February 2020 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In February, the Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing Yemen financial and travel ban sanctions, which expire on 26 February, and the mandate of the Yemen Panel of Experts, which expires on 28 March. (The targeted arms embargo established by resolution 2216 from April 2015 is open-ended).

The Council is also expected to hold its monthly briefing on Yemen in consultations with Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, a representative of OCHA, and General Abhijit Guha, the head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA). Resolution 2505, adopted on 13 January, renewed UNMHA’s mandate until 15 July 2020.

Key Recent Developments

Efforts continue to restart peace talks and implement the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement and November 2019 Riyadh Agreement. The de-escalation in military hostilities since September 2019 appeared to be severely tested, however, by a deadly missile attack against Yemeni government forces, likely conducted by Houthi rebels, and the outbreak of other fighting in mid-January.

Briefing the Council on 16 January, Griffiths said that Yemen had avoided being drawn into the crisis between the US and Iran earlier in the month, which had risked setting back gains since the de-escalation in fighting between the Houthis and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that supports the government. According to news reports, the US tried unsuccessfully to kill Abdul Reza Shahlai, a deputy commander in Iran’s Quds Force in Sana’a, on the same day a US strike killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. During his briefing, Griffiths said that despite some active front lines, “[w]e are surely witnessing one of the quietest periods of the conflict”.

On 18 January, ballistic missiles struck a mosque at a military camp in Marib city, about 70 kilometres east of Sana’a, killing at least 116 government troops. Yemeni authorities blamed the Houthis for the attack. The day before, government forces reportedly launched a large-scale operation against Houthi positions in Nihm, just northeast of Sana’a city. In a statement on 19 January, the Special Envoy said he “condemns the escalation of military activities in Sana’a, Sa’dah and Marib governorates where airstrikes, missiles and ground attacks reportedly took place”, noting with particular concern the attack on the base in Marib. Intense fighting has continued, with the Houthis appearing to gain ground in Nihm. On 28 January, Council members held consultations to discuss with Griffiths (via VTC) the ongoing escalation. In a 30 January press statement, members “called for an immediate cessation of these hostilities”.

Implementation of the Riyadh Agreement between the government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) has been slow, and by early January appeared in jeopardy because of fighting in Shabwa governorate. Following efforts by Saudi Arabia, which leads a committee overseeing the accord’s implementation, the parties reportedly recommitted to plans to redeploy their forces. During the 16 January briefing, Griffiths said that he was “fairly confident that the implementation is moving” in the right direction.

At the Council’s 16 January briefing, OCHA Director of Coordination Ramesh Rajasingham highlighted the continued impact of violence—despite the de-escalation—on civilians and on humanitarian efforts. Shelling hit the Red Sea Mills in Hodeidah on 26 December 2019, forcing the World Food Programme to temporarily suspend milling, and in late December attacks against the premises of international humanitarian organisations in Al Dhale governorate led 14 organisations to suspend operations affecting over 200,000 people. The Al-Raqw market in Sa’dah governorate came under attack on 25 December for the third time since November, resulting in 17 deaths and bringing total casualties at the market in a month to 89.

On 17 January, a Houthi ban on the use of Yemeni riyal bills printed after 2016 went into effect. The plan, announced in December 2019, had already led the Yemeni government to announce that it would stop payments to civil servants and retirees in the north and was creating discrepancies between the north and the south in the exchange rate, according to Rajasingham.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 10 January, the 2140 Sanctions Committee met to discuss the Yemen Panel of Experts’ final report. The report, likely to be made public in February, highlights the belligerents’ use of economic warfare and corruption by Houthi and government officials. It raises concerns about the transfer of commercially available components to Yemen that are assembled to construct unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and water-borne improvised explosive devices, both of which the Houthis have used to carry out attacks. The panel echoed the findings of the Secretary-General’s December 2019 report on the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, saying that despite their claims to the contrary, the Houthis were unlikely to have conducted the 14 September missile and drone attacks on the Aramco oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurays, Saudi Arabia. The panel did not draw conclusions about responsibility, which European countries, Saudi Arabia and the US attributed to Iran. Violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law continue to be widely committed by all parties in Yemen with impunity, according to the report.

Among its recommendations, the panel proposed that the Council’s monthly Yemen meetings include a discussion of the challenges faced by women and the extent to which they have participated in political negotiations. Its report describes a Houthi network involved in repressing women critical of the Houthis, including through sexual violence.

Key Issues and Options

How the Council can support efforts to restart negotiations for a political settlement to the conflict as well as implementation of the Stockholm Agreement—which included a deal to demilitarise Hodeidah, a prisoner exchange mechanism, and a statement of understanding on the city of Taiz—and the Riyadh Agreement are key issues. The renewed fighting is a major threat to the political process. Restarting peace talks will be contingent on consensus by the government and the STC on a joint delegation, as the Riyadh Agreement specified that the government delegation to future negotiations include the STC. Peace talks also appear dependent on ongoing Houthi-Saudi discussions and their possible conclusion of a de-escalation agreement.

The humanitarian crisis—the largest in the world, with 24 million people requiring assistance—remains severe. OCHA usually briefs on five key priorities to mitigate the situation: the protection of civilians, humanitarian access, a fully funded aid operation, support for Yemen’s 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 the Houthi authorities’ failure to permit a UN inspection mission of the SAFER oil tanker anchored in the Red Sea near Hodeidah, which, because of its lack of maintenance since 2015, risks causing a major environmental disaster.

The Council is likely to extend the assets freeze and travel ban for 12 months. It could consider including in the upcoming resolution several of the Panel of Experts’ recommendations, such as establishing a list of commercial components used by Houthi forces to assemble UAVs and other weapons systems, and request that member states instruct their export control authorities about the threats from the proliferation of such components.

Council Dynamics

On Yemen, Council members appear quite united, calling for new peace talks concurrently with efforts to implement the Stockholm Agreement. Tunisia replaced Kuwait in January as the Arab member on the Council that traditionally champions coalition positions. The issue of Iranian support to the Houthis has sometimes divided the Council, including during its consideration of the sanctions renewal. The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Ambassador Inga Rhonda King of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines chairs the 2140 Committee.

UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN

Security Council Resolutions
13 January 2020S/RES/2505 This resolution extended the mandate of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement until 15 July 2020.
26 February 2019S/RES/2456 This resolution extended for an additional year the Yemen financial and travel ban sanctions, reaffirmed the provisions of the targeted arms embargo, and renewed the mandate of the committee’s Panel of Experts.
Security Council Meeting Record
16 January 2020S/PV.8704 This was a briefing on Yemen.
Security Council Press Statement
30 January 2020SC/14094 This press statement called for an immediate cessation of the hostilities that had broken out since mid-January in northern Yemen.
Security Council Letter
20 January 2020S/2020/51 This was from the Yemeni government on the 18 January missile attack against the Al-Istikbal Base that killed more than 100 people.