Parties in Yemen Must Prioritize National Interest in Efforts to End Fighting, Special Envoy Tells Security Council amid Calls for Unity of Purpose
As catastrophic levels of starvation, disease and violence continued to ravage Yemen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy told the Security Council today that a peace agreement had nearly been reached and only the country’s decision makers could stop the war and bloodshed.
“We do have a road map for Yemen,” said Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, adding that parties had already agreed on the practical suggestions to launch it and build confidence among themselves. “The only part missing is the commitment of parties to make concessions and give priority to the national interest. This is what makes us doubtful of their real intention to end this war.”
The new agreement had been developed in consultation with the parties, he said. However, parties had refused to sign it and it was clear that the Houthis were not prepared to make concessions on security arrangements. That erected a stumbling block to finding a solution amid daily reports of civilian deaths while children were being recruited to the battlefields, terrorist groups flourished and politicians profited from arms deals.
With the regional landscape encumbered with challenges, recent developments in Yemen would certainly “reshuffle the political cards”, he went on to say. Calling on parties to cease hostilities and reactivate negotiations, he urged them to allow a culture of co-existence to prevail over the language of war so Yemen would become a beacon of light in the Middle East and a model for peace and security.
Meanwhile, on the ground, “conditions are catastrophic”, said John Ging, Officer-in-Charge and Director of Operations and Advocacy, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. A record 22.2 million people required humanitarian assistance or protection, 2 million remained displaced, 1.1 million were suspected to have cholera and famine was a real threat.
“These are the consequences of a man-made crisis that only a political solution can bring to an end,” he said. Funding for the 2018 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan — requiring $2.96 billion to assist 13.1 million people — was also critical, as was improving the fast deteriorating humanitarian access to reach those most in need.
Yemen’s representative thanked States that had pledged assistance, but said the money currently being donated was not enough to address the needs of millions. The Council must pressure relevant parties to advance peace talks to end the crisis, which could not be achieved without the Houthis leaving cities and villages and returning the weapons that had been furnished by Iran.
However, the Council had failed to send a clear message to Iran, he said, which would only encourage further violence and tragedy. Iran was not in compliance with the sanctions regime, offering clear proof of that country’s goal to destabilize the region and support terrorism.
Echoing those concerns, the United States representative said that while seeking a solution, the Council must address threats to peace. The main culprit behind them, Iran, had been implicated in missile attacks launched from Yemen, as indicated by the latest report of the Panel of Experts of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2140 (2014), which handled sanctions.
Council members broadly decried the worsening humanitarian situation, with many delegates commending the United Nations and Saudi Arabia-led coalition response plans. Many members said Council unity and overcoming the current negotiation deadlock were critical measures to stop the escalating violence. “We must avoid sowing divisions amongst us” on that issue, France’s representative said, highlighting that a united Council was a prerequisite for its effective support. Ethiopia’s delegate urged the Council to reach a united position “before all is lost”.
Further, parties must re-engage without preconditions towards an inclusive political agreement that respected Yemen’s territorial integrity, some members said. The Russian Federation’s delegate lamented the lack of a feasible peace process, adding that ways must be found to launch that process without preconditions, rather than engaging in a search for scapegoats and advancing geopolitical agendas. To stop the war, Kazakhstan’s representative said the Council and the international community must rethink the current strategy and take a new comprehensive approach.
Also delivering statements were representative of the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Sweden, Bolivia, Poland, Côte d’Ivoire, Peru, China, Equatorial Guinea and Kuwait.
The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 12:10 p.m.
ISMAIL OULD CHEIKH AHMED, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, said parties continued on a negative path, with a sharp increase of large-scale military action and Houthis firing missiles into Saudi Arabia. Calling on all stakeholders in Aden to resolve their differences through dialogue, he raised concerns about reports of systematic child recruitment by armed groups across Yemen, a country that had become the world’s largest man-made humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by the economy’s deterioration and corruption.
