Expected Council Action
In February, the Council expects a briefing on Yemen by Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock is likely to brief on the humanitarian situation.
The Council is also expected to adopt a resolution renewing the 2140 Yemen sanctions regime and the mandate of the supporting Panel of Experts. Current sanctions measures expire on 26 February, and the mandate of the panel expires on 27 March.
Key Recent Developments
After months of tensions, the alliance between the Houthi rebel group and supporters of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh fractured. Full-scale fighting erupted between the two sides in Sana’a on 1 December 2017. Saleh said in televised remarks on 2 December that his party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), was open to dialogue and willing to turn a “new page” with the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which since March 2015 has been fighting Houthi and Saleh forces on behalf of the internationally recognized Yemeni government. After several days, the Houthis gained the upper hand in the fighting. On 4 December 2017, Houthi fighters killed Saleh, who had ruled Yemen from 1978 to 2011. During the fighting and in ensuing days, a number of Saleh’s family members and high-ranking GPC members were killed or detained. In an attempt to not completely alienate GPC members, the Houthis announced that their dispute was with Saleh and those who took up arms against them and not with his party.
Yemen’s humanitarian crisis as a result of the war remains the world’s largest with over 22 million people requiring assistance, 8 million people at risk of famine, a cholera epidemic that has exceeded a million cases, and a spreading outbreak of diphtheria. On 20 December 2017, the Saudi-led coalition announced that it would keep Houthi-controlled Hodeidah port, which handles most of Yemen’s imported food, fuel and medical supplies, open for a further month. That same day, Saudi Arabia announced that the coalition would allow delivery of four cranes to the port to replace those damaged by air strikes in August 2015. (The coalition had prevented the delivery of the cranes over the past year.) On 15 January, the cranes arrived in Hodeidah. On 17 January, Saudi Arabia announced that it would deposit $2 billion into the Central Bank of Yemen to prevent the Yemeni riyal from collapsing. On 22 January, Saudi Arabia further announced that the coalition would provide $1.5 billion to the UN’s 2018 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan (YHRP), which was launched the previous day and seeks $2.96 billion to assist 13.1 million people in 2018.
On the political front, the deputy head of mission of the Office of the Special Envoy, Muin Shreim, visited Sana’a from 6 to 10 January. In a 14 January letter to the Secretary-General and the Security Council, the Houthis welcomed Shreim’s proposal of holding a round of joint talks in Muscat with the Special Envoy. On 22 January, Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced that he would not continue in his position after his contract ends at the end of February.
On 21 January, the Southern Transitional Council, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), declared a state of emergency in Aden and said that it would overthrow the Yemeni government unless President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi replaced Prime Minister Ahmed bin Daghr and his entire cabinet with technocrats within a week.
Ould Cheikh Ahmed last briefed Council members on 5 December 2017 in consultations. On 22 December, a Council press statement “condemned in the strongest possible terms” a Houthi ballistic missile attack against Riyadh on 19 December. The missile, which the coalition said it intercepted, was the second ballistic missile to reach Riyadh that the Houthis had fired since November 2017.
On 10 January, the Yemen Panel of Experts submitted its annual final report to the 2140 Sanctions Committee. In the report, the panel identified missile remnants, related military equipment and unmanned military aerial vehicles of Iranian origin, concluding that Iran is in non-compliance with resolution 2216 for having “failed to take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer” of such items.
The panel said that all parties to the conflict committed widespread violations of international humanitarian and human rights law throughout 2017. This included indiscriminate Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes and Houthi-Saleh forces’ use of explosive ordnance; arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances and torture by the Yemeni government, the UAE and Houthi-Saleh forces; and both sides’ obstruction of humanitarian assistance. It described coalition restrictions on entry points to Yemen as having “the effect of using the threat of starvation as an instrument of war”. The report further described Yemen’s conflict as “warring statelets”, with no single side possessing the political support or military strength to reunite the country or achieve victory. The report contained ten recommendations. The committee discussed the report with the panel on 23 January.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 4 December 2017, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein appointed the members of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, established by Human Rights Council resolution 36/31 adopted on 29 September 2017. In a statement that day, Zeid noted that “for three years, the people of Yemen have been subjected to death, destruction and despair. It is essential that those who have inflicted such violations and abuses are held to account”. The experts—Kamel Jendoubi (Tunisia), Charles Garraway (UK), and Melissa Parke (Australia)—will submit a report to the High Commissioner by September.
