Yemen: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (15 February), the Security Council will hold a briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Yemen. UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, and the chair of the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Ferit Hoxha (Albania), are expected to brief. The head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), Major General Michael Beary, who was appointed in December 2021 and assumed his duties on 19 January, is expected to brief during consultations via videoconference.
Grundberg is likely to raise concerns about the escalation of the war in Yemen and its regional spillover. On 17 January, the Houthi rebel group carried out an attack against the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which involved a combination of ballistic and cruise missiles and drones that struck an industrial zone in Abu Dhabi and a construction site at Abu Dhabi International Airport, killing three civilians and injuring six. The attack followed recent Houthi losses in Shabwa and Marib governorates in fighting against the Yemeni government-aligned and UAE-backed Giants Brigade, marking a setback to the Houthi offensive to capture oil and gas-rich Marib. It also represented the first known attack on UAE territory by the Houthis, who regularly launch missile and drone attacks on neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
The Abu Dhabi attack triggered a spate of reciprocal violence. Starting on 17 January, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which backs the internationally-recognised Yemeni government, intensified airstrikes against the Houthis. In the early hours of 21 January, airstrikes on a detention facility in the city of Saada killed 91 detainees and injured 236, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which reported that the facility was holding 1,300 pre-trial detainees and 700 migrants. On 24 January, the UAE and the US intercepted two missiles targeting the Al Dhafra Air Base near Abu Dhabi, which hosts US forces. The UAE intercepted another missile on 31 January, during Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s first visit to the UAE.
Grundberg and UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen David Gressly issued a joint statement on 25 January reiterating Secretary-General António Guterres’ condemnation of the air strikes on the prison facility. They also described an “alarming uptick” in attacks against the UAE and Saudi Arabia that resulted in civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure. Grundberg and Gressly stressed that parties were not absolved of their obligations under international humanitarian law, which “strictly prohibits disproportionate attacks and requires that all feasible precautions be taken to avoid civilian harm”. At tomorrow’s briefing, Griffiths may highlight that in January there were more than 650 civilian casualties in Yemen (234 deaths and 431 injuries). As noted in OCHA’s latest humanitarian update, which covers developments in January and was issued on 9 February, this is the highest monthly figure since August 2018. Heavy fighting has continued. In recent days, the newly formed ”Happy Yemen Brigades”—which are reportedly comprised of northern tribal and Salafi fighters—have launched operations against the Houthis in the northern Hajjah and Saada governorates, according to media reports.
At the request of the UAE, which joined the Council as an elected member this year, Council members held consultations on 21 January on the 17 January Abu Dhabi attacks. Council members issued a press statement in which they “condemned in the strongest terms the heinous terrorist attacks in Abu Dhabi”. During tomorrow’s session, Council members are likely to focus their remarks on the escalation of fighting. They are likely to repeat their condemnation of the Houthi attacks on the UAE. Since the attacks, the UAE has lobbied the US to re-designate the Houthis as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization”, a move that the UN advocated against last year because such a designation could have adverse consequences on the humanitarian situation. Members may also express concern about or condemn the civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure caused by airstrikes. They are likely to repeat calls for the parties to de-escalate and to support a UN-led inclusive political process.
Grundberg will provide an update on his efforts to start such a political process. He held meetings on 20 January in Riyadh with senior Saudi and Yemeni officials, as well as representatives of the P5 (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US). On 5 February, he met Houthi negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam and Omani officials in Muscat. Grundberg, however, still has not visited Sana’a to meet with Houthi leaders. Grundberg may share more details about his plans to solicit the views of a range of stakeholders to help identify short, medium and long-term priorities as part of a framework he is developing for an inclusive political process, covering political, security and economic tracks. Members will be interested in hearing more details about his ideas and progress on the framework.
Griffiths is expected to express concern about the funding gap for humanitarian assistance in Yemen. The 9 February OCHA humanitarian update described the Yemen aid operation as being “on the verge of falling off a cliff due to severe funding shortfalls”, noting that almost two-thirds of major UN aid programmes were reduced or closed during January due to funding gaps. This includes the World Food Programme (WFP) reducing rations in January for eight million of the 13 million people who receive assistance; such rations are anticipated to be scaled back further. Griffiths is expected to announce a Yemen pledging event, which will be co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland on 16 March. While calling for the parties to the conflict to protect humanitarian access, Council members may also encourage donors to support a new UN plan to address Yemen’s economic crisis, which is the greatest driver of humanitarian needs.
Griffiths is likely to update members on efforts in finding a solution to the FSO Safer, the decrepit oil tanker moored off the Houthi-held port of Ras Isa that is at risk of a major oil leak. Gressly has been coordinating a proposal to offload the estimated 1.15 million barrels of oil from the FSO Safer to a new vessel that would allow the FSO Safer to be towed away. In a 5 February statement, Gressly announced that Yemeni government officials have confirmed their support for the plan and that he had held constructive talks with senior Houthi officials.
General Beary’s briefing during consultations will be the first briefing by an UNMHA official since September 2021, when his predecessor General Abhijit Guha last briefed. Beary is expected to provide an update on the situation in Hodeidah governorate, which has changed significantly following the withdrawal in November 2021 of the government-aligned Joint Forces from Hodeidah City to new front lines about 70 km south.
Beary is expected to report on his engagement with the Yemeni government and Houthis to build confidence, bring the parties back to the different mechanisms created under the December 2018 Hodeidah Agreement and maintain stability in Hodeidah. Since taking up his post, Beary had met with Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad BinMubarak in Aden and Houthi officials in Sana’a. On 5 February, Beary led an UNMHA delegation on a visit to Al Durayhimi and Bayt Al Faqih districts. The mission is seeking to expand its freedom of movement following the shift in the front lines.
Security Council members will soon begin negotiations on a draft resolution to renew the Yemen sanctions regime by the end of this month. At tomorrow’s session, Ambassador Hoxha is expected to provide an overview of the 2140 committee’s activities over the past year. Members may acknowledge the work of the Yemen Panel of Experts, whose final report the committee considered last month. Members may highlight several of the panel’s findings and recommendations, including evidence of arms smuggling from Iran to the Houthis and on the need to ensure accountability for violations of international humanitarian law which are “committed by all parties”.