Special Envoy Stresses Need to Maintain Crucial Momentum in Yemen, as He Reports Positive Steps during Briefing to Security Council
Permanent Representative Hails Saudi Arabia’s Mediation on Riyadh Agreement, while Lamenting Stockholm Accord’s Lack of Progress
Parties to the conflict in Yemen – still home to one of the world’s most brutal conflicts and its worst humanitarian crisis – have reached several key compromise agreements, which has led to a dramatic drop in the tempo of war, the senior United Nations official in the country reported today, as he urged the Security Council to do everything possible to sustain that crucial momentum.
Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, briefed the 15-member Council by video-teleconference from Amman, Jordan, on recent developments, saying they include an 80 per cent drop in the number of air strikes in some areas. The parties, with mediation by Saudi Arabia and support from international partners, arrived at compromise agreements on the situation in Yemen’s southern governorates, de-escalation of hostilities and economic challenges, he added.
“These are none of them small issues, and reaching compromise has been no small achievement,” he continued, emphasizing that what is needed now is leadership, concessions and inclusion. He stressed the importance of prioritizing forbearance over entitlement. Outlining positive strides, he cited the Riyadh Agreement signed on 5 November by the Government of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council, saying it averted the very real and frightening risk of State break-up.
He went on to note that, for the first time since the conflict began, Yemenis saw several 48-hour periods without any air strikes. The cessation of missile and drone strikes against Saudi Arabia, announced by the Houthi side on 20 September, held for a second month. He said there was a new agreement on oil tax revenues – which is finally allowing fuel ships to enter the port city of Hodeidah. He also called upon Yemen’s leaders to address outstanding challenges and rebuild the country’s economic and social fabric.
Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, also provided updates, reporting that Yemen remains the world’s largest humanitarian operation. Attacks continue to devastate civilians, with recent strikes damaging a market, a hospital, fishing boats and homes. Mines and other explosives maim and injure civilians, while migrants and asylum seekers arriving in the country face appalling levels of abuse, she said.
Expressing concern that humanitarian movement and many civil society projects in areas under Houthi control remain blocked or delayed, she also cited cases of violence against aid workers and of looting relief supplies. She pointed out, however, that the overall number of casualties declined in October, expressing hope that the trend will continue and that the parties will abide by their obligations under international law.
Taking the floor, many Council members applauded the signing of the Riyadh Agreement and the restoration of State unity in southern Yemen, with several calling for speedy efforts to build on that momentum and push forward a broader political agreement. Some delegates hailed the resumed flow of much-needed fuel to Hodeidah, while urging the parties to implement other elements of the 2018 Stockholm Agreement.
Delegates also underlined the crucial role played by the United Nations Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMSHA), as others expressed grave concern that the Houthis have still not granted international inspectors access to Safer, the decaying oil tanker in the Red Sea, which, some warned, could cause an “unprecedented environmental and humanitarian catastrophe”.
The United Kingdom’s representative called for integrating the Riyadh Agreement into a broader ceasefire accord, urging the Council to stand ready in support of a wider process.
Echoing that sentiment, the representative of the United States emphasized that implementation of the Riyadh Agreement should not impede efforts towards a broader political agreement.
South Africa’s representative underlined the importance of implementing key elements of the Stockholm Agreement, including provisions relating to swapping of prisoners and to resolving the status of local security forces.
Kuwait’s representative hailed the resumed delivery of humanitarian assistance in Hodeidah, noting that his country has pledged $600 million to Yemen since the conflict began. He also welcomed the range of positive recent developments, as well as Saudi Arabia’s mediation role, expressing hope that the Riyadh Agreement will help pave the way for a comprehensive political resolution of the conflict.
Yemen’s representative said his country’s Government remains committed to peace through dialogue. Applauding Saudi Arabia’s central role in mediating the Riyadh Agreement, he said the accord will help disrupt the Houthi-Iran plot in Yemen and create a united anti-terrorism front. He noted, however, the lack of progress in implementing the Stockholm Agreement, calling for greater pressure on spoilers while warning that permitting delays only plays into the hands of the “coup masters”. Calling for strong condemnation of Houthi actions, he emphasized that their violations demonstrate that the faction is neither ready for peace nor serious about ending the suffering it has imposed on Yemen’s people.
