Yemen at the UN –  January 2018 Review

Yemen at the UN – January 2018 Review

Executive Summary:

In January, widespread violence erupted in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden between ostensible allies in the coalition of forces fighting on behalf of the country’s internationally recognized government. On January 21, the Southern Transition Council (STC), a secessionist group backed by the United Arab Emirates, issued an ultimatum to Yemeni President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi to dismiss his prime minister and other cabinet members for alleged corruption. On January 28 the ultimatum expired and clashes broke out between the Presidential Protection Forces and STC-allied armed groups, with STC forces quickly routing Hadi-allied units from positions across the city and from nearby military bases.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened to enact a ceasefire, with STC forces then pulling back from several areas they had overtaken (see ‘Clashes in Aden’). The fighting in Aden, the Yemeni government’s de facto capital, quickly had implications for the overall military campaign against the Houthis in the country’s north, however, and highlighted the Hadi government’s lack of authority across areas of southern Yemen it purportedly controls (see ‘Fallout From Aden Clashes’).

In mid-January Saudi Arabia announced a US$2 billion deposit in the Central Bank of Yemen (CBY), and less than a week later announced that the Saudi-led military coalition was launching a US$1.5 billion Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations (YCHO) plan. The CBY deposit immediately helped shore up the Yemeni rial, which had been depreciating rapidly since the end of 2017, though by the end of January the rial’s value had continued to decline (see ‘$2 billion in Saudi Support for the CBY’).     

Details released regarding the YCHO reveal how it is intended to support the UN’s US$2.96 billion Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan for 2018, also released in January. In addition to this the YCHO aims to boost the delivery of humanitarian aid, commercial imports and fuel by expanding Yemen’s port infrastructure, creating an ‘air bridge’ between Riyadh and Marib, and establishing ‘safe passage corridors’ inside the country. A subsequent IRIN analysis of the YCHO, however, detailed the wide array of foreign consultants and public relations firms Saudi Arabia enlisted to develop and promote the plan, and noted that it also seemed orchestrated to “reduce imports of vital goods into a key rebel-held port,” namely Hudaydah (see ‘Riyadh Launches ‘Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations’).

At the United Nations in January, a Panel of Experts on Yemen report noted that Iran was in noncompliance with UNSC Resolution 2216 regarding the prevention of “direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer” of arms to the Houthis. Among the Panel of Experts’ other findings were: Yemen as a state essentially no longer exists and no party to the conflict has the “political support or military strength to reunite the country”; after executing their erstwhile ally former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Houthis have carried out a brutal campaign to crush or co-opt Saleh’s support networks and stifle public dissent (see ‘Houthis consolidate power as GPC fragments’); President Hadi no longer has command and control over forces operating on behalf of  the Yemeni government in the country’s southern governorates; and that the United Arab Emirates’ support of paramilitary groups and the STC has significantly eroded the Yemeni government’s authority (see ‘UN Panel of Experts Report’).

Last month UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced his intention not to seek a renewal of his term, scheduled to expire February 2018. His successor had not been named as of this writing, however, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has reportedly tapped Martin Griffiths of the United Kingdom for the post (see ‘UN Special Envoy Resigns’).

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley invited, at different times, both the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen and UNSC members to a Washington, DC, military base to view weapons allegedly manufactured in Iran and deployed by the Houthis. Sana’a Center discussions with UNSC member state representatives and diplomats from European countries highlighted that the US administration is escalating pressure on other nations to adopt a more hawkish posture towards Iran. In an early February New York Times Op-Ed a retired US Army colonel – who had been involved with the George W. Bush Administration’s push to justify a pre-emptive war with Iraq – said the “Trump administration is using much the same playbook to create a false impression that war is the only way to address the threats posed by Iran.” (See ‘In the United States’.)

Also in January, the Yemeni government released Yemen’s first budget since 2014, the Houthis implement currency controls for importers, and coalition-backed troops captured the town of Hays in Hudaydah governorate from Houthi forces.  


International Diplomatic Developments

At the United Nations

UN Panel of Experts Report

In early January a report from the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen was circulated amongst UN Security Council members states, with the report subsequently discussed at a closed meeting of the council’s Yemen sanctions committee on January 23. In the report, which was not made public, the Panel of Experts stated that Iran is in noncompliance with UNSC Resolution 2216. Among the stipulations of this resolution, adopted in March 2015, was the imposition of an arms embargo against Houthi forces and their allies.

