What's In Blue

Posted Mon 13 Apr 2015

Council to Vote on Yemen Resolution

Tuesday morning (14 April) the Council is expected to hold a vote to adopt a resolution on Yemen. While the situation in the country has changed dramatically over the last two-and-a-half weeks, reaching a Council decision on the conflict has been difficult and divisive. Council members have been considering two draft resolutions—one initiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and circulated to Council members by Jordan, and the other by Russia—with little agreement. The Jordanian draft was first put in blue on Thursday (9 April). Nonetheless, further negotiations were held on Friday (10 April) between Russia, Jordan and GCC members and then on Saturday (11 April) between the P5, Jordan and GCC members to try to bridge their differences. Following these further negotiations, an amended version of the Jordanian text was put into blue this evening. It seems that some members anticipate that Russia could abstain at Tuesday’s adoption.

The draft resolution establishes an arms embargo that targets the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abudullah Saleh. It does so by prohibiting the transfer of arms to or for the benefit of those individuals currently subject to financial and travel ban sanctions (former president Saleh and Houthi military commanders Abdullah Yahya Al Hakim and Abd Al-Khaliq Al-Huthi), as well as Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi and Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, the son of the former president and former commander of the republican guard, who are named in an annex. The language in the draft resolution further extends the application of the arms embargo measures against those acting on these five individuals’ “behalf or at their direction.” Al-Houthi and Ahmed Ali Saleh are also made subject to an assets freeze and travel ban.

The draft resolution condemns Houthi unilateral actions and demands that all parties, in particular the Houthis, fully implement resolution 2201, which the Council adopted on 15 February. A series of new demands directed at the Houthis, include ending the use of violence, withdrawing their forces from all areas that they have seized, and refraining from any provocation or threats to neighbouring states.

On the mediation front, the draft resolution welcomes the GCC’s intention to convene a conference in Riyadh, and urges all parties to attend. It also calls for the resumption and acceleration of UN-brokered negotiations and demands that all parties in Yemen adhere to resolving their differences through dialogue. The draft also expresses full support for the efforts of the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Yemen Jamal Benomar and calls for the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of the resolution within ten days of its adoption.

The draft also includes a number of paragraphs on facilitation of humanitarian assistance and the evacuation of foreign nationals, incorporated following Russia’s introduction of its draft resolution on humanitarian pauses. Following this past weekend’s negotiations, it also includes a call for humanitarian pauses, with a request that these be facilitated as appropriate by the Secretary-General.

The process leading up to the elaboration of the current text was complex and lengthy. GCC members first shared elements for a resolution with Council members on 25 March—one day prior to the start of the Saudi-led military campaign against the Houthis. Over the next week, GCC members and Jordan produced a draft and discussed it with the P5, without other elected members’ involvement or access to the text. On Saturday, 4 April, Russia, having called for a meeting on Yemen the day before, circulated a separate draft resolution on “humanitarian pauses” in the conflict. Two days later (6 April), Jordan distributed a revised version of the GCC-prepared draft—in which it also attempted to address some of the issues raised in the Russian draft—to the full Council. The first expert-level meeting of the full Council on the Jordanian draft was held on 7 April and since then discussions have focused on this text.

It appears that Russia voiced objections on the grounds that the text was biased against the Houthis, believing that it would isolate the group and undermine the prospects of encouraging them to return to negotiations. As a result, Russia proposed during the 7 April expert-level negotiations that the Council call for all parties to cease violence (instead of demanding that just the Houthis do so), reiterated its proposal for humanitarian pauses and argued for a general arms embargo, rather than just targeting the Houthis and their allies. Russia also argued that designations for targeted sanctions should be made in the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee and not through the resolution. (In addition to Russia, it seems that Venezuela also later proposed a ceasefire, and several other members have expressed support for the idea. GCC members, Jordan and the P3, however, opposed this, contending that such a call from the Council and a general arms embargo would undermine Yemen President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s request to GCC and Arab League members for military intervention.)

After an initial silence procedure on the text was broken by Russia on 8 April, Russia and Saudi Arabia discussed the draft. It seems that Russia repeated its preferences for a ceasefire and humanitarian pauses, while also expressing its strong opposition to designating al-Houthi. Russia also seemed to modify its position slightly on the embargo, proposing an arms embargo that would apply to all Yemeni non-state actors. (An embargo against non-state actors, however, would still cover the “popular committees”, which are militias allied to Hadi.) However, only minor revisions to the draft were made, and none of Russia’s proposals from its meeting with Saudi Arabia were accommodated when the draft was put in blue the first time.

During this past weekend’s negotiations with Russia, GCC members and Jordan agreed to include a call requesting the Secretary-General to facilitate the establishment of humanitarian pauses, as appropriate, in conjunction with his efforts to enable deliveries of humanitarian assistance and evacuations. They also proposed new language seeking to accommodate Russia’s position on a ceasefire in the text to be voted on tomorrow. However, it seems that the new language—which calls on the parties to expeditiously agree on the conditions for a cessation of hostilities—may still fall short of Russia’s preference that the Council demand all parties to agree to cease hostilities without delay. In addition, talks this past weekend on the arms embargo and designations resulted in no progress.

The issue of “humanitarian pauses” was a challenging aspect of the negotiations. Humanitarian pauses were originally proposed in the Russian draft resolution, and received the support of several Council members—including Angola, Chile, China and Venezuela—and some humanitarian organisations. It seems that GCC members’ initial objections included concerns that “humanitarian pauses” could provide opportunities for the Houthis to regroup.

The draft makes one reference to the current Saudi-led military intervention, noting in the second paragraph Hadi’s 24 March letter informing the Council that he had requested GCC and Arab League members to “immediately provide support, by all necessary means and measures, including military intervention, to protect Yemen and its people from the continuing aggression by the Houthis”. It seems that GCC members and Jordan were of the view that it was unnecessary to obtain Council authorisation for their military action as they interpreted Hadi’s request as Yemen’s legitimate head of state to have given sufficient legal basis for their action.

A suggestion by Malaysia to demand that the Houthis end recruitment and use of child soldiers was incorporated. However, proposals to also include language on the killing and maiming of children and attacks against schools and hospitals were not. It seems this could have been due to sensitivity over such references pointing to civilian casualties caused by the Saudi-led coalition.

For some members, the measures imposed by the draft resolution–targeted arms embargo and new designations–are an important signal of the Council’s concern and of its disapproval of the Houthis’ continued failure to abide by agreements and Council decisions. The practical impact of these measures, however, would likely be limited. This is because Yemen is awash in arms, with an estimated 40 to 60 million serviceable weapons according to the latest Panel of Experts (PoE) final report (S/2015/125). Council members have also noted that if the Houthis are receiving arms externally from Iran, as GCC members allege, there already exists an embargo against Iranian arms exports that is therefore being circumvented. Moreover, Houthi leaders are not believed to have significant financial assets and do not travel frequently abroad. While the assets of Saleh and his son are extensive, the PoE final report indicated that the former president, facing sanctions since November 2014, seems to have so far evaded their impact.

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