December 2015 Monthly Forecast

Posted 25 November 2015
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In December, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is expected to brief the Council. OCHA head Stephen O’Brien and the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein may also brief. The 2140 Sanctions Committee may receive and consider the Yemen Panel of Experts’ final report.

Key Recent Developments

New momentum towards organising negotiations between the warring Yemeni parties occurred when the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite rebel group, informed the Secretary-General in a 7 October letter of their commitment to resolution 2216. (Resolution 2216 was adopted in April shortly after the outbreak of full-scale war, imposing a number of demands on the group.) After talks were announced, but not held in September, the Yemeni government called for a Houthi public commitment to implement resolution 2216 before it would participate in negotiations. The General People’s Congress—the political party of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose loyalists in security forces have allied with the Houthis—announced a similar commitment. On 23 October, following further discussions with Yemeni transitional president Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced that the Yemeni parties had agreed to direct negotiations. At press time, efforts were still ongoing to organise these talks.

On the ground, fighting across Yemen continued unabated. However, the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition saw its advances stall after initially driving the Houthis out of much of the south during the summer. Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, continues to be fiercely contested; Houthi and Saleh forces have maintained a siege of the city and blocked access to humanitarian assistance. On 7 November, Khaled Bahah, Yemen’s vice president, indicated that pro-government forces intended to “liberate” Taiz before peace talks.

Aden, which the coalition captured in July, has been beset by lawlessness. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is visibly present in parts of the city. On 6 October, suicide bombings, claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), struck a hotel in Aden housing Yemeni government officials and a coalition military base. The attacks killed 15 people. In November, the Houthis reportedly retook some territory, including a strategic hill that overlooks the Al-Anad airbase in Lahj province bordering Aden and a base near the strait of Bab al-Mandab. This followed Sudan’s deploying troops to Yemen in mid-October to reinforce coalition ground forces. Some 800 Colombian mercenaries also reportedly joined coalition forces.

The war continues to take a devastating toll on civilians. On 27 October, airstrikes destroyed a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Sa’dah governorate. Earlier in October, Amnesty International published a report, based on investigations into 13 airstrikes in Sa’dah governorate, in which it asserted that coalition airstrikes have deliberately targeted civilian objects or disproportionately harmed civilians and civilian objects, and have involved serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes. The violence, together with coalition restrictions on shipping, which have greatly limited essential imports such as food, fuel and medicine, continue to create a severe humanitarian crisis. More than 21 million people (80 percent of the population) are in need of assistance, and the UN has continued to raise warnings about the risk of famine. As of 31 October, the World Health Organisation reported that 5,723 people have been killed and nearly 27,000 wounded since the conflict’s escalation in late March.

The humanitarian crisis was compounded when two rare tropical cyclones hit Yemen between 1 and 12 November, killing 26 people and displacing 47,000. The worst-impacted areas were Socotra Island and Shabwah and Hadramawt governorates.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 9 October, the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee met to consider the Panel of Experts’ findings, circulated in a letter, on financial sanctions and international humanitarian law issues. The Panel documented assets belonging to Saleh and his son Ahmed Saleh, both of whom are subject to financial and travel-ban sanctions. It also identified 14 categories of suspected violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law that Houthi-Saleh forces and the coalition have committed.

Regarding the coalition’s military operations, the Panel highlighted violations and concerns regarding proportionality and distinction, finding a “pattern of indiscriminate attacks of civilians and civilian objects in residential, urban and marketplace areas”. It cited as a potentially grave violation the coalition’s designation of the entire cities of Sa’dah and Maran as military objects. The letter also raised concerns about the intentional obstruction of humanitarian access and provision of assistance, including commercial shipping.

