The UN is recruiting a new envoy to broker peace in Yemen. More important than who gets the job is how UN member states and the mediator perceive its purpose, interpretations of which have limited the UN to the flawed two-party framework adopted since 2015.
Huthis reinvigorated offensive in Marib governorate, raising prospect of all-out summer offensive in coming month, while nationwide ceasefire talks remained stalled. In north, after brief lull in fighting in first half of June between Huthis and govt-aligned forces, hostilities 19 June escalated in Marib governorate, with Huthis stepping up drone and missile attacks in Marib and across border in Saudi Arabia; fighting fuelled fears that Huthis may launch long-anticipated offensive to coincide with summer dust storms that limit Saudi-led coalition's airstrike capacity. Huthis’ seizure of Marib city and surrounding oil and gas facilities could trigger mass displacement and cut off 90% of country’s petroleum gas supply. Huthis claimed Saudi-led coalition 5, 18, 21 June carried out airstrikes in Marib and Saada governorates while Saudi air defences 19 June intercepted 17 Huthi drones launched toward kingdom (see Saudi Arabia). Meanwhile, ceasefire negotiations remain deadlocked. Omani mediation delegation 5-11 June travelled to capital Sanaa to meet Huthi leaders to discuss UN-backed ceasefire initiative. Huthis maintained position on unilateral reopening of Hodeida port and Sanaa air-port as pre-condition for ceasefire talks and demanded withdrawal of foreign forces from Yemen. Saudi and Hadi govts insisted issues be treated as package, as discussed in 2020. Outgoing UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths in his last UN Security Council briefing 15 June painted “bleak picture” of conflict and expressed hope Omani mediation process will “bear fruit”. In sign of growing U.S. frustration with lack of progress, U.S. Envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking 17 June blamed Huthis for failed ceasefire talks. Meetings between govt and Southern Transitional Council (STC) in Saudi capital Riyadh on implementation of 2019 Riyadh Agreement stalled. STC 18 June suspended participation, citing govt intransigence; STC 21 June denied rejecting Riyadh Agreement and said it agreed to Hadi govt’s return to southern city Aden as soon as possible. STC 26 June said it would end all communication with parties to Riyadh Agreement. Protests in south occurred throughout month, including in Aden and Taiz city, amid water and electricity shortages and ongoing depreciation of Yemeni riyal.
International efforts to end the war in Yemen are stuck in an outdated two-party paradigm, seeking to mediate between the Huthis and their foes. As it pushes for renewed talks, the UN should broaden the scope to include Yemeni women’s and other civil society groups.
Yemen’s terrible war grinds on, despite a COVID-19 epidemic that has deepened what was already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Stopping the fighting is urgent. Diplomats should adopt an inclusive, multiparty framework for talks to replace today’s flawed model.
A Huthi offensive threatens to engulf Marib, a province controlled by Yemen’s internationally recognised government and full of internally displaced people. Outside powers should act now to halt the fighting, which could deepen the existing humanitarian crisis and ruin peace efforts elsewhere in the country.
The UN General Assembly kicks off on 17 September amid general scepticism about the world body’s effectiveness in an era of rising great-power competition. But the UN is far from paralysed. Here are seven crisis spots where it can make a positive difference for peace.
Yemen’s anti-Huthi coalition has begun to splinter, with sharp fighting between Saudi- and Emirati-backed elements in the country’s south. With UN assistance, the Gulf monarchies should urgently broker a ceasefire as a prelude to an expanded peace process encompassing southern secessionists and others now excluded.
The UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement to stop fighting around Yemen’s Red Sea city of Hodeida is faltering as violence on other front lines and across the Saudi border escalates. The UN and P5 should stabilise the Stockholm Agreement and push conflict parties toward national peace talks.
The Houthis appear to calculate that if they win in Marib, they will have won the war for the north of Yemen while humiliating the internationally recognized president. That is a considerable prize for their side, as it would also allow them to dictate terms for an end to the war.
The good news is that there is clearly more focus on direct negotiations with the Houthi leadership in Sanaa [...] The bad news is that this hasn’t yet closed the gap between the Houthis’ and the Saudis’ positions. Until that happens, we won’t see much movement.
There are probably multiple agendas at play in Marib but the most urgent is the Houthis' belief they can take Marib city and end the war for the north [of Yemen].
The prospect of the coronavirus spreading in Yemen offers a moment and indeed a humanitarian imperative to revive a political process.
Implementing a cease-fire [between Saudi Arabia and Yemen] is no small matter, and the first test of this is going to be whether the parties show up for this virtual meeting.
Now [Yemen's] fate is linked to a much bigger picture in a three-dimensional chess game.
Every year Crisis Group publishes two additional Watch List updates that complement its annual Watch List for the EU, most recently published in January 2021. These publications identify major crises and conflict situations where the European Union and its member states can generate stronger prospects for peace. The Spring Update of the Watch List 2021 includes entries on Bolivia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Ukraine and Yemen.
Originally published in Istituto Per Gli Studi Di Politica Internazionale (ISPI)
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk with Peter Salisbury, Crisis Group’s Yemen expert, about the war in Yemen, a dangerous offensive near the northern city of Marib, and what a new U.S. administration may mean for the fighting.