June 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 May 2019
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In June, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen 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), are also likely to brief.

During June, the Secretariat is further expected to present a review of UNMHA to the Council, as requested in resolution 2452. The mandate of UNMHA expires on 16 July.

Key Recent Developments

The Houthi rebel group conducted a “unilateral” redeployment of their military forces from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa over a four-day period from 11 to 14 May. UNHMA monitored and verified the withdrawals, which were the first redeployments since the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement established a ceasefire in Hodeidah governorate and outlined a phased mutual redeployment of Houthi rebel and Yemeni government forces from the three ports and Hodeidah city. A statement by Lollesgaard on 14 May confirming the redeployments said that much work remained to remove military manifestations (including barriers, trenches and tunnels) but that cooperation had been very good. On 15 May, the Council was updated on the situation by Griffiths and Lollesgaard (through video teleconference) during a briefing and consultations on Yemen.

During a press conference after the meeting, Lollesgaard said that the UN accepted a unilateral Houthi offer to withdraw from the ports since negotiations on the operational plan for phase two redeployments—leading to the sides fully withdrawing from Hodeidah city—and over the composition of local forces to take over security responsibilities could still take months. Until these issues were resolved, the sides could not conduct the second step of the plan for phase one redeployments. (According to the agreement on the phase one redeployments, reached in the preceding months, the Houthis should first withdraw from the three ports, followed, in a second step, by the parties redeploying from the “kilo 8” triangle in Hodeidah city to enable access to the Red Sea Mills where 51,000 metric tonnes of wheat have been inaccessible for relief efforts since October.)

Instead of continuing to wait for agreements on phase two redeployments and local security forces, the unilateral Houthi withdrawal from the ports could, according to Griffiths and Lollesgaard, allow the UN to deploy teams from the UN Development Programme and inspectors from the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) to support the Yemeni port authorities and increase the capacity of the ports and inspections, which the agreement on Hodeidah envisioned. During the 15 May press conference, Lollesgaard said that once the plan for phase two and the composition of local security forces are resolved, the RCC would still verify the Houthi withdrawal from the ports.

The Yemeni government rebuffed the developments. It criticised the fact that it was not included in the monitoring, as provided for by the RCC, which was established for the tripartite supervision by the UN, government and Houthis of the Hodeidah agreement’s implementation. It further expressed concerns that Houthi personnel are simply embedded in the coast guard that took over security responsibilities for the ports. “We underscore the fact that any attempt by the Houthi militias to withdraw from the ports without any supervision, monitoring and approval by the [RCC] and its three parties would be a violation of agreements reached in recent months and would undermine the efforts of the international community”, said Yemen’s ambassador, Abdullah Ali Fadhel al-Saadi, at the 15 May briefing.

In a 22 May letter to the Secretary-General, Yemeni President Abdo Raboo Mansour Hadi criticised the Special Envoy’s understanding of the complexities of the Yemeni conflict,  saying that the government would give him one final chance to implement the Stockholm Agreement.

On 14 May—the same day the UN confirmed the redeployments—the Houthis carried out drone attacks against two oil-pumping stations in Saudi Arabia, which leads the military coalition supporting the Yemeni government. Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for ordering the attacks, which occurred amid rising tensions in the region between the US and Iran. On 16 May, coalition airstrikes in Sana’a killed at least six people, including five children, and wounded at least 41, according to media reports and the UN. On 21 and 23 May, Houthi bomb-laden drones attacked an airport with a military base in Najran, Saudi Arabia. Heavy fighting continued on other fronts in Yemen, including the southern al-Dhale governorate and Abs district of Hajjah governorate.

On 5 May, a World Food Programme (WFP)-led technical team reached the Red Sea Mills from the south through government-held territory. It has since been assessing how much of the grain can be salvaged. Following a CNN news report on Houthi theft of food aid, the WFP issued a statement on 20 May threatening a phased suspension of operations in Houthi-controlled areas. The statement said that the greatest challenge to WFP operations was coming from the obstructive and uncooperative role of some of the Houthi leaders, including repeated obstacles to its independent selection of beneficiaries. Days earlier, Lowcock seemed to indicate that this was not a major problem, saying at the Council briefing that a recent UN-commissioned survey found that 94 percent of randomly selected intended beneficiaries of food aid confirmed that they had received food baskets.

Key Issues and Options

The implementation of the Stockholm Agreement remains a key issue. This is very much dependent on agreements on an operational plan for phase two redeployments and the politically sensitive question of the composition of “local security forces” in Hodeidah. Lollesgaard is leading negotiations on the phase two redeployments, and Griffiths is mediating discussions on the local security forces. Advancing the other elements of the Stockholm Agreement—the prisoner exchange and the statement of understanding on Taiz to improve humanitarian access to the front-line city—remains stalled. The Yemeni government’s reaction to the unlitateral redeployments and criticism of Griffiths over the unilateral redeployments has jeapordised the Stockholm process. Fighting elsewhere and the escalation of Houthi drone attacks on Saudi Arabia risk further undoing the agreement.

Organising a new round of political consultations between the Houthis and the government remains a priority. A follow-up round to the talks in Sweden last December to focus on a comprehensive political solution, initially foreseen for January, has been put on hold amidst the stalemate over the Hodeidah agreement.

The humanitarian crisis remains the world’s largest, with more than 24 million people requiring aid, 10 million people at risk of famine, and a notable rise in cholera this year. During his last briefing, Lowcock indicated that relief efforts were contributing to some improvement, with the number of districts estimated to be at risk of famine having declined by 20 percent compared to a year ago. Access restrictions by the parties—particularly in Houthi-controlled territory, as highlighted by the WFP statement—remain a key issue.

Regarding UNMHA, as of 15 May, the mission maintains on the ground 15 to 18 monitors out of the authorised level of up to 75 monitors. The Houthis’ slow approval process for visas has been holding up deployment of 30 additional monitors.

The Council may adopt a presidential statement welcoming the Houthi redeployments from the ports, urging that this step be followed by further actions to fulfil the agreement on Hodeidah and the broader Stockholm Agreement, and expressing its support for the Special Envoy and General Lollesgaard. It could further call for a de-escalation on other front lines to build confidence and support new peace talks. If the impasse around the accord continues, the Council may consider the option of strengthening the 2140 Yemen sanctions regime by adding obstruction of the Stockholm Agreement to its designation criteria.

Council Dynamics

Despite Yemeni government criticism, most members welcomed the Houthi redeployments, and members, including the P5, continue to support the Special Envoy. The redeployments staved off what would likely have been a strong push by coalition countries and some Council members for the Council publicly to single out the Houthis for obstructing the Stockholm Agreement, which, according to some analysts, could have been counter-productive, especially since both sides have put up impediments during the last five months. The UK suggested a presidential statement to welcome the developments and UN efforts and encourage the parties to take further steps. But it held back from circulating a text, apparently perceiving that other developments, including the escalation in Houthi drone attacks and coalition air strikes on Sana’a, would complicate the ability to reach the consensus required for a Council statement.

Kuwait is part of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and champions 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. Germany announced at the 15 May briefing that it would be willing to host a new round of consultations. The US shares coalition concerns about, and at times seeks to highlight, Iran’s role, which 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 Letter
14 May 2019S/2019/391 This was a letter from Saudi Arabia on the Houthi drone attacks against Saudi oil pumping stations.
Security Council Meeting Record
15 May 2019S/PV.8525 This was a briefing on Yemen by Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, and Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra (Peru), as the chair of the 2140 Sanctions Committee.