Yemen: Consultations and Yesterday’s Renewal of the Sanctions Regime
Tomorrow morning (16 November), Security Council members will hold their monthly meeting on Yemen in closed consultations. UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, and Head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) Major General Michael Beary are expected to brief.
Yesterday (14 November), the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2707, renewing the 2140 Yemen sanctions regime until 15 November 2024 and the mandate of the Yemen Panel of Experts until 15 December 2024.
Grundberg is expected to update Council members on his preparations for a UN-led inter-Yemeni political process, which is expected to follow the conclusion of Omani-facilitated talks between the Houthi rebel group and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia leads a military coalition that has supported Yemen’s internationally recognised government during the more than eight-year-long war in Yemen. In September, a Houthi delegation visited Riyadh officially for the first time, and there are heightened expectations that the sides are nearing an agreement, including on such issues as the payment of public servants’ salaries in Houthi-controlled territory and the withdrawal of foreign forces from Yemen.
Last month, Grundberg visited Riyadh, meeting with President of the Yemeni government’s Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) Rashad al-Alimi. He also met Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohamed Al Jaber, with whom the UN envoy explored “ways to sustain concerted regional and international efforts to resume a viable political process facilitated by the UN”, according to a 19 October statement by his office. Grundberg also had discussions with the ambassadors to Yemen of the Security Council’s permanent members (P5) “on the need for continued Security Council consensus in support of a sustainable, inclusive political solution in Yemen”. The Envoy again visited the Saudi capital today (15 November), with his office announcing that he held meetings with members of the PLC, Ambassador Al Jaber, and the P5 ambassadors. At tomorrow’s session, Grundberg may provide further insights on progress in the Houthi-Saudi talks.
Grundberg also visited Tehran last week, where he met Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and other senior officials. “They exchanged views on the importance of making progress to advance an agreement on measures to improve living conditions in Yemen, a sustainable nationwide ceasefire, and the resumption of an inclusive political process under UN auspices”, according to the Special Envoy’s office. A statement by Iran’s foreign ministry on the visit said that Amir-Abdollahian emphasised the need to protect Yemen’s territorial integrity, raising concerns that “some want to disintegrate Yemen and some countries are talking about carving up the country into two or three countries”. Tomorrow, Grundberg may also mention the consultations held last month with Yemeni groups in Aden and Marib by a delegation from his office, led by Chief of Political Affairs Roxaneh Bazergan and Principal Military Adviser Antony Hayward, as part of ongoing preparations for a possible ceasefire agreement and a UN-led political process between the Houthis and Yemen’s multiple other factions.
An issue that is likely to be raised during tomorrow’s consultations is the attacks against Israel by Houthi missiles and uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) amid the war between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian armed group and de facto authority in Gaza. On 19 October, the Houthis carried out their first attack, launching missiles and UAVs, all of which were intercepted by a US naval warship in the northern Red Sea. In the group’s first public statement confirming responsibility for a spate of attacks targeting Israel, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sare’e said that the missile and drone attacks will continue “until Israeli ceases its aggression”.
In a 6 November letter to the Security Council, Israel said that, between 19 October and 1 November, the Houthis had carried out attacks against Israel on at least four occasions, with a 31 October attack targeting the southern city of Eilat. According to the letter, the attacks involved various types of UAVs, such as the Samad-3, and cruise missiles like the Tophan. The letter maintains that the attacks contravene Security Council resolution 2216 of 14 April 2015, which established an arms embargo against the Houthis, and accuses Iran of “active support and significant involvement in the Houthis’ armed actions, in this and other contexts”. Sare’e announced that the Houthis carried out additional attacks on 6 and 9 November. Last week, the group also shot down a US drone, which Sare’e claimed on 8 October had been “carrying out hostile, monitoring, and spying operations in the Yemeni territorial waters”. Yesterday, Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi vowed in a televised speech to continue attacks on Israel and to target Israeli ships in the Red Sea. The threat was followed by Sare’e announcing additional ballistic missile and drone attacks on 13 and 14 November. Israel said yesterday that it had used its “Arrow” aerial defense system to intercept a missile in the vicinity of the Red Sea after air raid sirens had sounded in Eilat.
Council members are likely to express serious concerns about the recent Houthi attacks. They may be interested in Grundberg’s views about the risks that the situation poses to Yemen’s peace talks. Grundberg has been keen to avoid conflating the regional developments with peace efforts in Yemen. The statement issued on Grundberg’s visit today to Riyadh by his office noted that during the UN envoy’s meeting with Ambassador Al Jaber, the two “agreed on the importance of maintaining an enabling environment for continued constructive dialogue aimed at reaching an inclusive political settlement in Yemen”. US Special Envoy to Yemen Timothy Lenderking, who has sought to support UN and regional mediation efforts, began a new round of shuttle diplomacy in the Gulf region on Monday (13 November). A US Department of State announcement noted that Lenderking will emphasise the current opportunity for Yemenis to end Yemen’s conflict, while warning that “wider regional conflict risks undermining peace in Yemen”.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Griffiths will provide an update on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, where the UN says 21.6 million people require aid or protection. In recent months, OCHA has been warning about a funding shortage for relief efforts, which is forcing humanitarian agencies to scale back programmes. As at 15 November, the 2023 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan, which calls for $4.344 billion, was only 35.2 percent funded.
Griffiths may mention the Save the Children staff member, Hisham al-Hakim, who recently died while in detention in Sana’a. Save the Children announced al-Hakim’s death in a statement on 26 October, saying that authorities had not provided any reasons for having detained al-Hakim since September. As a result, the humanitarian organisation said that it was suspending its operations in northern Yemen. UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen David Gressly called on Houthi authorities to provide complete and timely information regarding the circumstances that led to the death. He further called on the Houthis to provide full information and access to three UN staff members that remain detained—two since November 2021 and one since August 2023.
During tomorrow’s consultations, some members might reiterate concerns about Houthi restrictions on UNMHA’s freedom of movement and its ability to conduct unannounced patrols of Hodeidah ports. In this regard, in a letter dated 8 November, the Yemeni government informed Council members of two vessels originating from Bandar Abbas, Iran, which entered Houthi-held ports in Hodeidah governorate on separate instances in October without clearance and inspection by the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM). Bypassing the UNVIM, according to the government, violated the arms embargo and inspection requirements of resolution 2216.
Yesterday’s Vote on Sanctions Renewal Resolution
Yesterday (14 November), the Security Council adopted resolution 2707, renewing the Yemen financial and travel ban sanctions measures until 15 November 2024, and the mandate of the Yemen Panel of Experts until 15 December 2024. (The targeted arms embargo established by resolution 2216 is open-ended.)
Council members have described resolution 2707 as a “technical rollover” of the sanctions measures. The UK, the penholder on Yemen, circulated a draft resolution renewing the sanctions measures on 6 November. This was a short one-page text based on resolution 2675 of 14 February, which extended the Yemen sanctions measures for nine months. Besides proposing a one-year renewal, the only other changes in the UK’s proposed draft were technical. An initial comment period passed on 8 November without Council members suggesting changes to the text. The draft resolution subsequently passed a silence procedure and was placed in blue on 9 November.
The Council decided this past February to renew the sanctions regime through a short one-page technical rollover to avoid opening up discussion on a longer resolution, which could potentially disrupt the Houthi-Saudi talks that had started in October 2022. With these talks progressing, Council members decided to maintain the same approach for this latest sanctions renewal and to not alter the sanctions regime.