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Yemen: Briefing on Efforts to Revive the Peace Process

Tomorrow (31 August), the Security Council will receive a briefing from the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. This will be followed by consultations. The Special Envoy is expected to provide an update on recent efforts to revive the peace process.

The peace talks in Kuwait concluded on 6 August without any agreement, and fighting in Yemen soon intensified. Only three days earlier, Council members received an update in consultations on the talks from the Special Envoy. At the time, Russia expressed concerns about the peace plan that the Special Envoy had recently presented to the parties. The plan would have had the Houthis first withdraw and give up arms, and only afterwards would an interim political arrangement be set up. Russia’s view that the Houthis were unlikely to accept such an agreement apparently sparked a discussion, in which other members seemed to have similar concerns over the sequencing question—a challenge that the Special Envoy has identified as impeding the talks for months.

Following the Special Envoy’s last briefing, members were unable to agree on press elements. This was due in part to differences over whether to include a reference, expressing concern about the 28 July announcement by the Houthi and General People’s Congress (GPC) of the establishment of a Political Council to govern Yemen. Russia, in particular, opposed such a reference, having noted during the consultations that this was a troubling development for the peace talks but a logical reaction to President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s earlier announcement that the government would not accept a new national unity government.

On 25 August, the Special Envoy met with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the UK and the US, and participated in a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the UK and the US in Jeddah. Afterwards, during a joint press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced an agreement on a “renewed approach to negotiations” that would address the security and political tracks “simultaneously”. While Kerry said the details would need to be worked out in negotiations between the parties, a final agreement would include the formation of a national unity government, the withdrawal of forces from Sana’a and other key areas, and the transfer of all heavy weapons from the Houthis and their allies to a third party. Saudi security needs would be addressed, as the new unity government would prohibit the deployment of weapons from Yemeni territory that threatened international waterways or Yemen’s neighbours. Kerry characterised it as a “fair and sensible approach”, based on which the Special Envoy would immediately begin consultations with the parties.

Members will be interested in further details about the agreement and concrete steps that the Special Envoy is now planning to take to advance the initiative. Following the meetings in Jeddah, the parties have expressed their views on reengaging in negotiations. On 28 August, the Houthi-GPC governing council said it was willing to resume talks provided there is a “total cessation of the aggression and lifting of the unjust siege on the Yemeni people”. The Yemen government also issued a statement saying it “is prepared to deal positively with any peaceful solutions … including an initial welcoming of the ideas resulting” from last week’s meeting between the GCC, UK and US.

Members are further expected to raise concerns about the humanitarian situation and the impact of the fighting on civilians since its escalation. Among recent airstrikes causing civilian casualties were the reported bombing of a school on 13 August, killing 11, and the attack on a Médecins San Frontiéres (MSF)-supported hospital which killed 19 on 15 August. Following what was the fourth airstrike on an MSF-supported hospital in the last 12 months, MSF withdrew its staff from the six hospitals it supports in Saada and Hajjah governorates, stating that it was “neither satisfied with nor reassured by the Saudi-led coalition’s statement that this attack was a mistake”. There have also been reports of increased indiscriminate missiles fired from Yemen into Saudi Arabia.

In raising such concerns, some members may note the report UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein issued on 25 August (A/HRC/33/38). According to a statement by his office, the report “has laid out a number of serious allegations of violations and abuses committed by all sides to the conflict in Yemen, highlighting in particular their impact on civilian lives, health and infrastructure.” The report’s key recommendation reiterates the High Commissioner’s previous call for an international, independent body to investigate alleged violations. In making this recommendation, it noted the challenges faced by the Yemen government’s commission of inquiry that have not allowed it to implement its mandate in accordance with international standards.

Some members may raise the government’s request for international financial institutions not to work with the Central Bank, which it says the Houthis have misused to finance their war efforts. The request has sparked concerns that it will worsen the humanitarian situation and already weak economy. The Central Bank, which is close to using up its reserves, has continued to pay the salaries of civil servants throughout the war and financed imports into Yemen, which the country depends on to meet most of its food, fuel and medical needs.

In other Council-related developments, on 5 August the Yemen 2140 Committee met to consider the “midterm update” of the Yemen Panel of Experts, which was circulated in a report to committee members on 27 July. The report provides an update about ongoing investigations into armed groups, implementation of the arms embargo and financial sanctions, and allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights that the Panel says it has documented as having been committed by all sides.

Among its observations regarding the arms embargo, the Panel has assessed that due to the proliferation of weapons in the country, potential arms smuggling to Yemen would not be profitable except in cases of heavy calibre weapons or where small arms are smuggled from Yemen to neighbouring countries. During the meeting Egypt reiterated its view that the Panel’s mandate does not encompass reporting violations committed by member states, a position which the Panel does not agree with.

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