Expected Council Action
In May, 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
Last month witnessed some promising signs in efforts to resolve Yemen’s more than eight-year war. Between 8 and 13 April, a delegation from Saudi Arabia and Omani mediators held talks in Sana’a with leaders of the Houthi rebel group. The visit to the Houthi-held Yemeni capital raised expectations that the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition in support of Yemen’s internationally recognised government, could be nearing an agreement in talks that Oman has facilitated since October 2022, when Yemen’s truce agreement from April 2022 expired. A statement issued by Saudi Arabia described the recently concluded talks in Sana’a as “constructive” and said that discussions would “resume as soon as possible”.
From 14 to 16 April, the conflict parties released 869 detainees, implementing the release plan that the Yemeni government and the Houthis agreed to in Switzerland on 20 March at the conclusion of the seventh meeting of the UN- and ICRC-chaired Supervisory Committee on the Implementation of the Detainees’ Exchange Agreement. The three-day operation involved 15 ICRC flights to six cities: Abha and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and Aden, Marib, Mokha, and Sana’a in Yemen. On 17 April, the ICRC facilitated a separate unilateral release of 104 detainees from Saudi Arabia to Yemen. The releases constituted the second-largest exchange of prisoners—over 1,000 detainees had similarly been released in October 2020—since the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement, which established a prisoner exchange mechanism between the parties. According to the 20 March agreement, the government and the Houthis will meet again in May to discuss further releases.
Military hostilities escalated in the run-up to the Houthi-Saudi talks in Sana’a. The Houthis launched new attacks in Marib governorate on 21 March and in Shabwah governorate on 25 March. A Houthi drone attack on 25 March in Taiz governorate targeted a convoy transporting senior government officials, including Yemen’s defence minister and Taiz’s governor, killing at least one person. According to OCHA, escalating fighting in Marib and Shabwah displaced nearly 10,000 people. In a 4 April press statement, Council members condemned the escalation while welcoming the 20 March agreement on the release of detainees.
At the Council’s 17 April briefing on Yemen, Grundberg expressed concern about this recent military activity and called on the parties to exercise maximum restraint. But he described other developments as the most “serious opportunity for making progress towards ending the conflict in eight years”. Grundberg noted that he was working closely with regional and Yemeni stakeholders to ensure that the Omani-facilitated talks feed into UN mediation efforts for an intra-Yemeni political process on future political, economic and security governance. On 27 April, Council members issued a press statement that welcomed the visit to Sana’a by the Saudi and Omani delegations, and called for all Yemeni parties to continue dialogue, engage constructively in the peace process and negotiate in good faith.
Also in April, the UN reported progress in the operation to salvage the FSO Safer, the decrepit oil tanker moored off the Ras Isa peninsula in the Red Sea. On 6 April, the very large crude carrier, which the UN purchased last month to replace the FSO Safer, began its journey to the Red Sea from Zhoushan in China. According to a UN announcement, the ship, called the Nautica, should arrive in early May after making a stop for some technical modifications. During the Council briefing on Yemen, the UK announced that it would co-host with the Netherlands a pledging conference on 4 May to raise funds for the salvage operation. In their 4 April press statement, Council members called on donors, including the private sector, to contribute the remaining $34 million needed to undertake the operation’s emergency phase while reiterating the importance of a timely implementation of the project to prevent an economic, environmental, and humanitarian disaster. OCHA Deputy Director of Operations and Advocacy Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, who briefed at the 17 April Council meeting, said that the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund had made a $20 million loan available to the operation to avoid any delays while further contributions come in.
On 19 April, at least 78 people were killed during a stampede in Sana’a. The tragic incident occurred at a charity event for Ramadan after Houthis fired into the air in an attempt at crowd control, apparently striking an electrical wire and causing it to explode, which sparked panic among the crowd.
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. Details of a potential deal in the Houthi-Saudi talks have not been made public, but according to news reports, they may include establishing a ceasefire and the payment of public employees in Houthi territory, possibly through revenues from Yemen’s oil and gas reserves, which the Yemeni government controls. A deal may also aim to relaunch broader talks among Yemeni parties. 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 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 are the leading cause of civilian casualties in the truce and post-truce period. Support for Yemen’s economy is also critical in mitigating the humanitarian crisis.
Members may reiterate calls on all parties 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. In addition, they may urge donors to support the Yemen 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), for which a 27 February pledging conference raised $1.2 billion of the $4.3 billion that the UN has estimated is necessary for its aid operations. They are also likely to continue closely monitoring progress in the FSO Safer salvage operation.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members have expressed cautious optimism about the potential of the Houthi-Saudi talks 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. 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 posed by the FSO Safer. China helped mediate the Saudi-Iran agreement on 10 March to restore relations between those two countries, which it has highlighted could help create conditions to improve the situation in Yemen. 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, which was scheduled to meet on 28 April to discuss its work plan with the Yemen Panel of Experts. Since resolution 2675 of 15 February renewed its mandate until 15 December, the panel members have been appointed, with the exception of its regional expert.
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|
|17 April 2023S/PV.9304||This was a briefing on Yemen with UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg and OCHA Deputy Director of Operations and Advocacy Ghada Eltahir Mudawi.|
|Sanctions Committee Document|
|27 March 2023S/2023/235||This was a Secretary-General’s letter on the appointment of four of the members of the Yemen Panel of Experts.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|27 April 2023SC/15272||This press statement welcomed the visit to Sana’a by the Saudi and Omani delegations and their support to UN mediation efforts.|
|4 April 2023SC/15251||This press statement welcomed the recent agreement between the Yemeni government and Houthis to release prisoners, condemned recent military escalations and called on donors to contribute the outstanding funding required for the emergency phase of the salvage operation of the Safer oil tanker.|