What's In Blue

Posted Tue 16 May 2023

Yemen: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (17 May), the Security Council will hold its monthly briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Yemen. Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and OCHA’s Director of Operations and Advocacy Edem Wosornu are expected to brief. Head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) Major General Michael Beary is expected to brief during the consultations.

This will be Grundberg’s second Council briefing following the talks in Sana’a, held from 8 to 13 April, between a delegation from Saudi Arabia, joined by Omani mediators, and leaders of the Houthi rebel group. The talks in Sana’a 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 negotiations that Oman has facilitated since October 2022, when Yemen’s truce agreement from April 2022 expired. Saudi Arabia described the meeting in Sana’a as “constructive” and said that discussions would “resume as soon as possible”.

Addressing the Council on 17 April, Grundberg said that he was working closely with regional and Yemeni stakeholders to ensure that the Omani-facilitated talks feed into UN mediation efforts for an intra-Yemeni political process. Council members issued a press statement on 27 April that welcomed the visit to Sana’a by the Saudi and Omani delegations, and called for all Yemeni parties to continue dialogue, engage constructively in the peace process and negotiate in good faith.

At tomorrow’s briefing, Grundberg may update the Council on the talks. Grundberg concluded a two-day visit to Sana’a on 3 May. Addressing the press, he stated that he had “frank, detailed and constructive discussions on the way forward” with Houthi authorities, adding that any agreement needs to provide “for the preparation and the resumption of an inclusive, Yemeni-owned political process under the United Nations’ auspices”. Also on 3 May, the UN Envoy visited Aden, the interim capital of the Yemeni government, where he met with the President of Yemen’s eight-member Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), Rashad Al Alimi.

He has also recently traveled to Riyadh, where he met with the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed Al-Jaber, who led the delegation that visited Sana’a in April, as well as PLC member Abdullah Al-Alimi and the Riyadh-based ambassadors to Yemen of the Council’s permanent members (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US). In the UAE, the Office of the Special Envoy announced on 9 May that Grundberg held talks with PLC member Abd Al Rahman Al Mahrami and Emirati officials. Earlier this week, the UN Envoy held meetings in Washington D.C. before coming to New York to brief the Council. An apparent sticking point in the Houthi-Saudi dialogue continues to be the payment of public employees in Houthi-held territory.

Council members may welcome the fact that Yemen continues to see its longest period of calm since last year’s truce agreement, despite some recent clashes. They may call on the parties to continue dialogue, capitalising on recent momentum in the Houthi-Saudi talks and last month’s prisoner exchanges between the parties. Members are expected to reiterate the ultimate need for an inclusive Yemeni political process facilitated by UN mediation to achieve a sustainable resolution to the conflict.

Grundberg may mention the Southern National Consultative Meeting held in Aden from 4 to 8 May. At the meeting, southern Yemeni political factions signed a “national charter”, and several groups reportedly joined the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC). In the wake of this meeting, STC President Aiderous Al Zubaidi, who is also vice-president of the PLC, issued a number of resolutions, which included reshuffling the STC presidency on 9 May. As part of the reshuffle, Al Zubaidi appointed Al Mahrami, who commands one of Yemen’s strongest military units, known as the Giants Brigades, and PLC member Faraj Salmeen Muhammad Al Bahsani to the STC. The appointments mean that three PLC members are now part of the STC.

At tomorrow’s meeting, members may be interested in progress towards organising the next round of prisoner exchange talks between the government and the Houthis, which the Office of the Special Envoy and the ICRC chair. According to the 20 March agreement reached in Geneva that resulted in last month’s prisoner exchange, the government and the Houthis agreed to reconvene during May to discuss further releases.

Wosornu will update the Council on Yemen’s humanitarian needs, still massive despite some positive signs in peace talks. Over 21 million people require aid or protection, while the 2023 Yemen humanitarian response plan is currently only 23% funded ($999.2 million funded out of $4.34 billion required). Worsornu may speak about recent UN efforts to engage authorities to address access constraints and interference in aid delivery. These have included the Houthis’ enforcement of mahram, requiring women to be accompanied by male guardians, which negatively affects aid operations. Council members are likely to 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 alleviating the humanitarian crisis in the country.

Wosornu is also likely to update the Council on the salvage operation of the FSO Safer, the decrepit oil tanker moored off the Ras Isa peninsula in the Red Sea. On 20 April, in a further step towards preventing a massive oil spill, the UN announced that it had contracted the global maritime services company Boskalis to transfer the million barrels of oil aboard the FSO Safer to the replacement vessel that the UN Development Programme purchased in March. This vessel, the Nautica, is expected to arrive in the Red Sea sometime this month. Wosornu may highlight the continued funding needed to carry out the operation. On 4 May, the UK and the Netherlands co-hosted a pledging conference to fill this shortfall. Egypt, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, the Republic of Korea, the UK and the private company Octavia Energy announced pledges totaling almost $8 million, of which $5.6 million represented new funding, according to the UN. This still leaves $23.8 million required for the operation’s emergency phase and an additional $19 million required for the second phase, which includes the towing and scrapping of the Safer after the transfer of its oil.

As part of his briefing, General Beary may update Council members on progress towards increasing UNMHA’s monitoring in the southern districts of Hodeidah. He may also report on the continued threat to civilians of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). UNMHA announced on 14 May that it recorded 13 civilian casualties related to landmines/ERW in Hodeidah during April, which represented a 24% decrease compared to March, when there were 17 casualties.

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