May 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2019
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In May, 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

There has been little progress in the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement of December 2018. Houthi rebels and Yemeni government forces have not begun redeploying their forces from the critical port city of Hodeidah and the nearby smaller ports of Saleef and Ras Isa as set out in the 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—has also stalled.

On 15 April, Griffiths announced during a Council briefing that the parties had accepted a detailed plan for the first phase of redeployments. According to the arrangement on Hodeidah in the Stockholm Agreement, phase one requires the Houthis to withdraw from the three ports and both sides to redeploy from critical areas of Hodeidah city associated with humanitarian facilities. In a second phase, both parties should redeploy fully from the city. During the subsequent consultations, Lollesgaard expanded on Griffiths’ announcement, saying that the parties had agreed in writing to the detailed plan. He recommended, however, that phase one redeployments should not occur until outstanding issues have been resolved, including the composition of “local security forces” that will assume security responsibilities in the city and ports, and a plan for the phase two redeployments.

On 17 April, Council members issued a press statement welcoming the agreement by the Yemeni government and the Houthis to “the concept of operations for Phase 1 of redeployments”. Members called on both parties “to swiftly agree on local security force arrangements and the concept of operations for Phase 2 redeployments”.

While the UN continues to assess the ceasefire in Hodeidah governorate as largely holding, fighting has escalated elsewhere. The city of Taiz saw heavy fighting in late March between anti-Houthi groups. Fighting near Abs in Hajjah governorate displaced 100,000 people by mid-April. There has also been an escalation on the front lines along the Saudi-Yemeni border and in Al-Dhale governorate.

During the 15 April briefing, Lowcock warned that UN agencies were rapidly running out of money for essential relief operations to respond to the humanitarian crisis caused by the war. He also issued a warning about the risk of “an environmental disaster” posed by the FSO SAFER oil tanker, which is a floating storage and offloading facility eight kilometres off the coast of the Ras Isa terminal in the Red Sea. The facility, containing 1.1 million barrels of oil, has had no maintenance since 2015. Since September 2018, the UN has sought to conduct an assessment of the tanker, but the Houthis have apparently still not approved the request. Lowcock also flagged the tripling of suspected cholera cases in 2019 compared to the first quarter of 2018.

In political developments, Yemen’s 301-member House of Representatives convened more than 130 parliamentarians from 13 to 17 April in Sayoun, in a rare session since the start of the war. Yemeni President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, having travelled from Riyadh, addressed the legislators, who elected a new speaker and adopted a budget. The Houthis meanwhile held elections on 13 April for 24 vacant seats in that same body.

Internationally, the US Congress passed a resolution on 4 April to end US involvement in the war. The US has provided arms, the sustainment of weapons, intelligence and targeting assistance to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition supporting the Yemeni government, and, until last November, mid-air refuelling of coalition planes. On 16 April, President Donald Trump vetoed the measure. Earlier, on 29 March, Germany extended for six months a moratorium on arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Sanctions-Related Developments

The 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee undertook a visiting mission to Amman, Riyadh, Muscat and Tehran from 30 March to 5 April. It was the first visiting mission since the committee was established in February 2014. Fourteen committee members participated, a large number for a sanctions committee mission.

In Amman, the committee met with Griffiths and Humanitarian/Resident Coordinator in Yemen Lise Grande. It received a briefing by video teleconference from Lollesgaard. The next day, on 2 April, it met in Riyadh with, among others, President Hadi and the commander of the coalition forces, General Fahd bin Turki bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The committee also visited a storage facility containing Houthi military equipment and armaments. While meeting Omani officials in Muscat, the committee was unable to confer with Oman-based Houthi representative Mohammed Abdul-Salam, apparently for logistical reasons as clearance was not provided in time by the leadership in Sana’a. In Tehran, committee members raised questions about alleged Iranian support of the Houthis, a point repeatedly stressed by officials in meetings in Riyadh. They also heard in Tehran that Iran was interested in contributing to a peaceful resolution of the war, but that coalition countries apparently were not willing to accept Iran’s participation in political efforts.

