The United Nations and the crisis in Yemen


How has the UN been facilitating peace processes in Yemen? What are the resolutions adopted by the UNSC?

The story so far: The crisis in Yemen has steadily escalated in recent weeks with the Houthi missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE and the retaliatory air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition on the Houthi-held territories in Yemen. The worsening crisis with wider geopolitical implications for the Gulf region has raised questions on what the international community, especially the UN, has done to resolve the issue. While the UN has failed to find a lasting ceasefire, let alone a settlement to the conflict, its different agencies have been working in Yemen since the crisis broke out in early 2011. It has established the Office of the Special Envoy to the Secretary-General on Yemen (OSESGY) to engage with all Yemeni political groupings and the Security Council (UNSC), has adopted many resolutions concerning Yemen, calling on all parties to respect the ceasefires. UN agencies are also in the forefront of providing humanitarian relief to the country.

What is the role of the UN Special Envoy on Yemen?

In April 2011, the UN appointed a Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Yemen. The Special Advisor played a critical role in mediating the early negotiations between warring parties in the southern Arabian country. He met with Yemeni leaders, foreign diplomats and the Yemenis demonstrating in squares around Sana’a. These negotiations later facilitated the signing of the first political transition agreement, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Initiative and its Implementation Mechanism, in November 2011.

In 2012, the UN formed a special political mission for Yemen by establishing the Office of the Special Envoy to the Secretary-General on Yemen. The Special Envoy is responsible for engaging with all sides in Yemen, including the Government, political parties, civil societies and working closely with other regional and international actors to facilitate the political transition on behalf of the UN Secretary-General. The Special Envoy briefs the Security Council regularly on the peace process and the situation in Yemen.

Negotiations led by the Office of the Special Envoy enabled the Yemenis to conclude a National Dialogue Conference in 2014, seeking a new federal and democratic Yemen. The Office of the Special Envoy provided diplomatic, political, technical, logistical and financial support for the national dialogue process. It also facilitated dozens of Dialogue sessions at the interlocutors’ request. Since 2015, the Office has mediated four rounds of talks between the Yemeni warring factions in Geneva (June 2015), Bienne (December 2015), Kuwait (April to August 2016) and Stockholm (December 2018). The Special Envoy played a crucial role in facilitating the Stockholm Agreement that agreed to a ceasefire (Hodeidah Agreement), opening humanitarian corridors (Taiz understanding) and a prisoner swap.

What is the Security Council’s stand?

Since 2011, the UNSC has adopted 18 Resolutions regarding the various facets of the crisis in Yemen. The first resolution (UNSCR 2014), adopted on October 21, 2011, called for implementing the GCC initiative for the peaceful transition of political power in Yemen. Resolutions 2051 (2012), 2140 (2014) and 2216 (2015) also urged all parties to continue the efforts for the political transition, especially the implementation of the National Dialogue outcomes. The Council Resolutions 2140 (2014), 2216 (2015), 2266 (2016) 2342 (2017) imposed targeted arms embargo, travel ban, and assets freeze against certain individuals and entities. Since the adoption of Resolution 2140, the Council has enlisted nine Houthi leaders for threatening Yemen’s peace, security, and stability.

On December 21, 2018, Resolution 2451 endorsed the Stockholm agreement, called on all parties to fully respect the ceasefire in Hodeidah, and authorised the Secretary-General to establish and deploy a UN monitoring team in Yemen. Subsequently, Resolution 2452 established a Special Political Mission to support Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA). Most recently, Resolution 2586 has extended its mandate until July 15, 2022. The Security Council also addressed the role of the Special Envoy in its resolutions 2451 (2018) and 2452 (2019).

In addition to the resolutions, the Security Council adopted several presidential statements and issued numerous press statements on the Yemen crisis. The statements discussed various issues, ranging from calling warring parties to refrain from taking actions that undermine Yemen’s unity, sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity to expressing grave concern regarding the humanitarian situation in Yemen. In its latest statement issued on January 14, 2022, the Security Council condemned the Houthi seizure and detention of a UAE-flagged vessel off the Yemeni coast.

How is the UN tackling the humanitarian crisis?

Yemen faces the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than half the population are at risk of famine, and 80% of the people require some form of humanitarian assistance. According to the UN, in 2021, a Yemeni child under the age of five died every nine minutes because of the conflict.

The UN and its agencies have been delivering humanitarian aid in Yemen from the beginning of the crisis. The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) distributes 100,000 tonnes of food commodities monthly, reaching more than 13 million people. The WFP also delivered nutritional support to 3.3 million pregnant and nursing women and children under five. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has reached nearly 2 million people with reproductive health services. UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is helping treat severe acute malnutrition in children by providing essential therapeutic food and medical supplies. Lastly, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) works closely with the Government and humanitarian agencies at all levels to enhance humanitarian coordination.

Rajeesh Kumar is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

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