What's In Blue

Posted Wed 13 Apr 2022

Yemen: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (14 March), the Security Council will hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Yemen. Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths are expected to brief.

Grundberg is expected to cover several significant developments that have taken place over the past two weeks in Yemen. At the start of the month, Grundberg announced that the conflict parties had agreed—for the first time since 2016—to a nation-wide truce for two months, from 2 April until 2 June, with the possibility of an extension. The truce, which the UN proposed for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, entails a halt to all offensive ground, aerial, and maritime military operations inside and outside Yemen, and a freeze in current military positions on the ground.

The truce agreement also sets out several humanitarian measures. During the two-month period, the Yemeni government and Saudi Arabia-led coalition committed to permitting the entry of 18 fuel ships into the Houthi rebel group-held ports in Hodeidah governorate, and two commercial flights per week in and out of Sana’a Airport to Egypt and Jordan. The Special Envoy is also expected to convene a meeting of the parties to agree on opening roads in Taiz governorate, where the Houthis have maintained a siege of Taiz city for years, and in other governorates to facilitate the movement of civilians.

Grundberg is likely to observe that there was a significant decrease in violence and no confirmed reports of airstrikes or cross border-attacks since the truce took effect, despite some reports of clashes, including in Marib and Taiz governorates. He may discuss possibilities for extending the truce or converting it into a more formal cessation of hostilities, as well as using this break as a stepping-stone to return to a political process. Griffiths is similarly expected to note a significant overall drop in hostilities since the truce began, with civilian casualties falling to their lowest levels in months. He may further report the increase of fuel shipments into Hodeidah, which has eased the fuel shortage that the UN has been reporting for months. He may also observe that the planned discussions on opening roads in Taiz and elsewhere could provide opportunities to improve the UN’s humanitarian response.

Council members are expected to encourage the parties to uphold the truce and consolidate it into a more permanent ceasefire. In welcoming the truce, members may also stress the need for the parties to begin negotiations under UN auspices. Last week, on 4 April, Council members issued two press statements: one condemning the 20 March and 25 March cross-border “terrorist attacks” by the Houthis against Saudi Arabia that struck critical civilian infrastructure, and a second statement welcoming the Special Envoy’s 1 April call for a truce and the parties’ positive response. At tomorrow’s meeting, members may be interested in more details on the truce agreement’s modalities. At a 6 April press conference, Grundberg said that the UN is setting up a coordination mechanism with the parties to maintain channels of communication and help them prevent, de-escalate and manage incidents. He emphasised, however, that the UN “isn’t monitoring” the truce, adding that “the responsibility to uphold the truce is squarely with the parties themselves”.

The truce was followed by a second major development that Grundberg will report on tomorrow. On 7 April, Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi dismissed his controversial vice-president Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who had been in office since 2016. Hadi subsequently issued a presidential declaration that “irrevocably” transferred his own “full powers in accordance with the constitution and the Gulf initiative and its executive mechanism” to a new eight-person Presidential Leadership Council (PLC). With this act, Hadi ended his presidency, which had lasted since his election in February 2012 on a single-candidate ballot to serve an envisioned two-year term to steer Yemen’s political transition following President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s resignation. These moves took place at the end of inter-Yemeni consultations that had started on 29 March in Riyadh, which were sponsored by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and brought together various anti-Houthi factions.

The PLC comprises leaders of many of these groups. Rashad al-Alimi, a former interior minister in the early 2000s, was appointed as its head. The PLC’s other members are Marib Governor Sultan al-Arada, National Resistance Forces leader Tareq Saleh, Giants Brigades Commander Abdulrahman Abu Zara’a, Chief of Staff of the Presidential Office Abdullah al-Alimi Bawazeer, Member of Parliament Othman al-Majali, Southern Transitional Council President Aiderous al-Zubaidi; and Hadramawt Governor Faraj al-Bahsani. According to the presidential declaration, the PLC’s functions include managing Yemen’s political, military and security affairs. The declaration also states that the PLC “is in charge of negotiating with Ansar Allah (the Houthis) for a permanent ceasefire…and sitting at the negotiating table to reach a final and comprehensive political solution that includes a transitional phase that will move Yemen from a state of war to a state of peace”.

The UN took note of Hadi’s decision to delegate his power to the PLC, according to Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric. Grundberg may note that he is ready to work with the PLC as part of his efforts to negotiate a settlement to Yemen’s conflict and mention his plans to meet with the PLC in the coming days.

Despite some concerns about the reported circumstances of the transfer of power, Council members appear to view the political reconfiguration favourably. Hadi has been an unpopular leader and the new PLC encompasses leaders of key groups crucial for negotiating a political settlement with the Houthis. Earlier today (13 April), Security Council members issued a press statement welcoming the creation of and assumption of powers by the PLC. In it, they “expressed their hope and expectation that the creation of the PLC will form an important step towards stability and an inclusive Yemeni-led and owned political settlement”, noting the PLC’s intention to form a negotiating team for the UN-led talks. Council members may convey cautious optimism tomorrow when referring to these recent developments, as they recognise that past ceasefire initiatives in Yemen have faltered and that the PLC’s members have diverging goals.

Grundberg is also likely to report on his recent visit to Sana’a to meet with the Houthi leadership, which took place from 11 to 13 April. This was Grundberg’s first visit to Sana’a since assuming his role as Special Envoy in September 2021. Today’s Security Council press statement noted the visit and called on the Houthis to engage with the Special Envoy in his efforts to achieve a comprehensive ceasefire. During tomorrow’s closed consultations, members may seek to hear more from Grundberg about his meetings in Sana’a and on possible next steps.

During his update on the humanitarian situation, Griffiths is likely to welcome the new financial support that Saudi Arabia announced on 7 April after the PLC’s creation. This includes a $3 billion economic package, $2 billion of which Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will jointly provide to Yemen’s central bank. Since the announcement, the value of the Yemeni rial in government-held areas has increased by around 25 percent. Griffiths is also likely to welcome the $300 million contribution that Saudi Arabia announced for the UN’s relief efforts. Despite recent positive developments, Griffiths may reiterate that humanitarian needs in Yemen remain vast and that even with the new Saudi pledge, the UN’s response plan remains significantly underfunded after the disappointing pledging conference in March that raised only $1.3 billion of the $4.2 billion required by the UN for Yemen this year.

Additionally, Griffiths is expected to mention efforts to resolve the threat posed by the FSO Safer, the vessel moored off the Houthi-held port of Ras Issa in the Red Sea that is at risk of a major oil spill or explosion. The parties have agreed over recent months to a plan that the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator to Yemen David Gressly is facilitating to transfer the more than one million barrels of oil on the Safer to a temporary vessel until a suitable replacement vessel for the Safer is acquired. A 7 April Secretary-General’s letter (S/2022/300) to the Council describes the plan that requires at least $80 million in donor funds. Gressly briefed members on the envisioned operation the following day at the Permanent Mission of the Netherlands to the UN. (The Netherlands is expected to host a donor conference to raise the required funds for the plan in the first half of May.)

At an 8 April press conference, Gressly highlighted the importance of completing the transfer of oil to a temporary vessel by the end of September, before turbulent currents which start in October heighten the risk of breaking up the Safer. Members are likely to express support for the plan and indicate that they will monitor its progress closely.

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