What's In Blue

Posted Wed 11 Mar 2020

Yemen: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (12 March), the Security Council is expected to hear briefings from UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths (via VTC) and acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ramesh Rajasingham. Consultations are scheduled after the public session.

Heavy fighting since mid-January in northern Yemen has continued, severely setting back progress achieved during the latter part of 2019 towards restarting a political process. Since the escalation, the Houthi rebel group has seized new territory, altering frontlines in the north that had been largely unchanged for several years. The latest Houthi advances saw them seize the city of Al Hazm, the capital of Al Jawf governorate, at the start of this month. Its capture is seen as opening the way for the Houthis to advance on the governorate of Marib, where the provincial capital Marib city has experienced an economic and population boom during the war from an influx of Yemenis fleeing violence, its oil and gas reserves, and investments by Saudi Arabia.

Griffiths is likely to mention his day-long visit to Marib on 7 March, which seemed to suggest concerns about a possible Houthi advance. “The military adventurism and quest for territorial gains that we have seen since mid-January in northern Yemen are leading us away from peace”, Griffiths stated during his visit, according to a UN press release. He added, “Marib must be insulated from conflict, remain a haven for Yemenis and continue its path to development and prosperity”. On other fronts, General Abhijit Guha, the head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), released a statement on 8 March expressing alarm over an airstrike in Saleef, the port district north of Hodeidah, which he described as hampering the peace process and jeopardising the implementation of the Hodeidah agreement. A statement by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition claimed that it had conducted the operation to disrupt planned Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

Griffiths may repeat concerns about the impact of the fighting on the political process and call for a freeze on military activities, an appeal that he has issued publicly at least twice since 28 February. He could note the positive overtures from both the government and Houthis to this call, which have not translated into action, however. Council members similarly are expected to reiterate calls for a de-escalation and the resumption of an inclusive political process—messages members conveyed unanimously at the most recent Council briefing on Yemen on 18 February. Members may further express concern over the lack of progress in implementing the November 2019 Riyadh Agreement between the government and the separatist Southern Transition Council.

OCHA usually briefs on five key priorities to mitigate what the UN continues to describe as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis in Yemen: the protection of civilians, humanitarian access, a funded aid operation, support for Yemen’s economy, and the need for a political solution. Since the military escalation, 35,000 civilians have been displaced in Sana’a, Marib and Al Jawf governorates from 19 January to 17 February, while clashes in Al Hazm city on 1 March caused new “massive displacement”, according to OCHA’s latest situation report. Meanwhile, OCHA has flagged for months the intensification of Houthi restrictions and interference with aid operations. At the 18 February briefing, Under-Secretary-General Mark Lowcock suggested that donors may reduce funding for relief efforts, while the US announced at the briefing that it could consider suspending or reducing its assistance in northern Yemen as early as March if conditions for aid delivery do not improve. Rajasingham is likely to provide an update on Houthi restrictions and interference, and on access throughout Yemen more generally.

On funding, Rajasingham could mention that a donor conference for the 2020 Yemen humanitarian response is scheduled for 2 April in Riyadh, marking a change from past annual pledging conferences since 2017 that have been organised in Geneva. (At press time, no change in plans for the conference has been reported despite growing international travel constraints due to the spread of COVID-19.) The 2020 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan has not yet been announced, though last December’s Global Humanitarian Overview projected funding needs of $3.2 billion for Yemen in 2020.

In addition to calling for unhindered humanitarian access, members may recall last month’s resolution 2511 that renewed the Yemen sanctions regime.  It expressed serious concern over recent interference in aid operations in Houthi-controlled areas, and the need for UN access to inspect and maintain the SAFER oil tanker, which risks causing a major environmental disaster. Adopted without unanimity (China and Russia abstained), the resolution also established that the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee could, on a case-by-case basis, exempt any activity from sanctions measures if necessary to facilitate the work of the UN and other humanitarian organisations.

No Council product is anticipated tomorrow. In a press statement on 30 January, Council members called for “an immediate cessation of these hostilities” following the escalation in January, and last month’s sanctions resolution was the first formal Council product on rising Houthi interference in aid operations and the Houthis’ continued failure to allow a UN inspection mission access to the SAFER oil tanker.

For additional background, see Security Council Report’s March monthly forecast on Yemen.

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