Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power since 1978, agreed to step down as the President of Yemen on 23 November 2011 after 10 months of anti-regime protests calling for his resignation, a failed assassination attempt, and a substantial amount of international pressure, including a threat of UN sanctions. The move was part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Initiative that facilitated the transfer of power from Saleh to his Vice-President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in exchange for Saleh’s immunity from prosecution. The roadmap of Yemeni political transition, which was mediated by UN Special Adviser on Yemen Jamal Benomar, was outlined in the accompanying GCC Initiative Implementation Mechanism. In accordance with its provisions, a national unity government – divided equally between President Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party and the opposition – was formed on 10 December 2011 and a National Dialogue Conference (NDC), with representatives from all segments of the society, was scheduled for November 2012.
The official transfer of power from Saleh to Hadi came following an uncontested 21 February 2016 presidential election in which Hadi was the sole, consensus Presidential candidate. Although Saleh formally stepped down from power, he continued to interfere in the Yemeni political transition by exercising his personal and political influence to undermine the central government and destabilize Yemen. In the fall of 2012, he began to align himself with the Houthis, his former military adversaries.
The Security Council first officially expressed its readiness to consider sanctions in UNSCR 2051 (12 June 2012) in response to actions undermining the Government of National Unity and the political transition in Yemen, reaffirming the need to implement fully the GCC Initiative and Implementation Mechanism in accordance with UNSCR 2014 (21 October 2011). A February 2013 Presidential Statement, in support of the NDC which was postponed to begin on 18 March 2013, expressed concern over the interference in the transition by elements of the former regime, including former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and former Vice-President Ali Salim Al-Beidh, and reiterated the Council’s readiness to impose sanctions.
The outcomes of the NDC process, adopted on 21 January 2014, outlined principles for the next phase of the Yemeni democratic transition. Although NDC representatives endorsed a future federal structure of the Yemeni state, its details remained unspecified. On 10 February 2014, a Presidential committee charged with defining the federal structure announced that Yemen would be divided into six regions (4 states in the north and 2 states in the south). The proposed division was opposed by large parts of the Southern movement (Hiraak), who partially boycotted the conference and preferred a two-part North-South federation followed by a referendum on southern independence. The Houthis (Ansar Allah), a Zaidi Shi’a group that waged six rounds of military confrontations with the Yemeni Government between 2004 and 2010, also opposed the six-part federal structure as it would leave them without access to the sea or the country’s natural resources. While participating in the NDC, the Houthis continued to strengthen their control over the northern Sa’ada governorate by force.