January 2022 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In January, the Security Council will hold its monthly briefing and consultations on Yemen with UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg and a representative of OCHA.

Key Recent Developments

Heavy fighting persists in Marib governorate as the Houthi rebel group pursues its offensive against the government stronghold to gain control of Marib’s oil and gas fields. Elsewhere, hostilities continue along nearly 50 other front lines.

Grundberg briefed the Council on 14 December 2021, reiterating his concern about the possibility of urban warfare in Marib city, which is home to an estimated 1.5 million to three million people, most of whom have fled from conflict in other parts of the country or moved to the city during the war. He also updated the Council on the situation in Hodeidah governorate following the withdrawal in November of the government-aligned Joint Forces from the critical port city of Hodeidah and the establishment of new front lines about 70 kilometres south of the city. With the escalation in conflict, Grundberg warned, “There is a risk that this could open a new chapter of Yemen’s war that is even more fragmented and bloody”.

The UN envoy also presented a broad overview of the framework he is developing to restart a political process. He stressed the importance of accounting for Yemen’s diverse interests, including those “involved in the fighting and those who are not”. The political process “should support near-term solutions to de-escalate violence, prevent further economic deterioration and mitigate the impact of the conflict on civilians”, he said. “It should also identify and build consensus around the elements of a political settlement that sustainably ends the war, establishes inclusive governance arrangements, and ensures Yemenis’ civil and political, as well as social, economic and cultural rights”. He indicated that the political process would involve parallel tracks and said that “military intensification should not be allowed to stop this process”.

At the session, Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ramesh Rajasingham delivered an update on the humanitarian situation and response. He underscored that the “economy remains in freefall”, which he said is the biggest challenge facing the aid operation. In government-held areas, the historic depreciation of the Yemeni rial has continued—by December 2021, it had fallen to 1,700 rials to the US dollar. On 6 December, Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi replaced the leadership of the Aden-based Central Bank.

Rajasingham also highlighted the Houthis’ continued detention since early November 2021 of two UN staff members in Sana’a. He also expressed deep concern about a UN contractor whom the government recently arrested in Marib. According to Rajasingham, the UN had not been given access to any of the individuals, nor had it received any official information regarding their arrests.

On 21 December 2021, Iran’s ambassador to the Houthis, Hassan Irloo, died of COVID-19 following his evacuation on an Iraqi military plane out of Sana’a just days earlier in a rare exemption from the Saudi-led blockade on air traffic out of the city.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 2 December 2021, more than 60 civil society organisations sent a joint statement to the UN General Assembly, urging it to establish an investigative mechanism to gather and preserve evidence of serious human rights abuses and violations of international law in Yemen. The statement said that a new mechanism was urgently needed because of the Human Rights Council’s failure during its 48th session in October to renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen (GEE)—which was established in 2017 to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the country—following a lobbying campaign against the GEE by Saudi Arabia.

Key Issues and Options

Grundberg’s effort to restart an inclusive political process for a negotiated settlement to the conflict remains a critical issue. This challenging task is made more difficult by the pace of changing military dynamics—notably, Houthi gains since September 2021 in their multi-front offensive in Marib governorate, the fall of which would be a major blow to the government.

Council members have made multiple calls since 2020 for an end to the Houthi escalation in Marib and for a nationwide ceasefire, most recently in a 20 October 2021 press statement. On 9 November, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee imposed sanctions on three Houthi military leaders for their role in the Marib offensive, cross-border drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, and arms smuggling. Members may encourage Grundberg to continue to develop and complete his framework or road map for a political process, which the Council could then endorse.

Key issues related to Yemen’s humanitarian crisis include preventing famine, protecting civilians, improving 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 new mass displacement.

Council members could encourage donors to support the 2022 humanitarian response plan (HRP), which is expected to require funding similar to last year’s $3.85 billion HRP. They could further urge UN member states to support the economic framework that the UN has developed and anticipates launching in parallel with the 2022 HRP. This framework seeks new foreign-exchange injections through the Central Bank to help stabilise the rial along with actions, such as lifting restrictions imposed by the government and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition on commercial imports through Red Sea ports, to lower commodity prices for food and fuel and to use import revenues to pay civil servants’ salaries.

The threat posed by the FSO Safer oil tanker, which holds around 1.15 million barrels of oil and is moored in the Red Sea off the Houthi-held Ras Isa oil terminal, is an ongoing issue of concern. The Houthis have still not allowed a UN technical team to conduct an assessment of the decrepit ship, which risks causing an environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe in the event of an oil spill or fire.

The 2140 Sanctions Committee is also expected to consider the Yemen Panel of Experts’ final report during January.

Council Dynamics

Council members support UN-led mediation efforts and share concerns about the humanitarian situation and the threat posed by the Safer oil tanker. In February 2021, the US appointed a special envoy to Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, who has coordinated his work with the UN to restart a political process.

Despite these general areas of agreement, differences among members exist. The new sanctions designations in November 2021 became controversial when Russia sought, unsuccessfully, to have the decision rescinded, having failed to raise its objections within the allotted time period to block the action. Russia regularly seeks to reduce references in Council products singling out the Houthis, contending that the Council should maintain greater balance. Its statement at the December briefing was notable, as it argued that it was time to recognise that the parties were not ready to relaunch talks. Russia suggested that the Council replace or update resolution 2216, adopted in April 2015 at the outset of the military intervention by the Saudi-led coalition in support of the Yemeni government, which it asserted makes a political settlement impossible and no longer reflects the realities of the conflict. The statement added that western Council members are willing to sacrifice Council unity on Yemen over sanctions.

In January 2022, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) joins the Council. The UAE has been a leading member in the coalition. It has significantly scaled back its military presence in Yemen since 2019 but remains an important actor, including through its support of various armed groups, such as the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the Joint Forces. In its previous reporting, the Yemen Panel of Experts has noted that the UAE, along with the other conflict parties, has committed violations of international humanitarian law and human rights and has described the UAE’s support to the STC as “acting against the spirit of resolution 2216”, which called for “Member States to refrain from taking any actions that undermine the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Yemen, and the legitimacy of the President of Yemen”.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Ambassador Ferit Hoxha (Albania) is the new chair of the 2140 Sanctions Committee.

UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN

Security Council Meeting Record
14 December 2021S/PV.8929 This was a briefing on Yemen.
Security Council Press Statements
18 November 2021SC/14707 This press statement condemned the Houthi seizure of the compound formerly used as the US embassy in Sana’a.
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
Sanctions Committee Document
9 November 2021SC/14695 This was a press release announcing the addition of three Houthi military figures to the Yemen sanctions list.