According to media reports and Sana’a Center sources familiar with the document, the Panel of Experts report discussed the presence of Iranian-manufactured parts and technological adaptations found in Houthi military hardware recovered by the Saudi-led military coalition. These included Iranian components found amongst the wreckage of ballistic missiles Houthi forces have fired into Saudi Arabia. The report explicitly noted that there was no evidence as to who provided Houthi forces with these materials, but that the presence of such indicated that Iran was in violation of the resolution’s provision requiring UN members states to “take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer” of arms to the Houthis and other actors. The report noted that the Houthis’ use of ballistic missiles has altered the tenor of the war, and that the “internationalization” of the conflict was now likely.

The Panel of Experts report noted that Yemen as a state essentially no longer exists, and that the country had been reduced to warring statelets. It went on to say that while all sides believe they can achieve a military victory, the Panel of Experts’ concluded in their report that no side in the conflict has the “political support or military strength to reunite the country.” Regarding the Houthis, the report noted that “winning” the war entails simply surviving and outlasting the Saudi-led military coalition intervention.  

The report assessed the collapse of the alliance between the Houthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh near the end of 2017. During the armed confrontations in early December, the Panel of Experts said it believed the Houthis executed Saleh but then staged his death as having taken place during a Houthi ambush as Saleh was supposedly fleeing Sana’a. The report noted that since killing Saleh, the Houthis have effectively crushed or co-opted Saleh’s support networks, executing military commanders from Saleh’s Sanhan tribe, arresting General People’s Congress party leaders, kidnapping children of prominent families tied to Saleh, while suppressing public dissent and media coverage. Meanwhile, Saleh’s family fortune – of which the Panel of Experts said they had identified assets worth more than US$200 million – would like remain under the effective control of his son, Khalid Saleh.    

In regards to the internationally recognized Government of Yemen (GoY), the Panel of Experts noted that President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi has lost command and control over the military and security forces operating on the government’s behalf in Yemen, and that the government’s authority “has now eroded to the point that it is doubtful whether the government will ever be able to reunite Yemen as a single state.” The report noted various reasons for this: while the southern city of Aden is the government’s de facto capital in Yemen, Hadi himself has not set foot in the country since February 2017, instead attempting to govern from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; the Houthis continue to hold the country’s capital, Sana’a, and dominate the north; the Southern Transitional Council (STC), which seeks the secession of South Yemen from the rest of the republic – an outcome the Panel of Experts said has become a realistic possibility – has been gaining clout, with governors across the south defecting from the GoY to the STC (see ‘Clashes in Aden’ below for details).

Also undermining the GoY, according to the Panel of Experts, has been the proliferation of paramilitary groups backed by Saudi-led military coalition member states, in particular the United Arab Emirates. As well as supporting the STC, throughout the conflict Abu Dhabi has continued to expand funding and training for local Yemeni proxy forces. Primarily this has included the Hizam al-Amni, or “Security Belt” forces in Abyan, Aden and Lahij, largely composed of Yemeni Salafists, as well as so-called ‘Elite Forces’ in Hadramawt, and Shabwa and al-Mahra governorates, largely constituted by tribal groupings. The Panel of Experts estimated these UAE-backed forces now total almost 20,000 troops.

UN Special Envoy Resigns

On January 11, the Deputy Head of Mission of the Office of the Special Envoy for Yemen, Muin Shreim, concluded a five day trip to Sana’a during which he met with Houthi political leaders. The goal of the visit was to encourage the Houthis to re-engage with the peace process. During the visit, Supreme Political Council (SPC) President Saleh al-Samad, a senior Houthi leader, declared that the Houthis would resort to “blocking international navigation in the Red Sea” if coalition continued its military offensive toward Hudaydah port. Although the Houthis have made similar statements in the past, this direct threat from al-Samad to a UN official reflects an escalation in Houthi rhetoric regarding one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The Panel of Experts report noted that the Houthis have deployed improvised sea mines off the Red Sea coast, while also carrying out attacks against vessels using explosive-laden remote-controlled boats and repurposed anti-tank missiles.

On Monday, January 22, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced his intention not to seek a renewal of his term, scheduled to expire February 2018. Ould Cheikh Ahmed became the Special Envoy following Jamal Benomar’s resignation from the post in April 2015. Benomar had overseen UN efforts to facilitate a peaceful political transition in Yemen following the 2011 uprising and former President Saleh leaving office; that transition collapsed, armed conflict ensued and Benomar resigned a month after the Saudi-led military coalition began its intervention in Yemen in March 2015.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed, through the rest of 2015 and 2016, then presided over three rounds of failed UN-led peace negotiations and numerous broken ceasefires between the warring parties. Through 2017 the Special Envoy was unable to bring the parties to the negotiating table at all. This failure can be partly explained by Houthi animosity toward Ould Cheikh Ahmed. In February 2017, the Houthi leadership submitted a letter to the UN Secretary-General asking him not to renew the Special Envoy’s term for that year, claiming Ould Cheikh Ahmed lacked neutrality; in June 2017 the Houthis then barred the Special Envoy from entering areas of northern Yemen under their control.   

Ould Cheikh Ahmad’s successor had not been named as of this writing. However, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has reportedly tapped Martin Griffiths of the United Kingdom for the post. The UK is currently the pen holder for Yemen at the UNSC, and Sana’a Center sources reported that the Russian mission raised questions regarding the Special Envoy and the pen holder having the same national affiliation. Russia also questioned the increasing number of UN appointments the Secretary-General was offering to citizens of the US and other Western countries.  

Martin Griffiths, who visited Yemen in October 2017, is currently the executive director of the European Institute of Peace (EIP) in Brussels. Previously, he was a mediation adviser for UN envoys to Syria and deputy head of the UN Observer Mission there. According to his EIP bio, in a prior position as director of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva, Griffiths also “specialised in developing political dialogue between governments and insurgents in a range of countries across Asia, Africa and Europe.”

New UNSC Member States

Six of the rotating non-permanent member seats at the UNSC came up for renewal as December 2017 ended and January 2018 began. This saw Egypt, Italy, Japan, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay leave the council, and in their stead Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Netherlands, Peru and Poland joined. Japan, having chaired the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee for the previous two years, handed the chairmanship to Peru.

Other International Diplomatic Developments

In the United States

On January 26, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley invited the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen to a Washington, DC, military base, the same at which she had staged a media event last December showcasing weapons allegedly manufactured in Iran and deployed by the Houthis. These included missiles, drones and anti-tank weapons. On January 29, Haley then invited UN Security Council member state Permanent Representatives to visit the same military site, as well as to have lunch with President Donald Trump and tour the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Sana’a Center discussions with UNSC member state representatives and diplomats from European countries highlighted that the US is continuing to escalate pressure on other nations to adopt a more hawkish posture towards Iran, and attempting to leverage Tehran’s involvement in the Yemen war to do so (for details see the Sana’a Center’s report Trump and the Yemen War: Misrepresenting the Houthis as Iranian proxies)

In a February 5 New York Times Op-Ed, Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired US Army colonel, said the Trump Administration is orchestrating a wide ranging campaign to sell the case for war with Iran to the American public. Wilkerson – who was chief of staff to former US Secretary of State Colin Powell when the latter made his famous 2003 UN address to justify a preemptive war with Iraq – said the “Trump administration is using much the same playbook to create a false impression that war is the only way to address the threats posed by Iran.”

Other International Diplomatic Developments in Brief

  • January 3: Norway suspends weapons exports to the UAE over concern that Norwegian-made arms could be used in the war in Yemen. The move is largely symbolic, given that Norway sold only US$9.7 million worth of military equipment to the UAE in 2016, according to Statistics Norway. Weapon sales to the UAE had been allowed since 2010, while Oslo does not permit weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.
  • January 12: In Germany, the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democrats agree on a consultation paper that will be the basis for their negotiations to form a coalition government. The paper includes a clause to immediately end weapons sales to countries involved in the Yemen war, “a move apparently targeted at Saudi Arabia, a major buyer of German weaponry,” according to Reuters.
  • January 23: Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto, in the midst of a re-election campaign, says during a public debate that his country will suspend arms sales to the UAE. All other presidential candidates make a similar public commitment, however Niinisto wins a second term in a landslide victory on January 28. Public outcry began in Finland after video appeared online of Emirati forces using Finnish-made armoured vehicles in Yemen. Helsinki’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia look set to continue.
  • January 24: United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrives in Oman and meets with Sultan Qaboos bin Said. This is part of a two-day trip to the region that also takes Johnson to Saudi Arabia to met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. According to the UK Foreign Office, the trip is “an opportunity to discuss the crisis in Yemen, and countering Iran’s destabilising activity in the region while reiterating the importance of the Iranian nuclear deal.”
  • January 25: Reuters reports that senior Houthi leader and spokesperson Mohammad Abdalsalam flew from Sana’a to Muscat accompanying an American citizen whom the Houthis had detained since September 2017. The US citizen was subsequently released in Oman. According to Sana’a Center sources the visit also involved consultation meetings between Abdalsalam, who had led Houthi negotiations in previous peace talks, UN officials and diplomatic staff from Western nations, as a possible precursor to renewed peace negotiations.
  • January 28: Norway’s ambassador to Yemen meets with Yemeni vice president Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.  


