Yemen: Briefings by the Special Envoy, OCHA and the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Tomorrow (22 December), the Council will meet on Yemen for briefings by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, OCHA Assistant Secretary-General Kyung-wha Kang and the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
While the Special Envoy is due to provide his regular 60-day update, the US, as this month’s Council president, decided to use the occasion for the Council to also hear from OCHA and the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Additionally, instead of the usual practice of Council members delivering their statements in consultations which are not public, this time members will deliver their statements publicly. It seems that the US chose this meeting format to demonstrate the Council’s unanimity for the parties to engage in negotiations, de-escalate the conflict and obtain a ceasefire, along with providing humanitarian access. The briefings and discussion on the humanitarian situation and human rights aspects seem to be an attempt to highlight concerns over how parties to the conflict have conducted the war.
Ould Cheikh Ahmed is likely to provide an update on the latest round of peace talks in Switzerland between the Yemen government and a joint delegation of the Houthis and the General People’s Congress, former President Saleh’s party. The talks began on 15 December in Switzerland and concluded yesterday (20 December). On 15 December, coinciding with the start of the negotiations, the parties, including the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, began an initial one-week cessation of hostilities, which according to media reports was extended by the Yemen government today for another week.
However, numerous violations of the cessation of hostilities have taken place which, according to the Special Envoy, affected the progress of the talks. Almost from the start of the truce, both sides accused each other of violations. According to media reports, fighting further escalated last week when Yemen government forces advanced from Saudi Arabia into Hajjah and al-Jawf governorates in northern Yemen.
The Special Envoy announced yesterday that he plans to resume the talks in mid-January and will engage in bilateral and regional consultations to achieve a ceasefire. Some members may be interested in any ideas the Special Envoy may have for ensuring the ceasefire can be maintained.
While the last round of talks did not lead to any breakthrough, according to a communiqué released by the Special Envoy, the parties “made serious progress through identifying a framework for negotiations”. Council members will be interested in further details regarding the sides’ agreement to develop a package of confidence building measures, including a mechanism to release prisoners once there is a permanent ceasefire and to establish a “Co-ordination and De-escalation Committee” made up of military advisers from both sides, which will be based in the region. The communiqué also noted that the sides agreed to “lift all forms of blockade” and allow access for humanitarian supplies, including the besieged city of Taiz. During the negotiations last week, the Special Envoy announced a deal to have aid delivered to Taiz. Another apparent confidence building measure was a prisoner swap on 17 December of 340 Houthis and 270 Southern Movement fighters. It seems that this exchange had been in the works for some time, separate from the talks.
In her briefing, Kang is likely to reiterate points that OCHA has regularly highlighted about Yemen’s severe humanitarian crisis as a result of the war. She may focus on the need for the parties to respect international humanitarian law and their frequent failure to do so, and stress the dire need for greater humanitarian access and commercial goods imports. Kang is likely to cover the impact of the recent talks on OCHA’s work, including efforts to scale up humanitarian assistance during the announced ceasefire, and if the deal on humanitarian aid for Taiz is being implemented. She is also likely to report on any initial signs of the lifting of the naval blockade and provide further information about the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UN VIM), agreed to between the UN, Yemen government and Saudi-led coalition in August to increase imports of commercial goods. Despite the agreement, the UN VIM is still not operational.
This will be the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ first briefing to the Council on Yemen. Like Kang, Zeid is expected to highlight the obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian assistance. He may focus on patterns of human rights violations and the conflict’s increasing number of civilian casualties. Additionally, Zeid may reiterate the idea of an independent mechanism to investigate credible allegations of human rights violations by all parties to the conflict. This was a recommendation in the 7 September report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the situation in Yemen (A/HRC/30/31). The Netherlands made an attempt to take up this recommendation through a draft resolution submitted to the Human Rights Council on 24 September but the text was withdrawn after pressure from Saudi Arabia and coalition partners. A text sponsored by Saudi Arabia, on behalf of the Group of Arab States, and Yemen that called for OHCHR to provide technical assistance to an investigation being undertaken by the Yemeni government was adopted instead (A/HRC/RES/30/18). Members might want Zeid to provide an update on the government’s investigation and OHCHR’s support to it.
Council members can be expected to convey disappointment that the ceasefire was not observed while expressing strong support for the political process, and welcoming the sides’ willingness to continue talks in January. Since early this year members have stressed in press statements that the parties should continue to engage in negotiations in good faith and without preconditions, and are expected to reiterate these demands during the meeting. They will likely emphasise the need for a ceasefire and reiterate that the conflict cannot be solved militarily, while raising concerns that the war has led to the expansion of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. Members are expected to highlight the seriousness of the humanitarian situation and stress the need for unhindered access for humanitarian assistance and commercial goods. In addition, members may express concern over civilian casualties and violations of international humanitarian law, including Saudi-led coalition air strikes, use of cluster munitions, and restrictions on commercial shipping.
Some members may suggest that the Council needs to do more to ensure that the arms embargo established by resolution 2216 is being correctly implemented. The Saudi-led coalition has gone beyond the powers provided in this resolution to inspect cargo when there are reasonable grounds to believe it contains prohibited items. Restrictions on shipping, air and land transport, widely characterised as a de facto blockade, have contributed to the humanitarian crisis by reducing imports of food and fuel. In addition, the coalition, with the exception of one air cargo inspection, has failed to report inspections to the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee as required by resolution 2216.