What's In Blue

Posted Mon 13 Dec 2021

Yemen: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (14 December), the Security Council will hold its monthly briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Yemen. Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ramesh Rajasingham are expected to brief.

Grundberg is likely to reiterate concern about the Houthi rebel group’s sustained offensive in Marib governorate. The fall of the government stronghold would significantly alter the balance of power in a future political process and exacerbate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

The situation in Hodeidah governorate is another likely focus of tomorrow’s meeting. In an unexpected move, the government-aligned Joint Forces withdrew on the night of 11 to 12 November from the crucial port city of Hodeidah, Al Durayhimi, Bayt al Faqih and from most areas which were under their control in At Tuhayta district, pulling back to about 70 kilometres south of Hodeidah City, near the city of Al Khokha. In a 15 November statement, the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), which monitors the governorate-wide ceasefire established by the 2018 Stockholm Agreement, said that the developments represent a “major shift of frontlines” and “warrant discussions between the parties of the Hodeidah Agreement”. UNMHA added that it was prepared to facilitate such discussions within the agreement’s framework.

From a strategic perspective, the withdrawal eliminated the vulnerable position of the Joint Forces along the narrow coastal plain and supply lines that they have maintained over the past three years. As referenced in statements by the Joint Forces and the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition, it frees up idle units to reinforce anti-Houthi forces on other fronts— a crucial move in light of Houthi gains since September in Marib, al-Bayda and Shabwa governorates. Following the redeployments, the Joint Forces went on the offensive in Houthi-controlled areas in nearby parts of eastern Hodeidah governorate and western Taiz governorate.

At tomorrow’s briefing and consultations, Council members will be interested in learning more about the strategy that Grundberg has been developing to restart a political process. The Special Envoy has indicated his intention to create a process that is more inclusive than previous UN efforts, which focused on negotiations between two parties (the Yemeni government and the Houthis) by involving other groups that will be key to the success of any negotiated political settlement. Just ahead of his previous briefing to the Council on 11 November, Grundberg visited Taiz governorate— the first such visit by a UN special envoy since the war’s start. He met with representatives of local authorities, political parties, business and civil society in the city of Taiz and At Turbah town. During Grundberg’s visit to the port city of Mokha, he met with Tareq Saleh, nephew of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and a key figure in the Joint Forces.

Since his last Council briefing, Grundberg has conducted visits to Kuwait, Egypt and Russia. His visit to Cairo included consultations with Yemeni interlocutors—parliamentarians, representatives of political parties, civil society organisations and media professionals—on ways to start an inclusive dialogue addressing political, economic and security priorities, according to a 24 November statement by the Special Envoy’s office. “There needs to be equal focus on immediate priorities that mitigate the impact of the war on civilians, and on the longer-term questions needed to reach a durable and just solution to conflict”, stated Grundberg in the press release. Today (13 December), he concluded a visit to Muscat, where he met with senior Omani officials, Yemeni political actors and Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam.

At tomorrow’s briefing, Rajasingham is likely to address the humanitarian implications of the fighting in Marib and Hodeidah governorates. He may report that fighting in Marib displaced more than 16,000 people in November, bringing the total number of people displaced since September to 45,000. A battle or siege of Marib City, which has seen its population swell to an estimated 1.5 million to three million people during the war, could trigger mass displacement and increase civilian casualties. Rajasingham may also report that the shift in the front lines in Hodeidah and subsequent fighting displaced more than 25,000 people, mostly within the governorate, as noted in OCHA’s 7 December Humanitarian Update.

Among other issues, Rajasingham may highlight the continuing historic decline of the Yemeni rial’s value. In Houthi-held areas, where authorities prohibit the use of bills printed after 2016, the exchange rate remains around 600 rials to the dollar. In areas controlled by the government, however, the rial now trades at around 1700 to the US dollar. During last month’s Council meeting, the exchange rate stood at around 1500 to the dollar. Amid the currency collapse, Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi replaced the leadership of the Aden-based Central Bank on 6 December.

On 9 November, the Security Council’s 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee imposed financial and travel ban sanctions on three top Houthi military commanders involved in the Marib offensive and the overall war effort. The new designations became controversial when Russia sought, unsuccessfully, to have the decision rescinded, having failed to raise its objections within the allotted time period. (Russia regularly seeks to soften Council products to avoid singling out the Houthis, contending that the Council should maintain greater balance.)

The human rights situation in Yemen is another possible topic of discussion at tomorrow’s meeting. On 2 December, a group of more than 60 civil society organisations sent a joint statement to the UN General Assembly, urging it to establish an investigative mechanism to gather and preserve evidence of serious human rights abuses and violations of international law in Yemen. The statement says that a new mechanism is urgently needed in light of the Human Rights Council’s failure in October to renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen (GEE)—which was established in 2017 to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the country— following a lobbying campaign against the GEE by Saudi Arabia.

For more background, see Security Council Report’s Yemen brief in the December 2021 forecast.