Developments in Yemen

Clashes in Aden

In the latter half of January tensions between President Hadi and the STC escalated dramatically in the southern city of Aden, the Yemeni government’s de facto capital. During a publicised meeting on January 21, STC leader Aidarus al-Zubaydi issued Hadi a one-week ultimatum to dismiss Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher and other cabinet members, threatening the use of force if Hadi refused. Zubaydi also called on southerners to gather in Aden on January 28 to protest against corruption in the Hadi government.

On January 24, Presidential Protection Forces Commander Mehran al-Qabati stated that his troops were ready to respond to any STC provocations. On January 27, the Hadi government banned the STC from holding demonstrations and the following day, as al-Zubaydi’s one week deadline expired, widespread clashes broke out in Aden between the Presidential Protection Forces and fighters loyal to the STC, with both sides firing artillery within the city. Prime Minister bin Dagher issued a statement the same day saying: “A coup is ongoing here in Aden against legitimacy and the country’s unity.” He then urged Saudi-led military coalition member states, and in particular the United Arab Emirates, to intervene.

On Monday January 29, following coalition calls for an end to the fighting in Aden there was a brief respite in the combat. However, clashes resumed Monday evening and by Tuesday it appeared Hadi units were in retreat, with pro-STC forces gaining control of key government buildings and military sites around the city. On Tuesday morning Abdel Naser al-Wali, the head of the STC local council in Aden, declared that they were in control of the main gate of the presidential palace, the Central Bank of Yemen headquarters and the Jabal Hadeed Military base, with another military base north of the city falling to the STC shortly thereafter.

On January 30, the Red Cross reported that at least 36 people had been killed and 185 injured in the fighting, and as the month ended it appeared pro-Hadi forces had effectively been routed city-wide, save for those holding out in the presidential palace. On February 1, the official UAE news agency reported that Abu Dhabi and Riyadh had sent a “top military and security delegation” to Aden to enforce a ceasefire, which appeared to hold through the rest of the week. Reports from Aden in early February indicated that STC forces had lifted their siege of the presidential palace and returned control of three military bases they had captured, though they remained in control of much of Aden and areas of nearby governorates.  

Fallout From Aden Clashes

The fighting in Aden quickly had implications for the military campaign against the Houthis, with military commanders loyal to President Hadi threatening to withdraw from key frontlines around Mokha, Taiz governorate, and redeploy to Aden. The severity of the division amongst anti-Houthi forces was apparent in Hadi military adviser Mohammed Ali al-Maqdashi’s January 28 statement against the STC, in which he said: “There is no difference between the Houthis and anyone else who rebels against the legitimate government, no matter who they are.”

Sana’a Center sources familiar with ongoing discussions amongst Saudi, Emirati and Yemeni government officials said the events in Aden could potentially lead a reshuffling of the Hadi cabinet and high ranking government personnel, with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi aiming to exercise much more direct control over Yemeni government policies and actions than in the past.


Houthis Consolidate Power as GPC Fragments

On January 1, the authorities in Sana’a announced the appointment of 32 new ministers, governors and advisors. These appointments were designed to fill the vacancies created following the collapse of the Houthi-Saleh alliance in early December, and represent Houthi leadership’s consolidation of control over government institutions.

