Yemen: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (10 September), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Yemen. The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, who was appointed on 6 August and officially started his position on 5 September, will provide his first briefing to the Council. OCHA’s Deputy Director of Operations, Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, and a woman civil society representative are also expected to brief. General Abhijit Guha, head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) and chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC), will brief in the closed consultations.
During his briefing, Grundberg is likely to report that fighting in Yemen continues along multiple front lines. The conflict’s strategic focus remains Marib governorate: an offensive by the Houthi rebel group to take the oil- and gas-rich territory has been stymied by Yemeni government forces—supported by Saudi Arabian airstrikes—outside Marib City, where heavy casualties are reported daily. Since late August, the Houthis have conducted a series of drone and missile attacks. An alleged Houthi missile attack on the al-Anad military base in Yemen’s southern Lahj governorate on 29 August killed at least 30 soldiers and wounded at least 50 others; a drone attack on 31 August against Abha International Airport in Saudi Arabia injured eight people; and on 4 September, the Houthis fired ballistic missiles and drones that targeted Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern province, as well as the southern cities of Najran and Jizan, reportedly injuring two children and damaging 14 homes.
On the diplomatic front, ceasefire negotiations between the Houthis and the Yemeni government—based on a UN plan that proposes the reopening of Sana’a airport, the lifting of restrictions on shipping into Hodeidah’s ports, and the resumption of a political process—remain deadlocked. The Houthis have conditioned their willingness to consider a ceasefire and the resumption of a political process on an initial stand-alone agreement to open Sana’a airport and Hodeidah’s ports, while the Yemeni government wants to agree on and implement these measures together as a package. Moreover, tensions remain high between the government and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), as implementation of the Saudi Arabia-brokered Riyadh Agreement to share power has stalled.
Grundberg is expected to travel to the region soon to meet with the government and the Houthis, and then conduct a tour of regional countries, as he develops ideas to revive the political process. In a video message released on 5 September upon beginning his new role, Grundberg said that he “look[s] forward to straight, inclusive and – above all – serious interactions with Yemeni, regional and international interlocutors”. Until his appointment, Grundberg had served as EU ambassador to Yemen since 2019. Prior to this, he headed the Gulf Division at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs when Sweden hosted the UN-facilitated talks, which produced the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement that established a ceasefire in Hodeidah governorate.
In her briefing, the civil society speaker is expected to stress the importance of including women and youth in the political process.
Council members are expected to welcome the new Special Envoy and encourage the parties to engage with him in good faith. Members may be interested in hearing Grundberg’s initial ideas on how to involve other significant stakeholders— such as other armed groups, political parties and civil society in Yemen— for a more inclusive political process. Council members are generally united in their positions on Yemen, as they support UN-led mediation efforts and have repeatedly called for a nationwide ceasefire. They are likely to reiterate these messages at tomorrow’s meeting.
Mudawi is likely to provide an overview of the dire conditions in Yemen, which is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. More than 20 million people require humanitarian assistance, including more than 11 million children, and famine remains a threat. Fighting, the collapse of the economy and state institutions, and restrictions on humanitarian access are driving the crisis. Mudawi is expected to elaborate on the situation of vulnerable groups, such as internally displaced persons, women and girls, children, and migrants. There are over three million internally displaced persons in Yemen, many of whom are in Marib governorate, and the UN has repeatedly warned that fighting there could worsen the humanitarian crisis if it leads to new waves of displacement. Mudawi may highlight the risks posed by landmines and unexploded ordnance. The Norwegian Refugee Council reported recently that according to UN data, more than 263 landmines and unexploded ordnance incidents were recorded between January and June 2021 across 49 different districts in Yemen.
Mudawi might note the humanitarian event, which will be convened by Sweden, Switzerland and the EU during the General Assembly’s high-level week to discuss how to reach and protect the most vulnerable in Yemen and mobilise more funding for the Yemen humanitarian response plan. The 2021 response plan is about 50 percent funded, although key assistance programmes such as health, water, sanitation, and shelter have received 15 percent or less of their required funding, according to an OCHA humanitarian update published on 5 September.
Council members are likely to reiterate their concerns about the humanitarian situation and the environmental threat posed by the Safer oil tanker, the moored ship in the Red Sea off the Ras Issa oil terminal, which threatens to create an environmental catastrophe as the UN continues to negotiate with the Houthis over sending an assessment mission to the vessel. Some members may reference the fourth annual report of the Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen (GEE), which was released on 8 September. The report says that the “conflicting parties continue to engage in serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and that third States continue to provide arms and military support to parties to the conflict, with little regard for the immense suffering caused to the people of Yemen”. On 14 September, the HRC is expected to hold an interactive dialogue with the GEE and consider its latest report.