February 2015 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 January 2015
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

During February, the Council is expected to adopt a resolution that renews the 2140 Yemen sanctions regime and the mandate of the Panel of Experts. Council members will also receive a briefing in consultations from the Special Adviser Jamal Benomar.

Current sanctions expire on 26 February, and the mandate of the Panel expires on 26 March.

Key Recent Developments

The political and security crisis has deepened in Yemen. On 17 January, Houthi forces abducted Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, chief of staff of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Bin Mubarak was abducted before a meeting scheduled that same day in Sana’a on the recently completed draft constitution, which the Constitution Drafting Committee had delivered to Hadi ten days earlier. The Houthis, a Zaidi Shi’a rebel group, rejected the draft constitution’s division of Yemen into six regions, preferring just two north-south regions.

On 18 January, Hadi ordered security forces to restore the government’s control over Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, which the Houthis have controlled de facto since September. On 19 January, fighting broke out in Sana’a between Houthi forces and members of the presidential guard. The next day, the Houthis seized both Hadi’s residence and the presidential palace, and Hadi was essentially placed under house arrest.

Hadi and the Houthis announced on 21 January a ten-point agreement, including provisions to revise the draft constitution and to allow the Houthis to appoint new members to the government. Also on 21 January, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh made a public statement, calling for early presidential and parliamentary elections and for the cancellation of Security Council sanctions imposed on him and two Houthi leaders.

The ten-point agreement was widely perceived as capitulating to Houthi demands and the next day Hadi, Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and the rest of the cabinet resigned. Despite the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) characterisation of Houthi actions as a coup, the Houthis themselves appeared reluctant to assume power after Hadi’s resignation. Under Yemen’s existing constitution, a majority vote by parliament is required to accept the president’s resignation. A 25 January session of parliament had been scheduled to consider the resignation but it was postponed. If a session is held and the vote fails, the president has ninety days to resubmit his resignation and parliament is obliged to accept it. If the resignation were to be accepted, the constitution stipulates that the speaker of the parliament will take over all presidential duties. The current speaker is a close associate of former president Saleh. At press time, Yemen remained leaderless.

As these events played out, officials in Yemen’s south announced they would ignore instructions from Sana’a, and southern independence flags were raised over government institutions in Aden and other cities.

Council members initially reacted to these developments by holding urgent consultations on 20 January. Benomar briefed via video teleconference from Doha. After the meeting, Council members issued a press statement condemning the recent violence and the attack on the presidential palace; stressed that Hadi was Yemen’s legitimate authority; and underscored the importance of implementing the Peace and National Partnership Agreement (PNPA), the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) Outcomes and the GCC Initiative and Implementation Mechanism. Benomar briefed again under “any other business” in consultations on 26 January, this time via video teleconference from Sana’a. He told Council members that he was continuing to meet daily with all 16 parties that are signatories to the PNPA and stressed that an agreement on a way forward (based on the above-mentioned agreements) was possible. The next day, the Houthis released Bin Mubarak.

In oil-rich Marib province, east of Sana’a, Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi warned in early January that the Houthis might be forced to take over the province to pursue Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). On 12 January, the government established a committee to resolve the Marib situation as well as that in Al-Jawf province, where tensions exist between the Houthis and members of the Islamist al-Islah party and Sunni tribes. 

Also in recent months, AQAP has escalated its terrorist attacks in the country, targeting Houthis and government institutions. The group has allied with Sunni tribes to fight the Houthis as the Houthis have advanced from Sana’a into central Yemen. Bombings, believed to have been carried out by AQAP, on 16 December 2014 and 7 January were condemned by the Council in press statements. The Council also issued a press statement on 4 December 2014, condemning the 3 December bombing in front of the residence of Iran’s ambassador to Yemen. Renewed international focus on AQAP has been triggered by reports that one of the gunmen involved in the attack on the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on 7 January had trained in Yemen. In addition, AQAP released a video claiming responsibility for the attack on the publication, which killed 12 people.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 15 January, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee received the final report of its Panel of Experts. One of the recommendations is for the Council to consider measures that would restrict the flow of arms to Yemen. At press time, the Committee was expected to meet to consider the report on 30 January.