Welcoming the $1 billion pledge by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to meet some of those challenges, which included a shrinking space for women’s rights, he expressed gratitude for the World Bank’s innovative approach and for countries that had hosted peace talks. A solid foundation for an agreement had been laid through the endorsement of the general framework in Biel in 2015 and discussion in Kuwait in 2016. Noting the United Nations tireless efforts to help parties in Yemen find a peaceful solution, he announced that agreement had nearly been reached on a peace proposal, developed in consultation with the parties. However, they had refused to sign it, and it was clear that the Houthis were not prepared to make concessions on security arrangements, representing a stumbling block to finding a solution amid daily reports of civilian deaths while politicians profited from arms deals and exploiting public properties.
“We do have a road map for Yemen,” he said, adding that parties had already agreed on the practical suggestions to launch it and build confidence among themselves. “The only part missing is the commitment of parties to make concessions and give priority to the national interest. This is what makes us doubtful of their real intention to end this war.”
Even though he was delivering his last briefing to the Council as Special Envoy, he said he would follow the progress until “Yemen returns to Yemen”. He called on parties to “turn the page” of the appalling war. With the United Nations facilitating a path to peace, he emphasized that only the decision-makers in Yemen were able to stop the war and bloodshed. With the regional landscape encumbered with challenges, recent developments in Yemen would certainly “reshuffle the political cards” and change some internal blocs, especially given the pressures on the General People’s Conference and the emergence of southern popular voices expressing their demands.
Calling on parties to cease hostilities and reactivate negotiations, he urged them to allow the culture of co-existence to prevail over the language of war so Yemen would become a beacon of light in the Middle East and a model for peace and security, where men, women and youth nationwide participated in decision making for their country.
JOHN GING, Officer-in-Charge and Director of Operations and Advocacy, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, delivering a statement on behalf of Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, declared: “After three years of conflict, conditions in Yemen are catastrophic.” A record 22.2 million people required humanitarian assistance or protection, including 8.4 million people who were severely food insecure. About 400,000 children under five were so severely malnourished that they were ten times likelier to die without treatment than their healthy peers. Meanwhile, some 2 million people remained displaced, 90 per cent of whom had fled their homes more than a year ago. Nearly 1.1 million suspected cases of cholera had been reported since April 2017 in what experts believe was the world’s worst outbreak, and an estimated 3 million women and girls were at risk of gender-based violence.
Those figures represented an urgent call to action that humanitarian workers — the vast majority of them citizens of Yemen — were striving to answer, he continued. The United Nations-coordinated response was working with nearly 200 partners, making a tremendous difference for millions of people across the country. In 2017, they had progressively increased the number of people receiving emergency food assistance every month from 3 million to over 7 million. It had ensured access to drinking water for 3 million people, in addition to trucking water directly to nearly 1 million others. However, people’s lives continued to unravel, with the conflict escalating significantly since November 2017 and driving an estimated 100,000 people from their homes. Famine was a real threat, and while cholera cases had declined, the disease was likely to rebound in the upcoming rainy season. A diphtheria outbreak — the first since 1982 — had emerged. “These are the consequences of a man-made crisis that only a political solution can bring to an end,” he stressed.
Emphasizing that the most urgent task for all parties was to cease hostilities and engage meaningfully with the United Nations to achieve a lasting political settlement, he said funding for the 2018 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan — requiring $2.96 billion to assist 13.1 million people — was also critical. The Emergency Relief Coordinator had allocated $50 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund, the largest single allocation ever, at the beginning of 2018. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had announced a pledge of $1 billion for Yemen and committed to raising $500 million from other donors in the region. On 3 April, the Secretary-General would convene a pledging conference in Geneva to be hosted by Sweden and Switzerland.
