April 2022 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In April, the Council is expected to hold its monthly briefing on Yemen in closed consultations. Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya, and Major General Michael Beary, the head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), are expected to brief.

Key Recent Developments

As fighting continues on multiple fronts, Grundberg launched a series of consultations on 7 March in Amman, Jordan, with Yemeni political parties, experts and civil society representatives, intended to inform the development of his framework for a political process. As Grundberg explained at the Council’s 15 March briefing on Yemen, these meetings, which will take place over several weeks, are focused on: identifying short- and longer-term priorities for the political, security and economic tracks of the framework; exploring guiding principles for the political process; and getting an understanding of the participants’ vision for the future.

In a parallel development, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) invited Yemeni parties, including the Houthi rebel group, to meet for inter-Yemeni consultations from 29 March to 7 April at the GCC headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Houthis declined the invitation, claiming that it was open to such a dialogue but in a neutral country, according to reports. Saudi Arabia leads a military coalition supporting the government against the Houthis.

On 20 March, the Houthis fired missiles and drones at Saudi Arabia, targeting a petroleum products distribution terminal and water desalination plant in the southern Jizan region, a power transmission station in Dhahran Al Janub, a natural gas plant in Khamis Mushait and the Yasref refinery in the Red Sea port of Yanbu. The strikes caused a temporary drop in output at the refinery but no casualties, according to the Saudi energy ministry and state media. On 25 March, Houthi attacks struck an oil depot in Jeddah, which prompted coalition airstrikes on targets in Sana’a and Hodeidah. The Secretary-General issued a statement condemning the recent escalation, noting that the airstrikes in Sana’a reportedly killed eight civilians, including five children, and damaged the UN staff residential compound in the city.

During his 15 March briefing, Grundberg highlighted his continued engagement with the conflict parties on options for an immediate de-escalation. On 19 March, Grundberg held talks in Muscat with Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam. One topic of discussion was a possible truce during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts in April. Abdulsalam described the idea as “a positive step”, according to news reports. On 26 March, one day after their latest attacks on Saudi Arabia, the Houthis announced a three-day truce, the possibility of a “permanent” ceasefire and their readiness to release all coalition prisoners.

The UN continues to warn of Yemen’s dire humanitarian situation and the funding crisis facing relief efforts. A new Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) analysis on food security in Yemen, released on 14 March, reported that 17.4 million people need food assistance and projected a rise to 19 million by June. According to the IPC analysis, 31,000 people are facing famine-like conditions, a total that is projected to increase to 160,000 by June. The UN also raised concern about the potential impact of the war in Ukraine on Yemen, which, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths noted at the 15 March briefing, imports about one-third of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. Yemen’s fuel shortage and inflation could also be exacerbated by rising global oil prices brought on by the war in Ukraine.

On 16 March, the annual high-level pledging event for Yemen’s humanitarian crisis was held in Geneva, hosted by Sweden, Switzerland and the UN. Thirty-six donors pledged nearly $1.3 billion, significantly less than the $4.27 billion that the UN says it requires for the 2022 humanitarian response plan in Yemen.

There has been progress towards resolving the threat posed by the FSO Safer, the vessel moored off the Houthi-held port of Ras Issa in the Red Sea that is at risk of a major oil spill or explosion. On 5 March, the UN signed a memorandum of understanding with the Houthis and the Fahem Group (one of Yemen’s largest import companies) to transfer the oil on the Safer to a vessel that would replace the ageing tanker. The memorandum notes that the plan is contingent on donor funding and could entail an interim ship to hold the oil until a suitable replacement vessel for the Safer is acquired.

Major General Beary also addressed members during consultations at last month’s Council session on Yemen. Beary, who assumed his position as the head of UNMHA in January, reportedly described the mission’s four key areas of focus: establishing a mission presence in Yemeni government territory; increasing its monitoring capacity in Hodeidah’s ports and conflict areas in Hodeidah governorate; reinstating liaison channels; and clearing landmines.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue is Grundberg’s effort to restart an inclusive political process, based on the framework he is developing. Also critical are efforts to de-escalate the conflict and prevent further regional spillover. While Grundberg has met with Houthi representatives in Muscat multiple times, he has yet to meet with the group’s leadership in Sana’a. They have apparently set as pre-conditions for his visit the re-opening of Sana’a airport and the lifting of Yemeni government and coalition restrictions on imports entering Houthi-held ports. Members may encourage Grundberg to continue to develop and complete his framework, 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. Members could encourage UN member states to support the economic framework that the UN has developed to stabilise the Yemeni rial through new foreign exchange injections, lowering commodity prices by lifting restrictions on fuel and other essential imports and establishing insurance subsidies for shippers, and paying civil servants’ salaries.

Resolving the issue of the FSO Safer is an ongoing issue. Considering that past agreements between the UN and the Houthis on the Safer have stalled, members are likely to continue to closely monitor the situation and encourage stakeholders to follow through with their commitments.

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. They also share concerns about the humanitarian situation and the threat posed by the FSO Safer.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a Council member, is a key member of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, and it supports several anti-Houthi armed groups in Yemen. Since Houthi missile and drone attacks hit Abu Dhabi in January, the UAE has sought to label the movement a terrorist organisation. Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, and Norway abstained on resolution 2624 renewing the Yemen sanctions regime in February, primarily because of their concerns about the resolution’s description of the Houthis as a “terrorist group”. Russia’s vote in favour of the resolution was an unusual move, given its history of objecting to singling out the Houthis in Council products; its vote followed UAE abstentions in the preceding days on two Council resolutions addressing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. In March, Russia placed a technical hold, which can last up to six months, on a proposal in the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee made by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the US to add three additional Houthis to the Yemen sanctions list.

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

UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN

Security Council Resolution
28 February 2022S/RES/2624 This resolution renewed the Yemen sanctions regime for one year, called the Houthis a terrorist group and added the Houthis as an entity to the Yemen sanctions list, subject to the measures of the targeted arms embargo in resolution 2216, for having engaged in acts that threaten the peace, security, and stability of Yemen.
Security Council Meeting Record
15 March 2022S/PV.8995 This was a briefing on Yemen with Special Envoy Grundberg and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths.