May 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2021
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In May, the Security Council will hold its monthly briefing on Yemen, followed by consultations. Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths and an OCHA representative will brief. General Abhijit Guha, who heads the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), may brief during consultations. The mandate of UNMHA expires on 15 July 2021.

Key Recent Developments

Intensified diplomatic efforts continued during April in support of proposals for a nationwide ceasefire, the re-opening of the Sana’a airport and the free flow of fuel and other basic commodities through Hodeidah ports and along Yemen’s main roads, and the resumption of peace talks. The Houthi rebel group, however, maintained its offensive to take oil- and gas-rich Marib governorate, the Yemeni government’s last stronghold in the north.

On 12 April, Germany hosted a virtual meeting of the ‘P5 + 4’—comprising the Council’s five permanent members plus Germany, Kuwait, Sweden and the EU—to discuss ways to support the UN Special Envoy’s mediation. Griffiths and US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking were present in Germany, meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas ahead of the high-level discussion.

The Yemeni government granted clearances to four fuel ships to enter Hodeidah in late March, allowing the first fuel deliveries into the Houthi-controlled port since January. The two-month disruption has been causing a fuel shortage in the north and driving up the price of basic commodities. According to the UN, the deliveries only represented two weeks’ worth of fuel needs. The government provided clearances to three more fuel ships to enter Hodeidah on 13 April.

Briefing Council members on 15 April, Griffiths highlighted the new “diplomatic consensus” for ending fighting and restarting peace talks. He noted his visit to Berlin, as well as recent meetings in Muscat, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Griffiths recognised Oman, Saudi Arabia and the US for closely coordinating their efforts in support of his proposal for a ceasefire, confidence-building measures, and the resumption of peace talks. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock highlighted the second wave of COVID-19 in Yemen, which he said had doubled the number of confirmed cases in the past two weeks, and the continued risk of large-scale famine amid “tens of thousands of people already starving to death”. Lowcock again underlined the funding shortage facing aid efforts, which meant that relief agencies could only assist nine million people per month, compared to 14 million last year.

In a 16 April press statement, Council members welcomed Saudi and Omani diplomatic initiatives. They called on the Houthis to end their escalation in Marib and condemned the cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia. Among other points, members called on the Yemeni government to facilitate regularly, without delay, the entry of fuel ships into Hodeidah port

The COVID-19 outbreak in Yemen has recently led to the deaths of several high-level officials. That includes Sultan Saleh Aida Aida Zabin of the Houthis, whom the Council sanctioned in February for his role as director of the Criminal Investigation Department in Sana’a in overseeing a policy of intimidation and the use of systematic arrest, detention, torture, sexual violence and rape of politically active women. The first delivery of about 360,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived in Aden at the start of April, with another 1.6 million expected in the coming months, according to the UN.

According to media reports, Saudi Arabia and Iran held secret talks in Iraq on 9 April for the first time since severing relations in 2016. The talks reportedly focused on Yemen and the Iran nuclear deal, including the potential for Iran to use its influence on the Houthis to stop cross-border attacks into Saudi territory. It was reported that a second round of talks is being planned.

Key Issues and Options

Reaching agreement between the Houthis and the Yemeni government on proposals for a nationwide ceasefire, confidence-building measures to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, and the resumption of peace talks remains a key issue.

A related, critical issue is the battle in Marib governorate. If Marib City falls and the Houthis seize the governorate, the government’s position would be significantly weakened in any future peace process.

The Council may adopt a resolution endorsing any ceasefire agreement that is reached. Alternatively, members could prepare to hold an emergency meeting on developments around Marib City if the situation appears to worsen, reiterating calls for a de-escalation and threatening sanctions on Houthi officials, military leaders and economic agents if they push forward with the attack.

The Marib fighting also threatens to worsen the humanitarian crisis, especially if it triggers mass displacement of civilians—more than a million internally displaced persons live in Marib, having already fled other parts of Yemen. Generating more humanitarian funding, alleviating the fuel crisis, and stabilising the Yemeni rial are important to mitigate the crisis and combat famine. Council members may repeat calls for donors to provide additional funding to the humanitarian response and to inject hard currency into Yemen’s Central Bank to bolster the rial and for pressure to be maintained on the government to allow fuel deliveries.

Another significant issue remains the environmental and humanitarian threat posed by the moored FSO Safer oil tanker in the Red Sea, which the UN remains unable to access despite previous Houthi commitments to allow it to deploy a team to assess the ship and conduct emergency repairs.

Additionally, sustaining the Saudi Arabia-brokered Riyadh Agreement, the power-sharing accord between the Yemeni government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), is important for resolving the Yemen conflict. A related issue is how to promote an inclusive political process that would involve Yemen’s multiple armed groups and other stakeholders besides the Houthis and the government.

Members could consider a new resolution calling for a nationwide ceasefire and mandating greater inclusion of Yemeni stakeholders in political negotiations to update the binary negotiating framework between the Houthis and the government set out in resolution 2216 of 14 April 2015. Such a resolution could further define Council expectations regarding the behaviour of all parties to the conflict and threaten consequences for any party that violates such expectations.

Council Dynamics

Council members are united in their support for the Special Envoy and his mediation efforts. They further share concerns about the humanitarian situation and the threat posed by the decrepit Safer oil tanker. The new US administration has placed a focus on ending Yemen’s war, which has reinvigorated international diplomatic engagement in recent months. Since Lenderking was appointed US Special Envoy, he has worked closely with Griffiths. Russia often raises concerns about the Council’s singling out the Houthis, which it believes could give the appearance of bias. That dynamic has played out during negotiations this year on several Council products.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Ambassador I. Rhonda King (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) chairs the 2140 Sanctions Committee.

UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN

Security Council Press Statements
16 April 2021SC/14497 This press statement called on the Houthis to end their escalation in Marib and condemned the cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia.
18 March 2021SC/14471 This press statement stressed the need for a de-escalation by all, including an immediate end to the Houthi escalation in Marib.