Yemen: Briefing and Consultations*
Tomorrow (15 September), Security Council members will hold a briefing and consultations on Yemen at the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) chamber. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths will provide his monthly briefing. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock is also expected to brief.
Griffiths is expected to update members on negotiations between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebel group on a joint declaration for a nationwide ceasefire, a series of economic and humanitarian confidence-building measures and a resumption of peace talks. Negotiations on the declaration have been ongoing for almost six months. The Special Envoy has been aiming to finalise an agreement ahead of the General Assembly high-level week later this month. The talks have been tied up, though, as Griffiths reported in his 18 August briefing, on reopening Sana’a airport, paying civil servants’ salaries and facilitating imports into Hodeidah and Saleef ports.
On the ground, fighting appears to have intensified in Marib governorate as the Houthis continue their push towards Marib City. Marib has emerged as a political and economic stronghold for the government during the war. The fall of the city would be a major loss for the government and could lead to the Houthis seizing the governorate’s oil and gas fields. The fighting also threatens to exacerbate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and cause new waves of displacement. Marib governorate’s population has swelled during the war from 300,000 to three million, according to International Crisis Group figures, from an influx of people fleeing fighting elsewhere and drawn by its economic growth. Griffiths warned of the potential “dire humanitarian consequences” in a tweet yesterday following meetings with Yemeni and Saudi officials in Riyadh, saying the attack on Marib “must cease immediately”. The past two weeks have also seen a series of reported Houthi ballistic missile and drone attacks against Saudi Arabia.
At tomorrow’s session, members may also be interested in developments regarding the Saudi Arabia-overseen Riyadh Agreement between the government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC). The STC said on 25 August that it was suspending its participation in the power-sharing agreement, though it seems that it has since reversed this decision.
Lowcock is likely to raise concerns about the increasing food insecurity. On 4 September, Lowcock sent a “Note by the Secretariat” to Council members on food security risks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Yemen, northeast Nigeria and South Sudan, in accordance with resolution 2417, in which the Secretary-General should warn the Council about “the risk of conflict-induced famine and wide-spread insecurity”. A similar Secretariat white paper had warned the Council of the risk of famine in Yemen in October 2018. The latest note says the risk of famine in Yemen is “slowly returning…Similar conditions are emerging today, worsening key indicators beyond the levels seen in 2018”. It attributes the reemerging threat to intensified fighting—now on 42 fronts compared to 30 two years ago—and Yemen’s deteriorating economy. According to the note, the Yemeni rial has collapsed as the government has nearly depleted its foreign reserves to strengthen the currency and finance its imports, while the country has had a nearly 70 percent drop in remittances amid the global economic slowdown. A major gap in humanitarian funding this year, which Lowcock is again likely to flag, is further increasing the threat of famine.
Members will be interested in an update on UN efforts to gain access to the FSO Safer oil tanker. The moored, decaying tanker in the Red Sea near Hodeidah continues to threaten to create a major environmental disaster. On 16 August, the Houthis issued entry permits to a UN-led technical team to assess the ship’s condition and make possible emergency repairs. But the mission’s approval has yet to be finalised, pending ongoing discussions between the UN and Houthis on a list of equipment and repairs that the Houthis want the UN team to make. Amid increased concerns since May about the vessel sinking, members have repeatedly called for the Houthis to provide access for the mission without delay.
Council members could express their concerns about the latest report, released last week, by the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts (GEE). This is the GEE’s third report since it was established three years ago by the Human Rights Council to investigate human rights abuses and violations in Yemen since 2014. The GEE, according to its report, has “reasonable grounds to believe” that the Yemeni government, the Houthis, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the STC are all responsible for human rights violations, including arbitrary deprivation of life, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, gender-based violence including sexual violence, and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, the recruitment and use of children in hostilities, the denial of fair trial rights, other violations of fundamental freedoms, and economic, social and cultural rights. Likewise, these parties appear to have committed a substantial number of other violations of international humanitarian law, including airstrikes, in particular by Saudi Arabia, in violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution, and impeding humanitarian relief supplies, for which the GEE singles out the Houthis. The GEE notes that notwithstanding its previous recommendations, states including Canada, France, Iran, the UK and the US help perpetuate the conflict by continuing to supply the parties with weapons.
In its recommendations in this year’s report, the GEE says that the Council should refer the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court and expand the list of persons subject to Security Council sanctions to combat impunity in the conflict. It further recommends, as it did in its previous two reports, that the Council integrate the human rights dimensions of the conflict in Yemen more fully into its agenda.
On 17 September, the Council will be holding a videoconference with Lowcock and the heads of the World Food Programme and the Food and Agricultural Organisation to further discuss the recent Secretariat White Note on food insecurity in Yemen, the DRC, northeast Nigeria and South Sudan. Then, later this month, during the General Assembly high-level week, it seems that there will be two meetings related to Yemen. Germany, Kuwait, Sweden and the UK are organising a ministerial-level meeting to follow up last year’s high-level week meeting that they held with the P5 and the Special Envoy on advancing the political process. Sweden is additionally planning a meeting on the humanitarian situation.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that the meeting would be held as an open and closed video conference. It has been updated to reflect that the meeting will be held as an in-person briefing and consultations.