Briefing and Consultations on Yemen
On Tuesday (30 May), the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed and OCHA head Stephen O’Brien are expected to brief the Council. A Yemeni civil society representative, Radhya al-Mutawakel from the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, is also expected to brief. Further Council discussion will then be held in closed consultations.
Ould Cheikh Ahmed is expected to inform members on his efforts over the last few weeks to broker an agreement that would avert a possible attack by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition on the critical port city of Hodeidah. Hodeidah, controlled by the rebel Houthis, contains Yemen’s largest port and is the main entry point for imports of humanitarian aid and commercial shipments such as food, urgently needed to alleviate the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
Ould Cheikh Ahmed traveled earlier this month to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. On 22 May, he traveled to Sana’a where during the transfer from the airport to the UN compound his convoy came under attack. Despite the attack, Ould Cheikh Ahmed remained in Sana’a and according to a 24 May press release by his office, over the next three days he met representatives of the Houthis and their allies in the General People’s Congress (GPC), the party of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. He also held meetings with civil society groups and other political parties. However, the Special Envoy was unable to broker a deal. Members are expected to be interested in learning more about the attack against Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s convoy, his discussions in Sana’a and the plan that he had proposed for Hodeidah.
Among other developments that Ould Cheik Ahmed may cover are the recent tensions in Aden between Yemeni President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi and local Adeni authorities, perceived to be close to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This has led to protests in support of Aidarous al-Zubaidi, the former governor of Aden whom Hadi dismissed on 27 April, and increased calls for southern secession.
OCHA’s O’Brien will likely reiterate the severity of the humanitarian crisis facing Yemen – around 19 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, of whom 17 million are food insecure and 6.8 million are at risk of famine. In addition, since late April Yemen has been dealing with an outbreak of cholera. The outbreak prompted authorities in Sana’a to declare a state of emergency for the city on 15 May and to call for international help. According to a 24 May statement by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen Jamie McGoldrick, the epidemic had over a three-week period resulted in 35,000 suspected cholera cases reported and 361 associated deaths in 19 of the 22 governorates.
While it appears that a Coalition attack on Hodeidah is now less imminent, O’Brien may highlight that were an offensive to go forward and Hodeidah port become inoperable, it could significantly exacerbate Yemen’s already dire humanitarian situation. As part of his briefing, O’Brien will likely recall the 25 April pledging conference in Geneva. The conference was considered relatively successful in raising pledges of $1.1 billion against the $2.1 billion sought for the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan for 2017. He could call on donors to ensure the delivery of pledged funds and urgently needed additional funding to halt the spread of cholera.
The briefing of Al-Mutawakel from the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, which is based in Sana’a, can be expected to cover the situation on the ground, focusing on some of the war’s widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. These abuses and violations include large numbers of civilian deaths as a result of Coalition air strikes, which have hit schools, hospitals and marketplaces and destroyed civilian infrastructure. The Houthi-Saleh side has also engaged in indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, and reports have documented the arbitrary detention, torture, and forcible disappearance of opponents and journalists by Houthi security agencies. Both sides have impeded delivery of humanitarian assistance and obstructed access. So far, despite recommendations by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Panel of Experts that supports the Council’s Yemen 2140 sanctions regime, member states have been unwilling to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate such violations.
With the political process deadlocked and a worsening humanitarian situation, members are likely to discuss actions that the Council can take and ways to overcome the latest setback to the Special Envoy’s efforts. There may be interest in discussing possible confidence building measures, including options to deal with Hoideidah and the re-opening of Sana’a airport to ensure humanitarian access, especially in light of the cholera outbreak. Other areas on which members may want to hear the Special Envoy’s views include the possibility of a ceasefire at the Saudi-Yemeni border, and seeking agreements to resume payments from the social welfare fund and ensuring payment of civil servants’ salaries. Some members may inquire as to whether there are ways to increase the pressure on the Houthis after their rejection of the Special Envoy’s latest proposal. Building on their last meeting on Yemen on 29 March, members may further discuss whether and how to broaden or change the framework for political talks.
Recently some members, amidst frustration over the Council’s silence on Yemen, have been discussing the possibility of a new resolution that could address the situation of Hodeidah or the broader humanitarian crisis. The UK, which is the penholder on Yemen, appears to remain reluctant to initiate a text, and it seems that there has been interest in other Council members either taking the initiative of presenting a draft resolution or pressuring the UK to do so. The failure to get a deal on Hodeidah came as a disappointment for some members who had thought that an agreement might be an opportunity for a Council resolution in support of the agreement. Due to political relationships and interests, particularly with Saudi Arabia, Council members, in general, have long been cautious about supporting a new resolution on Yemen, which would likely be opposed by the Saudis and other Gulf countries.
This session could therefore be an opportunity for members to explore with Ould Cheikh Ahmed and O’Brien possible Council actions or content of a draft resolution that could have an impact on the humanitarian situation or on political efforts. According to a statement released by the Special Envoy following the 29 March consultations, Ould Cheikh Ahmed had urged the Council during this meeting to “use all of its diplomatic weight to push for the relevant parties to make the concessions required to reach a final agreement before more lives are lost”.
A case study by the Yemen Panel of Experts on humanitarian access through Red Sea ports with a focus on Hodeidah in April provided a number of actionable recommendations for the Committee to attempt to address the delays and obstacles created by the Coalition for commercial vessels that have been cleared by the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism. These include informing the Coalition and Yemeni government that regular denial and delays of shipping access to Red Sea ports could constitute obstruction of humanitarian assistance, which is part of the designation criteria of the Yemen sanctions regime. The Panel also suggested, inter alia, that the Committee establish a list of prohibited items to address the delays and uncertainty for shipping companies due to the Coalition’s prohibition of shipments of goods that it assesses to have dual civilian-military use. However, these recommendations have so far gained little traction in the Committee, which considered the case study at an 18 April meeting.