What's In Blue

Posted Fri 21 Dec 2018

Security Council to Vote on Yemen Resolution

The Security Council is expected to vote early this afternoon on a draft resolution that endorses the agreements reached by the government of Yemen and the Houthi rebel group during the UN-led consultations held in Sweden from 6 to 13 December. The draft also authorises the Secretary-General to establish and deploy an advance team to begin monitoring and facilitate implementation of the Stockholm Agreement, and calls on the Government of Yemen and the Houthis to take several steps that could alleviate the humanitarian situation. The UK circulated the draft to Council members on 17 December. Members met once to discuss the draft text on 18 December. Two silence procedures were broken on Wednesday (19 December) and yesterday (20 December). The draft had been in blue since yesterday afternoon, though the UK and the US continued to discuss the text bilaterally to try to bridge differences. A compromise has been reached, and a revised draft was put in blue a short while ago.

The UK had indicated that it wanted to move quickly on a Council resolution once the consultations in Sweden finished. In November, the UK had proposed a resolution that would support the five interventions that OCHA Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock had said were necessary to avert a major famine in Yemen: a ceasefire around critical infrastructure; lifting of access restrictions and keeping open main transport routes; measures to stabilise the economy; increased funding for the humanitarian operation; and resumption of a UN-led political process. Discussions on the resolution were eventually placed on hold as some members had concerns about the timing of a resolution just ahead of the talks in Sweden. The UK proposed the current draft resolution, seeking to have the Council react to the positive developments from Sweden, and to support the remaining relevant elements of Lowcock’s five asks.

In Sweden, the parties reached several agreements: an agreement on the city and governorate of Hodeidah and the ports of Hodeidah, Salif, and Ras Issa; an executive mechanism to implement the prisoner exchange agreement (announced just before the consultations started); and a statement of understanding on Taiz. The parties also agreed to a new round of consultations in January 2019. Together, these made up the Stockholm Agreement. The agreement on Hodeidah and the three ports included the establishment of a ceasefire in Hodeidah governorate and a mutual redeployment of forces from the three ports and Hodeidah city to agreed locations outside the ports and city. The redeployments should be implemented in two phases within a period of 21 days. After fighting occurred around Hodeidah city following the conclusion of the consultations in Sweden, the ceasefire went into effect on 18 December.

A number of members – France, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland and Sweden – already expressed support for the anticipated resolution at last Friday’s (14 December) Council briefing with Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and Lowcock, held the day after the talks concluded in Sweden. Griffiths and the Secretary-General also indicated that they wanted the Council to provide a mandate for the UN monitoring role of the Hodeidah agreement.

Negotiations have been contentious, as Kuwait and the US have opposed having the resolution cover humanitarian issues and going beyond the agreements in Sweden. Initially the US also sought a reference to Iran in a paragraph that condemned in general terms violations of the arms embargo. Following the 18 December meeting of Council experts on the text, the UK circulated a revised draft, streamlining the resolution’s humanitarian language and adding an explicit naming of Iran. Still, it seems that Kuwait and the US were not satisfied with the changes, while mentioning Iran was a ‘red line’ for Russia, as it does not agree with the Yemen Panel of Experts’ conclusions that Iran has been in non-compliance with the arms embargo established in resolution 2216.

A further revised draft that was placed under silence procedure until yesterday morning deleted the reference to Iran. Among other changes, it consolidated language on issues related to international humanitarian law, which has been sensitive for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition. Kuwait and the US broke silence, saying they still had serious concerns over the text. European members, and later Peru, reacted by expressing their support for the text, saying they wanted a swift adoption of a resolution, which supports OCHA’s ‘asks’ and sufficiently addresses international humanitarian law and accountability.

The US then proposed an alternative draft resolution. The US draft excluded any humanitarian elements, only covering the agreements from the talks in Sweden, and the related next steps. The UK then placed in blue its draft resolution, with a few tweaks to the text.

After continuing discussions with the US, the new draft resolution placed in blue this morning seems to reflect compromises by both sides. The draft has removed even more elements on the humanitarian situation but still includes points on the need for humanitarian access, the reopening of Sana’a airport to commercial flights (within an agreed mechanism), and for the parties to work together to strengthen the economy and pay pensioners and civil servants. A paragraph that would underline the need for investigations into alleged violations of international humanitarian law and for those found responsible to be held accountable was removed. Besides accepting references on the humanitarian situation, other apparent concessions made by the US include the draft resolution no longer condemning Houthi missile attacks on neighbouring countries and commercial vessels, and contraventions of the arms embargo; some members had felt that it was not appropriate to single out the Houthis’ actions in the war in a resolution meant to focus on the political process and on alleviating the humanitarian crisis.

On the UN monitoring role, the draft resolution authorises the Secretary-General to establish and deploy, for an initial period of 30 days, an advance team to begin monitoring and to support and facilitate the immediate implementation of the Stockholm Agreement. For the UN, having the Council authorise the advance team was important. The team has yet to deploy to Yemen. The draft resolution also requests the Secretary-General to submit proposals as soon as possible before 31 December on how the UN will fully support the Stockholm Agreement, including, but not limited to, substantive monitoring for Hodeidah. After members receive the proposals, they intend to consider a more substantive mandate for the UN role, with possibilities to provide this through a resolution or an exchange of letters with the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General is requested to report on the resolution’s implementation, including breaches of commitments by the parties, on a weekly basis until further notice.

In addition to backing the agreements in Sweden, the draft resolution calls on the parties to continue to engage constructively with the Special Envoy, in good faith and without preconditions.

If a resolution on Yemen is adopted later today, this will be the first Council resolution on Yemen, apart from the annual resolution renewing the Yemen sanctions regime, since resolution 2216 of 14 April 2015. The draft resolution under discussion during November, which focused on supporting interventions to address the humanitarian situation, faced strong objections from Saudi Arabia, which threatened that the Yemeni government and coalition would withdraw its engagement with the Special Envoy if the text were adopted. Previous proposals to have Council resolutions in March 2016 and October 2016 never advanced, and were known to have faced objections from Saudi Arabia.

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