February 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2017
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In February, the Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing the 2140 Yemen sanctions regime and the mandate of the 2140 Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts. Current sanctions measures expire on 26 February, and the mandate of the Panel expires on 27 March.

Key Recent Developments

The war in Yemen has continued amidst a worsening humanitarian crisis and stalled progress to resume political talks. The conflict pits the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite rebel group, and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against the Yemeni government and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.

In a 6 December 2016 letter to the Secretary-General and the Security Council, the Yemeni government reiterated its rejection of the roadmap proposed by the UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed as a basis for resuming peace talks. The government described the roadmap as “flagrantly revers[ing] the three terms of reference”—the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative and its implementation mechanism, the National Dialogue Conference outcomes and resolution 2216 and other relevant Council resolutions—and said it “sows the seeds of a new phase of bloody conflict”.

On 18 December 2016, foreign ministers of the “Quad”—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the UK and the US—met with the foreign minister of Oman and Ould Cheikh Ahmed in Riyadh. They discussed the Special Envoy’s “proposals”—previously referred to as the roadmap—for resuming peace talks.

Following the meeting, the Quad released a communiqué reaffirming their support for the UN proposals, which “represent an outline for a comprehensive agreement whose details will be settled in negotiations”. The Quad emphasised that “the transfer of presidential authorities”, one of the steps in the roadmap to which Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi objected, “will not take place until the parties begin implementation of all political and security steps”. The communiqué outlined the seven key elements of the UN proposals, including sequenced security steps and necessary withdrawals and appointments for the political transition. The Quad further urged the Yemeni government to engage in talks on the basis of the proposals, welcomed the endorsement of the roadmap by the Houthis and Saleh’s party, the General People’s Congress and called for a cessation of hostilities. In mid-January, the Special Envoy began a new round of shuttle diplomacy across the region, on which he briefed the Council on 26 January.

Meanwhile, intense fighting continued, including in Taiz, Nihm (near Sana’a) and along the north-western Saudi-Yemeni border, front lines that have changed little over the past year. In January, the Saudi-led coalition and Yemeni government began an offensive to take the Red Sea port city of Mokha, which they reportedly captured on 23 January. In other violence, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for suicide attacks in Aden on 10 and 18 December 2016 that each killed more than 50 government soldiers.

Concerns continue to be flagged about a potential famine as Yemen’s humanitarian crisis appears to worsen. OCHA’s 31 December 2016 humanitarian bulletin estimated that 14 million people were food-insecure, of whom 7 million do not know where their next meal will come from. The bulletin noted import restrictions (particularly on medicines, food and fuel) despite the establishment and functioning of the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM). Moreover, a coalition ban on commercial flights to and from Sana’a since August has left several thousand people unable to seek necessary medical treatment abroad. The decline in the Yemeni Central Bank’s foreign reserves and the country’s liquidity crisis continue to compound the humanitarian crisis.

Sanctions-Related Developments

In January, the Yemen Panel of Experts submitted its final report to the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee. The report analysed the implementation of financial and travel ban sanctions, the arms embargo against Houthi and Saleh forces and violations of the designation criteria including international humanitarian law and human rights law. Among its findings, the Panel said it had not seen sufficient evidence to confirm any large-scale supply of weapons from Iran. It noted that the exploitation by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIL of the vacuum created by the war could be laying the foundation for terrorist networks that could last years. The report attributed violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, some of which may amount to war crimes, to all parties to the conflict, including the Saudi-led coalition.  

The Committee was due to discuss the report with the Panel on 27 January. The Panel did not make new recommendations in addition to those in its 2015 final report and 2016 mid-term update. In November 2016, the Panel submitted statements of cases on two individuals associated with the Houthis and Saleh whom the Committee could consider subjecting to sanctions measures.

Key Issues

How the Council can support efforts to achieve a cessation of hostilities and the resumption of peace talks is a key issue.

Renewing the sanctions and the mandate of the Panel of Experts, including considering how the sanctions can complement a political process to end the war, will be a key issue.

Related to both sanctions and the Council’s broader consideration of the Yemen conflict is the humanitarian crisis, including issues of humanitarian access and violations of international humanitarian law.

Another key issue is the expansion of AQAP and ISIL.

Options

The Council is expected to renew the Yemen sanctions measures and the mandate of the Panel of Experts for a further 12 months from their respective expiration dates. In doing so, it could:

  • demand an end to the prohibition of commercial flights to and from Sana’a;
  • demand that parties to the conflict cease attacks on hospitals and infrastructure, and remove bureaucratic impediments that obstruct access to humanitarian assistance;
  • affirm that UNVIM should provide clearance to and oversee inspections of commercial shipments to Yemen in accordance with resolution 2216, call on member states to cooperate fully with UNVIM, and request the Secretary-General to review the UNVIM’s functioning and report to the Committee  in three months; and
  • 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.

The 2140 Committee may further decide to designate new individuals to be sanctioned.

The Council could also consider a new resolution on Yemen, as the UK had said it would propose in autumn 2016, which:

  • demands an immediate cessation of hostilities, including of all land, sea and military activities; and
  • calls for the sides to return to negotiations on the basis of the Special Envoy’s proposals.
Council and Wider Dynamics

The Yemen war is a situation on the Council’s agenda over which Gulf countries have exercised a strong influence. For example, last autumn the UK, following pressure by Saudi Arabia, held back from its announced intention that it would submit a resolution calling for a cessation of hostilities and engagement in talks on the basis of the roadmap. The Saudis have opposed any new resolution that could be viewed as departing from resolution 2216, adopted shortly after the coalition’s intervention, as a basis for addressing the conflict. Within the Council, Egypt, as a member of the coalition, champions Yemeni government and coalition positions. Russia tends to highlight the perspective of the Houthis and has played a role in making Council positions on Yemen more balanced, while at times raising the Yemen conflict in the face of criticism regarding its role in Syria.

Among new incoming members, Italy and Sweden have expressed an interest in Yemen, such as trying to further address the humanitarian situation. Italy appointed a Special Envoy to Yemen this past September.

The Quad emerged in July 2016 to break the impasse that was developing in peace talks that were held in Kuwait from April to early August. The US has had a key role in driving the Quad’s activities and in developing the roadmap. The change of US administrations may thus affect the role this group plays.

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

UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN

Security Council Resolutions
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.
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.
26 February 2014 S/RES/2140 This resolution expressed the Council’s strong support for the next steps of the political transition and established sanctions against those threatening the peace, security or stability of Yemen.
Security Council Meeting Record
31 October 2016 S/PV.7797 This was a briefing by Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, OCHA head Stephen O’Brien and World Food Programme regional director Muhannad Hadi.
Security Council Letter
6 December 2016 S/2016/1035 This was a letter from the Yemeni government regarding the Special Envoy’s roadmap.