November 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 October 2019
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In November, the Council will receive its monthly briefing on Yemen from Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock and General Abhijit Guha, 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.

The mandate of UNMHA expires on 15 January 2020.

Key Recent Developments

There has been growing momentum for restarting a political process and negotiations on a comprehensive settlement to end the Yemen war. On 20 September, the Houthi rebel group announced that it would cease attacks against Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, which has led the coalition in support of the Yemeni government for the past 4.5 years, has signalled an openness towards a de-escalation. Yemen’s south has also experienced greater calm since the beginning of the fighting in August between the government and southern separatists, who, by late October, were close to formalising a power-sharing agreement after two months of Saudi-mediated talks.

After the Stockholm Agreement brokered in December 2018, further negotiations between the government and the Houthis had been placed on hold until the Stockholm Agreement’s implementation.  (The Stockholm Agreement included a deal to demilitarise the port city of Hodeidah, a prisoner exchange, and a statement of understanding to de-escalate fighting in the city of Taiz). But the fighting in the south and rising regional tensions have created new urgency to restart a political process. In a communiqué from the 26 September ministerial-level meeting in New York of the P5, Germany, Kuwait and Sweden with Griffiths, the countries of this newly formed ‘small group’ on Yemen affirmed that the lack of the Stockholm Agreement’s full implementation “should not prevent the parties from participating in the Special Envoy’s process toward a broader political settlement to end the conflict”.

On 17 October, the Council held its monthly briefing on Yemen. Lowcock briefed first on the humanitarian crisis. He said that disbursements of $700 million by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over the past month—part of the $1.5 billion they pledged in February—combined with new contributions by other governments, had relieved the financial strain on relief efforts, allowing programmes that had been suspended to restart. Humanitarian restrictions remained particularly challenging in the Houthi-controlled north, however. Lowcock also highlighted the humanitarian impact of government regulations on fuel imports that were creating a severe fuel shortage in the north.

Griffiths briefed the Council via VTC from Riyadh. He said that there were signs of hope for Yemen, citing a reduction of violence in the north, and a decrease in the number of airstrikes since October. Griffiths also welcomed the Houthis’ recent release of 290 detainees, which he hoped could lead to the parties resuming discussions for further prisoner releases in line with the Stockholm Agreement. During consultations, Guha briefed members by VTC for the first time since his appointment in September as the UNMHA head and RCC chair.

At the end of the public part of the meeting, Yemen’s permanent representative Abdullah Ali Fadhel al-Saadi addressed the Council. Despite Council members’ calls in the chamber to advance political talks in parallel with implementing the Stockholm Agreement, al-Saadi asserted that “all political consultations on the comprehensive dispute settlement hinge on the implementation the Stockholm Agreement…as those who failed to observe previous agreements will never comply with them this time”.

On 24 October, it was announced that an agreement had been reached in Riyadh between the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC), which had seized control of Yemen’s interim capital Aden in August. (The STC is supported by the UAE, despite the UAE being a coalition member.)  At press time, the parties still had not formally signed the agreement. According to the deal, negotiated in Jeddah and Riyadh, the STC will become part of a new 24-member government that should be formed within thirty days of the signing, with 12 ministries allocated each to the STC and supporters of the internationally recognised President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Saudi forces, which had been deploying for several weeks to Aden amid reports of a pending deal, have reportedly replaced Emirati forces in the city. The agreement would postpone the issue of southern independence until the war with the Houthis has been resolved.

In accordance with resolution 2481, the Secretary-General submitted a review of UNMHA in a 14 October letter to Council members. The review found that the mission’s presence continues to have a tangible calming and moderating effect and that UNMHA’s objectives remain achievable and appropriate for the situation on the ground. According to the review, the mission has achieved an initial operating capacity with 55 personnel, including 35 military and police monitors and 20 civilian staff.

