Yemen Briefing and Consultations
Friday afternoon (16 November), the Security Council is expected to hold a briefing, followed by consultations, on Yemen, on which there has been new urgency to restart a political process between the Houthi rebel group and the Yemeni government amidst dire warnings of famine. The UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is expected to brief. The Council also expects to receive briefings from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock and World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley. A civil society representative, Rasha Jarhum, who is the founder and Director of the Peace Track Initiative in Yemen, is expected to brief from Canada via video-teleconference.
Griffiths’ efforts to organise a new round of consultations appeared to gain momentum following calls from US Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on 30 October for a resumption of talks during November and a cessation of hostilities. Pompeo’s statement stipulated that a cessation of hostilities should start with the Houthis ceasing missile and drone attacks against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to be followed by a pause in airstrikes on populated areas by the Saudi-led coalition. Three days later, the Secretary-General called for a cessation of hostilities around critical infrastructure and densely populated areas.
The UK, which is the penholder on Yemen, has also stepped up its engagement. It has been preparing a new Security Council resolution to respond to the five areas that Lowcock asked the Council to support, at a 23 October briefing, in order to avert famine. UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt travelled to the region earlier this week, meeting with senior leadership of the Saudi, Emirati and Yemeni governments and the Foreign Minister of Oman. In a press release on the visit, the UK announced that serious consideration is being given to a set of political ideas and confidence-building measures that would allow for the start of political talks in Sweden by the end of November. It also said that the coalition has agreed to the UN overseeing a medical evacuation of up to 50 wounded Houthi fighters to Oman, which had been one of the main stumbling blocks to the UN Geneva consultations planned for September.
Despite the US calls for a cessation of hostilities at the end of October, the coalition immediately intensified military operations across Yemen, including its offensive on the port city of Hodeidah. This week, however, Griffiths’ office issued a statement on 13 November that welcomed reports of a reduction of hostilities in and around Hodeidah city, stressing that a de-escalation is a crucial step in order to prevent further humanitarian suffering and build a more enabling environment for the political process. News reports today say that the coalition has halted the attack in an apparent concession to pressure from Western countries. In his statement, Griffiths added that logistical preparations are under way for the upcoming round of consultations, saying, “We are in a position to move forward.”
In other public remarks, Griffiths has said that he is working to organise talks that will focus on confidence-building measures—enhancing the capacities of the Yemeni Central Bank, the exchange of prisoners and re-opening Sanaa airport—and reaching agreement on a framework for political negotiations. Griffiths is expected to inform members of how his discussions are going with the parties, as well as his recent meetings with civil society groups, in order to hold a new round of consultations.
Lowcock and Beasley will both brief on the humanitarian crisis, particularly the threat of famine. When Lowcock briefed the Council on 23 October, he said, “there is now a clear and present danger of an imminent and great big famine engulfing Yemen”, threatening as many as 14 million people. The deterioration was being driven by the fighting around Hodeidah, which was hindering the ability to move critical imports such as food and fuel, and the collapse of the economy, especially the decline in the Yemeni rial that was crippling people’s purchasing power. Lowcock sought Council support in five areas: a cessation of hostilities around key humanitarian infrastructure; protection of the supply of food and essential goods, including the lifting of access restrictions on imports and keeping main transport routes open; measures to stabilize the economy; increased funding for scaling up the humanitarian operation; and for the belligerents to engage with the Special Envoy to end the conflict. During his briefing, Lowcock is expected to provide an update on these five ‘asks’ proposed to the Council.
Earlier this week, Beasley concluded a three-day visit to Yemen. He is expected to provide first-hand testimony on the food insecurity and economic conditions that he witnessed. A WFP statement issued today noted that the organisation is preparing to scale up to provide food and cash-based assistance for as many as 12 million people, from the current 7-8 million people that it supports with food assistance every month. Beasley is likely to discuss current WFP operations, challenges on the ground and the plans to scale up since all indications point towards a worsening situation. Beasley and Lowcock may note that a new Integrated Phase Classication (IPC), which measures levels of food insecurity, including famine, is being finalised. Jarhum, who is from southern Yemen and an expert on Women, Peace, and Security, is expected to focus on the impact of the war on women, the inclusion of women in peace efforts, and the humanitarian crisis.
Council members are likely to make statements in the public chamber before moving to consultations. They can be expected to repeat key messages from recent meetings on Yemen, such as the need to maintain access for importing and distributing critical humanitarian and commercial goods, and to stabilise the currency and pay civil servants and pensioners. At the Council’s last meeting on Yemen on 23 October, there were increased calls from members for a cessation of hostilities, with eight members making such appeals. Since then, support among members appears to have expanded with the US calls on 30 October and the UK draft resolution that is meant to address Lowcock’s asks. The draft resolution, which the UK informed members it was preparing at the start of November, has been discussed among the P5, but has not been shared with most elected members, as it seems that the UK has sought to consult with and build support among coalition countries to make sure it will be implemented. During consultations, some members may ask for an update regarding the resolution, if the text has not been shared formally by then.
Last week, Council members were unable to agree on a proposed press statement, suggested by China and then drafted by the UK, to react to the Secretary-General’s call and some of the other momentum for resuming political talks. The Netherlands, Peru, Poland and Sweden felt that the text would not adequately have addressed the humanitarian situation, even after members exchanged comments on the draft. In opposing the statement, they argued that the Council should focus on providing meaningful support to the Special Envoy and OCHA through a resolution.