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Yemen: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (15 March), the Security Council will hold its monthly briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Yemen. UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths are expected to brief at the open session. The head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), Major General Michael Beary, is expected to brief in consultations.

During his briefing, Grundberg is likely to report on the start of his office’s consultations with Yemeni stakeholders on the framework he is developing for an inclusive, multi-track process to negotiate a settlement to Yemen’s war. These consultations, taking place almost daily, began last week in Amman, Jordan, with a series of bilateral meetings between the Special Envoy and representatives of the political parties the General People’s Congress, Islah, the Yemeni Socialist Party and the Nasserist Unionist People’s Organization. “Over 100 Yemeni men and women from political parties, the security and economic sectors, and civil society will be consulted” during the coming weeks in Jordan and Yemen, according to a 7 March statement issued by the Special Envoy’s office at the start of the framework consultations. At tomorrow’s meeting, Grundberg may recall his objectives for these consultations, which are intended to gather different Yemenis’ views on immediate and long-term priorities along the framework’s political, security and economic tracks.

Council members are expected to welcome the launch of these structured consultations. Members have been largely supportive of Grundberg’s intention to establish an inclusive political process. This includes his continued engagement with the ambassadors to Yemen of the Council’s five permanent (P5) members, whom he met in Riyadh during a visit to Saudi Arabia in late February and early March, and then again in Amman on the margins of last week’s consultations. Resolution 2624 of 28 February, which renewed the Yemen sanctions regime, expressed support for the Special Envoy’s approach. It called on “all the stakeholders and all the varied and multiple parties, including and not limited to the Government of Yemen and the Houthis” to engage constructively with the Special Envoy in his “ongoing framework consultations”, and highlighted the need for “a political process that includes and meets the legitimate aspirations of all Yemen’s multiple and varied parties”.

Some members may express concern that the Special Envoy still has not been able to visit Sana’a to meet with the leadership of the Houthi rebel group. At last month’s 15 February Council briefing, Grundberg said that he intends to present his framework later this spring.

On the ground, fighting continues. The oil and gas-rich Marib governorate remains a key front line. Last month, a focus of fighting was the northern governorate of Hajjah, where government-aligned forces launched operations against the Houthis. Grundberg may observe that the ongoing fighting continues to affect civilians and risks escalating. Council members might be interested in hearing Grundberg’s assessment of the situation since the escalation in January when Houthi drone and missile attacks targeted the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition intensified airstrikes making January the month with the highest civilian casualties in three years.

At tomorrow’s session, Griffiths is expected to highlight the high-level pledging event for Yemen’s humanitarian crisis that will be held on Wednesday (16 March) in Geneva. This year’s Yemen humanitarian response seeks $4.27 billion. The donor conference comes amid warnings by the UN about the financial shortage facing the aid operation. OCHA’s 7 March humanitarian update reported that starting in March, 10.9 million people in Yemen will be affected by cuts to food assistance due to these funding gaps, which Griffiths described at the Council last month as “unprecedented”.

Some Council members may raise concerns about the effects of the war in Ukraine on Yemen’s wheat imports—since an estimated one-third of Yemen’s wheat comes from Ukraine and Russia—and of rising global oil prices, as Yemen already faces a fuel shortage and high inflation. Griffiths may recall the economic framework that the UN has developed to stabilise the Yemeni rial, lower commodity prices, and pay civil servants’ salaries. Council members might urge donors to contribute at Wednesday’s pledging conference amid concerns about their attention being diverted by the war in Ukraine.

In addition, Griffiths is likely to report on recent progress towards finding a resolution to the threat posed by the FSO Safer. The vessel, moored off the Houthi-held port of Ras Issa in the Red Sea, is at risk of a major oil spill or explosion. UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen David Gressly has been facilitating a new proposal to transfer the oil on the Safer to a vessel that would replace the ageing tanker. On 5 March, the UN signed a memorandum of understanding with the Houthis and the Fahem Group (one of Yemen’s largest importing companies) that says the plan is contingent on donor funding and could include the temporary use of a ship to hold the oil until a suitable replacement vessel for the Safer is acquired. In a 7 March statement announcing the signing of the memorandum of understanding, the UN noted that the Netherlands is closely involved in the plan. Its ambassador to Yemen, Peter-Derrek Hof, joined a 7 March visit of the UN Country Team and General Beary to Hodeidah City and the Ras Issa port to discuss the proposal with local authorities.

General Beary is expected to provide an update on his continued engagement with the parties and regional actors since he assumed his role as the head of UNMHA in January. He is likely to mention his week-long regional visit at the end of February to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan. A 28 February UNMHA press release said that Beary’s meetings “centred on ways of intensifying the Mission’s monitoring efforts to ensure the demilitarization of Hodeidah’s ports and the unimpeded entry of humanitarian aid”. The Saudi-led coalition has been raising concerns since January that the Houthis are using the ports to assemble weapons and to stage attacks in the Red Sea with explosive-laden boats. According to UNMHA’s statement, Beary also met with P5 member countries, as well as with the EU heads of missions and the Ambassador of Ireland in Amman, to whom he emphasised the importance of continued support for UNMHA’s mandate, especially following the shift of the frontlines in Hodeidah governorate. UNMHA has been working to expand its movement and reach since government-aligned forces withdrew from Hodeidah City in November 2021 to about 70 kilometres south of the city.

Tomorrow’s meeting comes two weeks after the adoption of resolution 2624, which renewed the Yemen sanctions regime for an additional year. Four Council members (Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, and Norway) abstained due to their concerns over the resolution describing the Houthis as a “terrorist group”. The UAE had sought to include this description in the resolution’s text following the 17 January missile and drone attacks on Abu Dhabi that struck an industrial district and a construction zone at Abu Dhabi International Airport, killing three civilians. Russia voted in favour of the resolution—an unusual move, given its history of objecting to singling out the Houthis in Council products. In the days preceding the Yemen resolution’s adoption, the UAE abstained twice on two Council resolutions addressing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. In an apparent signal of their displeasure at the Emirati abstentions on these resolutions, the UK, the penholder on Yemen, and the US did not deliver their expected explanations of vote after the adoption of resolution 2624.

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