May 2022 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Yemen

Expected Council Action

In May, the Council is expected to hold its monthly briefing on Yemen, followed by closed consultations. Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and an official from OCHA will brief. Major General Michael Beary, the head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), is expected to brief during consultations.

Key Recent Developments

On 1 April, Special Envoy Grundberg announced that the conflict parties had agreed—for the first time since 2016—to a nationwide truce for two months, from 2 April until 2 June, with the possibility of an extension. The truce, which the UN proposed for the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, entails halting all offensive ground, aerial, and maritime military operations inside and outside Yemen and freezing current military positions on the ground.

The truce agreement also sets out humanitarian measures. During the two-month period, the Yemeni government and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition committed to allow 18 fuel ships to enter the Houthi rebel group-held ports in Hodeidah governorate and two commercial flights per week in and out of Sana’a Airport to Egypt and Jordan. The Special Envoy is also expected to convene a meeting of the parties to agree on opening roads in various governorates to facilitate the movement of civilians, including Taiz governorate, where the Houthis have maintained a siege of Taiz city for years.

The truce was followed by a second major development. In the early hours of 7 April, Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi dismissed his controversial vice-president, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who had been in office since 2016. Hadi subsequently issued a presidential declaration that “irrevocably” transferred his own “full powers in accordance with the constitution and the Gulf initiative and its executive mechanism” to a new eight-person Presidential Leadership Council (PLC). These moves took place at the end of inter-Yemeni consultations that had started on 29 March in Riyadh, which were sponsored by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and brought together various anti-Houthi factions.

The PLC comprises leaders of several key groups. Rashad al-Alimi, a former interior minister in the early 2000s, was appointed as its president. The PLC’s other members are Marib Governor Sultan al-Arada, National Resistance Forces leader Tareq Saleh, Giants Brigades Commander Abdulrahman Abu Zara’a, Chief of Staff of the Presidential Office Abdullah al-Alimi Bawazeer, Member of Parliament Othman al-Majali, Southern Transitional Council President Aiderous al-Zubaidi, and Hadramawt Governor Faraj al-Bahsani.

According to the presidential declaration, the PLC’s functions include managing Yemen’s political, military and security affairs. The declaration stated that the PLC “is in charge of negotiating with Ansar Allah (the Houthis) for a permanent ceasefire…and sitting at the negotiating table to reach a final and comprehensive political solution that includes a transitional phase that will move Yemen from a state of war to a state of peace”. The declaration also appointed a 50-person Consultation and Reconciliation Commission, a legal team, and an economic team to support the PLC. The declaration ended the period of Hadi’s presidency, which began in February 2012 and was intended to last for the two years of political transition following President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s resignation.

A Security Council press statement on 13 April welcomed the creation of the PLC and its assumption of powers. Council members “expressed their hope and expectation that the creation of the PLC will form an important step towards stability and an inclusive Yemeni-led and -owned political settlement”, noting the PLC’s intention to form a negotiating team for the UN-led talks. Previously, on 4 April, Council members issued two press statements, one condemning the 20 March and 25 March cross-border “terrorist attacks” by the Houthis against Saudi Arabia that struck critical civilian infrastructure and the other welcoming the Special Envoy’s 1 April call for a truce and the parties’ positive response.

From 11 to 13 April, Grundberg conducted his first visit to Sana’a since assuming his role as Special Envoy in September 2021. According to Grundberg, Houthi leaders expressed their commitment to implementing all aspects of the truce, with discussions focused on strengthening the agreement and on next steps beyond the two-month truce period.

On 14 April, Grundberg and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths briefed the Council. Grundberg reported a significant reduction of violence since the truce and confirmed that there had been no airstrikes inside Yemen or cross-border attacks emanating from Yemen. According to Griffiths, the truce was already improving the humanitarian situation as civilian casualties had fallen to their lowest levels in months and increased fuel imports were easing Yemen’s fuel shortage. At the same time, both briefers noted reports of military operations, particularly around Marib and Taiz, that Grundberg said must be addressed urgently through the mechanisms established by the truce.

