Briefing on Deteriorating Situation in Yemen
Tomorrow morning (20 January), the Council is expected to hold consultations on Yemen with Special Adviser of the Secretary-General Jamal Benomar briefing via video tele-conference. The UK, the penholder on Yemen, requested the meeting this morning following the reports that fighting had erupted earlier today in Yemen’s capital Sana’a between Houthi forces and members of Yemen’s presidential guard. It is possible that the UK will circulate a draft press statement that could be discussed during the meeting.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members will be keen to hear Benomar’s assessment of the situation and learn more details on the recent fighting and the negotiations that took place between the government and Houthi representatives today (19 January), as well as what is needed for an enduring ceasefire. There is also likely to be interest in Benomar’s views on what the Council may be able to do to help bring the situation under control and further measures that members could consider taking. The Council’s leverage to deal with the deterioration in Yemen over recent months has appeared limited, with sanctions being its primary tool along with supporting the efforts of Benomar. Some members may raise the possibility of designating additional individuals for sanctions.
The fighting comes two days after Houthi forces abducted Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, chief of staff of Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi on 17 January. Bin Mubarak had been nominated by Hadi last October as Yemen’s prime minister, but his name was withdrawn as his appointment was rejected by the Houthis. According to media reports, bin Mubarak’s kidnapping by the Houthis may have been an attempt to gain leverage in talks on the recently completed draft for a new Yemeni constitution. Bin Mubarak was abducted before a meeting scheduled that same day in Sana’a on the draft constitution.
The Constitution Drafting Committee, which has been working since October 2014 from the United Arab Emirates, delivered an initial draft of the new constitution to Hadi on 7 January. The Houthis have rejected it, opposing, in particular, the division of the country into six regions.
The Houthis have been in de facto control of the capital since late September when their forces seized a number of government ministry buildings after facing limited resistance from government forces. The signing of the Peace and National Partnership Agreement (PNPA) between the Houthis, the government and Yemen’s other major parties on 21 September set out a roadmap for addressing the Houthis’ grievances against the government. But despite the achievement of several key benchmarks – the appointment of a new prime minister on 10 October 2014 and subsequently the formation of a new government on 7 November -which should have triggered the withdrawal of Houthi forces from the capital, the group has consolidated its hold over the city.
Since October, the Houthis have also advanced into central and western Yemen. This has led to heavy fighting between the Houthis and Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Sunni tribes that have allied with AQAP. AQAP has additionally claimed responsibility for a number of deadly terrorist bombings in Sana’a and other parts of the country in recent months. Renewed international attention on the Al-Qaida- Yemen connection has been triggered by reports that one of the gunmen involved in the attack on the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in Paris on 7 January 2015 had trained in Yemen, as well as the release of an AQAP video claiming responsibility for the attack on the newspaper, The turbulence in the north has also lead to renewed calls for independence in southern Yemen.
Some Council members may be interested in discussing ways in which the Council can make a stronger impact on the situation in Yemen. Since the Houthis first entered Sana’a in August, initially staging mass demonstrations against the government, the Council has adopted a presidential statement calling on the group to dismantle their protest camps and recalling the threat of sanctions (S/PRST/2014/18). It has also called for the full implementation of the PNPA and related-National Dialogue Conference Outcomes and the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative and Implementation Mechanism in several press statements (SC/11578; SC/11595; SC/11638). Additionally on 7 November, the Council’s 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee imposed targeted sanctions against two Houthi military commanders and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, for his continued interference in Yemen’s transition process, including in facilitating the Houthis take-over of Sana’a. The continued deterioration may lead some members to suggest further measures, including the restriction of arms into Yemen.
Benomar last briefed the Council in 11 December consultations, held following a briefing by the chair of the Yemen Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaité (Lithuania) (S/PV.7336). In February the Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing the Yemen sanctions regime and the mandate of its panel of experts.