Expected Council Action
In April, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is expected to brief the Council.
Key Recent Developments
Nearly a year after the Saudi Arabia-led coalition intervened to restore the government of transition president Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, there appeared to be a greater commitment by the warring parties towards ending Yemen’s conflict. In early March, reports surfaced that talks were being held between the Houthis, a Zaydi-Shi’a rebel group, and Saudi Arabia, outside of the UN mediation process. These produced agreement on several confidence-building measures, including prisoner exchange, aid deliveries and a significant de-escalation in Houthi cross-border attacks and coalition bombing in Yemen’s northern border region.
Further signs of a possible de-escalation occurred on 18 March when coalition-spokesman General Ahmed al-Asseri said the coalition would scale down its military operations. Saudi Arabia had similarly announced that major combat operations were ending in late April 2015.
On 23 March, the Special Envoy announced that a cessation of hostilities would start on 10 April followed by a new round of talks in Kuwait on 18 April. He said the talks would seek to reach a comprehensive agreement and would focus on five main areas: the withdrawal of militias and armed groups; the handover of heavy weapons to the state; interim security arrangements; the restoration of state institutions and political dialogue; and the creation of a committee for prisoners and detainees. Council members later that day issued a press statement welcoming the announcement, urging all parties to reduce violence and refrain from provocative action ahead of the cessation of hostilities.
Earlier in March, Council members had begun discussing elements of a Yemen humanitarian resolution, including issues of access for humanitarian aid and protection of civilians, but the resolution has been put on hold in light of political developments.
Meanwhile, heavy fighting has continued across much of the country. Criticism of Saudi Arabia intensified as coalition airstrikes continued to be responsible for the majority of civilian casualties. This included a 27 February airstrike on a marketplace in Sana’a that killed at least 32 civilians and a 15 March airstrike on a marketplace in Hajjah that according to media reports killed at least 106 people. The EU parliament adopted a non-binding resolution on 25 February calling for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia. On 22 March, eight NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, issued a joint statement calling on all governments to cease the supply of arms to the parties of the conflict. At a press conference, Human Rights Watch stressed in particular that the P3 Council members, the US, UK and France, should stop sending arms to Saudi Arabia until it ends “unlawful” airstrikes and credibly investigates alleged violations.
The UN Inspection and Verification Mechanism (UNVIM)—created to facilitate commercial shipping to Yemen—was officially established with headquarters in Djibouti on 12 February, and was expected to be fully operational soon. The 2016 Yemen humanitarian response plan was launched on 18 February, with an appeal for $1.8 billion to support 13.4 million people. OCHA head Stephen O’Brien referred to both developments during his last Council briefing on 3 March, when he stressed that “airstrikes and random shelling of civilians and civilian areas violate cardinal rules of international humanitarian law and constitute unlawful conduct of hostilities”.
Ambassador Motohide Yoshikawa (Japan), the chair of the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee, briefed the Council with the Special Envoy on 17 February. Yoshikawa focused on the 22 January final report of the 2140 Committee’s Panel of Experts. On 24 February, the Council adopted resolution 2266, which extended financial and travel ban measures and the targeted arms embargo on the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh until 26 February 2017. It further extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 27 March 2017.
A new five-person Panel of Experts was proposed following criticism by Committee members, of whom only its coordinator, Ahmed Himmiche, was a member of last year’s Panel. Four of the five experts were appointed by the Secretary-General on 29 March. At press time, the Committee was considering a new candidate to serve as the international humanitarian law expert after Egypt rejected the individual that the Secretariat had initially proposed.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In the wake of the deadly airstrike that killed at least 106 civilians in a crowded village market in north-western Yemen, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein released a statement on 18 March that condemned the repeated failure of the coalition forces to take effective actions to prevent the recurrence of such incidents, and the failure to publish the results of transparent and independent investigations into incidents that have already occurred. According to the statement, the UN Human Rights Office has recorded a total of just under 9,000 casualties, including 3,218 civilians killed and 5,778 injured, since the beginning of the conflict a year ago. “Looking at the figures, it would seem that the coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together, virtually all as a result of airstrikes”, the High Commissioner said, adding “[it] would appear to be the case that the distinction between legitimate military targets and civilian ones, which are protected under international law, is at best woefully inadequate…and at worst, we are possibly looking at the commission of international crimes by members of the coalition”.
