Yemen: Council Vote on Sanctions Regime*
This morning the Council may vote on two different resolutions that renew the Yemen sanctions regime. Both would extend Yemen financial and travel ban sanctions until 26 February 2021, and the mandate of the Yemen Panel of Experts until 28 March 2021. (The targeted arms embargo established by resolution 2216 of April 2015 is open-ended). The UK as penholder on Yemen prepared an initial draft resolution, which members discussed during a lengthy meeting on 19 February. Silence was broken on an updated text on 21 February. In circulating a further revised draft yesterday (24 February), the UK informed members that it was preparing to have the draft resolution placed in blue. Subsequently Russia introduced an alternative draft resolution that contains only technical amendments to last year’s Yemen sanctions resolution. There have been continued discussions between the UK and Russia on the UK’s draft but no agreement has been reached.
The UK draft proposed a number of new elements that appeared to draw from the Panel of Experts’ 27 January report and recent Council discussion on the increasingly restrictive environment for humanitarian assistance, particularly in the Houthi-controlled north. It thus differed from resolutions adopted since 2016 that have largely made only technical amendments, for example by updating dates or adding references to new Council products. A draft resolution in 2018 that contained new language, largely related to Panel conclusions that Iran was in non-compliance with the arms embargo on the Houthis, was vetoed by Russia, with Bolivia also voting against it and China and Kazakhstan abstaining, citing their concerns that the Panel had not met evidentiary standards expected of UN sanctions experts in order to draw such conclusions.
This year, one sensitive issue was a new paragraph, similar in nature, that would have expressed concern over Panel findings that the Houthis continue to receive military support and weapons in violation of the targeted arms embargo, including weapons with technical characteristics of Iranian-manufactured arms. During discussion on the draft resolution, the US wanted to strengthen this reference while China and Russia sought to remove this language.
These differences were reflected at last week’s 18 February briefing on Yemen, when the US highlighted concerns about Iran’s role in the region and asserted that it continues to violate the targeted arms embargo. Russia, conversely, stated that it considered it “harmful and counterproductive to employ anti-Iranian rhetoric” and that it was necessary to avoid “pointing fingers” and to support impartial diplomatic efforts by backing Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, while recalling proposals to strengthen dialogue between Arab states and Iran. Ultimately the penholder’s draft resolution expresses deep concern at Panel findings that Houthi forces continue to receive military support and weapons in violation of the targeted arms embargo. However, it no longer specifically mentions Iran, but instead refers to these weapons’ “technical characteristics similar to arms manufactured elsewhere and express[es] particular concern at the provenance of these weapons”.
There have been differences over many other new elements in the text. More generally, Russia has had concerns about the proposed resolution appearing to criticize or name one party—the Houthis—more so than other sides. The initial draft resolution singled out the Houthis in relation to the moored SAFER oil tanker, lack of cooperation with the Panel of Experts, interference in aid operations and for conflict-related sexual violence. In contrast, several other members have been keen that the Council address these issues and the reported Houthi obstruction that were such a focus of the 18 February briefing.
The UK made some changes in response to these concerns, including removing a call directed at the Houthis to allow UN access to the SAFER oil tanker but the draft maintains references to “Houthi-controlled areas” in referring to areas of concern around access and restrictions, including the tanker. It also added language referring to obstacles “throughout” Yemen in a paragraph about hindrances to humanitarian aid; as several members noted, OCHA also described disruptions by the government at the 18 February briefing.
Among other differences has been a proposal by Belgium to affirm that conflict-related sexual violence and the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict and sexual violence fall under the sanctions designation criteria of 18(c) of resolution 2140, which encompasses violations of international humanitarian law and of international human rights law. Both China and Russia objected to including the additional specification, which they perceived as unnecessary since such violations can already lead to sanctions under the current criteria.
Different positions also emerged over a section that sought to follow up on Panel findings and recommendations over commercially available components that the Houthis have acquired from abroad to assemble unmanned aerial vehicles, water-borne improvised explosive devices and other weapons systems. This included requesting that the Panel develop a list of such components used by sanctioned individuals and entities. China and Russia did not want to include the two related paragraphs since there is not yet consensus over this recommendation among members of the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee, and argued that discussion should first continue on this issue at the committee level. Language, suggested by Indonesia, which also had reservations about including the proposal, now requests the Panel to include information about such commercially available components in its reporting to the 2140 Sanctions Committee.
Regarding the Panel of Experts, both draft resolutions request that it provides a mid-term update to the Committee no later than 28 July, and a final report no later than 28 January 2021 to the Security Council, after its discussion in the Sanctions Committee.
After gathering in the Council chamber for the scheduled vote in the morning, members decided to continue discussions, including among permanent representatives, to broker a compromise text. The Council reconvened in the afternoon, after a new draft resolution was placed in blue that reflected several new amendments to the UK draft. This resolution was adopted as resolution 2511, with 13 members voting in favor, while Russia and China abstained.
These changes to the UK draft included modifying the paragraph about violations of the targeted arms embargo. The resolution calls on member states and other actors to comply with the targeted arms embargo, which replaced the reference to the Panel of Experts’ findings that the Houthis continued to receive support in violation of the embargo and of any reference to these weapons’ origins.
The adopted version also removed language that had noted with appreciation the final report of the Panel of Experts, and replaced this with a more general reference that welcomes the work of the Panel. During negotiations, several members had preferred to soften this, contending that last year’s sanctions resolution did not mention the Panel report.
Regarding the issue of dual-use components, language was inserted to address concerns of China that highlights that legitimate commercial transactions should not be impacted.
Following the adoption, several Council members offered explanations of vote. Yemen’s Permanent Representative Abdullah Ali Fadhel Al-Saadi also addressed the Council.