Expected Council Action
In December, the Council is likely to receive a briefing from the Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
Key Recent Developments
Yemen’s war between the government, supported by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition, and Zaydi Shiite Houthi rebels allied with forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh has continued, amidst efforts to revive peace talks based on a new peace initiative.
On 8 October, coalition air strikes targeted a funeral in Sana’a for the father of a high-ranking Houthi official. Hundreds of people, including families and political and tribal leaders, were present at the reception hall where the service was being held. More than 140 people were killed and at least 540 injured. The incident raised fears that the conflict would escalate. Following international criticism, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition announced the results of an internal investigation on 15 October that stated that the attack was based on inaccurate information from the Yemeni government.
Other signs of the war’s escalation were a missile strike against a United Arab Emirates (UAE) vessel on 1 October and subsequent failed attacks against a US warship near the important shipping passage of Bab al-Mendab, followed by US cruise missile strikes on 12 October against the Houthi radar sites believed responsible for the attacks. Council members issued a press statement on 4 October condemning the attack on the Emirati vessel but were unable to agree on a statement condemning the funeral strike. The UK subsequently informed members on 13 October that it would prepare a new cessation of hostilities resolution.
On 16 October, foreign ministers of the “Quad”—Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK and the US— and the Special Envoy met in London. Following the meeting, the UK announced it would wait to propose a Council resolution in anticipation of an agreement on a cessation of hostilities, and taking into account the Special Envoy’s plans to return to the region to present the sides with a new roadmap for reaching a peace agreement. A renewable 72-hour cessation of hostilities went into effect on 19 October. Both sides alleged violations, and it was not renewed when it expired.
The Special Envoy presented the roadmap to the Houthis and the General People’s Congress (GPC)—the party of former President Saleh—while in Sana’a from 23 to 25 October, and to Yemeni transition President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi on 28 October in Riyadh. The roadmap envisions the Houthis and allied forces withdrawing from Sana’a, Taiz and Hodeidah while turning over heavy and medium weapons. After this, a new vice president would be appointed to whom Hadi would transfer his powers. A unity government would then be formed to oversee a new political transition.
The Houthis and GPC initially described the roadmap as “fundamentally flawed”. Hadi rejected the roadmap outright, claiming it “rewards the coup leaders” and is an “explicit departure” from resolution 2216.
On 15 November, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the Houthis, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had agreed to a cessation of hostilities beginning on 17 November. Kerry had met with the Houthis in Oman the evening before and announced the agreement after meeting Emirati and Saudi officials in Abu Dhabi. He further said that the Houthis had agreed to the roadmap as a basis for negotiations and that the parties “have agreed to work towards establishing a new national unity government…as a goal towards the end of the year”. The Yemeni government claimed it was never consulted on the new cessation of hostilities agreement and would not participate. The Special Envoy subsequently announced a 48-hour renewable cessation of hostilities beginning on 19 November, which would be marred by violence.
Addressing the humanitarian situation gained urgency as images emerged depicting starvation among Yemeni civilians. During a 31 October briefing, OCHA head Stephen O’Brien told the Council that Yemen is “one step away from famine”. Outbreaks of cholera were reported in October across 11 Yemeni governorates. Further complicating the humanitarian crisis has been the insolvency and political crisis of Yemen’s Central Bank, which did not pay the salaries of civil servants in September and October.
On 17 October, the Panel of Experts submitted a preliminary analysis to the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee about the 8 October attack on the funeral in Sana’a, saying it involved at least two aircraft bombs. According to the Panel, evidence suggested that the Saudi Arabia-led coalition had violated international humanitarian law obligations.
A key issue is how the Council should support efforts to obtain a sustained cessation of hostilities and the resumption of peace talks.
Addressing the humanitarian crisis and widespread violations of international humanitarian law remain key issues.
The threat from Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant amidst the security vacuum created by the conflict remains a major concern.
Depending on developments regarding current peace initiatives, the Council may adopt a resolution:
- demanding the sides to maintain or resume a cessation of hostilities; and
- calling for the sides to return to negotiations on the basis of the roadmap or welcoming any expressed willingness to do so.
The resolution could further:
- stress the importance of accountability for alleged breaches of international humanitarian law;
- demand that the parties allow unhindered access for aid and comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law, including avoiding targeting civilian infrastructure and harming civilians;
- demand the lifting of the ban on commercial flights to and from Sana’a;
- call on member states to support the rehabilitation of port infrastructure, including the replacement of damaged cranes at Hodeidah port, to facilitate essential imports of food, fuel and other supplies; and
- affirm that the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) should provide clearance to and oversee inspections of commercial shipments to Yemen in accordance with resolution 2216 and call on member states to fully cooperate with UNVIM.
Council and Wider Dynamics
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 been frequently held up by the Yemeni government and the coalition as outlining the conditions to be fulfilled for ending the war, in particular regarding withdrawals and disarmament. It continues to underpin the framework for negotiations.
Despite frustration that the resolution has been used to inhibit progress in peace talks, the close relations of Council members, in particular the UK and the US, with Saudi Arabia have left most of them unwilling to depart from resolution 2216 as a basis for addressing the conflict. The 8 October airstrikes on the funeral in Sana’a may have changed this dynamic, demonstrated by the UK’s announcing its intention to seek a new Yemen resolution that would call on the sides to resume negotiations on the basis of the roadmap. However, the UK has yet to propose a draft. The delay has been related, in part, to making sure a resolution reflects the realities of current peace initiatives amidst somewhat fluid developments. It has been speculated that the UK has used the prospect of a resolution to gain leverage with Saudi Arabia, which has opposed replacing resolution 2216.
Within the Council, Egypt, as a member of the coalition, champions positions of the Yemeni government and the coalition. At the 31 October briefing, it stated that its “redlines” include its position that President Hadi represents the only legitimate government in Yemen, which may signal difficulties in gaining its support on a resolution that endorses the roadmap, especially if the government continues to oppose it. Russia tends to highlight the perspective of the Houthis and has played a role in making Council positions on Yemen more balanced. Russia has often raised the Yemen conflict in the face of criticism from the P3 regarding its role in Syria. During October, worsening tensions regarding Syria spilled over into the Council’s consideration of Yemen.
The Quad, which emerged in July, has been critical in moving the renewed peace initiative forward following the breakdown of the Kuwait talks, with the US playing a key role in driving these efforts and developing the roadmap.
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 Meeting Record|
|31 October 2016 S/PV.7797||This was a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, OCHA head Stephen O’Brien and World Food Programme regional director Muhannad Hadi.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|4 October 2016 SC/12541||Council members strongly condemned an attack by Houthi forces on a UAE vessel operating near Bab al-Mandeb straight on 1 October.|