In a 19 December 2017 press briefing, the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, expressed concern over the recent surge in civilian casualties in Yemen as a result of intensified airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition. According to the briefing, the Yemen office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has verified that 136 civilians and non-combatants were killed and some 87 injured as a result of airstrikes from 6 to 16 December 2017. The spokesperson urged all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, “including their obligation to respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. They should take all feasible precautions to avoid, and in any event to minimise, the impact of violence on civilians”.
Key Issues and Options
Key issues remain the resumption of a political process, along with mitigating the humanitarian crisis and the war’s impact on civilians. Related to the challenges facing any political process is the proliferation of armed groups and Yemen’s fragmentation, including the threat of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which have benefited from the vacuum created by the conflict.
Since 2015, the Council has focused the annual resolution renewing Yemeni sanctions exclusively on sanctions issues, avoiding broader and more controversial political or humanitarian aspects. In renewing sanctions and the mandate of the Panel of Experts for a further 12 months from their respective expiration dates, the Council, following up on the Panel’s latest and past recommendations, could:
- call on member states to fully implement the arms embargo in resolution 2216, 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 designation criterion of obstructing humanitarian assistance to Yemen referred to in resolution 2216 as violating the sanctions regime;
- call on member states of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition not to misuse resolution 2216 as a justification to obstruct delivery of essential goods and humanitarian aid by air or sea;
- reiterate the need for coalition states to report all inspections to the 2140 Committee as required under resolution 2216; and
- authorise UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism monitors to maintain a presence at Hodeidah port as a confidence-building measure to oversee commercial vessel discharges.
Such a resolution could also include a specific condemnation of Iran’s non-compliance with the arms embargo established in resolution 2216, as concluded by the panel.
An additional option is adopting a new resolution coinciding with the appointment of a new special envoy that calls on the sides to resume negotiations without preconditions and to establish a cessation of hostilities.
Either resolution could request the Secretary-General to provide monthly updates on the humanitarian crisis to ensure greater Council attention on the situation, similar to its monthly discussions of the humanitarian crises in Syria and South Sudan.
Following up on a Secretary-General’s recommendation in his 8 December 2017 report on implementation of resolution 2231 on the Iran nuclear deal, the 2140 Committee and the Security Council’s “2231 format” could organise a joint meeting to be briefed by both the Yemen Panel of Experts and the Secretariat (which supports the 2231 format) on their respective findings.
Council and Wider Dynamics
The P3, and Council members in general, have strategic relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. This is a reason that the Council has had difficulty being more engaged on Yemen, especially when it might involve taking positions counter to Saudi preferences. Recent months have seen a trend, however, in which several members, including Bolivia, France and Sweden, have broken silence jointly on Council products they felt were too one-sided. This included the initial draft of members’ 22 December press statement, which at first did not include references to the humanitarian crisis.
The Netherlands, which is a new member, is perceived as likely to seek greater Council engagement on Yemen, having led initiatives in the Human Rights Council to set up an international inquiry of violations in the war. Kuwait, a member of the Saudi-led coalition, is expected to support coalition positions.
The US has been active over recent months in seeking to demonstrate Iran’s role in supplying the Houthis with ballistic missiles, including US ambassador Nikki Haley’s 14 December 2017 press event at a military base near Washington, D.C., during which she presented what she said were Iranian missile remnants and fragments of a drone that were used by the Houthis. A number of members have expressed concerns about the Panel of Experts’ independence and evidentiary standards in its conclusion regarding the missiles, and at the latest meeting of the 2140 Committee, China and Russia questioned the Panel’s evidence and methodology in making this determination. At press time, Council members were planning to go to Washington, D.C. on 29 January, upon the initiative of Haley, to view the missile remnants and have lunch with US President Donald Trump.
The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Peru chairs the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|23 February 2017 S/RES/2342||This resolution renewed the Yemen sanctions regime.|
|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 Statement|
|15 June 2017 S/PRST/2017/7||This stressed the importance of keeping all of Yemen’s ports functioning, including Hodeidah.|
|8 December 2017 S/2017/1030||This was the fourth report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 2231.|