Yemen Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (18 August), the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed (via video teleconference) and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien will brief the Council on Yemen. Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdulmalik al-Mekhlafi is also expected to participate. Consultations are scheduled to follow the open session. At the beginning of August, Sweden requested to have a meeting on Yemen to keep the Council’s attention on the humanitarian crisis created by the war. Egypt, as Council president, decided in organising such a session to include an update on political efforts.
Ould Cheikh Ahmed has continued to promote his plan to avert a possible attack on Hodeidah port and to restart the payment of civil servant salaries. He has been traveling across the region over the past few weeks, holding meetings in Saudi Arabia, including with Yemeni President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in Oman, and in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This past weekend, Ould Cheikh Ahmed was in Iran where he met with Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif and his Deputy for Arab and African Affairs Hussein Jaberi Ansari. Afterwards he announced that Iranian interlocutors had renewed their full support for UN efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict based on a comprehensive political agreement. Members are likely to be interested in learning about these meetings and whether there has been progress in resuming dialogue with the Houthi rebels, who said in June that they would no longer engage with the Special Envoy.
O’Brien is expected to present another grim overview on what is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. On 16 July, OCHA announced that 20.7 million Yemenis are in need of assistance, an increase of nearly 2 million people from its previous estimate of 18.8 million in need since January. Of these, seven million people are severely food insecure. Some members may recall the Council’s 9 August presidential statement on the risk of famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria, which, inter alia, reiterated its calls on all parties to allow safe, timely and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance, and to facilitate access for essential imports of food, fuel and medical supplies into each country and their distribution throughout them.
Exacerbating the humanitarian situation has been an outbreak of cholera since late April that is estimated to be infecting 5,000 people per day. On 14 August, the World Health Organization announced that total suspected cases had surpassed 500,000, with nearly 2,000 recorded deaths. O’Brien may also note that the 2017 humanitarian response plan for Yemen was recently revised upward from $2.1 million to $2.3 million. He is likely to call on countries to contribute to the plan, which as of 15 August was only 39 percent funded.
Neither the Special Envoy nor O’Brien are likely to report any progress in implementing the Council’s 15 June presidential statement on Yemen. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which supports the Yemeni government, continues to deny permission to install the cranes procured by the World Food Programme to increase the offloading capacity of Hodeidah port. No agreement has been reached with the Houthis to deploy UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism monitors to the port, and Sana’a airport remains closed to commercial flights. The coalition announced on 10 August that it would accept the reopening of the airport if managed by the UN. The previous day, the Norwegian Refugee Council issued a statement asserting that since the airport’s closure over the past year, 10,000 Yemenis had died from health conditions for which they had wanted to receive medical treatment abroad.
Members may be interested in discussing developments regarding the central bank of Yemen. On 14 August, the Aden-based central bank, controlled by the Yemeni government, announced that it was abandoning the pegged rate of the Yemeni riyal (250 riyals to the dollar) and would float the Yemeni riyal with the market rate, which is around 350 riyals to the dollar. The move is likely to increase the cost of living as the country is dependent on imports of food, fuel and medicine. The rival Sana’a-based central bank has not agreed to implement the decision. Also on 14 August, the central bank’s Aden-based Governor Mansr al-Qaiti accused the coalition of having banned 13 flights since April carrying new Yemeni riyal banknotes printed in Russia, intended to address the liquidity crisis and to pay civil servant salaries. Members may seek more information about this, which appears to be another example of the rift between Hadi’s government and the UAE, which supports local forces in control of Aden’s airport.
Recent Sanctions Committee and Council Discussions on Yemen
On 1 August, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee considered the midterm update of the Yemen Panel of Experts. The coordinator of the panel, Ahmed Himmiche, provided a briefing on the 185-page report. Among its observations, there were no new reports of maritime seizures of arms, nor major seizures on land supply routes. During the committee meeting, some members encouraged the panel to continue to investigate arms transfers to the Houthis from Iran.
All parties continue to commit violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, according to the report of the panel, which expressed concern that member states of the coalition are hiding behind “the entity” of the “coalition” to divert and shield themselves from state responsibility for violations by their forces during airstrikes. The panel writes that the coalition air campaign continues to have little operational or tactical impact on the ground, and is only serving to stiffen civilian resistance. As widely reported in the media, the report attributes responsibility for the 16 March attack on the vessel that killed 42 Somali migrants in the Red Sea to coalition forces.
On 11 August, the committee agreed on the panel’s three recommendations in the mid-term update. Most notable was the recommendation for the committee chair to engage with Saudi Arabia to request that it comply with reporting obligations under paragraph 17 of resolution 2216, which requires the reporting to the committee of inspections carried out in enforcing the targeted arms embargo against the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The coalition has failed to report inspections of cargoes since the adoption of resolution 2216, which the panel report said undermines safeguards to ensure that the sanctions regime is not used to achieve unilateral objectives and contributes to increased obstructions to the delivery of humanitarian aid. The adoption of these panel recommendations was the first time the committee agreed to its recommendations during the last two and a half years.
Council members were, however, unable to agree to US Ambassador Nikki Haley’s proposal during the 12 July consultations on Yemen for the Council to send letters to donors to disburse funds pledged for the humanitarian crisis, and to Saudi Arabia regarding humanitarian access. Letters had subsequently been prepared by the UK, the penholder. This included one to donors on fulfilling their pledges; and a letter to Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni government, as well as a letter to the Houthis and Saleh representatives on fulfilling steps outlined in the Council’s 15 June presidential statement to address the humanitarian crisis. Egypt maintained that sending letters to member states on the implementation of a Council decision was not a standard practice and would become a complex undertaking for the Council every time its decisions are not implemented. The letters were not sent.
On Monday morning (21 August), an Arria-formula meeting is being held on “The Vital Role of the UN’s Humanitarian Assistance Partners in the Crisis in Yemen”. O’Brien and the Supervisor General of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, Abdallah al-Rabeeah, will provide briefings. Senegal circulated a concept note for the meeting earlier this week, inviting members to reflect upon ways to overcome challenges that the UN and humanitarian partners face, with a view to enhancing the delivery of assistance, attempting to prevent diversion of aid, and ensuring adequate funding. Questions that member states are asked to consider in the concept note include: what are the current major obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian assistance; how large a problem does the diversion of aid to illegal channels represent in terms of overall assistance; and what is the correlation between the latest political initiatives by the UN, such as those related to Hoideidah port, and alleviating humanitarian suffering.