Following the formation of the PLC, Saudi Arabia announced a $3 billion economic package for Yemen and $300 million for the UN 2022 Yemen humanitarian response plan (HRP). The package includes $2 billion that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will jointly contribute to Yemen’s central bank to stabilise the Yemeni rial—the news of which had already strengthened the currency by 25 percent, according to Griffiths at the 14 April briefing. During his briefing, Griffiths also reported that work on a UN-facilitated plan to transfer oil to another ship from the FSO Safer oil tanker, moored in the Red Sea off the Houthi-held port Ras Isa, could begin in May if the $80 million donor funding for the operation is raised.

On 17 April, Grundberg met in Riyadh with PLC President Rashad al-Alimi. On 19 April, Alimi and the other members of the PLC were sworn in at a ceremony in Aden, which Grundberg attended.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue is to make sure that the parties uphold, implement and extend the truce. Reported hostilities, especially in Marib, are therefore of concern. Moreover, it is critical that there be progress on restarting an inclusive political process during the truce. Members could agree to closely monitor the parties’ compliance and encourage Grundberg to engage the sides to strengthen the truce and complete his multi-track framework for a political process, which the Council could then endorse.

Despite the truce’s positive impact on Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, key issues remain, such as preventing famine and protecting civilians, improving humanitarian access, supporting the economy, and raising funds for relief efforts. Even with the recent Saudi announcement, the HRP has received commitments of only $1.6 billion of a required $4.27 billion. Council members could encourage the parties to implement the truce’s humanitarian elements, including opening roads in Taiz, and urge UN member states to fulfil their pledges to the HRP.

Resolving the issue of the FSO Safer is an ongoing issue. During the first half of May, the Netherlands is expected to host a donor conference to raise funding for the oil transfer operation.

Council Dynamics

Council members welcomed the truce announcement. Despite some concerns about Saudi Arabia’s reportedly pressuring Hadi to transfer power, members appeared to view the political reconfiguration favourably as Hadi had been an unpopular leader and the new PLC encompasses members of key groups crucial to the negotiation of a political settlement with the Houthis. Members have also been supportive of the new UN plan to resolve the threat posed by the FSO Safer.

The UAE is a key member of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition. It pushed for the Council to take stronger positions against the Houthis after the group’s seizure of an Emirati flag vessel and missile and drone attacks targeting Abu Dhabi earlier this year. The US announced in April that it would lead a new maritime operation to prevent arms and other illicit trafficking in the Red Sea and off Yemen’s southern coast, which prompted Houthi criticism. Russia has often opposed singling out the Houthis in Council products. This made its vote in favour of resolution 2624, which called the Houthis a “terrorist group”, an unusual move, but it occurred against the backdrop of UAE abstentions on two Council resolutions addressing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, and Norway abstained on resolution 2624, which renewed the Yemen sanctions regime, because of their concerns about labelling the Houthis as a terrorist group. The ambassadors to Yemen of the Council’s five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US) continue to work closely to support the Special Envoy’s efforts.

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 and added the Houthis as an entity to the Yemen sanctions list, subject to the measures of the targeted arms embargo in resolution 2216.
Security Council Meeting Record
14 April 2022S/PV.9017 This was a briefing on Yemen.
Security Council Press Statements
13 April 2022SC/14861 This press statement welcomed the creation of and the assumption of responsibilities by the Presidential Leadership Council of the Yemeni Government .
4 April 2022SC/14853 This press statement welcomed the 1 April call by UN Special Envoy [Hans] Grundberg for a two-month truce announcement on Yemen and the positive response from the parties.
4 April 2022SC/14852 This press statement strongly condemned the cross-border terrorist attacks by the Houthis against Saudi Arabia on 20 March and 25 March, which struck critical civilian infrastructure.