Yemen: First Briefing by Special Envoy*
Tomorrow (17 April), the Security Council will receive a briefing from the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock. Following the public meeting, Council members are expected to hold closed consultations for further discussion. During consultations, OCHA Deputy Director of Operations Wafaa Saeed will also participate. As is common following meetings on Yemen, Council members are likely to issue “press elements”.
This will be Griffiths’ first briefing to the Council since becoming Special Envoy for Yemen in March. On 19 March, Griffiths issued a press release on assuming his position, stating that he would seek to facilitate an inclusive political process based on the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative and its Implementation Mechanism, the National Dialogue Conference outcomes and all relevant Security Council resolutions, including resolution 2216, and adding that “a credible political process will require all sides to be flexible, make difficult compromises, and prioritize the national interest for the sake of the Yemeni people”.
Griffiths has since visited Riyadh, Sana’a, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He also attended the 3 April Yemen donor conference in Geneva. His visit to Sana’a was the first time in nearly a year that the UN’s envoy had traveled to the Yemeni capital, as the Houthi rebel group refused to meet with Giffiths’ predecessor Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed for much of 2017, accusing of him of bias. Addressing the press on 1 April from Sana’a airport, Griffiths said that what he had heard both among interlocutors in Riyadh and Sana’a had given him “hope” about finding a political solution, and he similarly announced last week that he had been encouraged by his discussions in Oman and the UAE. Griffiths had planned to also go to Aden and Mukalla, where he would have met representatives of the separatist Southern Transitional Council, but announced on 5 April that he was postponing the visits due to “security and logistical issues”. Members may want more information on why these visits were postponed.
Council members do not expect Griffiths to present a new plan at this stage, but he is expected to share some initial ideas and present the principles guiding his efforts, which it seems are: to continue and deepen the conversation with all sides, to diversify the actors he engages with, and to continue listening.
When Lowcock briefs on Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, he is likely to reiterate the scale of the crisis that is the greatest in the world as a result of the ongoing war, with over 8 million people at risk of famine. Lowcock is likely to note that the recent Yemen donor conference generated pledges of $2.01 billion for the UN’s 2018 Yemen humanitarian response plan that requires $2.96 billion. (This includes the $930 million that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had previously announced.)
Members are likely to be interested in progress in implementing the Council’s 15 March presidential statement, which sought to promote greater access for humanitarian assistance and commercial imports. An OCHA humanitarian update, covering the period 26 March to 3 April, described “administrative restrictions” as a “growing challenge for humanitarian operations”. The update noted that only half as many vessels (18) are berthing at Hodeidah and Saleef ports, compared to the average of 35 before the coalition had shut down complete access in November 2017. Overall, in March, food imports were 57 percent of the monthly national requirement of 350,000 metric tons (MT), while fuel imports were one-third of the monthly national requirement of 544,000 MT.
Lowcock is expected to advocate for a strengthened UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM), responsible for clearing commercial shipping to Yemen. Members are likely to be interested in UN plans to do so, which it seems would increase UNVIM inspections while addressing the problem of double inspections of ships by UNVIM and the coalition. Other issues he may refer to are the importance of opening, or at least increasing, humanitarian access through Sana’a airport and resuming payment of civil servants’ salaries.
Moreover, the violence continues to inflict civilian casualties, an issue addressed in the presidential statement, which called on all parties to avoid, and at the very least minimise harm to civilians and civilian objects and infrastructure. Recent incidents include the reported killing of up to 23 civilians during intense airstrikes in Sa’ada governorate on 29 March, and of 12 civilians on 2 April, when airstrikes hit a location hosting newly displaced internally displaced persons in Al Hali district, Al Hudaydah governorate. Among other developments, a World Food Programme warehouse in Hodeidah caught fire on 31 March and destroyed 3,420 MT of relief food items, the cause of which has been under investigation.
During tomorrow’s session, a number of members are likely to condemn continued Houthi ballistic missiles attacks at Saudi Arabia. Council members issued a press statement on 28 March, condemning missiles fired on the third anniversary of the coalition intervention that killed one Egyptian citizen. On 11 April, Saudi Arabia claimed it intercepted additional ballistic missiles fired at Riyadh, Jizan and Najran and thwarted attempted attacks using drones against an Aramco oil facility and airport in southern Saudi Arabia. Two days later it announced it had intercepted another missile, again fired at Jizan. At the same time, some members could echo the point, which the Secretary-General apparently discussed with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman when the two met in New York on 27 March, of the importance of regional actors refraining from using any real or perceived provocations as reasons to disengage from the political process.
At tomorrow’s briefing, a number of members are likely to express their support for Griffiths, whose appointment was welcomed in the Council’s recent presidential statement. The statement also called 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.
* Post-script: Following briefings by Griffiths and Lowcock, all Council members delivered their statements in the public chamber, and consultations that had been scheduled were not held (S/PV.8235). For this reason, Council members never issued “press elements” that had been drafted to summarise the consultations.