Yemen at the UN – December 2016 Review

Yemen at the UN – December 2016 Review


In December, the internationally recognized government of Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi officially rejected the latest UN proposal to end the conflict in Yemen. The Hadi government then laid out new conditions for any future peace agreement that effectively preclude the possibility of a negotiated end to the war.

The Houthi movement and allied forces of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh sought out but failed to garner international recognition for their recently formed “Government of National Salvation” (GNS), following which the GNS was affirmed through a vote of confidence in the Houthi-Saleh controlled Parliament in Sana’a.    

While there were no formal UN meetings regarding Yemen in December, the so-called “Quad” multilateral group – consisting of the United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – met and later presented a united front calling for the implementation of the UN peace plan, while simultaneously the outgoing Obama administration canceled a $350 million arms deal for Saudi Arabia, citing Saudi bombings of Yemeni civilians.

Terrorist attacks in Aden underlined the Hadi government’s inability to enforce security in its zones of control, Yemeni government institutions continue to collapse, and a new Secretary General and five new non-permanent members usher in a new term for the UN Security Council.       


Yemeni government rejects UN peace plan

On December 1, the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, met with Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi in Aden. Hadi, and a portion of the internationally recognized government of Yemen, had arrived in Aden only a week earlier. This was the second time Hadi had visited Aden since he moved with most of his government to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in March 2015.

Subsequently, on December 6, Hadi’s delegation to the UN submitted a letter to the UN Secretary General and the president of the Security Council stating the official position of the Yemeni government. The letter asserts that the Special Envoy’s current peace plan fundamentally contradicts various UN Security Council resolutions, statements and other international agreements, and that the Hadi government considers it a “free incentive to the Houthi-Saleh rebels, legitimizing their rebellion, their agenda, and the establishment of a new phase of the bloody conflict…[it also] creates a dangerous international precedent, encouraging coup trends against elected authorities and national consensus.”

The letter then states that for “any political solution” to be agreeable, former President Ali Saleh, Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, “all those included in the Security Council sanctions regime, and all those with proven involvement in the coup or have committed crimes against civilians, must leave political life and leave the country with their families into self-imposed exile for a period of at least ten years, as well as the implementation of international sanctions against them.” These conditions effectively represent Hadi’s rejection of all current international efforts towards ending the Yemeni conflict, with the letter widely viewed in international circles as an attempt to dictate the outcome of any future negotiations before the negotiations have taken place.

This created obvious challenges for the Special Envoy’s efforts moving forward. Through the later half of last year there had been growing general consensus among UN Security Council member states that Hadi was incapable of heading any post-conflict government in Sana’a, given his government’s track record of corrupt and inept leadership, and that Hadi personally is widely despised in Yemen. Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s latest proposal to restart the peace process thus laid out steps by which Hadi would relinquish power following the formation of a new transition government.

Hadi’s official rejection of the Special Envoy’s plan last month clearly illustrated his ambitions to maintain power. The Yemeni president likely also felt his stance was bolstered by the renewed efforts his forces, and those of his Gulf allies, have recently undertaken to make advances on the battlefield in Yemen, with Hadi seeking more favourable circumstances on the ground before engaging in any future potential peace talks. Given this, it is perhaps unsurprising that December witnessed an intensification of the military conflict, including clashes along the Yemen-Saudi Arabia border areas, fighting in eastern areas of Taiz city, and a resumption of fighting in Asilan district in Shabwa province in the south.

Meanwhile, through December the Houthi movement, and allied forces of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, continued attempts to legitimize the “Government of National Salvation” they had established in Sana’a the month before – a move the UN Special Envoy had described as “an obstacle” to peace efforts. These legitimization efforts included the Houthis sending a delegation to both Russia and China, though both states denied the official character of the visit and China later expressed “strong concern over the formation of a government by the Houthi group and its allies.” On December 10 the Houthi-Saleh Parliament of Yemen then granted the “Government of National Salvation” a vote of confidence.   


Multilateral efforts to bolster the UN process

While there were no formal meetings at the UN regarding Yemen last month, on December 18, foreign ministers from the so-called “Quad” multilateral group – consisting of the United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – met with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen and the Omani Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs. Oman has remained neutral in the Yemeni conflict and was the only Gulf Cooperation Council state not join the Saudi-led military coalition supporting the Hadi government. (It should be noted that a number of media outlets have recently reported that Oman joined the military coalition, but this information is inaccurate; Oman in fact joined a different Saudi-led effort focused on counterterrorism issues.) Both the international community and the warring parties in Yemen have regarded Oman’s role positively, making it increasingly likely that any negotiated settlement to the conflict will be facilitated through Muscat.

At the December 18 meeting discussions revolved around the peace proposal the UN Special Envoy put forward on October 23, 2016 – which had been endorsed by Quad members and, initially at least, rejected by all three of the main warring parties in Yemen. Through a US State Department communiqué on Yemen released following the meeting, attendees to the Quad meeting welcomed the decision by the Houthis and elements of the General People’s Congress (GPC), loyal to Saleh, to reverse course and endorse the Special Envoy’s roadmap on November 16. The communique then called on the Houthi-Saleh alliance to urgently engage with the Special Envoy’s security plan, which requires the Houthis and Saleh’s forces to withdraw from territory they have seized during the conflict and hand over their medium and heavy weapons.

The communique stated that “[t]he UN proposals, that include the sequencing of political and security steps, represent an outline for a comprehensive agreement whose details will be settled in negotiations” – effectively a rejection of the conditions the Hadi government had laid out in its December 6 letter to the UN Security Council. In what was presumably an effort to reassure President Hadi on the sequencing of elements in the Special Envoy’s plan however, the Quad communique also stated that “[t]he transfer of presidential authorities will not take place until the parties begin implementation of all political and security steps.”

The US Secretary of State and the Saudi foreign minister held a press conference following the Quad meeting to share the purposes and outcomes of the discussion and affirm their support for the UN Special Envoy’s peace plan, reiterating their calls for a cessation of hostilities and an end to the conflict in Yemen.


US-Saudi tensions

On December 13, the Obama Administration, with less than six weeks left in office, announced it had blocked a $350 million arms deal between American weapons manufacturer Raytheon and the Saudi government for the sale of “smart” munitions. Administration officials cited concerns about civilian casualties in Yemen that have resulted from Saudi coalition airstrikes, noting in particular the Saudi bombing of a funeral hall in Sana’a in October 2016 which killed well over 100 people and wounded more than 500. (Whether the incoming Trump administration will uphold Obama’s intervention in this arms deal is yet to be seen.)

Shortly afterward, it became public knowledge that UK Minister of Defence Michael Fallon had received evidence that the Saudi-led coalition had been using British-made cluster munitions in Yemen. On December 19th, the Saudi government then announced its military coalition would no longer use of cluster bombs in Yemen.


Widespread insecurity and collapsing government services

The persistent ineffectiveness of Hadi’s security forces has been fueling doubts amongst international stakeholders regarding the Hadi government’s ability to maintain peace and stability in the country following any successful peace negotiations.

The domestic military forces fighting on behalf of Hadi are largely disorganized and often improperly trained, with the internationally recognized government becoming ever more reliant on the Saudi-led coalition’s air power to keep it actively involved in the conflict. At the same time, in many areas supposedly under the control of the Hadi government, the lack of an organized and coordinated security force has resulted in a security vacuum that has allowed terrorist organizations, including ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Yemen, to proliferate.

On December 10, a suicide bombing near a military base in Aden killed 57 people. On December 18 a similar attack occurred in the same area – a suicide bomber disguised as a disabled police officer entered a crowd of security personnel outside the house of a Yemeni commander and detonated his explosive. The second attack killed 48 and wounded 84, with ISIS claiming responsibility for both attacks. This last attack was the fifth incident of its kind since pro-Hadi forces gained control of Aden in July 2015, and the two incidents last month happened while Hadi and members of his government were in Aden.

Meanwhile, as the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate – Yemen is already listed as a level three humanitarian crisis, the highest designation the UN has – government institutions that would otherwise be responding are witnessing a continuing deterioration of their capacity to do so, in large part due to the continuing non-payment of public servant wages since August 2016. Of particular importance is the devastating effect this has had on the healthcare sector, with hospitals increasingly being left without the staff, supplies and fuel necessary to provide medical services. Sanaa Center research in December identified the crippling challenges facing public health institutions at all levels, from the ministry offices down to local clinics.

Sana’a Center surveys last month found that the UN and other international humanitarian organizations operating in Yemen have, in many instances, resorted to providing financial incentives to key public sector employees to keep them at their posts and performing essential duties. The severe shortage of physical banknotes in circulation is, however, hampering the efforts of all international and local organizations, as is the interference of local powerbrokers, especially in Houthi/Saleh controlled areas, and the current difficulty in gathering accurate data on the health situation in the various governorates.

Importers have also reported that the persistent difficulty in accessing foreign exchange, as well as transportation and logistic challenges arising from the conflict, are hobbling their ability to restock the country’s reserves of basic foodstuffs. Yemen is almost entirely dependant on imports to meet the population’s food requirements and many areas of the country are already facing imminent famine; unless there is a rapid improvement in the quantity and distribution of food imports in the near term, widespread starvation is a likely.  


New UN Secretary General, Security Council members

Antonio Guterres began his first term as UN Secretary General in January 2017, though it is unclear how Guterres will differ from Ban Ki Moon in his approach to the Yemeni crisis. However, the decade Guterres spent as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has given him a significant background with humanitarian crises, and he is familiar with Yemen: in January 2011, Guterres made a three-day visit to the country, during which he visited Yemen’s northern governorate of Sa’ada where he met with elected government officials and Houthi representatives.

The 15-member UN Security Council also saw changes in its non-permanent membership on January 1, 2017, with Bolivia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Italy, and Sweden joining the council for two-year terms, replacing Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, and Venezuela. It is not yet clear how this turnover will impact Security Council activity relating to the Yemeni crisis, however Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, and Venezuela were among the most vocal member states during their tenure in highlighting the humanitarian crisis, the war’s effects on children, and calling for a cessation of hostilities. They also repeatedly raised the Yemeni situation at closed-door council meetings, attempting to critically assess the work of the UN Special Envoy and push for greater efforts to resolve the conflict. In the upcoming Security Council session, it is likely that Sweden and Bolivia will be the strongest advocates for international action to stop the war in Yemen, due to both being relatively free from direct influence by Gulf countries and, especially in the case of Sweden, having strong human rights records.


In brief

  • The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had, as of December 31, received only 60% of the USD $1.63 billion it has called for to implement its 2016 humanitarian response plan in Yemen. The $655 million shortfall rolled over into 2017.
  • As of this writing, the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM) had not reported the number of cargo vessels that had applied for or received permission to offload in Yemen in November and December, as it has for every other month since it started operating in May 2016.


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 – November 2016 Review

Yemen at the UN – November 2016 Review


In November, United States Secretary of State John Kerry announced that he had reached an agreement between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Houthi movement to end the fighting in Yemen. He did so, however, without obtaining the agreement of the internationally recognized government of Yemen, one of the war’s main belligerent parties. The ceasefire was almost immediately violated and quickly failed.

The opposition Houthis and allied forces of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced the formation of a new government in Sana’a. The move was seen as an attempt to redress public outrage at the opposition’s brutal, corrupt and inept governance, as well as shore up the strained Houthi-Saleh alliance. The result is a government with a sprawling array of ministerial portfolios with vast overlaps of responsibility and authority. While the UN Special Envoy to Yemen called the move “a concerning obstacle to the peace process”, a position shared by various Security Council member states, the council as a whole was unable to agree to a statement in this regard.

Meanwhile, the country’s humanitarian crisis continues unabated. New and more precise UN data than previously available estimated 18.8 million Yemenis require humanitarian assistance and 10.3 million are in acute need. The dramatic drop in food imports is accelerating the onset of catastrophic famine, there is spreading cholera outbreak, and 2016 looks set to end with the international community having committed only slightly more than half the money necessary to fund the UN’s emergency humanitarian response plan for Yemen.


A failed ceasefire

On November 15 in Abu Dhabi, the U.S. Secretary of State Kerry announced that the Houthis, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had agreed to a cessation of hostilities in Yemen beginning on November 17. Kerry had met with Houthi representatives the day before in Oman, following which, Kerry said, the Houthis had agreed to a ceasefire and to proceed with peace negotiations based on the new roadmap presented by the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

Among the primary tenets of Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s roadmap were that Houthi fighters and the allied forces of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh would withdraw from the cities of Sana’a, Taiz and Hodeidah and turn over their heavy and medium weapons; a new national unity government would then be formed and a new vice president appointed to whom the current transitional president, Abd Mansour Hadi, would transfer power, and the new government would then oversee the country’s political transition. It was generally understood that this peace plan would lead to Hadi’s removal from power and the political process.

Before announcing the ceasefire Kerry had, however, failed to secure the consent of Hadi himself. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Hadi-led government rejected the ceasefire and the new roadmap outright, claiming that it was never consulted on the cessation of hostilities and that the peace plan departs from UN Security Council resolution 2216 which, among other things, calls for the reinstatement of the Hadi government in Sana’a and the full implementation of the GCC Initiative.

