Yemen Briefing and Consultations
On Thursday (18 July), Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths (via video-teleconference), Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, and World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley are expected to brief the Security Council on Yemen. Consultations will follow the briefing. General Michael Lollesgaard, the chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) and head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), is expected to brief members via VTC in the consultations.
Little progress has been made in advancing implementation of the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement since the Council’s last briefing on Yemen in June. While a fragile ceasefire continues to exist for Hodeidah governorate, fighting has continued on other frontlines, and the Houthi rebel group has maintained a campaign of drone attacks against Saudi Arabia. Since the start of the month, Griffiths has traveled to meet with officials in Moscow, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Washington D.C., and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The meetings follow the mending of relations between the Special Envoy and the Yemeni government after it reacted angrily to the UN’s overseeing, in May, a “unilateral” Houthi redeployment from Hodeidah, Saleef, and Ras Issa ports. Recent weeks’ developments also include the decision of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to reduce its military presence in Yemen, including in Hodeidah.
Griffiths is likely to report on the joint meeting of the RCC on 14-15 July, its first since February. The RCC—which is comprised of the UN, the Yemeni government and Houthi representatives—oversees the ceasefire and mutual redeployment of forces set out in the Hodeidah agreement, which is part of the Stockholm Agreement. (A prisoner exchange mechanism and statement of understanding on the city of Taiz were the Stockholm Agreement’s other two elements, and have not advanced significantly).
According to the RCC chair’s summary of the meeting, which took place on a ship in the Red Sea, the parties agreed on the concept of operations for the phase 2 redeployments that would demilitarise Hodeidah city. But, as indicated in the statement, proceeding with implementation of any further redeployments depends on the sides agreeing on “local security forces, local authorities and [port] revenues”, politically sensitive issues on which Griffiths has been leading negotiations. One option remains the eventual holding of a “political-level” RCC meeting that brings together Griffiths and the sides’ respective political leadership on the question of local security forces.
Lowcock will provide an update on what is still the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. During his last briefing in June, Lowcock lamented having to repeat each month similar dire figures and warnings about Yemen, where 10 million people face the threat of famine. He is likely to reiterate the need for the parties to respect international humanitarian law, flagging continued civilian casualties and a recent uptick of violence in Hodeidah. Lowcock is also likely to refer to continued access restrictions and obstructions for humanitarian aid, particularly in Houthi-held areas in the north. He may provide an update on discussions with Houthi authorities to deploy a UN technical mission to inspect the SAFER oil tanker. This floating storage and offloading facility off the Ras Issa terminal in the Red Sea holds 1.1 million barrels of oil and has not had maintenance since 2015, causing concerns about the potential for a major environmental disaster.
Funding humanitarian operations also remains a major issue, as donors, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have yet to deliver the bulk of the $1.5 billion that they pledged towards the UN’s 2019 humanitarian response plan. Lowcock could underscore that agencies are having to scale back activities and may need to close a number of programmes if more money is not forthcoming.
Beasley’s briefing follows up on his presentation last month at the Council when he alleged the Houthis’ diversion of food assistance for profit. Shortly after that meeting, the WFP suspended its general food assistance in Sana’a city, affecting 850,000 people, after months of trying to rectify matters. Beasley may provide an update on negotiations with the Houthis to assure the WFP’s independent provision of assistance and to be able to conduct biometric registration of beneficiaries.
Council members are likely to welcome the recent joint RCC meeting and will be interested in hearing the details when Lollesgaard briefs during consultations. Members may call for the parties to resolve outstanding issues, including the issue of local security forces, and to remain committed to the Stockholm Agreement’s implementation. The importance of resuming talks on a comprehensive political solution is also likely to be reiterated.
Among other points of discussion, concerns over the Houthi drone attacks on Saudi Arabia may be expressed, including the risk this creates for escalating the conflict, especially in the context of wider regional tensions. Members may make calls for an overall de-escalation. They are likely to call for the parties to provide unhindered humanitarian access and access for commercial goods. Concerns may also be raised over the death sentences imposed on thirty men on 9 July by the Specialised First Instance Criminal Court in Sana’a. According to a statement issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, these are mostly academics, students and politicians affiliated with the Islah party that have been critical of the Houthis.
Earlier this week, the Council renewed the mandate of UNMHA for six months. Members are thus likely to welcome the contributions of the mission. According to a UN review, UNMHA has served as a credible and effective conflict prevention tool and an impartial arbiter of conditions on the ground.