Tomorrow (12 December), Security Council members are expected to hear a briefing in consultations from Special Envoy Martin Griffiths (via VTC). Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock and General Abhijit Guha, the head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) and chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC), are also expected to brief.
At his last briefing on 22 November, Griffiths told the Council that “momentum to reach a political settlement in Yemen has been building”. This includes talks between the Houthi rebel group and Saudi Arabia since September, which have been accompanied by a de-escalation in hostilities. On 5 November, the internationally recognised Yemeni government and southern secessionists, known as the Southern Transitional Council (STC), signed the Riyadh Agreement that was brokered by Saudi Arabia, which is overseeing efforts to implement the power-sharing accord. The UN continues to push for implementation of the Stockholm Agreement between the government and Houthis. The agreement is coming up to its one-year anniversary on 13 December, with only limited progress implementing its three components: a plan to demilitarise the port city of Hodeidah, a prisoner exchange, and a statement of understanding on Taiz.
There have not been any significant developments since the Council last met on Yemen just three weeks ago. Griffiths may note the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s announcement on 26 November that it was releasing 200 Houthi prisoners. The move followed the Houthis’ release of 290 detainees in October. In its announcement, the coalition also said that it would permit medical flights, in cooperation with the World Health Organisation, out of Sana’a airport, closed to civilian air traffic since August 2016. On 28 November, 128 Houthi prisoners returned to Sana’a. At press time, no medical flights had taken place.
In his last briefing, Griffiths highlighted the decrease in violence, including a nearly 80 percent reduction in airstrikes across Yemen over the previous two-week period. Since then, fighting around Hodeidah prompted a 25 November statement by General Guha that he was “deeply concerned by the escalation” and noting an “increase in the number of airstrikes undertaken in the past 72 hours”. In Sa’ada governorate, an attack on 27 November on Al-Raqw market in Monabbih District killed at least ten civilians and injured 22, many of whom were Ethiopian migrants, according to OCHA, which did not attribute responsibility. OCHA described the incident as similar to a shelling attack on the same market on 20 November, which also killed ten civilians. Still, Griffiths may note that the Houthis have refrained from conducting cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia since announcing the cessation of attacks on Saudi territory on 20 September.
Council members may be interested in an update on the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement. While Griffiths is not directly involved in the Houthi-Saudi talks, nor the Saudi-brokered Riyadh Agreement, he may observe that nearly none of the timelines in the Riyadh Agreement for fulfilling a series of political, economic, military and security arrangements have been achieved. The prime minister returned to Aden on 18 November with several other ministers. (He should have returned to resume his functions within seven days of the accord’s signing, according to the agreement). However, key 15 and 30-day deadlines for military redeployments and security arrangements have not been met. Neither has a new “technocrat” government been formed, which the agreement stipulated should be created within 30 days from its signing, with ministerial portfolios assigned equally to officials from northern and southern Yemeni governorates. (For more details on the Riyadh Agreement, see our December 2019 Monthly Forecast.)
Timelines in the Riyadh Agreement were recognised as highly ambitious when the accord was signed, and Griffiths may note that the parties appear to remain committed to the agreement. On 5 December, however, the first clashes between government and STC forces since the agreement’s signing erupted around Zinjibar, the Abyan provincial capital.
During the monthly meetings, Lowcock usually provides an update on OCHA’s key priorities to mitigate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis: the protection of civilians, humanitarian access, funding for the aid operation, support for Yemen’s economy, and the need for a political solution. OCHA launched “The Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO) 2020” on 4 December, with initial projections of next year’s requirements in responding to global humanitarian needs. The report describes Yemen as still the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. While the number of people in need is expected to remain close to 2019 levels of 24 million, estimated requirements for the humanitarian response are $3.2 billion, down from last year’s $4.19 billion humanitarian appeal, which was 70.9 percent funded by November.
Members may be interested in an update from Guha on the “increasing restrictions” on the movement of UNMHA personnel, which Griffiths flagged during his 22 November briefing. The session may provide members with an initial opportunity to gain Guha’s views for the upcoming mandate renewal of UNMHA, which expires on 15 January. A UN review of the mission submitted to the Council in October found that UNMHA’s presence continues to have a tangible calming and moderating effect and that UNMHA’s objectives remain achievable and appropriate for the situation on the ground. The review flags, as Griffiths has previously discussed with members, the need for a political agreement on local security forces to replace Houthi and government forces in Hodeidah, which is preventing the broader troop re-deployments envisioned in the Stockholm Agreement.
Recent months have seen the emergence of consensus among Council members in wanting the parties to restart negotiations on a political settlement to the war concurrently with efforts to implement the Stockholm Agreement. The Yemeni government, however, has continued to appear hesitant about restarting peace talks before the Stockholm Agreement’s implementation. Resuming peace talks is also very much contingent on implementing the Riyadh Agreement, which stipulated that the STC be included in the Yemeni government delegation to future negotiations. In considering future talks, some members may underscore the importance of these being inclusive of not only the STC, but also other segments of Yemeni society.
Last month, both Griffiths and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller highlighted a recent agreement on a mechanism for depositing taxes and customs from commercial oil and gas shipments into a special account in the Central Bank branch in Hodeidah, under UN supervision, to pay civil servants’ salaries. Members may be interested in initial progress towards setting up the mechanism, that is meant to overcome delays experienced by fuel ships seeking to enter Hodeidah.