Kerry’s announced ceasefire, and another subsequently announced by the UN Special Envoy to take effect November 19, were both heavily violated and quickly rendered obsolete.


The new Houthi-Saleh Government

On November 28, the Houthi movement and the General People’s Congress (GPC), loyal to former President Saleh, unilaterally formed a new “Government of National Salvation”, comprised exclusively of members from their own ranks. Houthi spokespeople stated that this decision in no way forestalls their commitment to the international peace process. Given previous directives from the UN and individual member states specifically against taking such action, however, the formation of the new government could not have occurred without the awareness that it would almost certainly not be recognized internationally, and indeed that forming this government would be widely perceived as a provocation and an obstacle to peace.

From the Houthi-Saleh point of view, however, the move can be seen as an attempt to strengthen both their authority over areas they control, and their mutual alliance. The Houthis’ rampant corruption, repressive tactics and ineffective governance, combined with the hardships imposed by the conflict, have inflamed popular frustration and local resistance against the current ruling body, the Supreme Political Council, which the Houthis and Saleh instated at the end of July this year. The newly announced government can be seen as an attempt to address these grievances.

Tensions during the recent peace negotiations and competition over limited financial and military resources have strained the Houthi-Saleh relationship, and thus the new government can also be seen as an attempt to reassert unity. The new Houthi-Saleh government includes 42 ministerial positions, with the distribution of positions laid out such that where a minister has been drawn from one side, that minister’s deputies were drawn from the other. In trying to obtain a balance, however, there has been significant duplication in responsibilities amongst the ministerial posts. For instance, in addition to there being an interior minister, there are also two deputy prime ministers – one for “security affairs” and the other for “internal affairs”. There is also a deputy prime minister for economic affairs in addition to ministers for finance and economy.

The makeup of the new government suggests that the GPC prioritized securing ministries associated with finance and revenue – such as oil and telecommunications – while the Houthis prioritized ministerial positions associated with defence, media and culture. The Houthis asserting control of the defense portfolio was likely an attempt to counterbalance the influence of the Republican Guard – a powerful, well trained and equipped military force, largely independent from the Ministry of Defence and loyal to Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali Saleh.

Following the formation of the new Houthi-Saleh government, the UN Envoy to Yemen stated that it represented “a concerning obstacle to the peace process…[and] contradict the recent commitments provided to the UN and to the United States Secretary of State John Kerry in Muscat.” Ould Cheikh Ahmed then asked the Houthis and the GPC to “re-think their approach and commitment to the peace process with concrete actions.”

On November 29, Egypt’s delegation to the UN circulated a draft statement to the Security Council condemning the so-called “Government of National Salvation.” The statement called the new government “null and void” and urged all UN member states to “withhold any support to, and official contact with, this entity.” As of this writing, however, council members were still debating whether or not to adopt or amend the statement.


Continuing humanitarian crisis

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a Yemen 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview. The report estimated 18.8 million Yemenis require some kind of humanitarian assistance or protection, including 10.3 million who are in acute need. The 2017 priority needs estimates are roughly 10 per cent lower than last year, though OCHA made it clear that “this decrease reflects better data collection only, and can in no way be interpreted as an ‘improvement’ in Yemen’s catastrophic humanitarian situation.”

OCHA also reported that over the last 10 months (January-October), national and international humanitarian partners have reached more than 5 million people with direct humanitarian assistance across Yemen’s 22 governorates. This has been accomplished despite the access constraints imposed by the warring parties. To date, however, the 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan has received only 58 percent of its $1.6 billion funding appeal. The $684 million shortfall will be rolled over into 2017.

Last month Oxfam issued a press release stating that “Yemen’s population is at risk of catastrophic hunger as food imports continue to plunge and on current trends the war torn country will effectively run out of things to eat in a few months.” A cholera outbreak also took on new urgency, with OCHA reporting 6,016 suspected cases in 86 districts, and 76 deaths.


In brief

  • The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had, as of November 30, received 58% of the US$1.63 billion it has called for to implement its 2016 humanitarian response plan in Yemen.
  • As of this writing, the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM) had not reported the number of cargo vessel that had applied for or received permission to offload in Yemen in November.
  • Food imports have declined drastically and from August to the start of December were on average, per month, less than half of Yemen’s needs.


