August 2020 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In August, the Council is expected to hold its monthly briefing, via videoconference (VTC), with Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, a representative from OCHA, and General Abhijit Guha, who heads the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA). The mandate of UNMHA, renewed on 14 July, expires on 15 July 2021. The 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee is expected to consider the mid-term update of its Panel of Experts in August. The mandate of the Panel of Experts expires on 28 March 2021.

Key Recent Developments

Fighting continues between the Houthi rebel group and the Yemeni government, backed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, as Griffiths works to broker a ceasefire agreement. Meanwhile, Yemen’s humanitarian situation has continued to deteriorate, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and worsening economic conditions.

Drone and missile attacks by the Houthis against Saudi Arabia, and coalition airstrikes, continued during July after escalating since the expiration of a unilateral coalition ceasefire in late May. On 12 July, the coalition announced that it had intercepted and destroyed two ballistic missiles and six bomb-laden unmanned aerial vehicles launched by the Houthis, who claimed responsibility for attacks against an oil facility and military bases in Jizan, Najran and Assir in southern Saudi Arabia. That same day, an airstrike in Hajjah governorate killed seven children and two women, according to the UN humanitarian office in Yemen. On 15 July, at least 11 civilians, including six children and two women, were killed by airstrikes in al-Jawf governorate. “We deplore yesterday’s air strikes in al-Jawf (….) A thorough & transparent investigation is required,” Griffiths tweeted.

Griffiths continues to lead negotiations between the government and the Houthis on a joint declaration of a nationwide ceasefire, on a series of economic and humanitarian measures, and on the resumption of peace talks. On 28 July—at a rare physical meeting of the Council since the COVID-19 pandemic struck New York City—Griffiths expressed concern that after four months “[t]here is a real risk that these negotiations will slip away, and that Yemen will enter a new phase of prolonged escalation.”

Saudi Arabia has overseen negotiations between the government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) following the STC’s seizure in June of Socotra governorate and a 22 June ceasefire announcement between the sides. On 29 July, an agreement was reached in these talks. The STC abandoned its 25 April declaration of self-rule and recommitted to implementing the November 2019 Riyadh Agreement that had ended an earlier round of fighting in the south. In accordance with the Riyadh Agreement, the sides should form a government within 30 days, with an equal number of ministers from northern and southern Yemen, including representatives of the STC. The plan also calls for the withdrawal of rival forces from Aden and the contested governorate of Abyan, and the appointment of a new governor and security director for Aden during the 30-day period.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in Yemen is deteriorating further. “We have never before seen in Yemen a situation where a severe domestic economic crisis overlaps with a sharp drop in remittances and major cuts to donor support for humanitarian aid—all amidst a devastating pandemic”, according to Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock’s statement during a 24 June closed VTC with Council members. A 30 June OCHA report described the aid operation as being “on the brink of collapse”, having received only $558 million in 2020 so far, compared to $2.6 billion at the same time last year. During July, OCHA increased its warnings about the renewed risk of famine.

There are increasing worries, too, about the environmental, humanitarian and economic consequences that could result from a leak or accident on the FSO Safer oil tanker moored in the Red Sea off Hodeidah governorate, which has not had maintenance during the five-year-long war. The situation gained new urgency when the ship’s engine room flooded in late May; emergency repairs by Yemeni divers from the SAFER corporation prevented the tanker from sinking.

The Council held a special session via VTC on the FSO Safer on 15 July. Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme Inger Andersen said a spill of the tanker’s 1.1 million barrels of oil would be four times greater than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989, which released 275,000 barrels, and that destruction to ecosystems would last decades and affect the livelihoods of up to 28 million people in the region. Lowcock updated members on negotiations with the Houthis to allow for a UN-led technical mission to carry out an assessment of the ship and make initial repairs. The week before, the Houthis informed the UN in writing that they would grant access to the UN-led team, though they have made similar commitments before. Andersen and Lowcock described other threats: an explosion and fire on the ship would expose millions of people to harmful levels of pollutants, contaminate water wells and subject millions of Yemeni farmers to crop loss. Furthermore, the critical port of Hodeidah could be closed for up to six months, doubling food prices in Yemen, and international shipping through the Red Sea would potentially be crippled, among other potential consequences.

At the Council’s 28 July briefing on Yemen, Lowcock reported no progress in resolving the situation with the tanker. During the session, members heard briefings from two Yemeni civil society representatives based in Sana’a. Wafa`a Alsaidy, General Coordinator for Yemen of Médecins du Monde, focused on Yemen’s decimated health system, under further strain by the COVID-19 pandemic. Alsaidy called on Council members to reconsider and end weapons salesthat fuel the war, pressure countries involved in the war to stabilize the economy, ensure safe and unimpeded humanitarian access, and maintain aid funding. Raja Abdullah Ahmed Almasabi of the Arab Human Rights Foundation talked about the war’s impact on persons with disabilities, urging UN agencies, international NGOs and governments to give greater attention to disabled persons’ needs and rights. Guha briefed in consultations.

Council press elements after the meeting called on the parties to agree rapidly to Griffiths’ proposals and for the Houthis to issue entry permits to the UN technical team to assess the Safer tanker.

Key Issues and Options

Achieving a nationwide ceasefire and restarting a political process remains a critical issue, though frustration is building at the lack of results in the current negotiation process. Since fighting intensified between the government and Houthis in January, Council members have called for a cessation of hostilities in multiple press statements, and Griffiths’ efforts gained greater urgency in March in light of COVID-19 and the Secretary-General’s global ceasefire appeal to combat the pandemic. More recently, the Council adopted resolution 2532 on 1 July demanding a cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda, in support of the Secretary-General’s global ceasefire appeal.

Regarding the humanitarian situation, Yemen’s deteriorating economic conditions—the near-depletion of Central Bank reserves, a decline in remittances, and a new fuel shortage—threaten to worsen the humanitarian crisis, already acute because of the pandemic, the intensified fighting of recent months, and the funding shortage for relief efforts. Resolving the situation of the FSO Safer remains a critical and urgent issue.

If agreement is reached on the joint declaration for a ceasefire, the Council may adopt a resolution to welcome or endorse the deal. Another option, as put forward by the International Crisis Group in light of the impasse in negotiations, is a new Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Yemen and calling for more inclusive peace talks to involve other Yemeni parties that are necessary to implement any future agreements. Likely to be key to Council members pursuing a new resolution is a signal from Griffiths that his efforts could benefit from such a resolution. He has yet to provide such an indication since determining shortly after his appointment in 2018 that he could pursue a mediated solution within the parameters of resolution 2216, which was adopted in April 2015 at the outset of the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention.

Council Dynamics

Council members appear aligned in their support of the Special Envoy, desiring a ceasefire and resumption of a political process. They further share concerns about the humanitarian crisis, the COVID-19 outbreak in Yemen, and the FSO Safer. Tunisia is the Arab member on the Council that traditionally champions positions of the Saudi-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
14 July 2020S/RES/2534 This renewed the mandate of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement until 15 July 2021.
Security Council Letter
3 July 2020S/2020/648 This was a letter from the Yemeni government requesting a Council special session on the Safer oil tanker.
Security Council Press Statement
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.