Meanwhile, he said, humanitarian access within Yemen — particularly in areas controlled by the Sana’a authorities — had deteriorated. Those authorities had imposed bureaucratic impediments that interfered with humanitarian action, including long clearance customs delays. In recent weeks, humanitarian staff had been temporarily detained without justification and their equipment confiscated at checkpoints. Noting that access to Yemen had improved after the blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition ended in December 2017, he said the main challenge today in entering Yemen was the coalition’s policy of diverting cargo to Aden, including relief items shipped in containers and commercial vessels. He also voiced concern about disruptions to commercial import flows that were increasing the cost of food in Yemen against the backdrop of the famine risk. Concluding, he outlined the partial recovery of commercial food and fuel imports and expressed hope that progress would be made in addressing challenges related to the lack of payment to Yemen’s public employees and their families.
STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom) called on donors to honour their recent pledges, but noted that humanitarian aid alone would not solve the current challenges. All plans and efforts to improve aid delivery must be made, especially through critical ports. Raising another concern, he said the conflict had created spaces where terrorist groups operated and widespread corruption had taken root. The Houthis were bombing Saudi Arabia and threatening the United Arab Emirates. In addition, Iran was in non-compliance with relevant Council resolutions. Until a political settlement was reached, the sanctions regime was an effective deterrent. While aid and access were temporary measures to ease the humanitarian crisis, only a political solution would resolve pressing challenges.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said all parties must seize the moment to turn around the negative trend of the past year. In the absence of a political settlement, he drew attention to the humanitarian crisis, stressing that the protection of civilians from the armed conflict must be a main priority. The Yemeni people not only suffered from the incessant fighting, but also the lack of food, water, sanitation, fuel and access to health care. Ensuring safe and unimpeded humanitarian access was not an act of mercy, but rather an obligation under international law. On the issue of accountability, he pointed to recent increases in the number of civilian casualties and emphasized that the obligations of all parties under international humanitarian law were clear.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the situation in Yemen had been made more complex following the murder of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Describing various interwoven conflicts between the acting President and the Houthi rebels, between the Houthis and the coalition, and between southern factions and the Government, he said the presence of Al-Qaida and affiliated groups should also not be ignored. Civilians were the primary victims of all those conflicts, he stressed, noting that Yemen’s health and medical infrastructure had been crippled even as the risk of epidemics and famine continued to rise. Commending the coalition’s humanitarian plan, which must be carried out in full cooperation with the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, he said it was also critical for humanitarian and commercial deliveries to transit through all sea and airports. Voicing concern over the risks of further deterioration in the region’s stability and regret that the Council had been unable to agree on the draft resolution presented by the United Kingdom on 26 February, he condemned the ballistic missile launches by the Houthis against Saudi Arabia identified by the recent Panel of Experts report. Demanding secure, comprehensive, unfettered humanitarian access, as well as a ceasefire, he said parties must reengage without preconditions towards an inclusive political agreement that respected Yemen’s territorial integrity. “We must avoid sowing divisions amongst us” on that issue, as the Council’s unity was a prerequisite for its effective support.
CARL SKAU (Sweden) said the violence in Yemen had escalated since the last Council meeting on the situation, and civilian causalities continued to mount, while humanitarian conditions were deplorable and only worsening. “This suffering stems from the conflict and [it] should be within our power to bring it to an end,” he stressed, adding that the Council’s efforts were clearly insufficient to meet its responsibility to alleviate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and end the conflict, now in its fourth year. The Council must strongly reiterate the call for a durable cessation of hostilities and demand that all parties fully meet their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law. It must ensure full and unhindered access for humanitarian and commercial shipments, while the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan must be fully funded.
KELLEY A. ECKELS-CURRIE (United States) said the United Nations must work towards finding a solution at a time when the most basic Government services were lacking, the Houthis were being supported by Iran and terrorist groups were flourishing. The Council must give Yemen its full support to work towards a political process. Meanwhile, the people of Yemen must be helped and work must be done to deliver aid. Commending Saudi Arabia for its efforts through the coalition, she said the United States would continue to fund urgent needs and work with coalition countries to do so. The Council must, however, address the threats to peace and the main culprit behind them, she said, pointing to the Panel of Experts' findings that Iran had been implicated in missile attacks and stressing that the United States would continue to call out maligned behaviour.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said the conflict in Yemen was complex and ways must be found to launch the peace process without preconditions, rather than engaging in a search for scapegoats and advancing geopolitical agendas. He expressed regret over the inability to launch such an effective process while the situation worsened. Commending recent aid pledges, he said addressing the humanitarian situation must be accompanied by a viable political process to end the crisis.
PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) said the Council's presidential statement in 2016, calling for dialogue and access for aid delivery, had been completely ignored and the worsening situation continued, with massive forced displacement, blocked aid deliveries and land mines targeting civilians. Raising concerns about unilateral actions that compounded the situation, he said two thirds of the population required urgent assistance to survive. Aid must be delivered, especially given the cholera and diphtheria epidemics and recent reports of attacks on hospitals. Emphasizing that the Council must call on all parties to ease deliveries and open all ports and routes, he pressed States and international actors with influence to implement the necessary means to help to end the crisis.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) voiced concern over the deterioration of Yemen’s humanitarian situation and called for swift, decisive action to end that man-made disaster. The flow of humanitarian aid, fuel and other critical items was essential, and therefore all of Yemen’s ports must remain open. Meanwhile, all administrative restrictions on such goods should be lifted. Expressing alarm about the recent surge in violence that had resulted in civilian casualties and displacement, she called on all parties to cease attacks against civilians and the use of weapons in populated areas. All parties were obliged to protect civilians under international humanitarian law, she stressed, also calling for swift action to bring to justice those who had committed human rights violations. There could be no serious improvement without a long-term political solution, she stressed, voicing Poland’s support for resumption of the United Nations-led dialogue. All parties should engage with the Secretary-General’s new Special Envoy without precondition.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said that, after three years of devastating war, reports that Yemen was “virtually disappearing” were deeply worrying. “Perhaps it’s not too late,” he said, calling on the parties to make progress on the political track. Noting that Al-Qaida continued to exploit the instability resulting from the conflict — threatening the security of the region and the entire African continent — he stressed the primacy of diplomacy through a process that must also respect Yemen’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Urging the parties to cease hostilities and resume talks under the auspices of the United Nations, he called on them to engage with the Secretary-General’s new Special Envoy as a way to reinvigorate the political process. He urged the international community to continue to support the humanitarian work of the United Nations and its partners, and called on donors to make pledges at the upcoming conference in Geneva. Regular, safe and unimpeded humanitarian access, as well as the protection of civilians, was critical, he said, urging the Council to reach a position of unity on the issue “before all is lost”.
BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d’Ivoire), noting that the political situation in Yemen was at an impasse, voiced concern that peace prospects were slipping away and there were risks of Yemen becoming a failed State. The parties must take ownership of the political process through an inclusive, frank dialogue that was supported by the United Nations and the international community, he said, welcoming efforts by the Special Envoy to “breathe new life” into that process. Echoing concerns over the deteriorating humanitarian situation — among the worst in the world — he called on warring parties to promptly agree to a ceasefire and the unfettered delivery of humanitarian assistance. Calling on the international community to adopt measures aimed at preventing further escalation, he welcomed the Arab coalition’s re-opening of various ports in Yemen and called for additional efforts in that regard, if possible. He also urged the Council to facilitate the work of the Panel of Experts in line with international humanitarian law and to unify around the single goal of ending the conflict in Yemen.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said that amid the humanitarian crisis, an inclusive political solution must be found. The new Special Envoy must continue to work to relaunch peace talks, while the Council must remain united and consistent in discharging its responsibility to protect civilians facing a humanitarian crisis. In that vein, guarantees must be made to deliver aid to the millions of Yemenis in need and all delivery ports, airports and roads must be opened permanently. Expressing hope that the Council would address those concerns in a presidential statement currently being negotiated, he commended the new United Nations humanitarian response plan and the important steps taken by the coalition in that regard. Welcoming the renewal of sanctions on 26 February, he said such measures were critical to deterring or restricting those who threatened peace in Yemen.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan), expressing alarm at the dire humanitarian situation, called for an increased response and unhindered access to all areas in compliance with international humanitarian law. Applauding the coalition’s decision to keep open all ground, air and sea ports, he said the United Nations must have a clear plan for further action. Welcoming the United Nations 2018 Yemen humanitarian response plan, he emphasized that while it may provide a temporary solution, it would never compensate for the absence of a functioning Government. Efforts were essential to settle intra-Yemen tensions and heighten the counter-terrorism fight; all Yemen's forces must unite to counter that threat. All sides must demonstrate sincerity and flexibility to resolve complex issues, he said, highlighting that the Council and the international community must rethink the current strategy and move towards a new and comprehensive approach.
