What's In Blue

Posted Mon 15 Mar 2021

Yemen: Council Videoconference Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (16 March), Security Council members will hold their monthly briefing and consultations on Yemen via videoconference (VTC). Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock are expected to brief. Also briefing will be Nirvana Shawky, the Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa of CARE, an international humanitarian organisation. The UK, the penholder on Yemen, has proposed a draft press statement that Council members may issue on the need for a de-escalation of violence, including in Marib.

Efforts to establish a nationwide ceasefire have remained at an impasse despite significant diplomatic activity. Griffiths is likely to report that the Houthi rebel group continues its offensive in oil- and gas-rich Marib governorate, which is the government’s last northern stronghold and hosts an estimated one million displaced Yemenis, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The Houthis also continue stepped-up drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia. The group claimed responsibility for a ballistic missile and drone attack on 7 March, targeting a Saudi Aramco oil facility at Ras Tanura on the Persian Gulf. While no damage was reported, it forced a temporary cessation in production of more than half of Saudi Arabia’s crude output. Fighting has also escalated in the past week around the city of Taiz, where government-affiliated forces launched an offensive to relieve pressure on Marib.

Griffiths may refer to US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking’s recent 17-day trip to the region to push for a ceasefire plan with Yemeni, Saudi and Houthi officials, which Lenderking concluded on 9 March in Jordan, where he met with Griffiths. In an 11 March statement, the US State Department said, “While some encouraging progress has been made, more commitment from all sides is needed”. It also noted: “Special Envoy Lenderking and Special Envoy Griffiths are committed to working side-by-side to push the parties to negotiate under the UN-proposed plan, which includes opening [Hodeidah] port and a ceasefire.”

Speaking at a 12 March meeting on Yemen organised by the US think tank, the Atlantic Council, Lenderking appeared to convey a more sober assessment, saying, “Tragically, and somewhat confusingly for me, it appears that the Houthis are prioritizing a military campaign” to seize Marib governorate. Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdul-Salam, with whom Lenderking reportedly met in Muscat, criticised the US envoy’s proposal as “inferior” to Griffith’s plan.

On 11 March, France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the US also issued a joint statement that condemned “the sustained Houthi offensive on the Yemeni city of Marib and the major escalation of attacks the Houthis have conducted and claimed against Saudi Arabia”. The statement emphasised that their “renewed diplomatic efforts to end the Yemen conflict, in support of the UN Special Envoy, with the support of Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the international community, offer the best hope for ending this war”.

Lowcock is likely to provide an update on the situation in Marib, as the offensive threatens to exacerbate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. Fighting since February has displaced up to 15,000 people, and there are concerns over the impact of potential urban fighting in a battle for Marib city, which has seen its population swell from 40,000 to 1.8 million during the war. Civilians continue to suffer elsewhere amid the conflict. Lowcock may raise the 7 March fire at a Houthi-run detention facility in Sana’a that killed at least 43 Ethiopian migrants and injured 170 others. IOM Director General António Vitorino called conditions at the facility, which held triple its capacity, “inhumane and unsafe”. In Taiz, three children and 15 government soldiers were reportedly killed yesterday by a Houthi missile attack.

Lowcock is expected to stress the continued threat of famine. Yemen figured prominently at the Council open debate on 11 March on conflict and food security, which included the participation of World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley, who had just visited Yemen. Lowcock is likely to mention the 1 March donor conference on Yemen, which generated pledges of $1.7 billion against the $3.85 billion requested for this year’s Yemen humanitarian response plan. Beasley said on 12 March that the UN is hoping to receive hundreds of millions of dollars through a private foundation being set up to help Yemen by a US private equity investor. According to news reports, former UN official John Ging and former Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer will run the foundation.

Another pressing issue is the fuel shortage in the north that is driving up prices of food and other goods. UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on 12 March that no commercial fuel imports were allowed through Houthi-controlled Hodeidah port during February, the first time since the start of the Saudi-led coalition in 2015 that the level had fallen to zero.

Shawky’s briefing is expected to complement much of what Lowcock will report. CARE is one of the few international non-governmental organisations active in the north and the south. Shawky is likely to provide an overview of the trends that CARE has seen and experienced during the war and the perspective of non-governmental organisations conducting aid operations in Yemen. She is expected to stress the importance of brokering an end to the war to relieve the humanitarian crisis.

Council members had their last briefing on Yemen on 18 February. On 25 February, the Council adopted resolution 2564, extending the Yemen sanctions regime for an additional year. In the resolution, the Council condemned the ongoing escalation in Marib and stressed the Houthis’ responsibility for the FSO Safer oil tanker, which the UN remains unable to access despite Houthi commitments to allow it to deploy a team to assess the moored ship in the Red Sea and conduct emergency repairs. An annex also sanctioned Houthi official Sultan Saleh Aida Aida Zabin, the director of the Criminal Investigation Department in Sanaa, for overseeing a policy of intimidation and the use of systematic arrest, detention, torture, sexual violence, and rape of politically active women. Russia abstained, maintaining concerns, which it often raises, about singling out the Houthis and perceiving the resolution as unbalanced.

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