February 2016 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 January 2016
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

During February, the Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing the 2140 Yemen sanctions regime and the mandate of the Panel of Experts. Special Envoy Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed is also expected to brief.

Current sanctions expire on 26 February, and the mandate of the Panel expires on 25 March.

Key Recent Developments

A new round of peace talks between the Yemen government and a joint delegation of the Houthis, a Zaydi Shi’a rebel group, and the General People’s Congress, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party, was held from 15 to 20 December 2015 in Switzerland. To coincide with the talks, the parties, including the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition supporting the Yemen government, agreed to a cessation of hostilities. From the start of the truce, each side accused the other of violations, with fighting escalating on 17 December when a pro-government offensive was launched in the north.

On 20 December, the Special Envoy adjourned the talks, which he said had been hindered by the fighting. Still, according to a communiqué he issued, the sides agreed on confidence-building measures, including the release of prisoners upon a permanent ceasefire, creation of a “de-escalation committee” and facilitating humanitarian access. They also agreed on a negotiating framework based on resolution 2216. The Special Envoy said that he would return to the region to secure a ceasefire before the next round of talks, which the sides agreed would start on 14 January.

Plans to resume peace talks were soon set back after the Saudi-led coalition announced that it was ending the ceasefire on 2 January, blaming the Houthis for repeated violations. The announcement came amidst a developing diplomatic crisis between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which Saudi Arabia alleges supports the Houthis. After Saudi Arabia executed prominent Shi’a cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on 2 January, Iranian protestors stormed Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad. The next day, Saudi Arabia and several Gulf states cut diplomatic relations with Iran. On 12 January, the UN announced that talks would no longer start in mid-January.

The war continued to take a devastating toll on the civilian population. According to UN officials, both sides show disregard for protecting civilians and indiscriminately target civilian infrastructure in violation of international humanitarian law. Beginning in October 2015, there were increasing commercial imports into Yemen, which since the Saudi-led intervention in late March had sharply declined as a result of coalition restrictions that have amounted to a de facto blockade. Food imports returned to pre-crisis levels by December, and fuel imports increased to 50 percent of pre-crisis levels. Difficulties remained in distributing aid within Yemen. In particular, the Houthis’ months-long siege of Taiz continued to leave more than 200,000 people without aid, according to OCHA, despite the agreement announced on 17 December during the talks in Switzerland to allow humanitarian aid to reach the city’s besieged residents.

On 22 December 2015, the Council held a rare public session on Yemen. The Special Envoy, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang and High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein briefed. This was Al Hussein’s first briefing to the Council on Yemen. He recalled the recommendation of his office’s 7 September 2015 report on Yemen for an international investigation into credible allegations of human rights violations by all parties to the conflict, as well as accountability for perpetrators of all crimes. Al Hussein further noted that coalition airstrikes appeared responsible for the disproportionate share of Yemen’s destroyed civilian infrastructure. Council members issued a press statement following the meeting that called on all Yemeni parties to resume and accelerate UN-brokered negotiations. Welcoming the commitments made in Switzerland, the statement urged all parties to adhere to a cessation of hostilities and to exercise maximum restraint in case of violations.

In January, Council members received two briefings on Yemen in consultations under “any other business”. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed on 5 January, after Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it was ending the ceasefire. Following the meeting, Council members issued press elements, urging the sides to respect a meaningful ceasefire and to resume talks in mid-January. OCHA head Stephen O’Brien briefed members on the humanitarian situation on 11 January.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 22 January, the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee considered the final report of its Panel of Experts. The report analyses the implementation of financial and travel ban sanctions on designated individuals and the arms embargo against Houthi and Saleh forces, which it describes as having merged into a new hybrid armed group. It further documents violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and the obstruction of humanitarian assistance, offenses that are among the designation criteria. According to the report, all parties to the conflict, including the coalition, are responsible for widespread and systematic violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, in particular regarding principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. The report presented 15 recommendations that include proposals to improve the arms embargo’s implementation and to address the patterns of international humanitarian law and human rights violations, such as by setting up an international commission of inquiry.