Among its recommendations, the Panel proposed that the Committee chair approach member states that are conducting military operations in Yemen and relevant parties, to stress their responsibility to respect international humanitarian law and to ask that they cooperate with the Panel in investigating potential cases of obstruction of humanitarian assistance. During the meeting, the US expressed reservations about supporting the recommendation, and the following week Jordan informed members it was putting a hold on the recommendation.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 2 October, the Human Rights Council adopted, without a vote, a resolution on technical assistance and capacity-building for Yemen in the field of human rights, submitted by Saudi Arabia. The resolution expresses concern at the serious abuses and violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including the recruitment of children, the abduction of political activists, violations against journalists, the killing of civilians, the prevention of access for relief and humanitarian aid, the cutting of electricity and water supplies and attacks against hospitals and ambulances. It calls upon all parties in Yemen to implement resolution 2216 and requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in coordination with the government of Yemen, to provide technical assistance and capacity-building. It specifically requests the Office of the High Commissioner to assist the national independent commission of inquiry. Prior to the resolution’s adoption, the Netherlands withdrew a draft resolution on Yemen it submitted to the Human Rights Council on 24 September, which requested the High Commissioner to send a mission to report on abuses and conflict-related crime in Yemen. The US had reportedly signalled its support for the Dutch draft resolution and its call for an international inquiry, but it appears that subsequently the US, the UK and France chose instead to back the Saudi draft resolution.

Key Issues

Organising negotiations to achieve a ceasefire and advancing a political process remains a key issue.

Addressing the humanitarian crisis and the war’s impact on civilians is an additional critical issue.

Of ongoing concern is the expansion of AQAP and ISIS.

Options

The Council may monitor developments, continue to encourage the sides to enter negotiations without preconditions and be prepared to support any agreements the Special Envoy might broker.

It may seek to more proactively pressure the sides to enter negotiations and uphold international humanitarian law by adopting a new resolution that:

  • demands an immediate cessation of hostilities;
  • calls on the parties to engage in UN-brokered negotiations without preconditions;
  • demands that all parties provide access for humanitarian assistance and delivery of commercial goods;
  • reiterates that inspections of cargo should occur only when there are reasonable grounds to believe it contains prohibited items and that all inspections be reported to the 2140 Sanctions Committee; and
  • re-states the Council’s resolve to impose sanctions on those who impede humanitarian access or violate international humanitarian law. 

The Council could request regular public briefings on the humanitarian situation and civilian casualties.

Council and Wider Dynamics

Saudi Arabia, despite not being on the Council, has been able to exert strong influence on its decision-making. Resolution 2216 was drafted by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members with Jordan leading Council negotiations on the draft instead of the UK, the traditional penholder on Yemen. Saudi Arabia played a direct role during these negotiations. More recently, in October, Jordan organised a Council Arria-formula meeting at which Saudi Arabia’s director of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre briefed, along with OCHA’s O’Brien, about Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian assistance to Yemen. The close relationship that many members have with Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries has made the Council sensitive to Saudi influence and often restrained members’ ability to discuss the situation more critically, despite most members’ concerns about the prudence of the military intervention and the humanitarian situation.

There have, however, been noticeable areas of divergence. The US, along with other members, have, over recent months, repeated that resolution 2216’s implementation can occur over time through a negotiation process, and should not be made a precondition for talks. The recent decision by the Yemen government to enter talks (despite no agreement yet on when they will be held) seems to indicate that they have accepted this view, after previously insisting that before any negotiations the Houthis first implement the resolution’s provisions on surrendering heavy weapons and withdrawing from cities. Overall, the Council is dependent on the Special Envoy’s mediation efforts to resolve the conflict, and members appear to be hoping for progress on a political process that the Council can then support.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Lithuania is chair of the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee and has sought to increase the Committee’s role in addressing issues that have been politically sensitive to discuss in the Council.

UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN

Security Council Resolution
14 April 2015 S/RES/2216 This resolution established an arms embargo on the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Security Council Press Statement
23 October 2015 SC/12096 This was a press statement welcoming Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s announcement of the upcoming talks and reaffirming their call for the parties to attend the talks without preconditions.
Security Council Meeting Record
23 October 2015 S/PV.7542 This was a briefing by the Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and the chair of the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaite (Lithuania).
Human Rights Council Document
2 October 2015 A/HRC/RES/30/18 This Human Rights Council resolution requested the High Commissioner of Human Rights to provide Yemen technical assistance in the field of human rights and to assist a national commission of inquiry.