January 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 December 2020
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In January, 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. In addition, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts is expected to submit its final report to the committee.

Key Recent Developments

The war in Yemen persists across multiple frontlines as the Special Envoy maintains efforts to broker a nationwide ceasefire and resume a peace process. UN officials continue to highlight the growing risk of famine and have raised concerns about the impact of the reported intention of the outgoing Trump administration to designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation.

The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis was released on 3 December 2020. (Last year the UN was unable to conduct this annual analysis because of access restrictions in Houthi-controlled areas.) The analysis indicated that pockets of famine-like conditions (IPC Phase 5) have returned and warned that the number of people experiencing catastrophic food insecurity could nearly triple from 16,500 currently to 47,000 people between January and June 2021. It further found that the number of people experiencing Phase 4 food insecurity—emergency food insecurity conditions—is poised to increase from 3.6 million to 5 million people in the first half of 2021. Overall, 16.2 million people, more than half of Yemen’s population of 30 million, will face Phase 3 “crisis” levels of food insecurity or worse by mid-2021. Intensified fighting, a deteriorating economy along with inflation, a locust plague and a drop-off in donor funding have contributed to the new hunger crisis in Yemen.

On 3 December 2020, David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to request that the US not designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation as part of its maximum pressure campaign on Iran. One of the worries is that the designation could deter donors, shippers, insurers, and bankers from working in Yemen, fearing criminal liability or sanctions for violating US law if their activities benefit the Houthis, who control territory where 70 percent of the population lives. On 8 December, the US Treasury Department announced that it was sanctioning Iran’s recently appointed ambassador in Sana’a, Hasan Irlu, for acting for or on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force and whose “appointment as an envoy to the Houthi rebels in Yemen demonstrates the Iranian regime’s indifference to resolving the conflict, which has led to the widespread suffering of millions of Yemenis”. On 10 December, the Treasury Department announced sanctions on five Houthi officials from various security and intelligence services for committing serious human rights abuses.

Council members held their monthly meeting on Yemen during a closed videoconference (VTC) on 14 December 2020 with Griffiths, Lowcock and Guha. Griffiths apparently reported that he expected an announcement would soon be made by the government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) on the formation of a new government. A key aspect of the Saudi Arabia-brokered November 2019 Riyadh Agreement, a new government would enable the STC to participate in the government delegation at future peace talks. According to diplomats, Griffiths hoped to capitalise on the expected announcement to push for in-person talks between the government and the Houthis that he is seeking to organise in a bid to conclude the protracted negotiations on a joint declaration for a ceasefire, economic and humanitarian measures, and the resumption of the peace process. Lowcock reportedly indicated that famine was likely, but its severity would depend on humanitarian access, donor funding and a reduction in violence.

Ahead of the meeting, Council members issued a press statement that condemned the military escalation in Yemen and the 23 November 2020 Houthi attacks on oil facilities in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Members “called for the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, and for Yemen’s parties to meet urgently under Martin Griffiths’ auspices to bridge differences on the Joint Declaration”. The press statement expressed alarm at the new IPC assessment and “called on all donors in the international community, including in the region, to step up urgently and save lives by disbursing outstanding pledges…and making early and generous contributions in 2021”. Among other points, members reiterated that all the parties must comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law, including those related to humanitarian access and the protection of civilians and civilian objects.

On 18 December 2020, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi appointed the new power-sharing government. The 25-person cabinet will continue to be headed by Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed and include members of the STC and ministers of other major political parties. On 30 December, explosions at Aden’s airport killed at least 22 people and wounded over 50 others, shortly after a plane carrying the new cabinet arrived from Saudi Arabia. No one on the government plane was hurt, according to a government spokesperson.

Human Rights-Related Developments

In a closed Arria-formula meeting on 3 December 2020, the UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen (GEE) briefed the Security Council members on its third report, A Pandemic of Impunity in a Tortured Land, which details serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law (A/HRC/45/6). According to a subsequent press release from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the GEE denounced the “endemic impunity” for violations, which, they observed, has the “effect of fueling more abuses”. In his remarks to Council members, Kamel Jendoubi, chair of the group, emphasised that the violations underline the “complete lack of respect for international law”. The GEE observed that the human rights crisis in Yemen directly touches upon matters on the Security Council’s agenda, including threats to international peace and security; protection of civilians in armed conflict; women, peace and security; sexual violence in conflict; and impediments to the delivery of humanitarian assistance, among others. The GEE called on the Security Council to refer the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court as well as more fully integrate human rights into the Security Council’s regular agenda. They noted, according to the press release, that this action would “send a powerful message…that there will be no impunity for serious violations of human rights”.

Women, Peace and Security 

For the second year in a row, Yemen tops the UN Population Fund’s list of countries where the needs of women and girls in humanitarian emergencies are greatest. In its Humanitarian Action Overview report for 2021, the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency made an appeal for $100 million for Yemen. According to the report, published in December 2020, over 80 percent of the Yemeni population—including more than a million pregnant women, many acutely malnourished—require some form of assistance. Only half of Yemen’s health facilities remain functional, and reports of gender-based violence are rising in the country, where humanitarian conditions continue to deteriorate, given the long-lasting political crisis complicated by internal displacement, food insecurity, outbreaks of cholera, and now COVID-19.

Key Issues and Options

The joint declaration for a nationwide ceasefire and restarting peace talks remains the main political initiative. The Houthi offensive in Marib governorate since the start of 2020 remains a significant threat to political talks, especially if fighting spreads to Marib city, which has become a political and economic stronghold for the government and where hundreds of thousands of displaced persons have relocated during the war. Sustaining and implementing the Saudi Arabia-overseen Riyadh Agreement between the government and the STC is another important issue. If agreement is reached on Griffiths’ proposed joint declaration, the Council may adopt a resolution to endorse the deal.

The risk of famine and the overall humanitarian situation remain critical. Not only are humanitarian access and more donor funding required for relief operations, but measures such as hard currency injections are needed to strengthen the Yemen rial. The potential US designation of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation may exacerbate the situation and complicate political efforts, as Griffiths apparently indicated during his last briefing, noting that the peace process will require that the Houthis are able to travel.

The moored FSO Safer oil tanker, which poses the risk of a major oil spill off the coast of Hodeidah, is an equally vital issue. This includes the Houthis’ fulfilling their most recent commitments to give a UN-led technical mission access to the tanker to assess its condition and make urgent repairs. Lowcock reported at the 14 December 2020 meeting that it is hoped that the mission can deploy in early February 2021.

Council Dynamics

Council members appear aligned in their support of the Special Envoy, continuing to back his efforts to reach an agreement on the joint declaration. Members further share concerns about the humanitarian situation and the FSO Safer. In the past year, members issued multiple press statements and press elements urging the parties to reach agreement on the declaration, calling on the Houthis to facilitate the UN technical mission’s access to the oil tanker, and more recently highlighting the need for stakeholders and the international community to take measures to avert famine. At the 14 December 2020 closed VTC, the UK told members that it was willing to host the in-person talks that Griffiths hopes to organise. The UK co-hosted with Sweden an event on 10 December 2020 on “Averting Famine in Yemen” (via VTC) to consider the IPC analysis.

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 Press Statement
13 December 2020SC/14384 This press statement called for the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement and for Yemen’s parties to meet urgently to bridge differences on the joint declaration, and expressed alarm at the new IPC assessment, among other points, about the humanitarian situation.
Human Rights Council Document
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.