Human Rights-Related Developments

In a 5 January press briefing, the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, said at least 81 civilians were reportedly killed and 109 injured in Yemen in December 2015, raising the number of civilian casualties recorded between 26 March and 31 December 2015 to 8,119 people, of which 2,795 were killed and 5,324 were wounded. He added that during the month of December, at least 62 civilians were reported to have been killed by airstrikes attributed to the coalition forces. The spokesperson also expressed alarm over information received on the alleged use of cluster bombs by coalition forces in Hajjah governorate. During a field visit to the village of Al-Odair, in Haradh District, an Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) team found remnants of 29 cluster submunitions, and documented the use of cluster submunitions in several other districts, he said. The spokesperson also expressed particular concern over the humanitarian situation in the city of Taiz, where strict control of all entry points into the city by the Popular Committees, affiliated with the Houthis, has resulted in limited access to essential items, including food, and made conditions extremely difficult for the civilian population.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein released a statement on 8 January, urging the government of Yemen to reverse its decision the previous day to declare the representative of OHCHR in Yemen, George Abu al-Zulof, persona non grata amid government accusations of bias, saying the decision was unwarranted, counter-productive and damaging. The High Commissioner’s statement noted that the expulsion would likely complicate the UN Human Rights Office’s ability to implement a Human Rights Council resolution adopted in September 2015, which requested it to provide the government of Yemen with technical assistance and capacity-building. The resolution specifically asked OHCHR to assist a national independent commission of inquiry in carrying out its work in accordance with international obligations. In this regard, OHCHR was planning to deploy a specially recruited three-person monitoring team in the coming weeks. The Secretary-General also issued a statement condemning the Yemen government’s decision to expel al-Zulof. In a letter sent to the Secretary-General on 8 January, the Yemen government communicated a reversal of its expulsion decision, stating it will take more time to review the relationship with OHCHR.

Key Issues

Obtaining a ceasefire that is respected by the parties and advancing peace talks and a political process remain key issues.

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

Of ongoing concern is the expansion of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

Renewing the sanctions and the mandate of the Panel of Experts will be a key issue in February, including whether and how to modify them.  

Options

Regarding the sanctions and the Panel, the Council may:

  • renew financial and travel ban measures and the targeted arms embargo on Houthi-Saleh forces for an additional year, as well as the mandate of the Panel of Experts; and
  • incorporate recommendations from the Panel’s final report, including new guidance and reporting requirements regarding the supply of weapons to security forces under the Yemen government’s control; establishing clearer guidance on the submission of inspection reports involving the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism; and stressing that member states conducting military operations in Yemen respect international humanitarian law, in particular principles of distinction and proportionality.

On the political track, the Council may adopt a presidential statement or resolution supporting commitments or agreements by the parties in case of progress in political talks.

If talks continue to stall, the Council may consider adopting a new resolution calling on the parties to implement a cessation of hostilities and to engage in UN-brokered consultations without preconditions.

The Council may also consider organising further public briefings with OCHA and OHCHR to shed more light on the humanitarian situation and human rights dimensions of the conflict.

Council and Wider Dynamics

Council members are fairly united in calling for a ceasefire and for Yemeni parties to engage in UN-brokered talks without preconditions. They also share concern over the humanitarian situation and the need for the parties of the conflict to uphold their responsibilities to protect civilians. In order to highlight this common view, the US, as Council president in December 2015, organised the Council’s public meeting on Yemen—the first time that members publicly discussed the conflict since the outbreak of full-scale war last March. The calls by nearly all members for a ceasefire represented a notable shift since the adoption of resolution 2216 when a number of members, including the P3, opposed Russia’s proposal to call for a ceasefire, arguing then that this would undermine the request of Yemen President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi for the Saudi-led intervention.

Regarding the upcoming sanctions resolution, several members were unhappy with the Panel of Experts’ final report. These members’ criticism, expressed at the latest 2140 Sanctions Committee meeting, included that the Panel exceeded its mandate with some of its findings and recommendations regarding international humanitarian law and human rights issues, with one member challenging the thoroughness of the Panel’s investigations. In contrast, a number of members believed that the report was balanced. Based on initial reactions, it seems unlikely that Committee members or the Council will agree on the majority of the Panel’s recommendations.

Overall, the Council continues to be very much reliant on the Special Envoy’s mediation efforts. Members appear to be hoping for progress on a political process that the Council can then support, while being willing to consider a new Council resolution if the Special Envoy concludes that political talks are at an impasse. A next round of talks seems very much dependent on first securing a cessation of hostilities, which is seen as having been complicated by the latest tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

An important dynamic will be the role of Egypt, which has taken over the Arab seat from Jordan. Jordan had championed the positions of the Saudi-led coalition. It remains to be seen how far Egypt, also a member of the coalition, will play this role. So far, Egypt has seemed similarly supportive of coalition positions. On the other hand, it also seems supportive of a gradual approach to implementing resolution 2216 and has expressed its desire to play a constructive role in addressing the conflict. Senegal is also a coalition member. The US and UK provide the coalition with logistical support.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Japan is the chair of the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee, having replaced outgoing member Lithuania.

UN Documents on Yemen

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.
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 Press Statement
23 December 2015 SC/12184 Council members urged all members to adhere to the cessation of hostilities exercise maxium restraint if violations emerge and urged Yemeni parties to fulfil committments made during recent talks.
Security Council Meeting Record
22 December 2015 S/PV.7596 This comprised briefings by Special Envoy Ould Cheik Ahmed, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang.