Yemen at the UN – April 2017 Review

Yemen at the UN – April 2017 Review


In April, the Saudi-led military coalition’s proposed assault on the rebel-held Red Sea port of Hudaydah, and the likely humanitarian catastrophe it would precipitate, was again the focus of most international policy discussions regarding Yemen. By month’s end, however, widespread opposition to the operation within the US, at the UN, within the humanitarian community and elsewhere appeared to gain purchase with both the Saudi-led coalition and American policy makers contemplating United States military support for the action, with these latter two groups apparently re-evaluating Saudi-led coalition plans for an offensive and exploring political alternatives to the attack.

On the ground, tensions amongst armed groups and political factions supporting the internationally recognized government of Yemen repeatedly arose. The most notable instances were in the governorates of Aden and Hadramawt. In Aden, “Security Belt” forces back by the United Arab Emirates were involved in an armed standoff with forces loyal to President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi, eventually leading Hadi to sack both the head of the Security Belt and the governor of Aden. In Hadramawt, local power brokers seeking greater autonomy from the central government held the “Hadramawt Inclusive Conference”, under the implicit patronage of the UAE.

The World Food Program (WFP) announced it was scaling up operations in Yemen to help address the country’s food crisis – 17 million people are in need of food assistance in Yemen, with 7 million of these facing a food security emergency. WFP officials stressed, however, that the success of such operations was dependent “immediate sufficient resources from donors.” To spur funding efforts, the governments of Sweden and Switzerland co-chaired with the UN the “High Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Response in Yemen” in Geneva on April 25, with pledges amounting to $1.1 billion – more than half the UN’s humanitarian appeal for Yemen for 2017. While the event was deemed a success, UN officials have emphasized that donors must quickly convert their pledges into cash deposits if a famine this summer is to be averted.  

Despite increased US counter terrorism activity and drone strikes in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) remained active last month, carrying out assassinations and attacks against both Houthi rebels and allied forces of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, as well as UAE-back pro-government forces. On the frontlines, however, despite an intensification of the conflict in various areas, no party made substantial territorial gains.  

In economic and financial developments, the new Central Bank of Yemen (CBY) headquarters in Aden was connected – six months after the previous headquarters in Sana’a was disconnected – to the SWIFT network for international money transfers; the connection will remain inoperable, however, until the necessary CBY staff return from Dubai, where they are undergoing training to operate the SWIFT connection (which would allow the CBY to access international support funds). In Sana’a, the Houthi-Saleh authorities initiated a food voucher system for public servants, in an attempt to compensate for their inability to pay the almost one million government workers living in areas under Houthi-Saleh control who have not received a paycheck since September 2016. Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) announced that livestock protection, through vaccinations and other treatments, was a key emergency response priority for 2017, given plummeting livestock numbers amongst the 1.5 million Yemeni households dependant on agriculture.

Meanwhile, reports of human rights violations and war crimes by all belligerent parties to the Yemeni conflict continued unabated, among them being: the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights stated last month that the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade of the Yemen “involves grave breaches of the most basic norms of human rights law, as well as of the law of armed conflict”; meanwhile in Sana’a, a Houthi-Saleh security court sentenced 62-year-old journalist Yahya al-Jubaihi to death for allegedly spying for the Saudi-led coalition, in a closed-door court trial in which al-Jubaihi was denied regular access to a lawyer.


The Saudi-led coalition attack on Hudaydah Port

The prospect of a Saudi-led coalition attack on Hudaydah City and the likely humanitarian fallout have dominated internationally policy discussions on Yemen for a second month in a row, with dozens of NGOs, UN agencies and diplomats, politicians in various countries and bi-partisan groups in the US congress warning that such an attack would have catastrophic consequences for millions of Yemenis already on the brink of famine.

Yemen is massively import-dependant – before the current crisis the country imported up to 90% of the food Yemenis eat – and Hudaydah port is the entry-point for between 70-80% of current humanitarian deliveries and an even greater share of commercial imports; Hudaydah has been characterized as the life-line that is essentially feeding most of a country in which two-thirds of the population is already food insecure.  

In the beginning of 2017, troops fighting on behalf of the internationally recognized government of Yemen, backed by the Saudi-led military coalition, launched Operation Golden Spear along the country’s west coast, in an attempt to dislodge the Houthi rebels and allied forces of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh from access to the Red Sea. After taking the coastal town of Mokha the coalition announced its intention to press on to Hudaydah, just less than 200 kilometers to the north. In the face of stiff military resistance and the Houthi-Saleh forces’ heavy use of landmines, however, government ground troops have made little headway north of Mokha.

In seeking to gain military leverage for the assault on Hudaydah, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – the second largest coalition partner – have been lobbying the Trump administration in Washington for direct US military assistance, such as US Special Forces, in attacking Hudaydah. US officials expressed reservations about deploying troops to directly participate in Hudaydah offensive, with discussions of potential support focused on intelligence and logistics support.

The Yemeni government and the coalition claim that the port has provided a major sources of revenues and arms smuggling for Houthi-Saleh forces, and that taking Hudaydah would force them back into peace talks. Humanitarian deliveries, the coalition has claimed, can be rerouted to the southern port of Aden, held by the internationally recognized government, the newly refurbished Mokha port, and elsewhere.

Members of the US defence establishment, the White House administration and various members of the US Congress have come out in favour of American support for the attack, and recent indications have pointed to deepening ties between the Trump administration and the Saudi royal family – such as Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s visit in March to the White House, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s mid-April trip to Riyadh, and the announcements at the beginning of May of tens of billions in new US-Saudi arms deals, and that President Trump’s first official foreign visit will be to Saudi Arabia this month.


Opposition to the attack on Hudaydah

On April 18, at a Yemen Sanctions Committee meeting, Security Council member states were briefed on the situation in Hudaydah by the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen Jamie McGoldrick, Coordinator of the Panel of Experts Ahmed Himmiche, and Country Director of the World Food Programme Stephen Anderson. Discussions revolved around the increased inspection delays the coalition was enforcing on cargo entering the port, Hudaydah’s limited capacity to offload cargo due to coalition airstrikes that have destroy cranes, as well as poor management at the port. In spite of this, panel members emphasised that there is no effective substitute to Hudaydah port for imports into Yemen and distribution to the country’s largest population centers.

George Khoury, Head of OCHA Yemen, reiterated this point later in April, stating that even at a reduced capacity: “there is no viable substitute for Al Hudaydah Port – both in terms of location and infrastructure. Any alterations to the commercial and humanitarian imports coming through this port would have grave consequences on the country at a time when it faces a severe food, health, and nutrition crisis… Steering the humanitarian response away from Al Hudaydah Port, even temporarily, is inconceivable, particularly in a war torn country where infrastructure and security impede movement.”

Even the prospect of an attack on the port is negatively impacting the humanitarian situation, both in terms of discouraging commercial cargo traffic, as well as Houthi-Saleh forces implementing increasingly oppressive security measure in anticipation of an attack. Reports from Hudaydah last month described large-scale arbitrary arrests in the city. Aid agencies increasingly are being perceived as security threats and are facing restrictions on their freedom to move and distribute aid.

