Editors’ Note: Just Security is now producing a new weekly series that keeps readers up to date on developments at the United Nations at the intersection of national security, human rights, and the rule of law.
Somalia Expels U.N. Special Representative
On January 1, the Somali government declared United Nations envoy to Somalia, Nicholas Haysom, “persona non grata.” Haysom, a South African lawyer who had served as constitutional advisor to President Nelson Mandela, began as UN envoy in October 2018. In the days preceding his expulsion, Haysom voiced concerns to Somali authorities about the government’s arrest of Mukhtar Robow, a former deputy leader of the terrorist group Al-Shabaab who had recognized Somali federal authority and was running for the presidency of Somalia’s autonomous South West State. The Somali Ministry of Interior Security disputed his eligibility to run for office and has accused Robow of infiltrating Islamist fighters into the regional capital of Baidoa. Western officials, however, noted that the arrest could discourage other prominent militants from laying down the gun. Haysom expressed concern over the violence surrounding Robow’s arrest, which left twelve people, including a regional member of Parliament, dead. The Associated Press reports that Haysom had called on Somali authorities for a thorough and prompt investigation into the deaths and questioned the legal authority “to detain Robow beyond the normal 48 hours.”
In a press statement, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres expressed full confidence in Haysom and took issue with the Somali government’s application of persona non grata status to a UN official. Guterres explained:
The doctrine of persona non grata does not apply to, or in respect of, United Nations personnel. As described in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the doctrine applies to diplomatic agents who are accredited by one State to another in the context of their bilateral relations. The United Nations is not a State and its personnel are not accredited to the States where they are deployed, but work under the sole responsibility of the Secretary-General.
Still, Guterres said that “in the interests of putting the Somali people, and the work of [the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia] first,” he would appoint a new envoy in “due course.” Somalia’s expulsion of Haysom has also met with criticism by the U.K., Germany, and the E.U. All three have suspended financial aid to Somali Police in South West State and British defense secretary Gavin Williamson cancelled a visit to Mogadishu in direct response to Haysom’s expulsion.
Haysom’s expulsion appears to be part of a larger trend. In a similar incident in 2014, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) declared Scott Campbell, director of the U.N. Joint Human Rights Office, to be persona non grata a day after Campbell’s office published a report detailing human rights violations committed by Congolese security forces. And late last year, Burundi declared persona non grata three experts from a U.N. Commission of Inquiry following the publication of the Commission’s report that implicated governmental entities in a series of human rights violations.
Days after his expulsion from Somalia, Mr. Haysom briefed the U.N. Security Council on the country’s overall situation, praising the Somali government for having “maintained a positive trajectory,” but also noting roadblocks to the government’s success. Haysom described Al-Shabaab as the “biggest source of insecurity.” The United States conducted 47 airstrikes in Somalia last year, including a single airstrike in October that killed some 60 Al-Shabaab fighters. According to a report by Somali think tank the Hiraal Institute, Al-Shabaab has thus transitioned from “massed attacks” to “urban guerrilla . . . terrorist attacks against government offices and business”; the third quarter of 2018 saw a “two-fold increase in bombings.” NBC reported that the Pentagon plans to draw down operations in Somalia and transfer responsibility for airstrikes to the CIA, and African Union countries have already begun pulling out troops in anticipation of a 2020 handover of security duties to the Somali Army.
UN Yemen Envoy briefs Security Council on Implementation of Stockholm Agreement
U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, addressed the Security Council on January 9 regarding the status of the Stockholm agreement reached during UN-led talks in December between President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s internationally-recognized government and Ansar Allah, the Houthi rebel movement. The agreement features three principal points: (1) withdrawals by both sides from the ports of Hodeidah, Salif, and Ras Issa and the creation of a demilitarized zone, (2) a prisoner exchange agreement, and (3) a commitment to discuss the fate of the contested city of Taiz.
The Hodeida truce represents an opportunity for de-escalation in a conflict that has ravaged Yemen since late 2014 when Houthi forces seized the northern governorate of Saada. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), along with seven other Arab states, and supported by the United States, began launching airstrikes on Houthi targets in support of the Yemeni government. In June of last year, coalition forces launched an offensive on Hodeida, which remains the main entry point for the country’s imports and a lifeline, including for civilians, to Houthi-controlled territories. In November 2018 alone, more than 600 people (including combatants and civilians) were killed in Hodeida and its outskirts.
Despite identifying the tremendous challenges ahead, Griffiths expressed a “sense of tangible hope,” noting that since the Hodeida ceasefire began on December 18, “there has been a significant decrease in hostilities.” However, under the Stockholm agreement, “redeployment” from the ports of Hodeida, Salif, and Ras Isaa was to be completed within two weeks of December 18 and “full mutual redeployment of all forces from the city of Hodeida” within three weeks. Both deadlines have been missed. Griffiths noted that new talks between the two sides would not take place until more substantive redeployment occurred.
The U.N. is set to expand its team of monitors in Hodeida. Under Security Council Resolution 2451, the U.N. has already deployed a team of unarmed monitors to oversee the truce. The team’s authorization expires on January 20, though Secretary General Guterres has already requested a six-month mission to Hodeida of up to 75 observers.
It is hoped that the U.N.-monitored ceasefire will bring a reprieve to Hodeida’s remaining civilians. U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, who spoke after Griffiths, indicated that Hodeida’s civilians are already a “little more confident and a little less afraid that they will be victims of air strikes.” Lowcock also pointed, however, to the still-catastrophic humanitarian crisis in the country; 24 million people – 80% of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance.
The Stockholm truce provisions represent a limited and fragile deal. A day after Griffiths’ briefing, news broke of a Houthi drone attack on a Yemeni military parade in the southern governorate of Lahij, far from the ceasefire zone, which killed six coalition soldiers. A few days later, a UN convoy traveling through Hodeida sustained small arms fire, with both government and rebel forces accusing each other of the attack. As the conflict in Yemen enters its fifth year, the December Stockholm agreements provide only measured hope for Yemen’s civilians.