June 2016 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 May 2016
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In June, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is expected to brief the Council.

Key Recent Developments

Yemen has seen a lull in fighting over the last two months amidst ongoing peace talks being held in Kuwait, which at press time had entered their fifth week. In the lead-up to the new round, Yemen President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi dismissed Vice President and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah on 3 April. In his place, Hadi named General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar as Vice President and Ahmed bin Dagher as Prime Minister. Bahah decried the move as unconstitutional on the grounds that the government must be approved by the parliament.

On 10 April, a cessation of hostilities commenced in advance of the new round of peace talks between the Yemen government and Houthi rebels and their allies in the General People’s Congress (GPC). However, talks did not start as scheduled on 18 April. The Houthi and GPC delegation remained in Sana’a, citing heavy fighting and airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition. Following assurances from Kuwait and Oman that the cessation of hostilities would be respected, the Houthi/GPC delegation arrived in Kuwait on 21 April. That evening the opening ceremony for the new round was held.

The talks have been focused around five areas—withdrawal of militias and armed groups, handover of heavy weapons to the state, interim security arrangements, restoration of state institutions and the resumption of inclusive political dialogue, and how to deal with prisoners and detainees—with three working groups created to address these issues. Separately, a De-escalation and Coordination Committee has been constituted and is made up of representatives from both sides to address reported violations of the cessation of hostilities. On 15 May, the Special Envoy said that an agreement  had been reached “in principle” to free half of all prisoners and detainees before the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in the first week of June. Fundamental differences between the sides seem to exist over transitional governing arrangements and the timing of armed groups’ withdrawals and disarmament.

The government twice suspended its participation in the talks. First, it suspended its participation from 1 to 4 May, claiming the Houthis violated the cessation of hostilities by seizing a base in Amran governorate from a military unit that had remained neutral in the conflict. It did so a second time on 17 May. At a news conference on 18 May, Foreign Minister Abdul-Malik al-Mekhlafi said that the decision to suspend the government’s participation was due to the Houthis’ unwillingness to recognise the legitimacy of President Hadi, and he objected to the group’s seeking a power-sharing arrangement. “We will not return until we get a letter from them that commits them to the U.N. Security Council resolutions, the Gulf [Cooperation Council] initiative and the outcome of the [national] dialogue,” Al-Mekhlafi said. “The issue of legitimacy is not subject to discussion.”

According to a UN press release, during a 21 May meeting with the Amir of Qatar Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani and Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in Doha, Hadi confirmed that the government delegation would return to the talks as requested by the Amir and the Secretary-General.

During the cessation of hostilities, the Saudi-led coalition and Yemen government turned their attention to Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Yemeni and coalition forces took back the port city of Mukalla in Hadramawt governorate, which AQAP had held since April 2015, shortly after the start of the Saudi-led intervention. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has since taken responsibility for several deadly attacks in Mukalla. ISIL attacks killed 15 Yemeni soldiers on 12 May. On 15 May, at least 31 people were killed when an ISIL suicide bomber attacked police recruits queuing up outside a police station in Mukalla. On 23 May, ISIL suicide bombers killed at least 40 army recruits at a base in Aden, which has suffered from insecurity since Yemen government and coalition forces took back the city from the Houthis last July.

Yemen continues to endure a severe humanitarian crisis. According to OCHA Operations Director John Ging, speaking at a 17 May press conference following a recent trip to Yemen, 10 million people require basic healthcare support and 7.6 million are severely food insecure, a classification that is one step below a famine situation. Moreover, the $1.8 million humanitarian response plan for Yemen was only 16 percent funded. The cessation of hostilities and the de-escalation of fighting have had the positive effect of stemming civilian casualties.

On 2 May, the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) finally became operational. Efforts to create the UNVIM had been underway since June 2015 in order to improve commercial goods imports to Yemen, such as food and fuel. These had significantly declined, due in large part to restrictions on shipping imposed by the Saudi-led coalition, which it says were meant to enforce the arms embargo established in resolution 2216 against the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abudallah Saleh. The UNVIM has responsibility for reviewing the manifests of commercial ships and approving shipments within 48 hours to proceed to Yemeni ports not under the government’s control or flagging a cargo for inspection.

A worrying development for the Yemen economy and the population’s ability to purchase essential goods was the sudden devaluation of Yemen’s currency in mid-May. The government announced that the Central Bank was close to depleting all of its reserves. Ensuring the Central Bank’s continued functioning and reactivating the Social Welfare Fund has been one of the considerations in peace talks.

