Expected Council Action
In October, the Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is expected to brief the Council. A representative of OCHA is also likely to brief.
Key Recent Developments
The Saudi Arabia-led coalition, fighting in support of the Yemeni government against the Houthi rebel group, came under increased scrutiny for its conduct of the war during August, while in September, UN efforts to bring the government and Houthis together for the first time in two years faltered.
On 9 August, a coalition airstrike hit a school bus in Saada, killing at least 40 children. The next day, Council members discussed the attack in consultations. Through press elements, members called for a credible and transparent investigation. Initially, the coalition defended the strike, but on 1 September, the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), an investigative body set up by the coalition, said the strike was conducted based on intelligence that Houthi leaders were in the bus but that delays had led to striking the bus with children on board. A coalition statement on 5 September said that the JIAT would also assess a 23 August air strike on a vehicle in which 27 civilians fleeing fighting in Hodeidah governorate, including 22 children, were killed.
On 28 August, the Group of Independent Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, established in September 2017 by the Human Rights Council (HRC), published its findings. The experts affirm that individuals from both sides, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), might have committed war crimes. The report says that coalition airstrikes—which have repeatedly hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and medical facilities, and have caused the majority of documented civilian casualties—may have been conducted in violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. The report also says that there are reasonable grounds to believe that coalition restrictions on commercial shipping violate the proportionality rule of international humanitarian law, having caused extreme suffering for millions of civilians and being unjustified by any possible military advantage. The experts note that no searches of shipments to Houthi-controlled ports had uncovered any weapons. According to the report, the ban on commercial flights to Sana’a constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law protections for the sick and wounded. Violations by the Houthis and their allies for indiscriminate attacks and access restrictions in Taiz are also covered, though experts, who could not visit the city, say further investigations into these issues are required.
The report further covers widespread arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment, torture and the use of child soldiers. It describes restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, including the coalition’s ban on international media traveling on UN humanitarian flights to Sana’a, Houthi arrests of journalists and of the Bahai minority, and intimidation by both sides of their perceived critics. The report details sexual violence and rape by Yemeni government and Security Belt forces (a southern paramilitary force supported by the UAE) and Emirati personnel against migrants and internally displaced and vulnerable persons. The experts’ findings echo those of a Human Rights Watch report, also issued in August, about the JIAT, raising serious concerns over its independence and the quality of its findings. The Group of Experts submitted a confidential list of individuals who may be responsible for international crimes to the OHCHR.
On the political front, Griffiths organised consultations between the government and Houthis that were planned to start on 6 September in Geneva. The Houthis did not attend, however, after demanding last minute changes to the travel arrangements for their delegation, that following several days of discussion could not be resolved. Griffiths held talks with the Yemeni government delegation that focused on confidence-building measures, including the release of prisoners, the re-opening of Sana’a airport, economic issues and a wide range of humanitarian issues, such as opening up humanitarian access routes. At an 8 September press conference, Griffiths said that he would travel to Muscat and Sana’a to consult with the Houthi leadership about what had been discussed with the government delegation.
On 11 September, Griffiths briefed the Council in a public meeting followed by consultations after which members issued press elements expressing regret that the Houthis had not attended the Geneva meeting and urging all sides to get behind the process that the Special Envoy is leading. Griffiths visited Muscat from 12 to 13 September and Sana’a from 16 to 17 September. According to his office, he held “constructive” discussions about resuming consultations and confidence-building measures.
Following the unsuccessful Geneva meeting, the coalition intensified military operations around Hodeidah, the port city through which 70 percent of Yemen’s imported food, fuel and medicine requirements enter the country. The coalition publicly signalled its plans to re-launch an offensive—paused since June—against the city. A 14 September letter from the UAE to the Council reiterated that “the liberation of Hodeida[h] is critical to re-engaging the Houthis in peace talks”. Most of the fighting so far has been over the main road linking Hodeidah with Sana’a and other population centres in the central highlands, effectively closing the eastern route out of the city.