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 – October 2016 Review

Yemen at the UN – October 2016 Review


In October, the Houthi forces’ use of anti-ship missiles targeting vessels in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait led to a brief but direct intervention in the Yemeni conflict by the United States navy.

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes on a funeral gathering in Sana’a caused massive casualties and brought widespread international condemnation, however the US and United Kingdom continued to oppose an international investigation into war crimes in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia was re-elected to a second term on the UN Human Rights council.

Meanwhile, a new peace plan put forward by the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, while initially rejected by the opposing Yemeni sides in the conflict, appeared to gain new momentum toward the end of the month and early November, due to increasing international consensus around the plan and new US impetus to end the conflict before President Barack Obama leaves office in January 2016.   


Rising tensions in Yemeni waters

On October 1, Houthi forces on shore fired a missile at a ship in Bab al-Mandeb Strait and claimed that it destroyed a United Arab Emirates military transport vessel. The UAE responded that the ship was a humanitarian vessel with no military capacity and deemed the incident an “act of terror”. On October 4, the UN Security Council issued a press statement condemning the attack, while the United States sent several battleships to the area.

The following week, missiles fired on multiple occasions from Houthi-controlled territory unsuccessfully targeted a US destroyer. On October 12, US cruise missiles destroyed three coastal radars installations used by the Houthis, with Washington informing the Security Council of these retaliatory strikes three days later.

Although a similar incident between the US navy and Houthi forces occurred later the same week, senior administration officials said during a special briefing that further direct US intervention in the conflict is unlikely. On October 25, a gas tanker off the coast of Yemen was then unsuccessfully fired on by unknown assailants.


Further evidence of war crimes

On October 8, a Saudi coalition airstrike hit a crowded funeral ceremony in Sana’a, resulting in more than 150 deaths and over 500 wounded. Attending the funeral were a number of high level military and political leaders, as well as senior non-aligned figures. Notable were the deaths of officials from the UN Pacification Commission, as well as the head of the Yemeni Republican Guard Ali al-Jaifi, who as a non-aligned military figure palatable to both warring sides, had been expected to play a significant role in any post-conflict government. The mayor of Sana’a, Abdul Qader Hilal, was also killed in the attack.

The scale and profile of the airstrike – as well as the fact that a second strike on emergency responders took place minutes later – drew immediate condemnation from a wide range of local and international actors. The coalition quickly admitted it wrongfully targeted the funeral in a public statement and indicated that it would conduct an investigation into the incident.

At the end of October coalition airstrikes on a residential compound in Taiz city then killed 18 civilians, which was followed hours later by airstrikes on Houthi run prisons in the city of Hodeida that killed dozens of prisoners and guards, many of whom had been jailed for anti-Houthi activities.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights immediately renewed calls for an international investigation into possible war crimes committed by all parties to the Yemeni conflict. A host of Security Council member states, including the United States and United Kingdom also condemned the attacks. However, both nations continued to oppose to an international inquiry.

Importantly, on October 28 Saudi Arabia was re-elected to a second three-year term on the UN Human Rights Council, the United Nations’ premier human rights body. During the previous term Saudi Arabia and allied countries, in particular the US and UK, have repeatedly used their positions on the Human Rights Council to blocked attempts to establish an independent international human rights inquiry into the war in Yemen.


Tensions on the UN Security Council

The UK, as the penholder on Yemen and thus tasked with drafting Security Council texts related to the country, failed to get council approval for a draft press statement last month regarding a cessation of hostilities and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance.

The Russian representative, speaking to the Security Council on October 31st, said the UK draft text was “openly weak” in how it addressed the airstrike on the funeral gathering in Sana’a: “It was not stated who made the strike, even though the [Saudi-led] coalition has already accepted the responsibility. There was not a call for an investigation to punish those responsible. We were not in a position to support that draft, considering that, given the atrocities committed, the toothless text would have been an insult for the Yemenis.”

Russia, which held the Security Council’s monthly presidency rotation in October, questioned the impartiality of the UK as the Yemen penholder – given London’s support for the Saudi-led coalition through billion-dollar arms sales – and called for a review of the penholdership.


A new UN peace plan

Last month the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, met separately with representatives from the main warring parties in Yemen – those being the internationally recognized government-in-exile of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and the Houthi movement and allied forces of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. These meetings were held in Riyadh and Sana’a, respectively, where the Special Envoy presented the parties with a new roadmap for ending the conflict.