Also speaking were representatives of the Russian Federation, France, Peru, Dominican Republic, China, Indonesia, Poland, Côte d’Ivoire, Germany, Equatorial Guinea and Belgium.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:43 a.m.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for Yemen, reported that momentum to reach a political settlement of the conflict in that country has been building in recent months. Speaking by video‑teleconference from Amman, he said the parties are working together, with support from Saudi Arabia, regional partners, the international community and the United Nations to reach compromises on a range of issues, including the situation in Yemen’s southern governorates, de‑escalation of hostilities and economic challenges. “These are none of them small issues and reaching compromise has been no small achievement,” he said, emphasizing the need for the kind of leadership that creates peace by practising the arts of concession and inclusion while encouraging forbearance over entitlement.
Outlining positive recent strides, he cited the signing of the Riyadh Agreement on 5 November by the Government of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council. Recalling events in August, he said they constituted an existential threat to the country and the prospect of the State breaking at the time was both very real and, frankly, terrifying. Thanking the parties for engaging in a long period of negotiations that ultimately broke the impasse, he also welcomed Saudi Arabia’s strong support and mediation role. Perhaps a more important sign of change has been a dramatic drop in acts of war over the last two weeks, he said, noting that air strikes in particular have fallen by nearly 80 per cent in that period. For the first time since the conflict began, several 48‑hour periods without any air strikes were reported, he said, adding that the cessation of missile and drone strikes on Saudi territory — announced on 20 September by Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis — has also been sustained for a second month in a row. Welcoming that long‑sought slowing of the tempo of war, as well as possible signs of an imminent overall ceasefire, he said the United Nations continues to uphold its responsibility to bring the parties closer to ending the conflict.
He went on cite positive signs in the port city of Hodeidah, where the parties have taken further steps towards implementing the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement, he recalled his previous request that they exercise greater flexibility in allowing fuel ships to enter the port. At the time, the Government stood by its right to issue decrees for the purpose of raising taxes, which led to a politicized deadlock over fuel imports into Sana’a and surrounding governorates, he said. In November, however, the Government’s economic and technical team agreed with the Office of the Special Envoy to establish a mechanism by which traders will deposit tax and customs payments from commercial oil and gas shipments into a special account in the Central Bank, under United Nations supervision. He said the proceeds will pay the salaries of civil servants, in accordance with the ceasefire agreement, pointing out that fuel ships are now entering Hodeidah, thereby averting a crisis.
The parties also established the Ceasefire Enhancement and De‑escalation Mechanism, which led to a 40 per cent fall in the number of security incidents. Reporting on the activities of the United Nations Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), he said it continues to play a vital role in supporting the parties. However, he expressed concern over the increasing number of restrictions imposed on the movement of Mission personnel within the city, emphasizing that the restrictions not only hamper day‑to‑day operations, but also threaten implementation of UNMHA’s overall mandate. Urging the relevant authorities to lift the restrictions, he said: “Yemen’s leaders must now ask themselves what peace should look like.” He went on to stress the need for leadership and pragmatism in dealing with outstanding challenges and rebuilding Yemen’s economic and social fabric.
URSULA MUELLER, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that some 250 humanitarian partner organizations work with the United Nations every month to assist more than 13 million people across Yemen. It is the world’s largest humanitarian operation, in an extremely challenging environment, she emphasized, reiterating the priorities for reducing the suffering: ensuring respect for international human rights law, protecting civilians, gaining unhindered humanitarian access, funding the response plan, supporting the economy and making progress towards a political solution.
