February 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2023
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Expected Council Action

During 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 on the Houthi rebel group is open-ended.)

The Council will also hold its monthly meeting on Yemen in closed consultations, with UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg and a representative of OCHA. The chair of the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Ferit Hoxha (Albania), may also brief. The head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), Major General Michael Beary, is also expected to brief during consultations.

Key Recent Developments

Grundberg has continued his mediation efforts to restore the truce agreement between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebel group, while Omani-facilitated talks since October 2022 between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia on a comprehensive plan to end the war have also reportedly continued. Despite the truce agreement’s expiration on 2 October 2022, major fighting has not resumed, and elements of the agreement—the re-opening of the Sana’a airport to civilian flights, and fuel imports through Hodeidah port—have continued. Houthi drone attacks in October and November 2022 targeting Yemeni government oil terminals, however, have halted oil and gas exports, depriving the government of key revenue sources.

From 16 to 17 January, Grundberg visited Sana’a, where he met with Houthi officials, including the President of the Supreme Political Council, Mahdi al-Mashat. This was Grundberg’s first trip to the city since late September 2022 during the unsuccessful negotiations to renew the truce. It also followed visits by Omani delegations to Sana’a in December 2022 and in January, and Grundberg’s talks with Yemeni government officials in Riyadh from 4 to 5 January and Omani officials in Muscat from 10 to 11 January.

Grundberg briefed the Council from Sana’a on 16 January. “We are currently seeing an intensification of regional and international diplomatic activity to resolve the conflict in Yemen”, he said. He thanked Saudi Arabia and Oman for their efforts, alluding to the parallel Houthi-Saudi talks. Grundberg called this recent diplomatic activity “a potential step change in the trajectory of this eight-year conflict”. He emphasised, however, that a sustainable solution to the war would require an inclusive intra-Yemeni dialogue.

Despite the nine-month lull in fighting since the truce agreement in April 2022—the longest sustained decrease in hostilities since the conflict escalated in March 2015—Yemen still faces immense humanitarian needs. The 2023 Yemen Humanitarian Needs Overview, released by OCHA on 20 December 2022, estimates that 21.6 million people will require humanitarian assistance and protection services in 2023, a slight decrease from the 23.4 million people in need in 2022. Of these 21.6 million individuals, 17.3 million are estimated to need food and agricultural assistance (a decrease from 19 million in August 2022), 20.3 million will need access to critical health services, and 15.3 million will require support to access clean water and basic sanitation. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, briefing at the 16 January Council meeting, reiterated the scale of these projected needs during his statement.

There are concerns that the Houthis and the Yemeni government are preparing for a return to major hostilities. The US announced that it had intercepted a fishing vessel in the Gulf of Oman on 6 January that was smuggling more than 2,100 assault rifles on a maritime route historically used to traffic illicit cargo from Iran to the Houthis. This was the third interdiction of weapons since November 2022 by the US Navy that it said were destined for the Houthis from Iran.

Sanctions-Related Developments

The 2140 Committee had been scheduled to discuss the Yemen Panel of Experts’ final report on 27 January. The meeting was cancelled because the Council had yet to agree on its annual letter naming the chairs of its subsidiary bodies. (Ambassador Hoxha, who chaired the 2140 Committee in 2022, is expected to remain as the chair when the Council agrees on the annual letter.)

Last year’s resolution 2624, which renewed the Yemen sanctions regime on 28 February 2022, was noteworthy for its reference to the Houthis as a terrorist group and for adding the Houthis as an entity to the Yemen sanctions list, subject to the measures of the targeted arms embargo. (Resolution 2216 already subjected the Houthis to the arms embargo by prohibiting the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of arms to, or for the benefit of, Houthi officials under Council sanctions, which includes Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi.) The sanctions regime’s renewal followed intensive Council negotiations. Several Council members were concerned that designating the Houthis as an entity subject to the asset freeze measures could cause private sector actors, such as banks and food importers, to cease operations in Yemen to avoid violating the sanctions. This resulted in the Council limiting the scope of the designation to the arms embargo. Another controversial issue was over strengthening the resolution’s language on maritime interdictions to enforce the arms embargo. This proposal, made by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), was not included in the final text (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 28 February 2022.)

In 2022, the 2140 Committee added three more Houthi officials to the Yemen sanctions list, bringing the number of individuals and entities sanctioned under the regime to 13. Meanwhile, the current Panel of Experts operated with only four of its five members as Council members failed to approve candidates, proposed by the Secretariat, to serve as the regional expert.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for the Council is how to support efforts to restore the truce and establish a formal ceasefire and political process. During last year’s failed negotiations to renew the truce, the Houthis demanded that their military and security forces be included in Grundberg’s proposal to resume state employee salary payments, which prevented an agreement. Omani-facilitated talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia is a related initiative parallel to Grundberg’s efforts. Council members could stress the importance of coordinating these diplomatic activities with the Special Envoy and recall the importance of an inclusive political process under UN mediation for a sustainable resolution to the conflict.

The humanitarian situation continues to be a key issue. In addition to enormous humanitarian needs, relief efforts face significant challenges from increasing interference and access constraints and a dangerous security environment. The Houthis’ enforcement of mahram over the past year, requiring women to be accompanied by male guardians, is also negatively affecting aid operations. Land mines and explosive remnants of war have become an increasing issue of concern, emerging as the leading cause of civilian casualties in the truce and post-truce period. Members may call on all parties to the conflict to facilitate the safe, rapid, and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief to all civilians in need, and to protect humanitarian personnel and assets in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law. They could also recall that obstructing the delivery of humanitarian aid constitutes a violation of the Yemen sanctions regime.

Key issues regarding the renewal of the Yemen sanctions regime include how to stem the flow of arms to the Houthis and hamper the group’s ability to finance its military activities; protect humanitarian space; and make sure the sanctions support the UN-led mediation.

Members are also likely to continue monitoring progress towards starting the salvage operation for the FSO Safer oil tanker, which is moored off Hodeidah port. In September 2022, the UN-facilitated plan to transfer the oil from the decrepit ship to a temporary vessel received the donor commitments required to conduct this phase of the operation. The operation has not started, however, as the UN says that it must now first secure the crude carrier that will permanently replace the FSO Safer.

Council Dynamics

Council members remain supportive of UN-led mediation efforts and want the parties to restore the truce. In their 5 October 2022 press statement, they criticised the Houthis’ “maximalist demands”, which had prevented the extension and expansion of the truce agreement in October 2022.

Despite the Council’s general unity on Yemen, the sanctions renewal has the potential to be complicated. The UAE—an elected Council member that is a member of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition battling the Houthis—may, as during the negotiations on resolution 2624, seek a number of changes that it believes could strengthen the sanctions regime. Last year, China opposed the new maritime interdiction language, while France, the UK, and the US were among those countries worried about the potential effects on the humanitarian situation if the designation of the Houthis included the asset freeze measures. For Russia, a long-standing red line has been identifying Iran as supplying the Houthis with arms in the Council’s Yemen products. Brazil is the lone remaining country in the Council among the four members that abstained during the vote on resolution 2624. It did so largely over concerns about the resolution’s calling the Houthis a terrorist group in the absence of an agreed legal definition of terrorism.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen.

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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
16 January 2023S/PV.9244 This was a briefing on Yemen by Special Envoy Hans Grundberg and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths.