March 2024 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 February 2024
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Expected Council Action

In March, the Security Council is expected to hold a briefing, followed by closed consultations on Yemen. UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg and a representative of OCHA are expected to 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

Attacks by the Houthi rebel group on commercial shipping following the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas last October, and US and UK military strikes against the Houthis in response, have stalled–and risk upending–Yemen’s peace talks. Speaking at the Council’s 14 February briefing on Yemen, Grundberg said, “Until recently, we were making steady progress in our mediation.” However, he continued, “The mediation landscape is now undeniably much more complex, and efforts to reach an agreement are being buffeted by different priorities and interests.” Grundberg added that as much as he has tried to insulate the peace process from wider regional dynamics, “the reality is that mediation efforts in Yemen cannot be neatly cordoned off”. He also raised concerns about “worrying developments” inside Yemen, flagging clashes and mobilisations along Yemen’s front lines and growing threats by the parties to return to fighting.

Grundberg called for a regional de-escalation, reiterating UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ call for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and saying that he was engaging the Yemeni parties and relevant regional actors to support de-escalation in the Red Sea to protect the mediation space in Yemen. He underscored the need for the Yemeni parties to stop public provocations, refrain from military opportunism inside Yemen, and refocus on safeguarding the progress made to date in the peace talks.

The crisis in the Red Sea and the nearby Gulf of Aden continued, however, as the Houthis and the US and its allies exchanged attacks. On 18 February, at least one Houthi anti-ship missile struck a Belize-flagged, British-registered cargo vessel, called the Rubymar, near the Bab al-Mandab Strait. The US military said in a 23 February statement that the vessel was taking on water and that damage to the ship had created an 18-mile oil slick. On 19 February, the EU launched a naval mission called EUNAVFOR ASPIDES—“aspides” is Greek for shield—“to restore and safeguard freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and the Gulf”. The operation’s headquarters will be in Larissa, Greece, under the command of Greek Commodore Vasileios Gryparis. Operation ASPIDES joins Operation Prosperity Guardian, a naval coalition formed in December 2023 of over 20 countries, according to the US, to deter and counter Houthi attacks. (The Prosperity Guardian military operation is separate, according to the US, from the strikes that it and the UK have conducted on Houthi targets in Yemen. These strikes have been supported by Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand.)

On 16 February, the US designation of the Houthis as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) group became effective. The US had announced the designation on 17 January but delayed its entry into force by 30 days to engage stakeholders, crucial to facilitating humanitarian assistance and the commercial import of critical commodities in Yemen, to mitigate the potential adverse impacts of the designation. In guidance on 16 February, the US set out exemptions to sanctions associated with the SDGT for non-governmental organisations, international organisations and businesses to continue to operate in Houthi-held areas. During the 14 February Council briefing, OCHA Director of Operations and Advocacy Edem Wosornu took note of US plans to issue general licenses to maintain humanitarian activities and essential commercial imports. But she added that the UN still “fear[s] there may be an effect on the economy, including commercial imports of essential items”, stressing that aid cannot make up for gaps in supplies of commercial goods.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 23 February, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee held informal consultations to discuss with the Yemen Panel of Experts its programme of work following the renewal of its mandate on 15 November 2023. The Secretary-General appointed three of the panel’s experts (on armed groups, regional affairs and finance) by letter dated 9 January 2024. The appointment of the panel’s arms and international humanitarian law experts remains pending.

Key Issues and Options

The Red Sea crisis has complicated Omani-mediated talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia to reach a peace agreement and the UN Envoy’s efforts to develop a road map for an inter-Yemeni political process. The roadmap apparently would set out a strategy for addressing security, political and economic priorities as part of this process. Since the crisis, there have been new concerns that the Houthis could make a fresh bid to seize oil and gas fields in Marib and Shabwah governorates, while Yemeni government officials have urged the international community to support it in taking back territory under Houthi control. Fragile relations among the factions that form the Yemeni government’s Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) and how a political process should address some PLC members’ calls for a separate southern Yemeni state remain additional concerns related to political efforts.

The Houthi threat to commercial shipping and the continued exchange of attacks by the Houthis on vessels and by US-led forces on Houthi targets is a new key issue for the Council. Resolution 2722 of 10 January on the Red Sea crisis included a request that the Secretary-General provide monthly written reports through 1 July on Houthi attacks on merchant and commercial vessels to inform the Council’s consultations. The first such report was issued on 8 February.

If peace talks remain stalled, one option for Council members is to issue a press statement to encourage the parties to protect the progress that has been made and continue engaging with the Special Envoy to develop his roadmap. Such a statement could call for parties to de-escalate the current Red Sea crisis and to refrain from provocative actions or rhetoric. In the event of a deal between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, Council members could issue a press statement to welcome or endorse any agreement and reiterate members’ support for Grundberg to lead an inter-Yemeni political process for a comprehensive peace agreement.

The humanitarian situation in Yemen remains a key issue. OCHA’s 2024 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) projects that 18.2 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection services in 2024, compared to 21.6 million in 2023. In addition to last year’s small improvements in the humanitarian situation, the response plan’s budget of $2.7 billion compared to $4.3 billion in 2023 reflects this year’s HRP’s more targeted, prioritised, and risk-informed programming after donors funded less than 40 percent of last year’s plan. The risk that regional conflict dynamics could reverse humanitarian gains and exacerbate needs is a key issue.

Council Dynamics

Council members are united in their support for the various mediation efforts. They have welcomed the Houthi-Saudi talks and stress the ultimate need for an inclusive Yemeni political process under UN auspices to achieve a sustainable resolution of the conflict. Members have also condemned the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and are concerned about the consequences for maritime security, freedom of navigation, and Yemen’s peace process.

The Red Sea crisis, though, has created some Council divisions during its Yemen discussions. Russia and China, which abstained along with Algeria and Mozambique on the adoption of resolution 2722, have indicated that US and UK strikes in Yemen violate international law because they did not receive Council authorisation. The US and UK stress that their strikes are undertaken in self-defence under article 51 of the UN Charter. In the Council, the US and Japan co-authored resolution 2722, which took note of the right of member states, in accordance with international law, to defend their vessels from attacks. The Houthis continue to hold the Japanese-operated cargo ship Galaxy Leader and its crew since capturing the vessel, linked to an Israeli businessman, last November. France has indicated that it will participate in operation ASPIDES.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Ambassador Joonkook Hwang (Republic of Korea) chairs the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee.

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Security Council Resolution
10 January 2024S/RES/2722 This resolution demanded that the Houthis immediately cease all attacks on merchant and commercial vessels and took note of the right of member states, in accordance with international law, to
defend their vessels from attacks, including those that undermine navigational rights and freedoms.
Security Council Letters
8 February 2024S/2024/155 This was a Secretary-General’s letter containing his report, in accordance with resolution 2722, on Houthi attacks on merchant and commercial vessels in the Red Sea covering the period 10 January to 6 February 2024.
22 January 2024S/2024/90 This was a letter from Russia contending that recent UK and US strikes in Yemen qualified as an unlawful use of force.
12 January 2024S/2024/56 This letter from the US to the Council said that strikes on Houthi military targets in Yemen were conducted in the exercise of its inherent right of self-defence, as reflected in Article 51 of the UN Charter.
12 January 2024S/2024/55 This was a letter from the UK informing the Security Council that it had conducted strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter and the inherent right of self-defence.

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