April 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 March 2019
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In April, Special Envoy Martin Griffiths is expected to brief the Council on the implementation of resolutions 2451 and 2452. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock and General Michael Lollesgaard, the chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) and head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), may also brief.

Key Recent Developments

Progress has largely remained stalled in getting the warring Houthi rebels and Yemeni government to withdraw their forces from the critical port city of Hodeidah and the nearby smaller ports of Saleef and Ras Isa as set out in the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement. Carrying forward the other two elements of the Stockholm Agreement—a prisoner exchange and Statement of Understanding on Taiz for greater humanitarian access to the city—have also stalled.

The impasse around Hodeidah continued despite a 17 February agreement on a plan to conduct the Phase 1 redeployment of forces envisioned in the original agreement on Hodeidah. The plan set out a two-step process, with the Houthis redeploying from Saleef and Ras Isa ports in the first step, and from Hodeidah port in the second. In the second step, both parties would also withdraw forces from the frontline area of the so-called Kilo 8 triangle in Hodeidah city in a manoeuvre that would allow UN access to the Red Sea mills, which hold enough grain for 3.7 million people for a month but have been inaccessible since October last year.

While no redeployments have occurred at press time, on 26 February a World Food Programme-led assessment mission accessed the Red Sea mills to determine the condition of grain stocks, which the UN has worried could start rotting. Despite some spoilage and damage to the mills, it seems that food stocks can be salvaged if the UN can gain further access to repair the damage and fumigate the mills.

Upon concluding a visit to Aden, UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt warned on 3 March that the Stockholm Agreement could collapse within weeks if the sides do not hold to their commitments. The weekend of 10 to 11 March saw the outbreak of what was reported as the heaviest fighting in Hodeidah since the agreement was reached at the end of UN-brokered consultations in Sweden. In a 12 March joint statement, the ambassadors of the P5 countries to Yemen said they were “extremely concerned” that the three parts of the agreement had not been implemented. They urged both parties to begin implementing the latest proposal on Hodeidah “without further delay and without seeking to exploit the redeployments by the other side”. On 13 March, Griffiths and Lollesgaard briefed Council members in consultations. Discussion focused on the lack of progress on Hodeidah.

On 19 March, Griffiths announced that discussions with both parties had led to “significant progress towards an agreement to implement” the Phase 1 redeployments and that operational details would be presented to the RCC for endorsement shortly.

The conflict has continued in other areas of the country. Particularly heavy fighting has continued in the north-western Hajjah governorate between the Hajour tribe and the Houthis. The clashes have centred around the Kushar district, which is strategically significant because if Yemeni government forces advance to Kushar, they could threaten Houthi supply routes between Sana’a and their home region of Saada. On 11 March, the Office of the UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator condemned “strikes” on houses in Kushar, which killed 12 children and ten women, according to medical sources. On 18 March, the humanitarian relief organisation International Refugee Council said civilian deaths had doubled in Hajjah and Taiz governorates over the past three months compared to the pre-Hodeidah ceasefire average, citing 164 people killed in Hajjah and 184 killed in Taiz since the Stockholm Agreement came into effect.

Human Rights-Related Developments

During its 40th session, the Human Rights Council received an oral update on 20 March from the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on the human rights situation in Yemen. Bachelet emphasised that the “dire human rights situation…merits attention”. Outlining the humanitarian situation, she urged the removal of restrictions on humanitarian supplies.

Women, Peace and Security-Related Developments

On 4 March, the Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security convened a meeting with Council members on the situation in Yemen. Griffiths briefed the expert group by video teleconferencing, joined by experts from his office and the UN Country Team. During the meeting several members asked how to increase the involvement of women in the talks beyond an advisory role to the Special Envoy and in the implementation of the Stockholm agreement, among other issues.

Key Issues and Options

Implementing the Stockholm Agreement remains a key issue. UN officials have regularly highlighted that progress has been impeded by a deep mistrust between the parties. This includes the Houthis’ concern that measures to redeploy, including de-mining of roads, could make them vulnerable to attack from Yemeni government forces.

Since agreeing to the Phase 1 redeployment arrangements in February, a stumbling block has been the composition of the vaguely worded “local security forces” that, according to the Hodeidah agreement, are to take over security responsibilities—an issue that the sides had agreed to work out later. The Yemeni government, however, subsequently insisted on resolving this question and wanted these to be its own police. By the 13 March consultations, the Houthis were apparently objecting to a proposal for addressing the matter.

Another issue is how much longer the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which backs the Yemeni government, will continue waiting for the Hodeidah agreement’s implementation before possibly resuming a military offensive on the city. Moreover, fighting on other fronts beyond Hodeidah governorate may jeopardise the stalled processes. If the impasse continues, the Council could adopt a presidential statement or a resolution to exert pressure on the parties to follow through on their commitments from Stockholm.

Organising a new round of consultations between the parties on a broader political solution to the conflict has been delayed until the Hodeidah agreement is implemented. Griffiths, however, has noted during recent Council briefings the importance of resuming such talks. Some of the underlying challenges in implementing the Hodeidah agreement represent issues to be worked out in a comprehensive political agreement, and the Council may express support for initiatives to restart peace talks if the Special Envoy seeks to move ahead with a new round of consultations. Upon the parties agreeing on a negotiating framework for a comprehensive political solution, the Council may adopt a resolution endorsing this framework, as Griffiths has proposed.

Despite the de-escalation around Hodeidah since the Stockholm Agreement, the humanitarian situation remains catastrophic. More than 24 million people—80 percent of the population—require aid and 10 million people are at risk of famine. Sustaining access for commercial imports and humanitarian assistance through Hodeidah port and then making sure the goods are distributed throughout Yemen are among the challenges for addressing the crisis.

A looming issue is the risk of instability in southern Yemen, which leaders of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) have said is possible if the STC is not included as a formal participant in peace talks.

Council Dynamics

Members appear united in wanting the parties to fulfil their commitments under the Stockholm Agreement. Kuwait is part of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and tends to champion coalition positions. It has sought to facilitate political efforts, hosting peace talks in 2016 and providing aircraft to transport the Houthi delegation to the consultations in Sweden in December 2018. Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Peru and Poland have been among members seeking to highlight issues around the humanitarian crisis and international humanitarian law. The US often raises concerns about the role of Iran, which it views as having a destabilising effect on the region.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Peru chairs the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee. The first sanctions committee mission to the region since its establishment in February 2014 was set to depart at press time.

UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN

Security Council Resolutions
26 February 2019S/RES/2456 This resolution extended for an additional year the Yemen financial and travel ban sanctions, reaffirmed the provisions of the targeted arms embargo, and renewed the mandate of the committee’s Panel of Experts.
16 January 2019S/RES/2452 This established the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) for an initial period of six months.
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.
Security Council Letter
20 March 2019S/2019/253 This was a summary of the 4 March 2019 meeting of the Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security.
Security Council Press Statements
22 February 2019SC/13713 This press statement called for the immediate implementation of the Phase 1 redeployment of forces from the Hodeidah agreement.
4 February 2019SC/13690 Council members issued a press statement stressing the critical importance of the parties’ fulfilling their commitments made in Sweden.