October 2016 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 September 2016
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In October, the Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is expected to brief the Council, followed by consultations.

Key Recent Developments

Peace talks in Kuwait, ongoing for more than three months, between the Yemeni government and the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite rebel group, and their allies in the General People’s Congress (GPC) ended on 6 August without any agreement. On 31 July, the Yemeni government announced that it had accepted the Special Envoy’s proposal that would require the Houthis and GPC forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to withdraw from cities under their control and surrender medium and heavy weapons within 45 days. After that, a unity government would be installed. Talks were extended for an additional week, but the Houthis and the GPC rejected the proposal.

With the breakdown in talks, ground fighting and Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen intensified, causing increasing civilian casualties and heavy damage to civilian infrastructure. A 13 August airstrike on a school killed at least 10 children and a 15 August airstrike on a Médecins San Frontiéres (MSF)-run hospital killed 19, prompting MSF to withdraw its staff in Saada and Hajjah governorates. Airstrikes in Beit Saadan on 10 September killed 30 people, and 26 people were killed in an airstrike in Hodeidah on 22 September. There are assertions of increased rocket and missile attacks fired at Saudi Arabia, and the Houthis have been reported as holding and seizing additional territory in border regions of southern Saudi. 

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) remain a threat, particularly in the south. On 29 August, ISIL claimed an attack on a government military recruiting centre in Aden that killed at least 54.

Following the Houthi and GPC agreement on 28 July to create a ten-person Supreme Political Council (SPC) to govern Yemen, a parliamentary session was held on 13 August in which legislators ratified the arrangement. The Special Envoy has said that establishing the SPC violates resolution 2216, which demanded that all parties refrain from unilateral actions that undermine Yemen’s political transition.

To revive a political process, foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK and the US met with the Special Envoy on 25 August in Jeddah. This was followed by a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the UK and the US, together with the Special Envoy. After this meeting, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced an agreement on a “renewed approach to negotiations” that would address the security and political tracks “simultaneously”. The Special Envoy said during his 31 August briefing to the Security Council that this approach “would define a path for the rapid formation of a government of national unity to be formed immediately following the withdrawal and handover of weapons in Sana’a and some other vital areas”. Over a week after the 31 August briefing, Council members issued a press statement expressing continued support for the Special Envoy and urging the parties to resume consultations and to recommit to and respect the cessation of hostilities.

Since then, there has been little progress. Houthi/GPC negotiators have been unable to return to Yemen and remain in Oman as the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which has banned commercial flights to and from Sana’a following the Kuwait talks, has refused to allow their return.

Yemen continues to endure a humanitarian crisis. More than 14 million people require food aid, of which 7 million are suffering from food insecurity. About 3.1 million Yemenis have been displaced, a 7 percent increase since April. On 30 August, OCHA said that the death toll had surpassed 10,000.

Compounding the situation is Yemen’s fiscal crisis resulting from the near-depletion of the Central Bank of Yemen’s reserves, which the government says the Houthis have used to finance their war effort. The bank’s potential insolvency threatens to further destabilise the humanitarian situation if its ability to continue to pay civil servants’ salaries and finance essential imports of food, fuel and medical supplies is undermined. In August, President Abdo Raboo Mansour Hadi requested that financial institutions no longer deal with the Central Bank, and on 18 September, he ordered that it be relocated to Aden.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 5 August the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee met to consider the 27 July “midterm update” of its Panel of Experts. This report covered ongoing investigations into armed groups, implementation of the arms embargo and financial sanctions, and allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law that the Panel asserted have been committed by all sides.

Human Rights-Related Developments

In his opening statement at the Human Rights Council’s 33rd session in Geneva on 13 September, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein noted that his office “continues to enjoy broad access in Yemen…but … the national investigation effort has not been able to provide the impartial and wide-ranging inquiry that is required by serious allegations of violations and abuse. I recommend a comprehensive inquiry by an international independent body”.

The Human Rights Council considered the High Commissioner’s report on technical assistance and capacity-building for Yemen in the field of human rights (A/HRC/33/38). The report describes alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by all parties to the ongoing conflict, including attacks on residential areas, marketplaces, medical and educational facilities and public and private infrastructure; the use of landmines and cluster bombs; sniper attacks against civilians; deprivation of liberty; targeted killings; the recruitment and use of children in hostilities; and forced evictions and displacement. In several of the documented military attacks, the UN Human Rights Office was unable to identify the presence of possible military objectives. Its key recommendation reiterates the High Commissioner’s call for an international, independent body to investigate alleged violations. In making the recommendation, the report noted the challenges faced by the Yemeni government’s commission of inquiry that have not allowed it to implement its mandate in accordance with international standards.

Key Issues

How the Council can support efforts to re-establish a cessation of hostilities and advance peace talks, including overcoming differences between the parties over the sequencing of security and political measures, is the key issue.

The humanitarian crisis and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law also remain key issues.

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

Options

If progress emerges from peace talks, the Council may adopt a statement or resolution backing the outcome.

If current political initiatives do not produce results, the Council could reconsider a humanitarian resolution. Elements for a resolution were proposed by New Zealand last March. Such a resolution could call on all parties to allow unhindered humanitarian access and to ensure the safety of humanitarian personnel, and demand that the parties adhere to international human rights and international humanitarian law, including taking all precautions to avoid civilian casualties.

Council and Wider Dynamics

Russia was critical of the Special Envoy’s recent proposal, considering it unrealistic to expect the Houthis to turn over their arms and withdraw from territory before there was an agreement on their future political participation. Other members appear to have had similar concerns, which seemed to be taken into account in the renewed approach for talks announced by Kerry.

Reaching consensus on Council decisions on Yemen has been difficult lately. Members failed to agree on press elements following the 3 August consultations and required nine days to agree on their last press statement. Differences play out, in particular, between Egypt and Russia. Egypt champions the positions of the Yemeni government and the coalition, of which it is a member, and has pushed back against criticism of the coalition, seeking stronger condemnation of the Houthis. Russia often seeks to present the perspective of the Houthis and promote what it considers to be a more balanced Council approach.

Other members tend to be less vocal. This appears to be due to political sensitivities stemming from the close relations of many members, such as the UK and the US, with Saudi Arabia. For this reason, the Council remains unlikely to depart from resolution 2216 as a basis for resolving the conflict, despite widespread criticism of the resolution as one-sided and unrealistic in light of the situation on the ground. The demands of resolution 2216 that the Houthis withdraw and relinquish seized weapons have represented actions the Yemeni government says must be fulfilled before making concessions. The Council’s approach has, therefore, been to hope for progress in the political process which it can then support through presidential statements, gradually shifting the framework away from resolution 2216.

The Group of 18 Ambassadors to Yemen, which includes the P5 countries, Egypt, Japan and the Gulf states, has pressured the sides to engage in negotiations. The so-called “Quad,” comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK and the US, emerged in July to address the deadlock around the political process.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen.

UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN

Security Council Resolution
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 Press Statement
8 September 2016 SC/12512 This press statement expressed members’ continued support for the Special Envoy and urged the parties to resume consultations and to recommit to and respect the cessation of hostilities.
Security Council Meeting Record
31 August 2016 S/PV.7765 This was a briefing by the Special Envoy for Yemen.