Expected Council Action
In May, the Council expects to receive a briefing from the Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
Key Recent Developments
The war in Yemen entered its third year at the end of March. Efforts to resume political talks remained stalled, and the humanitarian crisis continues to worsen, with increasing warnings of possible famine. 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.
There have been ongoing serious concerns about a potential attack against the Houthi-controlled port city of Hodeidah by Yemeni and coalition forces, which they have said they are planning to launch. Hodeidah’s port, the largest in the country, handles 70 to 80 percent of Yemen’s humanitarian assistance and the majority of its commercial cargo. Yemen has historically imported 80 to 90 percent of its food, fuel and medicine. Concerns, therefore, have been that an attack would significantly worsen the already grave humanitarian crisis as an offensive on the city would probably be difficult and destructive, lead to the port’s prolonged closure, and might cut off the civilian population in Houthi-controlled areas from aid.
During a 10 March Council briefing on various humanitarian crises, OCHA head Stephen O’Brien called the humanitarian crisis already prevailing in Yemen the “largest in the world”, with 18.8 million people in need of assistance. Food insecurity in Yemen increased by 3 million people since January, affecting 17 million by March, of whom 7 million are severely food insecure. O’Brien said that all parties to the conflict have denied sustained humanitarian access and have politicised aid, adding that famine would be inevitable if they do not change their behaviour.
On 17 March, Council members discussed the prospects of an attack on Hodeidah during consultations under “any other business” with Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman. In press elements afterwards, members called on the parties to allow humanitarian and commercial access, including through the critical port of Hodeidah. When the Special Envoy briefed members in consultations on 29 March, he did not report any significant progress on reviving peace talks. During the session, Ould Cheikh Ahmed said that an attack on Hodeidah must not happen and, according to a statement his office released, he urged the Council to “use all of its diplomatic weight to push for the relevant parties to make the concessions required to reach a final agreement before more lives are lost”.
On 25 April, a high-level pledging conference for the 2017 Yemen humanitarian response plan was held in Geneva. Secretary-General António Guterres chaired the conference, which was co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland. Pledges of $1.1 billion were made against the $2.1 billion required by the plan.
The US, under the administration of President Donald Trump, has apparently considered increasing its support to the Saudi-led coalition. On 14 March, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad Bin Salman met with Trump in Washington. According to a Saudi press release, the meeting “marked a significant shift in relations, across all political, military, security and economic fields”. US Defence Secretary James Mattis visited Riyadh from 18 to 19 April; his meetings with Saudi leaders focused in large part on Yemen. At a press conference, Matthis said, “In Yemen, our goal is to push this conflict into U.N.-brokered negotiations to make sure it is ended as soon as possible”. He asserted that Iran has supported the Houthis with weapons and referred to the need to overcome Iran’s destabilising activities and the creation of another “Lebanese Hezbollah”.
On 18 April, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee held a session on humanitarian access through Yemeni Red Sea ports, which was organised following a case study submitted by the Yemen Panel of Experts on the issue. UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen Jamie McGoldrick, Coordinator of the Panel of Experts Ahmed Himmiche, and Country Director of the World Food Programme Stephen Anderson briefed, focusing on the situation of Hodeidah. Access challenges include an increase in delays in inspections by the coalition and in its coordination with the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM), which approves commercial shipments to the port; Hodeidah port’s limited capacity because of, inter alia, the destruction of its cranes and poor port management; and Yemen’s worsening macroeconomic situation. During the session, it was highlighted that no substitute exists, among the contingency plans and options being considered, that could makeup for Yemen’s needs if Hodeidah becomes unusable.
On 28 April, the Committee met with the Panel following the 12 April appointment by the Secretary-General of the Panel’s expert on armed groups. The Panel discussed with members its work plan for the coming year.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a statement on 24 March, the High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the escalation in fighting since the beginning of the year, which has exacerbated the man-made catastrophe in Yemen. He described the conflict as “two years of wanton violence and bloodshed, thousands of deaths and millions of people desperate for their basic rights to food, water, health and security”. While noting that his office continues to provide support to the Yemeni National Commission, as mandated by the Human Rights Council (HRC), the High Commissioner stressed the need for an independent, international investigative body to examine the numerous reports of serious human rights violations in the country.
