What's In Blue

Posted Mon 14 Jun 2021

Yemen: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (15 June), the Security Council will hold its monthly briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Yemen. Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock are expected to brief. (Griffiths and Lowcock are likely to be providing their last briefings on Yemen in these capacities, as Griffiths will soon end his tenure as the UN Envoy to Yemen to replace Lowcock as head of OCHA.) Najiba Al-Najar, a member of the Yemeni Women’s Pact for Peace and Security, will also brief. General Abhijit Guha, who heads the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), will brief in consultations.

Tomorrow’s session comes amid intensive diplomatic efforts to broker a ceasefire and restart a political process in Yemen. Griffiths is likely to describe his recent activities to reach a deal on his four-point plan for a nationwide ceasefire, opening Sana’a airport, lifting restrictions on shipping through the Hodeidah ports and restarting a political process. Following a visit to Riyadh, Griffiths met with Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdul Salam in Muscat on 28 May. The talks came one month after Abdul Salam had refused to meet the UN envoy, prompting Griffiths to criticise the Houthis’ repeated failures to meet with him. During his 12 May Council briefing, Griffiths asserted that “to turn attendance of meetings into transactions is simply unacceptable”.

Following his visit to Muscat, Griffiths conducted his first visit to Sana’a in over a year. In a 31 May press conference at the visit’s conclusion, he said that he had discussed the four-point proposal with Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi. Last week, Griffiths conducted a two-day visit to Iran, meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

Meanwhile, Oman intensified its mediation efforts. It sent a delegation earlier this month to Sana’a, led by Omani Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr bin Hamad bin Hamood Al Busaidi, reportedly to try to convince the Houthis to accept a ceasefire. Albusaidi subsequently travelled to Riyadh, meeting with Yemeni and Saudi officials on 9 June. However, it seems that Griffiths will not be able to report tomorrow on any significant diplomatic breakthroughs.

Recent developments on the ground are another expected area of discussion at tomorrow’s meeting. The past month saw the Houthis’ offensive against the government’s last stronghold in Marib governorate stall. Fighting continues, however. On 6 June, a Houthi missile hit a fuel station in Marib City, the capital of Marib governorate, killing at least 17 people, according to media reports. On 10 June, a Houthi missile and drone attack in Marib City reportedly killed at least eight people, according to the Yemeni government.

Lowcock is expected to recall OCHA’s five key priority areas to mitigate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. These are: the protection of civilians, humanitarian access, funding for the aid operation, support for the economy, and the need for a political solution. He will likely identify where gaps remain across these five priorities. For instance, OCHA’s latest humanitarian update describes the intensification of Yemen’s fuel crisis, as the government continues to delay approvals for fuel shipments into Hodeidah’s ports.

Lowcock is expected to underscore the need for the parties to move forward with a ceasefire and lift restrictions on commercial imports. He may mention that Sweden and Switzerland are planning to host a humanitarian event on Yemen focussed on raising donor funding in September, during the General Assembly’s high-level week. Contributions to this year’s humanitarian response plan for Yemen have improved somewhat and it is currently 43 percent funded.

Al-Najar, who is from Aden and a member of the Yemeni Women’s Pact for Peace and Security, may highlight the importance of women’s political engagement in Yemen. As co-founder of the peacebuilding organisation SOS Center for Youth Capabilities Development, she may emphasise the role of Yemeni civil society in providing services, as much of the Yemeni state has collapsed during the war.

During consultations, Guha is likely to provide an update on the situation around Hodeidah, where UNMHA has reported over the past month a number of incidents resulting in civilian casualties. In a 31 May tweet, UNMHA also expressed concern about reported recurrent aerial attacks on Hodeidah’s Al Salif port, noting that they are a significant breach of the December 2018 Hodeidah ceasefire agreement.

Council members have been united in their support for the Special Envoy and his mediation efforts. At tomorrow’s meeting, members may repeat calls for a ceasefire, including in Marib. Some may condemn or express concern about the recent missile and drone attacks in Marib City, as well as continued Houthi cross-border missile and drone strikes against Saudi Arabia. European Council members and the US tend to be more critical in denouncing Houthi belligerence, while Russia is more cautious in criticising the Houthis. The latter has suggested that singling out the Houthis could give the appearance of Council bias—a dynamic that has often played out this year during negotiations on Council products. During consultations, members are likely to be interested in learning more about Griffiths’ recent meetings in Muscat, Sana’a and Tehran.

Council members are also likely to reiterate concerns about the environmental and humanitarian threat posed by the FSO Safer, an oil tanker moored off the Houthi-controlled Ras Isa oil terminal in the Red Sea. On 3 June, the Council held a briefing and consultations on the increasing risks posed by FSO Safer with Executive Director of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), Inger Andersen, and OCHA’s Director of the Operations and Advocacy Division, Reena Ghelani.

In press elements issued following the meeting, Council members reiterated “Houthi responsibility for the situation” and expressed “extreme concern at the growing risk that the Safer oil tanker could rupture or explode”, creating an environmental, economic, maritime, and humanitarian catastrophe. Members repeated calls for the Houthis to allow, without further delay, access for UN experts to conduct an assessment and an initial repair mission. During his briefing tomorrow, Lowcock is not expected to report any progress in talks with the Houthis for deploying the team.