September 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 August 2021
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In September, the Security Council will hold its monthly briefing and consultations on Yemen. Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths and possibly a civil society representative are expected to brief. General Abhijit Guha, head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), will brief during consultations.

Key Recent Developments

On 6 August, the UN announced the appointment of Hans Grundberg as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen. Grundberg had been serving as EU ambassador to Yemen since 2019 and previously headed the Gulf Division at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs when Sweden hosted the UN-facilitated talks that culminated in the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement that established a ceasefire in Hodeidah governorate. Grundberg succeeds Martin Griffiths, who served as the UN envoy to Yemen from March 2018 to June of this year and is now Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

Fighting continued across multiple frontlines during August. The strategic focus of the conflict remains Marib governorate. The Houthi rebel group’s offensive to take the oil- and gas-rich territory continues to be stymied by Yemeni government forces, supported by Saudi Arabian airstrikes, outside Marib city. In the central al-Bayda governorate, a Houthi counter-offensive reversed gains in July by government-affiliated forces, enabling Houthi incursions into Shabwa governorate. Meanwhile, ceasefire negotiations—based on a UN plan that would reopen Sana’a airport, lift restrictions on shipping into Hodeidah ports, and resume a political process—remain stalled.

At the Council’s 23 August briefing on Yemen, Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Khaled Khiari noted that there had been no progress in ceasefire talks. The Houthis have conditioned their acceptance of a ceasefire and the resumption of the political process on an initial stand-alone agreement to open Sana’a airport and Hodeidah ports; the government wants to agree on and implement these measures together as a package. Khiari said that progress in implementing the Saudi Arabia-brokered Riyadh Agreement, a power-sharing deal agreed to in 2019 between the government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), had stalled following a break in negotiations between the parties in early July for the Eid holiday.

Griffiths delivered his first briefing on Yemen as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs during the 23 August Council meeting. He highlighted the role of Yemen’s economic collapse in driving the country’s humanitarian crisis, including the threat of famine. Griffiths stressed the need to provide salaries to unpaid civil servants, maintain remittances (amid recent reports that Saudi Arabia was terminating the jobs of Yemeni workers in the country), and stabilise Yemen’s currency, which since July has traded at record lows in government-held areas at nearly 1,000 Yemeni rials to the US dollar. (In Houthi-held territory, it has been trading at 600 rials to the dollar). Griffiths also called for lifting restrictions on commercial imports through Hodeidah, as the government embargo on fuel shipments into Houthi ports has driven up fuel costs. He further called for an end to profiteering and market manipulation, which are contributing to the higher prices, especially in Houthi-held areas. UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore briefed on the situation of children in Yemen, with Guha addressing Council members during consultations.

Also on 23 August, the International Monetary Fund announced that it would provide Yemen with about $665 million in special drawing rights, which will help boost Yemen’s foreign exchange reserves to stem the fall of the rial.

Human Rights-Related Developments

During its upcoming 48th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) is expected to hold an interactive dialogue on 14 September with the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts and consider its latest report (A/HRC/48/20). On 7 October, the HRC will consider the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on implementation of technical assistance provided to the National Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations of violations and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen (A/HRC/48/48).

Sanctions Related Developments

On 13 August, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee received a briefing from the Yemen Panel of Experts on the panel’s mid-term update. Previously, on 16 July, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba briefed the 2140 Committee on the situation of children and armed conflict in Yemen. According to a committee press release, Gamba expressed concern about the increase in the total number of grave violations in Yemen in 2020, compared to 2019. The most notable and worrying increase was observed in incidents of denial of humanitarian access, which had increased by one-third. The number of verified abductions and incidents of sexual violence committed against children had also increased, despite the fact that the latter is known to be underreported, according to the press release.

Key Issues and Options

Key issues remain the need to achieve a ceasefire and to resume a peace process. Sustaining the Riyadh Agreement between the government and the STC is another important issue, critical for preventing the conflict’s further deterioration. At the September briefing, Council members may encourage Grundberg to develop his ideas or vision to reinvigorate the peace process.

Yemen remains the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, according to the UN, with 20.7 million people in need of some form of humanitarian assistance or protection. Key issues related to the crisis include the prevention of famine, the protection of civilians, access challenges for humanitarian assistance, and support for the economy. The UN has repeatedly warned about the potential for the Houthis’ Marib offensive to worsen the humanitarian crisis if it triggers a new wave of mass displacement, as there are already over one million internally displaced persons in the governorate. During the General Assembly’s high-level week in September, Sweden, Switzerland and the EU will host a humanitarian event to raise more relief funding for Yemen. Following new commitments by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the US, the 2021 Yemen humanitarian response plan was approximately 50 percent funded in August.

Another recurring key issue is the threat posed by the FSO Safer oil tanker, holding an estimated 1.15 million barrels of oil and moored in the Red Sea off the Houthi-held Ras Isa oil terminal. The UN continues to negotiate with the Houthis (albeit unsuccessfully to date) to allow a technical team to conduct an assessment mission and make initial repairs to the decrepit ship, which risks causing an environmental catastrophe in the event of an oil spill or fire.

Council members could issue a press statement, as they sometimes do after meetings on Yemen, to call for:

  • a nationwide ceasefire;
  • measures to address the humanitarian crisis, such as the lifting of restrictions on fuel imports through Hodeidah ports;
  • the continued implementation of the Riyadh Agreement; and
  • cooperation with the UN by the Houthis to avert a crisis with the Safer oil tanker.
Council and Wider Dynamics

Council members are generally united in their positions on Yemen. They support UN-led mediation efforts for a ceasefire and share concerns about the humanitarian situation and the environmental threat posed by the Safer oil tanker. The US lent new momentum earlier this year to mediation efforts after it appointed a US Special Envoy for Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, who has closely coordinated with the UN. European members and the US tend to be more critical of Houthi obstructionism, while Russia is more cautious in singling out the Houthis—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 2021S/RES/2586 This extended the mandate of UNMHA until 15 July 2022.
Security Council Meeting Records
23 August 2021S/PV.8840 This was a briefing on Yemen.
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.