On January 7, senior GPC officials remaining in Sana’a – who were not being held captive by the Houthis – held a meeting at which they named Sadeq Amin Abu Ras as Saleh’s successor. Given Houthi security forces’ ironfisted grip on the capital, the GPC meeting was widely seen as having taken place under duress. Notably, the meeting was held at a hotel, while the GPC’s official party headquarters remains Houthi occupied. Meanwhile in Riyadh, during a January 10 interview with a UK-based Arabic language newspaper in Riyadh, Yemeni Vice President Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar called for the GPC party to unite under President Hadi. Two days later al-Ahmar’s son was kidnapped in a Houthi raid on the village of Beit Al-Amr in Sanhan province south of Sana’a, with 22 of al-Ahmar’s grandchildren also being held by the Houthis.  

Since Saleh’s death many senior GPC leaders, and most of Saleh’s family, have fled Houthi controlled areas. In early January, Saleh’s half-brother and former commander of the Republican Guard, Ali Saleh al-Ahmar, left Marib for Saudi Arabia, where he reportedly met with Hadi. Saleh’s nephew, Tariq Saleh, who had been missing since December, appeared in Shabwa on January 11 and during a statement to supporters Tariq Saleh called for an end to the conflict.


Military Developments

While intense fighting continued on many frontlines through January, the only significant advance by either side since the beginning of the 2018 has been the coalition-backed effort just inland from the Red Sea coast, which led to the town of Hays in Hudaydah governorate being captured in early February. Hays straddles three roads connecting Hudaydah, Taiz and Ibb, and Houthi forces’ loss of it will likely affect their supply lines into western Taiz.

Heavy fighting continued to take place in Taiz governorate, as the Saudi-led coalition continued to try and push north up the coast towards Hudaydah city, cut Houthi supply lines between Taiz and Hudaydah, as well as make advances in Taiz city itself. Due to the intensity of the fighting in Taiz city Oxfam temporarily closed its office there. The organization subsequently published a press release on January 29 condemning the renewed fighting in both Taiz and Aden. Intense battles also occured in the governorates of al-Bayda, and Sa’ada and al-Jawf in Yemen’s north.

Military Developments in Brief


Economic Developments

$2 billion in Saudi Support for the CBY

On January 17, Saudi Arabia announced it would deposit US$2 billion in Central Bank of Yemen (CBY) in Aden to stabilize Yemen’s domestic currency, the Yemeni rial (YR). Since the fourth quarter of 2017 the YR had experienced a period of rapid depreciation. In October 2017, the average rial exchange rate was YR 392 to US$1; just before the announcement of the Saudi deposit in January it had fallen to YR 525 to US$1 (for context, in March 2015 when the Saudi-led military coalition intervention began the exchange rate was YR 215 to US$1). Such currency volatility has profound implications for Yemen’s food security, given that the country imports as much as 90 percent of the food Yemeni eat, while also being one of the poorest countries in the world with the lowest per capita purchasing power in the Middle East (for details, see ‘Economic Developments’ in the Sana’a Center’s recent publication, ‘A Year of Hunger and Blood: Yemen at the UN / Special Issue – 2017 in Review’).

Following the Saudi announcement the rial’s market value quickly rose to YR 430 to US$1. This rally was due to the psychological impact of the announcement rather than change in market fundamentals, and reports from Yemen indicated that immediately following the rial’s rally many local currency traders had refused to sell foreign currency. By the end of January the rial had resumed its decline, falling to YR 495 as January ended. As of February 10, Sana’a Center sources confirmed that Saudi deposit in the CBY had taken place, but that the CBY leadership still had yet to sign the necessary agreement and conditions of the deposit that would allow the central bank to access the funds.

Yemen’s First Budget Since 2014

On January 21, Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher unveiled Yemen’s 2018 budget – the first since 2014. The budget projects YR 1.46 trillion in spending against revenues of YR 978 billion, thus a budget deficit of YR 482 billion (at a market exchange rate of YR 440 to US$1, the budget equates to US$3.32 billion in spending vs US$2.22 billion in revenues, with a US$1.09 billion budget deficit). Speaking to reporters in Aden, bin Daghr described it as an “austerity budget” that “includes salaries for the military and civilians in 12 provinces… Salaries in Houthi-dominated areas will be limited to the education and health sectors.”

Sana’a Center analysts, however, are skeptical of the government’s ability to raise the budget’s projected revenues, noting that this will likely only be possible with the large-scale resumption of oil and gas exports.

Houthis Implement Currency Controls for Importers

In late January, the customs authority in Sana’a issued new directives to importers of essential goods regarding how they obtain foreign currency for imports and how these funds are sent to exporters abroad. Prior to the currency conflict,  importers would typically approach either local banks or currency exchangers with their Yemeni rials to convert these funds into foreign currency to send to exporters abroad. Due to the conflict and the difficulties banks have faced transferring currency internationally, importers have largely shifted their business to money exchangers. The new Houthi regulations, however, obligate importers to interact exclusively with commercial bank branches in Houthi areas in this process, who will then coordinate with money exchangers to send foreign currency abroad. This policy change is likely an attempt to ensure local liquidity is deposited in financial institutions in areas under Houthi control.

On January 9, the Houthis forced four exchange company branches and Al- Kuraimi Islamic Microfinance Bank to close and confiscated their funds. Although Houthis have regularly exerted pressure on exchange companies in order to limit currency speculation, this is the first time they have done so with a commercial bank. Sana’a Center sources have reported that financial institutions in Sana’a are enduring increased pressure from Houthi authorities, which are seeking to both raise revenues and exercise greater control over the local economy.

Economic Developments in Brief

  • January 1: The Houthi-controlled Supreme Political Council (SPC) in Sana’a appoints a deputy governor to the Banking Supervision Sector of the Sana’a-based CBY. This is the first SPC appointment to the Sana’a CBY since the Hadi government relocated the CBY headquarters to Aden in September 2016.
  • January 14-16: More than 20 of the leading socioeconomic experts on Yemen – including former ministers, business leaders and leading academics – converge for the second Development Champions Forum in Amman, Jordan. Following the event – organized by the Sana’a Center, Deeproot Consulting and CARPO – the Champions issue policy recommendations to local, regional and international stakeholders to address the Yemeni rial’s depreciation and re-empower the CBY.   
  • In the last week of January the Aden CBY holds a meeting at which it directs Yemeni commercial banks to relocate their headquarters from Sana’a to Aden; currently the head of all but one Yemeni commercial bank is in Sana’a. Given the rapid deterioration in security in Aden at the end of January however (see ‘Clashes in Aden’ above for details), it is unlikely the CBY will insist on this move in the near term.


Humanitarian Developments

Riyadh Launches ‘Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations’

On January 20, the UN and humanitarian partners launched the 2018 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan (YHRP). The plan requests US$2.96 billion in funding from the international community to provide assistance to more than 13 million Yemenis across the country for the coming year. In 2017, the international community funded 71.2 percent of the UN’s US$2.34 billion humanitarian appeal for Yemen.

Two days later, on January 22, the Saudi-led military coalition announced the launch of Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations (YCHO). According to a document released by the Saudi embassy in Washington, DC, YCHO will see the coalition contribute $1.5 billion in new donations to “ensure the success of the 2018 UN Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan.” The document states that the plan aims to boost the delivery of humanitarian aid and commercial imports from an average of 1.1 million metric tons per month in 2017, to 1.4 million tons in 2018, while also aiming to double Yemen’s fuel importation capacity from 250,000 metric tons per month in 2017 to 500,000 metric tons in 2018.

The Saudi embassy document detailed further actions, such as: the expansion of port infrastructure in Mokha, Aden and Mukalla, while also noting the arrival in January of new cranes in Hudaydah (see ‘Humanitarian Developments in Brief’ below for details); the establishment of an “air bridge” between Riyadh and Marib that will see up to six C130 Hercules transport aircraft per day delivering humanitarian supplies; and the “setting up 17 safe passage corridors originating from six points to ensure safe overland transportation of aid to NGOs operating in the interior of Yemen.”  

UN Under Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Mark Lowcock – who earlier in the month said the situation in Yemen “looks like the apocalypse” – welcomed the YCHO, as well as the two billion dollar deposit by Saudi Arabia in the CBY.

On February 6 a IRIN report detailed the wide array of foreign consultants and public relations firms Saudi Arabia enlisted to develop and promote YCHO. IRIN highlighted that under the cover of supporting humanitarian efforts the YCHO also seemed orchestrated to “reduce imports of vital goods into a key rebel-held port,” namely Hudaydah.

Humanitarian Developments in Brief

  • January 14: The World Health Organization reports that Yemen has seen some 1.04 million suspected cholera cases and 2,244 associated deaths.
  • January 15: Four mobile crane units are offloaded at Hudaydah port. The cranes are intended to boost offloading capacity by replacing others at the port which coalition airstrikes rendered inoperable in August 2015. The cranes – bought by the WFP with funds provided by USAID – were originally scheduled for delivery in January 2017, however at the time the coalition had revoked the necessary entry permit and the cranes had been redirected to a storage facility in Dubai.  
  • January 18: Four UN planes filled with 200 tons of medical supplies arrive in Sana’a.
  • January 24: UN agencies report that the Houthis have banned more than 35 aid organizations from operating in territories under Houthi control. The ban is apparently being implemented by the Houthi deputy health minister in an attempt to force INGOs and international organisations to work directly through Houthi controlled ministries.


Human Rights and War Crimes

The UN Panel of Experts report in January noted all parties to the conflict continue to carry out widespread violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including Houthi forces, Yemeni government troops, the Saudi-led military coalition and local forces affiliated with the UAE.

In particular, the Panel of Experts report noted the Houthis have carried out summary executions, arrests for solely political or economic reasons, systematically destroyed the homes of dissenters, and regularly obstructed humanitarian access and aid distribution.

The report noted that UAE-backed forces operate at least three detention facilities in Yemen’s south – at the UAE’s Bureiqa Airbase, al Rayyan Airport and Belhaf Port – outside of Yemeni government jurisdiction. The Panel of Experts said UAE-backed forces have carried out forced disappearances, torture and mistreatment of prisoners.  

The Panel of Experts also stated that: “Measures taken by the Saudi-led coalition in its targeting process to minimize child casualties, if any, remain largely ineffective, especially when it continues to target residential buildings.”

The Panel of Experts said that both the Houthis and the Saudi-led military coalition are attempting to leverage the civilian population to their own advantage. The report noted, for instance, that the Saudi-led military coalition blockade on northern Yemen is effectively the weaponization of the threat of mass starvation; simultaneously, Houthi leaders are fully aware their missile attacks on Saudi Arabia will prompt a coalition retaliation that will be largely felt by the civilian population in areas under their control, and indeed the Houthis are counting on global public outrage against the coalition for these coalition retaliations.  

Human Rights and War Crimes Developments in Brief

  • January 1: A Saudi-led military coalition airstrike kills 23 people in a Hudaydah market.
  • January 2: A special criminal court in Houthi-controlled Sana’a sentences Hamed bin Haydara, a prominent Bahai community leader, to death after more than four years in prison. He was accused of being an Israeli spy and has allegedly been tortured during his imprisonment. The Bahai community has some 2,000 members in Yemen, whom both the UN and Human Rights Watch (HRW) say Houthi forces have regularly persecuted on religious grounds.
  • January 18: HRW publishes its annual report, in which it states all parties to the conflict have committed violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. These include unlawfully impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid, the use of banned weapons such as cluster bombs and anti-personnel mines, threatening and arresting activists and journalists, and the use of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances.
  • January 22: A Houthi rocket attack on a military parade in Taiz kills four civilians.
  • January 24: A coalition airstrike kills 9 civilians in Sa’ada.
  • January 25: A boat carrying 152 Somali and Ethiopian migrants capsizes off the coast of Aden, leaving 30 people dead. Survivors told rescuers that the smugglers piloting the boat had fired upon the passengers just prior to the boat capsizing.
  • January 25: The Saudi-led coalition turns over 27 captured Houthi child soldiers to Yemeni government authorities in Marib. While all sides in the conflict face accusations of deploying child soldiers, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that most recorded incidents of child recruitment have been associated with the Houthi-affiliated “Popular Committees.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that on January 12 Germany’s Christian Democratic Union and Social Democrats had reached a coalition agreement to form the next government; the agreement they reached was in fact a consultation document upon which to base further negotiations in forming a government.  

This report was prepared by Waleed Alhariri, Spencer Osberg, Alex J. Harper, Maged al-Madhaji, Marcus Hallinan, Ali Abdullah and Isadora Gotts.  

Yemen at the UN is a monthly series produced by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies. It aims to identify UN-led efforts to resolve the conflict in Yemen and contextualize these efforts relative to political, security, economic, humanitarian, and human rights developments on the ground.

This month’s report was developed with the support of the Friedrich-Ebert Yemen office.