Yemen Briefing and Consultations
On Monday (17 June), the Security Council will hear briefings from Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths (via video-teleconference), Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, and Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley. During the ensuing consultations, General Michael Lollesgaard, the head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) and chair of the Redeployment and Coordination Committee (RCC), will brief via video-teleconference.
Over the last month, diplomatic efforts have been concentrated on fixing the damaged relations between the Special Envoy and the Yemeni government, following the UN’s overseeing of the Houthi-rebel group’s “unilateral” redeployment from Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa ports.
The redeployments—the first to occur in the five months since the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement—were carried out from 11 to 14 May, just ahead of the Council’s 15 May briefing on Yemen. Facing prolonged negotiations over demilitarizing Hodeidah city and the composition of the local security forces that would assume security responsibilities, the UN decided to accept a previous Houthi proposal to withdraw its forces from the ports, instead of continuing to wait to resolve these outstanding issues. Griffiths and Lollesgaard said the redeployments could allow the UN to dispatch teams from the UN Development Programme and the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism that had been waiting to deploy to Yemen to support port authorities to increase the capacity of the ports and conduct inspections, as envisioned in the Hodeidah agreement. At the same time, it was hoped that this might kick-start the stalled redeployment process.
The Yemeni government objected that the redeployments were not conducted in accordance with the concept of operations previously agreed for “phase 1” redeployments, and were not overseen through the RCC, the tripartite monitoring mechanism through which the UN, the government and the Houthis are to supervise implementation of the Hodeidah agreement. The government also perceived the maneuver as the Houthis handing the ports over to Houthi-affiliated officials in charge of the coast guard, which then took over security responsibilities at the ports. The government was further offended by the UN’s characterisation of a “unilateral” redeployment which, it felt, implied that it had been the obstinate party for implementation of the Hodeidah agreement.
On 22 May, Yemeni President Abdo Raboo Mansour Hadi wrote to the Secretary-General outlining a list of offenses allegedly committed by the Special Envoy, ranging from “weak awareness of the nature of the ongoing conflict” to an insistence on dealing with the Houthis as a de-facto government, seeking to transcend resolution 2216 through adopting a political framework for the negotiations outside the scope of international resolutions, and neglecting the Stockholm Agreement’s prisoner exchange and statement of understanding on Taiz. Hadi said that he could not accept Griffiths continuing to serve as Special Envoy unless the Secretary-General provided a personal guarantee to bring an end to his alleged transgressions.
In the face of this fallout, P5 ambassadors to Yemen met with Hadi in Riyadh (minus China, whose ambassador was out of the country), expressing their continued support for Griffiths. On 10 June, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo met with Hadi in Riyadh to discuss the matter.
That same day, Council members issued a press statement underlining their continued support for Griffiths and calling on the parties to engage constructively and continuously with the Special Envoy. Members “noted positively” the initial progress achieved by the parties towards phase one of the redeployments as reported by the Envoy on 15 May.
The past week also saw Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash make public remarks expressing continued support for Griffiths. According to the UN, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf and Assistant Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council Abdel Aziz Hamad Aluwaisheg expressed their support for the efforts of the Special Envoy during DiCarlo’s meetings in Riyadh. Yemen’s Foreign Minister Khalid al-Yemany submitted his resignation this past week, although Hadi has yet to accept it.
During the controversy, it would seem that there has been little progress in further implementing the Stockholm Agreement or preparing new political talks. On 12 June, Lollesgaard issued a statement announcing that he had transmitted identical letters to the government and Houthi representatives of the RCC providing a status update on the redeployments. Lollesgaard noted that a Houthi military presence had not been detected in the ports by regular verification patrols by UNMHA. The mission had yet to confirm that the coast guard providing security was at the agreed level of 450 personnel. Lollesgaard said that military manifestations had been removed in Salif and Ras Issa but largely remained in Hodeidah, including trenches, which he called on the Houthis to remove expeditiously as part of their commitment to the process.
While the UN has assessed the ceasefire in Hodeidah as largely holding, fighting continues on other front lines, along with a notable escalation of Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia. On 14 May, the same day the UN confirmed the redeployment of Houthi forces from the ports, the group claimed responsibility for drone attacks on two oil pumping facilities in Saudi Arabia, prompting heavy airstrikes on Sana’a by the Saudi-led coalition on 16 May. Council members’ 10 June press statement condemned the attacks on the oil pumping facilities, underlining that such attacks pose a serious threat to Saudi Arabia, represent a wider threat to regional security, and threaten to undermine the UN-led political process.
On 12 June, the Houthis claimed that they fired a missile that struck Abha International Airport, in Asir province in southwestern Saudi Arabia. In a letter to the Council, Saudi Arabia said the attack injured 26 civilians. Today, following airstrikes on military targets in Sana’a, the Houthis claimed a second attack against the airport using a drone.
Security Council members are likely to express their strong support for Martin Griffiths at the briefing. Members may call for a de-escalation by all sides. Some members may express concerns about the impact of increasing regional tensions on Yemen’s war.
Lowcock is expected to provide an update on the humanitarian crisis and challenges facing relief operations in Yemen, where 10 million people remain at risk of famine. Challenges include the impact that fighting has had on delivering assistance, bureaucratic obstacles and the operations’ funding shortages. Beasley may speak about steps the WFP is planning to take, following its 20 May press statement that warned it could implement a phased suspension of operations in Houthi-controlled areas. The statement said that the greatest challenge to WFP operations was coming from the obstructive and uncooperative role of some of the Houthi leaders, including repeated obstacles to its independent selection of beneficiaries.
Members may seek to discuss how the possible suspension of WFP operations in Houthi-held areas could affect the humanitarian situation and the political process. Council members are likely to reiterate calls for the parties to remove access restrictions and urge donors to fulfill pledges for OCHA’s humanitarian operations.
Members may also express support for renewing UNMHA, after receiving this week the Secretariat’s review of UNMHA, dated 12 June. The review was sent to the Council in accordance with resolution 2452 ahead of the expiration of the mission mandate next month.