Expected Council Action
In February, the Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing the Yemen financial and travel ban sanctions, which expire on 28 February, and the mandate of the Yemen Panel of Experts, which expires on 28 March. (The targeted arms embargo established by resolution 2216 in April 2015 against the Houthi rebel group is open-ended.)
The Council is also expected to hold its monthly briefing and consultations on Yemen with UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg and a representative of OCHA. The head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), Major General Michael Beary, who was appointed in December 2021 and assumed his duties on 19 January, is expected to brief in consultations.
Key Recent Developments
Fighting in Yemen intensified during January. Yemeni government-aligned forces retook the governorate of Shabwa and areas of southern Marib governorate, a setback to the Houthi offensive to capture the government stronghold of Marib. In retaliation, the Houthis launched a missile and drone attack against the United Arab Emirates (UAE), triggering a spate of reciprocal violence and new concern about the spillover of the war in the region.
Earlier in the month, on 2 January, the Houthis seized the Emirati-flagged ship RWABEE in the Red Sea off Yemen’s western coast. The Houthis claimed that the vessel was transporting military equipment and later released video that appeared to show armoured vehicles and military patrol boats on the ship. The Saudi Arabia-led military coalition, which supports the Yemeni government, said that the ship was carrying medical equipment from a Saudi field hospital on the Yemeni island of Socotra and called its seizure “an act of piracy” that threatened maritime security and international trade. At an 8 January press conference, coalition spokesperson Colonel Turki al-Maliki asserted that the Houthis were using the Hodeidah ports, in particular Salif port, to import and assemble missiles and explosive-laden boats used in maritime attacks.
UNMHA expressed “great concern” over “allegations of the militarization of the [Hoidedah] Ports”, according to an 11 January press statement. Two days later, it announced that an UNMHA patrol team had visited Salif port, where it observed the RWABEE and spoke to its crew members. “No indication of militarization was observed in the areas patrolled”, according to UNMHA.
On 10 January, the Giants Brigades—one of the armed groups that form the Emirati-backed Joint Forces, which withdrew from Hodeidah city in November 2021 to reinforce other frontlines—announced that it had pushed the Houthis out of Shabwa governorate after ten days of fighting. The Giants Brigades also re-captured nearby areas of southern Marib governorate.
Special Envoy Grundberg told the Council at its 12 January briefing on Yemen that “the parties are doubling down on military options” and “the prevailing belief of all warring sides seems to be that inflicting sufficient harm on the other will force them into submission”. Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ramesh Rajasingham reported that fighting over the past month in Al Jawf, Marib and Shabwa governorates had displaced 15,000 people. He also said that hostilities had intensified in Al Bayda governorate and that coalition airstrikes had escalated in Sana’a and elsewhere. According to Rajasingham, 358 civilian casualties were recorded in December 2021 as a direct result of fighting, tied for the highest monthly number in three years. Two days later, in a 14 January press statement, Council members condemned the Houthi seizure and detention of the UAE-flagged RWABEE.
On 17 January, a Houthi-claimed attack, using a combination of ballistic and cruise missiles and drones, struck an industrial zone in Abu Dhabi, causing three petroleum tanker explosions, and a construction site at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Two Indian nationals and one Pakistani civilian were killed, and six other civilians were injured in the attack. At the request of the UAE, Council members discussed the attack in closed consultations on 21 January, and in a press statement, members “condemned in the strongest terms the heinous terrorist attacks in Abu Dhabi”.
In response, the coalition intensified airstrikes against the Houthis starting 17 January. On the evening of 20 to 21 January, airstrikes hit a detention facility in Saada city that killed 91 detainees and injured 236 according to a statement by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which noted that the facility was holding 1,300 pre-trial detainees as well as 700 migrants. That same evening a strike on a telecommunications building in Hodeidah knocked out internet service in much of Yemen.
At the time of writing, the situation appeared to be escalating, as the Houthis warned foreign companies to leave the UAE and promised further attacks. The UAE and the US intercepted two missiles on 24 January targeting the Al Dhafra Air Base near Abu Dhabi, which hosts US forces. Secretary-General António Guterres issued statements condemning the Houthi attack on 17 January in Abu Dhabi and the airstrikes on the detention facility in Yemen.
Also in January, Iran named Abdul Reza Shahlai to replace its ambassador to the Houthis, Hassan Irloo, who died from COVID-19 in December 2021, shortly after being evacuated from Sana’a. Shahlai, a high-level commander in Iran’s Quds force, was already in Yemen, where he was unsuccessfully targeted by a US drone strike on the same day in January 2020 that the US killed Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force, in Iraq.
On 21 January, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee met with the Yemen Panel of Experts to consider the panel’s final report, which details, among other issues, evidence of arms smuggling from Iran to the Houthis and violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a 28 December 2021 statement, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay and High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed concern “for the well-being of two of their staff members who were detained in early November in Sana’a, Yemen”. According to the joint statement, the UN did not receive information about the grounds or legal basis for their detention or their current status.
In a press briefing on 18 January, the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern over the “continuing escalation of the conflict in Yemen.” According to the spokesperson, the conflict had intensified since the start of the year, noting that “figures collected by the UN Human Rights Office indicate that, so far in January, there were 839 airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, compared with 1,074 for the whole of December”. The spokesperson added there were “some 16 drone strikes, and 12 ballistic missiles and three other projectiles fired by Ansar Allah [Houthi] forces towards Saudi territory in December” and “to date in January, reports indicate there have been 10 drone strikes towards Saudi Arabia”.
