Yemen: Briefing and Consultations
On Monday morning (16 January), 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. Major General Michael Beary, the head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), is expected to brief Council members in consultations.
More than three months have passed since the truce agreement between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebel group expired on 2 October 2022. The failure to renew the agreement followed last-minute Houthi demands that their military and security personnel be included in an initiative to pay the salaries of state employees as part of Grundberg’s plan to renew the truce. Despite the truce’s expiry, major fighting has not resumed and elements of the agreement—the re-opening of Sana’a airport to civilian flights and fuel imports through Hodeidah port—have continued.
Grundberg is likely to inform the Council about his latest efforts to re-establish the truce agreement. These have been taking place against the backdrop of Omani-facilitated talks since October 2022, between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia (which leads a military coalition in support of the Yemeni government), reportedly aimed at ending the war. The Special Envoy met on 5 January in Riyadh with the President of the Yemeni government’s Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), Rashad Al-Alimi. On 11 January, Grundberg concluded a visit to Muscat, where he met with Omani senior officials. Oman had sent a delegation to Sana’a on 21 December 2022 to meet with Houthi leaders. A second Omani delegation, accompanied by Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam, arrived in Sana’a on 10 January.
It seems that the Special Envoy is expected to travel this weekend to Sana’a, from where he will brief the Council via videoconference on Monday. This will be Grundberg’s first visit to Sana’a since late September 2022, when he travelled there during negotiations on the truce’s renewal. At Monday’s briefing, Grundberg may therefore be able to update members about his engagement with the parties and their perspectives on restoring the truce agreement.
While fighting since the truce’s expiry has been limited in scope—recent clashes have been reported in Marib, Lahij and Taiz governorates—Grundberg may observe that the situation is unlikely to be sustainable unless a formal truce agreement and political process are restored. Council members are expected to reiterate their support for the Special Envoy. They may further express support for the efforts of regional actors and emphasise the importance of coordinating these efforts with those of Grundberg. Members are likely to reiterate their calls for the parties to exercise restraint, and to restore the truce agreement with the perspective of restarting a political process. Some may further highlight that only an inclusive political process under UN mediation can provide for a sustainable solution to the conflict.
Griffiths is expected to underscore the severity of the humanitarian situation that is presented in the 2023 Yemen Humanitarian Needs Overview. The report, released on 20 December 2022, estimates that 21.6 million people will require humanitarian assistance and protection services in 2023, a slight decrease from the 23.4 million people in need in 2022. Of the 21.6 million individuals who will require assistance this year, 17.3 million people are estimated to need food and agricultural assistance (a decrease from 19 million in the second half of last year), 20.3 million people will need access to critical health services, and 15.3 million people will need support to access clean water and meet basic sanitation needs. Griffiths may note that last year, relief efforts reached 10.5 million people on average every month, although the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan was only about 57 percent funded. He is likely to encourage donors to continue support for humanitarian operations in Yemen and to fill the funding gaps for the response efforts.
Griffiths is expected to highlight that continued access impediments are significantly affecting aid delivery. These include bureaucratic restrictions, especially in Houthi-controlled areas, as well as security incidents, which have been more common in government-controlled areas. In addition, Griffiths is likely to raise the matter of Yemen’s economy. As OCHA regularly highlights, the economy is the main driver of the country’s humanitarian needs. The humanitarian situation in Yemen, which largely relies on imported food and goods, was further exacerbated during 2022 by the pressures on international supply chains stemming from the war in Ukraine that increased global food and energy prices.
Council members are likely to underscore their concern about the restrictive operating environment for humanitarian actors. They may stress that humanitarian access must be guided by needs on the ground. Members are also expected to express concerns about the Houthis’ enforcement over the past year of “mahram”, which requires that women be escorted by male relatives, a policy that the UN reports has affected relief efforts. Council members may also repeat calls for the Houthis to release two UN aid workers who were detained in Sana’a in November 2021 and the Yemeni employees of the US embassy in Sana’a who have been detained since October 2021. Five UN staff members who were kidnapped in February 2022 in Abyan governorate in southern Yemen also remain missing.
Council members are also likely to raise the issue of the FSO Safer oil tanker, which is moored off Hodeidah port and could cause a major environmental catastrophe if its oil leaks or an explosion occurs. Members may note that the funding for the first phase of the UN-facilitated plan to remove the oil from the ship has been secured since September 2022, and they are likely to call for the rapid implementation of the plan.
General Beary is expected to report on his ongoing engagement with the parties and regional states. Amid reports that the parties may be preparing to return to a new round of fighting, Beary may report on UNMHA’s continued work to strengthen its de-escalation functions and access to front lines in southern Hodeidah governorate.
Beary might also highlight the threat posed by landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). According to the Civilian Impact Monitoring Project (CIMP)—a monitoring mechanism which collects open-source data about the Yemen war’s effects on civilians— ERWs caused 111 fatalities in Hodeidah between January and November 2022. The problem was highlighted last month, when an UNMHA armoured vehicle carrying General Beary struck a landmine on 6 December during a field visit in the Al Hali district of Hodeidah. There were no casualties.
Later this month, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee is scheduled to hold a meeting with the Yemen Panel of Experts to discuss the panel’s final report. The report, which was reportedly submitted to the committee at the end of last year, has not yet been made public. At Monday’s briefing, some Council members may refer to the latest announced arms interdiction by the US, which said that it had intercepted a fishing vessel in the Gulf of Oman on 6 January that was smuggling more than 2,100 assault rifles on a maritime route historically used to traffick illicit cargo from Iran to the Houthis. The supply or transfer of arms to the Houthis is a violation of the Council’s arms embargo against the group.