This week's guest is Martin Griffiths, the Secretary General's Special Envoy for Yemen, a country that’s been devastated by civil war. Martin’s job is to try to keep open routes to negotiation between the warring parties. He says a mediator has to bring hope to seemingly hopeless situations. Martin speaks candidly about his struggles with depression, the mental toll humanitarian work can have, and the importance of empathy when mediating between sides in a conflict.

"I'm not from Yemen. It's our conflict because it has such dramatic consequences, not only for the people of Yemen more broadly. But the job of a mediator, I think, is to infuse hope into people, to say there can be a solution to this, to come up with ideas as to how they might resolve their inevitable differences."


Full Transcript +


Melissa Fleming  00:01

From the United Nations, I'm Melissa Fleming and this is Awake at Night. My guest this week is Martin Griffiths, the Secretary General's Special Envoy for Yemen, a country that has been devastated by civil war, and which is experiencing one of the world's worst humanitarian crises with famine, very little medical care, and now the coronavirus pandemic, Martin, this is not an easy job you have. Tell me about it. What is a special envoy to Yemen? What are you supposed to do?


Martin Griffiths  00:36

Very simply put, the job is to make sure the parties to that war, the parties to that conflict have the chance to settle their differences, obviously through negotiation dialogue. So, I see myself as a mediator brought in to mediate on behalf of the United Nations, of course, on behalf of the Security Council, and the task of a mediator is, I think, a complicated one, because it's not my conflict. I'm not from Yemen. It's our conflict, because it has such dramatic consequences, not only for the people of Yemen, but more broadly. But the job of a mediator, I think, is to infuse hope into people, to say there can be a solution to this, to come up with ideas as to how they might resolve their inevitable differences. And to give some kind of sense of vision to the people of Yemen, that this doesn't need to go on indefinitely, because, as you know, in a war, it seems endless to those living through it. While their children don't go to school, they are displaced and disrupted. There seems no possible end. And I think what we do in the United Nations, and in the job that I have, is to try to give people a sense, there is another way, there's a way out of this, and that their leaders need to take it.


Melissa Fleming  02:04

And so if you were to talk to the people of Yemen, who are exhausted by this horrific war, who are facing multiple challenges, including hunger, and now the Coronavirus, what would you say to them at this point in time?


Martin Griffiths  02:21

I'd say to them that it's time to call it off. It's time to stop this now. It's time for them and us and the international community to step up and say to their leaders, both parties, knock it off now, stop this, it doesn't need to go on. And the second thing I think we would say is, we cannot afford to let it go on. The humanitarian prospect for Yemen - it's getting much worse, with a looming famine, which because of COVID, we can't afford to fund the programme to protect the people. So, it'll get worse, unless with some urgency, the leaders decide to do the right thing. That's what I would say. So, come together and be champions for Yemen.


Melissa Fleming  03:20

What are the factors that are leading to this famine? What do you think about when you see that something this dramatic is looming for the people of Yemen?


Martin Griffiths  03:29

Well, the first thing, I think, is that it's avoidable. This is not the first time we've been facing this in Yemen. The last two years, we have been facing it, and due to very, very effective humanitarian aid, it was headed off. This time, the prospects are much dimmer. We need a ceasefire. We need to open up the country to the humanitarian aid, to medicines, to reconstruction of health services now, particularly, of course.


Melissa Fleming  04:04

Absolutely. And it must be something that drives you also in your mediation efforts, knowing that whether you succeed will determine whether humanitarian aid can enter, aid workers can reach the people, who are suffering and dying.


Martin Griffiths  04:22

It's a real impulse, you know, we get a lot of reminders that we need to do our job, we need to make it happen. And there was a vivid example in Yemen, of exactly what you say two years ago, when there was a prospect of a battle for the city and ports of Hodeidah on the Red Sea. And these are ports, which are the direct entry point for that world's largest humanitarian aid programme that keeps people in Yemen alive and the prospect was for a battle, which would have devastating consequences for the people in the city. But also rupture the humanitarian pipeline. So we all worked very hard to stop it and it was stopped. And it was stopped through a whole different set of conditions and alliances. Right in the front was the humanitarian community internationally actually, strongly advocating that this should not happen. And behind that diplomacy, which allowed us then to work with the two parties to call a ceasefire, and to stop the battle, and it worked. But that's two years ago. And we can see it fraying and shredding and we can see it coming back. So it's a reminder of why we need to not waste a single day.

