Yemen: Briefing by the Special Envoy and Chair of the 2140 Sanctions Committee
Tomorrow (29 March), Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and Ambassador Koro Bessho (Japan), Chair of the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee, will brief Council members in consultations.
Members do not expect Ould Cheikh Ahmed to report any significant progress in trying to revive peace talks. The Special Envoy may provide an overview of the 13 March meeting in London of the “Quint”—comprised of Oman, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the US and the UK—in which he participated. He is also likely to report about the rest of his four-day European tour, which included meetings in Paris and Germany. According to a 17 March statement from the UN Spokesperson, the Special Envoy briefed interlocutors during his tour on his concerns over the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian and economic situation. In London, he also discussed potential solutions to the ongoing conflict with the members of the Quint. This week marks two years since the Saudi Arabia-led coalition intervened in Yemen in support of the government against the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite rebel group, and allied forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The briefing could be an opportunity for the Special Envoy to present to members hs current ideas on how to restart peace talks, including where the roadmap that he presented to the Yemeni parties in October stands as a basis for resuming negotiations. There have been a number of media reports that the Special Envoy has developed a new plan to replace his proposals from last October, which he has denied. Members may express dissatisfaction over the apparent lack of progress on the political front. Some members may ask if there is anything the Council can do to assist, although so far there have not been any concrete proposals from members.
Figuring prominently at tomorrow’s meeting will most likely be the potential attack by Yemeni and Coalition forces against the city of Hodeidah. On 17 March, members were briefed in consultations by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman regarding the planned assault. Since Mokha was taken about two months ago, Yemeni officials have said that the Red Sea offensive that was launched in early January would next advance on Hodeidah, which is Yemen’s largest port and the key entry point for food, fuel and humanitarian deliveries to Houthi-controlled parts of the country. According to the Yemen Logistics Cluster, almost 70-80 percent of Yemen’s humanitarian assistance and the greater part of commercial cargo, including fuel, pass through the port.
During the 17 March meeting, most members expressed concerns that such an attack, and consequent closure or destruction of the port, would exacerbate the already dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which the UN has warned is on the verge of famine, though no member called during the session for the attack not to go forward. Following the meeting, in “elements to the press” Council members called on the parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian and commercial access, including through the critical port of Hodeidah, and to respect international humanitarian law.
Some members may inquire what contingency plans the Coalition has to enable food, other essential goods and humanitarian aid to reach those in need, in the event of a lengthy battle for the city or the port’s prolonged closure. It seems that the Yemeni government and the Coalition believe that the fall of the city will push the Houthis back to the negotiating table, and amidst concerns about the humanitarian impact of an attack, they have countered that the capture of Hodeidah should improve the humanitarian situation by ending the Houthis’ diversion of aid and other imported goods entering the port. OCHA’s Steven O’Brien told the Council on 10 March that all parties to the conflict have denied sustained humanitarian access and politicised aid, while at a 26 January briefing he highlighted import restrictions and delays in receiving clearances from the Coalition of commercial shipments. During February, food imports through Hodeidah declined by 34%. Overall, according to OCHA and the World Food Programme, food insecurity in Yemen has increased by 3 million people since January, now affecting 17 million.
More recently, on 19 March, the Coalition called on the UN to take over supervision of the port, a request that followed the killing of 42 Somali refugees during an apparent Coalition attack on their boat near Hodeidah. The UN responded that it is the responsibility of the parties to protect civilian infrastructure and to protect civilians, which are not obligations they can shift to others.
Bessho’s briefing is expected to be a factual summary of the Committee’s work and sanctions-related developments. Committee members discussed the Panel of Experts’ final report on 27 January (S/2017/81). Among its findings, the Panel stated it had not seen sufficient evidence to confirm any direct large-scale supply of arms from Iran to the Houthis, and that several dhows (traditional fishing boats) that have been seized with reported Iranian arms were more likely going to Somalia instead of Yemen. It identified, however, some weapons used by the Houthis as originating in Iran, and two overland routes by which arms have been trafficked to the Houthi-Saleh alliance emanating from Oman and southeastern Yemen. The report warned that the vacuum being created by the war was laying the foundation for terrorist networks that could last years. It further attributed violations of international humanitarian law to all parties. In addition to covering the report and its consideration by the Committee, Bessho is likely to refer to the Council’s renewal of the Yemen sanctions regime in resolution 2342, adopted on 23 February.
Ahead of tomorrow’s Yemen session, Sweden organised a 23 March meeting of the Informal Experts Group on Women, Peace and Security, which some members may draw on in their interventions. Participants included Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, Ould Cheikh Ahmed and the UN’s Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick. During the session, Council experts heard how Yemen, a country which has long ranked at the bottom in gender equality indexes, has seen rates of violence against women, child marriage, female-headed households, and women suffering moderate or acute malnutrition increase rapidly over the last two years, while progress made by women’s participation in the National Dialogue Conference in 2013 and 2014 has been stalled or reversed. Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka also participated, providing an overview of recommendations for promoting greater women’s participation in the political process and for addressing sexual and gender-based violence in the war.