Expected Council Action
In May, the Council will likely receive a briefing on the humanitarian and political situation in Yemen. Briefers will include a representative of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The recently appointed Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, may also brief.
The sanctions regime established by resolution 2140 expires on 26 February 2016.
Key Recent Developments
In late March, Yemen descended into full-scale war. The Council’s attempts over the preceding months to avert such a scenario and salvage Yemen’s political transition had failed.
On 21 February, President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled from Sana’a to Aden after escaping from house arrest that the Houthis, a Zaidi Shi’a rebel group, had imposed on him, and declared Aden Yemen’s temporary capital. Hadi and Gulf states have subsequently called for holding negotiations among Yemeni parties in Riyadh under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The situation escalated on 19 March when a police commando unit based in Aden and loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been allied with the Houthis over the past year, attacked the Aden airport. Yemeni air force jets also deployed from Sana’a to Aden and bombed Hadi’s presidential compound. Hadi was unharmed and the attack was repelled. The next day, suicide bombings at two Zaidi mosques in Sana’a reportedly killed 137 people. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) claimed responsibility, the first time the terrorist group said it had carried out an attack in Yemen.
The next day, the Houthis announced the mobilisation of the armed forces in preparation for a campaign in Yemen’s south. With their forces advancing south, on 24 March Hadi requested the GCC’s support to protect Yemen from Houthi aggression, including through military intervention.
In response to Hadi’s request, on 26 March, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition of nine Arab countries (Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates) commenced Operation Decisive Storm. Daily airstrikes have since targeted Houthi forces and Yemeni military units loyal to Saleh. In addition, Saudi Arabia announced the deployment of 150,000 ground forces along its border with Yemen, and the Saudi navy imposed a blockade.
On the ground, military units and “popular committees” loyal to Hadi, southern separatists, Sunni tribes and Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) battled the Houthis and armed forces loyal to Saleh across various fronts, with intense urban combat in Aden. Hadi fled to Riyadh. Amidst the chaos, AQAP seized Mokalla, a major port city and the capital of Hadhramaut Province.
The fighting has taken a heavy toll on the civilian population and the already fragile humanitarian situation. A 30 March airstrike killed at least 29 people at the Al-Mazraq camp for internally displaced persons, and an explosion at a dairy factory in Hodeida on 1 April reportedly killed 35 people. According to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General from 19 March to 27 April, at least 1244 people had been killed and 5,044 wounded. Some 300,000 people have been displaced. Difficulties delivering humanitarian assistance prompted several relief organisations to call for “humanitarian pauses”. On 17 April, OCHA appealed for $273.7 million, which Saudi Arabia offered to fund in full.
On 21 April, Saudi Arabia announced the end of Operation Decisive Storm. In its wake, Saudi Arabia commenced Operation Restoring Hope. The mission’s stated objectives are a quick resumption of the political process, protecting civilians, combatting terrorism, facilitating evacuations and intensifying humanitarian assistance. The new mission, however, still seeks to prevent Houthi militias from undertaking any operations and has continued to take a heavy toll on civilians and Yemen’s infrastructure.
The Council took some steps amidst these developments. In resolution 2201, adopted on 15 February, it demanded the Houthis withdraw from government institutions and the capital, Sana’a and urged all parties to accelerate negotiations over forming a new government. (Hadi, along with his cabinet had resigned on 22 January; he rescinded this resignation on 21 February.)
At an emergency meeting on 22 March, the Council adopted a presidential statement reiterating its demands from resolution 2201. Then, after a lengthy negotiation process, the Council adopted resolution 2216 on 14 April. The resolution established a targeted arms embargo on the Houthis and forces loyal to Saleh. It also imposed financial and travel ban sanctions against Houthi leader Abdulmalek al-Houthi and Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, the son of the former president. New demands were directed at the Houthis, including that they immediately end the use of violence.
On 15 April, the UN announced that the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, whose role had been marginalised since the military intervention, intended to step down. On 25 April, the Secretary-General appointed Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania as his Special Envoy for Yemen.
On 24 February, the Council adopted resolution 2204, which renewed targeted financial and travel ban sanctions until 26 February 2016 and extended the mandate of the Yemen Panel of Experts until 25 March 2016. On 2 April, the Secretary-General informed the Council that he had appointed all new members to the Panel. There had been criticism of the Panel’s work for some time, including its failure to provide more actionable recommendations to the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee in its mid-term and final reports. Resolution 2204 alluded to the Secretariat’s intention to replace its members, as it requested the Secretary-General “to re-establish” the Panel.
Resolution 2216 expanded the sanctions regime through the creation of the targeted arms embargo, and expanded the designation criteria to include violations of the embargo or obstructing delivery of humanitarian assistance and access. At press time, the Secretariat was recruiting a fifth panel member as an arms expert.
