October 2020 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In October, the Council is expected to hold its monthly briefing on Yemen 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

Despite negotiations that have been ongoing for six months, Griffiths has still not been able to conclude an agreement between the Yemeni government, backed by a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition, and the Houthi rebel group on a joint declaration for a nation-wide ceasefire, humanitarian and economic measures, and the resumption of peace talks. On the ground, the Houthis continued a military offensive against the government stronghold of Marib, while the UN raised the alarm about the risk of famine returning to Yemen.

On 4 September, Lowcock sent a white paper to Council members on food security risks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, north-east Nigeria, and South Sudan, in accordance with resolution 2417, which requested the Secretary-General to warn the Council about “the risk of conflict-induced famine and wide-spread insecurity”. The white paper says the risk of famine in Yemen is “slowly returning…. Similar conditions are emerging today, worsening key indicators beyond the levels seen in 2018”. It attributes the re-emerging threat in Yemen to intensified fighting (now on 42 fronts compared to 30 two years ago), Yemen’s deteriorating economy, and the detrimental effect of the conflict on locust control efforts. A major gap in humanitarian funding this year has further increased the famine threat.

At the Council’s monthly briefing on Yemen on 15 September, Lowcock reiterated that “the spectre of famine has returned”. He was particularly poignant in calling out Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait for the underfunding of relief efforts, saying that the three countries had “so far given nothing to this year’s UN [humanitarian response] plan”. Lowcock added, “It is particularly reprehensible to promise money, which gives people hope that help may be on the way, and then to dash those hopes by simply failing to fulfil the promise”.

On 17 September, ahead of the high-level General Assembly week, Germany, Kuwait, Sweden, and the UK hosted a ministerial-level videoconference on advancing the political process with China, France, Russia, the US and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Secretary-General António Guterres and Special Envoy Griffiths briefed. A joint communiqué called on the government and the Houthis to swiftly reach agreement on the UN peace proposals and reiterated the need for an inclusive political solution. It stressed that the parties should quickly conclude a comprehensive transitional agreement to end the war, establish a transitional period during which power is shared among diverse political and social components, and, at the end of this period, create a new government on the basis of credible national elections.

The statement further voiced great concern about the continuing Houthi offensive to take Marib, which it said threatens to derail the UN peace process. To avoid famine, the group of states called on all donors to disburse existing pledges immediately and to consider making further contributions. It also urged Yemen’s partners to consider measures to strengthen the economy, including regular foreign-exchange injections into the Central Bank and increasing critical commercial imports through all of Yemen’s ports.

During the General Assembly’s high-level week, Sweden and the EU also hosted a ministerial-level event on the humanitarian situation in Yemen. Appeals to all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and increase donor support were made by Lowcock, David Beasley of the World Food Programme and Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council. Ahead of the meeting, Saudi Arabia announced that it would disburse $204 million of the $500 million it had pledged at a June donor conference for Yemen that it had hosted but had still not disbursed. Kuwait announced a $20 million contribution.

A new round of prisoner-exchange talks started on 18 September in Geneva between the government and Houthis, co-chaired by the ICRC and the Special Envoy. A mechanism to exchange up to 15,000 prisoners was part of the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement, which also included a ceasefire for Hodeidah governorate and a statement of understanding on Taiz. Since the agreement, however, only periodic releases totalling several hundred people have occurred. On 27 September, Griffiths and the ICRC announced that the parties had agreed to immediately release 1,081 prisoners.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 29 September, during its 45th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) considered the report (A/HRC/45/6) of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen (GEE), followed by an interactive dialogue. This was the Group of Experts’ third report, titled Yemen: A Pandemic of Impunity in a Tortured Land, covering the period from July 2019 to June. Besides the report, GEE also released a conference room paper, a longer and more detailed document, describing its investigations and findings. Melissa Parke, a member of GEE, said on 9 September during a videoconference with journalists in Geneva that Yemen has been “ravaged in ways that should shock the conscience of humanity”, and stressed that the group had found “reasonable grounds to believe that the parties to the conflict have committed and continue to commit serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, some of which may amount to war crimes”.

Key Issues and Options

Obtaining an agreement for a nation-wide ceasefire and a restart of the political process remains a critical issue. The Marib offensive risks undermining negotiations, and the fall of the governorate would be a major blow to the government as it has become its political and economic stronghold during the war. The battle also threatens to worsen the humanitarian situation for the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons hosted in the governorate and other residents. Sustaining and further implementing the November 2019 Riyadh Agreement between the government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) is another important issue, reflecting the complexity of resolving Yemen’s war.

Regarding the humanitarian situation, Yemen’s deteriorating economy—notably the near-depletion of central bank reserves, decline in the value of the Yemeni rial and a decrease in remittances from the Yemeni diaspora—have exacerbated already dire conditions, as has the COVID-19 pandemic. Access restrictions are also contributing to the crisis. These include the government prohibition on fuel imports through Hodeidah and Ras Issa ports after the Houthis expropriated funds from a joint account of fuel revenues this past spring and the Houthis’ suspension in September of UN humanitarian flights to Sana’a, which they said was due to the fuel shortage. Despite the new pledges, distribution of the promised funds remains critical to relief efforts, including to stave off the risk of famine.

The threat posed by the FSO Safer oil tanker is an equally urgent issue. 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 affecting millions of others in the region. In his 15 September briefing, Lowcock said that the UN had submitted a revised plan for the deployment of a UN technical team to assess the Safer and make initial repairs. It was awaiting the Houthis’ response.

If agreement is reached on the joint declaration, the Council may adopt a resolution to welcome or endorse the deal. After more than six months of negotiations for such a deal, however, members may wish to consider new approaches to break the impasse in the political process.

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 allow UN access, point out any further failures to abide by their agreements 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 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 in October, often points to what it perceives as Iran’s destabilising role in Yemen. The September VTC meeting of the P5 plus Germany, Kuwait, Sweden, and the EU High Representative had similar participants and agenda to the meeting organised in September 2019 during the General Assembly’s high-level week to consider ways to push forward the political process.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. It recently appointed a Special Envoy for Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Affairs as part of fulfilling its commitments to combat growing food insecurity. 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 Meeting Record
15 September 2020S/PV.8757 This was a briefing on Yemen.
Security Council Letter
23 September 2020S/2020/940 This was a letter from Saudi Arabia on the hazardous situation of the FSO Safer oil tanker.
Human Rights Council Documents
29 September 2020A/HRC/45/CRP.7 This was the conference room paper containing the detailed findings of the Group of Eminent International and Regional
Experts on Yemen from its report A/HRC/45/6.
28 September 2020A/HRC/45/6 This was a report of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, which recommended that the UN Security Council refer the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court.

Other
Joint Communiqué on the Conflict in Yemen, High-Level Ministerial Meeting, 17 September 2020.