What's In Blue

Posted Wed 28 Aug 2019

Presidential Statement on Yemen

On Thursday morning (29 August), the Security Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement on recent developments in southern Yemen and efforts to resume comprehensive political negotiations and implement the Stockholm Agreement, among other issues. During the Council’s closed consultations on Yemen on 20 August, the UK, the penholder on Yemen, informed members of its intention to pursue a draft presidential statement, which was circulated on 22 August. Following attempts to put the draft under silence procedure on 25 August and 26 August, agreement was reached on the draft presidential statement earlier today.

Ahead of last week’s briefing, Yemen’s war experienced a dramatic deterioration with southern separatist forces taking control of Aden on 10 August, and fighting between separatists and the government spreading to other southern governorates. Responding to this new crisis, the Council in the draft presidential statement calls on all parties involved to show restraint and to preserve Yemen’s territorial integrity. It further welcomes and fully supports Saudi Arabia’s efforts to convene a dialogue in Jeddah to resolve the situation, calling on all parties to engage constructively for its success.

The crisis has appeared to give new urgency to the need to restart peace talks between the government and the Houthi rebel group. A new round of political consultations to focus on a comprehensive solution has yet to occur since last December’s consultations in Sweden produced the Stockholm Agreement, which included a deal to demilitarise the key port city of Hodeidah and two nearby smaller ports. In the draft presidential statement, the Council expresses full support for the Special Envoy’s efforts to work with the parties to pave the way for the resumption of comprehensive negotiations, without delay, on the security and political arrangements necessary to end the conflict. This was an issue, though, where members had some differences.

A sentence in the draft statement, stating that delays in the full implementation of the Hodeidah agreement should not impede efforts to resume consultations on the broader political process, was opposed by Kuwait. Kuwait has regularly highlighted the importance of full implementation of the Stockholm Agreement for the parties to return to peace talks. It stressed during negotiations that the Council would send the wrong message to the parties, particularly the Houthis, namely that they could disavow their Stockholm commitments and those of any future agreements. Several members wanted to retain this sentence, given that the importance of restarting political talks was such a focus of their discussion with Special Envoy Martin Griffiths last week. Moreover, implementing the Hodeidah agreement has stalled over disagreement between the government and Houthis on the composition of local forces to take over security responsibilities of the city and the ports, an issue that appears increasingly unlikely to be resolved independently of a broader political solution that would address future power-sharing arrangements. While the final draft text removes the contentious sentence, language was added to state the Council’s full support for the Special Envoy’s efforts to resume comprehensive negotiations, “without delay”.

Another sticking point was over referring to parties—those in the south, women and youth, and civil society–that should be included in an inclusive dialogue for a negotiated political settlement. Both Kuwait and China, while apparently  particularly uncomfortable with mentioning the south, made the case that listing specific parties was unnecessary as, in their view, the stand-alone reference to inclusive dialogue that addresses the legitimate concerns of all Yemenis was sufficient. For other members, mentioning the south was important. As a compromise, the language on “including those in the south” is retained in that sentence, while the references to women, youth and civil society were dropped. However, in another paragraph the Council reiterates the importance of the meaningful participation of women and youth in the political process, which had not been contested.

Among other messages, the Council conveys its deep concern at the escalation in violence across different parts of Yemen. It condemns in the strongest terms the escalation of Houthi attacks on civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, and calls on them to cease such attacks immediately, without preconditions. The statement calls upon the government and Houthis to continue broader implementation of the Stockholm Agreement, urging them, in particular, to work closely with the Special Envoy and redouble efforts to finalise the prisoner exchange and work on implementing the Statement of Understanding on Taiz. On the Hodeidah agreement, it calls upon the parties to engage constructively with the Special Envoy’s proposals, which he announced during last week’s briefing, for implementing phase one redeployments without further delay.

The draft further expresses concern at reports that the UN is running out of humanitarian funding and is scaling down or stopping essential life-saving activities. At last week’s Council briefing, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller stated that this funding gap was due to “Yemen’s neighbours in the coalition” having only provided a “modest share” of promised funding. By 21 August, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had delivered $286.6 million of the $1.5 billion they committed at a high-level Yemen pledging event in February. The draft presidential statement urges all donors promptly to fulfill pledges they have already made to the UN-led humanitarian response, and to provide additional funding if they can.

During negotiations, Russia wanted more balanced language regarding some of the references to the Houthis. For example, at Russia’s prodding, language calling for the lifting of restrictions on economic activity and for the respect of national economic policy was made more general, rather than being directed at the Houthis. Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Peru and Poland, which often coordinate their positions on Yemen, presented a number of joint proposals, which led to developing some of the language around the humanitarian situation and to the insertion of a sentence on the need to ensure accountability for violations in Yemen, drawn from the Council’s March 2018 presidential statement.