SHEN BO (China) said the international community must urge parties to return to talks and address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Voicing support for Yemen’s sovereignty, he said a political solution was the only way to achieve lasting peace. A negotiated solution must be found urgently, he said, expressing hope that stakeholders would support ongoing efforts to break the deadlock in the peace process. Scaled-up international efforts were required to address the grave humanitarian conditions, he said, and alleviating obstacles to aid deliveries was essential.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said resolution 2204 (2018), adopted on 26 February, would allow the international community to address Yemen’s critical humanitarian and political situations. He called for appropriate, responsible, sustainable responses to the conflict by the Council, and expressed hope that resolution 2204 (2018) would achieve those results. Urging all parties to abide by the resolution’s terms, he also called on Member States to strictly comply with the arms embargo laid out in resolution 2216 (2015) and refrain from creating obstacles to humanitarian access in Yemen, where more than 20 million people were suffering from critical shortages.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), Council President for February, speaking in his national capacity, said the Houthis had refused to participate in international efforts to implement various Council resolutions. “The only way out is dialogue” and a political agreement based on those resolutions as well as the Gulf Cooperation Council road map. Recalling that attempts had been under way to bring the parties together since 2016, he said Kuwait had been involved in such efforts. However, “we all know that the Houthis have launched ballistic missiles against the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” Condemning such attacks — and reports of others against the United Arab Emirates — in the strongest possible terms, he voiced support for all of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to defend itself. The Council must always condemn attacks by non-State groups against sovereign nations, he said, adding that attacks or threats of attacks on vessels in the Red Sea were equally unacceptable. “We must do more to alleviate humanitarian conditions for the people of Yemen,” he added, recalling Kuwait’s pledge in 2017 of $100 million in humanitarian assistance.
KHALED HUSSEIN MOHAMED ALYEMANY (Yemen) said the Government would continue to work with the Special Envoy to reach a lasting peace that would end the war the Houthis had waged since 2014. The Government had communicated to the Secretary-General its willingness to follow agreed guidelines in working towards peace. Meanwhile, no armed group should be able to attack a State, recruit children or launch missiles against other countries. He expressed hope that the new Special Envoy would help to prevent the Houthis from flouting international law and stop the war.
Peace could not be achieved in Yemen without the Houthis leaving cities and villages and returning the weapons that had been furnished by Iran, he said. The Houthis could not be reasoned with, nor would they yield to international law, he said, adding that their mentality was outside the sphere of legality, just as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), and they constantly worked towards upholding orders from Tehran to destabilize the entire region. They had even refused to sign the peace proposal.
Today, the Council had failed to send a clear message to Iran, he said, which would only encourage further violence and tragedy on the ground. Iran, a rogue State, was not in compliance with the sanctions regime. That was clear proof of that country’s goal of destabilizing the region and its support of terrorism at a time when Iranians suffered from supply shortages.
Turning to the unprecedented humanitarian crisis, he said civilians were being terrorized and children recruited by armed groups. Those crimes, among others, were violations of international law. Moreover, the Houthis were daily preventing aid from being delivered and continuing to loot deliveries. Many new oil export companies were associated with the Houthis.
Commending the new 2018 humanitarian response plan and regional efforts, he called on the Council and United Nations Member States to cover costs of much-needed assistance in Yemen. However, the money currently being donated was not enough to address the needs of millions. The Council must pressure relevant parties to advance peace talks to end the crisis in Yemen.