Key Issues and Options

The lack of progress in implementing the Stockholm Agreement, in particular the agreement on Hodeidah, remains a key issue. The main stumbling block regarding Hodeidah continues to be the parties’ inability to agree on the composition of local security forces to replace their own forces. Issues also include a lack of perceived incentives for the Houthis to withdraw, and the Houthis’ concerns that if they take steps to redeploy, Yemeni and coalition forces will move in to seize the city and ports. While the Stockholm Agreement last December halted a coalition offensive on Hodeidah, the status quo around Hodeidah is likely to be unsustainable. Tensions over the failure to implement the Agreement, and fighting elsewhere in Yemen, could cause the Stockholm process to collapse.

Another key issue is the importance of resuming talks between the Yemeni parties to focus on a comprehensive political solution. These have been put on hold until the agreement on Hodeidah is implemented or shows at least a minimum level of progress. During the 15 April consultations, Griffiths said he hoped to convene the next round of consultations after Ramadan, which ends on 4 June. If the impasse continues, the Council could exert pressure on the parties to follow through on their Stockholm commitments by adopting a presidential statement or a resolution, which could include the threat of sanctions.

The humanitarian situation remains catastrophic, with more than 24 million people requiring aid and 10 million people at risk of famine. Challenges in addressing the crisis include access restraints imposed by the parties and economic conditions that make it difficult for people to purchase essential commodities such as food. A lack of funding for relief efforts is a further challenge, with only 7 percent of the $4.19 billion required for the 2019 humanitarian response plan received by 24 April. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which announced $1.5 billion for the 2019 humanitarian response, comprising more than half of pledged funds, have so far delivered very little of this money. The two countries announced in an 8 April letter to the Council that they would provide $200 million during Ramadan.

One option is a stand-alone Council briefing on the humanitarian crisis to refocus attention on the situation and possibly increase pressure on the parties to break through the current stagnation. Council members could further consider adopting a humanitarian resolution, perhaps with the more prescriptive elements that were dropped during last December’s negotiations on resolution 2451 on steps that the parties should take, such as removing bureaucratic restrictions within prescribed timeframes and measures for strengthening the economy. A further option is an open debate on Yemen to hear the views of the larger UN membership.

In either a product on the Stockholm Agreement or on the humanitarian situation, the Council could request the Secretary-General to submit written reports every two months, as the Council currently relies on oral briefings for information on Yemen.

Regarding the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee, the chair of the committee may brief the Council on last month’s visiting mission. Another option is to establish a list of prohibited items in relation to the arms embargo created by resolution 2216, which the Panel of Experts recommended in 2017 due to the coalition prohibiting imports that it assesses to have dual civilian-military use, but, according to the Panel, was being applied to some items unlikely to have a combat value. An issue that arose during the Sanctions Committee mission is that a Yemeni government list bans importing items such as water pipes required to maintain sanitation systems, which has hurt efforts to address the cholera epidemic.

Council Dynamics

Members appear united in wanting the parties to fulfil their commitments under the Stockholm Agreement. They have been seeking a balance of patience and pressure on the parties that will support the efforts of Griffiths and Lollesgaard, while under pressure from the coalition and Yemeni government to single out the Houthis publicly for impeding progress. 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 last December’s consultations in Sweden. Elected members Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Peru and Poland often coordinate their positions to highlight issues around the humanitarian crisis and international humanitarian law. The US shares coalition concerns about, and at times seeks to highlight, Iran’s role that it views as destabilising.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Peru chairs the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee.

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 Meeting Records
15 April 2019S/PV.8512 This was a briefing on Yemen with the Special Envoy Martin Griffiths; Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock; Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, and Muna Luqman, Chairperson of Food for Humanity and a member of the Women Solidarity Network,
Security Council Press Statements
17 April 2019SC/13785 This statement expressed grave concern that the agreements reached in Stockholm have not yet been implemented.