What's In Blue

Posted Thu 12 Oct 2023

Yemen Consultations

This afternoon (12 October), Security Council members will hold their monthly briefing on Yemen in closed consultations. UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg; the Director of OCHA’s Operations and Advocacy Division, Edem Wosornu; and the head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), Major General Michael Beary, are expected to brief. The consultations on Yemen, originally scheduled for Friday (13 October), were rescheduled for today (Thursday) because of an emergency meeting that the Council will hold Friday on the crisis in Israel and Gaza.

Representatives of the Houthi rebel group visited Riyadh from 14 to 19 September for a new round of Omani-mediated talks with Saudi Arabia on a possible ceasefire agreement. Saudi Arabia leads a military coalition that supports Yemen’s internationally recognised government. It was the group’s first official visit to Saudi Arabia during the more than eight-year-long war, raising hopes that the two sides could be close to a deal. Saudi Arabia welcomed the talks’ “positive results” in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. Media reports also cited sources as saying that some progress was made on such issues as a timeline to withdraw foreign troops from Yemen and a mechanism for paying public servants’ salaries.

However, only days later, a Houthi drone attack on 25 September killed four Bahraini soldiers serving in the coalition along Saudi Arabia’s southern border. It was a rare Houthi cross-border attack since the UN mediated a truce agreement in April 2022 between the Houthis and Yemeni government, which despite formally expiring a year ago has largely held. In a statement on the incident, coalition spokesperson Brigadier General Turki al-Maliki said that there had also been recent attacks targeting an electrical distribution site and a police station by “some Houthi elements.”

At today’s session, Grundberg is expected to provide an update on these developments and his activities. The UN Envoy will brief members in person after meeting earlier this week with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, D.C. In a 26 September statement, Grundberg condemned the Houthi drone attack that killed the Bahrani soldiers, warning that “any renewal of offensive military escalation risks plunging Yemen back into a cycle of violence and undermines ongoing peace efforts”. During today’s consultations, Grundberg may stress the importance of quickly reaching an agreement in the Houthi-Saudi talks, as last month’s drone attacks demonstrate the fragility of the situation.

Members are likely to welcome the visit of the Houthi delegation to Riyadh and express hope that there may soon be an agreement. They are also likely to reiterate their condemnation of last month’s drone strikes. In a press statement on 29 September, Council members “strongly condemned the egregious and escalatory drone attack” that killed the Bahraini soldiers and called on the Houthis to “end all terrorist attacks, reiterating concern at the targeting of civilian infrastructure” in southern border cities of Saudi Arabia. Members may repeat other messages from the press statement, which included reiterating the need for “decisive steps” towards a sustainable ceasefire and “strong support for efforts towards a political settlement”.

Members may ask Grundberg for his views on the potential impact of regional developments on Yemen. The Houthis slogan, adopted in 2003, includes “Death to America, Death to Israel’. On 10 October, Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi warned that the group would respond by firing drones and missiles if the US directly intervenes in Gaza, adding that the Houthis were ready to coordinate with other groups and intervene.

Some members may additionally stress the need for Grundberg to continue engaging with all members of the Yemeni government’s Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), as the UN Envoy prepares for an inter-Yemeni political process, which is expected to follow an agreement between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia. Relations remain fragile between the Yemeni factions that form the PLC. While participating as a member of the government’s delegation to the UN General Assembly’s high-level week last month, Southern Transitional Council (STC) President Aidarous al-Zubaidi, who is also the vice-president of the PLC, said in several interviews that the STC would prioritise in negotiations the creation of an independent southern Yemen state. Some members may further stress the importance of the political process addressing accountability issues and being inclusive of women and civil society.

Wosornu is expected to highlight the funding gap facing relief efforts, which is forcing humanitarian actors to scale back programmes despite massive humanitarian needs. She may flag the challenges facing the World Food Programme (WFP), which in August mostly suspended its Prevention of Acute Malnutrition-programme that supports 2.4 million children. WFP operations are only 15 percent funded for the October 2023-March 2024 six-month period, according to the latest WFP situation report. The report noted that the food insecurity situation deteriorated in July for the third consecutive month, affecting 17 million people, including 6.1 million people facing “emergency” conditions. A joint statement, which 7 UN agencies, 31 international non-governmental organisations and 60 Yemeni civil society organisations issued on 14 September, urged UN member states to scale up their funding in line with the Yemen 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan.

Wosoronu is also anticipated to again raise the situation of migrants in Yemen. In August, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on the killing by Saudi border guards of “at least” hundreds of Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers attempting to cross the Yemen-Saudi border between March 2022 and June 2023. OCHA’s recent situation report on Yemen, dated 28 September, notes that migrants remain one of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups in Yemen. It cites the HRW report as a reminder of the grave abuses faced by migrants and asylum seekers, and recalls other dangers, including exploitation by traffickers, drowning and starvation.

At today’s session, Council members may raise ongoing concerns about Houthi restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian assistance, as well as impediments on UNMHA’s freedom of movement.  Members may ask Beary to explain the increase in mine-related casualties in Hodiedah. Last month, UNMHA announced that during August, it recorded 20 civilian casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war in the governorate, which represented a 122 percent increase compared to July. There may also be discussion about Yemen Airways suspending flights out of Sana’a airport, which it announced on 30 September due to the Houthis blocking the carrier from withdrawing its funds in Sanaa banks. The airline has been providing the only commercial flights out of Sana’a, which resumed last year as one of the confidence-building measures from the April 2022 truce agreement.

Next month, the Council is scheduled to renew the mandate of the Yemen sanctions regime, which comprises an assets freeze, travel ban and a targeted arms embargo on the Houthis. Council members may use the consultations, or their bilateral meetings this week with Grundberg, as an opportunity to gauge his views on how the renewal of the sanctions can support ongoing political efforts.

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