Expected Council Action
In January 2019, the Council will be following closely developments in Yemen and may be briefed by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths.
Resolution 2451, which endorsed the 13 December 2018 Stockholm Agreement, requested the Secretary-General to report on the resolution’s implementation on a weekly basis, until further notice.
Key Recent Developments
Recent months have seen increased international attention to the war in Yemen and rare positive news about resuming a political process by the warring Houthi rebel group and the Yemeni government, supported by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.
The killing of US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on 2 October 2018 inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul triggered fresh international scrutiny of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and greater attention to Saudi Arabia’s conduct of the war in Yemen. Around the same time, the UN was sounding new alarms about the threat of a major famine. A free fall in the value of the Yemeni rial risked making food unaffordable for millions of Yemenis, and the coalition offensive against the port city of Hodeidah, which Yemen relies on for imports of most of its food and other critical supplies, had rendered impassable the main road used to distribute imported goods. The fighting also prevented access to the Red Sea mills, which store enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for one month.
At a 23 October 2018 briefing of the Council, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said, “There is now a clear and present danger of an imminent and great big famine engulfing Yemen”, threatening as many as 14 million people. Lowcock asked for the Council’s support around five issues to avoid a major famine:
- a cessation of hostilities around the infrastructure and facilities on which the aid operation and importers rely;
- protection of the supply of food and essential goods, including the lifting of access restrictions on imports and keeping main transport routes open;
- measures to stabilise the economy;
- increased funding to scale up the humanitarian operation; and
- resumption of a UN-led political process to end the conflict.
On 30 October 2018, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for the parties to resume negotiations within 30 days and for a cessation of hostilities. This was followed by the UK informing Council members on 1 November that it was preparing a new resolution on Yemen. The resolution would seek to respond to OCHA’s five “asks”, which Lowcock had proposed the previous week. On 2 November, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a cessation of hostilities, starting with a halt in violence around critical infrastructure and densely populated areas.
At first, the coalition intensified operations in Yemen, including the Hodeidah offensive. By 13 November, a tentative pause in Hodeidah operations appeared to have gone into effect. Following a visit by UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt to the region, the UK announced on 13 November that the coalition had agreed to the UN’s overseeing a medical evacuation of up to 50 wounded Houthi fighters to Oman, which had been one of the main stumbling blocks to the UN Geneva consultations planned for September 2018.
Griffiths informed the Council at a 16 November 2018 briefing that he intended to convene the parties shortly for consultations in Sweden. The UK subsequently initiated negotiations on the resolution that it had been preparing, but the resolution’s consideration was eventually put on hold as some members raised concerns about its timing just ahead of the consultations in Sweden.
UN-led intra-Yemeni consultations were held in Sweden, from 6 to 13 December 2018. In the lead-up to consultations, the Houthi wounded were evacuated on 3 December, and the next day, Griffiths flew with the Houthi delegation to Sweden. In Sweden, the parties reached several agreements: an agreement on the city of Hodeidah and the ports of Hodeidah, Salif, and Ras Issa; an executive mechanism to implement the prisoner exchange agreement that had been reached prior to the start of consultations; and a statement of understanding on Taiz. Together, these comprised the Stockholm Agreement.
The agreement over the critical port city of Hodeidah established an immediate ceasefire in Hodeidah governorate and a mutual redeployment of forces from the three ports and Hodeidah city to agreed locations outside the ports and city, to be implemented in phases over three weeks. A Redeployment Coordination Committee—to be chaired by the UN and composed of, but not limited to, members of the parties—is to oversee the ceasefire and redeployment. The UN is also to take a leading role in supporting Yemen Red Sea Ports Corporation in management and inspections at the three ports, which includes enhanced monitoring by the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism. Security of Hodeidah city and the ports is the responsibility of local security forces in accordance with Yemeni law. Additionally, revenues from the ports are to be channelled to the Central Bank of Yemen through its Hodeidah branch as a contribution to the payment of civil servant salaries. The parties agreed to hold the next round of consultations at the end of January to discuss a framework for negotiations. This framework, once agreed to by the parties, would guide formal negotiations on a political transition and restoring the state monopoly of force.
On 14 December 2018, Griffiths briefed the Council. He stated that a robust and competent monitoring regime of the Hodeidah agreement is essential and urgently required. That appeared to echo Secretary-General António Guterres, who said at the closing ceremony of the consultations in Sweden that he hoped the Council would provide the UN a robust mandate to monitor the agreement. Griffiths reported that General Patrick Cammaert of the UN would lead the monitoring component and would soon deploy to the region. Lowcock provided an update on OCHA’s five “asks”, stressing the continuing urgency of the humanitarian situation despite the progress made in Sweden.
After fighting occurred around Hodeidah city following the conclusion of the consultations in Sweden, the ceasefire went into effect on 18 December.
On 21 December, the Council adopted resolution 2451, endorsing the agreements reached by the parties during the consultations held in Sweden. The resolution authorised the Secretary-General to establish and deploy, for an initial period of 30 days, an advance team to begin monitoring and facilitate implementation of the Stockholm Agreement. It also called on the Government of Yemen and the Houthis to take several steps to alleviate the humanitarian situation. The Secretary-General is to report to the Council weekly on the resolution’s implementation, including on breaches of commitments, as called for by the agreement on Hodeidah.
