9623rd Meeting (AM)
SC/15693

Middle East Instability Still Obstructing Progress towards Peace in Yemen, UN Officials Tell Security Council, Stressing All Parties to Conflict Must Act for Brighter Future

Several Delegates Call on Houthis to Stop Attacking Vessels Transiting Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Urged Scaled-Up Humanitarian Aid amid Spike in Cholera, Malnutrition

While regional instability is impeding the achievement of lasting peace in Yemen, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today that the parties to the conflict, regional and international players and the 15-nation organ itself all must do their part so that the people of Yemen can realize a brighter tomorrow.

The “precarious environment in the wider region” continues to hamper progress towards a peaceful solution for Yemen, said Hans Grundberg, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for that country.  Hostilities continue, although there has been a reduction in attacks on commercial and military vessels in the waters surrounding Yemen and reduced airstrikes by the United States and the United Kingdom against land-based targets within the country.  Meanwhile, while the security situation along the front lines inside Yemen has remained contained, military activity continues and the parties have threatened to return to war.

“Let me be clear, further violence will not resolve this conflict,” he stressed, urging the parties to exercise maximum restraint in both word and deed during this fragile period.  Despite challenges, a peaceful and just solution remains possible and, towards that end, he detailed his Office’s “three-pronged approach” — continued engagement; exploration of avenues for de-escalation and confidence-building; and continued preparations for a nationwide ceasefire and a resumed, inclusive political process.  Calling for support in this regard from both the region and the Council, he stressed: “The Yemeni people expect nothing less.”

“But the parties to the conflict need to do their part,” added Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.  Yemen’s economy must be shored up, and therefore it is time to end hostile economic measures and put the interests of Yemenis first.  Allowing the immediate resumption of oil exports and paying public-sector employees across Yemen a living wage would go a long way towards reducing humanitarian needs, he urged, and it would also enable Yemeni authorities to resume responsibility for providing basic services.

“Yemen is a place dear to my heart,” he said, deploring that many things that he called for in his first briefing to the Council three years ago are still relevant — the protection of civilians, unhindered humanitarian access, funding for aid, more support for the economy and progress towards lasting peace.  After almost 10 years of gruelling conflict, the people of Yemen deserve a brighter future, he stressed, urging the Council to do everything in its power to help them seize that opportunity.

In the discussion that followed, many Council members called on the Houthis to cease attacks on vessels transiting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, underlining that security is a prerequisite for peace.  Others also expressed concern over a dire humanitarian situation characterized by spreading cholera and increasing malnutrition, urging scaled-up humanitarian support and unrestricted aid delivery.  Some members also spotlighted the nexus between the situation in Yemen and that in the Gaza Strip.

Among them was China’s representative, who urged the implementation of relevant Council resolutions and, in this context, called on “the relevant country to step up efforts to persuade and pressure Israel”.  The representative of the Russian Federation, expressing regret that events in the Middle East are impeding Yemen’s normalization, said that Israel’s operation in Rafah will undoubtedly impact the situation in Yemen.  The situation is further complicated, he stressed, by “totally unjustified” Western strikes on Yemen’s sovereign territory and the increasing militarization of the waters surrounding it.

However, the representative of the United States warned: “It is abundantly clear that the Houthis and their attacks in the Red Sea, and increasingly now in the Indian Ocean, are jeopardizing the potential benefits of a political resolution between the Yemeni parties.”  A sustainable peace agreement cannot be secured without a conducive security environment, stressed the United Kingdom’s representative, stating that continued Houthi attacks on maritime shipping undermine Yemen’s security and exacerbate the already dire economic and humanitarian situations there.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s representative attributed the failure to resolve the Yemeni crisis to inadequate handling by the UN and the international community of the conduct of Houthi militias and to the ineffective implementation of relevant Council resolutions.  While stating that the Government will continue implementing comprehensive economic, financial and administrative reforms, he stressed that the lack of funding for the 2024 humanitarian response plan for Yemen threatens to increase acute food insecurity and malnutrition — especially among women, children and the elderly.