At an April 13 meeting at the US State Department’s headquarters, officials from the department and the Pentagon told aid agencies that the highest levels of the US government were debating the humanitarian considerations related to a possible Hudaydah operation. In trying to ease concerns related to the attack, a Pentagon official told the aid groups that the operation would be “clean”, and that the port could be secured within four to six weeks; it was unclear what the “four to six week” projection based upon, with another Pentagon official later saying that it was unrealistic and the operation could take months. Notably, before reaching Hudaydah, government ground troops would have to pass through several cities in which Houthi-Saleh forces are heavily entrenched, with the inability of government forces to progress north of Mokha as yet likely telling of the quagmire further attempts to progress up the coast would entail.  

On April 10 a letter that had been circulating in the US Congress for several weeks garnering bipartisan support was sent to the White House with the signatures of 55 senators, demanding that President Trump seek congressional approval for any escalation in US military involvement in the Yemen war. The letter voiced concern regarding whether such involvement would be in America’s interest, citing such things as the prospect of famine in Yemen following an attack on Hudaydah, and that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has become a “de facto” ally of pro-government forces.

On April 27, another bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to Saudi Ambassador Khalid bin Salman calling on his government to refrain from attacking Hudaydah, to reform the inspection mechanism for ships to facilitate quicker delivery of humanitarian and commercial supplies, and allow new cranes to be supplied at Hudaydah to make up for lost offloading capacity.

Less than a week later, on May 2, senate members issued a letter to US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stating: “We are committed to using our Constitutional authority to assert greater oversight over US involvement in the conflict… which has never been authorized by Congress.” The letter then threatened legislation to prohibit American support for an assault on Hudaydah if Mattis failed to consult congress on the details of possible US involvement.

As of the beginning of May, opposition to the attack seemed to have garnered some traction, with observers noting that the Saudi-led coalition appeared to be exploring political alternatives to a military assault on Hudaydah; the US administration still had made no public comment on regarding its prospective role regarding an assault on Hudaydah.


Developments on the ground


Tension within pro-Hadi forces in Aden

Continuing a trend that has become apparent since the beginning of 2017, throughout April tensions between various groups and armed factions fighting on behalf of the internationally recognized government repeatedly arose; this friction has primarily occurred between forces backed by the UAE and those loyal to President Hadi.

In Aden, for instance, a flashpoint for tensions in April was the strategic Al-Alam checkpoint, the eastern gateway of Aden that connects the city with the Abyan governorate and Hadi’s tribal support base there. It is the only entrance to Aden not controlled by the UAE-back Hezam al-Amni, or “Security Belt” forces, which were, until the end of April, headed by the prominent UAE-allied Salafi leader Hani bin Braik (see more below). Hadi had sent the Presidential Guard to seize control of the Al-Alam checkpoint from the Security Belt in February, following allegations that AQAP had used it to smuggle weapons into Aden. The checkpoint has been a source of tension between the two groups since, and on April 15 Al-Alam checkpoint was closed following an armed standoff between the two groups – a standoff that persisted through to the end of April. On April 17, a “Joint Security Center” was established in an effort to facilitate communication and coordination between the various security forces operating in Aden, though the center had, as April ended, achieved little apparent impact.

In the last week of April UAE-allied forces, which control the Aden airport, then prevented the head of the Presidential Guard, the newly appointed Brigadier General Mehran al-Qubati, from re-entering the country after returning from a trip to Cairo; the standoff was finally resolved when Saudi Arabia agreed to fly al-Qubati out of Aden airport to Riyadh.

In apparent retaliation two days later, on April 28, President Hadi issued a decree dismissing both Hani Bin Braik (who was also a Minister of State in the government) and Aidarus al-Zubaidi, the UAE-allied governor of Aden. (Importantly to note, until this decision the UAE had exercised its proxy authority in South Yemen largely through Bin Breik and al-Zubaidi, as well as the Yafii tribe and Salafists organizations – with most member of the Security Belt being drawn from these two groups; al-Zubaidi is also a prominent Southern Movement leader from al-Dhal’e Governorate, where the UAE has garnered popular support.)

As of this writing, public anger over Hadi’s decree had manifested as street protests in Aden, led by thousands of Southern Movement members. The UAE also responded with unusually blunt criticism of Hadi regarding the decision. In a measure of the tensions in Aden as of the beginning of May, neither Hadi nor his prime minister had returned, both opting to remain in Riyadh. On May 3, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman then held an unscheduled meeting with President Hadi in an apparent bid to defuse tensions.


The Hadramawt Inclusive Conference

Tensions and divergent interests between President Hadi and the UAE were also on display in the eastern governorate of Hadramawt last month. On April 23 the “Hadramawt Inclusive Conference” was staged in Mukalla City, where participants – consisting of stakeholders and power brokers from Hadramawt exclusively – emphasized the centrality of the Hadrami identity over their Yemeni one, and made public statements regarding the need for the governorate to assert control over its security institutions, governance and natural resources, such as oil and gas. Various speakers referred to “50 years of oppression” – covering the period both after Hadramawt joined South Yemen (1967), and post-unification of North and South Yemen (1990). This is an implicit rejection not just of central government rule from Sana’a and President Hadi’s project for a unified Yemen, but also the Southern Movement’s goal for a unified, independent South Yemen.

The UAE quietly supported the conference last month, and has played patron to Hadrami ambitions for greater independence through creating, training and arming the Hadrami Elite Forces, which have acted with increasing autonomy from the Hadi government, asserting their lead in operations against AQAP and demanding that government troops hand over control of various checkpoints across Hadramawt.  

It should be noted that UAE moves to solidify its influence with local groups in South Yemen can be seen as part of a larger Emirati strategy to assert military control and project power throughout the Horn of Africa region.    


Al-Dhale governorate

Other signs of tensions between ostensibly pro-government forces seemed apparent on April 17, when an improvised explosive device (IED) targeted a convoy carrying a senior pro-Hadi commander, Ali Muqbil Saleh, in government-held Al-Dhale governorate. When it was attacked the convoy had been traveling back to Aden, having gone north in the first place in an attempt to broker the release of trucks carrying cash payments for public sector workers in Taiz City; the trucks, however, had been commandeered by Southern Movement fighters at a checkpoint en route. Even with a direct order from President Hadi that the trucks be released, Ali Muqbil Saleh had failed to secure the release of the trucks – and then was attacked as he returned to Aden.      


Frontline developments

Intense fighting in various areas of Yemen saw mostly incremental movements in the frontlines between pro-government troops and Houthi-Saleh forces. In Sa’ada governorate, for instance, government troops, backed by coalition airstrikes, announced on April 16 that they had captured Al-Shaer mountain in the northern Baqim district. In Taiz governorate, east of Mokha, there was intense fighting and coalition airstrikes as pro-government troops sought to dislodge Houthi-Saleh forces from key positions from which they have been harassing government supply lines, in particular the Khalid Bin Walid military base in the Al-Nar mountain; by the end of April the base was reportedly under siege by government troops.  

Other notable incidents in April included the Sudanese government, on April 10, announcing that five of its soldiers had been killed and 22 injured in fighting on behalf of government of Yemen; Sudan is thought to have some 5,000 troops deployed as part of the Saudi-led coalition. A week later, on April 18, a Saudi helicopter was shot down in Marib governorate in an apparent “friendly fire” incident involving coalition air defense systems; the incident left 12 Saudi officers dead.


AQAP related activity

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was active throughout April, carry out assassinations and attacks against both Houthi-Saleh forces and UAE-back pro-government forces.

Amongst the reported AQAP incidents was an ambushed against elite UAE-back local forces in Hadramawt Governorate in the first week of the month, followed the next day by an IED attack that killed almost a dozen Houthi fighters in the Madhwaqin area of Al-Bayda governorate. From April 14-16, AQAP assassinated a commander in the UAE-backed Security Belt forces in the Shaqra area of Abyan governorate, killed seven Houthi fighters using an IED in Ibb governorate, and assassinated a Houthi commander in Ibb city. AQAP also claimed an April 23 attack in Wadi Daoun, central Hadramawt, which killed two government soldiers.

In March this year various tribal groups in Shabwa governorate announced the formation of anti-AQAP coalition, with these tribal forces apparently responsible for an ambush against an AQAP commander in the governorate’s central Rawdah area in mid-April. On April 20, the UAE then announced its intent to expand the training and arming of Shabwani Elite Forces, in an effort to counter AQAP in the governorate.   

Anti-AQAP efforts suffered a setback on April 22, however, when a US drone strike killed three members of government-allied Southern Resistance in Shabwa’s Al-Saeed district. Amongst other US counter-terrorism activity in Yemen last month, the US Navy claimed it killed eight AQAP operatives in Shabwa on April 23, including Abu Ahmed Awlaqi, who the US said to have led AQAP operations in Shabwa province.


Humanitarian developments

As of May 2, OCHA was reporting that 17 million people were in need of food assistance, 7 million of whom are facing what OCHA categorizes as a food security emergency – a Phase 4 classification on the UN’s Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) index, and the last step before the official designation of famine and humanitarian catastrophe. Some 2.2 million children are acutely malnourished – effectively, one child under five-years-old dies every 10 minutes in Yemen of preventable causes – and more than a million pregnant women are malnourished. Almost every coastal governorate in Yemen was deemed to be suffering a food security emergency, with those governorates being Sa’ada, Hajjah, Al Hudaydah, Taiz, Lahj, Abyan and Shabwah – of these, Al Hudaydah and Taiz are at the most severe risk of famine.


WFP expands operations

The World Food Program announced it was scaling up its emergency food operations in Yemen in an attempt to reach 9 million people in Yemen through 2017. Prioritized amongst these were 2.5 million people in the most heavily affected areas where the WFP said it intends to distribute “full food rations” – meaning enough to cover 100% of the nutritional needs of each family for a month – in an attempt to prevent the onset of famine.

The WFP stated that these expanded emergency operations will cost up to $1.2 billion, and that “the success of this operation hinges on immediate sufficient resources from donors.” Indeed, the WFP reported that its general food distribution in Yemen had fallen between February and March, from reaching 5 million people in February to reaching 3.2 million the following month, in large part due to a shortfall in funds.


Successful fundraising event

Earlier this year the UN announced that its total humanitarian appeal for Yemen for 2017 was $2.1 billion, which had been less than 15% met as of the beginning of April (the UN’s 2016 humanitarian appeal for Yemen of some $1.8 billion was only 60% met by year’s end). In an effort to close the funding gap this year, the governments of Sweden and Switzerland co-hosted with the UN the “High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen” in Geneva on April 25. In his opening remarks UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated bluntly: “We are witnessing the starving and crippling of an entire generation.”

In the end, the event raised some $1.1 billion – covering more than half of the UN’s humanitarian appeal for Yemen for 2017. Of the more than 40 countries and NGO that committed funds, the largest donors were the UK, Saudi Arabia, the European Commission, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, who all pledged $100 million or more.

OCHA’s Khoury, however, pointed out in the week following the fundraising event, that the vast amount of the money committed is still only in pledge form, and that it will take time for those pledges to be converted into cash that the various humanitarian organizations can use.

The problem from our side is that we need the money now,” he said. “Not in August or September. If the World Food Programme does not get the money now, there will be a break in the food pipeline by the beginning of July. Every month we are expected to feed 7 million people. Last month, the WFP reached 3 million, because of lack of resources.”


Human rights and war crimes


Blockade “breaches human rights law”

In a press statement on April 12, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and international sanctions, Idriss Jazairy, said “the aerial and naval blockade imposed on Yemen by the coalition forces since March 2015 [is] one of the main causes of the humanitarian catastrophe.

Jazairy’s statement called on the blockade to be lifted to stop “the catastrophe of millions facing starvation”. He noted that the blockade “has restricted and disrupted the import and export of food, fuel and medical supplies as well as humanitarian aid… The blockade involves grave breaches of the most basic norms of human rights law, as well as of the law of armed conflict.”

Jazairy made specific reference to Al Hudaydah Port, deploring the fact that the coalition’s excessive clearance procedures have blocked the delivery of the new cranes that could restore the port’s offloading capacity; the new cranes destined for Hudaydah are currently being held in Dubai.


Journalist sentenced to death

On April 12, the state security court in Sana’a controlled by the Houthis sentenced 62-year-old journalist Yahya al-Jubaihi to death, for allegedly spying for the Saudi-led coalition. It is the first incidence of a journalist in Yemen being sentenced to capital punishment, with the trial taking place in a closed-door court and the defendant not having regular access to a lawyer during the trial. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other rights groups condemned the death sentence. It should be noted that as of the end of April the Houthi-Saleh authorities were holding more than 12 journalists in a prolonged unlawful imprisonment, and some of whom are in severely poor health conditions and denied family visits.


Houthi-Saleh use of banned landmines

On April 20, Human Rights Watch issued a report highlighting the Houthi-Saleh forces’ use of banned antipersonnel landmines, which the HRW said have caused hundreds of civilian deaths and injuries, hindered the return of people who were displaced by fighting, and will continue to pose a threat to civilians long after the conflict ends. In terms of scale, since February 2016 operations by the Yemen Executive Mine Action Centre have removed 360,000 landmines and other explosive ordnance from areas across Yemen, with the UNDP stating that “it is imperative that clearance activities are scaled up rapidly, particularly in areas of return to provide a safe environment for IDPs to settle.”

“The Houthi-Saleh forces use of antipersonnel landmines violate the laws of war and individuals involved are committing war crimes,” Human Rights Watch said. “Houthi-Saleh forces have also used antivehicle mines indiscriminately in violation of the laws of war and failed to take adequate precautions to avoid civilian casualties.”


Economic & financial updates


Reconnection to SWIFT

In mid-April the Central Bank of Yemen (CBY) was reconnected to the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) network, technically reinstating the central bank’s capacity to send and receive international money transfers. The Sana’a-based CBY had been disconnected from SWIFT on November 9, 2016, following the Yemeni government’s decision to relocate the CBY headquarters from Sana’a to Aden two months earlier.

Connecting the Aden CBY to the SWIFT network has involved significant complications, according to sources close to the process that spoke with the Sana’a Center, with communication and oversight from the parent SWIFT company, based in Belgium, and the Aden CBY having to meet various compliance standards, hire engineers to work with its IT department, as well as installing and testing specialized SWIFT servers – all amidst a deteriorating security situation in Aden. These sources added that while reconnection to the SWIFT network was successfully completed in mid-April, there had been no financial transactions made through it as of the end of April due to the inability of central bank staff to operate the SWIFT connection.

