August 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 July 2019
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In August, the Council will hold its monthly briefing on Yemen with Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock is likely to update the Council on the humanitarian situation.

The 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee is also expected to consider the Yemen Panel of Experts’ mid-term update. Resolution 2456, which renewed the Yemen sanctions regime in February, requested that the panel submit the update to the committee by 28 July.

Key Recent Developments

Implementation of the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement continues to be stalled, including its main component, the mutual redeployment of Houthi rebel and Yemeni government forces from the port city of Hodeidah and two nearby smaller ports. While a fragile, frequently violated ceasefire continues in Hodeidah governorate, fighting persists on other front lines, and in July the Houthis continued a campaign of drone attacks against Saudi Arabia.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has served as a leading partner with Saudi Arabia in the coalition supporting the Yemeni government, began reducing its military presence in Yemen. This includes withdrawing from Hodeidah, where the UAE led government-affiliated forces during last year’s offensive against the Houthi-held city and ports.

On 14 and 15 July, the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC), chaired by the UN and created to oversee the ceasefire and redeployment of forces set out in the Hodeidah agreement, held its first joint meeting since February with Yemeni government and Houthi representatives, on a ship in the Red Sea. The parties agreed on the concept of operations for phase two redeployments, meant to demilitarize Hodeidah city. But, as indicated in the RCC chair’s 15 July statement about the meeting, proceeding with implementation of any further redeployments depends on the sides’ agreeing on “local security forces, local authorities and [port] revenues”.

When Griffiths briefed the Council on 18 July (via video teleconference from Amman), he said that resolving the questions of composition of local security forces to take over security functions in Hodeidah and of the management and use of port revenue represented “a major hurdle”. Griffiths said that “any solution of this issue is a temporary one since a more permanent solution to this issue lies in the comprehensive agreement to be negotiated by the parties later”. He stressed the importance of preventing Yemen from being drawn into the regional tensions involving Iran.

During the same meeting, Lowcock highlighted that a funding shortage was stressing the ability of relief operations to address the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. He indicated that this was because Saudi Arabia and the UAE had provided “only a modest proportion” of the $1.5 billion that they had pledged to the 2019 humanitarian response plan, which was just 34 percent funded. UN agencies were scaling back activities and in two months were expected to close 21 key programmes, according to Lowcock. David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), briefed on the WFP’s decision to suspend its general food assistance in Sana’a city on 20 June because of Houthi diversion of food aid for profit. While Beasley said that WFP negotiations with the Houthis were close to producing an agreement to rectify the matter, at press time, the WFP had yet to announce a deal.

General Michael Lollesgaard, who has headed the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) and chaired the RCC since February, informed members during consultations that he would no longer continue in the position. Lollesgaard’s six-month contract is to end in early August. The UN has not yet announced his replacement.

Regarding UNMHA, on 15 July the Council adopted resolution 2481, renewing the mission’s mandate for six months until 15 January 2020.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 12 July, a spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm over the imposition of the death penalty by the Specialised First Instance Criminal Court in Sana’a on 30 people, “most of whom are academics, students and politicians affiliated with the Islah party that has been critical of the Houthis”. The spokesperson added that the “UN Human Rights Office has received credible information suggesting that many of those convicted were subjected to arbitrary or unlawful detention, as well as torture and other ill-treatment in custody”.

Key Issues and Options

Implementing, and salvaging, the Stockholm Agreement, which also includes a prisoner exchange and statement of understanding to de-escalate fighting in the city of Taiz, remains a key issue. On Hodeidah, the Yemeni government insists that local security forces that are to replace Houthi and government troops be led by government personnel, and more recently it has claimed that it should be able to appoint new local authorities. For the Houthis, this would be a way for the government to take control of the city without having to fight for it militarily. Resuming peace talks, to focus on a comprehensive political solution, has been delayed until there is more progress in implementing the Stockholm Agreement. The difficulty in resolving the question of local security forces, however, is very much a political issue linked to future power-sharing arrangements to be addressed in peace talks.

Continuing Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia and fighting on Yemen’s other front lines risk unravelling the Stockholm process. The UN reports over 30 front lines with active fighting. Wider regional tensions with Iran also risk involving Yemen and worsening the conflict.

The humanitarian situation remains critical, with conditions described by Lowcock during the 18 July briefing as worsening for most Yemenis. According to OCHA, 10 million Yemenis require food aid to survive. Access restrictions and interference are most prevalent in Houthi-held northern areas where the majority of Yemen’s population lives, though bureaucratic impediments by the government and the coalition also hamper response efforts. A related issue is the need for the parties to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law amidst widespread abuses during the conflict and heavy civilian casualties. At press time, the Working Group on Children in Armed Conflict was expected to begin negotiating conclusions on Yemen towards the end of July, based on the Secretary-General’s 3 June report on children and armed conflict in Yemen, which covers the period 1 April 2013 to 31 December 2018.

Council members may issue a press statement, which the Council could elevate as a presidential statement, calling for the parties to further implement the Stockholm Agreement by resolving outstanding issues over local security forces and revenues; to de-escalate violence, including the halting of cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia; and welcoming recent UAE redeployments. Another possibility is for Council members to request the Secretary-General to explore options for deploying international forces to provide local security in Hodeidah, an idea floated by one Council member during the July consultations.

Council Dynamics

Council members have been united in seeking to support the Special Envoy and his mediation efforts. In recent months, the P5, through their ambassadors to Yemen, have coordinated messaging to pressure the respective sides.

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 a 15 May briefing that it would be willing to host a new round of consultations. Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Peru and Poland sometimes coordinate their positions on Yemen, especially on humanitarian issues.

Since the escalation of tensions between the US and Iran, the US has used increasingly strong language about Iran’s involvement in Yemen in support of the Houthis. A 24 June statement by the US Secretary of State described the war as “conceived of and perpetuated by” Iran.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra (Peru) chairs the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee.

UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN

Security Council Resolutions
15 July 2019S/RES/2481 This resolution renewed the mandate of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement for six months until 15 January 2020.
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.
Secretary-General’s Reports
3 June 2019S/2019/453 This was the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict in Yemen.
Security Council Meeting Records
18 July 2019S/PV.8578 This was a briefing on Yemen by Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, and Executive Director of the World Food Programme David Beasley