Unfortunately, attacks continue to devastate civilians and infrastructure, with recent strikes damaging a market, a hospital, fishing boats and homes, she reported, noting that mines and other explosives also maim and injure civilians. In addition to Yemenis, migrants and asylum seekers who continue to arrive in the country face appalling levels of abuse, although the number of casualties declined in October. Humanitarian access remained an enormous challenge as Ansar Allah continued to enforce restrictions that hinder assistance for millions of people, she said, adding that all types of humanitarian movement and half of all civil society projects in areas under their control are blocked or delayed.
She went on to report an alarming increase in violence and harassment targeting humanitarian workers, including several cases of relief supplies being looted and humanitarian facilities occupied. These serious issues have been repeatedly raised with Ansar Allah, she reported, expressing hope that they will change course, and also allow the long‑planned United Nations assessment of the Safer oil tanker, which continues to pose a serious risk of environmental disaster in the Red Sea. Access challenges in Government‑controlled areas are of a different nature, she said, adding that faster and more streamlined governmental approvals, as well as the expedited arrival of humanitarian cargo at the port of Aden, are being sought.
Turning to the humanitarian response plan for Yemen, she said financing has included additional support from the Gulf countries, United States and others, reporting that the plan is now more than 70 per cent funded. Expressing gratitude to donors, she said the aid operation is now on a stronger financial footing, with vaccination programmes and efforts to counter malnutrition now operating on a regular basis. However, the economy is a key driver of humanitarian needs, she said, pointing out that although the exchange rate has improved, it is still more than twice as high as it was before the conflict began. She went on to call for regular foreign exchange injections into Yemen’s economy to help make goods and services more affordable. With fuel shortages having eased considerably, the flexibility of all stakeholders on this critical issue is commendable, she said. However, a political solution is needed if the humanitarian crisis is to end, she emphasized.
KELLY CRAFT (United States) welcomed the signing of the Riyadh Agreement and called for the formation of a new, inclusive Cabinet. Describing the Government’s return to its temporary capital in Aden as a vital step forward, she said that, with its control over southern Yemen restored, the Government can now refocus on talks with the Houthis with a view to ending the long and horrible war for good. However, implementation of the Agreement should not impede efforts to reach a broader political agreement, she emphasized. Describing her country as one of the largest supporters of humanitarian assistance in Yemen, she spotlighted its contributions of health care and safe drinking water, among other services. However, the United States is concerned about restrictions imposed on humanitarian workers in northern Yemen, she stressed.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said the humanitarian situation in Yemen remains a cause for grave concern as implementation of the Stockholm Agreement remains stalled. He welcomed recent positive developments — including the agreements between the parties, Saudi Arabia’s important mediation and role the support provided by the United Arab Emirates — and expressed hope that the parties will continue to make progress towards an end to the conflict. “A military solution is futile,” he said, emphasizing that only a comprehensive ceasefire and political process will bring peace. The international community should shift its efforts to supporting the political track, while providing humanitarian support to millions of starving Yemenis, he added. Stressing that aid must be distributed on a non‑discriminatory basis to all parts of the country, regardless of who controls the territory, he warned against allowing further entrenchment of terrorist factions in Yemen as was the case in Syria. He went on to call upon the region to consider the Russian Federation’s proposed Blueprint for Collective Security in the Persian Gulf, aimed at overcoming differences and forging trust.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) expressed hope that the Riyadh Agreement will help pave the way to a comprehensive political resolution of the conflict. He also welcomed the drop in military operations inside Hodeidah and the resumption of humanitarian aid deliveries. Pointing out that Kuwait has pledged $600 million to Yemen since the conflict began, he demanded that all parties allow humanitarian agencies to carry out their work without restrictions and invited the parties to Kuwait for further negotiations. He went on to express regret that United Nations experts are still unable to carry out the necessary inspection of a floating oil tanker in the Red Sea, the condition of which may result in an imminent environmental disaster.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) called for progress on the ground to accompany the positive political momentum, emphasizing that recent agreements must be implemented in full and negotiations towards a comprehensive solution must begin immediately under United Nations auspices. In addition, respect for international law — including on protecting civilians and ensuring full humanitarian access — must be absolute, he said, stressing that Houthi restrictions on access are not acceptable. He went on to state that access to the endangered tanker must be granted.
