Expected Council Action
In July, the Council expects to receive a briefing from the Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
Key Recent Developments
The war in Yemen continues amidst stalled efforts to resume political talks. The country’s humanitarian crisis as a result of the conflict, meanwhile, continues to worsen in the face of a cholera outbreak. The war 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 May, Ould Cheikh Ahmed sought to broker an agreement that would avert a possible coalition offensive against the critically important city of Hodeidah. Hodeidah’s port, the largest in Yemen, takes in 70 percent of humanitarian aid and commercial goods imported into the country; thus a prolonged battle or the port’s destruction would have a disastrous impact on the already severe humanitarian crisis, according to UN officials.
From 22 to 24 May, Ould Cheikh Ahmed visited Sana’a to discuss his proposals for Hodeidah with the Houthis and the General People’s Congress (GPC), the political party of Saleh. During the transfer from the airport to the UN compound following his arrival, Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s convoy came under attack, with two vehicles apparently hit by gunfire. Over the three days the Special Envoy was unable to meet with the Houthi/GPC negotiation delegation.
The Special Envoy’s proposal for Hodeidah, which he explained during his 30 May Council briefing and in remarks to the press after the session, entails two main components. On the security side, neutral Yemeni military officials would oversee Hodeidah. The proposal also envisions resuming payment of salaries to civil servants, millions of whom have not been paid for months, by placing all customs revenues collected at Hodeidah, along with revenues from other points of entry such as Aden, Mokha and Mukalla, and telecommunications revenues in Sana’a, into a dedicated salary fund. Ould Cheikh Ahmed noted that the proposals would address the Yemeni government and coalition’s concerns of arms smuggling through Hodeidah and the Houthis’ use of revenues collected from imports at the port, while ensuring that the port does not come under the control of the coalition alone.
On 5 June, a Yemeni government letter to the Council expressed the government’s full support for the Special Envoy’s recent proposals. That same day, the Houthis announced that they would no longer meet with the Special Envoy, who they accused of being biased.
Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, which is the greatest in the world with 19 million people requiring humanitarian assistance and seven million at risk of famine, was made worse by the outbreak of a cholera epidemic that began in late April. On 15 May, authorities in Sana’a declared a state of emergency for the city and called for international help. A joint UNICEF-World Health Organization statement on 24 June said that the cholera outbreak had exceeded 200,000 suspected cases, increasing at an average of 5,000 a day. More than 1,300 people had died from the outbreak, which has affected almost all of Yemen’s 22 governorates.
On 17 June, at least 22 civilians were reported killed or injured by airstrikes on a market in Sa’ada governorate. There were no reported military targets in the market’s proximity, according to a 21 June statement by Yemen Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick. He also flagged damage caused by military activities to power lines to the main water supply system of Dhmar City on 19 June, affecting one million people.
Tensions continued between Yemeni President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi and local southern authorities considered close to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which the Yemeni government accuses of supporting secessionist groups. On 31 May, fighting led to UAE-backed forces reportedly taking control of Aden’s airport from government forces.
During the Council’s 30 May briefing, Ould Cheikh Ahmed stated that the sides were not close to a comprehensive agreement. OCHA head Stephen O’Brien told the Council that “the situation on the ground has continued to spiral downwards towards total social, economic and institutional collapse”. Yemeni civil society representative Radya al-Mutawakel of the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights also addressed the Council, calling on it to fulfil its responsibilities to protect civilians and to revive the peace process, while she outlined a number of urgent concrete actions that the Council could take. Following closed consultations, Council members issued “press elements”, calling on the parties to ensure access through all of Yemen’s ports, including Hodeidah.
On 15 June, the Council adopted a presidential statement on the humanitarian situation and confidence-building measures regarding Hodeidah port. The statement stressed the importance of keeping all of Yemen’s ports functioning, including Hodeidah. The Council called on the parties to engage constructively with the Special Envoy on his proposal for increasing commercial and humanitarian shipments, including new arrangements for the management of Hodeidah, while urging an agreement for resuming payments of government salaries. The Council further encouraged rapid agreement on the timely installation of cranes at Hodeidah to increase the port’s capacity, and increased access to Sana’a Airport for lifesaving humanitarian supplies and movement of urgent humanitarian cases.
Council members also discussed Yemen’s humanitarian crisis at a 16 June Arria-formula meeting regarding the risk of famine in the conflict-affected areas of northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a statement on 16 June, the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteurs on water and sanitation, Léo Heller, and on health, Dainius Pūras, warned that urgent action by Yemen and the international community is needed to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation in order to address the spiralling cholera outbreak in the country. According to Heller and Pūras, the breakdown of water and sanitation systems in Yemen has exacerbated the spread of the water-borne disease, forcing people to use unsafe water sources.
How the Council can support efforts to achieve a cessation of hostilities and convince the parties to resume peace talks remains a key issue. Related to this are the implications of the Houthis’ announcement that they will not engage with the Special Envoy, and therefore how to promote UN-brokered consultations with the rebel group and the GPC.
Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law remains a key issue. This includes the functioning of Hodeidah port, obstructions on humanitarian aid and commercial goods into and throughout Yemen, and civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.
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 closely monitor the parties’ actions in accordance with its recent presidential statement, and be prepared to exert further pressure through a follow-up statement or resolution, if they fail to follow through with the Council’s calls. In the case of an escalation of violence and a worsening of the humanitarian situation, the Council may adopt a resolution demanding, inter alia, an immediate cessation of hostilities.
In light of the lower level of Council attention on Yemen compared to other major wars and humanitarian crises such as Syria or South Sudan, the Council could decide to start receiving monthly briefings on Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.
Another option, which may increase pressure on the parties to compromise and the Council’s focus on the conflict, is a visiting mission to Yemen and the region.
Council and Wider Dynamics
While members agree that there is no military solution to the conflict and all express concern about the humanitarian crisis, bilateral interests and relationships, particularly with Saudi Arabia, has made the Yemen conflict difficult for the Council to address as members are cautious in taking positions that are contrary to Saudi preferences. These have included Saudi Arabia’s opposition to any new Council resolutions on the conflict. Other than the annual resolution to renew the Yemen sanctions regime, the Council’s 15 June presidential statement was its first decision on Yemen in nearly 14 months.
Within the Council, Egypt, as a member of the coalition, champions Yemeni government and coalition positions. Russia has, at times, highlighted Houthi perspectives, arguing that Council outcomes should be more even-handed, but has also sometimes raised this conflict in the face of criticism regarding its role in Syria. Sweden has been keen to see the Council become more proactive and played an important role pressing for the recent presidential statement.
The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Japan chairs the 2140 Yemen Sanctions 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 Presidential Statements|
|15 June 2017 S/PRST/2017/7||This stressed the importance of keeping all of Yemen’s ports functioning, including Hodeidah.|
|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 Meeting Records|
|30 May 2017 S/PV.7954||This was a briefing by Special Envoy, Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, OCHA head of OCHA, Stephen O’Brien and Yemeni civil society representative, Radhya al-Mutawakel.|
|Security Council Letters|
|5 June 2017 S/2017/476||This expressed the Yemeni government’s support for the Special Envoy’s proposals for Hodeidah port and to resume salary payments.|