including the Houthis, to fulfil their commitments (SC/11578). A Friends of Yemen statement on 24 September called for the agreement’s full implementation based on the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference.

Meanwhile, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee met on 10 September to discuss the interim report of the Committee’s Panel of Experts. The report made general recommendations and did not include specific cases, which would enable the Committee to consider imposing targeted sanctions. On 16 September, the Committee issued a press statement encouraging the Panel to develop case studies on individuals or entities threatening Yemen’s peace, security or stability, given the pace of developments in the country (SC/11564).

Overshadowed by these events was the worsening of fighting with Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). On 8 August, AQAP kidnapped and executed 14 soldiers, and the government reinforced its forces in Hadramawt governorate due to increased attacks. 

Human Rights-Related Developments

The Human Rights Council considered the report on the human rights situation in Yemen that documents delays in addressing accountability for serious human rights violations committed in 2011; extrajudicial killings as part of the military operations between December 2013 and February 2014, with 43 civilians reportedly killed; continued enforced disappearances and detention without trial; deterioration in the safety and security of journalists, with more than 197 violations reported; continued recruitment of children by various armed groups; and the continued increase in gender-based violence (A/HRC/27/44).

On 16 September, the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged authorities in Yemen to investigate the killing of nine people in Sana’a during protests that took place on 7 and 9 September; 67 others were reported injured, including 33 by live ammunition from security forces.

Key Issues

A key issue is how the 21 September agreement and the Houthis’ latest military and political victories impact Yemen’s political transition and whether the transition can be salvaged. A closely related issue is whether the 21 September agreement can hold.

Another issue is the risk of further violence, including sectarian violence, following the defeats of the Sunni Islah party and their supporters by the Shiite Houthis. A related concern is AQAP capitalising on these developments.

Whether to apply sanctions against those who are destabilising Yemen is another issue, especially when individuals or groups who could be candidates for sanctions may join a new government.

Options

One option for the Council is to closely monitor the situation but take no action.

Another option could be to designate for targeted sanctions individuals who deviate from the Peace and National Partnership Agreement (this could be done either by the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee or by the Council through a resolution).

A resolution or presidential statement could also be adopted to:

  • condemn any individuals or groups whose actions are not consistent with their commitments from the 21 September agreement;
  • reaffirm that the government be inclusive of all Yemeni constituencies; and
  • call for the restoration of state authority over all of Yemen’s territory.

The 2140 Committee could also decide to designate individuals or entities upon receiving new information from the Panel of Experts. 

Council and Wider Dynamics

The differences among Council members regarding Yemen have mainly circled the question of whether to identify spoilers to the transition and impose targeted sanctions or consider as sufficient the mere threat of targeted measures. At the last 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee meeting, there was heavy pressure from some members for the Committee to begin designations, and it seemed the Committee was moving in that direction. Events in Yemen, however, seem to have outpaced the Council’s ability to react to them.

With the Houthis in de facto control of Sana’a and expected to participate in the new government, this could further complicate members’ ability to agree to sanctions targeting Houthi leaders. While some members may seek a strong Council reaction to any deviation from the recent 21 September agreement, other members could have concerns that sanctions, or strong condemnation of the group, could hurt the Council’s ability to interact with the Houthis, which are now a major actor in the country.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Lithuania chairs the 2140 Committee.

UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN

Security Council Resolution
26 February 2014 S/RES/2140 This resolution expressed the Council’s strong support for the next steps of the political transition and established sanctions against those threatening the peace, security or stability of Yemen.
Security Council Presidential Statement
29 August 2014 S/PRST/2014/18 This presidential statement expressed grave concern about the deterioration the security situation in Yemen in light of the actions taken by the Houthis.
Security Council Press Statements
23 September 2014 SC/11578 This press statement welcomed the Peace and National Partnership Agreement signed on 21 September.
11 July 2014 SC/11470 This press statement expressed grave concern about the serious deterioration of the security situation in Yemen in the light of the violence in Amran.