LUIS UGARELLI (Peru) called for good‑faith commitments by all parties to implement agreements and negotiate a comprehensive solution. Protecting the most vulnerable remains critical, he emphasized, calling upon Ansar Allah to facilitate humanitarian assistance in areas under their control. Ports and airports must also remain open, he added, noting that the cooperation of coalition Powers is also required for that purpose. He went on to stress the importance of bolstering Yemen’s economy.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic), emphasizing that protecting civilians and infrastructure is a basic obligation of the parties under international law, called upon them to allow unhindered access and to avoid escalation in order to encourage the political process. Assistance for vulnerable groups, including women and children, must figure prominently on the international agenda, he added. Concerning the abandoned oil tanker, he appealed to the Houthis to grant the United Nations assessment team access to the tanker to avoid an environmental disaster.
ZHANG JUN (China) called upon the parties to avoid escalation and to keep the momentum going. Noting that the situation in Hodeidah remains tense, he expressed appreciation for efforts to calm the situation and to ensure full implementation of the relevant agreement in order to build greater confidence. The Council must remain united on the Yemen question, he said, emphasizing the importance of ensuring respect for the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Stressing the need for humanitarian assistance, he said that his country has long been providing aid. Bilaterally, China recently provided sporting goods for young people as well as millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance, and stands ready to help Yemen achieve lasting peace and development, he added.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) welcomed the Riyadh Agreement and commended Saudi Arabia’s excellent mediation role. “Some seem to believe that the Agreement has an ambitious timeline and objectives”, but the people of Yemen, who have suffered so much for so long, needed that, he noted. The Agreement is a building block towards a national‑level political settlement and must be implemented without delay, he emphasized. Calling upon the international community to build on the gains of the Stockholm and Riyadh Agreements, he said the intra‑Yemeni political process should resume under United Nations facilitation, with the participation of all legitimate concerned parties. He went on to stress the need for dialogue on Ta’iz, the swapping of prisoners and greater progress on Hodeidah.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), welcoming the Riyadh Agreement as an important step towards a political settlement of the conflict, said that restoring stability and resuming the inclusive political process will require an end to violence, the de‑escalation of tensions and the promotion of confidence‑building measures. She urged all parties to uphold their obligations, preserve the ceasefire and expedite the remaining stages of redeployment, in full cooperation with UNMHA. Noting that overall living conditions remain extremely dire, she called upon all parties to facilitate the safe, unhindered flow of humanitarian aid and personnel throughout the country. She went on to emphasize the critical need to prioritize the protection of civilians, especially vulnerable groups such as women and children, and to hold the perpetrators of violations accountable. She also expressed concern over the decaying oil tanker, warning that it could cause an “unprecedented environmental and humanitarian catastrophe in the Red Sea”.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire) applauded the Riyadh Agreement, saying it allows for power‑sharing and for restoring State authority in the south while delivering a robust message of unity across Yemen. Expressing hope that the accord will further encourage a climate of trust among the parties, he emphasized the need to engage women and young people fully in ongoing peace talks. Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis remains severe, he noted, stressing that the parties must uphold their obligations vis‑à‑vis the delivery of aid. He went on to welcome the Human Rights Council’s recent adoption of a resolution condemning violations of international law committed in Yemen and applauded the new agreement on the delivery of fuel to Hodeidah. All parties must work to maintain the positive momentum and cooperate fully with UNMHA, he reiterated.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) said the Riyadh Agreement underlines Yemen’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and creates the basis for a more inclusive Government, calling upon all actors to seize the opportunity it presents for the overall political process. Noting that the situation in Hodeidah and beyond remains fragile, he called upon all parties to follow the path of de‑escalation and to respect the ceasefire. The humanitarian situation remains catastrophic, he added, emphasizing that the parties must facilitate safe, rapid and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance, lift bureaucratic restrictions, approve projects without delay and refrain from interfering in humanitarian matters. He went on to express concern over the threat that the Safer, floating north of Hodeidah, poses to the Red Sea environment. All actors — especially the Houthis — should ensure the United Nations assessment team gains access to the oil tanker, he stressed.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea), emphasizing the importance of expedited implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, also applauded the work of the United Nations in facilitating implementation of the Hodeidah Agreement. He expressed regret over the continuing humanitarian suffering in Yemen and deep concern over restrictions on humanitarian access. He went on to spotlight the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council, noting that it condemns ongoing abuses of international human rights and international humanitarian law in Yemen, including the recruitment of youth, abuse of women and targeting of civilian facilities. Inclusive dialogue among all parties is the only way forward, he stressed.
