Meeting on the Situation in Yemen
Tomorrow (17 March), Council members will discuss Yemen under “any other business”, with a briefing from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman. Russia requested the meeting yesterday evening in light of the expected attack by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and Yemeni government forces on the port city of Hodeidah.
Following the capture of Mokha by coalition and Yemeni government forces around the end of January, Yemeni officials have said that the Red Sea offensive would next advance on Hodeidah. Hodeidah is Yemen’s largest port – through which 70 per cent of the country’s food imports entered prior to the war – and has been the primary entry point for humanitarian aid and supplies of food and fuel going to areas controlled by the Houthi rebels and allied forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. On 13 March, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement, highlighting Russia’s concerns regarding an attack on Hodeidah and the “catastrophic situation” in Yemen’s north, while calling “for an immediate cessation of all use of force, no matter the justifications”. Over the last six weeks, since the fall of Mokha, airstrikes have intensified in and around Hodeidah. A recent 10 March strike, which set on fire a market in Khokha, south of Hodeidah, reportedly killed 20 civilians and 6 rebels.
Most members recognise that an attack on Hodeidah could be devastating and further exacerbate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, described by OCHA head Stephen O’Brien during his 10 March briefing as the “largest humanitarian crisis in the world”. Fighting for the city, likely to be intense, could lead to Hodeidah’s destruction and the severing of a critical lifeline for food, fuel and aid to Yemen’s northern governorates. Transporting supplies from Aden in the south, which is controlled by the Yemeni government to the north is very difficult. Feltman may elaborate on the UN’s assessment of the situation regarding Hodeida and how the city’s fall to the Coalition would affect the humanitarian situation and the political process.
In recent months, perhaps in light of the current offensive, it appears that the Coalition has tightened access for shipments through Hodeidah. During his 26 January briefing, O’Brien highlighted import restrictions and delays in receiving clearances from the Coalition of commercial shipments. This is despite the establishment of the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM), which the UN set up last year to facilitate commercial shipping to Yemeni ports not under government control, following restrictions that the Coalition put in place on shipping at the onset of the conflict, which it said were to enforce a Council arms embargo on the Houthis and Saleh loyalist forces. The Coalition has also prevented the World Food Programme (WFP) from delivering new cranes procured for Hodeidah port to replace those destroyed in 2015 by airstrikes, which has greatly limited the port’s capacity.
At the briefing on 10 March, O’Brien said that all parties to the conflict have denied sustained humanitarian access and politicised aid, and stated, “If they don’t change their behavior now, they must be held accountable for the inevitable famine, unnecessary deaths and associated amplification in suffering that will follow”, He further stated that only a combined response with the private sector can avert a famine, and that commercial imports must be allowed to resume through all entry points, especially Hodeidah. WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin said on 13 March in Jordan, upon concluding a three-day visit to Yemen, that over 17 million people are food insecure—a number that has increased by three million since January—and 7 million of those are severely food insecure. Cousin said that it was a “race against time” to avoid a famine.
Regarding efforts to revive peace talks, on 13 March there was a meeting in London of representatives of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the UK and the UK, as well as Oman, which is now a permanent member of the group, previously known as the Quad. UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed also participated. No statement was issued following the meeting. In comments this week, the Special Envoy said that media reports of a new working paper that replaces the UN’s proposals from last October as a basis for resuming political talks, “are unfounded”. At tomorrow’s meeting, members may be interested in an update from Feltman on political efforts.
In recent months, the Council has been relatively inactive on Yemen despite the deteriorating humanitarian situation, intensified fighting, and stalled political process. Until a briefing on 26 January, there had been no Yemen-dedicated session with the Special Envoy and O’Brien for nearly three months. In renewing the Yemen sanctions regime in February, no negotiations were held on the new resolution, which was adopted with barely any changes compared to last year’s. Council members refrained from making proposals that could have addressed some challenges regarding the implementation of the sanctions regime. Since the change in the US administration, the Quad plus Oman has met twice (on 16 February and 13 March), but no statements or readouts were provided following the meetings, a break from the grouping’s previous practice since it first began meeting in July.
On 29 March, Ould Cheikh Ahmed and the Chair of the 2140 Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Koro Besho (Japan), are scheduled to brief Council members in consultations. In addition, the Council’s Informal Experts Group on Women, Peace and Security will meet on 23 March to discuss Yemen. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, the Special Envoy and the UN’s Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, are expected to brief.