The Special Envoy’s previous proposal had been rejected by both sides and led to a breakdown of negotiations in Kuwait in early August, following which there was a renewed surge in violence in Yemen. The new peace plan, which included elements of the previous plan, also included new recommendations put forward by “The Quad” – a multilateral group consisting of the US, UK, UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Both peace proposals envisioned the formation of specialized committees to oversee the Houthis and Saleh-aligned forces withdrawing from captured territory and disarming, as well as the formation of an interim “government of national unity” – inclusive of all major political factions in the country – which would be tasked with drafting a new constitution. However, where the failed plan would have required the Houthis and Saleh to cede territory and disarm before their place in the new government had been negotiated, the new peace plan laid out a process by which these security and political steps would be taken simultaneously.  

Unlike the previous plan, the new proposal also called for the appointment of a new vice president mutually agreeable to both sides, to whom President Hadi would then handover his authority. If enacted, this a process would likely see Hadi sidelined in any future political arrangement, and that the Special Envoy brought forward such a proposal is indicative of the growing consensus, both within and outside of Yemen, that Hadi’s leadership is weak, his administration mismanaged, and that he has become an obstacle to achieving a peace deal.

Hadi’s political isolation intensified following his administration’s unilateral decision in September to relocate the headquarters of the Central Bank of Yemen from the capital, Sana’a, to the southern city of Aden and to sack the bank’s governor. This decision was taken without first securing the institutional expertise, information archives and financial reserves necessary for the new central bank location to become operational. The country was thus left without a functioning central bank, which in turn has accelerated the onset of famine and exacerbated the country’s already-catastrophic humanitarian crisis.

Hadi’s decision was widely seen – by the international financial community and diplomats from UN member states – as an attempt to make up for the limited military progress of government forces through weaponizing the economy. As such it has led many in the international community, including some of Hadi’s supporters, to regard his administration as reckless and shortsighted. There is also a growing international unease that Hadi and his government’s Yemeni allies are motivated by a desire to develop the country’s south while isolating the north, which would empower the southern separatist movement and threaten the country’s continuity as one nation.

Within days of receiving the UN Special Envoy’s plan, both of the opposing Yemeni sides formally rejected it. Ould Cheikh Ahmed acknowledged these rejections in his briefing to the Security Council on October 31, saying that “this demonstrates that the political elite in Yemen remains unable to overcome their differences and prioritize national, public interest over personal interests.”

Also meeting with the UN Security Council on October 31 was Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. O’Brien drew attention to the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, noting “Yemen is one step away from famine”; he urged that the Hudaydah port, largely destroyed by coalition airstrikes in August 2015, be repaired to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian supplies, and also asked for the Hadi administration and the Saudi-led coalition – which controls the airspace over Yemen – to allow for the resumption of commercial flights from Sana’a; this, according to O’Brien, could help the thousands of Yemenis, such as the victims of coalition airstrikes who require specialized medical care outside the country, and “students who need to pursue their studies abroad.”


Renewed efforts to end the conflict

Despite setbacks in October, there continued to be potential for the UN Special Envoy’s’ new peace plan, given that there appeared to be greater international agreement over its details than previously seen. While the United Arab Emirates has supported both of the peace plans, an important development in early November was that the Saudis were also expressing support for the new plan in closed-door meetings. Saudi Arabia and Oman had also reportedly agreed to cooperate in pressuring the opposing sides in the Yemeni conflict to accept the peace plan, with Saleh and the Houthis, following their rejection of the plan, then expressing conditional support for its framework.

A major breakthrough appeared to come in mid-November when US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition had agreed to a ceasefire and the framework for renewed peace negotiations. This move bypassed Hadi’s objections and appeared to be a new push by Washington to resolve the conflict before President Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017.


In brief

  • The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had, as of October 31, received 51% of the US$1.63 billion it has called for to implement its 2016 humanitarian response plan in Yemen.
  • In the month of October, 31 Vessels applied for clearance from the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM) – launched in May 2016 to speed the flow of commercial goods to Yemen through the Saudi-led coalition blockade. Forty-six certificates of clearance were issued and the average time to issue clearance was 43 hours. A total of 770,417 metric tons (mt) of cargo was offloaded through the UNVIM in October, consisting of 346,404 mt of food, 82,804 mt of fuel and 341,209 mt of general cargo.


(Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that the UK, as penholder for the Yemen file at the UN Security Council, failed to get a draft resolution passed last month regarding a cessation of hostilities and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance. It was in fact a draft press statement for which the UK failed to get Security Council approval. The Sana’a Center regrets the error.) 


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.