Expected Council Action
In April, the Security Council will hold its monthly briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Yemen with UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg and a representative of OCHA. 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 April 2022 truce agreement between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebel group, despite sporadic clashes and the agreement’s expiration in early October 2022. Since October 2022, Oman has been facilitating talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition in support of the Yemeni government. These talks are reportedly focused on a potential comprehensive agreement to end the war. Grundberg has described them as representing “a potential step change” in the eight-year conflict.
In a significant new regional development, Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is allied with the Houthis, agreed on 10 March in Beijing to restore diplomatic relations, which had been suspended since 2016. Briefing the Council on 15 March via videoconference from Riyadh, Grundberg welcomed this agreement, saying that good relations between the two countries are “important for the region and for Yemen”. He added, “The parties must seize the opportunity presented by that regional and international momentum to take decisive steps towards a more peaceful future”. At the meeting, the Council also heard briefings by Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya and Deputy Ambassador Albana Dautllari (Albania) on behalf of the chair of the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee. Beary briefed in closed consultations.
There was progress in March towards beginning the salvage operation on the FSO Safer, the decrepit oil tanker moored off the Ras Isa peninsula in the Red Sea. On 9 March, the UN announced that it had signed an agreement earlier that day to purchase a “Very Large Crude Carrier” (VLCC) to replace the FSO Safer. The UN-coordinated plan to remove the oil from the FSO Safer and replace the decaying ship had been delayed in recent months, as the UN said that it could not begin the salvage operation until it had secured the replacement vessel.
Achim Steiner, the administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which is leading the plan’s implementation, said at a press conference about the purchase of the VLCC that the ship is being modified in China to serve as a floating storage and offloading vessel. It is expected to reach the Red Sea by early May, after which the operation can start. Steiner stressed, however, that there is a risk of a further delay if the UN does not obtain the additional $34 million required for the operation. According to a 9 March UN statement, pledged funds total $95 million, of which $75 million have been received, out of the $129 million required for the operation’s “emergency phase”.
On 20 March, the Yemeni government and the Houthis agreed on an implementation plan for the release of 887 conflict-related detainees from all sides. The agreement came at the end of ten days of talks in Switzerland during the seventh meeting of the Supervisory Committee on the Implementation of the Detainees’ Exchange Agreement, which is chaired by the Office of the Special Envoy and the ICRC. The parties also agreed to reconvene in May to discuss more releases and committed to undertake joint visits to each other’s detention facilities and to enable access to all detainees during these visits, according to a joint statement by the Special Envoy’s Office and the ICRC. At a press conference in Geneva about the deal, Grundberg urged the parties “to facilitate the speedy implementation of the releases, and to build further on today’s outcome and agree on more releases”.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC), which began on 27 February, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, delivered an oral update on the activities of his office as well as recent human rights developments. Volker noted that all parties need to listen to the population “exhausted by eight years of brutal warfare” and take decisive steps towards a UN-led peace process. He noted that for any peace agreement to hold, transitional justice and accountability must be at the forefront, and women must be full participants in any negotiations. He also emphasised that two UN staff members, one from UNESCO and another from OHCHR, have been detained for 16 months and must be immediately released.
Women, Peace and Security
At the 15 March open briefing on the situation in Yemen, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Joyce Msuya said that Yemeni women aid workers are still not allowed to travel without male guardians, both within and outside the country, and that this situation “has caused serious disruptions to the ability of agencies to assist women and girls safely and reliably”. During the meeting, members, including France, Malta and Switzerland, stressed the need to lift restrictions on women humanitarian workers in Yemen. Ghana expressed concern at women’s rights violations “particularly their fundamental rights to movement, expression, work and access to health care, as well as protection from gender-based violence”. Members, including Ecuador and Malta, called for the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in peace negotiations.
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 face significant challenges from interference, 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, which is negatively affecting aid operations. Land mines and explosive remnants of war have become an issue of greater concern, as they have been the leading cause of civilian casualties in the truce and post-truce period.
Support for Yemen’s economy is also critical to mitigating the humanitarian crisis. While Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in recent months have made new deposits into Yemen’s Central Bank Aden headquarters to help stabilise the Yemeni rial, Houthi drone attacks that targeted oil export infrastructure last October have led to a loss of the government’s most significant revenue source, undermining its ability to pay civil servants and provide basic services.
Members may continue to urge donors to support the Yemen 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), which raised $1.2 billion of the $4.3 billion that the UN has estimated is necessary for its aid operations at a 27 February pledging conference. In addition, 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 are also likely to continue closely monitoring progress towards starting the salvage operation on the FSO Safer oil tanker.
Council and Wider 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 stress the ultimate importance of an inclusive Yemeni political process facilitated by UN mediation to achieve a sustainable resolution to the conflict. 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) are evidence of the Council’s general unity of approach towards Yemen.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been a leading member in the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and often pushes for its views to be reflected in Council products. 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 threat of the FSO Safer. China helped mediate the Saudi-Iran agreement to restore relations, which it highlighted at the Council’s 15 March briefing, observing that it could help create conditions for resolving Yemen’s conflict. Arms from Iran appear to be the main source of external weapons for the Houthis, as indicated in the reports of the Yemen Panel of Experts. 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 Ferit Hoxha (Albania) chairs the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN
|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|
|15 March 2023S/PV.9282||This was a briefing on Yemen by Special Envoy Hans Grundberg, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya and Deputy Ambassador Albana Dautllari (Albania) on behalf of the chair of the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee.|