The members of the Panel of Experts on Yemen have the honour to transmit herewith the final report of the Panel, prepared in accordance with paragraph 6 of resolution 2402 (2018).
The report was provided to the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2140 (2014) on 8 January 2019 and considered by the Committee on 18 January 2019.
We would appreciate it if the present letter and the report were brought to the attention of the members of the Security Council and issued as a document of the Council.
(Signed) Ahmed Himmiche
Panel of Experts on Yemen
(Signed) Fernando Rosenfeld Carvajal
(Signed) Wolf-Christian Paes
(Signed) Henry Thompson
(Signed) Marie-Louise Tougas
Final report of the Panel of Experts on Yemen
Throughout the reporting period, Yemen continued its slide towards humanitarian and economic catastrophe. The country remains deeply fractured, with the growing presence of armed groups and deep-rooted corruption exacerbating the impact of the armed conflict for ordinary Yemenis within both Houthi-held areas and liberated governorates. Although there has been activity on some fronts, notably along the coast of the Red Sea, the ground war remains predominantly confined to relatively small areas. Most Yemenis therefore carry on with their lives within an economy broken by the distortions of conflict.
Talks held in Sweden in December 2018 overseen by the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, between the Government of Yemen and a delegation from Sana’a have raised hopes that a political process may quell the primary conflict in Yemen. Following the talks, and in support of a new initiative to reduce threats to Hudaydah, the international community placed considerable pressure on the Saudi Arabia-led coalition (the coalition) and the Houthis to suspend fighting in Hudaydah, an event that may have escalated the conditions of food insecurity to a state of famine.
The Houthi leadership has continued to consolidate its hold over governmental and non-governmental institutions. In the first months of 2018, the General People’s Congress (GPC) leadership in Sana’a was reduced and co-opted, forced to realign under Houthi leadership. Despite that consolidation, Houthis have met with some dissent from communities within Sana’a and its periphery.
Gaining access has continued to be problematic for the Panel. The Panel regrets that the Houthis have thus far been unwilling to allow the Panel to visit Sana’a to meet with victims of air strikes and commodity traders. The coalition has given the Panel access to view captured weapons, but the granting of access frequently takes longer than is desirable.
The lack of common interests within the alliance against the Houthis continued to exacerbate the fragmentation of the country. Although the Government of the President of Yemen, Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi, and its coalition partners have made significant progress on the ground against Houthi forces, the aim of restoring the authority of the Government throughout Yemen is far from being realized. Strong parallel security forces continued to emerge in 2018, while local leaders posed significant challenges to the fulfilment of the duties and obligations held exclusively by government officials and security forces.
The southern transitional council remains the primary source of opposition to the Government of President Hadi throughout the southern governorates. Southern transitional council allies, such as the United Arab Emirates-supported units of the Security Belt Forces, the Hadrami Elite Forces, the Shabwani Elite Forces and local government officials, continue to advance so-called “southern political agendas” while advancing secessionist aspirations. Some of the southern groups regard al-Islah party as a terrorist organization.
Throughout the reporting period, the threat to the safety and security of the shipping lanes in the Red Sea remained high. Although the number of maritime security incidents was not higher than in 2017, the threat to commercial shipping increased, as Houthi forces developed and deployed sophisticated weapons, such as anti-ship cruise missiles and waterborne improvised explosive devices, against commercial vessels in the Red Sea. The Houthis targeted a vessel carrying wheat to Yemen, which endangered the delivery of humanitarian assistance and led to an increase in transaction costs for imports to Yemen. The Houthis also attacked and damaged two Saudi oil tankers, each carrying 2 million barrels of crude oil. The attacks could have created an environmental catastrophe in the Red Sea. The Houthi forces behind them meet the sanctions designation criteria.
