Threat of Fresh Violence Looms in Yemen without New Truce, Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Tells Security Council
Parties to the conflict in Yemen had yet to agree on extending their truce, resulting in fresh uncertainty and a heightened risk for violence, the United Nations top official for Yemen told the Security Council today as members urged all parties to the conflict, particularly the Houthi militia, to exhibit cooperation and flexibility, and return to the negotiating table.
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grunberg, said that the Yemeni people stood to lose a lot if violence sparked once again. Halting all military aggression was critical, as was the transparent and regular disbursement of salaries to civil servants. The truce’s list of benefits was long, including a significant decrease in civilian casualties.
Reverting to violence and fighting would mean more suffering for the people of Yemen, he continued, adding that violence would also have destabilizing effects on the wider region and risk jeopardizing future peace prospects.
Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Joyce Msuya, told the Council, in her briefing, that civilians in Yemen still faced terrible dangers, including from landmines and other explosive hazards, which had killed or injured 70 civilians in September alone. Day-to-day activities such as farming or even walking to school had become life-threatening.
Outlining the humanitarian advances of the past several months under the truce, she warned: “We cannot let these, and other gains go to waste.” She also called for the immediate release of two United Nations colleagues who had been detained in Sana’a for almost a year, and of five United Nations staff still missing after being abducted in February.
In the ensuing discussion, members called on all parties to return to the negotiating table, warning that any escalation in fighting would only result in the pain and suffering for Yemeni people, who had already endured so much.
The representative of the United States echoed the sentiment of several speakers when he underscored the need to pay the salaries of civil servants, nurses and teachers. He also called for a streamlined process to ensure that the port of Hudaydah stayed open to allow the unimpeded flow of fuel.
Several delegates expressed concern over the Houthis’ threatening rhetoric on shipping and cargoes, with the representative of the United Arab Emirates stressing that, over the past eight years, the Houthis had insisted on a path of destruction. “We must identify who is hindering truce efforts” and take action against them, he said.
Other delegates spotlighted the humanitarian plight of the Yemeni people in their calls for peace, with the representative of India urging “warring parties to take a human-centred approach to the conflict”.
Indeed, Norway’s delegate said six months of the truce had brought a significant reduction of violence and civilian causalities. Child casualties had decreased by 34 per cent, she added.
Saudi Arabia’s delegate said the rejection by the Houthi militia of the proposal to extend the truce came as no surprise to those who were aware of the group. The Houthis had taken the Yemeni people hostage and exposed generations to the risks of armed conflict and war.
He outlined other disruptive activities of the Houthis, adding: “They are not peaceful, and they do not care about the suffering of the Yemeni people”. He called on the international community and the Council to reassess them and qualify them as a terrorist group, so that their funding sources dried up.
Yemen’s delegate said the Houthi militia continued to exploit the pain of the Yemeni people for their own gains. The Government of Yemen had been very cooperative in the process to renew the truce and remained committed to peace and to bringing an end to the conflict. But expanding the truce “should not come at the expense of our sovereignty” nor should it empower the Houthi militia.
The Government maintains its part in the truce, including by continuing to facilitate the arrival of fuel and vessels, Yemen’s delegate said. Despite their threats of violence, the Houthis had also issued threats targeting international maritime navigation and oil companies, which would severely impact Yemen’s economy.
Also speaking today were the representatives of the United Kingdom, China, Russian Federation, Mexico, Kenya, Brazil, Ghana, Ireland, France, Albania, and Gabon.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:51 a.m.
HANS GRUNDBERG, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, speaking via videoconference, said that the parties to the conflict in Yemen have yet to agree on extending their truce, thus resulting in new uncertainty and heightened risk for more violence. Efforts should not only focus on extending the truce, but also on building on it, he said, recalling intensified discussions and several rounds of negotiations towards that goal. The Yemeni people stand to lose a lot if violence continues. Halting all military aggression is critical, as is the transparent and regular disbursement of salaries to civil servants, he said.
It is deeply regrettable that no agreement was reached to extend the truce, he continued, expressing further regret that additional demands could not be met. He called for flexibility and commitment. There has been no major military escalation, he added, urging parties to continue to exercise maximum restraint. He expressed his deep appreciation to Jordan for continued flights out of Sana’a. The achievement and benefits of the truce should not be understated, coming into effect as it did after eight years of conflict. Its list of benefits is long, including no major military operation and a significant decrease in casualties. The opening of the Sana’a airport has also helped those seeking medical treatment, he said.
