September 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 August 2019
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In September, 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.

Key Recent Developments

In August, fighting erupted between southern separatists and the Yemeni government, both of which have been nominally allied with the Saudi Arabia-led coalition against the Houthi rebel group. Forces affiliated with the Southern Transitional Council (STC) took control of Aden, the government’s interim capital since 2015, and fighting spread to other southern governorates.

The sequence of events that has pushed southern Yemen towards possible civil war began on 1 August, when a ballistic missile fired by the Houthis struck the al-Galaa base in Aden during a military parade. At least 36 soldiers were killed, all members of the Security Belt, a southern militia that according to the Yemen Panel of Experts is supported by coalition member the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The STC, formed in 2017 with the stated goal of creating an independent south Yemen, claimed that Yemen’s main Sunni Islamist Islah party was complicit in the missile attack. Islah is a prominent actor within the Yemeni government.

Fighting between forces affiliated with the STC and the government broke out on 7 August following the funeral procession of a senior Security Belt military commander, Monier “Abu al-Yamamah” al-Yafie, who had been killed in the missile strike. By 10 August, separatists took control of military bases and government institutions, including the presidential palace and Central Bank. (Yemeni President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi has continued to reside in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, throughout the war.) According to OCHA, as many as 40 people were killed over the four days of fighting, with 260 injured.

On 10 August, Saudi Arabia invited all the parties in Aden to Jeddah for talks. The Saudi-led coalition called for an immediate ceasefire, warning that military force would be used against anyone who violated it, and called for southern forces to withdraw from the positions they had seized.

The Yemeni government described the developments as a coup and said it would participate in talks only after southern forces withdrew from areas forcibly seized and return arms that were taken from the military bases. The STC stated its willingness to attend the summit and repeated calls to be included in UN peace talks as the only way to solve the “southern problem”. It withdrew from some government buildings but refused to give up captured military bases. In a 19 August letter to the Security Council president ahead of the Security Council’s 20 August meeting on Yemen, the STC said that the international community should “accept the new realities on the ground”. That night, Security Belt forces captured two more military camps, giving it control of Zinjibar, the capital of neighbouring Abyan governorate. Fighting subsequently spread to Shabwa governorate, where government forces seized areas held by the Shabwani Elite Forces, another STC-affiliated militia supported by the UAE.

At the Council briefing on 20 August, Griffiths condemned “the unacceptable efforts by the Southern Transitional Council to take control of state institutions by force”. Yemeni ambassador Abdullah Ali Fadhel al-Saadi, addressing the Council, condemned the UAE’s support for the STC, asserting that “without the full support provided by the United Arab Emirates to plan, stage and finance this rebellion, it would not have occurred”.

On 26 August, Saudi Arabia and the UAE issued a joint statement on the formation of a joint committee to oversee the disengagement of separatist and government troops and reiterated the call for talks in Jeddah. The statement reaffirmed their commitment to confront the Houthi rebellion and rejected the “defamation” campaign against the UAE over events in the south. By 28 August, a new battle for Aden began, as government forces sought to re-take the city. On 29 August, the government accused the UAE of airstrikes outside of Aden that killed at least 30 soldiers.

The Council adopted a presidential statement on 29 August, calling for restraint, the preservation of Yemen’s territorial integrity, and welcoming Saudi Arabia’s proposed dialogue in Jeddah. It also expressed full support for the Special Envoy’s efforts to resume comprehensive negotiations, without delay, between the government and the Houthis.

Fighting continued on other frontlines, and the Houthis maintained a campaign of drone and missile strikes against infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. On 17 August, a drone attack targeted Saudi Arabia’s Shaybah oilfield, more than 600 miles from Houthi-held territory. Earlier that week, a Houthi delegation visited Tehran, holding meetings with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and appointing an ambassador to Iran.

During August, there was also a resurgence of attacks by violent extremist groups. In Aden, on 1 August, the same day as the missile attack on al-Galaa base, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant claimed responsibility for a bomb attack at a police station that killed 12 police. An attack by Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula the next day in Abyan killed at least 20 government soldiers.

Implementing last December’s Stockholm Agreement between the Houthis and the government to demilitarise the port city of Hodeidah and two nearby smaller ports, exchange prisoners, and de-escalate fighting in Taiz remained stalled. A ceasefire in Hodeidah continues, but has been violated frequently by the two sides, and due to disagreement on the composition of local forces to take over security of the city and ports, there has been only limited progress towards the mutual redeployment of forces as set out in the agreement. During the 20 August briefing, Griffiths said he had recently submitted a proposal to the parties to enable some of the first phase of redeployments in the Hodeidah agreement. There has been no tangible progress on the Stockholm Agreement’s two other components.

