Following the conclusion of the inclusive National Dialogue Conference (NDC), UNSCR 2140 (26 February 2014) reaffirmed the need to implement fully the political transition, in line with the November 2011 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Initiative and its Implementation Mechanism and the January 2014 NDC outcomes. To this end, it imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on those engaging in or providing support for acts that threaten the peace, security or stability of Yemen, including by (a) undermining the successful completion of the political transition, (b) impeding the outcomes of the NDC through violence, and (c) violating international human rights or humanitarian law, or engaging in human rights abuses in Yemen. However, no designations took place until 7 November 2014 when the political situation on the ground had already changed substantially, limiting their impact.
In 2014, the Houthis (Ansar Allah), a Zaidi Shi’a group previously confined primarily to the Sa’ada governorate in the north, were able to make significant territorial gains.In July, they seized control over Amran, prompting the Security Council to express concern about the security situation in the country, urge ceasefire, and – among others - demand that the Houthis relinquish control over the city and, together with other involved armed groups, hand over weapons and ammunition pillaged there to the government (SC/11470 and S/PRST/2014/18). The group also saw a significant increase in their popularity (limited prior to the 2011 popular uprising) through their anti-establishment positions that fed into Yemenis’ frustrations with the lifting of government fuel subsidies, electricity shortages, government corruption, and slow progress on the economic and political reforms. On 18 August 2014, Houthi leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, called for anti-government demonstrations in the capital Sana’a. Waves of anti-government and anti-Houthi protests followed and the Houthis seized the capital in September 2014. The Houthi military takeover was facilitated by a large number of armed forces that remained loyal to President Saleh or his son Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, former commander of the Republican Guard, who shared an interest in undermining the transitional government. The Houthis continued their territorial expansion again from mid-October, increasingly clashing with Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and other, mostly Sunni, anti-Houthi forces in the country.
After seizing the capital and taking control of key government institutions, the Houthis signed a UN-brokered Peace and National Partnership Agreement (PNPA) with President Hadi and major Yemeni political parties on 21 September 2014. The agreement, welcomed by the Security Council two days later (SC/11578), provided for a ceasefire, decrease in fuel prices, establishment of a new technocratic government, and the appointment of a new Prime Minister and two Presidential advisers (one Houthi and one from the Southern movement). In October, President Hadi and the Houthis agreed on a mutually acceptable Prime Minister and on 7 November 2014, the same day as the first sanctions designations were made, the parties agreed on the formation of the new technocratic government. While the Council welcomed the formation of the new government the following day (SC/11638), the Houthis and Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party denounced the sanctions targeting two Houthi military commanders and former President Saleh. The GPC subsequently retracted its support for the newly formed government, supporting it in a parliamentary vote of confidence on 19 December 2014 only after receiving assurances that it would not implement the sanctions. The domestic situation was further complicated by Saudi Arabia’s suspension of aid and increased calls for independence in the South following the Houthi take-over of Sana’a.
Tensions further escalated in 2015. Despite the progress of UN-mediated talks on the formation of new legislature on 19 January 2015, the Houthis placed President Hadi, Prime Minister Bahah and his cabinet under house arrest, where they resigned in protest on 22 January 2015. On 6 February 2015, the Houthis announced the decision to dissolve the parliament, fueling widespread domestic and international opposition (including UNSCR 2201, not adopted under Chapter VII, which deplored Houthis’ dissolution of the parliament and their takeover of government institutions). The UN-led mediation under UN Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, reached an agreement on a new legislature to fill the existing political vacuum on 19 February 2015. However, two days later, Hadi escaped from the house arrest to the southern city of Aden, where he declared Houthi actions a coup and retracted his resignation (which was never formally accepted by the parliament), significantly changing the political situation. UNSCR 2204 (24 February 2015) reiterated the Council’s commitment to political transition in Yemen and renewed the ongoing individual sanctions on Saleh and the two Houthi military commanders for another year.
Following a series of Houthi and Saleh loyalist attacks on Aden in mid-March 2015, Hadi declared Aden the temporary capital of Yemen and pled for international support in fighting the Houthis. The Security Council issued a Presidential statement on 22 March 2015 supporting the legitimacy of President Hadi, condemning Houthi unilateral actions, and reaffirming its readiness to take further measures (S/PRST/2015/8). On 24 March 2015, Hadi – invoking Article 51 of the UN Charter regarding the right of individual or collective self-defense – urged the GCC and the Arab League to “take the necessary measures, including military intervention, to protect Yemen and its people from the ongoing Houthi aggression.” Amidst Houthi-Saleh advances, Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia on 25 March 2015, where he began operating in exile. The following day, a Saudi-led coalition seeking to restore his authority began its bombing campaign of Yemen, supported by a naval blockade and the deployment of ground forces along the border, plunging the country into a regionalized civil war.
Coerce the Houthis to cease hostilities against the Yemeni Government, withdraw their forces from government institutions, remove their camps and checkpoints from Sana'a, engage in UN-brokered negotiations, release the President and detained Government members and coerce all parties to cease armed hostilities against the people and the legitimate authorities of Yemen, relinquish seized arms, and refrain from obstructing or undermining the political transition in the country.
Constrain the various domestic constituencies from intervening in the transition militarily.
Signal the support for the agreed upon political transition process (GCC Initiative and Implementation Mechanism, NDC outcomes, and PNPA).
Asset freeze and travel ban on those threatening the peace, security or stability of Yemen.
Sanctions imposed for a limited time period (1 year) and renewed periodically. Sanctions Committee and Panel of Experts created. Designation criteria were specified and targets designated (maximum number of designees during the episode – 3 individual designees). Enforcement authorities not specified.
Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh continued to present an obstacle to the agreed upon political transition, undermining the authority of President Hadi, and aligning himself with the Houthis who, although participating in the transition and UN-mediated efforts, continued to change the political situation unilaterally with the use of force and did not withdraw from Sana’a. While several agreements were reached, none was implemented.
The threat of sanctions was insufficient in deterring potential spoilers of the transition process. Designations were made too late and risked derailing the transition process in a changed political context. Efforts by UN Special Adviser on Yemen played a more important role in negotiating the political transition.
The Houthis, groups loyal to former President Saleh, as well as a number of anti-Houthi non-state actors, continued to engage in military confrontations. Former president Saleh was able to wield sufficient influence within his GPC party to secure the new government’s assurance that it will not implement UN sanctions measures.
UN Special Adviser on Yemen indicated in April 2014 that there was some evidence that individuals concerned they might be listed, such as former President Saleh (who was worried about the possible imposition of an asset freeze since the issue was first raised in late 2011), were monitoring the setting up of the Sanctions Committee. However, the largely unimplemented sanctions had little effect and the results of military confrontations were more significant in constraint.
The UNSC support for the transition process was clearly articulated and periodically reiterated. However, the Houthis, who were interfering in its progress militarily, were only moderately stigmatized as they seemed to represent popular frustrations with the transition process.
Threat of sanctions and naming of potential spoilers proved insufficient and designations were made only when support for the agreed upon political transition was already waning. The stated purposes of sanctions and the Council’s communication were consistent, but the mediation efforts of the UN Special Adviser played a more important role once the agreed upon transition broke down
No unintended consequences of sanctions observed.