Martin Griffiths meets with President Hadi in Riyadh. (13 October 2020)

Melissa Fleming  05:47

And now we have the compounding kind of looming threat of the coronavirus. So far, the country has been pretty much spared. Why is that, but what worries you about this particular virus entering such a fragile country?


Martin Griffiths  06:06

I remember Lise Grande, who is my colleague, who is the humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, and a very experienced woman, who has worked in so many parts of the world. And she said when we were facing the threat of the virus before it arrived, she said that in her experience, some of the more fragile states, if you like, the countries which didn't have, you know, people weren't moving between cities, because there's a war going on, you know, the roads are shut, that sometimes they're spared the full impact of a scourge like the virus, which needs movement, which needs people to transfer it. But we also saw in those first months that when it did arrive, there was precious little health infrastructure, very few drugs coming in to help people and, of course, virtually no contact tracing. So the statistics are very suspect. And we heard about mass graves in Arden in the south and in Sana'a up further north. And as we know, now, in living through the second wave in other parts of the world, it's ready to return to Yemen.


Melissa Fleming  07:16

Dare I ask you, then, what keeps you awake at night?


Martin Griffiths  07:21

I hope, you have to… I'm often accused, actually - and I think not unfairly, of being too optimistic. You have to have hope. What I found in mediation is that – and I've done this now for about 20 years or more - that 90% of your efforts fail, it's not a thing to put your money into, you know, 90% of your initiatives don't work out as you would like them to do. And what that means is a couple of things. First of all, always have a fallback, never get into a cul de sac, always find a way round, so that you can proceed with another way of approaching things. And secondly, don't opine when things go wrong. Your job, my job is to keep moving and to keep trying. So 90% of things going wrong is a real, it's a real wake up at night problem. Yeah, it really is. But then you're lucky to have a chance to do something about a war.


Melissa Fleming  08:24

You talk a lot about empathy as a really important ingredient in mediation. How important is empathy in your work?


Martin Griffiths  08:36

I think it's central to mediation, in particular, of course, it's very important in many other activities in the UN system, in the world. But in mediation, it's particularly central, I think, because what a mediator has to do, of course, is to put her, or himself, into the minds of the leaders in war, and try to figure out why they're doing certain things. And perhaps more importantly, try to imagine how they might do something differently, how they might actually do the right thing at last. And empathy is the only way to give you half a chance of that imaginative endeavor working. And because, in my experience, the people who lead wars are not like you and me, they are different to us. I've had a lot to do with insurgent groups in many different parts of the world, for many, many years. People who run insurgent groups have made a decision in life, which is not like mine or others. They are different and trying to see where they are coming from and try to see what would appeal to them is what I think a mediator has to do. So if you're not interested in empathy, stay home.


Melissa Fleming  09:58

I guess we all associate empathy with something positive. Like, when you empathize with somebody, you y try to get inside their feelings, but you're trying to get inside the head of a warlord often, or somebody who is a perpetrator of some of the worst war crimes. So in this case, how would you describe that term? I mean, it must be hard for you to feel empathy in the classic sense of the word.


Martin Griffiths  10:25

I know what you mean, I think … I'd like to think I'm not quite the same as some of the people we work with in terms of warlords, but I once had the opportunity to mediate between the Spanish government and a Basque terrorist group ETA. And in that experience, I had the opportunity to spend quite a lot of time with people, who had been terrorists, listed terrorists for many years, and tried to understand them, and to see where they are like you and me, even though they're responsible for terrible crimes. And what I have found over and over and over again, is that the basic human condition, the basic human things that we share: children, parenthood, aspirations for better life, those things which are universal, which have nothing to do with an individual culture - that exists right through into the kind of people that we're talking about, into warlords. And I remember spending a lot of time with one of the founders of eta, who had been a terrorist for 25 years, or so, and trying to learn from him what it meant to his daily life - the fact that he had not seen his family, of course, because were he to visit his family, he’d be picked up by the police, all the sorts of things that we don't imagine. He said, why are you stopping me robbing banks – it’s the only way I can get money? And I said, well, you know, we're trying to stop this thing. So just putting yourself in the mind of somebody like that. I mean, it's a nightmare in some ways. It's not the empathy, as you say that you're describing. It's a feat of imagination. The bridge can be made, because we are all basically, have many things in common.


Melissa Fleming  12:20

We're all human, and some people turn in the wrong direction. And your goal, as I hear it, then of using empathy is to persuade, trying to convince leaders of war to become leaders of peace. What would be your pitch to one of them?


