Expected Council Action
In July, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), which expires on 15 July. The Council is also expected to receive its monthly briefing on Yemen by 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, is also likely to brief. With the extraordinary and provisional measures implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic likely to still be in place, the briefings are expected to be held as a videoconference (VTC). The Yemen Panel of Experts is due to submit its mid-term update to the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee by 28 July.
Key Recent Developments
Yemen’s war continued and its humanitarian crisis—the largest in the world, according to the UN—worsened, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, Griffiths has continued efforts to broker an agreement between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebel group for a nationwide ceasefire, a series of confidence-building measures, and the resumption of peace talks.
The government and the Houthis continue to battle in Yemen’s north. Airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which backs the government, increased after the expiry of the unilateral ceasefire that the coalition announced on 8 April to combat the COVID-19 pandemic (initially for two weeks and then renewed for one month on 23 April). Intense airstrikes hit Sana’a and other Houthi strongholds for several days after the coalition announced that it had intercepted bomb-laden Houthi drones and a ballistic missile fired at southern Saudi Arabia on 15 and 16 June. On 23 June, the coalition announced that it had intercepted a new round of ballistic missiles and drones targeting Riyadh.
The government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) also continued fighting in Abyan and Socotra governorates. On 22 June, it was reported that the STC had seized several state buildings, including the governor’s headquarters, during fighting in Socotra’s capital of Hadebo. That same day, the coalition announced that it would deploy monitors to observe a ceasefire agreement in Abyan. It also announced plans for a meeting on implementing the Riyadh Agreement, last year’s power-sharing arrangement between the government and STC brokered by Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia and the UN hosted a virtual pledging conference on 2 June for the Yemen humanitarian response, where a funding shortage has forced the scaling back or closure of almost 75 percent of major aid programmes. The conference generated pledges totalling $1.5 billion of the $2.41 billion required through the end of the year. Saudi Arabia made the largest commitment, of $500 million, of which $300 million would be directed through the UN.
A 15 June statement by OCHA highlighted that COVID-19 appeared to be “spreading rapidly” in Yemen with a fatality rate four times the global average. As of 23 June, Yemen had 971 cases and 258 deaths, mostly reported from government-held areas, but lack of available testing has made it impossible to confirm this data. The Houthis, for their part, have been accused of concealing the extent of the outbreak in the north, reporting four cases in total by mid-June. In May, the UN evacuated almost 100 international staff based in Sana’a to protect them from COVID-19, reducing its foreign staff in the city to 60.
On 24 June, Security Council members held a closed VTC on Yemen. Griffiths provided an update on his efforts to broker a joint declaration by the government and Houthis of a ceasefire; humanitarian and economic measures (including the opening of the Sana’a airport, reducing restrictions on imports to Hodeidah ports, paying civil servant salaries, and establishing a joint operations cell to combat COVID-19); and resuming peace talks. Lowcock briefed on the humanitarian situation, and Guha elaborated on a recent review of UNMHA, the report of which had been circulated to Council members earlier in the month. A 29 June Council press statement condemned the escalation of violence and expressed deep concern at the slow pace of negotiations, calling on the parties to agree to mediated proposals with haste
Also in June, the Secretary-General released his annual report on Children and Armed Conflict. This year’s report removed the Saudi-led coalition from among entities listed for committing grave violations affecting children, citing “a sustained significant decrease in killing and maiming due to air strikes and the signature and implementation of the programme of time-bound activities to support the implementation of the memorandum of understanding signed in March 2019”. In 2019, the coalition was identified as responsible for killing and maiming 222 children, compared to 729 in 2018 and 670 in 2017. Yemeni parties that remain listed include the Houthis; Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula; pro-government militias, including the Salafists and popular committees; the STC-affiliated Security Belt Forces; and Yemeni government forces.
A June 2020 Secretary-General’s report on the Iran nuclear deal concluded that cruise missiles used in several attacks claimed by the Houthis last year on Saudi Arabia were of “Iranian origin”.
Key Issues and Options
Achieving a nationwide ceasefire and restarting a political process remain key. Griffiths has frequently reported that the sides are close to an agreement, but this has yet to materialise. Holding a closed Council VTC meeting on 24 June, rather than including a public session, sought to allow for a franker discussion of the issues that have frustrated an agreement. If agreement is reached on a joint declaration, the Council may adopt a resolution to welcome or endorse the deal.
The humanitarian situation remains a critical issue. In addition to a lack of humanitarian funding and the pandemic, there is renewed alarm about the risks posed by Yemen’s already beleaguered economy. The decline in remittances because of the pandemic and the near-depletion of Yemen’s foreign reserves at the central bank in Aden are among economic factors threatening to exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.
Another issue for July is the mandate renewal of UNMHA. As is the practice, the Council may renew UNMHA for six months, maintaining its four-point mandate, including that it lead and support the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) that oversees the ceasefire and redeployment of forces set out in the 2018 Hodeidah agreement between the government and Houthis, and that it monitor the compliance of the parties to the accord. The resolution could encourage the parties to reactivate the RCC, in which the government suspended its participation following the 11 March shooting of its liaison officer, who subsequently died. It could also comment on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mission. In late April, most UNMHA personnel were temporarily withdrawn to their home countries over concerns about the pandemic, with a core team of 12 personnel remaining in Hodeidah.
Council members appear aligned in their support of the Special Envoy, desiring a ceasefire and resumption of a political process while being very concerned about the humanitarian crisis and COVID-19 outbreak in Yemen. On the situation in the south, in press statements and elements to the press, members have repeatedly called for the STC to reverse its actions since April, when it declared self-rule in defiance of the Riyadh Agreement. Tunisia is the Arab member on the Council that traditionally champions positions of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition. The US, which is seeking to maintain restrictions on Iranian arms transfers that are set to expire later this year, often points to what it perceives as Iran’s destabilising role in Yemen.
The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Ambassador I. Rhonda King (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) chairs the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN
|Security Council Resolution|
|13 January 2020S/RES/2505||This resolution extended the mandate of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement until 15 July 2020.|
|11 June 2020S/2020/531||This was a report on the implementation of resolution 2231.|
|9 June 2020S/2020/525||This was the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict.|
|Security Council Letter|
|15 June 2020S/2020/524||This was a review of UNMHA.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|29 June 2020SC/14233||This statement condemned the escalation of violence and expressed deep concern at the slow pace of negotiations, calling on the parties to agree to mediated proposals with haste.|
|29 April 2020SC/14176||This press statement was on instability in southern Yemen.|
|10 April 2020SC/14159||This statement welcomed the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s 8 April announcement of a unilateral ceasefire in support of the UN peace process and the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate cessation of hostilities to counter a possible COVID-19 outbreak, and called on the Houthis to make similar commitments without delay.|