Yemen Briefing and Consultations
On Monday (15 April), the Security Council will hear briefings on Yemen from Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, both by videoconference. Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, and Muna Luqman, Chairperson of Food for Humanity and a member of the Women Solidarity Network, are also expected to brief. During consultations, General Michael Lollesgaard, the chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) and head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), will brief by videoconference.
Implementation of the Stockholm Agreement of December 2018 remains stalled. Griffiths and Lollesgaard are expected to focus on efforts to advance its implementation, including the deal on Hodeidah, which late last year halted the Yemeni government and Saudi Arabia-led coalition offensive against this critical port city held by the Houthis. A continuing stumbling block concerns the composition of the “local security forces” that, according to the agreement, are to take over security responsibilities from Houthi rebels and Yemeni government forces when these redeploy from Hodeidah city and port and the nearby smaller ports of Saleef and Ras Isa. The other two elements of the Stockholm Agreement—a prisoner exchange and Statement of Understanding on Taiz—have also stalled.
On 19 March, Griffiths announced “significant progress towards an agreement to implement phase one of the redeployments of the Hodeidah agreement” and that operational details would be presented to the parties of the RCC “for endorsement shortly”. Since then, however, there have been no signs of implementation, and Lollesgaard has been unable to hold a joint RCC meeting, instead having to meet separately with Yemeni government and Houthi representatives. Last month’s clashes around Hodeidah were described as the most intense since the governorate-wide ceasefire went into effect in December. Neither side has sought to seize new territory in Hodeidah, however.
When he last addressed Council members in consultations on 13 March, Griffiths said that if the impasse continues, he may organise a “political” meeting of the RCC, which would include Lollesgaard and RCC representatives, the Special Envoy and the political leadership of the two sides. He further spoke about the importance of resuming a second round of consultations. A follow-up round of talks to the December 2018 consultations between the Yemeni government and Houthis in Sweden had been planned for January, to focus on a comprehensive political solution to the war, but have been put on hold until the accord on Hodeidah is implemented. During the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee mission to the region last week, Griffiths informed committee members, who met with him in Amman, that he would like to hold a second round of consultations before Ramadan, which starts on 5 May. While Council members appear generally supportive of the need to resume political talks, they seem to recognise that some minimum level of progress would be a prerequisite, such as the prisoner exchange or the first phase of redeployments in Hodeidah city and the three ports.
Lowcock will update members on the humanitarian crisis. More than 24 million people—80 percent of the population—require aid and 20 million people are food insecure, with approximately 10 million at risk of famine. Lowcock is likely to note a rise in cholera cases that have tripled this year compared to the first quarter of 2018, and this before the upcoming rainy season when cholera spreads more easily. The value of the Yemeni rial had fallen towards the end of March to 590 rials to the US dollar, stressing people’s purchasing power, a major driver of the food crisis. Lowcock may also address access restrictions for the relief operation, especially bureaucratic obstacles in the Houthi-controlled north.
Lowcock may highlight the conflict’s escalation in areas outside Hodeidah. Fighting near Abs in Hajjah governorate has recently displaced 50,000 people, while the city of Taiz saw heavy fighting in late March between anti-Houthi groups. Lowock may further express concerns over risks that different frontline clashes pose to critical civilian infrastructure, and flag a general rise in civilian casualties.
When Lowcock last briefed the Council on 19 February, he said that the biggest challenge was increasingly becoming a lack of funding. A 27 February donor conference raised pledges of $2.6 billion out of $4.19 billion required for the 2019 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan. This included $1.5 billion from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which together committed $1 billion in new pledges at the conference, in addition to $500 million that they committed last November. By 24 March, according to an OCHA report, donors had however disbursed just 5% of this year’s required funds, including $21 million from Saudi Arabia and none from the UAE. An 8 April joint letter from the Yemeni government, Saudi Arabia and the UAE said that they would contribute $200 million to UN agencies for humanitarian relief during the month of Ramadan, focusing on Houthi-controlled areas. The letter stipulates, however, that this aid and the $1 billion pledged during the donor conference “can only be delivered if the Houthis cooperate with UN agencies and commit to end theft and blockage of access”. Lowcock has previously addressed reports about the diversion of aid, stating at the February briefing “that the vast majority of assistance is going where it is supposed to go” and that these challenges “can be managed”. The joint letter further attributes to the Houthis 3,047 violations of the ceasefire agreement and says that the Houthis have been strengthening their defenses in Hodeidah.