Martin Griffiths  12:41

I would say, the misery of the people of your region has continued for 35 years. What are you seeking to achieve? What is it that you want to achieve? And they answered, we want the people of the Basque region to have the right to decide their future. And then, of course, you work for that. We see it the same in Yemen, we see it in other conflicts, you try to find a way to meet the aspirations of this leader, but to see it realized, or perhaps changed by circumstance, when he thinks about the misery of the people that is.. that are sufferers due to his actions. Very rarely have I found people to be unfeeling, ultimately about the tragedy that they see around them. So the tragedy of war, as you said earlier, is a  spur, is a valuable, essential spur, to get people to do the right thing, to get people to do the difficult thing, which is to walk away from war. And it requires a certain, which is very difficult, I think, a certain sense of being able to say to the people, who died in that struggle, in that war, that they didn't die for nothing, which is not easy sometimes. But providing a narrative that allows their leaders to say, we can pursue our aims without fighting. That's what we have to provide.


Melissa Fleming  14:18

You said that you're a mediator, and you're not a negotiator, and that the parties need to negotiate with each other rather than you. In Yemen, coming back to Yemen, are the parties doing this? And do you see any hope?


Martin Griffiths  14:32

The problem that we face now is that because of the lockdown, because of the virus, negotiation has become virtual. And you miss the essential human chemistry, that empathy that we're talking about, to make the connection between the parties. And the result of this is that we become the negotiator, because we negotiate with each party, we bring back a solution from one party and place it in front of the other. And that party says, well, I don't like what you've given me. And I'm saying, well, it's not me, it's the other party - that easily gets lost, the parties need to realize that I'm not the problem. The parties need to realize they have to talk to each other. And we had a recent example of this, which I think was very moving. A few weeks ago, we managed despite COVID, despite all that, to bring the two parties together in Switzerland, to negotiate the release of prisoners. There are many, many prisoners in any conflict, Yemen is no different, as you know. And in this case, after about a week of hard, caustic, often angry negotiation across the table between those two parties, physically across the table from each other, they agreed to the release of about 1,050 people. ICRC, our partners in this told us it is the biggest release of prisoners in ICRC’s experience during war, since the Korean War. It is a massive achievement, massive achievement in the middle of an angry conflict. And one of the reasons why it happened, I believe, is because they sat down and talked to each other. I firmly believe - this is not idle optimism - I firmly believe that if we can get them to sit down opposite each other, in the coming weeks, they will agree to a nationwide ceasefire in opening up the country, they will agree that finally we can start the road to peace. So the prospect is real. They need to understand that they have to sit down opposite each other. That's the task that is at hand for me now.

Signing of the prisoners release agreement

Melissa Fleming  17:29

You wake up at night thinking about how you can achieve this?


Martin Griffiths  17:33

It's, yes and through the day, and it's a couple of different things. First of all, there's a sort of meta sense of anxiety about this, will we be able to suggest to the parties that this is right thing to do? Don't be frightened, it's okay. You know, come, we'll make it work. And then there's the, just as time absorbing calculation of the tactics, how will we do this? Who will we talk to first? How can we do that? Who will talk to him, to talk to her, to talk to him? You know, all the stuff of diplomacy and mediation and, indeed, negotiation.


Melissa Fleming  18:08

When you're mediating for peace in Yemen, are you thinking about the people? Do you have any individuals in mind in your head that you're, that you're reflecting on, or any stories that keep you fueled?


Martin Griffiths  18:24

You know, I do think that humanitarian workers have… are luckier than the rest of us in the sense that they really deal upfront, and close and personal, with the daily misery that they're treating, they're doing something about. And when I was involved in humanitarian programmes in the field, and then distant, I've always tried to make sure that I had the opportunity to go to some of the worst places to refuel, to be reminded. And for a mediator, it isn't so direct, you don't have that immediate exposure, as you do on a daily basis when you’re a humanitarian, but there was a recent example, which for me, was very, very telling. And it was a press story and interview and clip of a school in Yemen, in Taiz - one of the biggest cities in the middle of the country, as you know, a school surrounded by minefields, and Taiz has been a war zone for the last four years. And this school, a journalist went to interview the teachers, woman teacher running the school, the parents, and of course, the children and I saw this, and the fact that these children and these parents and these teachers went daily to school where there were no materials, there was no money to pay the teachers, there were no walls, in fact, in this blasted building, and where a path, as I understand it, had been made through the minefields to get the children in and out on a daily basis. It's astonishing to think about the determination of people to keep life going. And of course, it brings tears to your eyes. Because, if you have the privilege of being a parent - it’s telling, so that for me was a reminder of why you deserve to be kept awake at night.


