posted on Tue 23 Jun 2015 5:09 PM
Consultations on Yemen Following Geneva Talks

Tomorrow morning (24 June), Security Council members will have consultations on Yemen. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Yemen, and OCHA Operations Director John Ging are expected to brief. Council members may issue a press statement that the UK is expected to initiate that would probably welcome the Special Envoy’s efforts in bringing the sides together in Geneva and express support for continued UN-brokered negotiations.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed is expected to brief on the outcome of the Geneva consultations, held last week from 15 to 19 June, and on next steps. No agreement was reached in Geneva on a two-week humanitarian pause during Ramadan, which the Secretary-General had called for. However, at a press conference on Friday (19 May), Ould Cheik Ahmed spoke optimistically about prospects for a truce, stressing that both sides expressed their willingness to have a ceasefire accompanied by a withdrawal. He indicated during his press conference that he was not planning to hold a second round of talks until after there has been a humanitarian pause or ceasefire. He will likely reiterate that he expects a long negotiation process in order to return Yemen to a political transition. In discussing next steps, the Special Envoy may indicate his plans to return to the region.

Ould Cheik Ahmed may outline the various principles he presented to the parties in Geneva. It seems that these may include: the need for a ceasefire; an orderly withdrawal of forces; a monitoring mechanism; agreement to respect international humanitarian law and to not impede the deployment of aid; and a commitment to engage in UN-brokered talks. The parties have not yet agreed on these principles but the Special Envoy is expected to continue to push for commitments as the basis for negotiations.

Fighting over the last three months has further entrenched divisions. At one point it seemed that the Geneva consultations might not happen. The initial date of 28 May for the start of the talks was postponed, and when the consultations finally began on 15 June (following a further one-day delay), the Houthis’ delegation had not arrived. In the lead-up to last week’s talks, Yemeni government officials insisted that they were not attending the Geneva consultations to negotiate, but to implement Security Council resolution 2216, which demanded the Houthis withdraw from all areas they have seized.

With Council members largely united in backing a UN-brokered negotiation process, members may discuss how they can further support the Special Envoy’s efforts. While the Yemeni government has emphasised the need for the Houthis to implement resolution 2216 before negotiating, some members may highlight that the resolution also demands that all Yemeni parties adhere to resolving their differences through dialogue. The Council has stated in several press statements and “press elements” over the last month that the parties need to engage in talks without preconditions.

Ould Cheik Ahmed suggested in his press conference on Friday that eventually UN monitors could be deployed to observe a ceasefire. He may float this idea with Council members tomorrow. This could lead to questions about if and when it would be appropriate to have UN monitors. It seems the Special Envoy may stress that this is something that would be envisioned only in the later stages of a political process and not before there is some sort of political agreement, a lesson learned from the deployment of UN monitors in 2012 to Syria.

On the humanitarian situation, Ging will probably talk about the revised Yemen humanitarian response plan that was launched last Friday, calling for $1.6 billion. So far, this plan—based on an assessment of humanitarian needs in Yemen prior to the outbreak of full-scale war—is only approximately 10 percent funded. Although Saudi Arabia pledged to cover in full the UN emergency flash appeal issued in April for $274 million (an amount now included as part of the $1.6 billion), no payments have been made.

Ging is expected to update members on the latest figures for Yemen’s ever worsening humanitarian crisis. The latest situation updates by OCHA report that 80 percent of the Yemeni population (more than 21 million people) is now in need of some form of humanitarian aid, with nearly 13 million people suffering from food insecurity, and over one million people displaced. According to OCHA, hospitals have recorded over 2,800 deaths and close to 13,000 wounded as a result of violence since March. The World Health Organisation has reported an outbreak of dengue fever in several Yemeni cities as a consequence of a breakdown in water and sanitation systems.

Members may inquire whether there has been any improvement in the delivery of commercial goods, in particular food and fuel imports. In seeking to enforce the arms embargo in resolution 2216, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition apparently continues to hinder commercial imports. Some members could recall that resolution 2216 allows for the inspection of ships only when a state has “reasonable grounds” to believe that a cargo includes arms intended for the sale, supply or transfer to individuals or entities on the sanctions list or for their benefit.

In their 2 June press statement (SC/11915), Council members endorsed the Secretary-General’s call for a humanitarian pause. With the Houthis having made military gains on the ground during the last humanitarian pause, it seems Saudi Arabia is reluctant to commit to a new humanitarian truce. Members are likely to urge Ould Cheik Ahmed to continue pressing the parties to commit to a new humanitarian truce. A number of members may also raise the issue of cluster munitions, as they have in recent meetings on Yemen, following a Human Rights Watch report last month that documented the coalition’s use of cluster munitions in the Saada area.

Postscript (26 June 2015): On 25 June, the Council issued a press statement that expressed members’ continued support for the Special Envoy, took note of his briefing on the principles to advance UN-brokered consultations and endorsed the Secretary-General’s call for a humanitarian pause. (SC/11944).