September 2020 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 August 2020
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In September, the Council is expected to hold its monthly briefing, via videoconference (VTC), with Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, and General Abhijit Guha, who heads the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA). The mandate of UNMHA expires on 15 July 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, according to OCHA, Yemen’s humanitarian situation has continued to deteriorate, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, worsening economic conditions and a major funding shortfall for relief efforts.

Griffiths’ efforts to mediate a joint declaration by the government and the Houthis on a nation-wide ceasefire, humanitarian and economic measures, and the resumption of peace talks have been ongoing for the past five months. The main sticking points have apparently been over some of the economic and humanitarian measures, in particular arrangements for re-opening Sana’a airport, paying civil service salaries, and facilitating imports into Hodeidah and Saleef ports. On the ground, the Houthi offensive and military pressures continue against the government stronghold of Marib governorate, with ongoing fighting on other front lines.

In southern Yemen, on 29 July, the government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) renewed their commitment to the November 2019 Riyadh Agreement, according to an announcement by Saudi Arabia, which mediated the talks following a ceasefire announcement between the sides in June. In accordance with the 29 July announcement, a new governor and security director for Aden—Ahmed Hamid Lamlas, and General Mohammad Ahmed Salim al-Hamedi, respectively, both from the STC—were appointed on 2 August. Talks continued on forming a new government to comprise an equal number of ministers from northern and southern Yemen, including representatives of the STC. On 25 August, the STC announced it was suspending its participation in the Riyadh Agreement because of ceasefire violations, military build-ups, delays in paying salaries and the collapse of the currency

On 18 August, Security Council members held a closed VTC with Griffiths, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ramesh Rajasingham and General Guha of UNMHA. The meeting included an update by Rajasingham on the UN’s ongoing discussions with the Houthis over the FSO Safer oil tanker moored off Hodeidah governorate, which threatens to cause an environmental, humanitarian and economic crisis in the event of a major oil spill or explosion. The ship, which has not been maintained since March 2015, nearly sank in May, adding new urgency for a UN-led technical team to access the vessel’s condition and possibly make repairs. Rajasingham apparently noted some movement in negotiations with the Houthis, who he said had granted entry permits for the UN team on 16 August, while also submitting a detailed list of equipment and supplies that the team should bring and specifying repairs that should be made.

After the meeting, Council members issued press elements emphasising their steadfast support for Griffiths; welcoming the 29 July announcement of the renewed commitment to implementing the Riyadh Agreement; and calling on all parties to cease hostilities, particularly in Marib, to prevent a further exacerbation of the humanitarian situation. Members expressed deep concern at the funding shortfall and called on all donors, including from the region, to step up pledges. On the FSO Safer, members called for concrete action by the Houthis without further delay, including granting entry permits, providing a safe travel route to the tanker, and all other logistical arrangements, to facilitate unconditional access for UN technical experts to inspect the tanker’s condition, conduct any possible urgent repairs and make recommendations for potentially extracting the oil.

In a 29 August statement, the Special Envoy said he was deeply concerned by the major fuel shortages in Houthi-controlled areas, which have “devastating and widespread humanitarian consequences”. Griffiths called for the parties to work with his office to reach a solution that provides for Yemenis’ fuel needs and that uses the associated revenues to pay civil servants’ salaries.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 6 August, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement that she was “appalled by the high number of human rights violations against journalists across Yemen—including killings, disappearances and death sentences”. According to the statement, since the beginning of April OHCHR has documented one assassination, one abduction, three cases of arbitrary arrest and detention, the sentencing of four journalists to death in violation of international human rights law, the jailing of six others, three physical assaults, and threats of physical violence. The situation is going “from bad to worse”, Bachelet said, repeatedly emphasising that the journalists are intentionally targeted for “trying to shine a light on the brutality of this crisis”. Since the start of the conflict in March 2015, OHCHR has documented 357 human rights violations and abuses against journalists.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 14 August, the Council’s 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee discussed with the Yemen Panel of Experts the panel’s mid-term update. As anticipated, the issue of external arms flows to the Houthis, including Iranian arms, was considered. The US reported several arms interdictions off the coast of Yemen in November 2019 and in February and June. As for the panel’s recommendations, it seems that the most significant were proposals to designate individuals for violations related to sexual violence. The panel flagged the issue in its January report, which depicted the repression of women who were critical or perceived to be critical of Houthi rule.

Key Issues and Options

Agreement between the government and the Houthis on a joint declaration for a nation-wide ceasefire and restarting a political process remains a critical issue. 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 as a result of COVID-19 and the Secretary-General’s appeal for a global ceasefire to combat the pandemic. In support of his appeal, the Council adopted resolution 2532 on 1 July demanding a cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda. The Marib offensive could undermine negotiations and exacerbate the humanitarian situation for the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons hosted in the governorate.

Perhaps the most urgent issue is the threat posed by the FSO Safer oil tanker. The implications of this situation have been brought home by the explosion on 4 August at the port in Beirut and the oil spill in Mauritius: with 1.14 million barrels of oil, a spill involving the Safer could be much greater than the 7000 barrels reportedly released so far in Mauritius. A serious oil spill would, among other consequences, destroy the Red Sea ecosystem for decades, prevent use of the critical port of Hodeidah for up to six months, and destroy livelihoods for 1.6 million Yemenis on the country’s west coast in addition to millions of others in the region.

Regarding the humanitarian situation, Yemen’s deteriorating economy—notably the near-depletion of central bank reserves, a decline in remittances, and the fuel shortage—have exacerbated already dire conditions. OCHA, which has been warning of worsening food insecurity since July, has said that the current funding crisis facing relief efforts is largely due to a sharp reduction in pledges and payments from Gulf countries.

If agreement is reached on the joint declaration, the Council may adopt a resolution to welcome or endorse the deal. Regarding the FSO Safer, the Council may try to maintain pressure on the Houthis to enable access for the UN technical team. In future statements, Council members could recall the Houthis’ previous commitments to provide the UN with access, point out any further failures to abide by these assurances, and recall the potentially devastating effects of a spill or explosion on the environment, the livelihoods of Yemenis and the humanitarian situation.

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 situation, 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 supporting the Yemeni government. 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 Letters
18 August 2020S/2020/808 This was a letter from the Secretary-General on the FSO Safer oil tanker.
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 Meeting Record
28 July 2020S/PV.8753 This was a briefing on Yemen with Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, USG for Humanitarian Mark Lowcock and Yemeni civil society representatives Wafa`a Alsaidy, General Coordinator for Yemen of Médecins du Monde, and Raja Abdullah Ahmed Almasabi of the Arab Human Rights Foundation.
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.