A key issue will be whether the parties remain committed to the announced cessation of hostilities and talks in Kuwait, and how the Council can keep this process on track. A related issue is how the Houthi-Saudi Arabia track can complement UN-brokered negotiations between the Yemeni parties.
An ongoing concern is the humanitarian crisis and widespread human rights violations. Whether and when the Council should address this through a separate humanitarian resolution is a related issue.
An additional key issue is the expansion in Yemen of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.
One option is for the Council to monitor developments and adopt an outcome supporting any new agreements.
The Council might, alternatively, be more proactive and adopt a resolution ahead of the planned negotiations calling on all parties to respect the cessation of hostilities and to engage in the upcoming talks without preconditions and in good faith.
If current political initiatives do not materialise or fail to stem the fighting and its impact on civilians, the Council could move forward on a humanitarian resolution that:
- calls on all parties to allow immediate and unhindered humanitarian aid, ensure the safety of humanitarian personnel and end attacks on medical facilities, schools and civilian infrastructure;
- urges parties to cooperate fully with UNVIM and ensure delivery of commercial goods, including food, fuel and medical supplies;
- expresses concern over widespread violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law; and
- demands an end to attacks against civilians.
Additionally, the Council may reiterate that violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law are part of the designation criteria in resolution 2140 and express its readiness to apply sanctions against any parties committing such violations.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Members agree that the conflict can only be solved through political negotiations. They also share concern over the humanitarian crisis and the need for the parties to do more to uphold international humanitarian law and protect civilians. However, the close relations of many members, particularly the P3 and Egypt, with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries has restrained the Council’s ability to address these issues more forcefully. In general, the Council has relied on the Special Envoy’s mediation efforts, with members hoping for progress on a political process that the Council can then support.
However, frustration with the stalled political process and the deteriorating humanitarian situation led some members in mid-February to express support for a separate humanitarian resolution on Yemen. New Zealand, which first raised the idea, suggested elements that were discussed among the full membership at the beginning of March. The UK, which is the penholder on Yemen, offered to prepare a text after most members supported the idea. However, consideration of a resolution, which Saudi Arabia has said is unnecessary, was put on hold as progress was made on the political front. The Council could return to the proposal if the new cessation of hostilities and talks are unsuccessful.
A new dynamic, providing hope that upcoming political talks could be more successful than previous ones, is the Houthi-Saudi Arabia dialogue. Doubts remain, however, about the commitment of leaders to a political solution or the opportunity for the sides to reach common ground.
In addition to several elected members’ support for a humanitarian resolution, Russia has continued to play a leading role in focussing the Council on the humanitarian situation. Egypt has championed the positions of Saudi Arabia and the coalition, of which it is a member.
UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN
|Security Council Resolution|
|24 February 2016 S/RES/2266||This was a resolution renewing the Yemen sanctions measures until 26 February 2017, and the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 27 March 2017.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|23 March 2016 SC/12300||This press statement welcomed the Special Envoy’s announcement of a cessation of hostilities and peace talks.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|3 March 2016 S/PV.7641||This was a briefing by OCHA head Stephen O’Brien.|
|17 February 2016 S/PV.7625||This was a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed.|
|16 February 2016 S/PV.7622||This was a briefing from OCHA head Stephen O’Brien on the humanitarian situation in Yemen.|
|Sanctions Committee Document|
|22 February 2016 S/2016/73||This was the final report of the Yemen Panel of Experts.|