June 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 May 2021
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In June, the Security Council will hold its monthly briefing on Yemen, followed by consultations. Also during the month, the Secretariat is expected to submit to the Council a review of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) as requested in resolution 2534. The mandate of UNMHA expires on 15 July.

Key Recent Developments

Despite intensified diplomatic efforts since February to broker a ceasefire, fighting in Yemen continues, particularly in oil- and gas-rich Marib governorate, where the Houthi rebel group continues its offensive to take the government’s last stronghold in the north. It was also announced during May that UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths would be leaving his position to become Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

Griffiths, together with the US Special Envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking, travelled to Riyadh and Muscat at the end of April to make a new push for an agreement on Griffiths’ long-standing proposal for a nationwide ceasefire, the opening of Sana’a airport and the Hodeidah ports, and the resumption of a political process. In Muscat, however, the Houthis, whose chief negotiator Mohammed Abdul Salam is based in Oman, refused to meet the UN envoy.

Briefing the Council on 12 May, Griffiths said, “I am unfortunately not here today to report that the parties are closing in on a deal”. Griffiths said he could not “re-emphasize enough…what is at stake in Marib”, saying that the offensive indicates a belief that the war can be won militarily and warning about the implications for Yemen’s stability and cohesion of continuing the Marib campaign. Griffiths criticised the Houthis’ repeated failures to meet with him during negotiations over the past year, asserting that “to turn attendance of meetings into transactions is simply unacceptable”. Still, he noted some reasons for hope, including the growing international and regional support for a ceasefire, underscoring his cooperation with the US, Saudi Arabia and Oman, and praising the Yemeni government’s engagement in negotiations.

At the meeting, which was held via videoconference, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock emphasised that the war is driving Yemen’s risk of famine, the spread of disease and its economic collapse, all of which are causes for his concern about the lack of political progress. Lowcock highlighted Saudi Arabia’s recent announcement that it would provide $422 million worth of oil derivatives to Yemen, which would help strengthen the Yemeni rial; the first shipment arrived in Aden on 8 May. He also appeared to push back on the Yemeni government’s proposal that other ports of entry and land routes be used for fuel imports as the government continues to restrict fuel shipments through the Houthi-controlled Hodeidah ports. He underscored that these alternatives are much farther away from population centres in the north, which would create complications and drive up costs.

The head of UNMHA, General Abhijit Guha, briefed Council members during closed consultations, apparently noting some of the internal divisions between government-aligned forces in Hodeidah that can be destabilising.

After the meeting, the UN announced that the Secretary-General was appointing Griffiths as the UN humanitarian relief coordinator to replace Lowcock, whose departure had been anticipated. According to the announcement, Griffiths will continue to serve as Special Envoy to Yemen until a transition can be announced.

Returning to Muscat on 27 May following a three-day visit to Riyadh, Griffiths this time met with the Houthis’ Mohammed Abdul Salam on his ceasefire proposal 

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 6 April, the Secretary-General re-appointed four members of the Yemen Panel of Experts that supports the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee. On 5 May, he appointed Debi Prasad Dash of India as the panel’s new finance expert. On 19 May, the 2140 Committee met with the panel, which presented its work plan for 2021.

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, where heavy fighting since February has been concentrated just outside the heavily populated Marib City, the capital of the governorate. If Marib falls to the Houthis, the government’s position would be significantly weakened in any future peace process, and there is the possibility that fighting could spread to parts of Yemen that have so far remained largely peaceful during the war.

If a ceasefire deal is brokered, the Council may adopt a resolution endorsing any such agreement. 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 one million internally displaced persons live in Marib governorate, 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. Another significant issue remains the threat posed by the moored FSO Safer oil tanker in the Red Sea, as the Houthis continue to delay approval for the deployment of a UN technical team to assess the ship’s condition and conduct emergency repairs. An oil spill or fire on the ship would create an environmental, humanitarian and economic disaster for Yemen and its neighbours.

In addition to using the public briefing to repeat calls for a ceasefire and negotiations, Council members are likely to use their statements to appeal to donors to provide more humanitarian funding, call on the Houthis to cooperate with the UN to avert a looming crisis with the Safer oil tanker, and maintain pressure on the government to allow fuel deliveries. Council members may also issue a press statement, as they often do following meetings on Yemen, to collectively direct such appeals to the parties.

Among other important issues for resolving the Yemen conflict is sustaining the Saudi Arabia-brokered Riyadh Agreement, which is a power-sharing accord between the Yemeni government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC). 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.

Council Dynamics

Yemen is a file on which Council members have been generally united. Members have been supportive of 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. European Council members and the US tend to be more critical in calling out Houthi obstructionism, while Russia is more cautious in singling out the Houthis, suggesting this could give the appearance of Council bias—a dynamic that has often played out this year during negotiations on Council products.

The new US administration has placed a focus on ending Yemen’s war, with US Special Envoy Lenderking closely coordinating his efforts with Griffiths. Indicating its frustration, Lenderking announced on 20 May that the US was imposing sanctions on two Houthi military commanders leading the Marib offensive: Muhammad Abd al-Karim al-Ghamari and Yousuf al-Madani.

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