What's In Blue

Posted Tue 11 Aug 2015

Briefing in Consultations by Special Envoy for Yemen

Tomorrow (12 August), the Council will receive a briefing in consultations from the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed via video teleconference. At press time, it did not appear that a Council action was being discussed.

At tomorrow’s meeting, members will be interested in learning about Ould Cheik Ahmed’s recent meetings with key political actors in the region, as he has been engaged in shuttle diplomacy over the last few weeks. The Special Envoy first visited Saudi Arabia towards the latter part of July, in large part to explore whether the recent victory by the Saudi-led coalition and anti-Houthi forces in Aden might create a new opportunity to resume negotiations. While in Saudi Arabia, he met with Yemeni transition president Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, Yemeni transition Vice-President Khaled Bahah, and Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Abdel Al-Jubeir. It seems they were of the view that the coalition should capitalise on its victory in Aden and press ahead with operations against the Houthis. Subsequent events confirm this position. Coalition and anti-Houthi forces took the key airport of al-Anad last week, the United Arab Emirates deployed an armoured tank brigade and there are reports of other foreign forces on the ground. Fighting has intensified in several of Yemen’s central provinces, and it is anticipated that the coalition and anti-Houthi forces may soon advance on Taiz and possibly Marib governorate.

Following his meetings in Saudi Arabia, the Special Envoy went to Cairo, where he met League of Arab States (LAS) Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby. According to UN spokesperson Ahmed Fawzi, Elaraby indicated that the LAS would consider deploying monitors to observe a future ceasefire agreement. While in Cairo, the Special Envoy also met with members of the General People’s Congress (GPC), the party of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose loyalists in Yemen’s security forces have allied with the Houthis. It seems that the GPC representatives said they were willing to discuss a ceasefire, including the withdrawal of forces in line with resolution 2216. This past weekend, Ould Cheikh Ahmed was in Muscat, Oman, for further meetings with both GPC and Houthi leaders to further explore this prospect.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed had initially planned to brief in New York, but yesterday he went to Riyadh, apparently to follow-up on the outcome of his discussions in Oman.

Based on his meetings in Egypt and Oman—as well as discussions he may have had in Riyadh—Council members will be interested in Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s views on the willingness of the Houthi/GPC sideto implement a ceasefire and return to talks, and whether a genuine commitment to the political process would be met with a commensurate willingness on the coalition’s part to engage in peace talks. Some members may be interested in whether there exist different views on resuming talks or pursuing a military path among the Arab countries forming the coalition, or within the Yemen government. At his lunch with Council members on 30 July, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon apparently expressed concern that the coalition seems determined to continue its campaign in order to push the Houthis back to Saada.

Members are expected to express their concern over the humanitarian situation in Yemen. Some may reiterate the need for humanitarian pauses. They may also raise concerns about civilian casualties, the failure of both sides of the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and the risk that intensified ground fighting could further increase the war’s impact on civilians. Today the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Hilal Elver warned against deliberate starvation of civilians, highlighting that civilians were prevented from accessing food as a result of sieges of a number of governorates and airstrikes targeting local markets and trucks transporting food. The Council had its first briefing dedicated to the humanitarian situation when they met with Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien on 28 July (S/PV.7494).

While Ould Cheik Ahmed’s briefing will focus on the political track, he may note that the UN is still negotiating with the coalition to establish a Verification and Inspection Mechanism (VIM) to increase the flow of commercial goods to Yemen, which for months have been at a fraction of pre-conflict levels, leaving the country desperately short of food and fuel. On 6 August, Yemen’s transport minister sent a letter to the Secretary-General recommending the creation of a Steering Committee to monitor the work of the VIM; members may want further details on where this proposal stands. UN agencies also continue to negotiate with Saudi Arabia memoranda of understanding for the use of more than $240 million in funds that Saudi Arabia pledged in April to cover in full OCHA’s emergency flash appeal for Yemen.

Council members may seek Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s assessment of the risk of the country’s partition. A number of the armed groups fighting the Houthis are aligned with the southern Hirak independence movement. With the return of Yemen government officials to Aden, there is a risk of two competing governing authorities based in Sana’a and Aden.

At the Council’s meeting on 28 July, Russia highlighted the danger that terrorist groups are becoming stronger in light of the political vacuum. Members could raise concerns tomorrow about the ability of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham to make Yemen another centre for its operations, especially during a prolonged war.

Looking ahead, the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee plans to meet on 17 August. It intends to discuss the Yemen Panel of Experts mid-term report with the Panel. (At press time the report had yet to be circulated.) It seems that O’Brien may brief on the humanitarian situation when he returns from Yemen next week.

For more information on recent developments and options for the Council, please see the Yemen brief in our August Forecast.

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