What's In Blue

Posted Fri 11 Dec 2020

Yemen: closed videoconference 

On Monday morning (14 December), Council members are expected to hold a closed videoconference (VTC) on Yemen. UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, and the head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) General Abhijit Guha are the anticipated briefers.

The war in Yemen continues along multiple frontlines, including the Houthi offensive against the Yemeni government in Marib governorate. Griffiths is not expected to report much progress in concluding the joint declaration—under negotiation since March—for a nation-wide ceasefire, a series of economic and humanitarian confidence-building measures, and the resumption of peace talks. At his last briefing on 11 November, Griffiths expressed disappointment in the lack of progress, stating that the “same challenges have been coming up repeatedly, particularly with regard to the economic and humanitarian measures”. He suggested the need to organise an in-person meeting between the parties after months of shuttle diplomacy and virtual talks, noting the successful prisoner exchange negotiations held in-person in Geneva during September between the government and Houthis. Griffiths said. “I will be discussing this and other options with the parties in the near time”.

Lowcock is likely to highlight the worsening food insecurity afflicting Yemen, and the risk of famine. The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classificatio (IPC) analysis was released on 3 December. (Last year the UN was unable to conduct this annual analysis because of access restrictions in Houthi-controlled areas). The analysis indicates that pockets of famine-like conditions (IPC Phase 5) have returned, and warns that the number of people experiencing catastrophic food insecurity could nearly triple from 16,500 currently to 47,000 people between January and June 2021. It further finds that the number of people experiencing Phase 4 food insecurity—emergency food insecurity conditions—is poised to increase from 3.6 million to 5 million people in the first half of 2021. Overall, 16.2 million people, more than half of Yemen’s population of 30 million will face Phase 3 “crisis” levels of food insecurity or worse by mid-2021. Intensified fighting; a deteriorating economy, including inflation; a locust plague; and a drop-off in donor funding have contributed to the new hunger crisis in Yemen.

Last month, Secretary-General António Guterres drew attention to the worsening crisis, which UN officials have been flagging since July. In a 20 November statement, he warned that “Yemen is now in imminent danger of the worst famine the world has seen for decades” and called for urgent action “to stave off catastrophe”.

Lowcock may draw attention to rising civilian casualties in recent months. A 3 December OCHA report noted that the month of October recorded the highest number of civilian casualties in Yemen this year: 228 civilian casualties, with 50 fatalities (including nine children and nine women) and 178 people injured (including 33 children and 25 women). September had marked the previous high, with 190 civilian casualties. Guha may provide more information on recent incidents involving Houthi shelling in Hodeidah governorate. These include reports of shelling on 29 November in Ad Durayhimi that killed five children and three women and injured another five children and three women, and shelling on 3 December which killed at least eight workers at the Thabit industrial complex in Hodeidah and injured 13. An UNMHA press release on 29 November called for “restraint after a recent upsurge in serious ceasefire violations” and a 3 December UNMHA statement condemned the killing and injuries of civilians at the Thabit complex, which it noted was being considered as a possible location for an UNMHA office.

During the meeting, members could raise the reported plans of the outgoing Trump administration in the US to designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation as part of its maximum pressure campaign on Iran. The possible move has raised concerns about the negative impact this could have on humanitarian operations and on diplomatic efforts. There are particular worries that the terrorist organisation designation could deter donors, shippers, insurers, and bankers from working in Yemen, fearing criminal liability or sanctions for violating US law if their activities benefit the Houthis, who control territory where 70 percent of the population lives. In his 20 November statement, Guterres indirectly voiced the UN’s concerns, requesting “that everyone avoids taking any action that could make the already dire situation even worse.” More recently, David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on 3 December to request that the US not make the designation.

This week, the US Treasury Department announced in a statement that it was sanctioning Iran’s recently appointed ambassador in Sana’a, Hasan Irlu, for acting for or on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force and whose “appointment as an envoy to the Houthi rebels in Yemen demonstrates the Iranian regime’s indifference to resolving the conflict, which has led to the widespread suffering of millions of Yemenis”. In a possible further sign that the US intends to make the controversial designation, the Treasury Department announced sanctions yesterday (December 10) on five Houthi officials from various security and intelligence services for committing serious human rights abuses.

Earlier this month, Council members held a virtual Arria-formula meeting with the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts (GEE), established by the Human Rights Council (HRC) in September 2017 to report on the human rights situation in Yemen.  At tomorrow’s meeting, some members are expected to raise key points from this discussion which considered how the human rights dimension of the conflict in Yemen can be better integrated in the agenda of the Council, and in mediation and peace processes.

On the moored Safer oil tanker, which risks having a major oil spill off of the coast of Hodeidah, Lowcock could update members about ongoing preparations—including to procure necessary equipment—by the UN Office for Project Services to deploy a UN-led technical team to the ship. Last month, the UN announced that the Houthis had sent an official letter indicating their approval of the work plan of the UN team, and the mission is hoped to deploy by late January or early February.

For further background, see Security Council Report’s December Forecast on Yemen.