Briefings and Consultations on Yemen humanitarian situation, Special Envoy’s efforts and 2140 Sanctions
Tomorrow (16 February), the Council will be briefed by OCHA head Stephen O’Brien, followed by consultations, on the humanitarian situation in Yemen. The following day (17 February), the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, and the Chair of the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Motohide Yoshikawa (Japan), will brief the Council, followed by consultations.
The humanitarian briefing is a recent addition to the Council’s programme of work. Members had decided at the adoption of the programme on 1 February to have OCHA brief together with the Special Envoy. It seems that during OCHA’s 10 February briefing on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria as a result of the government’s offensive against Aleppo, which is backed by Russian airstrikes, Russia said there would be value in also holding regular humanitarian briefings regarding the consequences of military actions by external actors in other situations, such as Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen, and subsequently requested a separate OCHA briefing on the Yemen humanitarian situation.
Council members will be interested in hearing more about humanitarian access and distribution of aid, including the effects of the siege of Taiz by the Houthis and military forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. O’Brien may inform members that since the recent inter-agency mission on 21 and 22 January to Taiz and Ibb governorates there have been some improvements in accessing Taiz city, but overall delivery of aid remains restricted. Council members will be interested in hearing more details about the work the UN is doing to set up a mechanism to enable greater humanitarian access to the city’s besieged enclaves.
Council members expect that O’Brien will also underline that access is difficult in areas where there continues to be heavy fighting and coalition airstrikes. Destruction and damage to civilian infrastructure such as roads, bridges and ports has further impeded the delivery of aid across much of the country. Last December, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein told Council members that coalition airstrikes appeared responsible for a disproportionate share of this destruction.
In this regard, O’Brien may refer to letters sent recently by Saudi Arabia to his office. The first of these, sent on 5 February, requested that OCHA notify all international organisations in Yemen that they needed to relocate from regions under Houthi control in order for the Coalition to guarantee their safety. In response to the letter, O’Brien noted that humanitarian actors deliver assistance based on principles of impartiality and need, and recalled Saudi Arabia’s obligations under international humanitarian law. Saudi Arabia then modified its request on 8 February, calling for humanitarian actors to relocate from areas close to military bases of Houthi and Saleh associated forces. Some members may express concern over the requests, which come amidst repeated concerns highlighted by UN officials, and more recently the final report of the Panel of Experts supporting the 2140 Committee, of the Coalition’s failures to uphold international humanitarian law.
More positively, O’Brien may note the increase in food and fuel imports, a trend that started in October, resulting in food imports returning to pre-crisis levels. Members are expecting an update on the status of the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism being created to further facilitate commercial shipping to Yemen, the launch of which has been repeatedly delayed.
Special Envoy and 2140 Sanctions Committee
Council members do not anticipate that the Special Envoy will be able to report much improvement regarding political developments. When the Special Envoy last briefed the Council on 22 December 2015 (S/PV.7596), talks in Switzerland had just concluded and he said that he wanted to secure a more “durable and comprehensive ceasefire” before the next round of talks scheduled for 14 January. This new round did not materialise and no new date has been set. Moreover, neither side seems ready to agree to a new ceasefire. Council members may express frustration over the lack of progress toward this goal and the stalled talks, and will want to exchange views on what more the Council can do to support and advance talks.
This will be Yoshikawa’s first briefing as chair of the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee and he is expected to focus his comments on the final report of the Panel of Experts (S/2016/73) that the 2140 Committee considered on 22 January. The Panel’s report analyses the implementation of financial and travel ban sanctions and the arms embargo against Houthi and Saleh forces. The report also covers violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and the obstruction of humanitarian assistance by all sides, including the Saudi-led Coalition, offenses that are among the designation criteria.
It seems that most members were disappointed by the report’s recommendations, including that it not provide more actionable recommendations such as proposals for new designations. Several members questioned the Panel’s information on violations of international humanitarian law. As it did not visit Yemen, these findings were based mostly on open source information and limited primary sources. It seems Egypt argued that the Panel exceeded its mandate by reporting on violations committed by the Coalition, as it should have focused more on identifying violations committed, according to resolution 2140, by “individuals and entities” and not member states.
Despite this criticism of the Panel’s work, following extensive media coverage of the Panel’s report and findings, the Coalition announced in a 2 February letter that it was establishing an independent team of military and civilian experts to assess incidents of civilian casualties and military targeting procedures (S/2016/100). The letter stressed that the team will cooperate with the 2140 Committee and the Panel of Experts, while reaffirming the Coalition’s commitment and respect for international humanitarian and human rights law.
Yoshikawa may refer to the Panel’s recommendations in his briefing. Six of the 15 recommendations were directed towards the Committee, asking it to help ensure that the Panel had better access to information regarding the actions of Yemen’s government and the Coalition. Egypt placed a “hold” on five of these six recommendations. (According to the 2140 Committee’s guidelines a member can have up to six more months to consider a proposal and ask for further information. Generally, after six months the proposal is deemed approved unless the member has objected to the proposal.) It seems Egypt preferred not to specify particular countries but rather to have the Chair send a letter asking all member states to cooperate and provide information. The Committee agreed to “take note” of the nine recommendations directed to the Council, which included having the Council consider establishing a commission of inquiry into reported violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.
During Wednesday’s meeting, members may highlight concerns over international humanitarian law and human rights violations, including Coalition airstrikes, as well as other issues documented by the Panel’s report, such as the expansion of extremist groups Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham. Some members may want to discuss how the sanctions can potentially be more effectively linked to the Special Envoy’s efforts regarding political negotiations.
The sanctions discussion on Wednesday could feed into the negotiations on the resolution that the Council is expected to adopt later this month to renew the existing financial and travel ban measures, the targeted arms embargo and the mandate of the Panel of Experts. The UK circulated an initial draft resolution last week that renews the sanctions regime without adding significant new elements.