What's In Blue

Posted Tue 14 May 2019

Yemen Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (15 May), the Security Council will hold a briefing on Yemen. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, and Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra (Peru), as the chair of the 2140 Sanctions Committee, are expected to brief in the open chamber. In the consultations that follow, members will be briefed through video-conference by General Michael Lollesgaard, the chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) and head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA). The UK, as penholder, may propose a presidential statement related to recent Houthi redeployments from Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa ports.

Political efforts continue to focus on implementing the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement, particularly the arrangement for Hodeidah that established a governorate-wide ceasefire and called for the mutual redeployment of Houthi rebels and Yemeni government forces from Hodeidah port and city, as well as the two nearby smaller ports of Ras Isa and Saleef. At the same time, fighting between the Houthis and forces aligned with the Yemeni government and Saudi Arabia-led coalition has escalated in other parts of Yemen, especially the southern governorate of al-Dhale, where the Houthis have been gaining territory.

At the Council’s last meeting on Yemen on 15 April, Griffiths announced that the parties had accepted a detailed plan for carrying out the first phase of redeployments set out by the Hodeidah agreement.  However, the parties had yet to agree on the composition of “local security forces” to take over security from departing Houthi and government troops, or on an operational plan for phase 2 redeployments. A joint declaration from a 26 April meeting in London of the Quad (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates [UAE], the UK and the US), which Griffiths attended, stated Quad members’ expectation that implementation of the Hodeidah agreement would be under way by the time of the Council’s 15 May briefing. The Quad called on the Houthis, in particular, to redeploy from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa.

The situation appeared to remain at an impasse when Lollesgaard announced on 10 May that the Houthis would carry out “an initial unilateral redeployment” from the three ports over a four-day period from 11 to 14 May. UNMHA would monitor and report on this unilateral redeployment, which Lollesgaard described as “a first practical step”. A 12 May statement by the RCC chair announced that, “military forces left the ports and the Coast Guard took over responsibility for security”, and that in the following days, activities would focus on removing military manifestations and demining. It stressed that this should be “seen as the first part of the agreed concept for phase 1 of the broader redeployment”. (As part of previous agreements announced by the UN, following Houthi withdrawals from the ports, the sides should redeploy from positions around the “kilo 8 triangle” in Hodeidah in order to provide greater access to the Red Sea Mills that hold 51,000 metric tons of grain. These various maneuvers would represent the first phase of redeployments, before the parties carry out a second phase of redeployments to withdraw entirely from Hodeidah city). Today UNMHA affirmed that the redeployment from the three ports had been executed.  There remained “a lot of work” to remove manifestations, but “cooperation has been very good”, according to the UNMHA statement.

While the Yemeni government and coalition apparently signed off on the plan before it was announced by the UN, Yemeni government officials have since been very critical of the developments. A letter on 13 May to the Security Council from the government criticised the process as not conforming with the concept of operations for the first phase of redeployments (S/2019/386). It highlighted that monitoring is not being done within a tripartite mechanism that involves supervision by all three parties, and that it should be able to check the list of coast guard members at the ports—the latter a reference to the government’s concern that the Houthis have placed their personnel in the coast guard.

These developments around Hodeidah are likely to be a focus of the briefings by Griffiths and Lollesgaard. Among other developments, Griffiths may refer to a meeting of the Yemeni parties today in Amman to discuss the economic provisions of the Hodeidah agreement, including the management of port revenues and their use for public salary payments. UNMHA’s recent statements have stressed that the Houthi redeployments will enable the UN to enhance its presence at the ports to support their management by the Red Sea Ports Corporation.

Lowcock’s briefing will provide an update on Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, which remains the world’s largest with 10 million people at risk of famine and 24.1 million people requiring humanitarian assistance. He is likely to report that a World Food Programme-led technical mission accessed the Red Sea Mills on 5 May and has since begun initial efforts to salvage wheat flour stocks that could feed over 3 million people for a month. Lowcock is likely to discuss the fighting in al-Dhale, noting that the escalation since April has closed off the main road that that has been used to transfer imports entering Aden to northern Yemen. He may repeat his call from last month for a country-wide ceasefire. Speaking of access challenges, Lowcock could again flag, as he has in recent briefings, that most restrictions are currently being encountered in Houthi-controlled territory. Lowcock may further highlight funding needs of the relief operation, which saw some recent progress through the disbursement of $240 million from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, of the $1.5 billion they have pledged for the 2019 humanitarian response plan.

Fore’s briefing follows last month’s Council briefing on Yemen by the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba. According to UNICEF, eight children are killed or injured each day across 31 active conflict zones, while the non-governmental organisation Save the Children has estimated that 85,000 children died of starvation and disease from April 2015 to October 2018. Fore may highlight recent UNICEF efforts with the World Health Organization to vaccinate 1.1 million people against cholera, the number of suspected cases having tripled during the first quarter of 2019 compared to the same period last year. Ambassador Meza-Cuadra is expected to focus his briefing on the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee visiting mission to Amman, Riyadh, Muscat and Tehran from 30 March to 5 April. It was the first visiting mission since the committee was established in February 2014 and included the participation of 14 committee members, a large number for a sanctions committee mission. (For more on the committee, see our May Forecast brief on Yemen).

Council members are generally expected to welcome the recent developments in Hodeidah, which represent the first redeployments in the five months since the Stockholm Agreement.  At the same time, they appear to recognise that this represents only a first step in what remains a fragile situation. They may emphasise that these developments must be followed by further actions to fulfill the agreement on Hodeidah, as well as the broader Stockholm Agreement that also includes a prisoner exchange and de-escalation in the frontline city of Taiz. Some members could recall the importance of the redeployments occurring in accordance with the agreed concept of operations. The consultations will provide an opportunity for members to further pose questions to Griffiths and Lollesgaard on the process.

Among other points, members may recall the importance of a next round of consultations between the Yemeni parties. Griffiths has been keen to organise a new round of talks focusing on a comprehensive political solution, but this has been put on hold until the Hodeidah agreement is implemented or until there is at least some progress towards its fulfilment. Council members are likely to reiterate their concern about the humanitarian situation, and may emphasise the parties’ obligations to facilitate humanitarian access and to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure. They are also likely to express concern over the intensification of fighting in Dhale and other front-line areas, despite the ceasefire in Hodeidah. They may further express concern over or condemn drone attacks today against Saudi oil facilities, claimed by the Houthis.

Based on the discussion tomorrow, the UK may propose a presidential statement in light of the past days’ developments, representing the most significant momentum towards advancing the agreement on Hodeidah.