What's In Blue

Yemen: Briefing and Consultations

On Monday morning (15 April), the Security Council will hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Yemen. UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and OCHA Director of Operations and Advocacy Edem Wosornu are expected to brief. The Council will also hear a briefing from a civil society representative. Head of the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) Major General Michael Beary is expected to brief during the consultations.

Malta, April’s Council President, has proposed that this month’s Yemen briefing include a focus on the effects of climate change in the country. Before the meeting, Council members that have signed on to the “Statement of joint pledges related to climate, peace and security”—France, Guyana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Switzerland, the Republic of Korea (ROK), the UK, and the US—will hold a stakeout to present a statement on climate-security issues facing Yemen.

Attacks by the Houthi rebel group on commercial shipping since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas in October 2023 have persisted, significantly disrupting trade routes in the Red Sea and prompting military strikes in Yemen by the UK and the US since 11 January. The situation appears to have frozen—and risks upending—peace talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia and deliberations on a UN roadmap for an inter-Yemeni political process. The Houthis have threatened to continue attacks until Israel ends its military campaign in Gaza, that followed the 7 October 2023 Hamas-led attacks against Israel.

At the Council’s latest briefing on Yemen, held on 14 March, Grundberg observed that the longer the crisis continues, the “more likely” the Yemeni parties are “to shift calculations and alter their negotiation agendas”, adding that in a worst-case scenario, they could decide to return to war. Despite Yemen’s stalled peace talks, the Special Envoy may underscore that he continues to engage with the parties and the international community. Over the past month, this has included visits to Washington DC, Riyadh, Muscat, and Moscow. On 2 April, Grundberg also held a courtesy call with the new foreign minister of Yemen’s internationally recognised government, Shaya Zindani.

The Secretary-General’s latest monthly report (S/2024/303, dated 8 April), submitted pursuant to resolution 2722 of 10 January on the Red Sea crisis, identified five new Houthi attacks against merchant and commercial vessels, compared to nine in the preceding monthly period. On 21 March, media reports claimed that the Houthis had assured Russia and China, which have been critical of the UK and US strikes, that their ships would not be targeted, following talks in Muscat. However, two days after that report, the Chinese-owned oil tanker Huang Pu was struck in the southern Red Sea by an uncrewed aerial device, causing minor damage.

More recently, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sare’e announced on 7 April that the group had targeted two Israeli ships, a British ship, and a number of American frigates over a 72-hour period. On 10 April, Sare’e claimed that the Houthis had targeted four vessels, including a US warship, with drones and naval missiles in the Gulf of Aden. Statements by the US Central Command (CENTCOM), the UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), and the British maritime security firm Ambrey confirmed that there had been several recent attacks in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

At Monday’s meeting, Council members are likely to reiterate their condemnation of the Houthi attacks, while expressing their continued support for Grundberg’s efforts and his crucial mediation role. On 18 March, Council members issued a press statement that condemned in the strongest terms Houthi attacks against commercial vessels in the Red Sea, including the attacks on the Barbados-flagged bulk carrier True Confidence, which killed three crew members on 6 March—the first deaths from the Houthi strikes—and the UK-owned cargo ship Rubymar, which sank on 2 March. Among other points, the press statement called for “practical cooperation”, including with the Yemeni government, to prevent the Houthis from acquiring the arms and related materiel necessary to carry out the attacks and reiterated that all UN member states must comply with the arms embargo on the Houthis.

Briefing on the humanitarian situation, Wosornu is likely to speak about the rising levels of food insecurity in Yemen over recent months. The situation has been aggravated by the pause in the general food assistance distribution by the World Food Programme (WFP) in Houthi-controlled areas since December 2023 because of differences with the authorities about whom to prioritise for assistance and a crippling funding crisis for the WFP’s aid operation in Yemen. Meanwhile, a higher proportion of southern Yemeni households are unable to obtain adequate food compared to the north, as the exchange rate of the Yemeni rial with the US dollar in government-held areas has been at a historic low. During her briefing, Wosornu is also expected to raise concerns about a rise in cholera cases in Yemen.

Council members may call for donors to increase their funding to the 2024 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP). The HRP is currently about ten percent funded, with its food security and nutrition programmes being only five and three percent funded, respectively, according to an informal briefing that OCHA provided Council members earlier this week. Members might also highlight the need for cooperation between the government and the Houthis to manage Yemen’s economic crisis, which is a major cause of humanitarian needs. In the latest example of the “economic war” between the parties, on 30 March the Houthi-controlled central bank in Sana’a issued a new 100 Yemeni rial coin to replace banknotes of the same value that have been damaged and unusable. The government-controlled central bank based in Aden denounced the currency as “counterfeit” and ordered Yemeni private banks to relocate their headquarters to Aden within 60 days.

The effects of climate change on Yemen are also expected to be highlighted during the meeting. A December 2023 report by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), titled “The Impact of Climate Change on Human Development in Yemen”, says that Yemen is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change, as demonstrated by the country’s heavy rains and excessive flooding in recent years, while it is also facing a decades-long worsening water crisis. Council members may stress the importance of improving the security situation to strengthen Yemen’s resilience to climate change. They might also highlight the climate-security nexus, and how water scarcity, desertification, and extreme weather events can contribute to competition over resources and become increasing drivers of conflict in Yemen.

Another issue that some Council members are likely to raise on Monday is a 19 March incident in which the Houthis killed at least 12 civilians in the city of Rada’a, Al Bayda Governorate. Houthi forces besieged the house of a man who had allegedly killed two of their fighters and then blew up his house, killing at least nine family members, including seven children. There was severe damage to neighbouring buildings, causing additional civilian deaths and injuries. The Yemeni government sent a 20 March letter reporting the incident to the Council. In a statement, the Houthi-run Interior Ministry said that detonating the house was an “irresponsible reaction” by security forces who used “excessive force in an illegal way”.

For more background, see the brief on Yemen in our April 2024 Monthly Forecast.

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