Melissa Fleming  20:36

Also, maybe it’s linked to the optimism that you said is one of your big character traits, when you see that even those suffering, you know, the worst atrocities and conditions of war, somehow hold on to their resilience and their hope.


Martin Griffiths  20:55

Yes, I agree. And it is phenomenal, isn't it? How much, how much that happens, and it happens throughout the world in different cultures. It is, as you were saying earlier, a basic human condition. I once had a terrible experience in in the Kivu's, in 1997. When Kabila was marching across the country to take Kinshasa from President Mobutu, there was a refugee camp – Tingi Tingi. For a short while it was the refugee camp in the news of the world. And it was, very soon after this story, was razed to the ground in a battle by Kabila's forces. When I visited it, on one occasion was there in the United Nations. I was being interviewed on camera, in fact, interviewing a woman, a mother, whose little baby was being treated for extreme medical problems in a clinic, and we were in the clinic. And so I was talking to the mother. And it was, you know, an interview on camera and I tried to find out what's going on and so forth. And suddenly, something happened. And I could feel that there was something sort of flooding across my trousers and lady was in front of me. And she started scrambling, to, you know, to clean my trousers. And what had happened was that her child had died in front of us. And what was almost worse, Melissa, about this particular terrible, terrible experience was her embarrassment. And, and you know, and I understood it, and I was mortified, as you could imagine, and it just, it just told us everything about the vulnerability, the insecurity, the pure tragedy- she was a refugee - of that woman, and the power relations that dominated anybody who has no home


Melissa Fleming  23:19

When she started brushing your trousers, and you realize that she was having this… feeling embarrassed, which was that surprising to you?


Martin Griffiths  23:29

It was shocking. Perhaps, I mean it still does take my breath, because I think it was more shocking than surprising. It was deeply shocking, that I could appear to her to be somebody who, who would need that kind of treatment, you know, that this is how she would look at the world that she was forced to live through and live in - that I think was absolutely chilling for me. And, you know, the people who work in humanitarian agencies when they see this, not daily, thank God, but so frequently. So this was just a sort of a moment of realization to me of the fact that there are people, who are like you and me but are so, so fragile, and in our hands, and vulnerable.

Martin Griffiths meets with local community leaders during his visit to the city of Marib.

Melissa Fleming  24:35

When you think of that and realize that you are mediating and playing an incredibly crucial role in a situation of war and peace and a future that could either be a perpetuation of the war, or a future of peace. I mean, that's, that must be a kind of daunting responsibility that's on your shoulders,


Martin Griffiths  24:59

The difficulty is getting that right, so that on the one hand, you don't see yourself as the great saviour, you know, it's not it, you do your best, you do your best, daily, obviously, all you have to do every day is your best. And that's your job. And if you don't do that, then you are, of course, to be criticized. But that's all that is required of you. That's an easy thing to say. Because, as you say, the war goes on, and people are in misery. What I think makes me perhaps, oddly enough, more angry than anything else, is the way in which people involved in the conflicts take their good time to resolve it. Days go by. And you know that every single day is a day of, you know, somebody losing their lives, or their livelihoods. And so you, you say to them, no more time, and humanitarian workers know that so directly. But in my world, it's the wastage of time, the postponement of decisions, which in a way are the most frightening and difficult to understand.


Melissa Fleming  26:13

Were you always a patient person?


Martin Griffiths  26:16

You know the Secretary General's advice, as you know, is always patience, patience, patience, patience, patience. No, I'm a very impatient person. And I believe that it's quite useful in this work, to worry a lot about whether we're doing it right. And, therefore, to be impatient. You try hard to be patient, of course, it's required, that you are who you are.


Melissa Fleming  26:43

Growing up as a young boy would your mother have described you as patient?


Martin Griffiths  26:51

My mother distinguished yourself by making sure that I never, never thought that I was too good at things and always sort of take me down, you notice that clearly tells you I was already far too confident about myself. She would bring me back to reality. We grew up in a lot of different countries, my father, he was a businessman, but he was introduced to the United Nations in the Congo, back in the 1950s -60s, the first great peacekeeping mission. And he was in Unilever there. And he had a lot to do with it. And he always talked about the UN to me ever after as this great, wonderful, saving the world organization and coming from a man of his background, pure businessman, it was very telling, very telling.