It is important to remember that the truce was never an end in itself, but rather a building block to peace, he added. The parties now have a choice before them — to build on the truce or to return to war. Violence and fighting would mean renewed and increased suffering for the people of Yemen. Women have been most affected and continue to bear the brunt of the conflict, he continued, adding that more violence would also have destabilizing effects on the wider region and risk jeopardizing future peace prospects. It is still possible for the parties to come to an agreement, but they must show commitment and flexibility. He went on to reiterate his appreciation to the Security Council, Saudi Arabia and Oman for their role in bringing forth new opportunities for peace.
JOYCE MSUYA, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, speaking by videoconference from Hudaydah, said she was relaying the voices of dozens of people she had met in the course of the past six days in Yemen, while visiting Aden, Ma’rib, Sana’a and Hudaydah, including women who feared for their safety, both inside their homes and out, as well as displaced people whose biggest wish was to return home. Stating that there had not been any significant intensification of clashes since the expiry of the truce on 2 October, she urged the parties to engage with the Special Envoy on extending the truce. Despite the lull in the conflict, civilians still faced terrible dangers, including from landmines and other explosive hazards, which had killed or injured 70 civilians in September. As a result, day-to-day activities such as farming, fishing, or walking to school had become life-threatening. She had met, earlier today, a 12-year-old named Yousef, who had lost both his legs after stepping on a landmine weeks ago, and would now need lifelong assistance. Urgent action was needed to reduce such threats, through increased support for de-mining the importation of equipment.
Beyond the direct impact of conflict, she said civilians faced the deterioration and collapse of basic services. She witnessed the impacts in markets with unaffordable prices for basic goods, at hospitals and schools lacking equipment, and meagre salaries for doctors and teachers. In Ma’rib, she described meeting Amal, a mother of four, who had lost her income and belongings when her family had been forced to flee Sirwah district. They now relied on humanitarian assistance. Around the country, Yemenis had spoken of the need for livelihoods, economic empowerment, and functional and accessible basic services. While humanitarians were doing their best to address those urgent needs, that was not enough. She urged substantial support from donors, development actors and international financial institutions, adding that it was crucial to preserve the flow of commercial imports. Last month, she had warned that the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen was at risk of closing, owing to lack of funds. It had now received additional contributions from the European Union, United States and the United Kingdom, ensuring its continued operation in the months ahead.
Although long-term support was essential, she continued. Millions of Yemenis still depended on humanitarian assistance, which was funding programmes for as many as 10 million people every month, including therapeutic feeding centres to children suffering from malnutrition. Support was also being provided to education for displaced children, among many other interventions. Such efforts had enabled gains to be made in preventing famine, particularly important in light of the fact that 17 million people would face acute food insecurity in the latter part of the year. Thankfully, that was 2 million less than earlier projections and that number was expected to decrease further. “This is a major achievement,” she said, adding, however, that the global food security situation remained fragile. “We cannot let these and other gains go to waste,” she said, underscoring the need for continued donor support to maintain progress. While noting that humanitarian appeal has received $2 billion so far — more than half of which had been provided by a single donor, the United States — it was not nearly enough. Last month, $20 million had been allocated from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to underfunded sectors as part of the humanitarian response. She hoped that more would be forthcoming.
Turning to access constraints and risks faced by humanitarian workers, she said these included attempted interference, bureaucratic impediments, and security incidents. She called for the immediate release of two United Nations’ colleagues who had been detained in Sana’a for almost a year, and of five United Nations’ staff still missing after having been abducted in Abyan in February. She had raised the issues with the Government of Yemen and with the Houthi de facto authority. With “an uncertain road” ahead, she underscored the need for the facilitation of rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief and the protection of humanitarian personnel and assets.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) was disappointed that the truce had not been extended after six months of relative peace. The new “maximalist” demands by the Houthis in the final days of negotiations hindered the ability of the Special Envoy to broker an agreement. He called for the protection of the truce, which had produced tangible benefits, including allowing Yemenis to live more safely and travel more freely than at any time since the war began. It had also allowed the flow of four times more oil into Hudaydah than the whole of last year and permitted tens of thousands of Yemenis to fly out of Sana’a to visit loved ones and seek medical treatment. The parties must continue to implement those measures and return to the negotiating table to expand them, as outlined in the United Nations’ proposal. Refusal to extend the truce threatened to dismantle the foundation for a negotiated peace settlement. In the present fragile moment, it was encouraging that there had not been a return to war, and he urged all parties to refrain from provocations. On humanitarian assistance, he underscored the need for the international community to learn lessons from the recent Inter-Agency Humanitarian Evaluation, not just in Yemen, but globally, and praised the work of humanitarians delivering life-saving support to the people of Yemen.
RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States), stating that Yemen is at a pivotal moment, said that the parties, and particularly the Houthis, must stay on the path to peace by taking action to expand the truce agreement. Civil servants, nurses and teachers must no longer be deprived of their salary payments and a streamlined process must be effectuated to keep the port of Hudaydah open to allow the unimpeded flow of fuel. Turning to the truce, he commended the commitment and restraint of Yemen and Saudi Arabia and implored the Houthis to do the same. Underscoring the international consensus on the truce, he said there can be no military solution to the crisis and that hopefully the Houthis will negotiate in good faith to bring about a durable peace. Further, he called on the Houthis to cease their threatening rhetoric on shipping, emphasising that a small incident could have an outsized impact on Yemen’s future. On the oil storage tanker Safer, he welcomed the fact that funds have been raised to avert an ecological catastrophe. The United States has disbursed its $10 million commitment and calls on others to do the same so that the work on the tanker can commence before weather conditions make it riskier.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates) said Yemen was at a critical juncture. After reaching a truce that had paved the way for a resumption of negotiations, the Houthis had rejected its extension. Over the past eight years, they had instead chosen a path of war and destruction. Now, they had not only refused to renew the truce but had also threatened to attack international waterways among other critical infrastructure, which was “clear evidence” of their aggressive approach. The Houthis must use the revenue from the port of Hudaydah to pay civil servant salaries, and stop recruiting children to fight in the conflict.
It was imperative for the Council to prevent the Houthis from carrying out their brutal war, he stressed. The truce had brought a sense of stability for Yemenis and must be the goal. “We must identify who is hindering truce efforts” and take action against them, he said. The Houthi militia had caused unnecessary pain for the Yemeni people. It also persisted in harassing humanitarian organisations, depriving the people from accessing much-needed aid.
RUCHIRA KAMBOJ (India) said her delegation was deeply disappointed that the truce in Yemen had not been extended, despite the many benefits of its implementation. “It is time for warring parties to take a human-centred approach to the conflict,” she said, expressing hope that a mutually acceptable agreement would soon be reached. The conflict had resulted in a humanitarian crisis, endangering millions of Yemeni people with food insecurity. She reaffirmed Yemen’s right to sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence.
GENG SHUANG (China) regretted that, despite the efforts of the Special Envoy and regional countries, the goal of a comprehensive peace had not yet been achieved. Expressing concern about the situation on the ground, he underscored the need to maintain the relatively stable security situation and condemned any attacks on civilians and civilian installations. Dialogue was the only way to resolve the issue. Commending the work of the Special Envoy to restore the truce, and welcoming that the Sana’a airport remained open, he hoped the parties would return to the negotiating table and strive to reach new truce at an early date. He expressed support for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Initiative. Countries should assist in the de-escalation of the crisis and facilitate a political settlement. Turning to humanitarian assistance, he was concerned that dozens of programmes had been terminated, owing to a lack of funding. On the Safer tanker issue, he hoped operations could be carried out as soon as possible to eliminate risks.
VADIM S. KIRPICHENKO (Russian Federation) said that the Council should spare no effort to bring all parties back to the table to agree on a truce. However, antagonization on one side of the conflict and pinning responsibility for the situation on one party alone would not achieve peace. The Russian Federation would continue to extend full support to United Nations’ mediation efforts and remained in close touch with all stakeholders in the country. Only direct negotiations between official Yemeni authorities and the Ansar Allah Movement would break the deadlock. There was a real danger of sliding back into a full military escalation. The resumption of hostilities in some Yemeni provinces were sporadic in nature, which gave reason for hope that efforts would not be abandoned to return to negotiations. The Yemeni people had benefited immensely from the truce. Still, the situation in the country remained dire. Many people suffered from a shortage of necessities. The provision of food and medicine was a priority and should continue a non-discriminatory basis. Also, any limitations placed on the work of humanitarian assistance were unacceptable.