The HRC’s Special Rapporteur on human rights and international sanctions, Idriss Jazairy, called on 12 April for the lifting of the “unwarranted” aerial and naval blockade on the flow of commercial and humanitarian goods into Yemen. Jazairy argued that the blockade “involves grave breaches of the most basic norms of human rights law, as well as of the law of armed conflict” and amounts to an unlawful unilateral coercive measure under international law. The restrictions have “paralysed” the nation, according to Jazairy, and represent one of the main causes of the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, in which seven million people are facing famine.
The key issue is how the Council can support efforts to achieve a cessation of hostilities and convince the parties to resume peace talks.
An ongoing but increasingly urgent concern is the humanitarian crisis, including issues of humanitarian access, averting famine, and widespread violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict.
A related issue is the potential attack on Hodeidah, the humanitarian and political implications of an assault, and ways the Council could respond in light of the possible offensive.
Another issue is the expansion in Yemen of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as a result of the vacuum created by the war.
The Council could consider a new resolution on Yemen, as the UK said in autumn 2016 that it would propose, which:
- demands an immediate cessation of hostilities, including all land, sea and air military activities; and
- calls for the sides to resume negotiations on the basis of the Special Envoy’s October proposals, with the recognition by both sides of the need to compromise.
A resolution could additionally:
- demand that the parties allow unhindered access for aid and comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law, including avoiding harming civilians and targeting civilian infrastructure;
- demand that the ban on commercial flights to and from Sana’a be lifted;
- demand that Houthi and Saleh forces allow sustained humanitarian access to the city of Taiz;
- call on the parties to cooperate with the Special Envoy to work expeditiously on a plan to resume the payment of public sector salaries and the disbursement of social welfare fund cash transfers;
- encourage OCHA and/or UNVIM to deploy personnel to support the Hodeidah port authorities in managing the port;
- demand that the parties cooperate with efforts to rehabilitate the Hodeidah port, including allowing the delivery of cranes to facilitate essential imports of food, fuel and medicine;
- affirm that UNVIM should provide clearance to, and oversee inspections of, commercial shipments to Yemen in compliance with resolution 2216 and call on member states to cooperate fully with UNVIM; and
- stress the importance of accountability for alleged breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Members agree that there is no military solution to the conflict and all express concern about the humanitarian crisis. However, political relationships and interests, particularly with Saudi Arabia, make the Yemen conflict difficult for the Council to address as members are cautious about taking positions that are contrary to Saudi preferences. These have included Saudi Arabia’s opposition to any new Council resolutions on the conflict. Among Council members, Egypt is a member of the coalition, and the UK and US have been providing it with assistance as Saudi allies. Russia has played a role in making Council outcomes more even-handed between the parties, highlighting Houthi perspectives, but has often raised the conflict in the face of criticism regarding its role in Syria.
During the 29 March Council meeting, various members suggested that efforts to resume talks become more inclusive, through engagement with a broader cross-section of Yemenis or expanding the range of international actors involved. While expressing support for the Special Envoy, some members seemed frustrated that he did not offer new ideas to break the deadlock. The coalition and the Yemeni government have contended that Hodeidah’s fall could push the Houthis back to the negotiating table and improve the humanitarian situation by ending Houthi diversion of aid and other imported goods entering the port. The delay in launching the offensive may suggest they recognise the difficulties and consequences of an assault.
In 2016, the US drove the activities of the Quad—comprised of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the US—which emerged to play an active role in trying to break the political impasse and support the Special Envoy’s roadmap, subsequently referred to as the UN “proposals” and currently the UN “timeline”. The group has since become known as “the Quint”, as Oman became a member this year. However, with the change in US administrations, the Quint is considered unlikely to continue having an active role, and a meeting on 13 March in London was viewed as having been unproductive.
The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Japan chairs the 2140 Committee.
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|
|10 March 2017 S/PV.7897||This was a briefing on the humanitarian situation in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Lake Chad Basin.|