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Yemen

Expected Council Action

In September, the Council expects to receive a briefing from the Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

Key Recent Developments

The war in Yemen continues amidst stalled efforts to resume political talks and against the backdrop of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. The conflict pits the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite rebel group, and allied forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against the Yemeni government and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.

According to a report issued in August by the Yemen Protection Cluster, which is led by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there were 5,676 airstrikes in Yemen during the first six months of 2017 compared to 3,936 in all of 2016. The average number of armed clashes per month was 56 percent higher for the first half of 2017 compared to 2016. Front lines have remained largely unchanged, but in late July Yemeni government and coalition forces captured the Khalid bin al-Walid military base in Taiz governorate, which oversees key roads linking Hodeidah, Mokha and Taiz.

In August, Yemeni government forces, reportedly numbering 2,000 troops, backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and US special operations forces, began an offensive against Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Shawba governorate.

Amidst the fighting, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. On 16 July, OCHA announced that 20.7 million Yemenis are in need of assistance, an increase of nearly 2 million people from its previous estimate of 18.8 million in January. Of these, seven million people are severely food insecure and at risk of famine. Since late April, an outbreak of cholera has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. On 14 August, the World Health Organization announced that total suspected cases had surpassed 500,000, with nearly 2,000 recorded deaths. 

Fighting continues to produce large numbers of civilian casualties. After a 5 August airstrike killed at least 12 civilians in Saada, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, issued a statement, labelling the airstrikes an example of the “brutality in which the conflict is being conducted” and indicative of the “disregard for the protection of civilians and the principle of distinction” that all parties to the conflict continue to show. A 20 August airstrike killed more than 20 civilians in Taiz, and a 23 August airstrike on a hotel in Sana’a governorate killed 33 civilians and wounded 25.

Recently there have been public signs of a fissure in the Houthi-Saleh alliance. Over the weekend of 19-20 August, Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi and Saleh exchanged public barbs. Al-Houthi suggested during a speech that the Saleh loyalist forces were not doing their share of the fighting, while Saleh accused the Houthis of dominating decision-making. The media reported heavier presences of both sides’ forces on the streets of Sana’a. A rally in Sana’a on 24 August for the 35th anniversary of the founding of the General People’s Congress, Saleh’s political party, drew tens of thousands amidst the tensions. On 26 August, clashes erupted at a check-point in Sana’a and a colonel loyal to Saleh and two Houthi-linked fighters were killed.

The Council met on Yemen on 18 August. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien briefed, describing the humanitarian crisis as “a direct result of the deliberate policies, tactics and actions of the parties and their powerful proxies to the conflict”. He highlighted continued obstructions and delays created by the Yemeni government and the coalition for critical commercial imports, described the closure of Sana’a airport to commercial flights by the coalition as “cruel and baseless”, and drew attention to repeated diversions of aid by the Houthis, particularly in Taiz governorate. O’Brien stressed that responding to humanitarian needs in Yemen’s north depended on access through Hodeidah’s port and the Sana’a airport, and that proposed alternatives such as Aden’s port were inadequate.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed, briefing via video teleconference from Amman, said that he was continuing to promote his plan to avert a possible coalition attack on Hodeidah’s port and to restart the payment of civil servant salaries, while also trying to reach an agreement to reopen Sanaa’s airport. Following consultations, Council members issued press elements, calling for, inter alia, the full implementation of the Council’s 15 June presidential statement, which focused on the situation of Hodeidah’s port and confidence-building measures.

On 9 August, the Council adopted a presidential statement on the risk of famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and north-east Nigeria, which, among other things, reiterated its calls on all parties to allow safe, timely and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance and to facilitate access for essential imports of food, fuel and medical supplies and their distribution. On 21 August, the Council held an Arria-formula meeting on the role of the UN’s humanitarian assistance partners in Yemen. O’Brien and the Supervisor General of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, Abdallah al-Rabeeah, briefed. 

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 31 July, the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee considered the mid-term update of the Yemen Panel of Experts. The coordinator of the panel, Ahmed Himmiche, provided a briefing on the 185-page report.

Among its observations, there were no new reports of maritime seizures of arms nor major seizures on land supply routes. All parties continue to commit violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, according to the report, which expressed concern that member states of the coalition are hiding behind “the entity” of the “coalition” to divert attention and shield themselves from state responsibility for violations by their forces during airstrikes. The panel writes that the coalition air campaign continues to have little operational or tactical impact on the ground and is only serving to stiffen civilian resistance. Other issues covered in the report include the proliferation of militia forces supported by coalition members outside Yemeni government control and the threat to Hadi’s ability to govern the south; illegal detention practices by the government of Yemen, Houthi-Saleh forces and the UAE; sources of Houthi funding; and the activities of AQAP.

