Yemen: Briefing and Consultations on Political Process and Humanitarian Crisis
Tomorrow morning (14 December), the Council expects to hear briefings from the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths (via VTC from Amman), and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock. The UK requested the session, which follows the conclusion earlier today of the UN-led consultations held in Sweden from 6 to 13 December between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebel group in an effort to resume a political process.
Griffiths will inform members on the outcomes of the consultations. The week-long meeting in Rimbo, Sweden marked the first time in over two years that the two sides had met. Attending the closing ceremony of the consultations, the Secretary-General announced an agreement on Hodeidah port and city, and the ports of Salif and Ras Isa, which will involve the establishment of an immediate 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. According to the agreement, the UN will chair a Redeployment Coordination Committee that will be established, comprising of, but not limited to, members of the parties to oversee the ceasefire and redeployment that will report on a weekly basis to the Security Council through the Secretary-General on the parties’ compliance with the agreement. The UN will take on a leading role in supporting Yemen Red Sea Ports Corporation in management and inspections at the three ports, which will include enhanced monitoring by the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM). Security of the city of Hodeidah and the ports will be the responsibility of local security forces in accordance with Yemeni law. The agreement further includes the channeling of revenues at the ports to the Central Bank of Yemen through its branch in Hodeidah as a contribution to the payment of salaries in the governorate of Hodeidah and throughout Yemen.
Additionally, an agreement was reached on a Statement of Understanding on Taiz, a city that has seen some of the most intense and sustained fighting among armed groups, including access restrictions imposed by Houthi forces. At today’s closing ceremony, the Secretary-General said this should lead to opening humanitarian corridors and the facilitation of demining. The parties also agreed on an executive mechanism to implement the prisoner exchange agreement that was reached just ahead of the consultations in Sweden. According to media reports, this will involve more than 15,000 detainees. A next round of consultations should be organized at the end of January, at which the parties have agreed, according to the Secretary-General, to discuss a framework for negotiations that Griffiths has been developing for achieving a comprehensive solution to the conflict.
At a press conference today, the Secretary-General and Special Envoy indicated the possibility of a UN Security Council resolution on the monitoring of the agreement on Hodeidah and the ports. The Secretary-General noted that a number of countries, including the US, had offered to make available technologies to ensure that the redeployment of forces could be monitored and reported on. The agreement is to be implemented in phases, with the redeployment from the ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa and critical parts of the city associated with the humanitarian facilities to be completed within two weeks after the ceasefire enters into force. The full mutual redeployment of all forces from the city and the ports will be completed within a maximum period of 21 days after the ceasefire’s entry into force. At tomorrow’s briefing, Griffiths may share further details on how the agreement will be implemented. During the press conference, Griffiths said that negotiations are continuing on re-opening Sana’a airport to commercial flights, which he hoped might be agreed over the next week.
Lowcock’s briefing will provide an update on the five ‘asks’ that he proposed to the Council in October to avoid a major famine: a cessation of hostilities around the infrastructure and facilities on which the aid operation and importers rely; 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 stabilise the economy; increased funding to scale up the humanitarian operation; and for the belligerents to engage with the Special Envoy to end the conflict. The agreement on Hodeidah city and the ports thus represents a significant development, with the announcement of the ceasefire and the parties’ commitment to facilitate the freedom of movement of civilians and goods from and to Hodeidah city and the ports, as well as the delivery of humanitarian aid through the ports. As Griffiths said during the press conference, the agreement is designed to open the currently inaccessible main east-west road used to transfer commercial and humanitarian imports between Hodeidah and Sana’a and Yemen’s northern highlands.
Lowcock is further likely to share his impressions from a 28 November to 1 December visit to Yemen. In a CNN opinion piece, he said that it did not fail to shock him despite 30 years of experience working on humanitarian crises. On 7 December, the findings of an Integrated Food Security Phase Classification were released, reporting that 15.9 million people – 53 percent of the population – face severe acute food insecurity. It estimated 63,500 people in the catastrophic phase 5, the classification for famine, that in the absence of current assistance would total 240,000 people.
Council members are expected to welcome the progress achieved during the consultations in Sweden, while expressing continued concerns over the humanitarian situation. They may seek more information on the planned UN role to monitor the ports and to support port authorities, something that has been discussed previously as presenting a challenge for the UN.
Members are likely to be interested in hearing Griffiths’ views about a Security Council resolution, and how the Council can support the agreements reached in Sweden. There is an expectation that the UK plans to move quickly to restart discussion on the draft humanitarian resolution that it initiated last month to support OCHA’s five asks. The draft was placed on hold as some members had concerns about its timing just ahead of the consultations in Sweden. The draft resolution had 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. An updated version of the draft that reflects the agreements in Sweden is expected to be circulated by the UK by Monday following tomorrow’s briefing and consultations. The penholder has expressed an interest in having it adopted next week.