What's In Blue

Posted Tue 19 May 2015

Consultations on Yemen

Tomorrow morning (20 May), Council members will hold consultations on Yemen. The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, will brief (via video teleconference), as will John Ging, Operations Director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). At press time, Council members were considering the possibility of issuing a press statement, with Jordan apparently having expressed interest in a statement highlighting the Riyadh Conference on Yemen, which started on 17 May and concluded earlier today (19 May).

This is Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s first briefing to the Council since being appointed Special Envoy on 25 April, replacing Jamal Benomar. Ould Cheikh Ahmed visited Yemen from 12 to 14 May. He met with the Houthis and members of the General People’s Congress, the party of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh (whose loyalists are allied with the Houthis), along with a range of other political actors. In addition, he travelled to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, holding meetings with representatives of relevant states and the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). This past weekend, Ould Cheikh Ahmed returned to Riyadh to participate in the opening session of the Riyadh Conference, organised by the GCC. In announcing the conference, President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi said that the conference would be an opportunity for all Yemeni political parties to discuss a roadmap for completion of the implementation of the GCC initiative and outcomes of the National Dialogue. However, the Houthis, who had made it clear they would only participate in negotiations at a neutral location, were apparently not invited. A communiqué issued today called for the UN, Arab League and GCC to create a joint Arab force to secure main cities and oversee the withdrawal of militias, while recommending that the Yemen government take the necessary steps to move back to Yemen as soon as possible.

Members are likely to want to hear more about the Riyadh Conference, as well as to receive an update from Ould Cheik Ahmed on progress towards resuming UN-led negotiations, and the prospects and possible timing for holding a UN-convened conference. It seems that during his meetings in Yemen, all parties told the Special Envoy that they were willing to attend such a conference. In Riyadh, speaking with reporters this past weekend, Ould Cheik Ahmed said that he was hoping to resume the UN-led talks in Geneva around the end of May. One of the outstanding issues has been over which international actors should attend. An announcement by the Secretary-General on the UN-led process is expected very soon.

Ging’s briefing comes amidst a humanitarian crisis in Yemen caused by the outbreak of full-scale war. It also takes place following a five-day humanitarian pause in the fighting from 12 to 17 May. Ging will likely update members on the humanitarian situation, in which 1,820 people have been killed and more than 545,000 people displaced within Yemen since fighting intensified in late March, according to OCHA’s 16 May situation report. The conflict’s toll on civilians has generated international criticism of the Saudi-led military intervention, due to the high number of civilian casualties caused by air strikes and the imposition of a blockade, which has hindered the delivery of basic commodities such as fuel, affecting hospitals’ ability to operate, and access to water supplies. Members will likely be keen to hear how effective the humanitarian pause was in facilitating increased assistance over the past week. If access has not improved or if large gaps remain, some members may push for the Council to take stronger action in order to ensure humanitarian needs are met.

Members may be interested in knowing to what extent parties respected the humanitarian pause and the prospects of this initiative leading to a broader ceasefire or creating the impetus to advance negotiations. Sporadic fighting among parties on the ground continued during the five-day pause, with the highest intensity fighting occurring in Taiz between local militas and the Houthis. With the expiration of the humanitarian ceasefire on Sunday (17 May) night, coalition airstrikes resumed. Earlier that day, at the Riyadh Conference, Ould Cheik Ahmed had called for the humanitarian pause to be extended. While most members are likely to welcome the five-day humanitarian pause, some may call for more regular humanitarian pauses.

Some members may want to discuss the Iranian ship headed for Yemen, reportedly carrying 2,500 tonnes of relief supplies and Iranian and international peace activists, which Iran has said is scheduled to dock in Houthi-controlled Hodeida on Thursday (21 May). There are concerns that this could lead to a confrontation with coalition forces, whose members believe that Iran is supporting the Houthis militarily. Yemen sent a note verbale to the Council on 13 May, stating that Iran bears complete responsibility for any incident that arises from this ship entering Yemeni waters without the appropriate permits.

Council members have focused on the humanitarian situation in recent weeks. On 12 May, Council members issued a press statement, expressing grave concern about the humanitarian situation in Yemen and welcoming the humanitarian pause, which began that day. A draft statement was introduced by Russia during consultations on 1 May on the humanitarian situation in Yemen. Russia’s draft text called for a ceasefire “or, at the very least, regular humanitarian pauses” for the delivery of essential aid and to facilitate the activities of humanitarian agencies. Initially it seemed that Council members would not be able to agree on a statement. However, the day after US Secretary of State John Kerry’s 7 May visit to Riyadh and Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it would initiate a humanitarian pause, the UK circulated its own draft press statement incorporating elements of the Russia proposal.

Negotiations over the statement took some time as Jordan and GCC members, who appear to have had a direct involvement in negotiating Council outcomes on Yemen in recent months, wanted a reference welcoming the Riyadh conference, which other Council members were not keen to include. Following further discussions on 11 May, compromise language was proposed by the UK that welcomed any efforts that complemented UN-brokered negotiations, and in this context noted the upcoming Riyadh conference. The statement was finally issued on 12 May.

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Postscript (20 May 2015): Following consultations, Council members agreed to press elements that welcomed the conference of all Yemeni stakeholders in Geneva on 28 May, and reaffirmed that all Yemeni parties attend and engage without preconditions and in good faith.

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