Expected Council Action
In July, Security Council members are expected to hold closed consultations on Yemen. The Council is also expected to renew the mandate of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), which expires on 15 July.
Key Recent Developments
Outgoing UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, who has been appointed Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, made a final push in late May to broker an agreement, based on his four-point plan, for a nationwide ceasefire, opening Sana’a airport, lifting restrictions on shipping through Hodeidah’s ports, and restarting a political process.
On 28 May, Griffiths met in Muscat with the Houthi chief negotiator, Mohammed Abdul Salam. The talks came one month after Abdul Salam refused to meet the UN envoy when he travelled to Oman in April. From Muscat, Griffiths conducted his first visit to Sana’a in over a year. There he discussed his ceasefire plan with the Houthi movement’s leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi. Griffiths also visited Iran, the main ally of the Houthis, from 9 to 10 June to discuss developments in Yemen with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
In support of UN efforts for a ceasefire, Oman intensified its mediation role. Oman’s Foreign Minister, Sayyid Badr bin Hamad Al Busaidi, travelled to Sana’a on 5 June and met with senior Houthi officials, including al-Houthi. Al Busaidi then travelled to Riyadh, meeting with officials from the Yemeni government and Saudi Arabia on 9 June. However, these attempts to reach a ceasefire agreement were unsuccessful.
Despite a month-long lull in the Houthi offensive to take Marib governorate, several Houthi missile and drone attacks on Marib City caused dozens of civilian casualties. On 5 June, a petrol station reserved for military personnel and authorised civilians located within a government military base close to the city was hit by a missile. Twenty-one people, including civilians, were killed. On 10 June, a civilian compound in Marib City that included the governor’s office, the local branch of the Ministry of Planning, police headquarters, a mosque, and a women’s prison was hit by what were believed to have been missiles. Eight police officers were killed, and 30 civilians, including one woman whose house is near the compound, were injured. A drone explosion damaged three ambulances responding to the attack; two ambulance staff were injured. By the second half of June, reports suggested that ground fighting outside Marib City had once again intensified.
On 15 June, Griffiths delivered his final briefing to the Security Council as the UN special envoy, expressing regret that his efforts to end the war had been “in vain”. He set out the parties’ positions in recent negotiations. According to Griffiths, the Houthis insist on a stand-alone agreement on Hodeidah’s ports and Sana’a airport. Only after such an agreement has been reached would they be willing to discuss a ceasefire. The government, Griffiths said, insists that all of these issues be agreed to and implemented as part of a package. Reflecting on the prospects for a peace process, Griffiths said: “What was possible in terms of conflict resolution years ago is not possible today. And what is possible today may not be possible in the future. And I believe that possibly an international conversation of process may need to restate the realistic goals for a negotiation process.”
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, whom Griffiths will replace, delivered his final briefing on Yemen at the session. Lowcock reported that there were early signs that relief efforts may prevent a major famine, though the following three months would be crucial. Civil society representative Najiba Al-Najar, a member of the Yemeni Women’s Pact for Peace and Security, also briefed, while the head of UNMHA, General Abhijit Guha, addressed Council members in consultations.
Earlier in the month, on 3 June, the Council held a briefing and consultations on the FSO Safer oil tanker, which is moored in the Red Sea off the Houthi-held Ras Isa oil terminal. UN Environmental Programme Executive Director Inger Andersen and Director of OCHA’s Operations and Advocacy Division Reena Ghelani briefed. In press elements issued following the meeting, Council members expressed “extreme concern at the growing risk that the Safer oil tanker could rupture or explode, causing an environmental, economic, maritime and humanitarian catastrophe for Yemen and the region”. Members repeated calls for the Houthis to allow, without further delay, access for UN experts to conduct an assessment and initial repair mission.
Security Council members also received the Secretary-General’s annual review of UNMHA in a letter dated 3 June. UNMHA continues to face limitations on its freedom of movement in Houthi-held areas while the main monitoring mechanism of the December 2018 Hodeidah ceasefire agreement, known as the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC), has still not been reactivated since the government suspended its participation after the shooting death in March 2020 of a government liaison officer at a joint observation post. Despite these and other challenges, UNMHA’s presence has had “a tangible moderating impact on the ground”, and the mission “remains critical” for maintaining the relative stability of Hodeidah, which is strategically important for economic and humanitarian purposes, according to the review.
Also in June, the UN released its annual report on the impact of armed conflict on children. In Yemen, the UN verified the killing (269) and maiming (855) of 1,124 children (816 boys, 308 girls) during 2020. The main causes for child casualties were mortar and artillery shelling (339), gunshots and crossfire (305), explosive remnants of war (212) and air strikes (150). Most casualties occurred in Hodeidah (242), Ta‘izz (239), Ma’rib (132) and Jawf (129) governorates.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a press briefing on 18 June, the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed serious concern over the continuing impact of fighting on civilians and the targeting of civilian objects in Marib Governorate. The spokesperson also referred to hostilities and violence in other parts of Yemen that continue to claim civilian victims and the continuation of cross-border attacks by Houthi forces into the territory of Saudi Arabia.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue is the need for a ceasefire agreement and the resumption of a political process. At the time of writing, the UN had yet to announce Griffiths’ successor. In the event of an agreement for a ceasefire, the Council may adopt a resolution endorsing any such deal. Such a resolution could also be an opportunity for the Council to update the framework for political negotiations.
Yemen’s humanitarian crisis remains a critical issue. The Houthis’ Marib offensive threatens a future peace process and risks worsening 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. Alleviating Yemen’s fuel crisis, stabilising the Yemeni rial, and generating more humanitarian funding are important factors 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. Council members could issue a press statement, as they often do following meetings on Yemen, to collectively call on the Houthis to cooperate with the UN to avert a crisis with the tanker and maintain pressure on the government to allow regular imports of fuel through Hodeidah ports.
Another issue for July is the mandate renewal of UNMHA. The Council may renew UNMHA for another year, maintaining its mandate. That includes leading and supporting the RCC, which oversees the ceasefire and redeployment of forces set out in the 2018 Hodeidah agreement, and monitoring the compliance of the parties to the accord. The resolution could encourage the parties to reactivate the RCC and call on the Houthis to allow the free movement of UNMHA.
Yemen is a file on which Council members are, for the most part, united. They support UN-led mediation efforts and share concerns about the humanitarian situation and the threat posed by the decrepit Safer oil tanker. The US has lent new momentum to UN efforts since a US Special Envoy for Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, was appointed in February. 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 that this could give the appearance of Council bias—a dynamic that has sometimes played out this year during negotiations on 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 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 Letter|
|3 June 2021S/2021/528||This was a review of the United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA).|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|15 June 2021S/PV.8797||This was the final briefing of Martin Griffiths as UN Special Envoy for Yemen.|
|3 June 2021S/PV.8786||This was a briefing on the FSO Safer oil tanker.|
|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.|