Yemen: Briefing and Consultations Ahead of PeaceTalks
Tomorrow afternoon (15 April), the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang will brief the Council, followed by consultations. The meeting comes ahead of a new round of peace talks expected to start on Monday 18 April in Kuwait, following a cessation of hostilities that began on 10 April. It seems that the Council may adopt a presidential statement early next week to coincide with the start of the peace talks.
Members will be interested in an update on how the cessation of hostilities is being respected and on preparations for the upcoming talks. Fighting has been reported since the start of the cessation of hostilities, but it seems the ceasefire is being better respected compared to previous such attempts.One of the challenges, which may be discussed, is how much control the Yemen government or the Houthis exert over many of the armed groups.
The Special Envoy’s office has issued three statements since 1 April on preparations for next week’s talks in Kuwait. He has said that the talks will focus on five main areas: the withdrawal of militias and armed groups, the handover of heavy weapons to the state, interim security arrangements, the restoration of state institutions andthe resumption of inclusive political dialogue, and the establishment of a committee on prisoners and detainees. In his statements, the Special Envoy has highlighted progress in setting up the De-escalation and Coordination Committee that the parties agreed to establish during the last round of talks in Switzerland in December. This committee is composed of military representatives from both sides and is tasked with overseeing adherence to the cessation of hostilities, identifying breaches and finding ways to address these. According to the Special Envoy’s 11 April statement, the committee recently reconvened in Kuwait.
While the Special Envoy has stated that the upcoming round of talks seeks to achieve a comprehensive agreement, members may want more details on what he thinks can be achieved as an acceptable outcome, on challenges facing the talks and how the Council can support the negotiations. Related to this, some members may seek further insight on the Houthi-Saudi Arabia talks, occurring outside of the UN-brokered process, which during March led to a significant reduction in fighting in much of Yemen’s northern border region, including cross-border attacks by the Houthis into Saudi Arabia and coalition airstrikes in the border region. The Special Envoy has noted that this “reinforced the spirit of the confidence building measures” and “can provide an important drive to the political process.”
Members may also discuss Yemen President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s dismissal earlier this month of Vice President and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah. In Bahah’s place, Hadi named General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who fled Yemen after the Houthis took over Sana’a in September 2014, as Vice-President, and Ahmed bin Dagher, a long-time member of the General People’s Congress, as Prime Minister. Bahah, who is well-respected among Yemenis, including the Houthis, condemned the move as unconstitutional. His dismissal seems to confirm long-standing reports of tensions between him and Hadi. US Secretary of State John Kerry described Hadi’s actions as significantly complicating peace negotiations.
Kang, during her briefing, is likely to welcome the cessation of hostilities and to express hope that the upcoming talks can lead to progress towards permanently ending the fighting, as OCHA has long noted that a political solution is the only way to solve Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. Members are likely to be interested in whether the cessation of hostilities has resulted in increased access of aid and facilitating the work of humanitarian actors. When OCHA head Stephen O’Brien last briefed the Council on the humanitarian crisis on 3 March, he stressed that the most pressing issue facing Yemen was the protection of civilians due to the parties’ conduct of the war, highlighting indiscriminate bombing and shelling of urban areas. In this regard, Kang is expected to stress the importance of the latest cessation of hostilities in relation to protection of civilians.
Kang may update members about the long-delayed UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM), created to facilitate commercial good deliveries to Yemen such as food and fuel, which until late last year had fallen well below pre-crisis levels due to Coalition restrictions in enforcing the arms embargo. O’Brien told the Council that the UNVIM had been officially launched in early February. However, the first meeting of its Steering Committee, composed of representatives from the UN, Yemen government and the Coalition, only took place on Monday, and it seems that the UNVIM has still not taken over responsibilities of clearing ships and overseeing inspections. Some members may emphasise that regardless of developments on the political front the two sides must ensure humanitarian access and abide by international humanitarian law. They may note that if fighting continues, aid is delayed or upcoming talks are unsuccessful, they will support the Council’s further consideration of a separate humanitarian resolution on Yemen.
Among other concerns or issues that members are likely to raise is the expansion of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, which have taken advantage of the vacuum created by the war.
The UK as penholder intends to circulate a presidential statement for adoption once the talks in Kuwait begin. It seems the draft text would express the Council’s support for the new round of talks and the five points around which the Special Envoy will focus negotiations.
In other developments, the 2140 Sanctions Committee may hold a meeting later this month with the recently constituted Panel of Experts. The Secretary-General appointed four of the members on 29 March, and on 8 April appointed the international humanitarian law expert, after Egypt opposed his initial nominee for the position. Only the Panel’s Coordinator Ahmed Himmiche remains from last year’s panel.