On 22 October, UNMHA announced the establishment of four joint observation posts along the Hodeidah city frontlines. The observation posts, manned by teams of UN, government and Houthi monitors, are part of the ceasefire enhancement and de-escalation mechanism activated on 10 September.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 26 September, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in Yemen by a vote of 22 in favour, 12 against and 11 abstentions. The resolution condemns the ongoing violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen, including those involving the widespread recruitment and use of children by parties to the armed conflict, sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary arrests and detention, denial of humanitarian access and attacks on civilians and civilian objects, including medical facilities and missions and their personnel, as well as schools, and emphasizes the importance of accountability. It renewed the mandate of the Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts (GEE) for one year. The resolution contained new language on the GEE’s mandate to include the following: to establish the facts and circumstances surrounding the alleged violations and abuses and, where possible, to identify those responsible; to make recommendations on improving respect for international human rights law; and to engage with Yemeni authorities and other stakeholders to promote accountability for violations and abuses. On 27 September, the HRC adopted a resolution on technical assistance and capacity-building for Yemen, without a vote.

Before the Council’s 17 October meeting on Yemen, some Council members’ plan to have the Chair of the GEE brief on its latest report caused strong pushback from certain Council members, as well as from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The initiative was scuttled, and instead, an informal meeting was held the following day (18 October) at the UK mission, where the GEE briefed Council members on the report that details possible war crimes committed by the parties to the conflict.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue is restarting negotiations for a broader solution to the conflict, while at the same time advancing implementation of the Stockholm agreement. The apparent agreement between the Yemeni government and the STC would be an important step towards resuming a political process. At press time, its signing was expected soon; despite the 24 October announcement of agreement, the parties have been seeking to clarify the sequencing of different steps in the deal. A related issue is how to make peace talks more inclusive of other sectors of Yemeni society, beyond the government and the Houthis. Regarding the Stockholm Agreement, implementing its main component—the demilitarisation of Hodeidah—requires a political agreement on local forces to take over security in vacated areas, and on port revenues and governance arrangements, according to the UNMHA review.

The humanitarian crisis—currently 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: the protection of civilians, humanitarian access, a fully funded aid operation, support for Yemen’s struggling economy and the need for a political solution.

The Council may seek to welcome the power-sharing agreement once formally signed between the government and the STC, brokered by Saudi Arabia, through a presidential statement. A Council product could further reiterate messages from the 26 September communiqué of the ‘small group’: that the lack of full implementation of the Stockholm Agreement should not prevent the parties’ participation in an inclusive political process toward a broader political settlement, and calling on the Yemeni parties to resume negotiations without delay on the security and political arrangements necessary to end the conflict.

Council Dynamics

Council members appear united in wanting the parties to restart a political process concurrently with efforts to implement the Stockholm Agreement. Even coalition member Kuwait, which has often underscored the need to implement the Stockholm accord to return to talks, appears now to favour moving forward with both processes at once, having supported the 26 September communiqué of the small group. At the Council briefing in October, Kuwait offered to host future negotiations, a role it played previously when it hosted talks for three months in 2016.

Differences in members’ positions emerged in the context of the cancelled briefing by the GEE chair last month. During the preparation of the Council’s October programme of work, Peru suggested including the GEE chair as a briefer during the monthly Yemen meeting. Only in the week before the briefing on Yemen did some members begin objecting to the GEE’s participation, arguing that the timing could undermine the momentum to restart a political process. While some countries supported Peru, the GEE chair’s participation was cancelled as a procedural vote was unlikely to pass, with even some members that have supported the GEE’s mandate in the Human Rights Council preferring to postpone its briefing at the Security Council.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Peru chairs the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee. Following the appointment of permanent representative Gustavo Meza-Cuadra as Peru’s foreign minister, Deputy Permanent Representative Luis Ugarelli has temporarily assumed the committee chairmanship.

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 Letter
14 October 2019S/2019/823 This was a review on UNMHA.
Security Council Meeting Record
17 October 2019S/PV.8642 This was a briefing on Yemen by Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock.
Human Rights Council Documents
27 September 2019A/HRC/RES/42/31 This resolution was on technical assistance and capacity-building for Yemen.
26 September 2019A/HRC/RES/42/2 This resolution renewed the mandate of the Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen for one year.
3 September 2019A/HRC/42.CRP.1* This was a report of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen setting out its detailed findings that were summarized in a second shorter report dated 9 August 2019.
9 August 2019A/HRC/42/17 This was a report of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts as submitted to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighting incidents and patterns of conduct since September 2014