December 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 November 2017
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In December, the Council expects to be briefed on Yemen by Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed on efforts towards a political process. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock is likely to brief on the humanitarian situation.

Key Recent Developments

The war in Yemen rages on, with no progress towards the resumption of political negotiations and against the backdrop of the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis. The fighting pits the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite rebel group, and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against the Yemeni government and a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

On 4 November, the Houthis fired a missile towards Riyadh; it was intercepted near the airport of the Saudi capital. The coalition said in a 6 November statement that the incident “could rise to be considered as an act of war” by Iran, which it claimed had supplied the Houthis with the missile. On the same day it closed all Yemeni ground, air and sea ports, which it said in the same statement was to address weapons smuggling. The coalition said the closures would be temporary.

On 8 November, Council members met in consultations. Sweden had requested the meeting the previous week to be updated on Lowcock’s 24 to 28 October visit to Yemen. Because of developments, Lowcock, who briefed the full UN membership on his trip on 6 November, focused his remarks on the consequences of the intensified coalition blockade and communications with authorities to reverse the measures. Speaking to the press afterwards, Lowcock said that he told Council members that unless “those measures are lifted…there will be a famine….It will be the largest famine that the world has seen in many decades, with millions of victims”.

Lowcock outlined five measures that he said were needed to avoid such a famine:

  • resumption of air services to Sana’a and Aden for the UN and other humanitarian partners;
  • a clear and immediate assurance that there would be no further disruption to those air services;
  • immediate agreement to the pre-positioning of the World Food Programme vessel in the waters off Aden and assurances that there would be no further disruptions of its functions;
  • immediate resumption of humanitarian and commercial access to all seaports in Yemen, especially for food, fuel, medicines and other essential supplies; and
  • a scaling back of delays to or blockages of all vessels that have passed inspection by the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) so that they can proceed to port in Yemen as rapidly as possible, which he said “is very important because humanitarian access through the ports was inadequate even before the measures that were announced on the 6th of November”.

Council members issued “press elements”, which emphasised the importance of fully implementing the Council’s 15 June presidential statement, particularly keeping all of Yemen’s ports and airports functioning, including Hodeidah port as a critical lifeline for humanitarian support and other essential supplies. Members reiterated full support for the UNVIM and strongly condemned the attempted missile attack on Riyadh.

On 13 November, Saudi Arabian Permanent Representative Abdallah Al-Mouallimi announced that ports and airports under Yemeni government control, including Aden, Mocha and Mukalla ports, would reopen within 24 hours. Regarding the airport in Sana’a and the ports of Hodeidah and others in Houthi-controlled areas, he said that the coalition was requesting the Secretary-General to send a team of experts to the coalition command centre in Riyadh to review and strengthen current UNVIM procedures. Al-Mouallimi further said the coalition was preparing proposals for the operation of Hodeidah port and Sana’a airport, and would engage with Ould Cheikh Ahmed about new management arrangements for the port and airport based on these proposals. 

Two days later, the Secretary-General’s Spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, said, “once the blockade of the ports of Hudaydah and Saleef as well as Sana’a airport is lifted, the United Nations stands ready to send a technical team to Riyadh to discuss the UNVIM”. Dujarric added, “The UN will also then be able to dispatch a senior United Nations team, including humanitarian officials, to discuss arrangements at Hodeidah port and Sana’a airport.” On 25 November, UN humanitarian flights to Sana’a resumed, and on 26 November, an aid shipment was received at Hodeidah.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed last briefed the Council on 10 October. Still unable to engage with the Houthis, he had no progress to report on the confidence-building measures that he had been pushing to deal with Hodeidah port, to reopen Sana’a airport, and to resume civil servant salary payments. During consultations, he apparently acknowledged that these measures were unlikely to be adopted.

Sanctions-Related Developments

In a 10 November case study submitted to the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee, the panel concluded that the arms embargo in resolution 2216 was being used as justification to obstruct humanitarian assistance. The panel also said that it had seen no evidence to support Saudi Arabia’s claims that short-range ballistic missiles have been transferred to the Houthis, which was first reported by the news organisation The Intercept. It recommended that the committee chair urge Saudi Arabia to provide the panel with access to its evidence. The Panel further suggested that the chair remind coalition states of their obligations under resolution 2216 to allow for unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance and personnel to Yemen, as well as their obligations under the resolution to report inspections carried out in enforcing the arms embargo.

The Panel visited Riyadh to investigate the recent missile attack from 18 to 20 November. (The Panel had also sent Saudi Arabia a letter on 9 November seeking more information on the attack and expressing concerns about the coalition’s subsequent closure of ports.) It submitted an update report to the Committee on 24 November that apparently concluded that the missile debris from the 4 November attack was consistent with Iranian-designed and manufactured missiles.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 29 September, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted, without a vote, a resolution on Yemen requesting the High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish, by the end of 2017, a “group of eminent international and regional experts” for a period of at least one year (A/HRC/RES/36/31). The mandate includes monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights; carrying out a comprehensive examination of all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights and other applicable fields of international law committed by all parties to the conflict since September 2014; identifying those responsible, where possible; and making general recommendations on improving human rights, access to justice, and accountability. The resolution requested the group to present a comprehensive written report to the High Commissioner by the HRC’s 39th session.

In a 7 November press briefing, the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, expressed concern over a series of attacks during the first week of November that killed dozens of civilians, including several children. The spokesperson added that a UN human rights team recently visited Yemen to meet with the de facto authorities in Sana’a and government officials in Aden to prepare the ground for the Group of Eminent Experts mandated by the HRC, which he said the High Commissioner for Human Rights will soon be appointing. The total number of individually verified civilian casualties since March 2015 stands at 14,168, including 5,295 people killed and 8,873 injured, with actual numbers likely to be far higher, the spokesperson said.

Key Issues and Options

Addressing the blockade and overall humanitarian situation is an immediate issue. A related issue is getting the parties to comply with international humanitarian and human rights law.

Lack of progress on a political process is a recurring issue. Members are likely to be interested in new initiatives proposed by the Special Envoy.

Another issue of concern is the risk of further state collapse, benefitting Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

In light of the blocked political process, one option is a Council resolution or presidential statement on the humanitarian situation that includes:

  • calling on the coalition to carry out the five actions Lowcock outlined should be taken to avoid famine and alleviate the humanitarian crisis;
  • condemning indiscriminate attacks by the parties, including the 4 November missile fired at Riyadh; and
  • calling for member states to fully implement the arms embargo on Houthi and Saleh-loyalist forces while recalling that regular denial and delays of shipping access through Red Sea ports and the continued closure of the Sana’a airport meet the criterion of obstruction of humanitarian assistance referred to in resolution 2216 as violating the sanctions regime.
Council and Wider Dynamics

Following Lowcock’s 8 November briefing, Egypt circulated a seven-paragraph draft presidential statement condemning the Riyadh missile attack, which did not include any mention of the humanitarian situation. Saudi Arabia is said to have prepared the text, and it seems that the UK declined to circulate it as the Council’s penholder on Yemen. After the period to comment on the text was extended until 13 November, Russia shared its view that it would not be appropriate for the Council to adopt such a statement without referring to the humanitarian situation and political efforts. Egypt circulated an updated text with a sentence on the humanitarian situation and access. Five members (Bolivia, France, Italy, Sweden and Uruguay) jointly broke silence on the new draft, expressing the view that any Council product should be balanced and reflect recent discussions. Following this breaking of silence on 13 November, no further action had been taken on the statement by press time.

Overall, Egypt and sometimes Senegal champion positions of the coalition and Yemeni government. Russia has, at times, highlighted Houthi perspectives, arguing that Council outcomes should be more even-handed. Despite frequent misgivings about the coalition’s handling of the war, Council members have been reluctant to challenge Saudi and Emirati preferences because of geo-political relations. Sweden has been highlighting the humanitarian crisis, while Uruguay has been vocal in Council meetings about civilian casualties caused by coalition airstrikes and the need for accountability.

Reflecting the stalled political process, the Quint (composed of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE, the UK and the US), which started meeting in 2016 to try to break the political impasse, has been discussing holding a new meeting since October, but that continues to be postponed.

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
9 August 2017 S/PRST/2017/14 This was on the threat of famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and north-east Nigeria.
15 June 2017 S/PRST/2017/7 This stressed the importance of keeping all of Yemen’s ports functioning, including Hodeidah.
Human Rights Council Document
29 September 2017 A/HRC/RES/36/31 This resolution called on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish a group of international and regional experts to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in Yemen and carry out a comprehensive examination of all alleged violations and abuses since September 2014.