December 2019 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In December, the Council will receive its monthly briefing on Yemen from Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock may brief on the humanitarian situation, and General Abhijit Guha, the head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) and chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC), is likely to brief in consultations.

The mandate of UNMHA expires on 15 January 2020.

Key Recent Developments

Several important developments increased prospects for resuming national political talks on ending Yemen’s war. A power-sharing agreement was signed on 5 November between the internationally recognised government of Yemen and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), which seized control of Yemen’s interim capital of Aden in August. It was also reported in November that Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition supporting the Yemeni government, was in talks with the Houthi rebel group.

The Riyadh Agreement was brokered during talks mediated by Saudi Arabia in Jeddah and later Riyadh, averting a possible second civil war and the fracturing of the anti-Houthi coalition. Fighting between the government and southern militias during August had spread to other southern governorates as the STC sought to take over the territory of the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. A government counter-offensive to re-take Aden came under attack by coalition member the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has supported the STC. The 5 November signing ceremony in Riyadh for the Riyadh Agreement, initially delayed after its 24 October announcement, was attended by President Abdo Raboo Mansour Hadi, STC President Aidarus al-Zoubaidi, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman, and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed.

The agreement sets out a series of political, economic, military and security arrangements. A “technocrat” government of no more than 24 ministers, to be selected based on their competence, integrity and expertise, should be formed within 30 days of the agreement’s signing. Ministerial portfolios are to be shared equally between northern and southern governorates. Prior to this, the prime minister should resume his functions in Aden within seven days of the accord’s signing (on 18 November, Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalek Saeed returned to Aden). Deadlines are stipulated for President Hadi to appoint a governor and security chief for Aden governorate (within fifteen days), governors for Abyan and al-Dhale (within thirty days) and governors and security chiefs in the remaining southern governorates (within sixty days). All state revenues, including from oil, customs and taxes, should be deposited in the Central Bank in Aden. Among several measures outlined in the accord to combat corruption is that the Yemeni parliament, which last met in May in Sayoun, is to monitor revenues and expenditures.

A series of timelines are set out to fulfil military and security reforms to unify government and STC-affiliated forces. All sides should return to the locations and barracks they occupied before last August’s outbreak of fighting, and be replaced by security forces of local authorities within 15 days. In Aden, the sides’ medium and heavy weapons such as tanks, armoured troop carriers, artillery, heavy mortars and rockets should be relocated within 15 days to camps that will be supervised by coalition forces. Within 30 days of the agreement’s signing, all military forces of the government and STC should relocate to barracks outside Aden governorate. An exemption is made for the First Presidential Protection Brigade. The agreement further envisions uniting all military forces in the south under the Ministry of Defense in Aden, Abyan and Lahaj governorates within 60 days, and the forces in other southern governorates within ninety days.

A similar series of security arrangements are outlined for police and special and counter-terrorism forces that will be placed under the authority of the Minister of Interior. This includes forming a “Key Installations Protection Force” to protect civil installations, including the Central Bank, government ministries, ports and airports.

Saudi Arabia will take a leadership role over a committee tasked with following up and implementing the agreement. Saudi forces began to replace Emirati forces in Aden already in October, and Saudi Arabia is expected to take a new leading role militarily in the south as the UAE continues to draw down its armed forces in Yemen, a process that began in June. Another important aspect is the agreement’s stipulation that the STC will be represented in the government delegation in future peace talks with the Houthis.

In a 5 November press release, Griffiths described the agreement as “an important step for our collective efforts to advance a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Yemen.” A 6 November Security Council press statement said the Riyadh Agreement represents “a positive and important step towards a comprehensive and inclusive political solution for Yemen.”

In mid-November, both Saudi and Houthi officials confirmed that Saudi Arabia and the Houthis were holding informal talks regarding a possible cease-fire, according to media reports. It was reported that the talks, facilitated by Oman, started shortly after the 14 September Houthi-claimed Aramco oil facility attacks.

The Council was briefed on developments by Griffiths (via video-teleconference) and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller on 22 November. Guha briefed members during consultations via video-teleconference. Earlier in the month, Guha released statements highlighting incidents that contravene the ceasefire in Hodeidah as part of the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement, including the construction of new fortifications, movement of forces, and use of drones.

On 18 November, the Houthis seized a Saudi-flagged vessel towing a South Korean drilling rig in the Red Sea, demonstrating the risks posed by the Yemen war to navigation through this major shipping route.

Key Issues and Options

Restarting negotiations for a broader solution to the conflict, while at the same time advancing the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement and the new Riyadh Agreement, are key issues. The Yemeni government has continued to appear hesitant about restarting peace talks before the Stockholm Agreement’s implementation. December marks one year since the agreement between the government and the Houthis, with only limited progress in implementing its various components: the demilitarisation of the critical port city of Hodeidah, a prisoner exchange, and a statement of understanding on Taiz. Regarding the Riyadh Agreement, deadlines for its implementation are considered highly ambitious, especially in respect of military and security arrangements.

An option for the Council is to adopt a presidential statement that expresses further support for the recent Riyadh Agreement while reiterating strong support for the Special Envoy’s efforts to resume negotiations on a comprehensive political settlement in parallel to implementing the Stockholm Agreement. Moreover, the Council may want to continue to monitor implementation of the agreements and their components closely, with an option of reacting with statements praising progress and expressing concern in cases of serious delays or breaches.

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. A presidential statement could include reiterating calls for unhindered access for humanitarian actors, particularly amidst reports of an increasingly constrained operating environment in the Houthi-controlled north. It could further direct a strong call on Houthi authorities to facilitate a UN inspection mission of the SAFER oil tanker, which risks causing an environmental disaster in the Red Sea.

Council Dynamics

There appears to be consensus among Council members in wanting the parties to restart a political process concurrently with efforts to implement the Stockholm Agreement. Coalition member Kuwait, which for much of this past year underscored the need to implement the Stockholm accord before returning to talks, now seems to support moving forward with both processes at once and has offered to host future negotiations. It previously hosted talks for three months in 2016. A new ‘small group’ of states seeking to support the UN-led peace process for Yemen was formed in September, made up of the P5, Germany, Kuwait and non-Council member Sweden.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Peru chairs the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee; on 1 January 2020 it is expected to be succeeded by Ambassador Inga Rhonda King of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

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 Press Statement
6 November 2019SC/14017 This statement welcomed the signing of the Riyadh Agreement between the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council.