Urging those present not to ignore that devastating humanitarian situation, the representative of Sierra Leone — also speaking for Algeria, Guyana and Mozambique — called for sustained support to address food insecurity and increasing malnutrition.  He also urged support for efforts to mitigate the urgent health crisis triggered by cholera outbreaks and for education and child-protection programmes.  “Investing in Yemen’s children is investing in Yemen’s future,” stressed Malta’s representative, calling for investment in health services, education, de-mining and explosive-ordnance risk education.

“I call on all to bring our childhood laughter back and to let my dreams for peace become real,” said the representative of Switzerland as she echoed the appeal of Sawsan Alshamiri, a 10-year-old who lent his pen to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) campaign in Yemen.  Urging the Council to support the Special Envoy’s efforts and noting that 1.7 million children are at high risk for infectious disease because they lack drinking water and hygiene, she stressed:  “Their fate reminds us that the price of inaction will only be higher.”

THE SITUATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Briefings

HANS GRUNDBERG, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, recalled that, through dialogue, diplomacy and negotiation, the parties took “a courageous step towards a peaceful solution for Yemen when they agreed to a set of commitments to be operationalized through a UN road map” in December 2023.  Such commitments would provide for a nationwide ceasefire, ensure much-needed relief for Yemenis and initiate an inclusive political process to sustainably end the conflict.  “However, the challenges that I have highlighted in previous briefings continue to hamper progress — most critically, the precarious environment in the wider region,” he reported.  Although there has been a reduction in attacks on commercial and military vessels in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean — as well as reduced numbers of airstrikes by the United States and the United Kingdom against land-based targets within Yemen — hostilities continue. 

Meanwhile, inside Yemen, the security situation along the front lines has remained contained in the past month, he said, nevertheless expressing concern over continued military activity in various locations. On 27 April, two women and three girls were killed in Ta’iz by a drone attack while collecting water near their home, he reported, highlighting the dire risks to civilians in the currently unresolved situation.  Also expressing concern over the parties’ threats to return to war, he underscored: “Let me be clear, further violence will not resolve this conflict.”  He therefore urged the parties to exercise maximum restraint “in both their actions and their words” during this fragile period.  He stressed, however, that — despite these challenges — “I believe that a peaceful and just solution remains possible.”  He said that his Office, to that end, has increased engagement with the Government, Ansar Allah and other Yemeni voices — including political parties, women and civil-society activists — as well as the international community. 

“The message we hear from our engagements is a continued desire for a peaceful solution to the conflict,” he noted, adding that Yemenis are calling for equality as citizens before the law, for a chance to tap into their country’s true economic potential and for functioning services and good governance.  “These calls, ultimately, require an agreement to end the war and begin a political process,” he stressed.  He then detailed his Office’s “three-pronged” approach to realize these objectives — namely, continued engagement with the parties to make progress on the UN road map; exploration of avenues for de-escalation and confidence-building; and continued preparations for a nationwide ceasefire and the resumption of an inclusive political process.  While there are concrete and critical steps the parties can take right now, uncertainty in the wider region is impacting Yemen.  However, he urged those present to “not lose sight of the intrinsic value of long-term peace” and called for support from the region and the Council.  “The Yemeni people expect nothing less,” he stressed.

MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, speaking via video link, recalled the past three years since he assumed his current roles to highlight “moments of great hope”, such as the UN-brokered truce in 2022, and the resulting gains.  But “Yemen is clearly not out of woods — far from it,” he warned, noting that hunger, a defining menace of this crisis, remains prevalent.  Levels of severe food deprivation are alarmingly high and are expected to worsen further when the lean season starts in June.  In addition, 40,000 suspected cases of cholera and over 160 related deaths have been reported since his update to the Council in April, with the majority in Houthi-controlled areas.  The UN and partners are taking urgent action, including the development of a multi-cluster response plan, which requires rapid funding to prevent the situation from spiralling out of control. 

