Yemen: Briefing by the Special Envoy and Chair of the 2140 Committee
Tomorrow (23 October), the Security Council will be briefed by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, and chair of the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaité (Lithuania). This will be followed by consultations. The Special Envoy is expected to focus on the recent agreement by both parties to participate in a new round of talks, while Murmokaité’s briefing is expected to cover the work of the 2140 Committee since her last briefing to the Council on 11 December 2014 (S/PV.7336).
Ould Cheikh Ahmed met with Yemeni and Saudi officials in Riyadh from 16 to 18 October, and on Monday (19 October) President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi informed the Secretary-General that the government was ready to enter talks. Ould Cheikh Ahmed may provide more information about plans to convene talks, most likely to be held in Geneva.
Members are likely to be interested in how the agreement for a dialogue came about. The Secretary-General received a letter from the Houthis on 7 October expressing their commitment to a political process and to relevant Security Council resolutions, including resolution 2216, based on the Muscat Principles, which it seems were agreed to by the Houthis and the Special Envoy in September. This was significant as the Yemen government had called for a Houthi public commitment to implement resolution 2216 before it would participate in talks. A further exchange of letters between Hadi and the Secretary-General took place; Hadi assured his support for resuming talks if the Houthis committed to resolution 2216, and the Secretary-General conveyed that he had received a clear commitment and encouraged the Yemen government to return to talks.
Members will be interested in learning about when talks might now be organised, as well as venue, agenda and objectives. It seems Hadi has indicated that as a first step the government plans to establish a Technical Committee to work out the details for the dialogue process, which would be done in consultation with the Special Envoy’s office and the Houthis and General People’s Congress (GPC), the party of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. This is likely to take time, and the talks are therefore unlikely to begin before mid-November. Council members may ask the Special Envoy if there is anything the Council can do to help this process.
While members may welcome the signals that the parties are ready to resume dialogue, some are likely to have concerns about how sincere the sides are about a political process. They are well aware that previous attempts at talks proved premature, unsuccessful or never materialised. There also appears to be little improvement on the ground. Heavy fighting continues. Statements by Coalition and Yemeni generals continue to indicate they intend to advance on Sana’a and Saada, while there have been reports that the Coalition is reinforcing its forces in Yemen. Hundreds of Sudanese troops deployed to Aden earlier this week and the Sudan Tribune quoted Sudan’s defence minister as stating the country intends to send 6,000 ground and special operations forces. Mauritania also reportedly will send 500 troops. Last week, Saleh — who is allied with the Houthis — made a defiant speech about resisting Saudi Arabia’s aggression. Doubts also remain about the Houthis’ commitment to talks.
While the main focus of the meeting will be on the political process, members are likely to reiterate their concerns over the humanitarian crisis facing Yemen, continuing Coalition restrictions on shipping and on the need to increase food and fuel imports. Some members may highlight how the war, now in its seventh month, has allowed Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham to expand, with AQAP flags reportedly flying in parts of Aden, in addition to the fact that it already controls Mukalla and Zinjibar.
Sanctions Committee Chair’s Briefing
Since Murmokaité’s last briefing in December, the sanctions regime was expanded in April through the adoption of resolution 2216, which created an arms embargo against the Houthis and Saleh-loyalist forces and added the obstruction of humanitarian assistance to the designation criteria. The Chair is expected to cover recent Committee meetings on the Panel of Experts’ mid-term report, UN efforts to increase deliveries of commercial goods to Yemen, and the conflict’s impact on children in her briefing.
The Committee’s most recent meeting was on 9 October to consider the Panel of Experts’ findings on financial sanctions and international humanitarian law (IHL) issues which were circulated in a letter to Committee members ahead of the meeting. The findings, which are a follow-up to the Panel’s midterm report, documented financial assets, several shell companies and a property abroad belonging to Saleh and his son Ahmed Saleh (who are both subject to the asset freeze measures). It also identified 14 categories of suspected violations and breaches of international humanitarian law and international human rights law that Houthi-Saleh forces and the Coalition have committed during combat operations.
Regarding the Coalition’s conduct of its military intervention, the Panel highlighted violations and concerns regarding proportionality and distinction, finding a “pattern of indiscriminate attacks of civilians and civilian objects in residential, urban and marketplace areas”. It cited as a potentially grave violation the Coalition’s designation of entire cities, such as Sa’dah and Maran, as military objects. The Panel also documented airstrikes such as those that severely damaged Al-Hudaydah port, the Al Mazrak displaced persons camp, the Harad market and residential neighbourhoods in Taiz, as examples of the intervention’s disproportionate and indiscriminate impact on civilians. Similarly, the Panel noted Houthi-Saleh forces’ indiscriminate shelling of residential areas in Taiz and in Aden, while highlighting Houthi recruitment of child soldiers. It also noted that it is investigating the use of cluster munitions. While the Panel did not go into detail about the Coalition’s de facto blockade, its letter raised concerns about the intentional obstruction of humanitarian access and provision of assistance, including commercial shipping.
Among its recommendations, the Panel proposed that the Chair approach member states conducting military operations in Yemen and relevant parties to stress their responsibility to respect international humanitarian and human rights law and ask that they cooperate with the Panel for investigating potential violations and cases of obstruction of humanitarian assistance. During the Committee’s 9 October meeting, a number of members were in favour of this recommendation, including Chile, France, New Zealand, Russia and the UK. The US, however, expressed reservations. The following week Jordan emailed committee members that it wanted to put a hold on the recommendation. According to the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee Guidelines, as an outgoing member of the committee, Jordan’s hold on the recommendation will cease to have effect unless it objects to the proposed recommendation before the end of the year when its term ends.
Earlier this week (19 October), the Committee issued a press release on the meeting (SC/12085). It seems that the press release required bilateral negotiations between the Chair (Lithuania) and Jordan. Apparently Jordan, a member of the Coalition, was quite sensitive about how the press release referred to international humanitarian law issues.