Yemen Briefing and Consultations
This afternoon (11 September), UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths is expected to brief the Council on Yemen via video teleconference from Amman. The UK requested the meeting to follow up on the Geneva consultations that the Special Envoy sought to organise last week between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels, but which the Houthis never attended. The US, seeking to ensure public meetings during its Council presidency this month, has decided to have a public briefing with Griffiths, to be followed by closed consultations. Last week, on the eve of the Geneva consultations, Council members issued a press statement asking the Special Envoy to keep them informed of progress, including briefing them upon the consultations’ conclusion.
Griffiths announced his plan to organise the consultations among the parties when he last briefed the Council at the beginning of August. He has stressed that as consultations, the first such talks in two years, these would not get into substantive issues and negotiations, but would seek to develop a negotiating framework that he has put forward to guide future peace talks and discuss confidence building measures. The Houthi delegation never left Sana’a, apparently insisting they fly first to Muscat, and bring on their flight to Oman wounded fighters for medical treatment before proceeding to Geneva. According to press reports, the Houthis further protested not having guarantees that their delegation would be able to return to Sana’a, which they had been prevented from doing after the breakdown of the Kuwait talks in 2016.
During the three days that had been allotted for the consultations from 6 to 8 September Griffiths engaged with the Yemeni government delegation. As he explained at an 8 September press conference, these discussions focused on confidence building measures, including the release of prisoners, the opening of Sana’a airport, economic issues and a wide range of humanitarian issues, such as opening up humanitarian access routes. Griffiths has been careful during his public remarks in Geneva to not assign blame to either side for the Houthis’ absence. He emphasised at the 8 September press conference that consultations do not require the parties being in the same room, so while it still would have been more convenient for the Houthis to have been present in Geneva, he intended to travel to Muscat and Sana’a to discuss with their leadership what had been discussed with the government in Geneva.
While in Geneva, Griffiths said that he had also maintained close contact with the Group of 19 ambassadors to Yemen (these include the ambassadors to Yemen of Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the P5, the EU, Egypt, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey), and with a technical advisory group of Yemeni women that he had invited. His briefing tomorrow comes before his visit to Muscat and Sanaa.
Griffiths delivered comprehensive public remarks on the consultations during press conferences on 6 and 8 September. It is thus unclear how much new information he will provide during his public briefing, though members are interested in hearing directly from the Special Envoy. Despite the failure of the Houthis to attend the Geneva consultations, it seems that members are likely to use the meeting to express their continued support for Griffiths. While some members could express frustration over or criticise the Houthis’ absence, members are likely to encourage Griffiths to continue this process of consultations, and for the sides to engage constructively with the UN envoy. Some may stress that the lack of success in Geneva should not be a reason for any party to escalate the fighting, though there have already been signs of an intensification in fighting around Hodeidah. Members are further expected to recall Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, continuing to emphasise the importance of humanitarian access into and throughout Yemen, including that Hodeidah port should remain fully operational, along with the need for the warring parties to respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians.
Other Recent Yemen Developments
Council members last met on Yemen on 10 August in consultations, following an airstrike by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that struck a bus in Saada, killing at least 40 children. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Taye-Brook Zerihoun briefed on the incident. Following this meeting, members issued press elements, expressing grave concern at the attack and all other recent attacks in Yemen, and calling for a credible and transparent investigation. The coalition, which backs the Yemeni government, first defended the strike. Saudi Arabia’s UN mission asserted in an 11 August letter to the Council that it was a legitimate military action that had targeted Houthi recruiters and trainers of child soldiers. But on 1 September, the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), an investigative body set up by the coalition, said that delays in executing the strike had led to the coalition hitting the bus with the children on board. A coalition statement that same day expressed regret over “mistakes” that had been made, its intention to hold accountable those responsible, and offering compensation. The coalition also issued a statement on 6 September that the JIAT would assess a 23 August air strike on a vehicle that OCHA said killed 27 civilians, including 22 children fleeing fighting in Hodeidah governorate.
The conduct of the warring parties has come under further scrutiny of late as the Group of Independent Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, established by the UN Human Rights Council, released a 41 page report on 28 August on the human rights situation in the country. The report says that individuals in the Government of Yemen and the coalition, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and from the de facto authorities, referring to the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have committed acts that may, subject to determination by an independent and competent court, amount to war crimes. A confidential list of perpetrators has been submitted by the Group of the Experts to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
A recent 24 August Human Rights Watch Report criticised the process of JIAT investigations, raising deep concerns about its independence, the quality of its findings, and the coalition’s lack of follow up to the JIAT’s recommendations; these findings were echoed by the Group of Experts report.