“The consequences of inaction are sadly all too familiar,” he said, recalling that between 2016 and 2021, some 4,000 people — mostly children — lost their lives to cholera.  In this context, he welcomed the announcement of $792 million in financial contributions by several donors at last week’s Sixth Senior Officials’ Meeting in Brussels.  Noting that conflict is a key driver of humanitarian needs, he said progress towards a comprehensive political settlement over the past two years is fragile and needs to be protected and nurtured.  The attacks on vessels in and around the Red Sea have disrupted global trade routes and continue to threaten a wider conflagration.  Rapidly rising food and fuel prices continue to erode families’ purchasing power, plunging them further into hunger and despair.  Therefore, the second priority must be to shore up Yemen’s economy, he said, noting that the UN — under the leadership of the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Julien Harneis, has created a framework aimed at encouraging job creation and is supporting economic reform. 

“But the parties to the conflict need to do their part.  It is time to put an end to hostile economic measures and put the interests of the people of Yemen first,” he stressed.  Allowing the immediate resumption of oil exports and paying public sector employees across Yemen living wage would go a long way towards reducing humanitarian needs and enabling authorities in Yemen to resume responsibility for providing basic services.  “Yemen is a place dear to my heart,” he said, deploring that many things he called for in his first briefing to the Council three years ago are still relevant — the protection of civilians, unhindered humanitarian access, funding for aid, more support for the economy, and progress towards a lasting peace.  After almost 10 years of gruelling conflict, the people of Yemen deserve a brighter future, he stressed, urging the Council to do everything in its power to help them seize that opportunity.

Statements

The representative of the United Kingdom condemned the latest Houthi threats to extend the attack on shipping in the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, noting that continued escalation of maritime attacks undermines Yemen’s security and stability and exacerbates the already dire economic and humanitarian situation there.  Without a conducive security environment, a sustainable peace agreement cannot be secured, she observed, calling on the Houthis to respect the freedom of navigation and cease their attacks on maritime shipping.  Moreover, she spotlighted “a notable surge” in vessels that have entered Houthi-controlled ports without reporting to the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen, which restricts the supply of illegal weapons entering Yemen.  She also called on the authorities — and de facto authorities — to do more to enable the delivery of humanitarian aid and on the international community to provide funding for the response plan.

The representative of Japan, voicing concern over the “highly volatile” situation surrounding Yemen, observed that the Houthis continue to launch drones and missiles intermittently towards vessels transiting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden and even announced that “they will expand the scope of their attacks”.  The Houthis have also held 25 innocent multinational crew members and the Japanese-operated Galaxy Leader for almost six months, she said, demanding the immediate cessation of threats to maritime security and the release of the Galaxy Leader and its crew.  Furthermore, the ongoing Houthi attacks revealed that they possess “an enormous amount of advanced weaponry and military technology” despite the arms embargo imposed by the Council.  Accordingly, she underscored the need to strengthen the existing mechanisms to prevent further illicit weapons transfers and military assistance to the Houthis. Turning to the worsening humanitarian situation in Yemen — such as the cholera outbreak and continued malnutrition — she urged the Houthis to lift restrictions on humanitarian aid.

The representative of Sierra Leone, also speaking for Algeria, Guyana and Mozambique, expressed concern over “the huge trust deficit in the political process”.  Calling on the parties to safeguard gains already achieved in the peace-making process and commit themselves to “prevent a rollback”, he also urged them to continue building trust and confidence by exchanging prisoners, re-opening roads, resolving emerging economic fragmentation and committing to sustained implementation of the UN road map.  Further, the parties to the conflict should refrain from unilateral actions or escalatory rhetoric that could destabilize the peace process, and he underscored that “good-faith dialogue among the parties is an indispensable element to achieving a sustainable peace in Yemen”.

“While negotiations are ongoing on the political track, we must not ignore the devastating humanitarian situation in Yemen,” he went on to say, calling for sustained support to address food insecurity and increasing rates of malnutrition, as well as for education and child-protection programmes and efforts to mitigate the urgent health crisis triggered by cholera outbreaks.  Expressing concern that the Houthis have “expanded the zone of risk beyond the shores of Yemen”, he condemned attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea and called on the Houthis to remove restrictions imposed on vessels carrying humanitarian aid to Yemeni ports.  He also underscored “the nexus between events in Gaza and the situation in Yemen”, urging the Council to “prevent the spillover of the Gaza-Israel conflict and its potential escalation throughout the region”.

