November 2021 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 October 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 a representative from OCHA are likely to brief.

Key Recent Developments

Marib and neighbouring Shabwa remain the epicentres of fighting, as the Houthi rebel group made further territorial gains in the two energy-rich governorates. Their fall would be a major blow to the Yemeni government and further strengthen the Houthis in any future political process.

Grundberg described this fighting as having taken “an alarming turn” at the Council’s 14 October briefing on Yemen. September was the second-deadliest month for civilians in the last two years, with 235 killed or injured, according to OCHA. Fighting also displaced 10,000 people in Marib—the highest number recorded in the governorate in a single month this year. Grunberg and Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ramesh Rajasingham, who also briefed at the 14 October meeting, raised particular concern about al-Abdiyah district in southwestern Marib. Houthi forces have encircled the district since 23 September, making it difficult for humanitarian aid to reach its 35,000 inhabitants. With fighting drawing closer to the district’s centre, the main hospital was hit by a missile on 14 October, according to Doctors Without Borders. In a statement that same day, Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen David Gressly called for a cessation of hostilities in al-Abdiyah to allow for the safe passage of civilians and aid workers and evacuate the wounded.

By 18 October, Houthi forces had reportedly seized al-Abdiyah and Harib districts in Marib andthree districts in Shabwa—Assilan, Bayhan and Ain. Reported losses of Jubah and Jabal Murab districts in Marib by late October left the government in control of just Marib City and one other district in Marib.

During the 14 October briefing, Grundberg, who is trying to restart a political process, provided an update on diplomatic efforts. “My aim is to forge agreement on a way forward”, he said, noting that he will continue consultations with Yemeni parties and other relevant actors. Addressing the Council’s role, Grundberg said, “I will also count on your support in reinforcing to the warring parties that it is their responsibility to meet with, and engage seriously with, each other under UN auspices”. The envoy further stressed the importance of listening to the views of southern Yemenis and the need for the government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC), a separatist group that has been backed by the United Arab Emirates, to implement the Saudi Arabia-brokered Riyadh Agreement to regain stability in the south.

Maysaa Shuja al-Deen of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies also addressed the Council during the meeting. Regarding the impact of the Houthi offensive in Marib, she warned: “The continuation of this battle is not only dangerous due to its catastrophic humanitarian implications, but also due to the potential military and political consequences, which include expanding the scope of war into other areas of Yemen and undermining the already limited chances of peace.” Shuja al-Deen set out a series of recommendations, including measures to address Yemen’s economic collapse, which has been driving much of the humanitarian crisis. She called for the Council to adopt a resolution that makes “economic de-escalation” a priority and assigns the UN envoy responsibility for resuming negotiations for unifying Yemen’s central bank. She additionally called on the Council to pressure Saudi Arabia and its allies to stop expelling and “tightening their grip” on Yemeni workers, highlighting the critical role of remittances as Yemen’s main source of hard currency.

Council members expressed their “unwavering support” for UN Special Envoy Grundberg in a 20 October press statement, which also stressed “the need for de-escalation by all, including an immediate end to the Houthi escalation in Marib” and demanded a nation-wide ceasefire.

On 18 October, Grundberg concluded his second visit to Muscat since becoming UN envoy in September. According to his office, he met with Omani officials, Houthi representatives, and representatives of the international community on developments in Yemen and the way forward towards a comprehensive political solution.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 7 October during its 48th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) rejected a resolution to renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEE) for two years (A/HRC/48/L.11), by a vote of 18 in favour, 21 against and seven abstentions. Security Council members China, India and Russia—as well as Gabon, an incoming Council member for 2022-2023—voted against the resolution. Security Council members France, Mexico, the UK, and incoming member Brazil voted in favour. On 8 October, the GEE released a statement calling the result “a major setback for all victims who have suffered serious violations during the armed conflict that has been raging for over six years in Yemen…[which] underlines the Group’s assessment that there is a lack of political will to address the situation in Yemen”.

On 11 October, the HRC adopted resolution 48/21 without a vote on technical assistance and capacity-building for Yemen. The resolution requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue to provide substantive capacity-building and technical assistance to the government of Yemen and all requisite technical and logistical support to the National Commission of Inquiry to enable it to continue to investigate allegations of violations and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen.

At the 14 October briefing, Grundberg, Rajasingham, Shuja al-Deen, and several Council members expressed disappointment about the failure to renew the GEE’s mandate. The Special Envoy said: “[I]t is unfortunate that the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts was not renewed. Nevertheless, the UN will continue to press for accountability in Yemen.”

Key Issues and Options

Reassessing the approach of the UN and the Security Council to resuming a peace process is a key issue at the beginning of the new Special Envoy’s tenure. Bringing more of the anti-Houthi opposition—such as Yemen’s different political parties, armed groups and other local actors—into the political process to make peace talks more inclusive and representative of realities on the ground is a related issue. At the same time, a critical issue is the Houthi multi-front offensive to take Marib governorate, the fall of which would be a major blow to the government, complicating future peace negotiations and potentially leading to the expansion of fighting into southern Yemen.

Council members and other countries, especially those with influence on the Houthis, could seek to support UN mediation by pressing the Houthis to engage in negotiations to cease their Marib campaign. Members could further encourage Grundberg’s consultations with Yemeni parties and relevant regional countries to develop a new approach to reviving a political process, which the Council could then support.

Key issues related to Yemen’s humanitarian crisis include preventing famine, protecting civilians, addressing challenges to humanitarian access, and supporting 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, which holds an estimated 1.15 million barrels of oil and is 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 the ports of Hodeidah and the injection of foreign exchange into the Central Bank by Yemen’s partners to stabilise the currency;
  • continued implementation of the Riyadh Agreement; 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 the 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 about 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
14 October 2021S/PV.8878 This was a briefing on Yemen.
Security Council Press Statement
20 October 2021SC/14671 This press statement expressed unwavering support for UN Special Envoy Grundberg and stressed the need for de-escalation by all, including an immediate end to the Houthi escalation in Marib
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.