Gamba’s briefing is expected to highlight the war’s effect on children, who have been recruited by both sides, according to the UN and media reporting, and are frequent victims of the hostilities and the war’s broader humanitarian impact. The non-governmental organization Save the Children has estimated that 85,000 children died of starvation and disease from April 2015 to October 2018.
Gamba is likely to refer to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that she signed with the coalition on 25 March in Riyadh to develop a programme of activities in the next two months for strengthening the protection of children in the Yemen conflict. The coalition is listed in Annex ‘B’ of the Secretary-General’s annual report on Children and Armed Conflict for ‘killing and maiming’ children, which is one of the five grave violations against children for which parties can be listed in the report. (Annex ‘B’ was created as a separate section two years ago to distinguish violators who have nonetheless put in place measures to improve the protection of children). According to the 2018 report, during 2017 the UN verified the killing of 552 children and the maiming of 764, with coalition airstrikes responsible for 368 of these deaths and for 300 of those injured. The 2017 annual report had additionally listed the coalition for the violation of attacks on schools and hospitals.
Coalition airstrikes have continued to be a cause of child casualties. An airstrike on 9 August 2018 targeting a school bus killed 44 children. This prompted a briefing of Council members (under “any other business”): in press elements, they called for a credible and transparent investigation. More recently, on 26 March, a day after the MOU’s signing, a coalition airstrike near a hospital supported by Save the Children in Saada killed seven people, including four children. An explosion near two schools in Sana’a on 7 April killed 14 children and critically injured 16, according to UNICEF, who said these figures were likely to increase. The source of the blast was not clear, and Lise Grande, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, has called for an investigation.
Among other belligerents, the Yemeni government is listed for the violation of recruitment and use of children in Annex ‘B’. The Houthis are included in the traditional Annex ‘A’ for the violations of recruitment and use; killing and maiming; and attacks on schools and hospitals.
Luqman, who will brief by videoconference, is expected to speak about the war’s impact on civilians and the humanitarian crisis. She is also likely to speak about the inclusion of women and civil society in the peace process. Having been in Taiz at the war’s start, she may reflect on her own experience in the city besieged by the Houthis.
Council members, who are likely to make statements in the public chamber, may express continued disappointment over the lack of implementation of the Stockholm Agreement, and may encourage the parties to remain committed to the process and follow through on their agreements. Members have been seeking to find the right balance of pressure and patience. They issued two press statements in February calling for the parties to fulfill their commitments. Council members have been under increasing pressure to single out the Houthis for impeding progress. Members have had meetings this week with Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash and Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled Alyemany, who highlighted their commitment to the Stockholm Agreement and claimed that it is the Houthis obstructing the process.
During Monday’s session, members are further expected to reiterate concerns over the humanitarian crisis and the need for the parties to protect civilians and respect international humanitarian law. Consultations may provide an opportunity for members to inquire more about the needs facing humanitarian agencies and how the Council may help meet these needs. Members may also discuss how the Council can support implementation of the Stockholm Agreement. There has been consideration by the UK as penholder of tabling a new press statement. Members are likely to be interested in Griffiths’ views on whether doing so at this time would support his efforts.
Members may further seek to discuss with Griffiths political developments, including yesterday’s convening of Yemen’s House of Representatives— rare since the war—in which more than 130 parliamentarians met in Sayoun. President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, having travelled from Riyadh, addressed the representatives, who elected a new speaker.