What's In Blue

Posted Wed 13 Oct 2021

Yemen: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (14 October), the Security Council will hold its monthly open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Yemen. Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ramesh Rajasingham will brief. A civil society representative is also expected to brief the Council. It seems that the UK, the penholder on Yemen, is planning to circulate a draft press statement that may be issued by Council members following the meeting.

Grunberg is likely to update Council members on his recent diplomatic efforts. In the past month, he held his first meetings with the Yemeni parties since starting his position as Special Envoy for Yemen in September. Grundberg met with Yemeni government leaders, including President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi in Riyadh on 16 September, and with the chief negotiator of the Houthi rebel group, Mohammed Abdel Salam, in Muscat several days later.

On 6 October, Grundberg conducted his first visit to Yemen. He travelled to Aden, where he met with Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, who has recently returned to the city for the first time since protestors stormed the presidential palace in March. Grundberg also met the chairman of the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), Aidarous Zubaidi; the governor of Taiz, Nabil Shamsan; other political actors, including from the southern separatist Al Hirak movement and the Inclusive Hadramout Conference; and civil society representatives, including women’s rights activists. He has also been consulting with regional and international stakeholders, including Saudi and Omani officials, the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, EU officials, the US Special Envoy to Yemen and the ambassadors to Yemen of the permanent members of the Security Council. Grundberg has repeatedly indicated his preference for the political process to become more inclusive, stating in a 6 October press release on his visit to Aden that “[a] durable solution is one that reflects the interests of diverse and broad segments of Yemeni society”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to reiterate their support for UN-led mediation efforts aimed at promoting a political process. During the closed consultations, members may be interested in hearing Grundberg’s assessment of the Yemeni parties’ positions, following his initial meetings.

The security situation in the country is another expected topic of discussion at tomorrow’s meeting. Since mid-September, the Houthis have intensified their military operation in southern Marib governorate and the bordering governorate of Shabwa. The group has also continued to conduct missile and drone attacks against Saudi Arabia and parts of Yemen. On 3 October, ballistic missiles landed in the al-Rawdah neighbourhood of Marib City, reportedly killing two children and wounding 33 civilians. Grundberg and several Council members are expected to repeat their calls for an end to military offensives.

Grundberg may also stress the need to implement the Riyadh Agreement, the Saudi Arabia-brokered power-sharing agreement between the Yemeni government and the STC. He might note that the situation in the south remains fragile. On 10 October, a car bomb targeted the convoy of Aden governor Ahmed Lamlas (who is also the Secretary-General of the STC) and Yemeni Agriculture Minister and STC member Salem al-Suqatri. Lamlas and al-Suqatri survived but six people were killed in the attack.

Rajasingham is expected to highlight the effects of the conflict’s escalation on the civilian population. September was the second deadliest month in the last two years for civilians, with 235 civilians killed or injured, according to OCHA. Fighting also displaced 10,000 people in Marib— the highest rates recorded in the governorate in a single month this year. Rajasingham may express concern about the humanitarian effects of the Houthi’s encirclement in recent weeks of the al-Abdiyah district in the south of Marib—an area where an estimated 31,500 people reside. While aid apparently is still reaching the district, Rajasingham is likely to underscore the need to facilitate unfettered humanitarian access and freedom of movement for civilians.

Rajasingham is also expected to discuss Yemen’s ongoing economic collapse, which is one of the main drivers of the country’s humanitarian crisis. The Yemeni rial has reached record lows in government-held areas, trading at around 1200 rials to the US dollar. Meanwhile, fuel imports through Houthi-held ports continue to be limited due to government restrictions, further inflating costs. Rajasingham is likely to highlight measures that can be taken to improve the economy, such as foreign exchange injections into the central bank to strengthen the currency and the full opening of Yemen’s ports for all shipments that have been cleared by the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM). He is expected to observe that the UN has recently scaled up its aid operation, reaching around 13 million people in September, which has helped reduce the risk of large-scale famine. However, Rajasingham may warn that recent increases in funding for the aid operation must be sustained, or the UN will soon have to scale back its support.

At tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members may express disappointment over the failure of the Human Rights Council (HRC) to renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen (GEE), which the HRC established in 2017 to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the country. A draft resolution that would have renewed the GEE’s mandate for two years failed to be adopted by the HRC on 7 October, as 21 countries voted against it and seven abstained. According to media reports, Saudi Arabia lobbied against the renewal of the GEE’s mandate ahead of the vote. Security Council members that voted against renewing the GEE include China, India and Russia, as well as incoming Council member for 2022-2023, Gabon. Among the 18 countries that voted to renew the GEE’s mandate are Security Council members France, Mexico, the UK, and incoming member Brazil.

Some Council members may condemn the Houthis’ 18 September public execution by firing squad in Sana’a of nine people, including one teenager, for allegedly participating in the killing of senior Houthi official Saleh al-Samad in an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition in April 2018. The teenager reportedly had been partially paralysed as a result of torture he endured and had to be carried to the execution. A tenth person was also convicted but had died in detention. In a 19 September statement, Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the executions, noting that they had followed judicial proceedings that “do not appear to have fulfilled the requirements of fair trial and due process under international law”.

Members may also reiterate their concern over the environmental and economic threat posed by the decrepit FSO Safer oil tanker, which is moored in the Red Sea off the Houthi-held Ras Isa oil terminal. They might repeat their calls on the Houthis to cooperate with the UN to find a solution to prevent a major oil spill or explosion.

Other recent developments that may be referenced at the briefing include General Abhijit Guha completing his tenure earlier this month as the head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA). Guha led UNMHA, which monitors the Hodeidah ceasefire agreement, for nearly two years. Deputy Head of Mission Daniela Kroslak has taken over his duties until a new head of mission is appointed.