October 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 September 2019
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In October, the Council will hold its monthly briefing on Yemen with Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock is also likely to brief. The Secretary-General is further expected to submit a review of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) to the Council by 15 October, as requested in resolution 2481. The mandate of UNMHA expires on 15 January 2020.

Key Recent Developments

The war in Yemen between the Houthi rebel group and the government, supported by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, has been at risk of being drawn into a wider regional conflict. On 14 September, strikes against the Abqaic and Khurais oil facilities in Saudi Arabia––which process more than half of Saudi Arabia’s daily crude oil production, or 5 percent of the global market––caused heavy damage to the sites. The Houthis claimed they had launched the attack using ten drones. The scale, precision and range of the strikes, about 500 miles from Yemeni territory, raised doubts about this claim. The US charged that Iran had been responsible and that the operation had not originated from Yemen.

On 16 September, Griffiths told the Council during its monthly briefing on Yemen that it was “not entirely clear who was behind the attack” but that the developments, along with the risk of Yemen’s south breaking away, showed that there was “no time to waste” on working towards a political solution to end the war. “In parallel, therefore, to the continued efforts to implement the Stockholm Agreement…the Yemeni parties must move forward to resume an inclusive political process to reach a comprehensive political solution to end the conflict, and that must be done without delay”, he said.

Regarding the stalled December 2018 Stockholm Agreement, Griffiths reported on the activation one week earlier of a mechanism for tripartite monitoring of the Hodeidah ceasefire and preventing military escalation in the port city. He acknowledged the continued lack of progress with the agreement’s other two elements—the prisoner exchange and alleviating the humanitarian situation in the city of Taiz.

Lowcock highlighted the continued toll of the war on civilians. Coalition airstrikes on a prison in Dhamar governorate, formerly a university, killed more than 100 people on 4 September, and Houthi shelling on 13 September in Hodeidah killed 11 civilians, including seven children. Speaking of the humanitarian response, Lowcock said, “the operating environment for aid agencies has perhaps never been worse”, mostly because of bureaucratic impediments primarily in Houthi-controlled areas. He highlighted that the Houthis had backed out of their agreement to allow a UN assessment of the SAFER oil tanker, an offloading facility in the Red Sea which, because of its age and lack of maintenance since 2015, risked causing a major environmental disaster. Lowcock cited government and coalition obstructions as well, including regulations of oil imports that were blocking ten vessels with commercial fuel imports from entering Hodeidah.

After flagging for months that relief efforts were being imperilled by a lack of funding (due primarily to unfulfilled pledges by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates [UAE]), Lowcock reported that the UAE had just disbursed $200 million.  On 25 September, Saudi Arabia provided $500 million, to coincide with a conference on the humanitarian situation in Yemen during General Assembly high-level week.

On 20 September, the Houthis announced that they would halt all attacks against Saudi Arabia, expecting that the coalition would end air strikes in exchange. Making the announcement, Mehdi al-Mashat, the head of the Houthis’ supreme council, called on all parties to engage in negotiations for a political solution. A 23 September joint statement by France, Germany and the UK blamed Iran for the 14 September attack on the oil facilities, while expressing support for ongoing investigations to establish further details

In Yemen’s south, there has been a lull in fighting—described as “an eerie calm” by Griffiths during his briefing—between government forces and those of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) since the end of August when the UAE, a coalition member which, nevertheless, supports the STC, conducted airstrikes on government soldiers, preventing their attempt retake control of Aden. On 9 September, Saudi Arabia and the UAE asserted in a joint statement that they were working in close coordination with the various parties to implement a ceasefire in preparation for Saudi Arabia’s proposed dialogue in Jeddah to resolve the crisis.

On 26 September, during high-level week, Kuwait, Sweden and the UK hosted a foreign minister-level meeting with the P5, Germany and the Special Envoy to consider ways to advance the political process.

Earlier in the month, the Secretary-General appointed Lieutenant General (retired) Abhijit Guha of India as the new UNMHA head and chair of the Redeployment and Coordination Committee. Guha succeeds General Michael Lollesgaard, who left at the end of July.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 10 September, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue during its 42nd session on the report of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts. The report covers incidents and patterns of conduct since September 2014 not covered in the previous report, as well as between July 2018 and June. The report “found patterns of continued violations by all parties to the conflict, as civilians continued to be killed and injured by the fighting and to suffer violations of their most basic human rights”. On 26 September, the HRC considered the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the implementation of technical assistance to Yemen (A/HRC/42/33). On 26 September, the HRC adopted a resolution renewing the mandate of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts for one year.

Key Issues and Options

A key concern is that wider regional tensions and the situation in the south will deepen Yemen’s war. The risks have given new impetus to efforts aimed at resuming peace talks on a comprehensive political solution that have been postponed while awaiting the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement. However, advancing the deal on Hodeidah has been blocked over the controversial issue of the composition of “local security forces” to replace Houthi and government forces in Hodeidah, which, as Griffiths has acknowledged, is unlikely to be resolved in the absence of a broader political process.

Progress in the Saudi-led mediation between the government and the STC is important. A related issue is how to make peace talks 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 where a diversity of views other than those of the STC exists. Resolution 2216, adopted at the outset of the coalition intervention in 2015, has been cited by the Yemeni government as limiting the parties in UN-led negotiations to the government and the Houthis. A counter-argument to this position is the resolution’s often overlooked demand in operative paragraph 6 that all Yemeni parties adhere to resolving their differences through dialogue and consultation.

Some Council members initially suggested that the Council call for a de-escalation following the attack on the Saudi oil facilities. But at press time, possible Council action appeared dependent on Yemen-related meetings during high-level week and the findings of the Yemen Panel of Experts and the Secretariat that supports the Security Council in implementing resolution 2231 on the Iran nuclear deal, whose representatives travelled to Saudi Arabia to investigate the attack.

The humanitarian crisis—the largest in the world, with 24 million people requiring assistance—remains severe. In its monthly updates, OCHA usually briefs on a number of key priorities to mitigate the situation, which the Council has acknowledged in several products: respect for international law, unhindered humanitarian access, a fully funded aid operation, and support for Yemen’s struggling economy. One option is to organise a briefing on the recent report of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts as a way of increasing pressure on the parties to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law.

Council Dynamics

Members have sought to support Griffiths’ efforts and have welcomed Saudi Arabia’s initiative to mediate a resolution to the crisis in the south. Most members now vocally express support for restarting inclusive peace talks, to occur in parallel with efforts to implement the Stockholm Agreement. The Council’s 29 August presidential statement on Yemen welcomed the Special Envoy’s efforts to resume comprehensive negotiations, without delay, on the security and political arrangements necessary to end the conflict.

Kuwait, which is part of the coalition, often highlights the importance of full implementation of the Stockholm Agreement for the parties to return to peace talks. Russia occasionally 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 the coalition’s concerns about—and often seeks to highlight—Iran’s role, which it views as destabilising.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. 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
6 September 2019S/2019/734 This letter expressed the Secretary-General’s intention to appoint Abhijit Guha (India) as the new Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee and Head of UNMHA.
11 September 2019S/2019/735 In this letter, Council members took note of the Secretary-General’s intended appointment of Abhijit Guha as RCC chair and head of UNMHA.
Security Council Meeting Record
16 September 2019S/PV.8619 This was a briefing on Yemen with Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock.
Human Rights Council Document
9 August 2019A/HRC/42/17 This was the report of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts as
submitted to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights