What's In Blue

Yemen Consultations

On 5 July, Security Council members will hold consultations on Yemen, receiving briefings from UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths via video-teleconference and from OCHA Director of Operations John Ging. Members may issue press elements following the meeting.

Griffiths is expected to brief on his efforts to avoid a further military escalation at the port city of Hodeidah and on his plans to re-launch political negotiations. The Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-led coalition has slowed its assault against the city since it was launched on 12 June, with fighting mostly having been limited to the airport.

In a UN Radio interview this past Thursday (28 June), Griffiths said that the Houthi rebel group and the Yemeni government have accepted the UN taking a lead role in managing Hodeidah port. For the Houthis, this is dependent on an overall ceasefire in the governorate of Hodeidah, Griffiths said. In public statements, coalition officials including Emirati Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash and Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi have said that forestalling an attack requires the Houthis’ unconditional withdrawal from the city.

In the UN interview, Griffiths acknowledged that the Houthi presence in the city and the matter of a ceasefire still must be addressed. He stressed that a solution is linked with restarting political negotiations, and that the UN aim is to “address the issue of Hodeidah in the context of that political negotiation”.

Griffiths has said that he hopes to restart political negotiations “within the next few weeks”. It has been nearly two years since the sides participated in peace talks. When briefing members on 18 June, Griffiths presented a framework for negotiations, outlining the principles on which the talks would be based. These include, among other points: that the talks be based on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative, the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference and relevant Security Council resolutions, particularly resolution 2216; and that they be inclusive, including the involvement of southern groups, civil society and women. He further said that the talks would seek to address political and security issues as part of a package.

Griffiths met with President Hadi in Aden on 27 June and with Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdul-Salam in Muscat the following day. On 2 July, he travelled to Sana’a for further engagement with the Houthis. Gargash announced on 1 July via Twitter that the coalition had, as of 23 June, paused its assault on Hodeidah to give the Special Envoy time to negotiate the unconditional withdrawal of the Houthis from the city and were awaiting the results of his visit to Sana’a.

Members will be interested in getting an update on Griffiths’ efforts to de-escalate the situation over Hodeidah. They are also likely to seek details about his plans to restart political negotiations, including possible timing and location, and to discuss further how the Hodeidah situation will be linked to these negotiations. Members may want information on the envisioned UN management role at Hodeidah port. They may express support for his plans and encourage the parties to engage with the UN mediator.

Ging may reiterate messages that OCHA has delivered during the Council’s recent meetings on Yemen, including the humanitarian consequences of urban warfare in the city of 600,000 and of the expected deterioration of Yemen’s wider humanitarian crisis, if the port is damaged or closed for a prolonged period. Ging is expected to provide an update on the situation around the city and what UN humanitarian partners have been doing. According to OCHA’s 27 June situation report on Hodeidah, the UN has provided some form of emergency assistance to 6,000 displaced families (or roughly 42,000 people) from Hodeidah since 1 June.

All members recognise the significant consequences that a battle for Hodeidah could have on Yemen’s humanitarian situation. Nonetheless, members expressed varying positions during Council meetings last month, ranging from simply stressing that the port should remain operational and that obligations under international humanitarian law be respected, to more assertive calls for a cessation of hostilities. Kuwait, a member of the coalition, has repeatedly referenced Council resolution 2216, highlighting its demand that the Houthis withdraw from all seized territory. Following pressure from Sweden and several other elected members, Council members issued press elements after their 18 June meeting, welcoming the Special Envoy’s briefing on proposals to restart the political process and noting that they had asked him to keep them updated in real time regarding his ongoing efforts on Hodeidah.

The coalition views Hodeidah port as a means for the Houthis to finance their war effort and to divert the flow of humanitarian aid. It also asserts that Hodeidah port is used to smuggle weapons. The Yemen Panel of Experts in its most recent annual report said that the use of Hodeidah port for weapons smuggling is “unlikely”, noting that this route is closely monitored. The UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM), which has provided clearance for commercial vessels to the port since May 2016—and in recent months has increased its inspections to around ninety percent of commercial ships—has never reported discovering any weapons. The coalition also conducts its own inspections of shipments to the port. Coalition member states have not reported any of these inspections to the 2140 Yemen sanctions committee, as required by resolution 2216, which established the arms embargo.

The Houthis obtained large quantities of arms, including ballistic missiles, from the stockpiles of the Yemeni army when they took over the capital in September 2014. The Panel has reported that external sources of arms are more likely to come through land supply routes emanating from southeast Yemen or the Omani border. Black markets along front lines are further believed to be likely sources of arms and ammunition. At the 18 June consultations, OCHA head Mark Lowcock apparently disputed the claims in the UAE’s 13 June letter to the Council (S/2018/607) in which they said that the UNVIM had not been effective in preventing the transfer of Iranian weapons through Hodeidah.

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