STEPHEN MAHLABADISHAGO NTSOANE (South Africa) called upon the parties to engage urgently in talks to alleviate the dire humanitarian situation, saying: “We further remind the parties to implement some of the key elements of the Stockholm Agreement, which include prisoner swaps and resolving outstanding issues related to the status of local security forces.” Without an assertive effort towards a political solution, he warned, the humanitarian disaster in Yemen will continue to exacerbate and destabilize the region. He went on to emphasize the need for the parties to allow the free, unimpeded passage of food and humanitarian relief.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) joined others in welcoming the Riyadh Agreement and expressed hope that the positive momentum can be maintained as the parties move forward on next steps in Yemen’s political process. While welcoming de‑escalation efforts, he voiced regret that civilians continue to suffer the most and that humanitarian access is still impeded in some parts of the country. The parties must lift all restrictions, he emphasized, adding that the Government should lift its Decree 49 until a lasting solution to the oil crisis is found. Meanwhile, the Houthis must grant access to the Safer in order to avert a possible environmental disaster, he stressed.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), Council President for November, spoke in her national capacity, saying the Riyadh Agreement should be integrated into a wider ceasefire agreement, with continued help from mediators. Echoing concerns over the severe humanitarian crisis, she said her country has provided $1 billion since the start of the conflict and directs its support towards the treatment of children suffering from malnutrition as well as the provision of food and drinking water. She went on to emphasize that all parties, including the Houthis, must engage urgently and constructively with the humanitarian coordinator on the ground to facilitate swift, unhindered delivery of assistance. “Humanitarian organizations are ready to save lives, they must be able to do their jobs,” she stressed, while also echoing concerns about the reckless decision by the Houthis not to grant international inspectors access to the oil tanker Safer.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) said the Government of Yemen remains committed to achieving peace through implementation of the Gulf initiative, the outcomes of the national dialogue and all Security Council resolutions, adding that the priority is to build a new federal Yemen that serves the needs of all Yemenis. He expressed gratitude for the efforts of Saudi Arabia, noting that country’s central role in the signing of the Riyadh Agreement. The accord can help to disrupt the Houthi‑Iran plot in Yemen and create a united front to combat terrorism, he said, noting that the President of Yemen has called for its immediate and full implementation. Welcoming support for the Riyadh Agreement expressed in the Council, he looked forward to further support of partners to overcome challenges, improve the economy and support stability. However, there has been no progress on the Stockholm Agreement, he noted, calling for the application of pressure on spoilers.
Underlining the importance of implementing the Hodeidah Agreements, in particular he cautioned that delays play into the hands of the “coup masters”, emphasizing that Houthi violations must be strongly condemned since they demonstrate that the faction is not ready for peace or to end the suffering it has imposed on the Yemeni people. He condemned Iran’s recognition of a Houthi representative, which allows him access to diplomatic facilities in Tehran, and called upon the Security Council to condemn that dangerous precedent in international relations. He went on to state that whereas the Government has made much progress in implementing Council resolutions and improving the humanitarian situation, there is need to secure oil revenues in Houthi‑controlled areas to ensure they are spent on paying the salaries of municipal workers and not enriching warlords. He concluded by calling for access to the Safer and reiterating the need for full implementation of the Stockholm Agreement.