9576th Meeting (AM)

Concentric Circles of Escalation, Risky Military Adventurism in Red Sea Could Spark New War Cycle in Yemen, Special Envoy Warns, Urging Maximum Restraint

With concentric circles of escalation and risky military adventurism in the Red Sea, Yemen could descend into a new cycle of war, the Organization’s senior official for that country warned the Security Council today, as he urged all actors to exercise maximum restraint and work towards de-escalation and the peace process.

Following the outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Palestine, attacks by the Houthi rebel group on commercial shipping have continued, significantly disrupting global trade routes in the Red Sea.

 “Although we have tried to shield the peace process from regional developments since the war in Gaza, the reality is, that what happens regionally impacts Yemen — and what happens in Yemen can impact the region,” said Hans Grundberg, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen. 

The longer the escalatory environment continues, the more challenging Yemen’s mediation space will become, he cautioned, noting that, with more interests at play, the parties to the conflict in Yemen are more likely to shift calculations and alter their negotiation agendas.  Accordingly, he emphasized the importance of remaining focused on the long-term aims.

Although hostilities have remained relatively low in Yemen compared to the pre-2022 truce period, there have been continued clashes and troop movements in Hudaydah, Lahj, Ma’rib, Sa’adah, Shabwa and Ta’iz.  The parties also continue to make public threats to return to war.  “Many Yemenis I have spoken to have expressed their fears of a potential escalation in internal fighting,” he said, adding:  “We must do all we can to prevent this.” 

Noting that his focus remains on reaching a ceasefire and starting a political process, Mr. Grundberg detailed his mediation efforts, including recent meetings with key security officials in Aden and Ta’iz to prepare for a future nationwide ceasefire.  He urged that all parties keep channels of communication open and do not lose focus on delivering results for Yemenis.  “Supporting the freedom of movement of people and goods across Yemen remains a priority for my Office,” he added.

Edem Wosornu, Director of Operations and Advocacy in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reported that “positive progress observed since the UN-brokered truce in April 2022 is at risk of unravelling”.  Levels of food insecurity and malnutrition have surged — recent assessments by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) showed an 11 per cent increase in food insecurity since November 2023 and that nearly half of all children under the age of five are experiencing moderate to severe stunting. 

“The causes are familiar,” she said — conflict, a protracted economic crisis and severe funding shortfalls that significantly impact humanitarian assistance.  Noting that WFP requires $230 million over the next five months to cover three food distribution cycles for the most vulnerable families in Houthi-controlled areas, she urged donors to step up with this much-needed funding.  “For most people in Yemen, food insecurity is an issue of affordability, not accessibility,” she stated, urging the international community to support the UN’s development framework for Yemen to enable its people to “break the cycle of dependence on external assistance”. 

She also pointed out that rising regional tensions and the escalating situation in the Red Sea further threaten the modest economic improvements and humanitarian progress since the truce.  Attacks against vessels could directly and indirectly impact the livelihoods of thousands of people in coastal communities that rely on fishing for survival. Accordingly, she urged all concerned parties to refrain from actions that could exacerbate the situation and underlined the importance of full humanitarian access to Yemenis in need, adding: “The people of Yemen can ill-afford to see the progress made since the UN-brokered truce ebb away.”

In the following discussion, numerous Council Members — among them, the representatives of Malta and Ecuador — voiced alarm over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen.  They stressed that Yemen continues to be one of the most food-insecure countries in the world, with 18 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.  Without the necessary funding, food security will continue to deteriorate sharply, many observed, urging the international community to ensure that WFP and its partners have the requisite resources and access to resume food distribution in Houthi-controlled areas. 

The speakers for Switzerland and Slovenia highlighted that women have borne the brunt of the war in Yemen — and yet have displayed time and time again their relentless commitment to peace at the grassroots level. The increasing exclusion of Yemeni women from public and political life, including restrictions on their freedom of movement, is, therefore, harmful for peace efforts. 

Many speakers deplored the Houthi missile attack on the True Confidence cargo ship on 6 March, which resulted in the death of three seafarers and injured four others, as well as the missile attacks on the Rubymar.

The representative of the United States emphasized that the attacks affect every Member State, making it vital that “we speak with one voice in rejecting efforts to interfere with the exercise of navigational rights and freedoms”.  Citing recent progress to Yemen’s stability through a durable ceasefire and inclusive UN-led political process, he warned that the Houthis risk throwing it away — and “these actions do nothing to alleviate hardships facing the Yemeni people, much less help meet the needs of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.” 

Echoing his stance, France’s delegate said that the Houthis are “singlehandedly” responsible for the escalation in the Red Sea and the resulting fallout on regional stability and international maritime trade.  Demanding that Iran halt their destabilizing actions by ceasing to fund and arm them, she said that France will continue its commitments under the European Union’s Operation “ASPIDES”.  She reported that a French frigate intercepted several Houthi drones in the context of that operation, whose stance is “purely defensive”. 

In the same vein, her counterpart from the United Kingdom urged Iran to cease its unlawful support for the Houthis, stating:  “This is the best opportunity for sustainable peace in Yemen in nine years.  We must take it”.  He also emphasized the role of the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism, noting that the integrity of commercial imports — through which 90 per cent of all food comes to Yemen — is vital. 

The speaker for the Republic of Korea stressed that the sinking of Rubymar carrying fertilizer earlier in March is also concerning due to the possible environmental contamination of the Red Sea.

The representative of Sierra Leone, also speaking for Algeria, Guyana, and Mozambique, added that a high concentration of these dangerous goods may pose a severe threat to the marine ecosystem and the Yemeni fishing industry.  Accordingly, he called on the international community to support the capacities of the Yemeni Coast Guard in protecting the country’s coastline.

Also condemning the Houthis’ “outrageous and unjustifiable conduct” — which is impeding global commerce and undermining navigational rights and freedoms — Japan’s delegate called for the immediate release of the Japanese-operated Galaxy Leader and its 25 crew members. 

China’s delegate, meanwhile, countered that “the Security Council has never authorized any country to use force against Yemen”.  The tensions in the Red Sea are “a clear manifestation of the spillover effects of the Gaza conflict”, he observed, urging Israel to cease its collective punishment of the Palestinian people and on “the country concerned” to enable the Council to take immediate action towards a ceasefire. 

The speaker for the Russian Federation echoed that a further destabilizing factor — aside from the presence of the “so-called coalition” led by the United States and the United Kingdom — was the dispatch of naval vessels from European Union countries as part of the bloc’s Operation “ASPIDES”.  While operations initiated by the United States and its satellites have not stabilized the situation in the Red Sea, “the only diplomacy that Washington recognizes is gunboat diplomacy”, he stated.

For his part, the delegate for Yemen said his country is under economic siege, which had led to food insecurity, due to continued aggression by the Houthi militias against commercial ships carrying food and humanitarian assistance to Yemeni ports.  The continued influx of Iranian weapons to Houthi militias will only protract the conflict and further exacerbate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.  “There is a dire need to review how to counter the activities of the [Iranian] proxies destabilizing the region,” he said. 

The Houthis must stop their war against the Yemeni people and, instead, open the crossing and main roads, free prisoners in detention and resort to peace, he stressed, adding that peace “cannot be achieved without supporting the Government of Yemen, promoting its ability to restore State institutions and protect its territorial waters.”

For information media. Not an official record.