Adoption of a Yemen Presidential Statement
The Security Council is set to adopt a presidential statement on Yemen, which focuses on the humanitarian situation and confidence-building measures. The UK, which is the penholder on Yemen, circulated an initial draft on Thursday 8 June. Following comments from several delegations, the UK presented a revised version on Monday morning (12 June), which was placed under silence. Since Monday there have been several requests for extensions of silence procedures, as well as the breaking of silence twice by two delegations followed by bilateral negotiations. The draft that is expected to be adopted this evening passed silence today at 2 pm.
Excluding the annual resolution that the Council adopts each February to renew the Yemen sanctions regime, this will be the Council’s first decision on Yemen in nearly 14 months. Amidst frustration over the Council’s silence on Yemen, which is one of the world’s most intense military conflicts and the largest humanitarian crisis, some members had been discussing the possibility of a new Council product in recent months that could, for example, address the situation of the port city of Hodeidah or the broader humanitarian crisis.
At the Council’s 30 May briefing on Yemen (S/PV.7954), Radhya al-Mutawakel from the Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights, a Yemeni civil society organisation, addressed the Council, calling on it to fulfil its responsibilities to protect civilians and to revive the peace process. In addition, she outlined a number of urgent concrete actions that the Council could take. OCHA head Stephen O’Brien, in his briefing, similarly called on the international community to take actions that could avert a worsening of the humanitarian situation, where 19 million people require assistance and 6.8 million are at risk of famine.
This has been compounded by a cholera outbreak that has surpassed 124,000 cases and is projected to double every two weeks. During consultations that followed the briefing, the UK announced its intention to produce a presidential statement, and Sweden, which has been keen to see the Council be more proactive on Yemen, apparently highlighted elements it would like to see in a Council decision.
In the draft presidential statement, the Council stresses the importance of keeping all of Yemen’s ports functioning, including Hodeidah, described in the draft as a critical lifeline for humanitarian support and other essential supplies. Following further negotiations yesterday the draft text now states that keeping Hodeidah port functioning should be done “in line with the Special Envoy’s latest proposals for Hodeidah port and city.” This was proposed by Egypt in order not to give a signal that the Council accepted Houthi control of the city. The draft statement further calls on the parties to engage constructively with the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed on his latest proposal for increasing commercial and humanitarian shipments through Red Sea ports, including new arrangements for management of Hodeidah. Hodeidah, the entry point for about 70 percent of Yemen’s humanitarian and commercial supplies, is controlled by the Houthis, and since late January there have been concerns about a possible Coalition offensive against the city, which the UN has said would have a disastrous impact on the already dire humanitarian situation. The draft statement also urges the parties to conclude an agreement for resuming payments of government salaries and preserving essential services in all areas of Yemen.
The draft statement outlines ways to address the humanitarian emergency and build confidence between the parties conducive to political negotiations. It encourages rapid agreement on deploying additional UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) monitors; increasing the capacity of Yemeni ports, including through the timely installation of cranes at Hodeidah; and increasing access to Sanaa airport for humanitarian supplies and movement of medical cases. Regarding the humanitarian crisis, the draft statement highlights the Council’s concern over both the threat of famine and the cholera outbreak. It calls for the immediate mobilisation of funds pledged at the 25 April Geneva pledging conference, as well as urgent funding to halt the spread of cholera.
In referring to peace talks, which collapsed in August 2016, the draft statement calls on the parties to immediately agree to the modalities for a durable cessation of hostilities. Drawing from language in its 25 April 2016 presidential statement, the draft statement reiterates the Council’s call on the parties to engage in peace talks in a flexible and constructive manner without preconditions, and in good faith.
In preparing the draft statement, the UK consulted with several members, which allowed some members to provide early feedback. Following the draft’s circulation to Council members, suggestions for revisions were made on Friday by Egypt, Italy, Russia and Sweden, some of which were incorporated.
As a result of an Egyptian suggestion, language was added to the text expressing concern at the continued non-implementation of Council resolutions. The final draft also includes, based on one of Egypt’s proposals a reference to the recent letter of the Yemeni government in document S/2017/476. The letter had expressed the government’s readiness to discuss the details of the Special Envoy’s plan for Hodeidah port and to resume salaries.
Italian and Swedish proposals generally sought to strengthen language on humanitarian issues, including on sexual violence and children. In addition, Italy’s suggested language regarding the importance of Hodeidah for humanitarian access and Sweden’ s suggested language regarding the need for the parties at all times to distinguish between civilians and combatants have been largely included in the final draft and appear to have been generally uncontroversial.
Some of Russia’s suggestions were incorporated. The zero draft had condemned both the attack on the Special Envoy while he was in Sana’a, and the apparent unwillingness of the Houthis and the GPC to engage with him. The final draft still condemns the attack on the Special Envoy. However, it does not include the second condemnation of the Houthis and GCP’s unwillingness to meet him in Sana’a. In its place, the draft statement calls upon all parties to engage constructively with the Special Envoy.
However, Russia’s suggestion to eliminate in its entirety a paragraph calling on all member states to fully implement the arms embargo, and for Houthi and Saleh loyalist forces to cease firing ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia and endangering civilian populations, was not accepted by the UK and became a key point of contention in the negotiations. Russia broke silence on Tuesday, and repeated its call for the deletion of the paragraph, claiming it was unbalanced. The UK responded by removing the paragraph and circulating a new draft, which it placed under a short silence procedure that was extended at the request of Egypt until Wednesday morning.
On Wednesday, Egypt broke silence. It requested that the paragraph that Russia wanted to remove be retained and proposed several other changes similar to those it had made earlier but which had not been incorporated. This apparently included removing specific reference to the installation of cranes at Hodeidah port, to be replaced by more general language on increasing the port’s capacity. However, the final draft retains specific references to the cranes, and includes the need for a “timely” installation. Egypt also made a proposal related to commercial carriers going through Sanaa airport. While the final draft still refers to increased access to Sana’a airport, language explicitly referring to the use of commercial carriers was removed in line with Egypt’s earlier proposal. It seems that Egypt argued that more general language would leave the Special Envoy more flexibility in his negotiations on increased access to the airport.
The new draft circulated today also includes revisions to the contentious paragraph. The final draft calls for the full implementation of the arms embargo as required by the relevant Security Council resolutions, rather than referring only to resolution 2216. It also calls on the Houthis and Saleh-loyalist forces to cease all attacks on Saudi Arabia, without a specific reference to ballistic missiles. Apparently, final agreement was reached following bilateral discussions between Egypt and Russia,that allowed for compromise language acceptable to both.