Yemen: Briefing and Consultations
On Thursday (17 October), the Security Council will be briefed on Yemen by Special Envoy Martin Griffiths (via video-teleconference) and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock. During closed consultations, General Abhijit Guha, the chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) and head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), is expected to brief Council members via video-teleconference.
Griffiths is likely to brief on efforts to restart a political process and peace talks, which have been put on hold while awaiting implementation of last December’s Stockholm Agreement between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebel group. (The Stockholm Agreement included a deal to demilitarise the port city of Hodeidah, a prisoner exchange, and a commitment to de-escalate fighting in the city of Taiz).
Fighting in August between the government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), along with rising regional tensions, however, have given new urgency to resuming negotiations on a comprehensive political settlement. On 26 September, during high-level week at the UN in New York, the P5, Germany, Kuwait and Sweden met with the Special Envoy to consider ways to move the political process forward. This new so-called ‘small group’ of member states released a communiqué calling on the Yemeni parties “to engage constructively with the Special Envoy to resume inclusive and comprehensive political discussions”. While noting that the Stockholm Agreement remains important, the lack of its full implementation “should not prevent the parties from participating in the Special Envoy’s process toward a broader political settlement to end the conflict”, according to the communiqué. Members are likely to be interested in Griffiths’ recent bilateral meetings with the parties, his ideas for restarting the political process, and how to make talks more inclusive.
Meanwhile, the Saudi Arabia-led mediation in Jeddah between the government and the STC could be close to achieving an agreement that, according to media reports, would bring STC representatives into the government. As part of a possible deal, Saudi Arabia has reportedly begun deploying forces to Aden to replace those of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which backs the STC despite being part of the coalition supporting the Yemeni government. Members will be monitoring whether a breakthrough is announced in the coming days in the Jeddah talks, along with possible progress in the prisoner exchange, and they may then seek a Council reaction.
Lowcock is expected to provide an update on OCHA’s five priority areas to mitigate the humanitarian crisis: respect for international law, unhindered humanitarian access, a fully funded aid operation, support for Yemen’s economy and the need for a political solution. September was the deadliest month for civilians this year in Yemen, according to the Civilian Impact Monitoring Project, despite recent overtures by the Houthis and coalition to de-escalate fighting. Lowcock may highlight access restrictions in Houthi-controlled areas impeding relief efforts. He is likely to recognise financial contributions last month by Saudi Arabia and the UAE towards fulfilling their $1.5 billion pledge in February. Lowcock may also mention other donors that recently made contributions amidst the funding shortage that had been imperilling humanitarian operations.
Among other issues, Lowcock may express concern about government regulations delaying commercial fuel imports through Hodeidah. This is contributing to a fuel shortage in the north, making it difficult for humanitarian actors to move around and for hospitals to operate, while increasing the cost of food. Lowcock may further report on the lack of progress in getting Houthi authorities to allow a UN inspection mission access to the SAFER oil tanker. OCHA has repeatedly warned that the tanker, located off the Ras Isa oil terminal in the Red Sea, risks creating a major environmental disaster due to its age and lack of maintenance since 2015.
This will be Guha’s first time addressing Council members since his appointment last month. Implementation of the Hodeidah agreement has stalled over the lack of agreement on the composition of local security forces to replace Houthi and government forces in Hodeidah. Guha may inform members about progress in setting up the recently activated mechanism for tripartite monitoring of the Hodeidah ceasefire and preventing military escalation.
The run-up to this briefing has seen controversy over a proposal by Peru to have the Chair of the Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEE), Kamel Jendoubi, brief on its recent report on human rights abuses committed during the conflict.
The report of the GEE, which is mandated by the Human Rights Council, details possible war crimes committed by the parties to the conflict, including through airstrikes, indiscriminate shelling, snipers, landmines, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence and access impediments to humanitarian aid. For the second consecutive year, the GEE submitted a confidential list to the High Commissioner for Human Rights of individuals possibly responsible for international crimes. The report also suggests that the P3 and Iran, among other states, could be responsible for violations of international humanitarian law for transferring arms, and other logistical or intelligence support to the parties. Its recommendations include that states should support the Special Envoy’s efforts to achieve sustainable and inclusive peace, and that the Human Rights Council urge the Security Council to emphasise the human rights dimensions of the conflict and the need to ensure that there will be no impunity for the most serious crimes.
Initially, the proposal for Jendoubi to brief did not generate objections. No members disputed the proposal during last month’s political coordinators’ lunch on the Council’s October programme of work, nor during the breakfast with permanent representatives to adopt the programme early this month. Over the past week, however, a number of Council members, as well as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, began raising objections to Jendoubi’s participation, which had been designated ‘to be confirmed’ in the monthly briefers list. They argued that it was not the appropriate moment for the chair’s briefing, which risked undermining momentum for restarting the political process. Some members responded that Jendoubi’s briefing should not be linked with possible progress in restarting talks since a sustainable peace requires addressing such issues, and they pushed back against the last-moment nature of the objections.
It seems that there was a desire to avoid a procedural vote, considered unlikely to pass, as even some members that voted to renew the GEE’s mandate last month in the Human Rights Council felt that it would be better to postpone the briefing. During a meeting on Monday (14 October), Council members decided that Jendoubi would not brief.
The UK is planning to host an informal meeting Friday afternoon (18 October) for the GEE to brief Council members.