What's In Blue

Posted Fri 12 Aug 2022

Yemen: Briefing and Consultations

On Monday (15 August), the Security Council will hold its monthly briefing and consultations on Yemen. Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and OCHA Director of Operations and Advocacy Ghada Eltahir Mudawi are expected to brief. The head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), Major General Michael Beary, is expected to brief during consultations.

On 2 August, the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebel group agreed to a further two-month extension of the truce until 2 October. The truce, in place since 2 April, has significantly brought down violence, though both sides have alleged violations and the build-up of forces. Talks on one of the key elements of the truce, to re-open roads around Taiz city, which is under Houthi siege, have been stalled. Purported Houthi shelling of a residential neighbourhood in Taiz city on 24 July injured ten children and killed one.

At Monday’s briefing, Grundberg is likely to speak of his proposal for an expanded truce agreement to broaden the elements of the truce and its duration beyond its customary two-month time span. In a statement announcing the extension on 2 August, Grundberg said that the parties had committed to intensifying negotiations to reach an expanded truce as soon as possible. The proposal, according to his announcement, calls for an agreement on a mechanism for the regular payment of civil servant salaries and pensions, and the opening of additional destinations for round-trip flights from Sana’a International Airport. It would also give more space to negotiate a formal ceasefire, conduct talks on economic and security issues, and prepare to resume a political process for a negotiated settlement to the war. According to his announcement, Grundberg will continue to work on facilitating the truce’s full implementation, including agreements on Taiz, the full number and regularity of flights between Sana’a and Amman and Cairo, and the number of fuel ships entering Hodeidah.

Council members welcomed the renewal of the truce in a 4 August press statement. Members called on the parties to urgently intensify negotiations to reach an inclusive and comprehensive agreement on the expanded truce proposal. They expressed concerns over the lack of progress on Taiz and called on the Houthis to act with flexibility in the negotiations to open roads. While welcoming the continued reduction in violence, members condemned all attacks that threaten the truce, including the 24 July attack in Taiz.

During his briefing, Grundberg may thank member states for helping to secure the truce’s renewal, and call for the international community’s continued support. Last month, Yemen figured prominently in talks between US President Joe Biden and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and their delegations during Biden’s visit to Riyadh. The two sides committed to “doing everything possible to extend and strengthen the UN-mediated truce”, according to a White House press release on the meeting. On 31 July, an Omani delegation visited Sana’a to discuss the Envoy’s proposals with Houthi authorities.

Grundberg is likely to highlight other activities of his office at Monday’s meeting. His military advisor, Brigadier General Antony Hayward—who has been convening a military coordination committee since the truce started that comprises representatives of the Houthis, the Yemeni government and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition—visited Yemen from 21 July to 28 July. Hayward’s visit to  Aden, Taiz and Sana’a sought to follow through on the committee’s discussions on the truce in Amman and improve his understanding of the situation in the country.

The Special Envoy’s office also co-chaired with the ICRC a sixth meeting of the Supervisory Committee on the Implementation of the Detainees Release and Exchange Agreement in Amman. Discussions, which concluded on 1 August after six days, focused on identifying the names of detainees to be released based on figures agreed on by the parties in March. In a press release, Grundberg said, “It is unfortunate that the parties were unable to agree to the release of detainees at this point in time”. The press release noted that the parties agreed to facilitate visits by the ICRC to detention centres to assist with the verification of the detainees’ identities, and to establish a joint committee to support the process of verifying the identities of detainees included in the parties’ respective lists. The Special Envoy’s office subsequently announced that the agreement on the joint committee still requires consultations with relevant authorities.

Grundberg may also discuss the recent unrest in Shabwah province in southern Yemen, where fighting broke out on 8 August between the Giants Brigades and the forces of the Islah Party, anti-Houthi groups with representation in Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council (PLC). The fighting, which has led to the deaths of 28 people, erupted after the governor of the province dismissed an official from the Islah Party. On 10 August, the PLC announced that it was ousting military figures accused of fomenting the violence.

Mudawi is expected to cover ongoing humanitarian challenges and relief efforts in Yemen: preventing famine, improving humanitarian access and supporting the economy. She could observe that the recent agreement in the Ukraine war to facilitate the export of Ukrainian grain may alleviate pressures on food costs and inflation in Yemen. She is also likely to express gratitude to the US for its decision, announced on 4 August, to provide an additional $431 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen, relieving some of OCHA’s concerns about having to shut down aid programmes amid funding shortages. Prior to the US announcement, the Yemen humanitarian response programme for 2022 was 29 percent funded, having received $1.34 billion of its required $4.27 billion for the year. (Of this amount, the US had already contributed $582 million prior to its 4 August announcement).

Notwithstanding this support, Mudawi is likely to highlight the urgent need for funding to continue the operations of the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM), which has facilitated commercial shipping into the Houthi-held ports of Hodeidah since 2016. The UNVIM will have to shut down or suspend its work in September if it does not receive the $3.5 million that it requires to operate until the end of the year. Mudawi could stress UNVIM’s important role in facilitating fuel shipments into Hodeidah port as part of the truce agreement, and the disruption that could be created for commercial shipping if the mechanism were to close. Mudawi is also likely to highlight the ongoing funding shortfall for the first phase of a plan to transfer oil from the decrepit FSO Safer oil tanker. Despite the situation’s urgency, which could cause an environmental disaster in the Red Sea if the oil on board leaks or the ship explodes, the UN has been unable to raise the $80 million required to start the oil transfer.

General Beary’s briefing during consultations follows the Council’s extension of UNMHA’s mandate for an additional year on 13 July. Resolution 2643 renewing UNMHA’s mandate welcomed the establishment of an UNMHA presence in Yemeni government-controlled areas and demanded that the Houthis end the restrictions and hindrances to the movement of UNMHA personnel, including by allowing announced and unannounced UNMHA patrols.

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