Expected Council Action
In August, the Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is expected to brief the Council. OCHA Director of Operations John Ging is expected to brief as well. Also this month, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee will meet to consider the Yemen Panel of Experts’ mid-term update on the implementation of the sanctions regime. The Yemen sanctions expire on 26 February 2019.
Key Recent Developments
On 13 June, the Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-led coalition commenced a long-anticipated offensive against the port city of Hodeidah, held by Houthi rebels. Griffiths had previously issued warnings about the consequences of an attack for his ability to restart peace talks, telling the Council at his first briefing in April that it “could take peace off the table”. UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande warned in an 8 June statement that a battle would likely prove “catastrophic”, predicting that as many as 250,000 lives could be lost as a result both of the fighting and the impact on Yemen’s broader humanitarian crisis, as most of the country’s food and other critical supplies are imported through Hodeidah port.
Since 13 June, fighting has focused around the Hodeidah airport, which the coalition reportedly captured. A broader assault on Hodeidah has not gone forward, however, and Griffiths has continued to conduct shuttle diplomacy among the parties to work out an agreement to have the UN take over management of the port, which the Houthis had accepted, Griffiths said in a UN Radio interview on 28 June. His efforts have had less success in meeting the UAE and Yemeni governments’ demand to negotiate the rebel group’s unconditional withdrawal from the city.
The Council organised a number of meetings with Griffiths and representatives of OCHA on the situation, including one on 11 June due to concerns over an imminent attack, and another on 14 June. On 18 June, Griffiths and OCHA head Mark Lowcock briefed the Council in consultations as part of the Special Envoy’s regularly scheduled update. Speaking from Sana’a, Griffiths provided not only an update on Hodeidah but also outlined a framework for resuming political negotiations that he had promised to present to the Council during his April briefing. This negotiating framework would, according to Griffiths during his closed-door briefing, be guided by a number of principles, including that negotiations be based on the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference, and relevant Security Council resolutions, particularly resolution 2216. They should also be inclusive, involving southern groups, civil society and women. Griffiths further said that the talks would seek to address political and security issues as part of a package. On 5 July, members again received an update from Griffiths in consultations, briefing from Amman, on his Hodeidah plan and plans to restart negotiations.
Yemen remains the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 22 million people requiring humanitarian assistance, of whom the UN has warned that 8.4 million are at risk of famine. On 14 June, Adama Dieng, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, said in a statement that an attack on Hodeidah would seem to represent the “first test” of Security Council resolution 2417, which was adopted in May and condemned the starvation of civilians as a method of war. The situation in recent months has sparked a wave of displacement of the civilian populations. According to OCHA, over 47,000 households had been displaced from Hodeidah governorate by 24 July.. Throughout the crisis, the ports of Hodeidah and Saleef, which is north of the city, remained operational.
The UAE sent a series of letters to the Council (dated 13 June, 19 June and 6 July) about plans it had developed to mitigate the humanitarian consequences of an attack on Hodeidah. On 17 July, the UK mission hosted a meeting of Council members with Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al Hashimy to further discuss these plans and broader issues related to the war.
In other developments, on 26 July, Saudi Arabia announced that two Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea had been attacked by the Houthis, one of which incurred “minimal damage”, and that it was suspending oil shipments through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, a major commercial shipping lane.
Following the renewal of the sanctions regime, the Secretary-General appointed three of the Panel of Experts’ five members at the end of March and subsequently reappointed its coordinator, Ahmed Himmiche, on 4 April. However, the panel has lacked an expert on the armed groups. As has been reported in the news, Russia had placed a hold on the candidate for this position, a US national, apparently in response to a hold placed by the US on a Russian national for another sanctions panel. Having served two years with the panel, the US national withdrew his candidacy before Russia lifted its hold. By late July, the Secretary-General appeared poised to finally appoint the fifth expert after a new candidate passed a no-objection procedure earlier in the month.
On 9 July, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee received a case study from the panel about two previous Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea: against a Saudi oil tanker on 3 April and a Turkish-flagged vessel transferring wheat on 10 May, both using anti-ship missiles. The panel’s recommendations included suggesting that the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee issue a press release condemning attacks on commercial vessels by the Houthis, which constitute violations of international humanitarian law and may contribute to the obstruction of humanitarian assistance. After two members requested more time during the no-objections procedure to consider the panel recommendations, it was expected that the case study and recommendations would be discussed when the committee meets on 10 August to consider the mid-term update, which the committee received on 27 July.
Key Issues and Options
Forestalling a battle for Hodeidah, which could exacerbate the humanitarian crisis, remains a key issue. This includes addressing several aspects, such as arrangements for the UN’s potential management of the port and reconciling the coalition position that the Houthis must fully withdraw from the city. More broadly, progress in organising peace talks—which the Special Envoy has suggested could begin soon, despite a lack of agreement on Hodeidah—is a major issue.
Other important aspects of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis include access for critical supplies and aid, the parties’ compliance with international humanitarian law, and the protection of civilians from hostilities and from the humanitarian consequences of the war, such as famine and disease.
Amidst the current pause in the Hodeidah offensive, one option for the Council is to remain informed about Griffiths’ efforts, and, if he brokers an agreement on the port city, to adopt a presidential statement that endorses the agreement and his framework for negotiations. Alternatively, if the offensive resumes—especially if fighting engulfs the more densely populated parts of the city and the port area—the Council might adopt a presidential statement calling for a cessation of hostilities and urging both sides to accept UN management of the port. Such a statement could call for the question of the Houthi withdrawal from Hodeidah to be dealt with as part of broader peace talks, as those are expected to cover the process of the Houthis withdrawing from key locations and seized territories.
A more proactive option is for the Council to adopt a presidential statement expressing strong support for a negotiated solution to Hodeidah and reminding the parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law. Such a statement could further reiterate the Council’s previous calls that Hodeidah and Saleef ports must remain operational and for the parties to allow unimpeded access for humanitarian and commercial imports, as well as their distribution throughout Yemen.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members issued press elements following each of the consultative sessions held with the Special Envoy in June and July. The common message was that members support the Special Envoy, that Hodeidah port should remain open, and that the parties should comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law. Kuwait, as a member of the coalition, has repeatedly referenced Council resolution 2216, highlighting its demand that the Houthis withdraw from all seized territory. Sweden proposed that a call for a cessation of hostilities or freeze in the Hodeidah offensive be included in the 14 June press elements, but this was opposed by Kuwait. Other members supporting Sweden’s call were Bolivia, Peru and Poland, while China echoed the need for a cessation of hostilities during the 3 July consultations.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have exerted a great deal of influence on the Council’s consideration of Yemen through the strategic relations they maintain with the P3 and with Council members in general. Saudi Arabia, in particular, has opposed any new resolution on Yemen since the Council adopted resolution 2216 in April 2015. The UAE has taken a notably more pronounced role on behalf of the coalition over Hodeidah. The current Council approach is to see what agreements Griffiths brokers regarding Hodeidah or restarting peace talks and then, as has been most members’ preference throughout the conflict, express support for such agreements through a presidential statement. This approach also appears to be Griffiths’ preference.
The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Peru 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 Statement|
|15 March 2018 S/PRST/2018/5||This 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 Letters|
|6 July 2018 S/2018/675||This was from UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al Hashimy with an update on the humanitarian situation and the Coalition’s contingency plan for Hodeidah.|
|19 June 2018 S/2018/618||This was from UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al Hashimy on the Coalition’s contingency plan to address the humanitarian situation in Hodeidah.|
|13 June 2018 S/2018/607||This was from the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash on Hodeidah.|
|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.|