Yemen: Security Council Presidential Statement
The Security Council appears ready to adopt a new presidential statement tomorrow morning (15 March) on Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, calling for the full and sustained opening of all of Yemen’s ports, including Hodeidah and Saleef ports, and for increased access to Sana’a airport. Negotiations on the statement have been ongoing for over a month, conducted mostly among the UK, Kuwait, the Netherlands and Sweden. Direct consultations with Saudi Arabia also took place before the draft passed a silence procedure earlier today.
Discussions started in late January over having a new Council product on the humanitarian crisis, which is the greatest in the world with eight million people at risk of famine and the warring parties responsible for restricting access to essential supplies for civilians and regularly committing violations of international humanitarian law. The Netherlands and Sweden advocated the need for a resolution on the humanitarian situation. At the same time, Kuwait sought a Council press statement in recognition of a new humanitarian relief plan that the Saudi Arabia-led coalition had announced on 22 January, known as the Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations. Facing these calls, the UK—which is the penholder on Yemen and had indicated last December that it would initiate a presidential statement—decided to move forward with a presidential statement. It circulated a draft text on 13 February, convening negotiations the following day.
During this negotiating round, which would be the only meeting of the full Council membership, several members contrasted the draft with Council products on the humanitarian situation in Syria, the subject at that time of a new draft resolution members were negotiating. The Netherlands and Sweden suggested alternative language in line with stronger Council language on Syria, and questioned why a presidential statement was being pursued as opposed to a resolution. Peru also made a number of specific proposals intended to strengthen the text.
These countries further raised concerns over a paragraph about the Houthis’ use of ballistic missiles, feeling that inclusion in this context was unbalanced and diverted from the intended focus on the humanitarian situation, when it was expected to be a focus of an upcoming resolution to renew the Yemen sanctions regime. Russia similarly objected to this paragraph. The next day, five elected members—Bolivia, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland and Sweden—jointly submitted proposals reflecting these views.
Subsequent negotiations were held among Kuwait, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK. This resulted in accommodating a number of the proposals from the group of five countries. Among these, the draft presidential statement links the denial of access to violations of international humanitarian law, notes with “great concern” the impact that access restrictions on commercial and humanitarian imports have on the humanitarian situation, and stresses the need to prevent adverse effects of the arms embargo on commercial and humanitarian imports. The draft statement no longer welcomes the coalition’s announced Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations plan, from which members wanted first to see tangible results, but now “notes with appreciation” the announcement of the plan. A new paragraph also emphasizes humanitarian principles and the delivery of aid “devoid of any political prejudices and aims”.
Through these discussions, it appeared an agreement was also struck in calling for the full and sustained opening of all of Yemen’s ports to all commercial and humanitarian goods, including Hodeidah and Saleef ports and Sana’a airport. This went beyond stressing the importance of the ports remaining open, as has been the language previously used by the Council, and would mark the first time the Council called for the full and sustained opening of Sana’a airport.
Some issues remained more elusive. But discussions had to be put on hold until after a difficult negotiation on the Yemen sanctions resolution, which saw Russia veto an initial draft due to references to Iranian non-compliance with the arms embargo (See.
When negotiations resumed among Kuwait, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, they appeared to resolve remaining differences. Kuwait had objected to mentioning air strikes, or an alternative proposal of “bombardments”, in a paragraph where the Council expresses grave distress over the violence in Yemen. Language was eventually agreed to “indiscriminate attacks in densely populated areas”. Kuwait also pushed back on proposals for a sentence on accountability that included language from last year’s Human Rights Council resolution on Yemen (A/HRC/RES/36/31). Agreement was reached by using more general language.
Omitting reference to the ballistic missile attacks against Saudi Arabia was unacceptable to Kuwait, the UK and the US. The draft statement still condemns in the strongest possible terms ballistic missile attacks by the Houthis against Saudi Arabia, based on the Council’s 22 December press statement, but this has been limited to a sentence.
It seemed that an agreement had been finalised among Kuwait, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK when the UK put the text under silence on 2 March. However, later that same day, Kuwait broke silence, seeking several amendments. It asked to refer only to “Yemeni parties”, to refer to the opening of ports in the context of taking into account the enforcement of the arms embargo, and to remove specific mention of Hodeidah, Saleef and Sana’a airport. Kuwait further proposed changes to the sentence on accountability to focus on supporting the efforts of the Yemeni government. Six countries—Bolivia, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, and Sweden now joined by France—jointly stated their preference to keep the current text.
At this point, the US and the UK engaged directly with Saudi Arabia, which has long exerted its influence on Council products on Yemen. The Saudis apparently objected in particular to language on keeping Sana’a airport open. Emerging from these consultations, the UK proposed changes that would instead call for increased access to Sana’a airport, particularly for lifesaving humanitarian supplies and movement of urgent humanitarian cases. The proposal was conditioned, however, with language about doing so while taking appropriate measures to implement the arms embargo and to ensure the safety and security of airports and airspace.
The group of six countries countered by suggesting that the Council rely on language from its June 2017 presidential statement, and thus call for increased access to Sana’a airport for lifesaving humanitarian supplies and urgent humanitarian cases, without additional references to the arms embargo or security concerns. This proposal has been accepted in the final draft. The agreed draft has seen a further lessening of language on accountability—removing language on ending impunity—to now “underline the need to ensure accountability for violations in Yemen”.
Among other points, the draft statement includes the Council “recogniz[ing]” the requirement in resolution 2216 that member states conducting inspections report these to the 2140 Sanctions Committee. As repeatedly flagged by the Yemen Panel of Experts, coalition members have failed to provide such reports since the Council created the targeted arms embargo in April 2015. Referring to the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM), the draft statement calls on member states, if conducting inspections on ships already cleared by the UNVIM, to ensure that these are done in an efficient and timely manner. This was added following a proposal to call on member states to refrain from conducting inspections of ships cleared by UNVIM, which happens regularly, often creating unpredictable and lengthy delays.
In touching on efforts to end the conflict, the Council welcomes in the draft statement the appointment of the new Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, while calling upon all parties to the conflict to abandon pre-conditions and engage in good faith with the UN-led process, with the meaningful participation of women and other underrepresented groups at all levels.