The Panel is not aware of any seizures of arms or weapons-related materiel along the main overland smuggling route from east of Yemen during the reporting period. However, in August 2018, a substantial consignment of assault rifles was seized by a warship of the United States of America from a boat heading towards the southern coast of Yemen, strongly suggesting that the illegal trade of weapons continues in the Gulf of Aden. The Panel noted that Houthi forces continued to use extended-range short-range ballistic missiles, at least until June 2018, against targets in Saudi Arabia, as well as the deployment of anti-ship cruise missiles and waterborne improvised explosive devices. The coalition has given the Panel access to anti-tank guided missiles captured within Yemen that bear manufacturing dates in 2017.
Beginning in August 2018, the Panel began noting the deployment of extended-range unmanned aerial vehicles with a range that would allow the Houthi forces to strike targets deep into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Based on the evidence available, the Panel observed that, unlike in 2015 and 2016 when the Houthi forces used complete or partially assembled weapons systems supplied from abroad, such as extended-range short-range ballistic missiles, they now increasingly rely on imports of high-value components, which are then integrated into locally assembled weapons systems, such as the extended-range unmanned aerial vehicles. The Panel is continuing to investigate whether the Houthis are assisted in the process by foreign experts.
The Panel has found that significant war economies have emerged, as the legitimate Government, local authorities, the Houthis and other militias all collect revenues within their respective areas. They all claim either to provide governance or to be linked to providers of governance, but there is scant evidence that that is the case. A major conflict between the Government and the Houthis persists over the control of strategic resources and their associated rents, including the major ports at Hudaydah, Ra’s Isa and Salif, the road checkpoint in Dhamar and the financial systems.
The Panel has identified a small number of companies, both within and outside Yemen, that operated as front companies under false documentation to conceal a donation of fuel for the benefit of a listed individual. The revenue from the sale of that fuel was used to finance the Houthi war effort. The Panel found that the fuel was loaded from ports in the Islamic Republic of Iran under false documentation to avoid detection by inspections of the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism.
The Panel found an increase in the number of forged and counterfeit commercial documents. Although not new to Yemen, such traffic poses a significant challenge to due diligence for international financial institutions, donors and implementing humanitarian agencies involved in assisting the Yemeni people.
In the third quarter of 2018, the scarcity of hard currency in Yemen, which was needed to finance the import of fuel and other commodities, contributed to the rapid fall in value of the Yemeni rial. This prompted the Government of Yemen to establish a new mechanism for the import of certain items through the Central Bank of Yemen in Aden. Decree No. 75 was introduced, with the intention of limiting the role played by currency exchange businesses, however, the mechanism created a distortion that favoured traders with links to the Government, to the detriment of those traders importing through the major Red Sea ports. The implementation of Decree No. 75 has been partially suspended to enable the import of essential commodities, but it is still used as the basis for blocking fuel importers who fail to comply with it. The Panel noted that the volatile exchange rate appeared to have reduced overall imports of essential commodities, including fuel, to Houthi-controlled areas and to have constrained the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance.
During the reporting period, there have been widespread violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by the various parties involved in the conflict. The coalition air strikes and the indiscriminate use of explosive ordnance by Houthi forces continued to disproportionately affect civilians and civilian infrastructure. The patterns of arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearances and the ill-treatment and torture of detainees continued to be widespread throughout Yemen.
The near absence of the rule of law and the pervasive climate of impunity across Yemen are contributing factors to the widespread violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, in particular in the context of detention, and constitute a particular threat to journalists and human rights defenders.
The Panel noted that the consistent pressure placed by Houthis on humanitarian actors did not respect the Houthis’ obligation to facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need. The Panel observed that the Houthis demonstrated a frequent disrespect for international humanitarian law as applied to the protection of humanitarian relief staff, health-care personnel and health-care infrastructure. In 2018, the Houthis continued to obstruct humanitarian access and assistance, inter alia, by manipulating lists of beneficiaries, denying visas to humanitarian personnel without providing any justification, and in limiting access for humanitarian actors to certain zones and installations.