What's In Blue

Posted Fri 28 Oct 2016

Security Council Briefing on Yemen

On Monday (31 October), the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed will brief the Council, along with an OCHA representative. At present this is scheduled to be followed by consultations, but some members are anticipating that they may remain in the public chamber to deliver their statements. The session will update members on efforts to revive peace talks and the humanitarian situation, and may contribute to their consideration of a possible resolution that the UK, the Council penholder on Yemen, has said it intends to propose.

For the briefing, the Special Envoy will be coming to New York from the region where he presented to the parties a new roadmap for ending the conflict. Since the breakdown of the talks in Kuwait, efforts to revive a peace process have been driven by the “Quad”–made up of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, UK and US–whose foreign ministers met, along with the Special Envoy, in New York on 21 September and again in London on 16 October. The new roadmap envisions the appointment of a new vice-president, acceptable to both sides, to whom transitional President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi will transfer his powers. It also addresses the withdrawals of Houthi and allied General People’s Congress (GPC) forces, the handover of arms, and the formation of a unity government.

Members are likely to be interested in learning about this roadmap, including details of how it addresses issues related to security and implementation of a political transition. Divisions between the parties over the sequencing of such measures were at the core of the breakdown in the Kuwait talks. Also of interest will be an update on the cessation of hostilities, considered critical for being able to move forward with the roadmap. The parties agreed to a 72-hour cessation of hostilities that went into effect last week at 23:59 (Yemen time) on 19 October. Both sides alleged violations during the three-day period. The Special Envoy called for extending the cessation of hostilities, but air strikes on Sana’a resumed on Sunday (23 October) and fighting has been reported along the different battle lines.

The session is expected to help members to consider how to proceed with a possible Council resolution on Yemen. The UK’s announcement that it would pursue a new resolution seemed to gain impetus as a result of the 8 October coalition air strikes on the funeral of the father of high-ranking Houthi official in Sana’a. According to initial UN figures, over 140 people were killed and 525 injured. The incident posed the risk of a further intensification of the war, and highlighted the violations of international humanitarian law being committed. After Council members could not agree on a press statement on the attack, the UK informed members on 13 October that it was preparing a new cessation of hostilities resolution. Other signs of the conflict’s deterioration during October were the attacks against Emirati and US vessels off the important shipping passage of Bab al-Mendab, and a US counter-attack against the Houthi radar sites believed to have been involved in the attacks.

Following the 16 October Quad meeting, the UK announced it would suspend discussions on a draft resolution while seeing how an expected cessation of hostilities would develop and assessing the parties’ reactions to the new plan that the Special Envoy would soon present to them. These factors would affect the message to be conveyed in a resolution, which in addition to a cessation of hostilities, may address the political process and issues related to humanitarian access.

Members will be interested in hearing from the Special Envoy how the parties responded to the roadmap. According to a 25 October statement of the Special Envoy released when he concluded his 23-25 October visit to Sana’a, the Houthis and the GPC “agreed to respond to the proposal in the coming days”. Earlier today, the Special Envoy presented the roadmap to Hadi in Riyadh. Yemeni political parties based in Riyadh subsequently issued a press statement, expressing their continued support to the political leadership and saying that achieving peace depends on implementing resolution 2216, which should be the focus of the Special Envoy’s work.

OCHA’s briefing, which will most likely be provided by its head Stephen O’Brien, comes amidst horrific images that have emerged over the past six weeks from Hodeidah, revealing famine-like conditions and starvation in some parts of the governorate. The scenes have confirmed the warnings of UN officials since the early days of the conflict of the risk of famine in a country that already had high levels of malnutrition and high dependence on food imports, which made Yemen extremely vulnerable to the coalition blockade. O’Brien, who visited Hodeidah and Sana’a governorates from 2 to 4 October, is expected to provide perspective on the overall humanitarian situation, including current challenges in access and distributing aid, during his briefing.

Factors creating difficulties in access include the limited capacity at Hodeidah port due to damage incurred from airstrikes, as well as the destruction of other infrastructure such as roads and bridges. The violence, diversion of goods, and overall economic conditions, such as high prices and the crisis regarding the Central Bank, are contributing to the deteriorated humanitarian situation. A coalition ban on commercial flights to and from Sana’a has been preventing people seeking medical treatment from going abroad. Members may want to know why there was a 55% decline in imported food to Yemen during the month of August, and how an upcoming resolution could meaningfully address access issues.

The crisis including the recent attack on the funeral spilled into the Council’s 26 August briefing on Syria. Russia’s Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, reacting to criticism of Russia’s role in Syria, criticised the UK’s abandoned draft press statement on the funeral attacks for not being strong enough, and announced, “On the 31st Ismail Ahmed [the Special Envoy] will be here. Let’s discuss in a public session what is taking place” (S/PV.7795).

Within the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee, the Panel of Experts submitted preliminary analysis on 17 October that the 8 October attack on the funeral in Sana’a were the result of at least two aircraft bombs, and that evidence suggested that the Saudi Arabia-led coalition had violated its obligations under international humanitarian law. In a 10 October statement in which he called the attack on the funeral “outrageous,” the High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterated his call for “an independent, international inquiry into alleged violations of international human rights law in the country”.