What's In Blue

Posted Mon 21 Nov 2022

Yemen: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow afternoon (22 November), the Security Council will hold its monthly briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Yemen. Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and OCHA Director of Operations and Advocacy Reena Ghelani are expected to brief. Major General Michael Beary, the head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), is expected to brief during the consultations.

At tomorrow’s session, Grundberg is likely to describe his continued engagement with the parties on options to re-establish Yemen’s truce, which expired on 2 October. Since last briefing the Council on 13 October, the Special Envoy has visited Riyadh twice, meeting with Yemeni government and Saudi officials, as well as diplomats from the Security Council’s five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US). Grundberg also travelled to Muscat from 29 to 30 October, meeting senior Omani officials and the chief negotiator of the Houthi rebel group, Mohammed Abdulsalam.

However, it seems that these talks have not yielded any breakthroughs. Leading up to the truce’s expiration, Grundberg had proposed a plan for the extension and expansion of the truce agreement, which entailed the payment of civil servants’ salaries and pensions. The Houthis’ demand that its military and security forces be included in the salary payments of civil servants apparently prevented agreement on the deal.

As Grundberg continued with his shuttle diplomacy, there have been reports of direct talks during October and November between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, as well as Houthi-Saudi talks, facilitated by Oman, on a potential peace agreement. In addition, on 12 October a Houthi delegation visited Abha, Saudi Arabia, and a Saudi delegation went to Sana’a. According to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which supports the Yemeni government, the delegations visited prisoners of war as part of a confidence-building measure geared at extending the truce.

While Grundberg is unlikely to comment directly during tomorrow’s open briefing on the reports of these talks, in which he is not directly involved, Council members may be interested in learning more from the Special Envoy at the closed consultations. Members are expected to call on the parties to engage constructively with Grundberg. They may also be interested in hearing about any progress towards resolving the issue of salary payments, and on envisioned next steps for the Special Envoy’s mediation work.

Grundberg may observe that despite increased fighting along frontlines over the last month, major hostilities have not resumed. The Special Envoy and Council members are likely to reiterate their concerns about Houthi drone attacks that have targeted Yemeni government ports. In a high-profile attack on 21 October, the group targeted an oil tanker off the Al-Dubba oil terminal in Hadramawt governorate. The Houthis claimed that this was a “warning strike” to prevent pro-government forces from using the terminal for oil exports. The Greek shipowners said that there were “two drone-driven explosions in close proximity” to the vessel as it tried to load at the port but that the vessel did not sustain damage. At a 23 October emergency meeting prompted by the attack, Yemen’s National Defence Council—which is headed by the President of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), Rashad Al-Alimi—designated the Houthis as a terrorist organisation. Grundberg condemned the attack in a 22 October statement, calling it “a deeply worrying military escalation”. In a press statement on 26 October, Security Council members strongly condemned the “Houthi terrorist drone attacks” against the oil terminal.

The Yemeni government said in a 21 October letter to the Security Council that the Houthis had conducted similar drone attacks targeting the Rudum oil terminal on 18 and 19 October. On 9 November, another Houthi drone attack targeted the southern Qena port in Shabwah governorate. A joint statement by the ambassadors of France, the UK, and the US to Yemen on the Qena port attack called on the Houthis to cease such attacks, saying that “economic warfare will only exacerbate the conflict and humanitarian crisis” in Yemen. Members may reiterate such condemnations as well as calls for the parties, especially the Houthis, to demonstrate restraint.

Ghelani is expected to report on the operating environment for relief efforts, highlighting impediments affecting humanitarian work. An OCHA “Access Snapshot” report published on 8 November said that the third quarter of 2022 witnessed a significant increase in recorded access incidents (673). Ghelani may note that movement restrictions within Yemen comprised the predominant type of access incidents (307), about 94 percent of which were in Houthi-controlled areas. This was largely a consequence of the Houthis’ enforcement of “mahram”, which requires a close male relative to accompany female Yemeni aid workers when conducting field missions within and between governorates, as well as outside Yemen through Sana’a International Airport. According to the report, many agencies have stopped submitting movement requests for missions that include Yemeni female aid workers, recognising that these are likely be denied by the authorities, and the humanitarian community has suspended all national staff travel through Sana’a airport.

During her briefing, Ghelani may call for more support for mine action activities, as mines and explosive remnants of war (ERWs) have emerged as the leading cause of civilian casualties during the truce and post-truce periods. Between April and September, mines and ERWs caused 95 deaths and 248 injuries, according to OCHA. Ghelani might also highlight the potential implications of the recent port attacks on the economy and the humanitarian situation, as well as the negative effects that any return to major fighting could have.

Council members may encourage more donor support for relief efforts in Yemen, both for the rest of 2022 and for upcoming requirements next year. This year’s humanitarian response plan for Yemen is about 54 percent funded, with the US having provided nearly half of the total contributions. Members are also likely to be interested in hearing further details on the timeline to start the salvage operation of the FSO Safer oil tanker, which is moored off Yemen’s Hodeidah governorate. In September, the UN-facilitated plan to remove the oil from the decrepit ship finally received the donor commitments required to conduct the first phase of the operation.

Among other developments, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee has designated three additional Houthi officials over the last two months. On 26 September, the committee listed Houthi Commander of Yemen’s Naval and Coastal Defense Forces Mansur Al-Sa’adi for having “masterminded lethal attacks against international shipping in the Red Sea”. It also designated former Deputy Head of the Houthi National Security Bureau (NSB) Motlaq Amer Al-Marrani, who oversaw detainees of the NSB who were subjected to torture and other mistreatment, as well as for his role in planning the detention of humanitarian workers and diverting humanitarian assistance. On 4 October, the committee designated a third member, Ahmad al-Hamzi, commander of the Houthi Air Force and Air Defense Forces and its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) programme.

At tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members may mention the US’ announcement that on 8 November its navy seized 70 tons of ammonium perchlorate—which is commonly used to make rocket and missile fuel as well as explosives—hidden among bags of fertiliser aboard a ship bound to Yemen from Iran. The cargo found on the vessel may constitute a violation of Council sanctions prohibiting arms transfers to the Houthis. Later this month, on 29 November, the 2140 Committee will hold joint consultations with the 751 Al-Shabaab Sanctions Committee to discuss arms smuggling in the region. (The Council decided to rename the 751 Somalia Committee in resolution 2662 of 17 November.)

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