On 11 August, the committee agreed to the panel’s three recommendations in the mid-term update. Most notable was the recommendation for the committee chair to engage with Saudi Arabia to request that it comply with reporting obligations under paragraph 17 of resolution 2216, which requires that inspections carried out in enforcing the targeted arms embargo against the Houthis and Saleh loyalist-forces be reported to the committee. The coalition has failed to report inspections of cargoes since the adoption of resolution 2216 over two years ago. The report said this failure undermines safeguards to ensure that the sanctions regime is not used to achieve unilateral objectives and contributes to increased obstructions in the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Human Rights-Related Developments

In a statement on 25 August, a spokesperson for OHCHR said that a 23 August airstrike by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition on a hotel in Sana’a governorate killed at least 33 civilians and injured another 25. Another coalition airstrike in Sana’a governorate the same day killed six civilians and injured 13, while a coalition airstrike the previous day in Sa’ada governorate killed a women and two children. The spokesperson called for “comprehensive and impartial investigations” into the incidents. Since March 2015, OHCHR has documented over 5,000 civilian deaths in Yemen, but the “overall number is probably much higher”, with some estimates suggesting more than 11,000 civilians have been killed since the conflict began, the spokesperson said.

During its 36th session in September, the Human Rights Council is set to consider the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Yemen (A/HRC/36/33).

Key Issues and Options

A key issue is getting the parties to implement the Council’s 15 June presidential statement, which called for the Hodeidah port to remain open and for the resumption of salary payments to Yemen’s civil servants, who have either not been paid or only paid sporadically over the past year. The statement also encouraged the rapid installation of new cranes to increase the port’s capacity, the deployment of UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism monitors, and increased access through the Sana’a airport. Such measures are linked to addressing obstructions of humanitarian aid and commercial goods coming into and being distributed throughout Yemen, and are critical steps to better address Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. They are also considered confidence-building measures towards resuming broader political talks.

A related issue for the Council is getting the parties to comply with international humanitarian and human rights law. Another issue of concern is the risk of further state collapse, benefitting AQAP and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The Council may, therefore, wish to closely monitor the parties’ actions in accordance with its June presidential statement and be prepared to exert further pressure through a follow-up statement or resolution, if they fail to follow through on the Council’s calls. In the case of an escalation of violence or a worsening of the humanitarian situation, the Council could adopt a resolution demanding, inter alia, an immediate cessation of hostilities.

In light of the deteriorating humanitarian situation, the Council could seek monthly briefings on Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

Council and Wider Dynamics

While members agree that there is no military solution to the conflict and all express concern about the humanitarian crisis, bilateral interests and relationships, particularly with Saudi Arabia, have made the Yemen conflict difficult for the Council to address. Members are cautious about taking positions that are contrary to Saudi preferences. These have included Saudi Arabia’s opposition to any new Council resolutions on the conflict. Other than the annual resolution to renew the Yemen sanctions regime, the Council’s 15 June presidential statement was its first decision on Yemen in nearly 14 months.

Within the Council, Egypt, as a member of the coalition, and at times Senegal, champion Yemeni government and coalition positions. Russia has, at times, highlighted Houthi perspectives, arguing that Council outcomes should be more even-handed, but has also sometimes raised the humanitarian consequences of this conflict in the face of criticism regarding its role in Syria. Sweden has been keen to see the Council become more proactive and played an important role pressing for the agreement on the 15 June presidential statement and the presidential statement on famine.

The UK is the penholder on Yemen. Japan chairs the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee.

UN DOCUMENTS ON YEMEN

Security Council Resolutions
14 April 2015 S/RES/2216 This resolution demanded the Houthis to withdraw from all seized areas and to relinquish all seized arms, and established an arms embargo on the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Security Council Presidential Statements
9 August 2017 S/PRST/2017/14 This was on the threat of famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and north-east Nigeria.
15 June 2017 S/PRST/2017/7 This stressed the importance of keeping all of Yemen’s ports functioning, including Hodeidah.
Security Council Meeting Records
18 August 2017 S/PV.8027 This was a briefing on Yemen by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien and  Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
12 July 2017 S/PV.7999 This was a briefing on Yemen by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien. The director-generals of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and of the Food and Agricultural Organization, José Graziano da Silva also briefed.

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