What's In Blue

Posted Fri 24 Apr 2015

Briefing by Former Special Adviser on Yemen

On Monday morning (27 April), Council members are scheduled to be briefed by Jamal Benomar, the Secretary-General’s former Special Adviser on Yemen. (Benomar’s resignation was announced by the UN on 15 April, and the Secretary-General’s proposal to appoint Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed [Mauritania], current head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, as Benomar’s successor is under silence procedure until tomorrow morning.) This briefing is in line with the request in resolution 2216, adopted on 14 April, for a report on the resolution’s implementation within 10 days. Benomar is expected to report that the Houthis have not complied with the Council’s demands. As this is likely to be his last briefing to Council members, Benomar is also expected to reflect on his experiences as the UN’s chief mediator for Yemen since May 2011.

This will be Benomar’s first briefing to the Council since the Saudi Arabia-led coalition started military operations against the Houthis and military forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh on 26 March. He will likely provide an update on the impact of the fighting in Yemen, including the humanitarian situation and response as well as casualty numbers. The UN resident coordinator in Yemen, Paolo Lembo, said yesterday that nearly 1,100 people had been killed since the start of the Saudi Arabia-led intervention. And today, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights announced that an estimated 551 civilians had been killed over the same period of time. More than 150,000 people have been displaced over the last month. OCHA issued an appeal for $273.7 million on 17 April which Saudi Arabia has offered to fund.

Members will be interested in discussing the significance of Saudi Arabia’s 21 April announcement that it was ending Operation Decisive Storm and that it would now focus on resuming a political process while scaling back military operations. However, coalition airstrikes along with the blockade have continued, and so has fighting between the different Yemeni factions. In announcing the new operation, Saudi military spokesperson General Ahmed Asseri had been clear that the coalition will still confront any military movements and operations carried out by Houthi militias and their supporters. Members may be interested in gaining some clarity on this new phase in the operation. A Houthi statement on 23 April said they were willing to resume political dialogue under UN auspices but only after “a complete end to the aggression against Yemen and the lifting of the blockade.”

Benomar is expected to update Council members on where negotiations stood before they were suspended following the start of the Saudi Arabia-led military intervention. While Benomar has not officially briefed the Council since 22 March, he met with the P5 and E10 separately in early April. It seems that at these meetings he noted that there had been agreement on a majority of issues and that the main sticking points had been over the presidency and agreeing on a power-sharing arrangement. Council members may want Benomar’s assessment of how developments in the last few weeks have affected earlier agreement on issues and whether there are now new concerns.

There is likely to be discussion on how to move from the current fighting to the resumption of a political process. It seems that a number of members may strongly suggest that the UN should lead this process. The Secretary-General called for an immediate cease-fire by all parties on 16 April and Benomar may echo this view as a first step in encouraging the parties to return to negotiations in a neutral location. During the negotiations on resolution 2216 there had been objections, from the P3 and Jordan, to the inclusion of calls for a ceasefire. These members argued that it would undermine President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s request for the intervention. Since then, P3 members have clearly had concerns over the efficacy of the military campaign. Some members may also be concerned about the marginalisation of the UN, especially following the start of the coalition’s intervention. These members may see the appointment of a new Special Adviser as an opportunity for the UN to once again become more active.

Additionally members are likely to comment on the deteriorating humanitarian situation, ask about access for humanitarian aid delivery and stress that military operations need to observe international humanitarian law. Some members may also want to discuss the significance of the arms embargo established by resolution 2216 against the Houthis and Saleh-loyalists, and how the expansion of the Yemen sanctions measures may impact the work of the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee. In his briefing, Benomar could touch on the unintentional consequences as a result of the embargo, as there are signs that its enforcement has hindered the flow of commercial goods such as food and fuel with reports that ships are being turned away or delayed by the coalition.

In reflecting on his experiences over the last few years, Benomar may recall that he first warned the Council about the ascendance of the Houthis in late 2013. At the time, however, Yemen was seen as one of the few success stories coming out of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, and Council members did not appear ready to consider options for curbing the Houthis. Benomar may also remind members that he had been calling for sanctions since 2012 at a time when there were signs that former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who later allied with the Houthis, was interfering in the transition process. However, there had been limited appetite from Council members to apply sanctions then. A sanctions regime was only set up in February 2014 with the first designation made in November 2014.

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