The representative of the United States said that his delegation has repeatedly asked that the Secretary-General’s monthly report submitted to the Council under resolution 2722 (2024) include information regarding the types of weapons used in each attack on international shipping and the likely origin of these weapons.  “We have already pointed to the extensive evidence of Iran’s provision of advanced weapons, including ballistic and cruise missiles, to the Houthis, in violation of UN sanctions, which further promote regional instability,” he said, urging the Council to collectively call Tehran out for its destabilizing role and insist that it cannot hide behind the Houthis.  “It is abundantly clear that the Houthis and their attacks in the Red Sea, and increasingly now in the Indian Ocean, are jeopardizing the potential benefits of a political resolution between the Yemeni parties,” he warned.

The representative of Switzerland echoed the appeal of Sawsan Alshamiri, a 10-year-old who lent his pen to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) campaign in Yemen:  “I call on all to bring our childhood laughter back and to let my dreams for peace become real”.   In this regard, she underscored that the current discussions on a road map are an opportunity to make a nationwide ceasefire operational while promoting an inclusive political process under the UN auspices.  Noting that over 17 million people suffer from severe food insecurity and around 1.7 million children are exposed to a high risk of infectious diseases due to the lack of access to drinking water and hygiene, she stressed:  “Their fate reminds us that the price of inaction will only be higher.”  The Council must remain fully mobilized and support the Special Envoy in his efforts to obtain an agreement between the parties to the conflict.  “Switzerland is at all times ready to host discussions that will respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Yemeni population,” she said. 

The representative of Malta, expressing concern over the continued, rapid spread of cholera in areas under Houthi control, noted that the slowing spread of the disease in Government-controlled areas — due to cooperation between authorities and humanitarians — underlines the importance of support for the latter.  “This is the only way to ensure the necessary response to address the cholera crisis,” she stressed, calling for funding to restock essential supplies and strengthen water, sanitation and hygiene systems.  However, a robust response can only be ensured if unimpeded humanitarian access is guaranteed and, to that end, she called on all authorities — “particularly the Houthis” — to allow for humanitarian partners’ free movement. Further, she called on the international community to urgently scale up support to reach vulnerable children in Yemen by investing in comprehensive health services, education, de-mining and explosive-ordnance risk education, adding:  “Investing in Yemen’s children is investing in Yemen’s future.”

The representative of Ecuador called on the warring parties to reduce tensions and commit to stability and peace.  “Intra-Yemeni political dialogue, under the auspices of the United Nations, is the only path to sustainable peace,” he said.  Noting that 17.6 million people face food insecurity, almost half of children under the age of five are stunted and nearly 20,000 suspected cholera cases have been identified, he said financial support to humanitarian organizations is key to addressing the most pressing needs of the population.  He also highlighted the need for the immediate cessation of Houthis attacks on commercial shipping, which are putting considerable pressure on international trade, regional stability and economic recovery in Yemen and East African countries. 

The representative of the Republic of Korea observed that the security situation in and around Yemen remains “perilously unstable”, noting the persistent Houthi attacks against vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.  “Even more concerning is their expansion of targets against ships navigating in the Indian Ocean,” he said, also voicing concern over their intention to target any ships heading to Israeli ports in the Mediterranean.  Accordingly, he urged the Houthis to immediately cease all reckless and illegal attacks that endanger freedom of navigation and impede global commerce.  It is particularly alarming that the weapons used in these attacks indicate ongoing severe violations of the arms embargo, he stressed, emphasizing the essentiality of the Panel of Experts’ activities.  Additionally, he highlighted the importance of the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism in ensuring compliance with the arms embargo while facilitating the unimpeded flow of commercial items to Houthi-controlled areas.

