What's In Blue

Posted Fri 14 Apr 2023

Yemen: Briefing and Consultations

On Monday morning (17 April), the Security Council will hold its monthly briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Yemen. UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and OCHA’s Deputy 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 the consultations.

The Council briefing will take place amid some promising signs in efforts to resolve Yemen’s more than eight-year war. Between 9 and 13 April, a delegation from Saudi Arabia and Omani mediators held talks in Sana’a with leaders from the Houthi rebel group. The rare visit by Saudi officials to the Houthi-held capital of Yemen has raised expectations that the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition in support of Yemen’s internationally recognised government, could be nearing an agreement in talks that Oman has facilitated since October 2022, when Yemen’s truce agreement from April 2022 expired. While details have not been made public, according to news reports, a potential deal may include establishing a ceasefire and the payment of public employees in Houthi territory, possibly through revenues from Yemen’s oil and gas reserves (which the Yemeni government controls). It may also aim to relaunch broader talks among Yemeni parties.

At Monday’s meeting, Grundberg may welcome these efforts as a possible step towards a UN-mediated Yemeni political process for finding an inclusive and sustainable solution to the conflict. He might mention his coordination activities with regional countries. Ahead of this latest round of talks, the UN envoy visited Riyadh and Muscat, between 28 and 30 March and from 3 to 5 April, respectively.

Council members are expected to welcome the past week’s talks in Sana’a. They may encourage the parties to take advantage of this moment to reach an agreement. Members may recall the importance of intra-Yemeni political talks under the auspices of the UN Special Envoy to reach a comprehensive political settlement. Even if a deal is reached in Saudi-Houthi negotiations, resolving differences between the Houthis and the government and the country’s different parties that have been aligned against the rebel group would be difficult. Grundberg might remind the Council the challenges facing such a process. Closed consultations may be an opportunity for Grundberg to share possible insights with Council members on how the talks in Sana’a went.

The past week’s talks follow other recent significant developments. Ahead of last month’s Council briefing on Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran,  the Houthis’ main ally, announced on 10 March an agreement to restore diplomatic relations. The rapprochement, which China helped broker, generated speculation that this could give a boost to mediation efforts on Yemen. Additionally, on 20 March, at the conclusion of the seventh meeting of the UN and ICRC-chaired Supervisory Committee on the Implementation of the Detainees’ Exchange Agreement in Switzerland, the Houthis and the Yemeni government agreed on an implementation plan for the release of 887 conflict-related detainees from all sides. A first group of prisoners, 13 Houthis and one Saudi detainee, were exchanged ahead of the talks in Sana’a. Today (14 April), Grundberg announced that the operation to release the rest of the detainees has begun and will take place over the course of three days, involving flights between six airports in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Grundberg is likely to update the Council on the prisoner exchange deal on Monday.

Grundberg is also expected to report on the escalation of military hostilities that took place in the latter half of March. The Houthis launched new attacks in Marib governorate on 21 March and in Shabwah governorate on 25 March, which led to several fatalities and the displacement of families. A Houthi drone attack on 25 March in Taiz governorate targeted a convoy transporting senior government officials, including Yemen’s defense minister and Taiz’s governor, killing at least one person. Council members issued a press statement on 4 April which condemned the recent escalation in violence, while welcoming the agreement on the release of detainees.

Mudawi is likely to provide an update on challenges facing relief efforts, including interference in the delivery of aid, access constraints, and the dangerous security environment. This includes the Houthis’ enforcement of mahram, requiring women to be accompanied by male guardians, which negatively affects aid operations. Council members may reiterate calls for all parties to facilitate the safe, rapid, and unimpeded distribution of humanitarian relief to all civilians in need and to protect humanitarian personnel and assets in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law. Members may further recall the importance of measures to support Yemen’s economy, which is critical to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the country, where an estimated 21.6 million people require aid or protection.

Land mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) have been the leading cause of civilian casualties in the truce and post-truce period during the past year. Mudawi might observe the increased risk of ERW-related incidents created by the start of the rainy season this month in Yemen. During consultations, Beary is likely to provide an update on UNMHA’s demining activities. In March, eight landmine and EWR incidents in Hodeidah killed eight civilians and injured nine more.

Mudawi is also expected to update on the salvage operation of the FSO Safer, a decrepit oil tanker which is moored off the Ras Isa peninsula in the Red Sea. She may report that the very large crude carrier, which the UN purchased last month to replace the FSO Safer, began its journey to the Red Sea on 6 April from Zhoushan in China. According to a UN announcement, the ship, called the Nautica, should arrive in early May, after making one more stop for some technical modifications. In their 4 April press statement, Council members called on donors, including the private sector, to contribute the remaining $34 million needed to undertake the emergency operation, while reiterating the importance of timely implementation of the project in order to prevent an economic, environmental, and humanitarian disaster. On Monday, members might echo such calls for filling the outstanding funding requirements and keeping the operation on schedule.

On 28 April, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee is scheduled to meet with members of this year’s Yemen Panel of Experts, who have apparently now been appointed, with the exception of the panel’s regional expert, following the renewal of the panel’s mandate in resolution 2675 of 15 February.

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