March 2022 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2022
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MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In March, the Council is expected to hold its monthly briefing and consultations on Yemen with UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg and a representative of OCHA.

Key Recent Developments

The escalation of the war in Yemen and the risk of further regional spillover following the Houthi rebel group’s missile and drone attacks against the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and retaliatory airstrikes in January, remained major concerns over the past month.

Briefing the Security Council on 15 February, Grundberg said that he echoed the UN Secretary-General’s condemnation of the Houthi attacks on the UAE in January, which demonstrated how “this conflict risks spiralling out of control”. He also described as “alarming” the increase in airstrikes in Yemen, including on residential areas and civilian infrastructure. Grundberg updated the Council on progress towards developing a framework for a multi-track political process. He announced that, starting the following week, he would hold bilateral consultations with Yemeni stakeholders—including the warring parties, political parties, civil society representatives, and experts in the political, security and economic areas—to inform and refine this framework. He said that he intended to present the framework “later this spring”. At the same time, the UN Envoy stressed that he was exploring every opportunity for an immediate de-escalation, although these efforts continue to be frustrated as the parties’ “positions are mutually exclusive with demands on sequencing and guarantees unable to be met by the other side”. On 24 February, in closed consultations that Russia and the UAE requested amid their different positions in negotiations on the Yemen sanctions renewal, Grundberg informed members that the consultations process on his framework for a political process would now start on 7 March.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths also briefed at the 15 February Council briefing. Griffiths reported that there were over 650 civilian casualties in the Yemen conflict during January, the highest monthly figure in three years. In this regard, he highlighted the 21 January airstrike on a prison in Saada, resulting in more than 300 deaths or injuries, carried out by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which supports the Yemeni government against the Houthis.

Griffiths also emphasised that the financial shortage facing the aid operation in Yemen, which beginning in March could force the further scaling-back or termination of food rations for eight million people and the cancellation of most UN humanitarian flights. According to Griffiths, “the scale of the current [funding] gaps are unprecedented in Yemen”. In closed consultations on 15 February, Major General Michael Beary delivered his first briefing to Council members since he assumed his duties as the head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) on 19 January.

On the ground, the Houthis have continued their offensive to take oil and gas-rich Marib governorate despite their territorial losses since January. During February, the newly formed “Happy Yemen Brigades”—which are reportedly composed of northern tribal and Salafi fighters—launched operations against the Houthis in the northern Hajjah and Saada governorates. A Houthi drone attack targeting Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport injured 12 civilians on 10 February. Another bomb-laden drone injured 16 civilians on 21 February in an attack on King Abdullah Airport in the Saudi city of Jizan, near the border with Yemen.

The UN announced progress towards finding a solution to the decrepit FSO Safer oil tanker that is moored in the Red Sea off the Houthi-held Ras Isa oil terminal and is at risk of an oil spill. UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen David Gressly has been coordinating a proposal to offload the estimated 1.15 million barrels of oil from the FSO Safer to a new vessel that would allow the FSO Safer to be towed away. In a 5 February statement, Gressly said that Yemeni government officials have confirmed their support for the plan and that he had held constructive talks with senior Houthi officials.

Sanction-Related Developments

On 28 February, the Security Council adopted resolution 2624, renewing the Yemen financial and travel ban sanctions until 28 February 2023 and the mandate of the Yemen Panel of Experts until 28 March 2023. Brazil, Ireland, Mexico and Norway abstained on the vote. (For more, see our What’s In Blue story of 28 February 2022.)

Key Issues and Options

Key issues include the war’s escalation and the risk of further regional spillover. Grundberg’s effort to restart an inclusive political process, based on the framework he is developing that addresses political, security and economic issues, remains critical. Members may encourage Grundberg to continue to develop and complete his framework for an inclusive political process, which the Council could then endorse.

Key issues related to Yemen’s humanitarian crisis include protecting civilians, preventing famine, improving humanitarian access, supporting the economy, and raising funds for relief efforts. The annual pledging event for Yemen’s humanitarian response, being hosted by Sweden and Switzerland, is scheduled for 16 March. 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 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.

Council Dynamics

Council members have been largely united in supporting the UN envoy’s effort to restart a political process and in their calls for a ceasefire or de-escalation. There has also been widespread concern about the humanitarian situation and the threat posed by the FSO Safer. Differences in the Council have tended to involve Russia’s preference for reducing references singling out the Houthis in Council products, as opposed to some other members that favour being more critical of Houthi actions.

The presence of the UAE, which is a key member in the Saudi-led coalition and joined the Council in January, has affected Council dynamics. Since the January attacks on Abu Dhabi, the UAE has pushed to label the Houthis as a terrorist group and strengthen sanctions against the movement. It has been lobbying the US, which along with the UK, supports the coalition, to reinstate its unilateral designation of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation. In a separate action, on 23 February, the US announced that it was designating for sanctions, in coordination with Gulf partners, an international network funding Houthi military forces that operates under the leadership of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force and Houthi financier Sa’id al-Jamal.

At the Security Council, the UAE initiated a press statement to characterise the Houthi targeting of Abu Dhabi as a terrorist attack. At the time of this writing, it was calling for the Council to acknowledge the Houthis as a terrorist group, and to add the Houthis as an entity to the Yemen sanctions list in the negotiations on the Council’s annual Yemen sanctions resolution. In addition, the UAE statement at the 15 February briefing was notable for its implicit criticism of Grundberg, describing “the continued paralysis of the political process under the leadership of the United Nations to deal realistically and firmly with” the Houthis.

Some members have expressed concern about these moves. Members failed to agree to press elements following the 15 February briefing. On the sanctions resolution, several members also raised concerns about, among other things, the terrorism label and the impact that designating the Houthis would have on the humanitarian situation, worried for instance, about the private sector pulling back from Yemen to avoid potentially violating the sanctions, and the repercussions for the political process. To address some of these concerns, the designation was expected to not include subjecting the Houthis to the financial sanctions established by resolution 2140 and only subject them to the arms embargo provisions of resolution 2216.

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

UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN

Security Council Meeting Record
15 February 2022S/PV.8966 This was a briefing on Yemen with Special Envoy Grundberg, USG for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths and the Chair of the 2140 Sanctions Committee Ambassador Hoxha (Albania).
Security Council Press Statement
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.

 

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