On 9 August the World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it had signed an agreement with the Houthis to safeguard food assistance. This allowed the WFP to resume food distribution in Sana’a city, which it had partially suspended in June due to alleged diversion of food aid for profit.

On 21 August, OCHA’s Yemen office released a statement on the funding shortfall to address Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, where 24 million people require some form of assistance. The shortfall had already led to the closure or scaling down of relief programmes, prevented the start-up of several planned large-scale projects and will force the closure of 22 more programmes within the next two months. At the 20 August Council briefing, Assistant-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller stated that the gap was due to “Yemen’s neighbours in the coalition” having only provided a “modest share” of promised funding. By 21 August, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had delivered $286.6 million of the $1.5 billion they committed at a high-level February Yemen pledging event.

Earlier in the month, the Associated Press published a report about alleged corruption involving more than a dozen UN aid workers in Yemen. UN, World Health Organisation and UNICEF spokespersons said in response that investigations were being conducted into the purported misconduct, which included personal enrichment from relief funds and contracts as well as allowing a Houthi leader to travel in UNICEF vehicles.

Human Rights-Related Developments

In a press briefing on 6 August, the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed deep concern over developments in Yemen “that have had a serious impact on civilians across the country, including in Aden, Taiz, San’a, Sa’dah Al Dhale and other areas”. The spokesperson added that “armed groups affiliated with Al-Qaida and ISIS also appear to have intensified their activities in the country”. On 11 September, the Human Rights Council is expected to hold an interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the implementation of technical assistance to Yemen (A/HRC/42/33).

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 23 August, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee met to consider the Yemen Panel of Experts midterm update. The unpublished report, submitted at the end of July, noted presciently that pursuing a peace process that views Yemen’s conflict in ‘binary terms’, that is, between the Houthis against the government and coalition, is likely to be impeded by competition between armed forces affiliated with the Yemeni government and the UAE The report sets out the multiplicity of actors and violent confrontations that exist in Yemen. Among other observations, it comments that “four years after [resolution 2216] was adopted, the text is increasingly seen as a barrier to a negotiated peace”.

Key Issues and Options

Events in the south threaten to further fragment Yemen and have undermined the coalition against the Houthis. Planned talks in Jeddah between the government and STC are considered critical.

Implementing the Stockholm Agreement remains important, but there is an increased sense of urgency to resume peace talks on a comprehensive political solution to the war, as events in the south demonstrate the broader risk of Yemen’s conflict worsening. Since the Stockholm Agreement, a new round of talks between the government and Houthis has been on hold until there is greater progress implementing the agreement. But its main component, the deal on Hodeidah, has remained blocked over the disagreement on the composition of local forces, an issue that appears increasingly unlikely to be resolved independently of a broader political solution. Regarding peace talks, an important issue is how to make these more inclusive of other sectors of Yemeni society, including the south—which until 1990 constituted a separate state, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, and which contains a diversity of views besides those of the STC.

Continuing Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia, fighting on Yemen’s different fronts and wider regional tensions with Iran risk worsening the conflict. The resurgence of violent extremist groups is also of increasing concern.

Moreover, the humanitarian situation remains critical. 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.

In September, on the margins of the high-level segment of the General Assembly, the UK, which is the Council’s penholder on Yemen, is planning to organise a foreign minister-level meeting on Yemen to assist the Special Envoy in advancing the political process.

Council Dynamics

Council members have been united in seeking to support the Special Envoy and his mediation efforts. More recently, they have welcomed Saudi Arabia’s initiative to host a dialogue to address the crisis in the south. However, differences still arise, which prevented agreement, for example, on a press statement that the UK initiated in early August to address a range of developments in Yemen.

Kuwait is part of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and champions coalition positions. It has highlighted in recent months the importance of full implementation of the Stockholm Agreement for the parties to return to peace talks, of which Kuwait hosted a previous round in April 2016. Russia sometimes raises concerns about singling out the Houthis at the expense of maintaining greater balance in Council products. Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Peru and Poland sometimes coordinate their positions, especially on humanitarian issues. The US shares coalition concerns about—and at times seeks to highlight—Iran’s role, which it views as destabilising.

Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra (Peru) chairs the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee.

UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN

Security Council Resolution
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.
Security Council Presidential Statement
29 August 2019S/PRST/2019/9 This was on developments in southern Yemen and efforts to resume comprehensive political negotiations.
Security Council Letters
23 August 2019S/2019/678 This was a letter from the UAE rejecting the claims made by the Permanent Representative of Yemen at the Council’s 20 August briefing.
8 August 2019S/2019/647 This was a letter from Yemen, attaching a statement by the government on the armed escalation in Aden.
Security Council Meeting Record
20 August 2019S/PV.8598 This was a briefing on Yemen by Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, and the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller