Yemen: Closed Consultations and Vote on Sanctions Regime Renewal*
Tomorrow morning (15 February), Council members will receive a briefing on Yemen in closed consultations. The anticipated briefers are Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya, and the head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), Major General Michael Beary.
Before the consultations, the Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution renewing the Yemen sanctions regime.
Yemen continues to experience its longest lull in fighting since the truce agreement between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebel group started on 2 April 2022, despite the parties’ failure to renew the agreement in early October 2022. At tomorrow’s meeting, Grundberg is likely to report that despite sporadic clashes, the situation remains stable.
Talks since October 2022 between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition in support of the Yemeni government, will be a key issue of interest during tomorrow’s meeting. These discussions, which Oman has been facilitating, are reportedly focused on a potential comprehensive agreement to end the war. Grundberg referred to the negotiations as “a potential step change in the trajectory of this eight-year conflict” during his last briefing to the Council on 16 January.
Grundberg’s current mediation efforts appear to be contingent on developments in the Houthi-Saudi talks. The UN Envoy is likely to refer tomorrow to his latest round of consultations with the parties. On 6 and 7 February, he met with senior Saudi officials in Riyadh, discussing progress towards a national ceasefire and an inclusive Yemeni-owned political process under UN auspices, according to his office. On 7 February, Grundberg also met with the president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, in Aden, followed by meetings with Omani officials and Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam in Muscat. Council members are likely to express support for, or welcome, the continuing Saudi-Houthi dialogue. They may reiterate the importance of the UN Envoy being kept informed of these negotiations, and members are likely to stress the importance of an inclusive Yemeni political process facilitated by UN mediation for a sustainable resolution to the conflict.
Msuya will update members on the humanitarian situation and aid operations. An estimated 21.6 million people require humanitarian assistance and protection, which is a slight decrease from the 23.4 million people who needed assistance last year. Msuya may highlight the critical choices facing the parties, who could either agree to a more permanent ceasefire or decide to return to fighting, which would reverse these positive signs. In this regard, she is likely to welcome the recent diplomatic efforts by Saudi Arabia and Oman.
Msuya is expected to discuss the access constraints facing relief efforts, which the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for Yemen released last month describes as “remain[ing] the most important challenge to effective humanitarian action in Yemen”. The problem is worse in the Houthi-controlled northwest of Yemen. This includes the group’s increased enforcement of mahram over the past year, requiring women to be accompanied by male guardians, a policy negatively affecting aid operations. Msuya is also likely to highlight the 27 February pledging event in Geneva for this year’s Yemen HRP, which requires $4.3 billion. As in previous years, Sweden and Switzerland are co-hosting the event, which Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to attend.
General Beary is expected to update members on recent progress towards increasing UNMHA’s access and footprint in Hodeidah governorate. On 1 February, Beary visited several districts in southern Hodeidah on the Houthi side of the frontlines that the mission had previously been unable to visit. The Yemeni government recently approved visas for the deployment of additional UNMHA observers and civilian personnel, which will enable the mission to increase its capabilities on the ground, including its presence in government areas. Beary is also likely to report on efforts to engage local community groups, especially women representatives, to advance the women, peace, and security agenda. As part of these efforts, UNMHA Deputy Head of Mission Vivian van de Perre visited Aden earlier this month, where she met with Yemeni women leaders, community groups, and small businesses.
Council members may once again raise the issue of the FSO Safer, the floating oil storage and offloading vessel that is moored in the Red Sea off Hodeidah city. Member states have been concerned over the delay in starting the planned salvage operation of the vessel, developed last year to avoid a potential environmental catastrophe in case of an oil spill or explosion. Yesterday (13 February), several donor states, including Council members, met in New York with Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Achim Steiner and UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen David Gressly. Donors expressed “steadfast support for urgent action to prevent a disastrous oil spill from the [FSO Safer] tanker in the Red Sea”, according to the US Department of State.
The UN announced the planned salvage operation in May 2022, saying at the time that the operation could begin once donors commit the required funds to conduct its first phase, which entails the transfer of the oil from the decrepit ship to a temporary vessel. Although this funding was received by September 2022, the UN has more recently said that it cannot begin the oil transfer until it secures the crude carrier that will permanently replace the FSO Safer. On 27 January, the UN issued an appeal through Lloyd’s List—a publication on global shipping markets—for help in finding a shipowner or group of industry philanthropists that may put up a direct financial subvention or enter a charter arrangement for a vessel.
The draft resolution in blue extends the Yemen asset freeze and travel ban measures until 15 November 2023 and the mandate of the Yemen Panel of Experts until 15 December 2023. Council members have described the short one-page text as a technical rollover of the Yemen sanctions regime, which was most recently renewed through resolution 2624 of 28 February 2022. (Diplomats commonly use the term “technical rollover” to describe a concise resolution extending the mandate of a peace operation or a sanctions regime without altering its core elements.)
The vote on the Yemen sanctions regime had originally been scheduled for the end of the month. However, last week, on 8 February, the UK (the penholder on Yemen) circulated a proposal for a technical rollover of the regime. The text passed silence procedure yesterday (13 February), and the draft resolution is now in blue.
In suggesting a technical rollover, the UK apparently sought to give space for the current peace talks and to avoid a repeat of last year’s difficult negotiations on resolution 2624 that led to four abstentions. At that time, the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—an elected Council member that participates in the Saudi Arabia-led coalition battling the Houthis—proposed a number of changes that it believed could strengthen the sanctions regime. (For more information, see our 28 February 2022 What’s in Blue story.) The decision to extend the sanctions regime for nine months, rather than the traditional one-year extension, will still allow time for discussions on potential amendments to the regime before the UAE’s Council term concludes at the end of 2023, especially if the Houthi-Saudi talks prove unsuccessful.
In addition to renewing the asset freeze and travel ban measures established by resolution 2140 of 26 February 2014, the draft resolution requests the Panel of Experts to provide a midterm update to the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee no later than 15 June and a final report no later than 15 October. Last year, the Panel of Experts operated with only four of its five members because Council members failed to approve candidates, proposed by the UN Secretariat, to serve as the Panel’s regional expert. The 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee is expected to meet in order to consider the Panel’s most recent final report following the renewal of the sanctions regime, after which the report is expected to become public. Previous scheduled meetings of the Committee to consider the final report had to be postponed because of the delay by the Council in agreeing on the allocation of subsidiary body chairs last month, and then the decision last week to wait until after the Council renewed the sanctions regime.
Regarding the targeted arms embargo against the Houthis, the draft resolution reaffirms the provisions of resolution 2216 of 14 April 2015 that established this arms embargo. Unlike the asset freeze and travel ban measures, the arms embargo does not have an expiry date.
*Post-script: On 15 February, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2675, renewing the Yemen asset freeze and travel ban until 15 November 2023, and the mandate of the Panel of Experts until 15 December 2023.