Women, Peace and Security
Norway elected to focus the 12 January Yemen monthly meeting on women, peace and security (WPS) to “draw attention to the urgency of strengthening the role of women in conflict resolution and peacebuilding”, as stated by Ambassador Mona Juul (Norway) during the session. This is consistent with the commitments jointly undertaken in December 2021 by Albania, Norway, the UAE, and former Council member Niger to make WPS a “top priority” of their presidencies. (See our brief on WPS in the January Forecast.) During the meeting, Grundberg said that his Office will continue to convene consultations with women from political parties, civil society and the private sector and urged all actors to respect the rights and work of women peacebuilders and human rights defenders. Among other issues affecting women in Yemen, Rajasingham noted that access to reproductive healthcare remains precarious “with one woman dying every two hours during childbirth from almost entirely preventable causes”. A civil society briefer, co-founder and CEO of the Sheba Youth Foundation for Development Ola al-Aghbary, also participated in the meeting. She spoke of local mediation initiatives in the city of Taiz and of the efforts to establish a youth consultative council which would be in contact with the Office of the Special Envoy to promote the participation of young people in peace negotiations. Several Council members referenced the situation of women in their statements to varying degrees. Ireland, which co-chairs the informal expert group on women, peace and security with Mexico, focused its statement heavily on this issue. Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland) said that the persistent exclusion of Yemeni women from political and peace initiatives is unjustifiable. She lamented the fact that, thus far, no women have been included in the UN-facilitated prisoner exchange negotiations. While Byrne Nason welcomed Grundberg’s commitment to consult with women’s groups, she noted that “consultation should not be a substitute for meaningful participation” and strongly encouraged Grundberg and all parties to work towards securing Yemeni women seats at the negotiating table.
Key Issues and Options
Key issues include the fighting for Marib, the war’s escalation and the risk of further regional spillover. Grundberg’s effort to restart a political process remains critical. He continues to develop a framework for an inclusive political process addressing political, security and economic issues. At the January briefing, Grundberg said the framework aims “at facilitating incremental progress” in these different areas for a sustainable political settlement.
Members may encourage Grundberg to continue to develop and complete his framework for an inclusive political process, which the Council could then endorse. In renewing the Yemen sanctions regime, the Council could, similarly to last year’s resolution 2564 extending the sanctions, condemn the Houthi offensive in Marib and attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE, express concern about recent reciprocal violence and stress the need for de-escalation and a ceasefire.
Key issues related to Yemen’s humanitarian crisis include protecting civilians, preventing famine, improving humanitarian access and supporting the economy. Council members could call on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the principle of proportionality. Members could further 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 also urge UN member states to support the economic framework that the UN has developed to stabilise the Yemeni rial, lower commodity prices and 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 Council could call on the Houthis in the upcoming sanctions resolution to allow a UN technical team to assess the ship’s condition and stress the group’s responsibility for the deteriorating condition of the vessel, which risks causing an environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe in the event of an oil spill or fire.
Council members support UN-led mediation efforts and share concerns about the humanitarian situation and the threat posed by the Safer oil tanker. Despite these general areas of agreement, differences exist among members. Russia often seeks to reduce references in Council products singling out the Houthis, and it sought, unsuccessfully, to reverse new sanctions designations on three Houthi military figures in November 2021 after it failed to raise its objections within the allotted time. Mentioning Iran’s support for the Houthis in Council products has been a red line for Russia and China, which have in the past contested the veracity of the Panel of Experts’ conclusions about related arms transfers.
Council member UAE is a leading member in the coalition. While significantly scaling back its military presence in 2019, it 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 previous reports, 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 indicated that the UAE’s support for the STC undermines the Yemeni government, “acting against the spirit of resolution 2216”, which the Council adopted in April 2015 at the outset of the coalition military intervention in Yemen. In January, the US, which along with the UK has supported the coalition, announced that it is considering a UAE request to re-designate the Houthis as a “Foreign Terrorist Organisation”.
The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Ambassador Ferit Hoxha (Albania) chairs the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN
|Security Council Resolution|
|25 February 2021S/RES/2564||This resolution renewed the Yemen sanctions regime for one year, condemned the ongoing escalation in Marib and stressed the Houthis’ responsibility for the situation of the FSO Safer.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|12 January 2022S/PV.8946||This was a briefing on Yemen with Special Envoy Hans Grundberg, Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ramesh Rajasingham and Ola Al-Aghbary, the Chief Executive Officer of Sheba Youth Foundation for Development.|
|Security Council Letter|
|18 January 2022S/2022/35||This was a letter from the UAE on the 17 January attacks on Abu Dhabi by the Houthi rebel group.|
|Sanctions Committee Document|
|26 January 2022S/2022/50||This was the final report of the Yemen Panel of Experts.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|21 January 2022SC/14771||This press statement condemned the “heinous terrorist attacks” in Abu Dhabi on 17 January that were committed and claimed by the Houthis.|
|14 January 2022SC/14765||This press statement condemned the Houthi seizure and detention of the UAE-flagged vessel, RWABEE, off the coast of Yemen on 2 January 2022.|