January 2020 Monthly Forecast

Posted 23 December 2019
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In January, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), which expires on 15 January 2020. The Council is also expected to receive its monthly briefing on Yemen with 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 UNMHA and chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC), is likely to brief in consultations. The Yemen Panel of Experts is due to submit its final report to the 2140 Sanctions Committee before providing it to the Council by 28 January.

Key Recent Developments

Yemen’s Houthi rebel group and Saudi Arabia have continued the talks they started in September 2019, which have contributed to a de-escalation in hostilities. Saudi Arabia also remains closely involved in overseeing implementation of the Riyadh Agreement signed in November 2019 between the internationally recognised Yemeni government and the southern secessionists known as the Southern Transitional Council (STC). The Special Envoy, meanwhile, continues to push for implementation of the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement between the government and the Houthis, including its main component, demilitarising the port city of Hodeidah. The multiple processes seemed to indicate the greatest willingness among parties to restart negotiations on a comprehensive political solution since the failed peace talks in 2016 in Kuwait.

In a statement issued on 26 November 2019, the Saudi-led coalition, which backs the Yemeni government against the Houthis, announced that it was releasing 200 Houthi prisoners. That followed the Houthis’ release of 290 detainees in October. The coalition also said that in cooperation with the World Health Organization, medical flights would be permitted out of Sana’a airport, which has been closed to civilian air traffic since August 2016. On 28 November, 128 prisoners were released by the coalition and returned to Sana’a. No medical flights had taken place by press time.

The de-escalation in hostilities that has accompanied the Houthi-Saudi talks has appeared to hold, despite reports of fighting and coalition airstrikes. Fighting around Hodeidah prompted a 25 November 2019 statement by General Guha in which he said he was “deeply concerned by the escalation” and noted an “increase in the number of airstrikes undertaken in the past 72 hours”.

Ten civilians were killed and 18 injured in a shelling attack on Al-Raqw market in Monabbih District in Sa’ada governorate on 20 November, while on 27 November, an attack on the same market resulted in at least ten civilians killed and 22 injured, several of whom were Ethiopians, according to OCHA, which did not attribute responsibility for the incidents. Still, the Houthis have refrained from conducting cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia since announcing the cessation of attacks on Saudi territory on 20 September 2019.

On 5 December 2019, clashes erupted between government and STC forces around Zinjibar, the Abyan provincial capital. It was the first instance of fighting since the two sides signed the Riyadh Agreement.

As discussed during consultations on Yemen on 12 December 2019, the parties to the Riyadh Agreement have not met initial deadlines for security arrangements and for forming a new, “technocrat”, government. Griffiths apparently noted during the consultations that that this was not a surprise, since the deadlines had been highly ambitious. Lowcock and Guha also briefed. On 18 and 19 December, Guha chaired a meeting with the government and Houthi representatives to the RCC to discuss implementation of the Hodeidah agreement and improving humanitarian access in Hodeidah governorate.

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 Riyadh Agreement are key issues.

The Yemeni government has continued to appear hesitant about restarting peace talks before the Stockholm Agreement’s implementation. The one-year anniversary of the agreement passed on 13 December 2019 with only limited progress in implementing its three components: the agreement on Hodeidah, a prisoner exchange, and a statement of understanding on Taiz.

Regarding the Riyadh Agreement, almost none of the deadlines for implementing provisions dealing with political and security arrangements have been met at press time. Restarting political talks will be contingent on the government and the STC agreeing on a joint delegation as the Riyadh Agreement specifies that the government delegation to future peace talks is to include the STC.

An issue related to future peace talks is how to make these more inclusive, involving not only the STC but other sectors of Yemeni society, such as political parties and geographical power structures not necessarily represented by the Houthis or the government, as well as women and youth. Another question is around eventually consolidating these processes under a UN-led negotiations process. The Special Envoy was not directly involved in the Saudi-led mediation that produced the Riyadh Agreement nor current efforts to implement the deal, nor is he directly involved in the Saudi-Houthi talks.

The Council may continue to monitor implementation of the agreements and their components closely, with the option of reacting with statements to progress or setbacks. The Council could consider undertaking a visiting mission to the region to encourage peace talks and an inclusive process for a comprehensive political settlement.

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 UN has reported an increasingly constrained operating environment for humanitarian actors in the Houthi-controlled north. Another issue of concern is Houthi authorities’ failure to permit access for a UN inspection mission of the SAFER oil tanker located in the Red Sea near Hodeidah, which, because of its age and lack of maintenance since 2015, risks causing a major environmental disaster.

Regarding UNMHA, a review of the mission submitted by the Secretary-General in October 2019 found that its 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. The Council may renew the mandate for six months, as has been the practice since UNMHA’s establishment in January 2019. It could consider reducing the reporting cycle to every two months, rather than the current monthly cycle.

Council Dynamics

Recent months have seen the emergence of consensus among Council members in wanting the parties to restart a political process concurrently with efforts to implement the Stockholm Agreement. Even coalition member Kuwait changed its public position to support moving forward simultaneously with both processes and has offered to host future negotiations, whereas it previously underscored the need to implement the Stockholm accord before returning to talks. Tunisia replaces Kuwait as of January 1 as the Arab member of the Council.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Ambassador Inga Rhonda King of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is succeeding Peru as chair of the Yemen 2140 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.
Security Council Letters
14 October 2019S/2019/823 This was a review on UNMHA.
Security Council Meeting Records
22 November 2019S/PV.8672 This was a briefing on Yemen.