The Council reacted to ongoing developments in the political process by adopting a presidential statement on 25 April, welcoming the start of peace talks in Kuwait. The Council called on the parties to develop a roadmap for implementing interim security arrangements, withdrawals, the handover of heavy weapons, restoring state institutions and resuming political dialogue. In a 24 May letter, the Secretary-General sent the Council a plan on how the Special Envoy’s Office could further support the parties, as requested in the April statement. The Secretary-General proposed significantly expanding the office in order to provide greater support to the negotiations, the De-escalation and Coordination Committee and the implementation of any agreements emerging from peace talks such as disarmament or other security sector issues. On 25 May, Ould Cheikh Ahmed briefed Council members in consultations, providing an update on the talks in order for them to further consider the Secretary-General’s proposals. In a 26 May letter to the Secretary-General, the Council took note of his proposals for the Special Envoy’s Office. OCHA head Stephen O’Brien briefed on the humanitarian situation via video-teleconference in consultations on 27 May.

Key Issues

Advancing peace talks, including in such areas as transitional governing arrangements and withdrawals and disarmament, and how the Council can support this process remain key issues.

A related issue is how to address the increasing perception of the obstructionist role of Hadi towards the talks. Hadi was elected in 2012 on a single candidate ballot to initially serve a two-year term as transitional president, and could probably not be part of a new consensus government.

Addressing Yemen’s humanitarian crisis continues to be critical. Ensuring the UNVIM’s effectiveness is a related issue.

The threat posed by AQAP and ISIL amidst the security vacuum created by the war remains a key concern.

Options

One option is for the Council to monitor developments in peace talks and adopt an outcome supporting new agreements emerging from the talks.

If current political initiatives do not produce results, the humanitarian situation does not improve, or if heavy fighting resumes, then the Council could return to its consideration of a humanitarian resolution. Elements for a resolution were proposed by New Zealand in the beginning of March, and such a resolution could, inter alia, call on all parties to allow unhindered humanitarian access and ensure the safety of humanitarian personnel, urge parties to cooperate fully with the UNVIM and demand that they adhere to international human rights and international humanitarian law, including taking all precautions to avoid civilian casualties.

An option for the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee is to seek regular briefings from OCHA on the operations of the UNVIM to monitor its proper functioning.

Council and Wider Dynamics

Council members agree that the conflict can only be solved through political negotiations. They also share concerns over the humanitarian crisis and the need for the parties to do more to uphold international humanitarian law and protect civilians. The close relations of many members, particularly the P3 and Egypt, with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries has restrained the Council’s ability over the past year to address these issues more forcefully. In general, since adopting resolution 2216, 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. Members agreed to put on hold consideration of a politically sensitive humanitarian resolution (opposed by Saudi Arabia) as prospects emerged to organise new talks.

During the current round of talks, the Group of 18 Ambassadors to Yemen, which includes the P5 and Council members Egypt and Japan as well as Gulf countries, has been united on the need for the two sides to remain in the negotiations. Kuwait, as host of the talks, has been playing a particularly active role in pressuring the parties to remain engaged.

During the most recent consultations with the Special Envoy, members supported the Secretary-General’s proposals to expand the Office of the Special Envoy, as formally conveyed in a 26 May letter to Secretary-General.

UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN

Security Council Resolutions
24 February 2016 S/RES/2266 This resolution renewed the Yemen sanctions measures until 26 February 2017, and the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 27 March 2017.
14 April 2015 S/RES/2216 This resolution demanded the Houthis to withdraw from all seized areas and to relinquish all seized arms, and established an arms embargo on the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Security Council Presidential Statement
25 April 2016 S/PRST/2016/5 This presidential statement welcomed the launch of peace talks that started on 21 April 2016 in Kuwait and requested the Secretary-General to provide a plan on how the Special Envoy’s office can further support the Yemeni parties.
Security Council Letters
24 May 2016 S/2016/488 This was a letter from the Secretary-General to the Council outlining his plan to strengthen the Office of the Special Envoy.
26 May 2016 S/2016/489 This was the Council letter taking note of the Secretary-General’s proposals to strengthen the Special Envoy’s Office in support of the Yemeni parties and peace process.
Security Council Meeting Records
15 April 2016 S/PV.7672 This was a briefing on Yemen by Special Envoy Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed and deputy head of OCHA Kyung-wha Kang.