The designations by the Council in an annex to resolution 2216 of al-Houthi and former president Saleh’s son were only the fourth and fifth individuals subjected to the assets freeze and travel ban measures. The Council has followed an escalatory strategy regarding sanctions, first expressing its readiness to consider applying measures under Article 41 of the UN Charter in resolution 2051 of June 2012, which it reiterated in a 15 February 2013 presidential statement. A sanctions regime, however, was not set up until February 2014 and without designations, as it was still believed that the threat of sanctions could deter spoilers of Yemen’s transition. It was not until 7 November 2014 that the Committee made its first designations (two Houthi military commanders and Saleh). By then this was seen as having occurred too late. It seems that the measures have not had much impact. The Panel’s 20 February final report stated that no financial assets belonging to the Houthi commandeers had been identified and indicated that Saleh was evading the financial sanctions.
Human Rights-Related Developments
High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein released a statement on 14 April, calling on all sides to the conflict in Yemen to ensure that attacks resulting in civilian casualties are promptly investigated and that international human rights and international humanitarian law are scrupulously respected. Zeid warned that the intentional targeting of civilians not taking direct part in hostilities would amount to a war crime and cited reports of the killing of civilians by snipers located on rooftops in Dhale. He stressed that parties to the conflict must take all feasible measures to avoid locating military objectives in populated residential areas and must exercise maximum care to ensure that civilians and civilian objects are protected against dangers arising from military operations. The statement said eight hospitals, 17 schools, three main national airports, a power station, bridges, factories, farmlands and five mosques have been hit during the fighting.
Preventing the situation from becoming a protracted conflict and avoiding its regionalisation is an immediate critical issue.
A quickly emerging issue is the threat posed by the expansion of AQAP and ISIS amidst the current chaos.
A key issue for the Council will be reigniting a political process and determining its role in creating or facilitating conditions to encourage all Yemeni parties to return to negotiations
Stopping the violence perpetrated against civilians is an immediate issue. Related to this is addressing the humanitarian impact of the conflict.
The Council is likely to closely monitor the situation while being prepared to quickly react to developments.
It could also adopt a resolution that:
• expresses strong support for the work of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen;
• demands that all parties immediately implement a ceasefire or a sequenced ceasefire; and
• urges all Yemeni parties to return to negotiations under UN auspices in a neutral location.
The Council could contemplate providing enhanced support for the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, for example by offering to consider an early Council visit to the region as part of efforts to obtain a cessation of hostilities and resume negotiations.
Designations of more individuals or entities found to be in non-compliance with Council resolutions by the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee is another option.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Within the Council, Jordan champions the position of GCC members in seeking a strong response from the Council against the Houthis. The P3 have supported this position during negotiations. Russia, on the other hand, is more cautious about singling out the Houthis, believing this may undermine their willingness to participate in negotiations. As a result, it abstained on resolution 2216. In particular, Russia was unhappy that the resolution did not include a call for an immediate ceasefire by all parties. The idea of calling for a ceasefire, however, has been a red-line for Jordan, the P3 and GCC, believing that it would undermine Hadi’s request for the intervention. Russia also championed the establishment of humanitarian pauses, which gained several members’ support, and language supportive of this idea was ultimately incorporated into resolution 2216.
During the unfolding crisis, GCC members have exercised a considerable amount of influence in the Council. Despite the UK’s being the penholder on Yemen, resolution 2201 and the Council’s 22 March presidential statement were both initially drafted by GCC members. They then participated in negotiations with the P5 and Jordan before the UK circulated the texts to the broader membership on behalf of the UK and Jordan. With resolution 2216, Jordan was the sole lead in the Council on the draft. The dynamic thus represented a situation where countries that were now parties to the conflict—Jordan and GCC members—were drafting the texts being considered by the Council. This process also led to the exclusion of the other elected members until fairly late in the negotiations.
Despite supporting Jordan and GCC countries during negotiations on resolution 2216, the P3 seem to have reservations about the utility of the coalition’s military campaign and favour the restoration of a UN-led process.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|14 April 2015 S/RES/2216||This resolution established an arms embargo on the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.|
|24 February 2015 S/RES/2204||This was a resolution renewing the assets freeze and travel ban until 26 February 2016 and extending the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 25 March 2016.|
|15 February 2015 S/RES/2201||This was a resolution that strongly deplored the Houthis’ actions to dissolve parliament on 6 February and take over government institutions and urged the acceleration of negotiations to reach a consensus solution regarding the political impasse.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|22 March 2015 S/PRST/2015/8||This was a presidential statement condemning the Houthi’s unilateral actions and reaffirming the Council’s readiness to take further measures.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|20 March 2015 SC/11827||This was a press statement condemning suicide bombings at two Zaydi Shi’a mosques.|
|20 March 2015 SC/11826||This was a press statement that condemned attacks against Aden International Airport and airstrikes on the presidential compound in Aden.|
|25 February 2015 SC/11798||This press statement welcomed that President of Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi was no longer under house arrest and demanded that the Houthis immediately release the prime minister and members of the cabinet.|
|Security Council Letters|
|17 April 2015 S/2015/263||This was a letter from Iran outlining a four-point peace plan for Yemen.|
|26 March 2015 S/2015/217||This was a letter from GCC members on their decision to respond to Hadi’s request to protect Yemen from Houthi aggression.|
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|2 April 2015 S/2015/237||This was a letter from the Secretary-General appointing the Yemen Panel of Experts.|
|20 February 2015 S/2015/125||This was the final report of the 2140 Yemen Panel of Experts.|