Melissa Fleming  27:37

Was that always in the back of your mind and gave you kind of an aspiration to work for the UN?


Martin Griffiths  27:41

I think so. I also… Yes, it did, it did and I, because my parents lived abroad, I was sent like, everybody of my generation and class in England, sent back to boarding school in those days. And I went to a Quaker school, because my parents realized that I was certainly not a very strong and fit person and sending me to an ordinary school, I'd probably get beaten up far too often. So a Quaker school, I think they thought I was more likely to survive. And I went there with my brother, older brother. And of course, this was a very progressive school, and it was the time of the Vietnamese war. This was the 60s. And we spent our time organizing demonstrations against the Indochina, the Vietnamese war, I was involved in the big demonstrations in London, in the Grosvenor Square in ‘68. So that helped. But yeah, I think it was from my father and mother, the idea of doing something different from business. I also tried to get a job, in fact, in Unilever, and because I was a fairly, clearly overconfident young man, my father afterwards learned how the interview went. And he said that they probably didn't think it was a good idea for me to criticise capitalism in the interview. And those were the days when you did right? I mean, just keep it for later. So I found a tricky, clever way into the UN through the British volunteer programme, they said that you volunteered for VSO. And if you told them in those days that you couldn't teach English, which was of course, what most volunteers did around the world, but if you say you couldn't teach English, they sent you to the UN. So I was sent off to UNICEF in Laos and I was very lucky to have it.


Melissa Fleming  29:30

And so you cleverly maneuvered into your career.


Martin Griffiths  29:33

Exactly. And, you know, you know how difficult it is to get into the UN these days, or to get into any jobs of value. When I think how easy it was then and how slippery it was, I feel just you know, lucky me.


Melissa Fleming  29:49

We do have a lot of young listeners to this podcast and what would you advise them if they wanted to pursue this kind of career path?


Martin Griffiths  29:57

I would strongly, strongly urge them to do it, for a number of different reasons. First of all, I think in the last 20 years, mediation has become a much more considered activity, as you know, it's become not professionalized, because I think that's rather to diminish it. But it's become understood better, more recognized as an important craft with certain principles and certain values. And therefore, as a result of that has become more equitable, which is crucial, but also more likely to have an impact. So, I would say to people in a way that I would not have said 20 years ago, please do, please do come into this, because we need you and we need, we need people, who are talented enough to give their lives to this, to give their time to this, but also to give their commitment to what… how could you not have a happy life, if your job is to stop war?


Melissa Fleming  31:01

Even though 90% of the time it doesn't work?


Martin Griffiths  31:04

The few times it does, and I've been lucky - the first mediation I was involved in was in Indonesia, in Aceh, and eventually through another mediator after me it worked and peace returned to Aceh. The conflict in in the Basque Country - it's over. Wars end. It's sometimes, it's quite hard, isn't it to remember that, but wars end. And they end usually, with help and not meander their way, so yeah.


Melissa Fleming  31:32

Describe the feeling that you've, you had when you did achieve peace, for example, in Aceh?


Martin Griffiths  31:38

Yes, I can, I can remember it very well, because we produced a ceasefire. This was the Humanitarian Dialogue Centre in Geneva. And we were having, where there was a big ceremony, and there was going to be a political process attached to it, a big ceremony in our building and signed, and the man who later became the president of Indonesia, Bambang Yudhoyono came, and so on and so forth. And I just felt like magic. It was the most intoxicating, intoxicating moment. And I thought, that's great, you know, I'm exhausted, of course, and so forth. And then I was taken back upstairs to my office, my room, where there were a few advisors who had been helping us. They said, now, sit down, there's a lot of work to do. And I said, but you know we just had a deal here, you know, can we at least celebrate the moment? They said, no, no time, get going. And they were right, of course, there were lots of things we have to do. But that priceless moment, which I can only really associate with mediation, is to die for. It's, it's unearned.


Melissa Fleming  32:56

You spent 10 years managing the Centre for humanitarian dialogue in Geneva. And you know, after 10 years, you had to step down and then went into a kind of personal crisis, you told me. Do you want to talk about that a bit.


