Friday 13 November 2020
SMA News – Yemen
Expected Council Action
In November, the Council is expected to hold its monthly briefing on Yemen with Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, and General Abhijit Guha, who heads the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA). The mandate of UNMHA expires on 15 July 2021.
Key Recent Developments
The Houthi rebel group continued to threaten the oil- and gas-rich governorate of Marib, while Hodeidah, along the Red Sea, experienced an outbreak of its most intense fighting since the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement put in place a ceasefire in the governorate. UN-led negotiations between the Yemeni government and the Houthis on a joint declaration for a nationwide ceasefire, economic and humanitarian measures, and restarting political talks entered their eighth month at the end of October.
The fighting in Hodeidah occurred in the first week of October. It centred around the al-Durayhimi and Has districts just south of Hodeidah city, with the Houthis reportedly seeking to break the nearly two-year siege of their forces in al-Durayhimi. On 8 October, Griffiths called on the parties to stop the fighting and to preserve their commitments under the Stockholm Agreement. At the Council’s 15 October briefing, the Special Envoy reported that the situation had calmed and that recent days had also seen a decrease in fighting in Marib.
In rare positive news, the sides conducted a prisoner exchange after an agreement to do so was announced on 27 September at the conclusion of talks in Geneva hosted by the Special Envoy and the ICRC. On 15 and 16 October, 1,056 prisoners were exchanged—over 600 Houthi prisoners and approximately 400 pro-government fighters, including 19 Saudis and four Sudanese from the Saudi Arabia-led coalition. It was the largest swap of prisoners since the announcement of a prisoner exchange mechanism in the Stockholm Agreement to release up to 15,000 prisoners. Also on 15 October, 200 Yemenis–-most of whom had been prevented from returning since leaving Yemen for medical treatment around the time of the December 2018 UN-brokered talks held in Sweden—returned to Sana’a from Oman.
At the 15 October Council meeting on Yemen, which members held in the chamber while Griffiths spoke via videoconference (VTC), he highlighted this good news. On the joint declaration, he noted the challenges caused by the need to conduct negotiations through shuttle diplomacy and mostly virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In consultations, Griffiths apparently observed that some of the humanitarian and economic measures were continuing to hold up agreement. During a virtual press conference after the briefing, Griffiths stressed the need to conclude the joint declaration “within weeks, not months”, saying he hoped the declaration could be brokered this year.
During the meeting, Lowcock provided an update via VTC on the humanitarian situation. He said that UN humanitarian flights to Sana’a had resumed since the Council’s last briefing on Yemen in September. The fuel shortage in northern Yemen, due to the government’s blocking fuel imports through Houthi-held ports because of a dispute over the use of import revenues, was continuing to drive up fuel prices and exacerbate humanitarian needs. Among other challenges, Lowcock said funding of the 2020 UN humanitarian response plan had improved from just 30 percent in September to 42 per ent. But the funding shortfall was still much larger compared to past years at this time. He repeated his warnings about the looming threat of famine.
A Council press statement released the day after the meeting urged the Yemeni parties to endorse the UN-facilitated Joint Declaration proposals without delay. Among other points, it condemned military escalations in Marib and Hodeidah governorates, welcomed the prisoner exchange, and expressed deep concern about the risk of famine.
On 17 October, Iran’s Foreign Ministry announced the arrival of an ambassador to Yemen, Hassan Irloo, who had presented his credentials to the Houthi authorities in Sana’a. The Special Envoy’s office issued a statement on Twitter stressing that it had no involvement in the transfer of Irloo to Sana’a.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 45th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) considered the report of the High Commissioner on the implementation of technical assistance provided to the National Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations of violations and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen (A/HRC/45/57). Presenting the report, Georgette Gagnon, director of field operations and the technical cooperation division of the Office of the High Commissioner, observed that many of the attacks on and hostilities involving the civilian population may amount to “serious violations of international humanitarian law”.
On 6 October, the HRC adopted two resolutions on Yemen. Resolution 45/15 was adopted with 21 voting for (including current Security Council member Germany and incoming Council member Mexico), 12 against (including incoming Council member India), and 12 abstentions (including by current Security Council member Indonesia). The resolution endorsed the work of the Group of Eminent and International Regional Experts (GEE), “expressing deepest concern” at the findings of the GEE report (A/HRC/45/6) and renewing and strengthening the GEE’s mandate. Resolution 45/15 also urged all parties in Yemen to “end any use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare” and called for full implementation of Security Council resolution 2417, which condemned the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare. The government of Yemen rejected the resolution, calling it a “politicization of the human rights situation in Yemen”.
Resolution 45/26 was adopted without a vote. It requested all parties to the conflict in Yemen to “implement fully” Security Council resolution 2216, noting that it may contribute to an improvement in the situation of human rights.
Key Issues and Options
The joint declaration of a nationwide ceasefire, along with a restart of peace talks, remains the main political initiative. The Houthis’ Marib offensive risks undermining the negotiations on the joint declaration as the governorate is a political and economic stronghold for the government. It also threatens to worsen the humanitarian situation for the governorate’s residents and the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons hosted in Marib. Sustaining and implementing the Riyadh Agreement between the government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC), which is overseen by Saudi Arabia, is another important issue, reflecting the complexity of resolving Yemen’s war.
Yemen’s deteriorating economy—including the near-depletion of its central bank reserves, the decline in the value of the Yemeni rial, and a decrease in remittances from the Yemeni diaspora—is exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis, as is the COVID-19 pandemic. Access restrictions on aid, particularly by the Houthis in the north, and the fuel shortage, contribute to the worsening situation. Funding for relief efforts also remains critical to stave off the risk of famine, about which the UN has issued new warnings since July.
The FSO Safer oil tanker moored near the port city of Hodeidah is an equally urgent issue. An oil spill from the deteriorating ship would destroy the Red Sea ecosystem for decades, prevent use of Hodeidah’s critical port for up to six months and destroy livelihoods for 1.6 million Yemenis. During his 15 October briefing, Lowcock said that discussions with the Houthis on dispatching a UN mission to assess the tanker’s condition and undertake initial repairs “have accelerated in recent weeks” and that the UN hoped to receive written approval for its deployment in the coming days.
If agreement is reached on the joint declaration being negotiated for a ceasefire, the Council may adopt a resolution to welcome or endorse the deal. Another option is to have the GEE brief the Council on its latest report on the human rights situation in Yemen. (This year’s report recommended that the Security Council refer the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court.)
Council members appear aligned in their support of the Special Envoy, continuing to back his efforts to reach an agreement on the joint declaration for a ceasefire and the resumption of a political process. Members further share concerns about the humanitarian situation and the FSO Safer. So far this year, members have issued multiple press statements and press elements urging the parties to reach agreement on the declaration and calling on the Houthis to facilitate the UN technical mission to access the oil tanker. The US, which seeks to reimpose sanctions on Iran, often points to what it perceives as Iran’s destabilising role in Yemen. Russia, at times, raises concerns about singling out the Houthis in Council products, which, from its perspective, could be perceived as Council bias.
The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Ambassador I. Rhonda King (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) chairs the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee.