Expected Council Action
In April, the Council expects a briefing on Yemen by Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, which will be his first briefing since replacing the former envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, at the end of February. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock is likely to brief on the humanitarian situation.
Key Recent Developments
The war in Yemen has escalated in recent months, further exacerbating the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition and forces affiliated with the Yemeni government appeared to have intensified operations since the break-up of the alliance between the Houthi rebels and supporters of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Fighting in late January in Aden between Yemeni government forces and southern separatist militias, which are backed by the United Arab Emirates, also showed fissures among Houthi opponents and the fragility of their coalition. On 16 February, 18 months after the last round of peace talks, the UN announced the appointment of Griffiths as the new Special Envoy as of 1 March.
On 26 February, Russia vetoed a draft resolution to renew the Yemen sanctions regime. It objected to references to the Yemen Panel of Experts’ findings that Iran was in non-compliance with the arms embargo. Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said these were “unconfirmed conclusions and evidence” and therefore such a resolution “could have seriously destabilizing consequences, not just for the situation in Yemen but for the entire region”. Eleven members voted in favour of the resolution, while Bolivia joined Russia in voting against it. China and Kazakhstan abstained. Council members then unanimously approved a draft resolution which Russia had presented that was based on last year’s resolution 2342, with technical amendments to extend sanctions measures until 26 February 2019 and the mandate of the Yemen Panel of Experts until 28 March 2019. Speaking after this second vote, US representative Kelley Eckels-Currie said that Bolivia, China, Kazakhstan and Russia’s votes “invited Iran to continue promoting chaos in the Middle East”.
The next day, 27 February, Ould Cheikh Ahmed briefed the Council for the last time as Special Envoy. He blamed the Houthis for the failure of peace talks, saying that they had come close to achieving a peace agreement during three months of talks in Kuwait in 2016 but “the Houthis were not prepared to make concessions on the proposed security arrangements or even to go into details about a comprehensive security plan”.
Director of Operations for OCHA John Ging also briefed. According to Ging, 22.2 million people require humanitarian assistance, including 8.4 million people who are severely food insecure. An additional two million people are displaced, including 100,000 people who have been displaced since November. Ging said that humanitarian access within Houthi-controlled areas had deteriorated. He also reiterated concern about the ongoing problems of delivering essential supplies to Yemen, which has long imported most of its food and fuel, and the continued closure of Sana’a airport. According to Ging, a major challenge was the coalition’s diversion of commercial shipping to Aden. Moreover, fewer commercial shippers are seeking to go to Yemen because of costly delays and unpredictable access.
On 12 March, Lise Grande was appointed UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, replacing Jamie McGoldrick, who was named Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process in February.
On 15 March, the Council adopted a presidential statement on Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, calling for the full and sustained opening of all of Yemen’s ports, including the Houthi-controlled Hodeidah and Saleef ports, and for increased access to Sana’a airport. The Council reaffirmed that access restrictions can constitute violations of international humanitarian law and stressed the need to prevent the adverse effects of the arms embargo on commercial and humanitarian imports. The statement, inter alia, encouraged donors to support the upcoming Geneva donors’ conference for Yemen’s 2018 UN Humanitarian Response Plan (scheduled for 3 April), while “taking note with appreciation” the coalition’s announcement of a new humanitarian relief plan known as the Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations.
Touching on efforts to end the conflict, the presidential statement welcomed the appointment of the new Special Envoy and called upon all parties to the conflict to abandon pre-conditions and engage in good faith with the UN-led process, with the meaningful participation of women and other underrepresented groups at all levels. On 19 March, Griffiths issued a press release on his assumption of the role of Special Envoy, stating that “a credible political process will require all sides to be flexible, make difficult compromises, and prioritize the national interest for the sake of the Yemeni people”.
On 28 March, Council members issued a press statement condemning the Houthi missile attacks targeting several cities in Saudi Arabia on 25 March, and expressing grave concern at the humanitarian situation in Yemen (SC/13270).
Following the renewal of the Yemen sanctions measures and the mandate of the Panel of Experts, committee members have been in discussions during March on appointing the members of the Panel of Experts, which at press time was expected to be finalised by 28 March when the mandate of the current panel expires.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a 12 February statement, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein expressed alarm at continuing civilian casualties in Yemen as hostilities increased, noting that “civilians are under fire on all sides, as Houthi and affiliated forces carry out sniper attacks and indiscriminate shelling, and the Saudi-led Coalition continues to conduct airstrikes”. According to the statement, OHCHR verified that 27 people were killed and 76 injured between 1 and 8 February—more than double the number of civilian casualties confirmed during the previous week. Most of the casualties were attributed to the warring parties—48 to the coalition and 51 to the Houthi forces.
