August 2016 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 July 2016
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In August, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is expected to brief the Council. Also during August, the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee is due to consider the mid-term report of the Panel of Experts.

Key Recent Developments

Peace talks continued in Kuwait between the Yemen government and the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite rebel group, and their allies in the General People’s Congress (GPC). At a 30 June press conference, the Special Envoy announced the suspension of the talks, which had been ongoing for more than two months, in order for the parties to confer with their respective leaderships before resuming negotiations on 15 July. He said the sides had reacted positively to a roadmap that he had presented, which provides for implementation of resolution 2216 and the creation of a national unity government, but they remained divided over the “sequencing” of the steps. The Houthis have wanted agreement on a unity government before withdrawing and disarming, while the government wants them to take these actions first.

On 10 July, Yemen President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi threatened that the government would boycott the talks if the Special Envoy insisted on the creation of a unity government as part of a roadmap. Foreign Minister Abdul Malik al-Mekhlafi said the government would not return to the talks without “guarantees” and unless the Houthis recognise Hadi’s legitimacy. After a one-day delay, talks resumed on 16 July. Host government Kuwait set a 15-day timetable for concluding the round. On 28 July, the Houthis and GPC announced they would establish a governing council to run the country. The Special Envoy said the decision threatened the talks and violated resolution 2216, which demanded all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that undermine Yemen’s political transition.

The cessation of hostilities, which began on 10 April, remains in place. However, clashes have continued around Taiz, Ibb, to the east and northeast of Sana’a and along border areas with Saudi Arabia. Terrorist groups Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) remain a threat, especially in the south, where attacks and assassinations have continued against government forces and officials. These include ISIL-claimed attacks on 27 June against government forces that killed 42 people in Mukalla. On 8 July, a suicide car bomber attacked a checkpoint near a base in Aden, reportedly killing 25 soldiers.

On 2 June, the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict was made public. The report identified airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition as responsible for 60 percent of child casualties in Yemen during 2015 and for nearly 50 percent of attacks on hospitals and schools. As a consequence, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition was listed in the report’s annex. The Houthis, which were already listed for recruitment of children, were also cited for killing and maiming of children and attacks on schools and hospitals. 

The report triggered strong reaction. Addressing the media on 6 June, Saudi Arabia’s UN Ambassador, Abdallah Yahya Al-Mouallimi, claimed that the report’s information was inaccurate and incomplete, while adding that the report’s timing could only be counter-productive for the talks in Kuwait. Later that day, the Secretary-General announced that he was removing the Saudi Arabia-led coalition from the annex and that there would be a joint review with coalition members of the report’s findings. At a press stakeout on 9 June, the Secretary-General acknowledged that he took this decision in the face of some member states’ threatening to withdraw funding from UN programmes.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 2 May, the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) became operational. It was established to facilitate the flow of commercial goods into Yemen, while ensuring compliance with the targeted arms embargo set up in resolution 2216. Since then, UNVIM has approved all commercial shipments going to Yemeni ports not under government control and has provided to the 2140 Committee reports of cargoes that have been inspected. The Committee has also received accounts from member states of fishing vessels that were intercepted while transferring arms, believed to be for the Houthis. Committee members were expecting to receive the Panel’s midterm report in late July.

Key Issues

How the Council can support efforts to advance peace talks and a political process remains a key issue, which will largely depend on the outcome of the latest round of the Kuwait talks.

Adherence to the cessation of hostilities remains an important issue. This is connected to efforts to address the humanitarian crisis created by the war and issues involving protection of civilians. A related issue during August will be the Council’s expected discussion of the Secretary-General’s children and armed conflict report.

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

Within the 2140 Committee, issues include the enforcement of sanctions, such as reported violations of the arms embargo and the effectiveness of the UNVIM; information on violations of international humanitarian law and obstruction of humanitarian assistance; and how sanctions may be further used to support a peace process.

Options

If progress emerges from the latest round of talks in Kuwait, the Council may adopt a statement or resolution backing the outcomes.

Alternatively, if the sides remain deadlocked, an option for the Council is to consider changing the current UN-brokered framework by including among the participants key member states or other Yemeni groups, while calling on the parties to display more flexibility for implementing security measures and forming a national unity government.

For the Committee, the main option will be to consider and agree on any recommendations in the Panel of Experts’ mid-term report. 

Council and Wider Dynamics

Council members agree that the conflict can only be resolved through political negotiations. They also share concerns over the humanitarian situation and the need for the parties to do more to uphold international humanitarian law and protect civilians.

Resolution 2216, adopted shortly after the start of the Saudi Arabia-led intervention, demanded that the Houthis withdraw from captured areas and relinquish seized arms. The resolution has since been widely viewed as one-sided and unrealistic in light of the situation on the ground. The Yemen government’s insistence that the Houthis implement these demands from over a year ago before discussing transitional governing arrangements limits the possibility of a compromise solution. The close relations of members, particularly the P3 and Egypt, with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries has restrained the Council’s willingness to depart from resolution 2216 as a basis for resolving the conflict.

In general, the Council has relied on the Special Envoy’s mediation efforts. The Council has provided occasional expressions of support for his initiatives to encourage the sides’ cooperation while members have hoped for progress on a political process that the Council can support. Upon the start of the Kuwait peace talks in April, the Council adopted a presidential statement that was considered useful to encourage the sides to engage beyond positions that the parties had taken based on resolution 2216. More recently, Council members could not reach consensus on a draft presidential statement ahead of the second round of the Kuwait talks. Egypt and Russia both broke silence procedures. Egypt, and at times Senegal, champion positions of the coalition, of which they are members. Russia, on the other hand, often seeks to highlight the perspective of the Houthis and to promote what it considers more balanced Council positions.  

Members have also been reluctant to exert more pressure on the parties as long as the Special Envoy appeared optimistic that the sides were coming together. Now, after three months of UN-brokered talks in Kuwait that will possibly not yield any significant results, members may be more open to a change in the Council’s role.

Another important dynamic is the role of the Group of 18 Ambassadors to Yemen. This group includes P5 countries, Egypt, Japan and the Gulf states, which have pressured the sides to remain in negotiations. The Hadi-government depends on Saudi Arabia which hosts it and provides much of its military capacity, and ultimately must acquiesce to Saudi preferences. Kuwait, as host of the talks, has played a key role in bringing the sides together. But having provided the resources for this process, Kuwait says it cannot do so indefinitely and has established the 15-day timeframe for this second round.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Japan chairs the 2140 Sanctions Committee.

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.
Secretary-General’s Report
20 April 2016 S/2016/360 This was the report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict. On 6 June, the Secretary-General removed the Saudi Arabia-led coalition from the listing in Annex 1 of the report, where it had been included for the first time, “pending” the conclusion of a joint review of the findings with coalition members.
Security Council Meeting Record
21 June 2016 S/PV.7721 This was a briefing by the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed via video teleconference.