March 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2023
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Expected Council Action

In March, the Council will hold its monthly briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Yemen 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 expected to brief during consultations.

Key Recent Developments

Yemen continues to experience its longest lull in fighting since the truce agreement between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebel group started on 2 April 2022, despite sporadic clashes and the parties’ failure to renew the agreement in early October 2022. Since October, the Houthis and Saudi Arabia—which leads a military coalition in support of the Yemeni government—have been holding talks, facilitated by Oman, that are reportedly focused on a potential comprehensive agreement to end the war.

On 15 February, the Council adopted resolution 2675, extending the Yemen asset freeze and travel ban sanctions measures until 15 November 2023 and the mandate of the Yemen Panel of Experts until 15 December 2023. The resolution requests that the Panel of Experts provide a midterm update to the 2140 Committee no later than 15 June and a final report no later than 15 October.

Deviating from past years, resolution 2675 was a short one-page text, or a “technical rollover”, of the Yemen sanctions regime. The UK, as penholder, proposed the technical rollover to give space to peace talks and avoid potential changes that could expand the sanctions and negatively impact the talks. The nine-month extension, instead of the customary one-year renewal, appears intended to allow Council members still to consider amendments to the sanctions regime later this year, especially if the Houthi-Saudi talks prove unsuccessful. Following the adoption, Council members held their monthly meeting on Yemen in closed consultations, receiving briefings from Grundberg, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya, and Beary.

On 13 February, several donor states, including Council members, met in New York with Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Achim Steiner and UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen David Gressly. The meeting was organised amid donors’ frustrations over the delay in starting the salvage operation on the FSO Safer, the floating oil and offloading vessel that is moored off Hodeidah city. At the meeting, donors expressed “steadfast support for urgent action to prevent a disastrous oil spill from the [FSO Safer] tanker in the Red Sea”, according to the US Department of State.

The UN announced the planned operation in May 2022, saying at the time that the operation could begin once donors committed the required funds to conduct the operation’s first phase, which entails transferring the oil stored on the decrepit ship to a temporary vessel. While this funding has been raised, the UN said in January that it cannot begin the operation until it secures the crude carrier that will permanently replace the FSO Safer. On 27 January, the UN issued an appeal through Lloyd’s List—a publication about global shipping markets—for help in finding a shipowner or group of industry philanthropists that may put up a direct financial subvention or enter a charter arrangement for a vessel.

On 27 February, Sweden and Switzerland co-hosted a pledging event in Geneva for the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen (HRP). Attended by Secretary-General António Guterres, the conference raised $1.2 billion of the $4.3 billion that the UN says is required in 2023 to assist 17.3 million people considered particularly vulnerable.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for the Council is how to support ongoing peace talks and efforts to establish a formal ceasefire and political process. Grundberg’s mediation efforts appear very much contingent on progress in the Houthi-Saudi talks. Council members could reiterate the importance of coordination between this process and the work of the Special Envoy, as well as the importance of an inclusive Yemeni political process under UN mediation for a sustainable resolution to the conflict.

The humanitarian situation remains a key issue. An estimated 21.6 million people in Yemen require aid or protection. Relief efforts also face significant challenges from interference and access constraints and a dangerous security environment. This includes the Houthis’ enforcement of mahram over the past year, requiring women to be accompanied by male guardians, that is negatively affecting aid operations. Land mines and explosive remnants of war have become an increased issue of concern as the leading cause of civilian casualties in the truce and post-truce period. Support for Yemen’s economy is also critical to mitigate the humanitarian crisis.

Members may urge donors, especially those in the region, to provide more support to the 2023 HRP. They may further 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. Members are also likely to continue closely monitoring progress towards starting the salvage operation on the FSO Safer oil tanker.

Council Dynamics

Council members welcome the Houthi-Saudi talks and have expressed cautious optimism about their potential to yield meaningful results. At the same time, members have reiterated the importance of the UN Envoy being kept informed of these negotiations and of an inclusive Yemeni political process facilitated by UN mediation to achieve a sustainable resolution to the conflict. The Council’s general unity of approach towards Yemen is demonstrated by the continued joint meetings of the Riyadh-based ambassadors to Yemen of the Council’s permanent members (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US).

Differences can still arise among Council members. With the latest sanctions renewal, members agreed to a technical rollover of the Yemen sanctions regime to give space for current peace talks but also to avoid a potential repeat of the negotiations in February 2022 to renew the sanctions, which led to four abstentions. The United Arab Emirates (UAE)—an elected Council member that is a member of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition—actively pushes for its views to be reflected in Council products. Regarding the sanctions regime, the UAE’s objections to the UN Secretariat’s proposed candidates to serve as the Yemen Panel of Experts’ regional expert resulted in the panel operating with only four of its five members in 2022. Since 2021, the US has had a Special Envoy for Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, who has actively supported Grundberg’s efforts to establish a political process and to resolve the environmental threat of the FSO Safer. Saudi Arabia exercises leverage on the Yemeni government, and Oman plays an important role as an interlocutor with the Houthis.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Ambassador Hoxha (Albania) chairs the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee, which met on 20 February to consider the 2022 final report of the Yemen Panel of Experts.

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Security Council Resolution
15 February 2023S/RES/2675 This resolution extended the Yemen asset freeze and travel ban sanctions measures nine months until 15 November, and the mandate of the Yemen Panel of Experts until 15 December.
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.
Sanctions Committee Document
21 February 2023S/2023/130 This was the final report of the Yemen Panel of Experts.