In the later half of April a team of nine CBY employees were sent to Dubai for training in the operational and technical aspects of SWIFT. This training is likely to last until at least the end of May if not longer, with the CBY’s connection to SWIFT rendered unusable until the staff necessary to operate it return to Aden.

President Hadi announced at the end of February this year that Saudi Arabia had committed to depositing $2 billion at the CBY to help it stave off the imminent threat of the rapid depreciation of the Yemeni rial; while the Riyadh still has yet to publicly confirm such support, even if it were forthcoming, the ongoing inability of the Aden CBY to operate its SWIFT connection entails that the central bank would currently not be able to access these funds.


Food vouchers issued    

On April 15, the so-called “Government of National Salvation” (GNS) in Sana’a – made up of Houthi and Saleh-affiliated officials – announced the implementation of a food voucher system for public and mixed sector employees. The new system, announced by the GNS’ Ministry of Industry and Trade, is intended to compensate for the GNS’ inability to pay the roughly one million government workers who live in Houthi-Saleh controlled areas, most of whom have been without a paycheck since September 2016 due to a severe public sector cash liquidity crisis. The vouchers – which will cover such basic foodstuffs as wheat, rice, cooking oils, milk powder and flour – will be redeemable at selected market suppliers who, according to the draft legislation, will be required to sell the goods at prevailing wholesale market rates.

A prominent Yemeni economist aware of the details of the voucher system told the Sana’a Center that the vouchers are slated to be worth roughly a third of each employee’s salary, with most of the rest of their monthly pay to be deposited in an account at Yemen Post, the national postal service. It should be noted, however, that due to the ongoing liquidity crisis employees will be barred from withdrawing these deposited funds. Additionally, given the GNS’ likely inability to provide merchants with cash when they attempt to redeem the voucher coupons they collect from customers, the Yemeni economist predicted that the voucher system would be effective for only a month or two, after which the effective value of the coupons would depreciate and merchants would offer goods at two prices – one for cash payments, and another for coupons.


Threats to public education

Among the impacts of the non-payment of civil servant wages is that three-quarters of the country’s teachers have not been paid in half a year, meaning some 4.5 million children may not finish the school year, according to UNICEF.

“At the moment we have more than 166,000 teachers in the country that have not received a salary since October last year. This is more or less 73% of the total number of teachers in the country,” UNICEF Representative in Yemen Mertixell Relano told a press conference in the capital Sana’a last month. “Those children that are not in school, they are at risk of being recruited (for military service), or the girls might be at risk of being married earlier.”

According to UNICEF, there are 7.3 million school-age children in Yemen, 2 million of whom are completely out of school, and another 2.3 million that need support to access education, while some 1,700 schools in the country have been rendered unfit for use through damage due to the war, or occupation by internally displaced people or armed groups.


Agricultural households struggling

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) also reported last month that of the some 1.5 million agriculturally dependant households in Yemen (roughly 60% of all households in the county), more than 800,000 are unable to control crop and livestock diseases. According to a Yemen Emergency Food Security and Nutrition Assessment released earlier this year, some 40% of agricultural households faced decreased cereal production in 2016, and almost half saw a drastic decline in livestock numbers, due to both disease and the distressed selling of household assets to cover food, medical and other family expenses. In response, FAO stated that livestock protection, through vaccinations and other treatments, was a key emergency response priority for 2017.

Importantly, agriculture is also the source of employment for roughly half of Yemen’s workforce, and while FAO is reporting better than normal rainfall through the past several months, the agency stated last month that agricultural livelihoods are still being put at risk: “As a result of the persistent conflict, almost all governorates are reporting shortages of agricultural inputs as well as high prices of inputs… Agricultural activities, particularly those related to irrigated crops, suffer from high fuel prices, increasing the share of rainfed crops. Many rural households rely on casual labour opportunities as a source of income. However, in most conflict situations, hired agricultural labour tends to be replaced by family labour in order to cope with the increased costs of production.”


In brief:

  • The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had, as of May 5, received 18% of the USD $2.1 billion it has appealed for to implement its humanitarian response plan for Yemen in 2017. On April 25, the UN held a High-Level Pledging Event co-hosted by the governments of Sweden and Switzerland in Geneva, where donors pledged USD $1.1 billion to help people in emergency need in Yemen. Importantly, however, UN officials are now urging donor countries to quickly convert their pledges into cash deposits to evade famine in Yemen.
  • In the month of April, 35 vessels applied for clearance from the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM); 30 requests for clearance were issued certification and the average time to issue clearance was 30 hours, an average of two hours less than the month before. A total of 611,052 metric tons (mt) of cargo was approved through the UNVIM in April, consisting of 272,666 mt of food, 244,575 mt of fuel and 93,811 mt of general cargo. This is a decrease by a total of 25,758 mt of cargo from the month before.


Yemen at the UN is a monthly report produced by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies to identify and assess UN-led efforts to resolve the crisis in Yemen. Through this analysis, Yemen at the UN aims to provide readers with an understanding of the international political context that accompanies developments on the ground. This month’s Yemen at the UN report is in partnership with Friedrich-Ebert- Yemen office.


Yemen at the UN – February 2017 Review

Yemen at the UN – February 2017 Review


In February, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that “Yemen is facing the largest food security emergency in the world”, and estimated that the country’s domestic reserves of wheat would be completely exhausted by the end of March 2017.

The UN human rights commission raised credible reports that war crimes were committed by both the main warring sides during battles for the Red Sea port town of Mukha. These battles saw the forces backing Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi capture the town from the Houthi movement and its main ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The infighting that broke out in January between groups backing President Hadi continued through February in the cities of Taiz and Aden, while resource and revenue scarcities helped fuel tensions within the Houthi-Saleh alliance and between the Houthi-Saleh alliance and populations in areas they control. 

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula continued to exploit the chaos brought on by the conflict, the humanitarian crisis and the country’s economic collapse to improve its domestic position, and throughout February stepped up attacks against both main warring sides.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in his second month on the job, visited the Gulf region and after meeting with regional governments publicly reiterated his support for the UN Special Envoy for Yemen and his efforts to mediate a peaceful resolution to the war.


At the UN

Continuing war crimes reports

On February 10, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement citing “extremely worrying reports” that over the preceding two weeks there had been numerous violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in the battle for the port city of Mukha. This follows on the heels of the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen’s report on January 27, which stated that over the past two years there has been clear evidence of widespread and systematic violations of international law by all sides in the conflict.  

The human rights commission’s February statement noted that the warring sides had issued civilians in various areas of Mukha city contradictory commands – with forces loyal to President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi ordering them to evacuate as those allied with the Houthi movement demanding they remain – with credible reports then emerging from Mukha of fleeing civilians being shot by Houthi snipers and others who remained being killed in their homes by airstrikes from the Saudi-led military coalition backing Hadi.

In a statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said: “Civilians were trapped and targeted during the Al Mukha fighting. There are real fears that the situation will repeat itself in the port of Al Hudaidah, to the north of Al Mukha, where air strikes are already intensifying. The already catastrophic humanitarian situation in the country could spiral further downwards if Al Hudaidah port – a key entry point for imports into Yemen – is seriously damaged.”  

Zeid noted the “alarming frequency” with which incidents of possible war crimes had been reported over the last two years of conflict, and to “break the climate of impunity in Yemen” he reiterated his call for an independent international investigation – a proposal that has been put before the Human Rights Council several times over the past two years and each time was rejected by Saudi Arabia and its allies on the council, including the United States and the United Kingdom. 

At a press briefing on February 28, Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN human rights commission, said the UN had verified almost 1,500 cases of children being recruited as soldiers since March 2015. She urged all sides in the conflict to refrain from such practices, which are strictly forbidden by international humanitarian and human rights law and may amount to war crimes in cases where the child is under 15 years old. Shamdasani added that “the numbers are likely to be much higher as most families are not willing to talk about the recruitment of their children, for fear of reprisals.” She said most of the cases they had uncovered related to recruitment by Houthi-affiliated “Popular Committees”.


Diplomatic maneuvering

On February 10, a high ranking Houthi official submitted a letter to the newly-minted UN Secretary-General António Guterres requesting that he not renew the term of the current UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who was appointed by former Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in April 2015. The letter claimed Ould Cheikh Ahmed has shown a “lack of neutrality”, was biased toward the Saudi-led coalition and urged the UN to investigate a Saudi-led coalition airstrike on a funeral gathering in Sana’a in October 2016 that resulted in hundreds of casualties.

In a direct rebuff to the Houthi request, two days later the Secretary-General, speaking at a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said: “Our envoy has my full support and I believe that he is doing an impartial work [sic], that he is doing it in a very professional way and independently of what other people may think.”

Guterres also noted during the press conference that Saudi Arabia was “an important pillar of stability in the region.” The Secretary-General was in Riyadh as part of his first major international tour in his new position, a trip which also took him to Oman, Qatar and Egypt. While also discussing the situations in Libya and Syria with regional leaders, Guterres noted that a specific priority on his trip was to support Ould Cheikh Ahmed in his attempts to restart peace negotiations in Yemen. In the nearly two years he has been Special Envoy, Ould Cheikh Ahmed and his small team of staff – relative to other comparable UN missions – have failed to secure a meaningful de-escalation of hostilities or even establish a framework the warring parties could agree upon by which further peace negotiations would proceed. Indeed, President Hadi rejected outright the last “roadmap” to peace the Special Envoy proposed in December 2016.

On February 17, the internationally recognized government of Yemen’s representative to the UN then submitted a request to the Security Council asking that the Houthis and allied forces of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh be officially designated as “terrorists”, citing a Houthi attack in January on a Saudi vessel off Yemen’s Red Sea coast.

Also last month, foreign ministers from Oman and the “Quad” – the multilateral diplomatic initiative that includes the US, UK, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – met with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen in Bonn, Germany, though no significant public statement was forthcoming following the mid-February meeting. It should be noted that during the latter half of 2016, US Secretary of State John Kerry and the US were forcefully leading the Quad’s efforts to support the Special Envoy in bringing the warring parties to commit to a peace process. The new US administration inaugurated in January has yet to articulate a Yemen policy – something other western diplomats have said has effectively placed the peace process on hold – though indications are that going forward the White House will be more sympathetic towards Saudi Arabia and more aggressive toward Iran and the Houthis.

Meanwhile, representatives from several security council member states noted to the Sana’a Center last month that the lack of a diplomatic presence in Yemen – with only Iran and Russia maintaining functioning embassies in the country – is creating significant challenges for them to independently source information and analysis regarding evolving dynamics on the ground. This has created a situation in which many member state’s primary information sources are largely the UN’s own agencies. President Hadi’s calls for the UN and foreign governments to reopen their offices and embassies in Aden have gone unheeded, likely largely due to the general security vacuum that exists and the Yemeni government’s own tenuous presence in the city.


On the ground

Pro-Hadi forces capture Mukha, AQAP expands attacks

Fighting between the main warring parties occurred along frontlines across Yemen throughout February, as did Saudi-led coalition airstrikes within Houthi-Saleh held territory. Despite the warring parties’ frequent claims of grand victories in sympathetic media outlets, in most areas a relative stalemate and war of attrition prevailed. The major exception to this was along Yemen’s Red Sea coast, where Hadi-aligned forces, heavily supported by coalition airpower and naval bombardments, have succeeded since the beginning of 2017 in making progress in the western areas of Taiz province.

Intense battles in the later half of January and through February have resulted pro-Hadi fighters in the area seizing control of most of the port town of Mukha from the Houthi-Saleh alliance, with the apparent aim to continue northwards to Hudaidah, the most significant port the Houthis and Saleh still control. Following the loss of Mukha, Houthi allied fighters withdrew towards the town of Khokha, north of Mukha, and to areas around Khalid Bin Al-Walid military base to the east.   

On February 22, Hadi Government appealed for international assistance to help in demining operations, notably around Mukha, where Houthi/Saleh forces heavily deployed landmines and the fighting has left untold numbers of unexploded ordnance. The same day, Houthi-Saleh rocket fire toward Mukha killed Deputy Chief of Staff General Ahmed Said al-Yafei, one of President Hadi’s most senior commanders and an architect of the Red Sea offensive. (His replacement had yet to be named by end-February.)

Later the same week the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that some 25,000 people – the vast majority of Mukha’s population – had fled the town due to the fighting, and that “the main hospital is functioning at minimum capacity and there are reports of scores of dead bodies in the street.”

Among the many military actions elsewhere in the country in February were the intermittent Saudi-led coalition airstrikes around Sana’a. Early in the month several of these struck ostensibly military targets, however on February 15, OCHA reported that airstrikes on a funeral gathering in the Arhab district killed six women, one child, and wounded at least 15 other civilians.


Zone of control in Yemen as of February 28, 2017

Meanwhile, AQAP stepped up its attacks against both pro-Hadi forces and the Houthi-Saleh alliance throughout February. In the first 10 days of the month AQAP fighters captured three towns in northern Abyan and briefly occupied several neighbourhoods in the city of Lowder, assassinated two Houthi-Saleh commanders in Ibb governorate and then clashed with Houthi-Saleh forces in the governorate’s al-Sayyani and Udayn districts.

Through mid-February AQAP was suspected of being behind a rocket attack against UAE-affiliated forces in the capital of Hadramaut governorate, Mukalla, and responsible for the assassination of a local official and three others in the city of Araq, Shabwa governorate.

In the last seven days of the month AQAP ambushed a government convoy in the Lawder district of Abyan governorate and captured military hardware, attacked a Houthi-Saleh convoy in Qayfa, al-Bayda’ governorate, with an improvised explosive device, ambushed other Houthi-Saleh units in the town of al-Zuqab, destroyed a police complex in Shabwa governorate and initiated an attack on the government-held Najda military base in Abyan governorate with a massive a suicide car bomb. On the last day of February Southern Movement leader Hassan Hanshal al-Awlaqi was then assassinated in Ataq, in what is also suspected to be an AQAP operation.


Infighting amongst pro-Hadi forces

In the last week of January, Salafist groups in Taiz seized control of the city’s main administrative institutions in areas outside of Houthi-Saleh control. This sparked intermittent street battles since between the Salafists and other groups, primarily Islah (the Muslim Brotherhood Party in Yemen). In the almost complete absence of government institutions capable of policing the city, areas of Taiz under government “control” have experienced severe insecurity and the rise of criminal gangs. Notable events last month included the February 13 assassination attempt against an Islah leader and the February 23 attack on the market in the al-Koba area – gunmen opened fire on civilians, killing four and wounding nine, in what was reportedly a dispute between competing extortion rackets operating in the market.

On February 25 dozens of residents took to the streets to protest the lack of security, with the relative decrease in security-related events in government-held areas towards the end of the month being attributed to AQAP, whose affiliates were able to mediate between the various anti-Houthi groups. 

Meanwhile in the government-held southern city of Aden, soldiers protecting the airport, under the command of Saleh al-Omeri, shut down the facility for part of February 10 in protest of not having received their wages. The following day President Hadi sent presidential guard units to the airport to replace al-Omeri’s soldiers, resulting in a gun battle between the two when the latter refused to step down. The situation escalated when Salafist units in the area attempted to reinforce al-Omeri – both of whom receive substantial backing from the United Arab Emirates – after which an Emirati helicopter gunship opened fire on a Presidential Guard vehicle, killing multiple soldiers.

Negotiations followed, the fighting subsided and the airport officially reopened the next day with al-Omeri’s men still in control, though Yemenia Airlines continued to cancel or reroute flights to and from Aden. This incident is emblematic of the deep rifts that have developed within the military forces fighting against the Houthi-Saleh alliance, and specifically between President Hadi and the UAE. Shortly after the incident Hadi was in Riyadh, reportedly to discuss the airport battle with Saudi and Emirati government representatives.


Houthi-Saleh tensions

Throughout February disputes within the Houthi-Saleh alliance continued to prevent the appointment of a successor to Ali al-Jaifi, the head of the Republican Guard who was killed in the Saudi-led coalition airstrike on a funeral gathering in Sana’a in October 2016.

Later in the month tension also arose between the two allies in the Ibb governorate when Houthi affiliates began issuing local building permits, directly contradicting and overstepping the authority of ministry officials in Sana’a loyal to Saleh. It is important to note that, as the severity of the economic crisis has continued to intensify, licensing and official permits have become an important source of cash, though Saleh’s long-standing patronage networks within the state bureaucracy are now competing with new, parallel Houthi networks for these revenues.

In Houthi-controlled Dhamar governorate, south of Sana’a, escalating local frustration and resentment against the Houthis led to armed clashes in the Utma district, with Houthis fighters being captured and killed in skirmishes in the latter half of the month. The Houthis responded to this resistance by kidnapping prominent locals who had been vocal in their opposition, and destroying the homes of others. Numerous reports suggested the Houthis were employing similar methods of repression against the local population in various areas of the Taiz governorate.


Continuing humanitarian crisis

UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization declared in February that “Yemen is facing the largest food security emergency in the world”, and that “[c]urrent estimates indicate that existing supplies of wheat in the country will last until the end of March 2017.” This followed the February 8 UN launch of an international appeal for aid amounting to $2.1 billion to “provide life-saving assistance to 12 million people in Yemen in 2017”. It is the largest ever consolidated humanitarian appeal for Yemen.

In announcing the appeal OCHA noted that the conflict has left 18.8 million people – more than two thirds of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance; some 10.3 million Yemenis are acutely affected and require “some form of immediate humanitarian assistance to save and sustain their lives.” This includes food, healthcare, clean water and protection. Some 3.3 million people, including 2.1 million children, are acutely malnourished.

A February 21 UN report stated that since 2015 the conflict has displaced some 3 million Yemenis, but that some one million have since returned. “It’s testament to how catastrophic the situation in Yemen has become, that those displaced by the conflict are now returning home because life in the areas to which they had fled for safety is just as abysmal as in the areas from which they fled,” said the UNHCR’s Country Representative for Yemen, Ayman Gharaibeh. “Those attempting to return face tremendous challenges… They often return to homes that have been damaged, in areas lacking essential services. They still need humanitarian aid and are often forced to flee their homes again. These returns cannot be viewed as sustainable.” (Among those most recently displaced are some 44,000 people who have fled their homes because of the surge of fight in Taiz province, including those from Mukha.)  

On February 26, The Ministry of Public Health and Population in Yemen released figures showing that since the end of January 2017 there had been 1,610 new suspected cases of cholera reported, including 4 deaths. The report said there appeared to be a decline in the rate of new cases per week, with 80% of the new cases in this latest report located in 13 districts in the Al Hudaidah, Dhale, Hajjah and Taiz governorates. In a subsequent briefing spokesperson Christophe Boulierac from the UN Children’s Fund said every 10 minutes a Yemeni child under the age of five is dying from a preventable disease – such diarrhoea, pneumonia or measles – due to almost half the country’s medical facilities being out of service.

The dangers and difficulties aid agencies face while trying to operate in Yemen were also made apparent in two high profile incident in February. On February 14, six aid workers and a driver for the Norwegian Refugee Council were arrested by Houthi-Saleh forces while attempting to distribute aid in Hudaidah city; they were released again a week later “in good condition”, according to the NRC, which called the incident a “misunderstanding.” On February 28, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien – after having secured guarantees of safe passage from all parties – had his convoy turned back from entering besieged areas of Taiz at a Houthi-Saleh checkpoint. In a statement OCHA reported that: “O’Brien was extremely disappointed that humanitarian efforts to reach people in need were once again thwarted by parties to a conflict, especially at a time when millions of Yemenis are severely food insecure and face the risk of famine.”


Currency volatility and the loss of food reserves

Currency volatility was apparent last month, with the Yemeni rial falling as much as 20% in value against the US dollar in black market trading through the first half of February, before market interventions in both Sana’a and Aden helped the domestic currency to regain lost ground and stabilize. The interventions included the Houthi-Saleh authorities forbidding fuel and food importers from purchasing foreign exchange on the market for 30 days, and implement new measures against currency speculation. In parallel, the Central Bank of Yemen (CBY) governor in Aden, Monasser Al Quaiti, met with exchange companies and banks to discuss currency stabilization, assuring them that the Aden-based Central Bank was soon to receive significant foreign exchange support.

Currency stability is a critical issue for Yemen, given that previous to the conflict the country imported 90% of its basic food stuffs. Worryingly, however, was that through February Yemen’s largest bulk wheat and rice importers reported their continued inability to access import guarantees from the CBY, a primary driver of the country’s food insecurity. In an effort to help make up for the loss of these commercial food imports and stave off famine, a World Food Program chartered cargo vessel was able to dock at Hudaidah port on March 1, where it planned to offload 14,000 metric tons (mt) of wheat, before heading to Aden to offload another 6,000 mt. 

Imports are being further hampered, however, by the challenges facing Yemen’s ports. Hodeidah, along the Red Sea coast, was previously one of Yemen’s busiest ports but had its offloading capacity severely curtailed by damage from Saudi-led coalition airstrikes early in the conflict – despite this it and the smaller Saleef port to the north continue to import the majority of Yemen’s bulk food items such as wheat and rice. Hudaidah’s port facilities were also briefly forced to cease operations last month by the coalition, which demanded cargo ships offload in Aden instead; insecurity in the southern port city, and security and logistics challenges transporting goods around Yemen from Aden, however, continue to make it unattractive for importers.  

In the later half of February, the Houthi-Saleh authorities imposed a customs duty on all commercial trucks entering Houthi-Saleh controlled governorates, effectively doubling the customs duty already paid by traders at the ports. Almost immediately there were reports from Sana’a that numerous pharmaceutical drugs had risen in price, some by as much as 35%. On February 22, the Yemeni Chamber of Commerce issued a letter protesting the new duty fee and threatening to redirect their business to markets in Hadi controlled areas.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of Yemen’s public sector workers – who made up one-third of Yemen’s employed workers pre-conflict – continued to go without their wages in February, as they have since August 2016, perpetuating the collapse of public services and the slide into extreme poverty for millions of people.  

In a sign that some economic relief may be on the horizon, President Hadi announced on February 20 that the Saudi government has agreed to deposit $2 billion as currency support at the CBY in Aden, and offered billions more in reconstruction aid to government-held areas.
As of March 2, 2017, this financial support had yet to materialize.



In brief

  • The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had, as of March 2, received 2.3% of the USD $2.1 billion it has appealed for to implement its humanitarian response plan for Yemen in 2017.
  • In the month of February, 38 vessels applied for clearance from the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM); 27 requests for clearance were issued certification and the average time to issue clearance was 34 hours, an average of six hours less than the month before. A total of 413,343 metric tons (mt) of cargo was approved through the UNVIM in February, consisting of 207,906 mt of food, 73,782 mt of fuel and 131,655 mt of general cargo. This is a decrease by a total of 153,003 mt of cargo from the month before.


Yemen at the UN is a monthly report produced by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies to identify and assess UN-led efforts to resolve the crisis in Yemen. Through this analysis, Yemen at the UN aims to provide readers with an understanding of the international political context that accompanies developments on the ground.

Yemen at the UN – January 2017 Review

Yemen at the UN – January 2017 Review


In January, the UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed entered a period of shuttle diplomacy in an attempt revive the same peace proposal he’d put forward in December 2016 – a proposal Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi had at that time flatly rejected. The UN 2140 Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts reported last month that neither side in the conflict has “demonstrated sustained interest in or commitment to a political settlement or peace talks”, while pro-Hadi forces appear poised to further capitalize on recent battlefield advances.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said the Yemeni conflict is driving the single largest food insecurity crisis in the world and warned of the likelihood of famine in 2017; simultaneously the UN and humanitarian partners launched the largest ever international humanitarian appeal for Yemen: US$2.1 billion to provide life-saving assistance to some 12 million people.

A continuing liquidity crisis has left most civil servants – approximately one-third of employed Yemenis – without salaries for a fifth month in a row, while disparate efforts by President Hadi’s government and the Houthi-Saleh alliance to address the liquidity crisis threaten to further undermine the rial’s value.

US President Donald Trump’s also took office in January and authorized his first foreign policy actions related to Yemen. These included a US Navy SEAL raid on a suspected Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula compound in the Al-Bayda governorate. The raid left 25 civilians dead, including 9 children under the age of 13. Also killed were 14 AQAP members and one SEAL commando, while four SEALs were injured and a $70 million US Navy aircraft destroy; the White House Press Secretary called the event a “successful operation by all standards.”


Continued shuttle diplomacy

In mid-January the UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed began a new round of shuttle diplomacy. This was an attempt to revive a peace proposal he had put forward in December to bring the fighting to a halt, but which had been rejected by the internationally recognized government of Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. After visiting Riyadh, Doha and Muscat for talks with various government officials, Ould Cheikh Ahmed travelled to Aden to again meet with President Hadi, before also traveling to Sana’a to meet representatives from the Houthi movement and the allied General People’s Congress (GPC), loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Following his meetings with the warring parties, the Special Envoy informed the Security Council during a January 26 briefing in New York that his office had completed preparations for a five-day planning meeting, which will include a workshop for the De-escalation and Coordination Committee (DCC), whose members include representatives from the main warring parties. The aim of the DCC is to develop a joint implementation plan to ensure the success and sustainability of a cessation of hostilities, with Ould Cheikh Ahmed noting that Jordan had expressed willingness to host the planning meeting.

During the briefing the Special Envoy emphasized the immense suffering the conflict has brought the Yemeni people, that with “political courage and will” a resolution is still within reach but that a military solution to the war is not possible.

The UN 2140 Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts then met on January 27 to discuss the panel’s report which, among other things, stated that neither side in the conflict has “demonstrated sustained interest in or commitment to a political settlement or peace talks.” The panel also noted that while there had possibly been small-scale weapons shipments from Iran to the Houthis, it had not seen sufficient evidence to confirm any large-scale Iranian weapons shipments.


Intensified fighting

January witnessed an intensification of fighting on multiple fronts. Pro-Hadi forces, heavily supported by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, launched attacks in the vicinity of Nehem, east of Sana’a, which, if it fell, would threaten Houthi-Saleh forces’ control of the capital and represent a major strategic and tactical victory for Hadi.

Along the south-western coast of Yemen fighting intensified as pro-Hadi forces launched operation “Golden Spear” to take control of Mocha and by January 30 they had had been successful in capturing large parts of the town and surrounding areas. Heavy fighting continued in central Mocha, where Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew after losing the port. Fighting in and around Mokha has resulted in a large number of civilians being displaced, with the UN estimating up to 30,000 had relocated to safer areas within Taiz or surrounding governorates. A large number of civilians were also trapped within Mokha itself, facing an increasingly dire humanitarian situation.

Given pro-Hadi forces’ military advances in January, and the new administration of U.S. President Donald Trump taking office – which has expressed support for the Saudi-led military intervention backing Hadi – it seems highly likely that Hadi will seek to push the initiative for further military gains, seeking to placing his government in a more advantageous position in eventual negotiations.

Indeed, in an event that was perhaps telling of the UN Special Envoy’s chances of securing a cessation of hostilities in the near-term, on January 30 the building in Dhahran Al-Janoub, Saudi Arabia, from which UN officials and DCC members were meant to monitor ceasefire violations, was itself damaged by rocket fire. In a statement, Ould Cheikh Ahmed expressed regret over the incident while refraining from blaming any side; Saudi news agencies, however, reported that the building had been hit by Houthi Katyusha rockets.



New UN humanitarian appeal

Also in a January 26th briefing to the Security Council, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said the Yemeni conflict is driving the single largest food insecurity crisis in the world, and warned of the likelihood of famine in 2017 if immediate action is not taken. Twelve days later, the UN and humanitarian partners launched an international appeal for US$2.1 billion to provide life-saving assistance to some 12 million people in Yemen in 2017. It is the largest consolidated humanitarian appeal for Yemen ever.

An estimated 18.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection – including 10.3 million people in need of immediate humanitarian assistance, including life-saving access to food, drinking water and medical services. Nearly 3.3 million people – including 2.1 million children – are acutely malnourished while 2 million people remain internally displaced. The recorded death toll in Yemen has surpassed 10,000.


Continuing liquidity crisis, inflation fears

The UN response plan also warned that the country is in social, economic and institutional collapse. A major contributing factor is that most public sector workers – approximately a third of wage-earning Yemenis – have not received salaries since August 2016 due to a severe liquidity crisis; Yemen is overwhelming a cash economy, and there has been an acute shortage in physical banknotes to pay civil servants.

Early last month, it was reported that a significant shipment of Yemeni rial banknotes arrived from printers in Russia to the Central Bank of Yemen, whose headquarters was relocated to Aden in September 2016. However, it is not clear how quickly this currency would be distributed and to which areas of the country. On the January 24 the CBY in Aden made its first public sector wage payments to civil servants in Houthi-Saleh control areas, though these payments were limited to educational staff. It is important to note that the cash transfer was not completed through the CBY’s own facilities and staff in Sana’a, but rather through an agreement with the private microfinance bank Al-Kuraimi. Authorities in Sana’a have threatened to punish banks cooperating with the Aden based CBY. This, in combination with continued lack of communication between CBY facilities in Sana’a and Aden, presents significant challenges to any future efforts to pay government wages.

Meanwhile, in an effort the circumvent the liquidity crisis themselves, at the beginning of January the Houthi-Saleh authorities in Sana’a directed central bank staff at the former CBY headquarters in the capital to explore the possibility of implementing a cashless electronic payment system using mobile phones. Central bank staff have since been examining the successful rollout of a similar model that was implemented in Kenya.

Both efforts to address the liquidity crisis have raised concerns, however, regarding a further devaluation of the Yemeni rial, given that neither the Hadi government in Aden nor that Houthi-Saleh administration in Sana’a has secured significant foreign currency reserves to back an increased supply of domestic currency. The black market exchange rate for the rial at the end of January was roughly YR330 to the US dollar, compared to YR215 to the US dollar when the Saudi-led intervention began in March 2015.


Trump’s first moves in Yemen

On January 20, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States, and between then and the end of the month his office authorized at least six US drone strikes aimed at suspected Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operatives in Yemen.


A week after his inauguration, President Trump signed an executive order barring citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Yemen among them, from entering the United States; a US federal judge and appeals court later suspended the Trump’s immigration order. Two days later after the signing of the order, on January 29, US Navy SEALs conducted a raid on a village in the Al-Bayda governorate. Death tolls vary slightly, however villagers report 25 civilians killed, including 9 children under the age of 13; AQAP reported 14 members killed. A US Navy SEAL commando was also killed, four wounded and a $70 million US Navy Osprey aircraft was destroyed. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer dubbed the event a “successful operation by all standards.”

The navy destroyer USS Cole was then ordered to patrol Yemen’s Red Sea coast to help protect shipping lanes in the Bab Al Mandeb strait, following a Houthi attack on a Saudi frigate using a “drone boat” at the end of January. On February 3, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn issued a statement on Iran through the White House press secretary in which he described the Houthis as one of Iran’s “proxy terrorist groups.”

This is the first time a US administration has called the Houthis a “terrorist” group. Should this shift in language, and perhaps policy, outlast Flynn’s time in office, it has the potential to complicate Washington’s future engagement in the conflict; the newly minted National Security Advisor was forced to resign amid controversy after just 24 days, the shortest tenure in the 63-year history of the office.


In brief

  • The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had, as of February 9, received only 1.8% of the USD $2.1 billion it has called for to implement its humanitarian response plan in Yemen for 2017.
  • In the month of January, 40 vessels applied for clearance from the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM). Twenty-nine certificates of clearance were issued and the average time to issue clearance was 40 hours. A total of 566,346 metric tons (mt) of cargo was approved through the UNVIM in January, consisting of 294,550 mt of food, 117,020 mt of fuel and 154,776 mt of general cargo. In January also, the UNVIM released the data for November and December, with a total cargo of 585,572 mt and 628,858 mt respectively.


Yemen at the UN is a monthly report produced by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies to identify and assess UN-led efforts to resolve the crisis in Yemen. Through this analysis, Yemen at the UN aims to provide readers with an understanding of the international political context that accompanies developments on the ground.



Professors, Students, Advocates from the United States and Yemen Warn of Disastrous Consequences to Trump’s Unprecedented Travel Ban

NEW YORK & SANA’A, January 29, 2017—President Donald Trump’s Executive Order banning entry into the United States for people from seven Muslim-majority countries is discriminatory, and will force families apart, deny refuge to persons escaping war and persecution, end education opportunities for students, and damage critical international research, say advocates at the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, a leading Yemeni think tank.

“This unprecedented move is retraumatizing the most vulnerable people in these societies, people who were looking to America as their refuge from harm,” said Waleed Alhariri, who heads the Sana’a Center’s New York office, and is a Fellow-In-Residence at the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute. “It has also created panic amongst those who fear they will now be indefinitely separated from their family members.”

The Trump Administration claims that the ban is intended to prevent terrorists from entering the United States. But in reality, the ban harms many thousands of innocent people in the United States and abroad. Among the many harmful consequences, the ban will prevent students, researchers, and academics from the banned Muslim-majority countries – Yemen, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya – from coming to the United States in pursuit of the educational opportunities the United States offers, and will make it much harder for American students and academics to learn from their colleagues abroad, and to pursue joint learning and research projects.

“The Sana’a Center has joint projects with American research and academic institutions, yet because of the ban, colleagues from Yemen will not be able to join conferences or speak at seminars and policy forums in the United States,” explained Mr. Alhariri. “And, since conflict zones like Yemen are difficult for Americans to access, the primary source of quality information about Yemen has come from local civil society actors, who have often risked their lives to come to America and explain to U.S. policymakers critical developments. They are now barred from doing so.”

Educational exchange and collaboration are significantly threatened by Trump’s ban. Many research institutes and organizations in the United States have long-standing relationships with people and organizations based in those countries the President has now banned.

“President Trump’s de facto wall between students and researchers working in the United States and from these countries impedes the development of our learning and collaborative research,” said Ria Singh Sawhney, a student in the Columbia Human Rights Clinic.

Sawhney explained that her team has been working with the Sana’a Center to research the mental health effects associated with the violent conflict in Yemen. The groups had been organizing an interdisciplinary workshop to be held at Columbia Law School, which would have brought together leading researchers from Yemen, the United States, and other countries to design a new study to investigate and improve mental health in Yemen. Researchers from the Sana’a Center have given lectures to students at Columbia Law School on numerous occasions.

“The ban is dangerous and counterproductive,” said Professor Sarah Knuckey, Director of the Human Rights Clinic. “By cutting us off from our colleagues living and working abroad, the ban significantly undermines the kinds of international research collaborations that are vital to addressing global policy challenges.”

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Media contacts:

The Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic works with civil society around the world to advance respect for international human rights on a range of marginalized, urgent, and complex issues. The Human Rights Clinic is an intensive year long course directed by Sarah Knuckey, the Lieff Cabraser Heimann and Bernstein Clinical Associate Professor of Human Rights and the faculty co-director of the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School, as well as by Senior Clinical Teaching Fellow Benjamin Hoffman. The Clinic brings together human rights work, student education, critical reflection, and scholarly research. Students are trained to be strategic human rights advocates, while pursuing social justice in partnership with civil society and communities, and advancing human rights methodologies and scholarship.

The Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies is an independent policy and research center that advances innovative, balanced, and well-informed approaches to understanding Yemen and the surrounding region. Founded in 2014, the Sana’a Center conducts research and consultations in the fields of political, economic, civil and social development, in addition to providing technical and analytical advice regarding key issues of local, regional, and international concern.