Yemen: Briefing and Consultations
On Monday (16 September), the Security Council will hear briefings on Yemen from Special Envoy Martin Griffiths (via video-teleconference) and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock. Consultations are scheduled to follow the public session.
Fighting last month between the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC), a separatist group supported by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has risked creating a new war in Yemen’s south and has threatened the unity of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition against the Houthi rebel group. At the Council’s 20 August meeting, Griffiths condemned “the unacceptable efforts by the Southern Transitional Council”, which had taken control of Aden, Yemen’s interim capital since 2015, and had sought to increase its military control in other governorates. Addressing the Council, Yemen’s ambassador, Abdullah Ali Fadhel al-Saadi, condemned the UAE’s role, asserting that the STC could not have staged its rebellion without Emirati support. On 29 August, the Yemeni government called upon the Council to “intervene immediately” after Emirati airstrikes targeted government forces advancing towards Aden, killing at least 30 soldiers. The UAE asserted in a 3 September letter to the Council that it had conducted the airstrikes against “terrorist elements” that threatened coalition forces.
Council members have preferred to give time for the coalition, particularly the Saudi-led mediation between the government and the STC, to overcome the fissure. In its 29 August presidential statement on Yemen, the Council welcomed and expressed full support for Saudi Arabia’s efforts to convene a dialogue in Jeddah to resolve the situation.
Despite the divisions exposed in recent months between Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Yemen, the two countries issued a joint statement on 9 September, stating that they are working in close coordination with the various parties to implement a ceasefire in preparation for a Jeddah dialogue. This latest joint statement called for an immediate end to all armed confrontations and violations, including the targeting of public and private property; called for the parties to work with a Joint Committee formed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to monitor and stabilise the cessation of armed hostilities; and urged an end to the escalation in media propaganda. While Griffiths is not directly involved in the Saudi mediation efforts, he may express support and encouragement for this process during the briefing.
Griffiths is likely to report on the latest joint meeting of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC), which oversees implementation of the agreement between the government and Houthis to demilitarise the port city of Hodeidah. The meeting occurred from 8 to 9 September on a UN-flagged vessel in the Red Sea, and was chaired by General Hany Nakhleh, who has been the acting head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) since General Michael Lollesgaard concluded his tenure at the end of July. According to an RCC joint statement on the meeting, a Joint Operations Centre is being established and activated at the UNMHA facility, with liaison and coordination officers from both parties and the UN, to work on de-escalation and address incidents that occur in the field. RCC members also decided to deploy teams in four locations on the frontlines of Hodeidah as an initial step towards monitoring the ceasefire. The Special Envoy’s proposal, submitted to the parties last month to advance the first phase of redeployments in the Hodeidah agreement, was also discussed, according to the statement. Council members are likely to welcome these efforts.
The crisis in Yemen’s south has given new urgency to the need to restart peace talks, which was a key point of discussion during last month’s consultations with Griffiths. A new round of consultations between the government and the Houthis to focus on a comprehensive solution to the conflict has been postponed until the implementation of last December’s Stockholm Agreement that included the deal on Hodeidah, a prisoner exchange and statement of understanding on the city of Taiz.
Members increasingly appear to recognize, however, that overcoming the controversial issue of the composition of “local security forces” to replace Houthi and government forces in Hodeidah is unlikely in the absence of a broader political process that addresses future power sharing arrangements. The Council’s 29 August presidential statement on Yemen welcomed the Special Envoy’s efforts to resume comprehensive negotiations, without delay, on the security and political arrangements necessary to end the conflict. Tomorrow, members may reiterate this message and the importance of an inclusive political process. During the General Assembly’s high-level week, a foreign minister-level meeting is being organised by Kuwait, Sweden and the UK on 26 September with several Council members and the Special Envoy to consider ways to move the political process forward.
Lowcock may reiterate in his briefing that the lack of funding is forcing the scaling-back and closure of relief programmes to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the world’s largest. This year’s humanitarian response plan was, by 13 September, only 36.5% funded. According to OCHA, this is due primarily to Saudi Arabia and the UAE having only fulfilled $336.6 million of their $1.5 billion pledge. Members can be expected to call on donors to fulfil pledges or make new commitments.
Among other points, Lowcock is likely to repeat calls for all parties to respect international humanitarian law. On 1 September, airstrikes hit a Houthi-controlled detention center in Dhammar City, killing at least 60 people, with at least 68 detainees still missing, according to initial UN reports. Some members may mention tomorrow the findings of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, which were presented to the Human Rights Council earlier this month, documenting for a second consecutive year the array of human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law committed by the sides during the conflict.
Members may express concern that a planned UN assessment mission has not yet been able to inspect the SAFER oil tanker, which holds 1.1 million barrels of oil. OCHA has repeatedly warned that the tanker, due to its age and lack of any maintenance since 2015, could create a major environmental disaster.
During high-level week, meetings are also being organised by OCHA and Saudi Arabia on the humanitarian situation, and by UNDP and Germany on the impact of the war on development in Yemen.
Regarding Lollesgaard’s replacement, the Secretary-General announced yesterday the appointment of Lieutenant General Abhijit Guha of India as the new UNMHA head and RCC chair.
*This story was edited to reflect the Secretary-General’s 12 September appointment of Lt. General Guha