The economic situation worsened as the Yemeni rial fell sharply in value, prompting widespread protests in southern Yemen in September.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock briefed the Council on the escalation around Hodeidah and the worsening economic situation on 21 September. He warned that Yemen may be “approaching a tipping point, beyond which it will be impossible to prevent massive loss of life as a result of widespread famine across the country”, and described already existing “pocket-like conditions of famine”.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 39th session, the HRC held an interactive dialogue on 25 and 26 September on the report on Yemen by the High Commissioner for Human Rights containing the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the Group of Independent Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen. On 28 September, the HRC adopted a resolution on human rights, technical assistance and capacity-building in Yemen. It renewed the mandate of the group of eminent experts, with 21 countries voting in favour, 8 against (including Saudi Arabia and the UAE), and 18 abstaining.
Key Issues and Options
The Special Envoy’s efforts to resume a political process and ways that the Council could support this remains a key issue. During the 11 September briefing, most members expressed regret over the Houthi absence at Geneva but avoided speaking critically of the Houthis. They reiterated their strong support for Griffiths and encouraged the sides to engage constructively with the Special Envoy. Griffiths has also been seeking to engage other Yemeni actors, including groups in the south where there is a secessionist movement, while he pursues consultations with the two principal parties.
Aspects of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, in which 8.4 million people are at risk of famine, include access for critical supplies and aid, the parties’ compliance with international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians and the deteriorating economy. An immediate concern is the situation around Hodeidah, which could see heavy civilian casualties in a battle for the city and a significant worsening of the humanitarian situation if its port can no longer function as Yemen’s main entry point for food and other humanitarian assistance.
In the 11 September press elements, Council members asked that Griffiths keep them updated on his efforts. Council members may continue to affirm their support for the Special Envoy, and encourage the parties and those with influence on them to engage constructively with him.
On Hodeidah, the Council is likely to monitor developments, which include the prospect of an offensive on the city and also concerns about the possible imposition of a siege. It could adopt a presidential statement calling for a de-escalation or cessation of hostilities and for the parties to ensure that all roads and ports, including Hodeidah and nearby Saleef, remain open and functional for humanitarian and commercial imports and their distribution. The Council may further endorse a UN plan from June to place Hodeidah port under UN supervision, and could recall that sanctions can be applied against individuals or entities, according to resolutions 2140 and 2216, for violating international humanitarian law and human rights law, or obstructing the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
The Council may also consider holding a briefing with the group of eminent experts on the human rights situation in Yemen.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members support the efforts of the Special Envoy, and share strong concerns about the consequences of an attack on Hodeidah and the larger humanitarian crisis, which are reasons that the Council is often described as united on Yemen. At the same time, Saudi Arabia and the UAE exert a great deal of influence on the Council’s consideration of Yemen through the alliances and strategic relations they maintain with Council members. This has led to differences among members over how to respond to different aspects of the war, and caused some members to be cautious in the positions they take. Kuwait is part of the coalition and champions coalition positions. A group of five elected members—Bolivia, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland and Sweden—often takes a joint position highlighting humanitarian dimensions. For example, following the 9 August airstrike on the school bus, Peru requested the Council session on this incident, on behalf of this group, and the group also proposed the 21 September meeting with Lowcock. Russia, and members of this group, have called for ending offensive operations around Hodeidah. The P3 have focused on the need to protect infrastructure and access for humanitarian and commercial goods.
Due to Saudi objections to any new resolution on Yemen since the adoption of resolution 2216 in April 2015, the Council approach has been to take decisions through presidential statements, most recently in March.
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 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 Letter|
|14 September 2018 S/2018/847||This was a letter from the UAE about military operation around Hodeidah.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|21 September 2018 S/PV.8361||This was a briefing on Yemen with Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock.|
|11 September 2018 S/PV.8348||This was a briefing with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths on the Geneva consultations.|
|2 August 2018 S/PV.8323||This was a briefing on Yemen by Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and OCHA Director of Operations John Ging.|
|Human Rights Council Document|
|17 August 2018 A/HRC/39/43||This was the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights containing the findings of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen.|