ENRIQUE JAVIER OCHOA MARTÍNEZ (Mexico) regretted that the truce had not been expanded, as its benefits had been clear during the six months it was in force. There had been a substantial fall in the number of civilian casualties and displaced victims. He called on the Houthis to participate constructively towards its renewal. He recognized the efforts of the Special Envoy and the support of Oman and Saudi Arabia to renew the truce, and called on others with influence to encourage Ansar Allah to participate. It was crucial to enable the immediate opening of the access route to Taiz and for agreement to be reached on disbursing payments and pensions to civil servants. He called for restraint by all parties, adding that the solution to the crisis was not through armed conflict, but through dialogue and cooperation. He welcomed the agreement between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Yemeni Government, noting that structural reforms would advance economic recovery. It would be difficult to transition from humanitarian to development assistance without a cessation of violence. He meanwhile underscored the need for unhindered humanitarian access, particularly for critical demining work, and hoped progress could be made to avert a catastrophe with respect to the Safer tanker issue.
MICHAEL KAPKIAI KIBOINO (Kenya) expressed disappointment that the truce could not be extended. “Any gains that have been made are at risk,” he warned. The Yemeni people must be involved in deciding on a path towards peace. Now was not the time to escalate tensions or reactivate the frontlines. An eruption of another cycle of violence would only lead to further humanitarian pain and suffering. He called for maximum restraint, as well as for a concerted effort to enhance the resilience of the Yemeni people and their reduced reliance on humanitarian assistance. The Houthis must do more to improve the living conditions of people in territories under their control. He was deeply concerned about the risk of the many landmines in Yemen.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) said that since the Council’s last meeting on Yemen, a lot had changed, and not for the better. He regretted the expiration of the truce agreement, which had ended the most promising opportunity for a long-lasting ceasefire and an enduring political solution to the crisis. He was concerned that an estimated 19 million people in Yemen were suffering from acute food insecurity. The outbreak of clashes last week between Houthi troops and pro-Government forces was also worrying. Brazil called on both sides to resume negotiations in good faith and urged the representatives of Ansar Allah to choose compromise over conflict. An extension of the truce could provide the opportunity to reach an inclusive and comprehensive political settlement under United Nations auspices.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) said the people of Yemen now had the dreaded prospect of returning to the dark days of military hostilities. The United Nations and regional stakeholders must do all they could to facilitate a truce as soon as possible. Change did not happen overnight but with perseverance and dedication, a solution to the Yemeni conflict would be found. The suffering of the ordinary Yemeni people must be at the forefront of consideration as parties returned to the negotiating table. Any escalation in fighting would exacerbate human suffering there. The people of Yemen had enjoyed a period of calm in the last few months and had a right to live in peace. He requested information on the whereabouts of missing persons and expressed concern for the danger to civilians and critical infrastructure posed by landmines. The international community must address the economic decline faced by millions of Yemenis, he added.
CAÍT MORAN (Ireland) said the truce had represented the longest break in hostilities since the conflict in Yemen began more than seven years ago. The pause in fighting had produced a significant decrease in civilian casualties and in the displacement of vulnerable Yemenis. Steady flows of fuel into Hudaydah port and commercial flights through Sana’a airport had improved everyday life. She called on all sides, particularly on the Houthis, to immediately re-engage with the negotiations. “There can be no military solution to the conflict in Yemen,” she added. She welcomed the mission for the decaying Safer oil tanker, calling it a positive development, which would hopefully avert an environmental, humanitarian, and maritime catastrophe. The international community must continue its flow of funding to Yemen to help tackle the country’s economic crisis.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) expressed regret over the lack of renewal of the truce, and underscored the need to relieve the suffering of Yemenis, who had been enduring the ravages of the conflict for the past eight years. The Houthis’ threats to regional maritime security constituted a provocation when negotiations resumed, he said, calling for a lasting national ceasefire. He applauded the Yemeni Government for its commitment in that regard and called on the Houthis to accept a six-month renewal of the truce. “The Houthis should end their maximalist demands, which lead nowhere,” he said, adding that every day without a truce heightened security risks. He was concerned about continuing instability on the ground, as well as the population’s economic vulnerabilities, with millions facing food insecurity and malnutrition rates at their highest. France demanded full humanitarian access to ensure that the needs of all people were met. He also was concerned about the requirement of “mahrams”, or male guardians, for female humanitarian workers in Houthi-controlled areas. Turning to the Safer oil tanker issue, he welcomed the announcement of financial contributions and looked forward to the launch of the operation’s first stage.
MONA JUUL (Norway) said that during the six months of the truce, there had been a significant reduction of violence and civilian causalities. Child casualties had decreased by 34 per cent. The truce had allowed for direct dialogue between the parties for the first time in years. Only through dialogue could the parties build the necessary trust. Nevertheless, the humanitarian situation remained dire, and she joined the calls for more funding. She was concerned at the impediments to humanitarian access as well as the increasing number of threats against those workers. She also expressed support for the efforts to prevent an oil spill in the Red Sea: “We hope the emergency operation will start as soon as possible.”
