What's In Blue

Posted Wed 10 Nov 2021

Yemen: Closed Consultations

Tomorrow (11 November), Security Council members will hold their monthly meeting on Yemen in closed consultations. Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ramesh Rajasingham are expected to brief.

Grundberg is likely to express concern during the consultations about the Houthi offensive in Marib, the government’s last stronghold in the north. The Houthis have continued to gain territory in Marib governorate after securing control of the central al-Bayda governorate in September, allowing them to advance on Marib from the south. During the Council’s latest meeting on Yemen, which took place on 14 October, Grundberg and Rajasingham highlighted the situation in Al-Abdiyah district in south-west Marib, which had been encircled by Houthi forces since 23 September, making it difficult for humanitarian aid to reach its 35,000 inhabitants. A few days later, on 17 October, Al-Abdiyah fell to the Houthis.

By the end of October, the Houthis had seized Al-Jubah and Jabal Murad districts. This has reportedly left the Yemeni government in full control of only Marib City—where the majority of the governorate’s estimated 1.5 to three million residents live—and Marib Al Wadi, a district in east Marib where some of Yemen’s largest gas and oil fields are located. In a 1 November statement, political parties from Marib criticised the “silence” of the UN and the Security Council, and the “failure” of the Yemeni government and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition to defend the governorate, while calling on Yemenis to mobilise in defence of the territory.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to focus on the situation in Marib and may repeat their calls for an end to the offensive. In a 20 October press statement, members stressed “the need for de-escalation by all, including an immediate end to the Houthi escalation in Marib”.

Tomorrow’s session will provide an opportunity for Council members to discuss further with Grundberg his ideas for resuming a political process. The Special Envoy has continued to hold talks with Yemeni parties, as well as with regional and international actors. He concluded a second visit to Muscat on 18 October— where he met with Houthi and Omani officials— which was followed by visits to Abu Dhabi and Tehran.

Grundberg, who has been in Yemen in the past several days, will brief tomorrow from the southern city of Aden via videoconference (VTC). On 7 November, the Special Envoy arrived in Aden, where he met with Yemeni government officials, including Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed and Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad BinMubarak. On Monday, he made a visit—rare for a senior UN official—to the city of Taiz, which has been under siege by Houthi forces for the past six years and has experienced continued fighting between anti-Houthi armed groups in the city. Today (10 November), Grundberg went to Mokha— a Red Sea port city in the west of Taiz governorate—which is home to the headquarters of the government-affiliated Joint Forces. These forces include the National Resistance Forces led by Tareq Saleh, the nephew of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Since assuming his position in September, Grundberg has been stressing the importance of establishing a more inclusive political process, while cautioning that achieving a political settlement will take time.

A likely focus of Rajasingham’s briefing at tomorrow’s meeting is the humanitarian situation in Marib governorate. The UN has long raised concerns that the Houthi offensive risks exacerbating Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, especially if it triggers a new wave of mass displacement in the governorate, where there are already more than one million internally displaced persons. Rajasingham might observe that approximately 350 civilians were killed and injured in Yemen during October—the highest number of civilian casualties since 2018. OCHA attributes the bulk of this increase to the rise in casualties in Marib.

Rajasingham may raise concerns about Houthi tactics during the current offensive, such as their encirclement of Al-Abdiyah and indiscriminate missile attacks on heavily populated areas. A Houthi missile strike targeting the home of a Marib tribal leader killed at least 11 civilians and wounded 16 others on 28 October. At least 29 people were killed and wounded in a missile attack on 31 October that hit a mosque and a religious school which reportedly housed displaced persons south of Marib City.

Civilian casualties persist in other parts of Yemen. On 30 October, a car bomb near Aden’s international airport killed 12 civilians. The attack occurred three weeks after a car bomb targeting Aden’s governor Ahmed Lamlas killed six people. Lamlas, who is a high-ranking member of the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), survived. In an attack yesterday (9 November) in Aden, an explosive device planted on a car killed a pregnant Yemeni journalist who worked for a Gulf-based news station and injured her husband, also a journalist.

Yemen’s deteriorating economic situation is another expected focus of tomorrow’s meeting. Rajasingham may discuss a UN-developed economic framework which identifies measures that can reduce the scale of humanitarian need in Yemen. The framework apparently brings together many actions that the UN has long advocated, such as opening Yemen’s ports and roads, paying civil servant salaries and reducing insurance premiums for shippers. It also seeks the injection of foreign exchange to strengthen the Yemeni riyal. Recent months have seen a dramatic decline in the value of the rial in government-held areas, where it is currently trading at around 1500 rials to the US dollar, continuing a descent since July when its value fell below 1000 rials to the dollar.

In their 20 October press statement, Council members stressed that Yemen’s economic collapse is driving the risk of famine and emphasised the need for economic reform, including through improved coordination of basic financial activity in Yemen. They may reiterate these messages at tomorrow’s meeting.