Human Rights-Related Developments

In a 9 January press release, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein warned that the deepening insecurity and violence in Yemen is taking a terrible toll on civilians, citing examples of recent bombings, including one in Radaa in central Yemen on 16 December 2014 that left more than twenty people dead, many of them schoolchildren; a suicide bombing on 31 December 2014 claimed by AQAP that killed at least 24 people; an explosion that killed six people on 4 January when Houthis tried to defuse an explosive device planted near a girls’ school in Dhamar; and a car bombing on 7 January outside a police college in Sana’a that killed at least 37 people.

Key Issues

A critical issue for the Council is supporting Benomar’s efforts to reach an agreement among the parties to avert a civil war and rising sectarian violence, salvage the transition and prevent the potential collapse of Yemen.

A closely related issue is the threat of international terrorism from AQAP and its ability to benefit from the current situation.

The prospect of southern secession continues to be a major concern.

The possible collapse of Yemen’s economy and the estimated 16 million Yemenis in need of aid is an important issue.

A key immediate issue for the Council is how these developments affect the deliberations regarding the renewal of the Yemen sanctions regime and their significance for the PNPA, NDC outcomes and GCC Initiative.

Options

Closely monitoring developments and being prepared to support new agreements or strategies that Benomar may reach with Yemeni parties and regional actors is a likely option.

A further related option would be to decide on the expansion of Benomar’s office to facilitate the disarmament provisions of the PNPA, which he has requested.

On the upcoming sanctions resolution, renewing targeted asset freezes and travel ban measures and the Panel of Experts mandate is the most likely option.

Designating new individuals to be subject to sanctions, including al-Houthi and Ahmed Saleh, the son of former president Saleh, is another option for the Council.

Council and Wider Dynamics

The Council’s leverage is limited in dealing with Yemen. Its main tool has been targeted sanctions, along with supporting Benomar’s efforts on the basis of the PNPA and other prior agreements. Russia seems to oppose further sanctions, and members currently appear to believe it is unlikely that the Council would agree on further designations or new sanctions measures.

Russia has also opposed singling out the Houthis in several recent Council statements, apparently in order not to antagonise the group, which is now the most powerful force on the ground. On the other hand, it seems GCC countries, which have had an important role in Yemen, would like a stronger approach against the Houthis. Saudi Arabia, for example, ended most aid to Yemen after the Houthi takeover of Sana’a in September. At the 26 January consultations, members were unable to agree on a press statement or “press elements” after Jordan, in support of the GCC position, wanted a reference to the Houthis’ role in current crisis.

It is not clear yet how recent developments will affect the new resolution to renew the sanctions. Prior to the current crisis, it seems the UK, as penholder had expressed its intention to propose few changes to the current sanctions regime.

UN Documents 

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 of the security situation in Yemen in light of the actions taken by the Houthis.
Security Council Press Statements
20 January 2015 SC/11743 This press statement condemned the attack on the presidential palace and called on all parties to implement a full and lasting ceasefire.
7 January 2015 SC/11728 This press statement condemned the bomb attack at the Police Academy in Sana’a, which killed at least 37 people.
17 December 2014 SC/11710 This was a press statement condemning the 16 December bomb attacks in Radaa.
4 December 2014 SC/11683 This was a press statements condemning the 3 December bomb attack at the residence of the Iranian Ambassador to Yemen.
8 November 2014 SC/11638 This press statement welcomed the formation of Yemen’s new government.
23 September 2014 SC/11578 This press statement welcomed the Peace and National Partnership Agreement signed on 21 September.
Sanctions Committee Document
7 November 2014 SC/11636 This press statement announced assets freezes and travel ban measures against former president Saleh and two Houthi military commanders.