What's In Blue

Posted Mon 4 Dec 2017

Yemen: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (5 December), the Council expects to be briefed on Yemen by Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed is likely to focus on the fighting in Sana’a between the Houthis and loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and the break-up of their alliance. Full-scale conflict erupted on 1 December in Sana’a, following clashes at a mosque in the capital two days earlier and heightened tensions over several months. Amidst heavy street-fighting in the city of almost 2 million people, the Special Envoy issued a statement on 2 December calling on the parties to respect international humanitarian law. The UN Secretary-General issued a similar appeal on 3 December, noting that fighting was preventing the movement of people and life-saving services. Today, it was reported that Saleh had been killed.

Members will be interested in further information on the situation, which has included clashes spreading to other governorates. In televised remarks on Saturday, Saleh said that his party, the People’s General Congress (GPC), was open to dialogue and willing to turn a “new page” with the Saudi Arabia-led coalition. Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi said in a statement issued from Riyadh that the government would support “any party confronting Houthi terrorist gangs”. The coalition also issued a statement on 2 December, saying that it was monitoring the situation, while referring to the “dignified sons of the Yemeni General People’s Congress”. Coalition airstrikes were reported on Houthi positions in Sana’a and on Houthi reinforcements moving towards the city over the past few days.

Before these past few days’ developments, Council members had been focusing on what has been a significantly deteriorating humanitarian situation. After the Houthis fired a missile on 4 November at Riyadh, the coalition closed all air, land and seaports to Yemen on 6 November to address alleged weapons smuggling from Iran, which the coalition claimed had supplied the missile used in the 4 November attack. This provoked warnings from Lowcock and other UN officials that the intensified blockade could lead to a famine affecting millions.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed will likely provide an overview of ministerial-level meetings of the Quad (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the UK and the US) and of the Quint (the Quad countries plus Oman) on 28 November in London. A communiqué issued following the meeting of the Quint stated that “there was a shared responsibility among all parties to ensure safe, rapid and unhindered access for goods and for humanitarian personnel throughout Yemen”. The ministers also discussed ways to enhance inspection mechanisms to prevent weapons smuggling, while ensuring unimpeded movement of goods into and throughout Yemen. According to the communiqué, the ministers agreed that the situation necessitated regular meetings and consultations among the Quint, which, along with the Quad, has been much less active in 2017 compared to 2016 when the Quad was formed.

Lowcock is expected to provide an update on developments to alleviate the blockade since he addressed Council members during consultations under “any other business” on 8 November. He may provide information about the impact of fighting in Sana’a on the civilian population. Today, humanitarian and resident coordinator Jamie McGoldrick called for a six-hour humanitarian pause for 5 December to allow civilians to leave their homes and seek assistance, and to facilitate the movement of aid workers. Since Lowcock’s meeting with Council members, the coalition announced on 13 November the reopening of Yemeni government-controlled ports. It began allowing UN humanitarian flights to Sana’a and humanitarian cargos through Hodeidah and Salif ports, controlled by the Houthis, about two weeks later. Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with an estimated 22.4 million people requiring assistance, of whom 8.4 million, according to OCHA’s latest figures, are at risk of famine. Yemen has also been hit since April by the largest ever, single-year cholera outbreak, amidst a breakdown in health and sanitation services after more than 2.5 years of war. Although cholera cases had been slowing, Lowcock may note that the disease’s spread seems to be again on the rise as a result of the blockade. In addition, there has now been an outbreak of diphtheria, with 197 cases according to the WHO as of 1 December.

Members are expected to express frustration over the lack of any political progress. In light of the fighting in Sana’a, much of their attention and concerns are likely to focus on the fighting between the Houthis and Saleh-affiliated forces. Nevertheless, Council members may refer to the past month’s developments, condemning the Houthi missile attack on Riyadh while expressing deep concern over coalition measures limiting humanitarian access. Members are likely to be interested in the status of commercial shipping, which the UN has long said is critical for addressing Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, as the country depended on importing most of its food and fuel requirements even before the war. In his statement on Yemen yesterday, the Secretary-General noted that the blockade since 6 November has not been fully lifted, and he called for the urgent resumption of all commercial imports. Council members were planning to discuss Yemen during today’s luncheon with the Secretary-General.

It is unclear how developments might affect the Council’s approach to Yemen going forward. To date, the Council has refrained from being more proactive, primarily hoping for progress in the Special Envoy’s efforts and that bilateral pressure from countries with influence could lead to advances on the political front or in addressing the humanitarian crisis. The Council’s 15 June presidential statement—which stressed the importance of keeping Hodeidah port open, encouraged the deployment of new cranes to increase the port’s capacity, called for increased access to Sana’a airport, and called upon the parties to comply with international humanitarian law in their conduct of hostilities—has not been implemented.

The Panel of Experts supporting the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee has been active since the Riyadh missile attack. The Panel submitted a case study on 10 November, stating that it had not seen evidence to support claims that the Houthis had received short-range ballistic missiles from Iran. It noted that Yemen possessed a stockpile of scud missiles prior to the war that could have been modified to increase their range. It did not discard the possibility of foreign missile specialists providing advice. The Panel also said that the arms embargo in resolution 2216 was being used as justification to obstruct humanitarian assistance. On 24 November, the Panel submitted an update report, following a visit to Riyadh from 18 to 20 November, apparently concluding that the missile debris from the 4 November attack was consistent with Iranian-designed and manufactured missiles.

Earlier today from Geneva, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein announced the appointment of the five members of Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen established by the Human Rights Council in its 29 September resolution. The resolution mandates the experts, inter alia, to monitor and report on the situation of human rights and carry out a comprehensive examination of all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights.

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