What's In Blue

Posted Thu 25 Feb 2021

Security Council Resolution on Yemen*

This afternoon (25 February), the Security Council is expected to announce the voting results of a resolution to renew the Yemen financial and travel ban sanctions, and the mandate of the Yemen Panel of Experts. (The targeted arms embargo established by resolution 2216 in April 2015 against the Houthi rebel group is open-ended). The UK, as penholder on Yemen, circulated an initial draft resolution following last week’s 18 February videoconference (VTC) briefing and consultations on Yemen. Members held one negotiating round via VTC on Monday (22 February). Following further revisions, the draft resolution was placed under a silence procedure that Russia broke yesterday afternoon. Soon afterwards, the UK placed the text in blue and initiated the 24-hour period written voting procedure for Council members to submit their votes until today at 2 pm, based on rules established during the COVID-19 pandemic to accommodate restrictions on in-person meetings.  At the time of this writing, it was unclear whether Russia and also China would support the draft resolution.

The draft resolution renews the sanctions measures until 28 February 2022 and the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 28 March 2022. This year’s annual sanctions resolution has been updated to reflect developments on the ground. It strongly condemns “the ongoing escalation in Marib, Yemen, including the Houthi operation on 7 February, and the continuation of Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, including on Abha International airport on 10 February”. The draft resolution calls for “an immediate cessation of attacks without preconditions”. It further stresses the need for de-escalation across Yemen and a nationwide ceasefire.

The Houthis’ offensive in Marib governorate, which risks derailing political efforts and worsening the humanitarian crisis, was a focus of last week’s briefing. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths called for the Houthis to stop the offensive that he said threatens “all of the prospects of the peace process”. The offensive, especially as it nears Marib City, also threatens to cause mass displacement from the governorate, which already hosts around two million internally displaced persons.

The draft resolution stresses Houthi responsibility for the situation of the FSO Safer oil tanker and for not responding to the major environmental and humanitarian risk that it poses. Without any maintenance during the last six years, there is concern that the moored ship off Hodeidah governorate could leak its nearly 1.1 million barrels of oil. This month, UN officials announced that they can no longer provide a timeline on when a UN assessment and repair mission might be able to access the tanker, despite the Houthis’ previous approvals for such a mission.

If the draft resolution is adopted, the Council will add one new individual to the Yemen sanctions list, which would be the first addition to the list since April 2015, when the Council adopted resolution 2216. An annex attached to the draft resolution designates Houthi official Sultan Saleh Aida Aida Zabin. The Yemen Panel of Experts has reported that Sultan Zabin is the director of the Criminal Investigation Department in Sana’a and that he has played a prominent role in a policy of intimidation and the use of systematic arrest, detention, torture, sexual violence, and rape of politically active women.

During the negotiations, Russia objected to proposals that singled out the Houthis for the escalation in Marib and in the appeals to cease attacks, as part of its concerns that the resolution should not appear partial. The compromise was to refer to the escalation in Marib, “including the Houthi operation on 7 February”. Proposals by Tunisia and France, with the support of other members, also resulted in strengthening the draft resolution’s call for an end to attacks; the initial text that the UK circulated only called for “restraint”. Likewise, there were proposals to strengthen language calling on the Houthis to allow access to the FSO Safer, while Russia proposed changes perceived as softening previously agreed language on the tanker.

Russia also had reservations about the proposed designations that initially included a second Houthi official in addition to Zabin. When Russia broke silence, it did so over the designations and over language, introduced by Mexico, on the “illicit transfer” and “diversion” of small arms and light weapons as well as conventional arms about which the Panel of Experts is requested to include information in its reporting. The Panel of Experts’ final report identifies Russian and Chinese manufactured arms that have been found as part of maritime weapons seizures in the region. China echoed Russia’s concern about the language.

Despite these reservations, the penholder put the draft resolution in blue and initiated the 24-hour voting process. While keeping the designation of Sultan Zabin and the arms-related language, the UK amended the text about the FSO Safer in accordance with a previous request made by Russia. This included replacing language “calling upon” the Houthis to urgently facilitate unconditional and safe access to the UN assessment and repair mission with “underscoring the need” that the Houthis do so.

During the negotiations, an amendment proposed by Norway and Estonia was incorporated underlining the need to ensure accountability for violations and abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law, which draws on agreed language from other Council products on Yemen. Mexico suggested adding a paragraph on accountability as well, based on a recommendation in the Panel of Experts’ final report, but this was not included in the final text.

In this regard, China raised concerns during the negotiations about the need to discuss Panel recommendations in the sanctions committee before inserting them into Council resolutions. During last year’s sanctions renewal, China abstained, in part over the inclusion of a Panel recommendation from its 2020 final report to develop a list of commercially available components used to assemble unmanned aerial vehicles. It felt that the topic, as a new issue, should have been discussed first within the Yemen 2140 Sanctions Committee. The current draft in blue maintains this language.

Other updates to the draft resolution include text welcoming the formation of the new Yemeni cabinet in line with the Riyadh Agreement, and calling for the swift resumption of talks between the parties, in full engagement with UN mediation. The draft resolution also condemns the 30 December 2020 Aden airport attacks. This is based on language from a draft press statement that members had been negotiating in January but could not agree, as the US objected that it did not attribute responsibility for the attacks to the Houthis, which Russia apparently opposed absent its verification by an independent party.

Previous Yemen sanctions renewals have seen Council members continue negotiating, even after draft resolutions have been put in blue. There were such attempts yesterday but apparently without resolving differences.


*Post-script: On February 25th, the Council adopted resolution 2564 with 14 votes in the affirmative and Russia abstaining.

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