The representative of the Russian Federation emphasized that “it really pains us” that events in the Middle East are impeding Yemen’s normalization — “which, at one point, was experiencing a positive dynamic”. The spiral of escalation in the region continued on 6 May, when Israel began its operation in Rafah that will undoubtedly impact the situation in Yemen.  This situation is further complicated by “totally unjustified” Western strikes on Yemen’s sovereign territory, he stressed, stating that these actions — along with the increasing militarization of the waters surrounding Yemen — have led to further escalation in the Red Sea.  Emphasizing that attempts to justify these either through resolution 2722 (2024) or Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations are “unjustified”, he said that the United States’ actions are “bolstering their reputation as total wheeler-dealers who have no compunction about trampling on international law if it prevents them from making a profit or implementing their mercenary geopolitical agenda”.

The representative of Slovenia said that the end of 2023 presented clear moments of opportunity and positivity on the country’s trajectory to peace.  However, so far in 2024, efforts have been stymied by a complicated regional dynamic due to a dangerous moment for the Middle East.  Expressing regret that Houthi attacks in the Red Sea have continued, he called for their cessation.  An environment conducive to dialogue between the parties is needed now for Yemen — an environment to advance discussions on the UN road map and its key elements.  “We can’t lose sight of the ultimate aim:  an inclusive intra-Yemeni process leading to sustainable peace,” he said, stressing:  “This requires the full, equal, meaningful and safe participation of diverse Yemeni women in all stages of the peace process.”  

The representative of France condemned the attacks carried out by the Houthis in the Red Sea as they undermine the rights and freedoms of navigation, destabilize Yemen and the region, harm the interests of countries in the region and disrupt international trade.  Reiterating her country’s commitment within the framework of the European operation ASPIDES to guarantee maritime security and freedom of navigation, she underscored that States have the right to defend their ships against attacks and resolution 2722 (2024) must be fully implemented.  Remaining collectively mobilized to meet the needs of civilians in Yemen is also vital, she said, voicing concern over the cholera epidemic that is spreading throughout the country.  Accordingly, the international community must ensure that humanitarian workers, particularly female staff in the Houthi area, can carry out their missions unhindered.  She also expressed concern about the increase in arrests and abuses committed by the Houthis against the population, such as “the brutal destruction of houses in Radaa last month”, which killed several of their inhabitants, including women and children. 

The representative of China called on the parties concerned to focus on political settlement, “meet each other halfway” and work together to facilitate a Yemeni-led and -owned political process. All those with influence should play a constructive role to that end, and he also called on the Houthis to respect all vessels’ right to navigation in the Red Sea.  Further, the international community should scale-up humanitarian assistance to Yemen and provide food, medicine and other urgently needed supplies without delay.  Stating that the situations in Yemen and the Red Sea are closely linked with the conflict in Gaza, he urged the implementation of relevant Council resolutions and, in this context, called on “the relevant country to step up efforts to persuade and pressure Israel”.  For its part, China will work to facilitate a cessation of hostilities in Gaza, alleviate human suffering and achieve peace and stability in the Middle East.

The representative of Yemen expressed his country’s commitment to peace, condemning Houthi militias for choosing escalation, terrorism, piracy, and the targeting of international maritime navigation in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.  He attributed the failure to resolve the Yemeni crisis to the inadequate handling by the United Nations and the international community of the conduct of these militias and to the ineffective implementation of relevant Council resolutions and all the other agreements and commitments, including the Stockholm agreement, which represents the seriousness of the Yemeni Government to achieve peace.

He said that the Government of Yemen prioritizes achieving economic stability, including by providing basic services and regularly paying the salaries of civil servants, adding that it will continue implementing its comprehensive economic, financial and administrative reforms.  However, the lack of funding for the 2024 humanitarian response plan for his country threatens to deprive millions of people of lifesaving assistance.  It also threatens to increase acute food insecurity and malnutrition, especially among women, children and the elderly, he said, calling upon the international community to provide generous support to urgently bridge the funding gap.  Furthermore, the Houthi militias continue to recruit thousands of children in “one of the largest child recruitment campaigns in the history of humanity” to use in the war, he said, stressing that the Houthi leaders responsible for child recruitment must be included in the Council’s sanctions list.  Against this background, he concluded:  “Dialogue remains the best means to resolve conflicts and end wars.  It is the best means to harness potential for construction and development.”

For information media. Not an official record.