Expected Council Action
In June, the Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, is expected to brief the Security Council on Yemen.
Key Recent Developments
The war in Yemen between Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government, supported by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, entered its fourth year in March as fighting intensified. Some momentum towards resuming peace talks has been provided by the appointment of the Secretary-General’s new Yemen envoy. On 17 April, Griffiths delivered his first briefing to the Council following travels to Riyadh, Sana’a, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). His visit to Sana’a was the first time in over a year that the UN envoy had met with the Houthis, who had banned Griffiths’ predecessor, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, from Sana’a.
During the briefing, Griffiths stated his intention to present within the next two months a framework for negotiations, noting that the outlines of a political solution remain an end to fighting, the withdrawal of forces and the handover of heavy weapons in key locations, and an agreement on the establishment of an inclusive government. Despite having what he described as encouraging meetings during his visit to the region, he warned that an escalation in fighting and the renewed prospect of a military offensive against the port city of Hodeidah could derail political efforts.
On 15 May, the Office of the Special Envoy said in a press release that the Special Envoy was making “good progress towards the production of a framework for negotiations”, which he planned to put to the Council in the first half of June.
Amidst the escalation in fighting, the Houthis announced on 23 April the death of Saleh Ali al-Sammad, president of the Houthis’ Supreme Political Council, who was killed in a coalition drone strike near Hodeidah. Al-Sammad’s death has been viewed as a serious setback for peace talks, as he was considered an advocate for negotiations and had been scheduled to meet with Griffiths in late April. The coalition bombed Sana’a heavily on the day before and the day of al-Sammad’s funeral, which was held in the Yemeni capital on 28 April. The Houthis said that they fired eight ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia in retaliation later that day. Saudi Arabia claimed to intercept four missiles, with fragments killing one civilian.
April and May saw increasingly frequent Houthi missile and rocket attacks on Saudi Arabia. Saudi Aramco facilities in Jizan were repeatedly targeted, including in one case with a drone, on 4, 11 and 23 April. A Houthi missile slightly damaged a Saudi oil tanker on 3 April near Hodeidah in an attack conducted one day after an airstrike reportedly killed 12 civilians in the port city. In a 23 April statement, the Secretary-General strongly condemned airstrikes on a wedding party in Hajjah and on civilian vehicles in Taizz that killed at least 50 civilians. On 9 May, the Secretary-General expressed deep concern in another statement about the escalation in the Yemen conflict, singling out the 7 May air strikes that hit a government building in a densely populated area of Sana’a and the launching of ballistic missiles by the Houthis on 6 and 9 May towards different targets in Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh.
Yemen’s humanitarian crisis due to the war remains the world’s largest. More than 22 million people require humanitarian assistance, and 8.4 million are severely food insecure. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, speaking during the 17 April Council meeting, again expressed concern over access restrictions for humanitarian and commercial supplies into and inside Yemen. Lowcock flagged the need for commercial shipping to have access to Hodeidah and Saleef ports, highlighting the importance of commercial imports for Yemen, which imported 90 percent of its food and nearly all its medicine and fuel prior to the war.
The UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM), which provides clearance for commercial shipping to Houthi-controlled territory, reported that in April food imports through the two ports declined by 22 percent and fuel imports by 12 percent from March import levels. No containerised cargo was imported for the fifth consecutive month. Only half as many vessels (19) have been berthing at Hodeidah and Saleef on average per month, compared to an average of 35 prior to the November 2017 blockade imposed by the coalition. Overall, UNVIM reported that food imports in April were only half of Yemen’s monthly requirements, while fuel imports were 27 percent of monthly needs.
OCHA reported in early May that fighting from an offensive by forces supported by the coalition along the Red Sea coast had displaced 100,000 people from areas south of Hodeidah into southern Yemen over recent months. On 28 May, the coalition announced that these forces had advanced to within 20 kilometres of Hodeidah.
Tensions continued between the Yemeni government and the UAE, focusing recently on Socotra, an island where there have been protests over the Emirati presence. The situation worsened starting in late April when the UAE deployed two tanks, armoured vehicles and at least 100 soldiers without informing the government. Local authorities at the port and airport were ordered to leave. In a letter to the Security Council, the government described the deployments as “an unjustified military action”. On 14 May, following mediation by Saudi Arabia, Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr announced that the dispute had been resolved, with Saudi troops reportedly replacing some of the Emirati forces. A letter from the UAE to the Council on 21 May noted, with regret, that there had been a misunderstanding with the government, and that its presence on Socotra is strictly to assist the people of Socotra, adding that the situation had been fully resolved.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a 24 April press briefing, a spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights called for the coalition to investigate fully the most recent deadly attacks against civilians, and said that those found to be responsible should be held accountable with reparations or remedy provided to the victims.
In an 11 May press briefing, a spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that April was the deadliest month for civilians in Yemen so far this year, with at least 236 civilians killed and 238 injured, well over double the civilian casualties documented the previous month. The heavy toll continued during the first week of May, with 63 civilian casualties—six killed and 57 injured—documented by the UN Human Rights office in Yemen, the spokesperson said.
Key Issues and Options
Learning about Griffiths’ strategy to resume peace negotiations and considering how the Council can best support his mediation efforts are key issues. The intensification of fighting and the potential for a coalition offensive against Hodeidah, which the UN warned last year would be “catastrophic”, remain further key concerns that risk undermining the UN envoy’s work.
Another important issue is monitoring implementation of the Council’s 15 March presidential statement, which focused on the humanitarian situation, including progress towards increasing access, the parties’ compliance with international humanitarian law, and the protection of civilians from hostilities and also from the humanitarian consequences of the war, such as famine and disease.
A related issue is a new UN plan that is being developed to increase UNVIM inspections while addressing the problem of double inspections of ships by UNVIM and the coalition.
One option is for the Council to adopt a presidential statement expressing support for Griffiths’ framework for resuming peace negotiations. This could reiterate the message of its 15 March presidential statement that 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. Such a statement could reiterate the Council’s call for the full and sustained opening of Hodeidah and Saleef ports.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Most Council members have strategic relations with Saudi Arabia, making them cautious about the positions they take on Yemen. For this reason, members have been reluctant to seek a new resolution on Yemen, despite their recognition of the problems with resolution 2216, which was adopted in April 2015 at the onset of the coalition intervention. Still, there was interest in a resolution to support the new envoy, which it seems Saudi Arabia opposed as it has hitherto objected to any new resolution on Yemen. The idea of a new resolution appears to have been dropped, and in the meantime, Griffiths has found useful the paragraph from the Council’s March presidential statement that called for the parties to abandon pre-conditions and to have meaningful participation of underrepresented groups.
Since the end of last year a group of elected members—currently Bolivia, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland and Sweden, joined sometimes by France—have coordinated their positions when they perceive Council products as lacking balance or failing to address sufficiently the humanitarian situation in Yemen. France recently announced that it will co-host with Saudi Arabia a humanitarian conference on Yemen at the end of June. The US has increasingly sought to call out Iranian support of the Houthis. Not all members are in agreement about Iran’s role and the support it provides. Kuwait, as a member of the coalition, champions the positions of the coalition.
The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Peru chairs the Yemen 2140 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 Statement|
|15 March 2018 S/PRST/2018/5||This presidential statement called 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 Record|
|17 April 2018 S/PV.8235||This was a briefing from Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock.|
|Security Council Letters|
|21 May 2018 S/2018/490||This was a letter from the Permanent Representative of the UAE about Socotra Island.|
|8 May 2018 S/2018/440||This was a letter from the Permanent Representative of Yemen and contained a government statement about developments on Socotra Island.|