In other developments, the US Senate passed resolutions on 13 December 2018 calling for an end to US support for the Saudi coalition and condemning the role of Mohammed bin Salman in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. For now, the Senate resolution on US military assistance to the coalition is largely symbolic, as a vote on similar measures in the US House of Representatives did not pass. The US decided in November 2018 to stop in-flight refuelling of Saudi aircraft.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 10 November 2018, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet released a statement expressing outrage at the “unconscionable toll” that the escalation of hostilities in Hodeidah was taking on an already “deeply frightened and starving” population in Yemen. Bachelet urged the Saudi-led coalition, the Houthi forces, and all those supplying arms to the parties to the conflict to take immediate steps to end the suffering of civilians in Yemen. According to the statement, the UN Human Rights Office has documented that between 26 March 2015 and 8 November 2018, there have been a total of 17,640 civilian casualties in Yemen, including 6,872 dead and 10,768 injured, and that the majority of these casualties (10,852) resulted from airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition.
At the end of his visit to Aden and Sana’a, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour released a statement on 30 November, urging the warring parties to do “absolutely everything humanly possible” to prevent renewed fighting in Hodeidah. According to the statement “renewed fighting would plunge millions more Yemenis into an even deeper crisis, and could contribute to what may turn out to be a massive famine”. Gilmour also underlined “the utter unacceptability of any party to a conflict deliberately creating massive humanitarian suffering as a tactic of war” and urged the immediate removal of restrictions on delivery of emergency food and medical supplies. A UN Human Rights Office will be established in Aden in early 2019, the statement said.
Key Issues and Options
Key issues include the implementation of the agreement on the city of Hodeidah and the ports of Hodeidah, Salif, and Ras Issa. This requires establishing the UN monitoring team to oversee compliance. The Council may provide a mandate for a UN monitoring role, with options to do so through a resolution or possibly an exchange of letters with the Secretary-General. If the Council provides such a mandate, this would be based on proposals from the Secretary-General on how the UN will support the Stockholm Agreement, which the Council requested he submit before 31 December 2018 in resolution 2451.
Concluding agreements on re-opening the Sana’a airport and to enhance the capacity of Yemen’s Central Bank, which were not resolved in Sweden, remain priorities. A key issue is holding the next round of consultations by the end of January to discuss the framework for negotiations. Upon an agreement by the parties of a negotiating framework, the Council may adopt a resolution endorsing this framework, which Griffiths has proposed that the Council should do.
Averting Yemen’s descent into a major famine and responding to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis remains a critical issue. This includes advancing measures such as the parties’ lifting access restrictions, paying civil servant salaries and pensions, strengthening the Yemeni rial (which began to reverse some of its loss in value by mid-November), and funding the UN’s 2019 humanitarian response plan for Yemen. The Council is likely to seek regular updates on the humanitarian situation to monitor progress on these issues and consider further actions if necessary.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Recent months saw an increasingly engaged Council in dealing with Yemen, with a crescendo of calls for some form of a cessation of hostilities, a position previously taken by only a minority of Council members. At the 23 October 2018 briefing, eight countries made such calls. By the time of the Council’s 15 November meeting, almost all members did so, including, for the first time at the Security Council, the US and France. The UK draft resolution in November, calling for a cessation of hostilities in Hodeidah governorate, would have been the first Council product to do so. Saudi Arabia, which has exerted strong influence on the Council’s consideration of Yemen, opposed the UK draft resolution and threatened some members that if it were adopted, the Yemeni government and the coalition would not engage with the Special Envoy. Resolution 2451 was the first Council resolution on Yemen, apart from the annual resolution renewing the Yemen sanctions regime, since resolution 2216 in April 2015, which has often been criticised as one-sided and for creating a restrictive framework for mediation efforts.
A group of five elected members during 2018 pushed for the Council to be more proactive on Yemen. Of these, only Peru and Poland remain in the Council. Belgium and Germany are replacing the Netherlands and Sweden, which, along with Bolivia, were part of this group. The new members may seek to take on a similar role. Kuwait, as a member of the coalition, champions coalition positions. During negotiations on resolution 2451, the US supported the coalition position to exclude elements on the humanitarian situation.
The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Peru chairs the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|21 December 2018S/RES/2451||This resolution endorsed the agreements reached by the parties during the consultations held in Sweden, and authorised the Secretary-General to establish and deploy, for an initial period of 30 days an advance team to begin monitoring and facilitate implementation of the Stockholm Agreement|
|14 April 2015S/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 Letters|
|17 December 2018S/2018/1121||This was a letter from the government of Yemen outlining its views on a Security Council resolution or product following the consultations in Sweden.|
|20 November 2018S/2018/1039||This was from the government of Yemen, objecting to the UK draft resolution that it said undermined resolution 2216 and would negatively impact upcoming consultations in Sweden.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|14 December 2018S/PV.8424||The Council was briefed by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths (via VTC from Amman), and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock.|
|16 November 2018S/PV.8404||This was a briefing by UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths on the situation in the Middle East. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley and Civil society representative, Rasha Jarhum also briefed the Council.|
|23 October 2018S/PV.8379||Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock briefed the Security Council on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen focusing on the rising threat of famine that has the potential to affect up to 14 million people, according to the latest UN estimates.|