October 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 September 2021
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In October, the Security Council will hold its monthly briefing and consultations on Yemen. Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths are likely to brief.

Key Recent Developments

The Houthi rebel group has continued its offensive on Marib governorate while its forces made advances in the southern governorate of Shabwa. The new UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, officially started on 5 September, following months of stalled ceasefire negotiations.

On 10 September, Grundberg, who had been the EU Ambassador to Yemen since 2019, delivered his first briefing to the Security Council. “The United Nations approach to ending the conflict must be inclusive”, he told the Council. “To define the best way forward, I intend to assess past efforts, identify what has worked and what has not, and listen to as many Yemeni men and women as possible.” He added, “The beginning of my tenure should therefore be used as a moment to reassess our respective responsibilities.” Grunberg said that a peace process would take time, and announced his plans to meet soon with Yemeni government officials, the Houthis and other Yemeni political actors. He also plans to tour the region to meet leaders in Riyadh, Muscat, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Tehran, and Cairo. In press elements, Security Council members welcomed Grundberg’s appointment and reiterated their expectation that the parties would meet with him and each other under UN auspices, in good faith and without preconditions.

During September, fighting intensified in Shabwa governorate as the Houthis made advances in the southern governorate that borders Marib. Shabwa and Marib governorates are Yemen’s main sources of oil and natural gas. The operation appeared to be an attempt to bypass or cut off Marib City, where the Houthi offensive has been stalled for months. The group also escalated drone and missile attacks. These included a suspected Houthi missile attack on the al-Anad military base in Yemen’s southern Lahj governorate on 29 August that killed at least 30 soldiers and wounded at least 50 others, and a drone attack on 31 August against Abha International Airport in Saudi Arabia that injured eight people and damaged a commercial aircraft.

On 18 September, the Houthis executed nine people by firing squad, including one reported minor, for allegedly participating in the killing of senior Houthi official Saleh al-Samad in an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition in April 2018. In a statement, UN Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the executions, which he noted “are a result of judicial proceedings that do not appear to have fulfilled the requirements of fair trial and due process under international law”. Guterres also expressed concern about a Saudi-led coalition airstrike that same day in Shabwa that allegedly killed six civilians from the same family.

Yemen’s humanitarian crisis continues to be the world’s largest, with 20.7 million people requiring some form of aid or protection. Briefing at the 10 September Council meeting, OCHA Deputy Director of Operations Ghada Eltahir Mudawi highlighted the conflict’s impact on vulnerable populations, including women and girls, internally displaced persons (Yemen has the fourth-largest internally displaced population in the world) and children, among others. Mudawi also noted that since 2018, landmines, improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnance have killed or injured more than 1,400 civilians in Yemen.

Pledges totalling about $600 million were announced at a humanitarian event on Yemen during the General Assembly’s high-level debate on 22 September.

During September, Aden and other southern areas saw days of sustained protests, starting on 14 September. The protests erupted amid the declining value of the Yemeni rial, which in areas outside Houthi territory has been trading at record lows in relation to the US dollar, making the cost of food and other goods prohibitively expensive. Two protesters were reportedly killed in Aden, which is under the control of the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), and two were reportedly killed in government-controlled Hadhramaut governorate.

Human Rights-Related Developments

During its 48th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue on 14 September with the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts and considered its latest report. Kamel Jendoubi, the group’s chair, expressed concern that impunity continued largely unabated for those who perpetrated serious violations in Yemen and that the group had seen little progress in terms of investigations conducted by the parties. On 21 September, the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights referred to the execution of the nine individuals on 18 September, saying “the defendants were sentenced to death in a judicial process that violated their constitutional rights and did not comply with fair trial standards under international law”. He added: “[T]hey were reportedly tortured, and forced to sign confessions. In addition, they were denied their right to assistance from a lawyer at several stages of the proceedings.”

Women, Peace and Security

During the 10 September open briefing on Yemen, Entesar Al-Qadhi, executive director of the Marib Girls Foundation for Development, briefed the Security Council to provide a civil society perspective. Al-Qadhi focused on the humanitarian situation in Marib governorate, drawing the Council’s attention to the conditions of internally displaced people, including women and girls. In her remarks, Al-Qadhi pointed out that, despite the critical contribution that women in Yemen have made towards building peace, they continue to be excluded from decision-making processes. She urged Special Envoy Grundberg to consult regularly with “all Yemenis, especially women and young people” during his mandate. Al-Qadhi called on the Security Council to demand “the cessation of Houthi attacks against Marib”, including by adopting a resolution for a ceasefire; to support an inclusive peace process, and to urge the conflict parties to grant unimpeded humanitarian access. She further urged the Council to call on member states to fund the UN humanitarian response plan for Yemen and women’s civil society organisations.

Key Issues and Options

Reassessing the UN and Council approach for resuming a peace process is a key issue at the start of the new Special Envoy’s tenure. The Yemeni government and the Houthis have not discussed a comprehensive solution for ending the war since the 2016 Kuwait peace talks. How to make the political process more inclusive is an important related issue and a goal that the new envoy supports. This will entail bringing into the process more of the anti-Houthi opposition such as Yemen’s different political parties, armed groups and other local actors. Council members could encourage the envoy to consult with Yemeni parties and relevant regional countries as he develops his strategy to revive a political process, which the Council could then endorse.

Key issues related to Yemen’s humanitarian crisis include the prevention of famine, the protection of civilians, challenges to humanitarian access, and support for the economy. The UN has repeatedly warned about the potential for the Houthis’ Marib offensive to worsen the humanitarian situation if it triggers a new wave of mass displacement.

A 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 Houthis have still not allowed a UN technical team to conduct an assessment mission to the decrepit ship, which risks causing an environmental catastrophe in the event of an oil spill or fire.

In their public interventions, Council members could reiterate calls for:

  • a ceasefire;
  • measures to address the humanitarian crisis, such as lifting Yemeni government restrictions on fuel imports through Hodeidah’s ports;
  • continued implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, the Saudi Arabia-brokered power-sharing agreement between the Yemeni government and the STC; and
  • Houthi cooperation with the UN to avert a crisis with the Safer oil tanker.
Council Dynamics

Council members 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 Special Envoy for Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, has liaised closely with the UN on efforts to restart a political process. Despite this general unity among members, differences exist. For example, European members and the US tend to be more critical of perceived Houthi obstructionism, while Russia is more cautious in singling out the Houthis—a dynamic that sometimes plays out 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 Meeting Record
10 September 2021S/PV.8854 This was the meeting record of the first briefing by the Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg.
Human Rights Council Document
10 September 2021A/HRC/48/20 This was the fourth report of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen.