What's In Blue

Posted Tue 13 Feb 2024

Yemen: Briefing and Consultations

On Wednesday (14 February), the Security Council is expected to hold a briefing on Yemen. UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and OCHA Director of Operations and Advocacy Edem Wosornu are the expected briefers. Following the open session, Council members will hold consultations during which the Head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), Major General Michael Beary, is expected to brief.

Attacks by the Houthi rebel group on commercial shipping following the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas last October, and US and UK military strikes against the Houthis in response have threatened to upend progress in Yemen’s peace talks. While the Council held several closed meetings on the crisis last month, tomorrow will be its first public meeting on Yemen with Grundberg since August 2023. The UN special envoy and most members are expected to focus on Yemen’s peace process during the meeting. Saudi Arabia, which has led a military coalition in support of Yemen’s internationally recognised government, and the Houthis were close to concluding a peace agreement before the outbreak of the regional hostilities. But reaching a deal and resuming a UN-led inter-Yemeni political process have been complicated by the recent developments.

Grundberg is likely to refer to his latest engagements across the region and in Yemen to safeguard progress toward a nationwide ceasefire, resume a political process and de-escalate regional tensions. Since the start of February, Grundberg has met with Iranian, Saudi and Emirati officials, as well as the P5 ambassadors to Yemen (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US) during visits to Tehran, Riyadh and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In the UAE, Grundberg also met with the president of the separatist Southern Transition Council (STC) Aidarous al-Zubaidi, who serves as vice-president of the Yemeni government’s Presidential Leadership Council (PLC).

In Yemen, Grundberg  met on 10 February in Aden with the Chairman of the PLC Rashad al-Alimi. According to the Special Envoy’s office, they “explored ways to de-escalate tensions, prevent a relapse into violence in Yemen, and continue progress towards a nationwide ceasefire, economic measures, and the resumption of a political process under UN-auspices”. The next day, in the Red Sea port city of Mocha, Grunberg met with PLC member Tareq Saleh, who leads the National Resistance Forces based along Yemen’s west coast, and emphasised to him “the importance of maintaining calm along the frontlines in Yemen”. These meetings followed al-Alimi’s comments during a 27 January press conference in Riyadh suggesting that US and UK strikes would be insufficient to end the Houthi threat to maritime shipping, and that “the solution is to eliminate the Houthis’ military capacities and partner with the Yemeni government to take control over these regions”. The Houthis for their part reportedly continue to reinforce positions around frontlines. On 5 February, the PLC appointed its foreign minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak as Yemen’s new prime minister to replace Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, who will take on the role of an advisor to Al-Alimi. Members may be interested in the significance of this reshuffle.

Council members are expected to express their commitment to the peace process and call for the parties to preserve the gains that have been made since the April 2022 truce agreement significantly reduced hostilities in the country. They are likely to reiterate their support for Grundberg’s efforts to develop a roadmap for an inter-Yemeni political process, and Saudi Arabia and Oman’s political efforts. Members could reaffirm their commitment to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yemen. They may also reiterate the need for an inclusive political process. Grundberg could mention his meeting while in Aden with youth and civil society activists who shared their priorities and needs at the local level. Yesterday, he held meetings with the governor of Taiz and other representatives of the governorate, where the Houthis maintain a partial siege of Taiz city.

Members are likely to reiterate their positions on the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden and retaliatory US and UK air and naval strikes. On 10 January, the Council adopted resolution 2722, which took note of the right of member states, in accordance with international law, to defend their vessels. Algeria, China, Mozambique and Russia abstained during its adoption. Russia has subsequently responded to US and UK arguments that their actions are consistent with states’ inherent right to self-defence as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter, contending that strikes on Yemen’s territory are not an exercise of self-defence and that Article 51 cannot be invoked to ensure freedom of navigation. Members may also recall the link between the maritime crisis and the situation in Gaza, as the Houthis began the attacks in November 2023 to pressure Israel to end its military campaign in Gaza. They could call for an end to the conflict in Gaza to prevent further regional destabilisation.

Since the first US and UK strikes on 12 January on over 60 targets across Yemen, the Houthis have targeted US ships in their attacks, and the US has continued strikes to degrade Houthi capacities. On 3 February, the US and UK, supported by Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand, conducted their largest round of strikes since the 12 January military action, firing on 36 Houthi targets in 13 locations in Yemen. In a letter dated 8 February (S/2024/155), the Secretary-General submitted the first of his monthly written reports on Houthi attacks against commercial or merchant vessels. Resolution 2722 requested these reports be provided through 1 July 2024 to inform Council consultations. The letter documents eight attacks during the period 10 January and 6 February, based on information from the International Maritime Organization.

Wosornu will provide members with an update on the humanitarian situation and relief operations. Last month the UN released its 2024 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for Yemen. The HRP shows some improvement in the humanitarian situation, projecting that 18.2 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection services in 2024, compared to 21.6 million in 2023. Wosornu could note, however, that regional conflict dynamics could easily reverse gains. She may observe that this year’s HRP reflects more targeted, prioritised, and risk-informed programming by aiming to assist 11.2 million people. Its budget of $2.7 billion compared to $4.3 billion last year reflects these efforts after last year’s HRP only received 39.5% of required donor funding. In December, the World Food Programme suspended general food distributions in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, because of limited funding and disagreements with Houthi authorities over how to focus on the neediest families; these distributions remain suspended primarily because of a shortage in donor funding.

Wosornu is expected to mention Yemen’s vulnerability to climate change, possibly drawing from a December 2023 report by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), entitled “The Impact of Climate Change on Human Development in Yemen”. The report says that Yemen is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change, and notes the importance of improving security in order to strengthen Yemen’s resilience to its impact.

Members are likely to welcome the appointment on 7 February of the new UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Julien Harneis. They may underscore the need to protect humanitarian personnel and the importance of aid organisations being able to work independently. Last month, on 24 January, the Houthis ordered US and UK staff of  UN and Sanaa-based humanitarian organisations to leave Yemen within a month. In addition to the UK and US strikes, the order followed the US’ announcement on 17 January that it was naming the Houthis as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) group. The US had removed this designation and de-listed the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in 2021. It did so then amid concerns that the FTO label, in particular, could worsen the humanitarian situation in Yemen if the private sector stopped doing business with Yemen in fear of violating sanctions associated with the designation.

For more information and background, see Security Council Report’s brief on Yemen in our February 2024 Monthly Forecast.

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