On 23 February, OHCHR sent Council members a confidential white note that flagged its Sana’a office’s almost daily reports of civilian casualties as a result of intensified coalition air strikes over the last two months, and on a smaller scale from Houthi shelling and sniper firing, US drone strikes, and attacks by Al Qaeda and Islamic State-affiliated groups. It further stated its serious concern at the lack of accountability on all sides.
On 22 March, the Human Rights Council held an oral briefing on human rights in Yemen.
Key Issues and Options
The upcoming Council meeting will be Griffiths’s first briefing, during which he may present his initial plans for resuming a peace process. Issues related to this include establishing a cessation of hostilities and the possible broadening of peace talks, for example, to include other groups that are seen as critical to implementing any future agreement, such as the separatist Southern Transitional Council. Relevant to this discussion is consideration of a new Council resolution. Resolution 2216 is the Council’s last substantive political resolution regarding the conflict. Adopted three years ago at the onset of the coalition intervention, it has so far proven ineffective in ending the war and has often been seen as creating a restrictive framework for mediation efforts.
Members may thus begin discussions about a new resolution that could express support for any new peace initiatives by the Special Envoy, reiterate that parties to the conflict should abandon pre-conditions, and endorse the broader participation of underrepresented groups.
Another important issue for the Council is monitoring implementation of its recent presidential statement, including progress towards reducing access restrictions, the parties’ compliance with international humanitarian law, and the protection of civilians, both from hostilities and the humanitarian consequences of the war, including famine and disease.
Council and Wider Dynamics
The P3, along with most Council members, have strategic relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. This has made it difficult for the Council to be more actively engaged on Yemen, and Saudi Arabia has been able to exert its influence on Council products.
The negotiations on the Council’s last presidential statement, however, indicated shifting dynamics. The Netherlands and Sweden represented a group of five at first and then later six members, including Bolivia, France, Peru and Poland, who coordinated their positions to push for what they regarded as a more balanced and comprehensive text. This pitted them against Kuwait and, at times, the UK during the negotiations. At the same time, the existence of this group seemed to help those who were trying to convince Saudi Arabia to accept the presidential statement—among them the US, which came in towards the end of the seven weeks of negotiations. Such coordination among Council members first emerged in November and December when a similar grouping formed to raise concerns about Council products on Yemen that they felt were too one-sided.
On the sanctions, Russia and China in particular felt strongly that the Panel of Experts had not met evidentiary standards expected of UN sanctions experts in order to draw its conclusions, such as the lack of any information on the chain of custody regarding Iranian-made weaponry possessed by the Houthis. Conversely, the US was very keen to use the sanctions renewal as an opportunity for the Council to send a strong message about Iranian meddling, not just in Yemen but across the region.
The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Peru chairs the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|26 February 2018 S/RES/2402||This was a resolution extending 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 Statements|
|15 March 2018 S/PRST/2018/5||This was a presidential statement calling for the full and sustained opening of all of Yemen’s ports, including Hodeidah and Saleef ports, and for increased access to Sana’a airport.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|27 February 2018 S/PV.8191||This was a briefing by UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. Director of Operations for OCHA John Ging and Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra (Peru), as chair of the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee, also briefed.|
|26 February 2018 S/PV.8190||This was the renewal of the Yemen sanctions regime, including the veto cast by Russia and Council members’ explanations of votes.|
|Security Council Letters|
|21 February 2018 S/2018/145||This was a letter from the Permanent Representative of Iran to the Security Council and Secretary-General, rejecting the conclusions of the Yemen Panel of Experts in its final report.|
|26 January 2018 S/2018/68||This was the final report of the Yemen Panel of Experts.|
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|26 February 2018 S/2018/156||This was a draft resolution on the Yemen sanctions regime, which Russia vetoed, objecting to references to the Yemen Panel of Experts’ findings that Iran was in non-compliance with the arms embargo. Eleven members voted in favour, China and Kazakhstan abstained with Bolivia also voting against.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|28 March 2018 SC/13270||This was a press statement condemning the Houthi missile attacks targeting several cities in Saudi Arabia on 25 March, and expressing grave concern at the humanitarian situation in Yemen.|