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) urged all parties to come closer to agreeing on a truce and commended the work and contribution of Saudi Arabia and Oman for helping find a path towards negotiations. He also commended the government of Yemen for its cooperation but expressed regret that calls for peace by the Yemeni people had not been answered by the Houthis. Growing clashes were of great concern, and he called on the Houthis to cease any and all escalations. The Yemeni people needed peace, not war, and restraint was a must. Yemen could not be a synonym of war. Fuel shipments from the Hudaydah Port must be maintained. Threats to commercial ships and oil companies were counterproductive and unacceptable. He also emphasized that humanitarian workers must be respected and allowed to do their jobs.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), Council President for the October, speaking in his national capacity, said the non-renewal of the truce clouded the horizon for peace. In effect, it had lessened the number of civilian victims, allowed the delivery of fuel and the free movement of commercial flights to and from Sana’a. He hoped that the new proposal by the Special Envoy would be accepted by all, so that for the next six months, pensions and salaries could be disbursed, roads to Taiz and other Governorates could be opened, additional flights could recommence, unhindered access to Hudaydah port could be ensured, and detainees could be urgently released. He called for steps to be taken towards a new agreement, encompassing a multidimensional framework for a comprehensive negotiated settlement, through inclusive dialogue involving women. Turning to the humanitarian situation, he said the protracted war had destroyed the economy, aggravated the suffering of the Yemeni people, and left three-quarters of the population in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. That situation was worsened by food insecurity, price hikes, and devastating floods, which had led to displacements and many more households in need.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) expressed disappointment at the huge setbacks in the United Nations-led peace efforts. The Houthi militia continued to exploit the pain of the Yemeni people for their own gains. The truce had so many benefits for the Yemeni people. Most of all, it had alleviated their suffering. The Yemeni Government had been very cooperative in the process to renew the truce. The Presidential Leadership Council remained committed to peace and to bringing an end to the conflict but expanding the truce “should not come at the expense of our sovereignty”. It also must not empower the Houthi militia.
He said the Government was dedicated to alleviating the suffering of all Yemeni people and to stopping the bloodshed. It was also dedicated to ensuring the free movement of the Yemeni people and of commercial goods. But the Houthis had set many conditions that prolonged the conflict. The Yemeni Government maintained its part in the truce, including by continuing to facilitate the arrival of fuel and vessels. It had also supported United Nations’ humanitarian and peace efforts at a time when the Houthi were escalating tensions. Despite their threats of violence, the Houthis had also issued threats targeting international maritime navigation and oil companies, which would severely impact Yemen’s economy.
The crisis had already destroyed many livelihoods and led to costly destruction and death, he said. The collapse of the Government’s protection programmes had worsened the situation on the ground and caused pain. He commended the support of the United States and humanitarian pledges from the United Nations and European Union but said more could be done to address the financing gap.
ABDULAZIZ M. ALWASIL (Saudi Arabia) said the rejection by the Houthi militia of the proposal to extend the armistice on 2 October came as no surprise to those who were aware of the group that had put their extreme ideological interests at the forefront, taken the Yemeni people hostage, and exposed generations to the risks of armed conflict and war. Recalling that the Council last week, for the first time, attributed to the group the clear responsibility for hindering an agreement to extend the truce, he called on it to cease operations and return to dialogue. “Their rejection of the truce is one chapter to the many sombre chapters that have taken place since 2014, when they attempted a coup against the legitimate Government,” he said, questioning why they rejected a ceasefire proposal and a resumption of flights.
He outlined other disruptive activities by the Houthis, including hampering the Safer oil tanker operations, which risked an unprecedented disaster, the laying of mines, illegal weapons trafficking, the takeover of humanitarian deliveries, as well as the targeting of the infrastructure of neighbouring States through drones. “They are not peaceful and they do not care about the suffering of the Yemeni people,” he stressed. He welcomed the Special Envoy’s efforts towards a comprehensive political solution, but said that the Houthis already had violated the truce and refused to put the oil revenue into a special account for civil servants’ salaries. Further, they had organized military parades in Hudaydah, in flagrant violation of the Stockholm Agreement, besieged Taiz, and insisted on defying calls for peace and stability. The international community and the Council should qualify them as a terrorist group to dry up their funding sources. Saudi Arabia reiterates its right to defend itself from attacks on its Kingdom, he said in closing.