Martin Griffiths  33:11

It was very difficult time, because I had to leave HD, as we called it. And so I was more or less unemployed. But more importantly, I was completely, you know, my life was just falling apart, in a way - professionally. And so I had a period of depression, which I was lucky enough to emerge from a few years later. And I was very lucky, because my family was always there, Ruth, Lara and Sasha. So I was very lucky in that way. And many friends and so forth. But what I take from it now is, of course, that if you've had depression, you will never really recover. I mean, it's a condition isn't it - it will always be lurking. And in a way that's kind of useful to know that, because it's always there, and what I found so,  so… and again, I think it's very common experience, what I found in that was meeting other people who had a similar condition, from lots of different kinds of walks of life than mine, for God's sake, the courage and the equality of everybody in the face of illness was something, which I will try to make sure that I remember this, because it's really important for us to realize - those of us, who are lucky enough to be working and happy - is that, you know, the abyss is just there, you know, you step off, step off the path, as happens to people who are, for example, dislodged by war, and you tumble. And I tumbled for a bit and, you know, I’m fine and I’m very well and happy and so forth, but it's good to know that none of us are immune to this. I found it… and I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but I found it a useful experience, if I could put it that way.


Melissa Fleming  35:11

So, I mean, I wonder if this experience, maybe before you felt kind of invincible and realized your own vulnerability?


Martin Griffiths  35:20

I think so, I really do think so, because I had a very varied life I, you know, this is my seventh time in the United Nations, for example, I get in and out of jobs and move around quite a lot. But you know, they've all been very interesting in different ways, sometimes more difficult than others. But yeah, a full life that, let's say, a full life. And goodness, suddenly, like a curtain is drawn, you know, it can stop. And I think that the parallel between mental and physical health, which as we know, is something that we're all trying to get everybody to understand - that it's health, for goodness sake, you can suddenly get very sick from cancer for instance, or some disease. And it's clear to everybody, my God, this is a terrible moment - mental health is not dissimilar. It can suddenly take you and what I found so difficult, but eventually got my head around, was that this is something that you cure yourself, with all the help in the world.


Melissa Fleming  36:25

I wonder, what you would say, with this coronavirus pandemic, that we're seeing also a kind of pandemic of triggers that are pushing people also over the edge into depression and other mental health afflictions? How are you? Are you thinking about that these days?


Martin Griffiths  36:44

I'm fine, thank God. But I do think about it in the sense that when you've been there, you can have empathy about it to others. And the lockdown, you know, we all went through lockdown, obviously, I was in luxury, I have to say, in Amman, I was alone. I mean, my family is in Geneva, but I was in Jordan. But at a hotel, you know, absolutely lovely life and stuff and very busy, professionally. But you feel at times a little bit queasy, don’t you, about how you're going to fill your day, and so on. And so if I felt that, I could think God, this is lethal stuff, it's very hard to keep an understanding of how it affects different people. And if you are like I am a manager of a team of people, understanding how this particular virus, as you say, this has an impact on people's mental health in a sort of broad way, tiredness, you know, virtual meetings are exhausting in ways that physical ones aren’t and so forth. And the difficulties of the fact that you can't chat in the corridor, you know, all the things that we're beginning to realize, are so vital. We're just beginning to understand, aren’t we, what we what the impact of this is.


Melissa Fleming  38:06

There's certainly no playbook for this. But I mean, you did talk about also in your mediation efforts, you know, the importance of this human contact and the chemistry of physical meetings. And I guess this is completely similar to what people are going through in just everyday ordinary work life, that the missing chemistry and interaction is really taking something away from our ability to perform and also to feel happy about our day to day life.


Martin Griffiths  38:40

I think so. And I think a good example of that, I think was recently with some colleagues, we went to Muscat, Oman a few weeks ago, where we had physical meetings with Houthi team is there, as well as, of course, the Omanis. And just the opportunity to sit across the table for us with Ansarullah, with the Houthis. And here again, what they are saying, put what they are saying into perspective. And if you don't actually have the reassurance of body language and ability to shift the conversation around, I certainly found us misunderstanding over the months, what they or the others, or other people were saying. And physical interaction does more than words, doesn't it? It does a huge amount more than words. And it's very reassuring, when you can see how people are talking, as well as what they're saying. The use of virtual means became a real blessing at the beginning of the lockdown, and we found we could do much more, we found we could meet many more people, of course. And then over time we rediscovered that there are some things that need to be done physically, certainly in my field of work, in mediation, and so trying to get that balance back now. What are the things that we really do need to travel for, what meetings are essential, you know, calibrating that? Well, I think I’m going to need some help. I need some training, I think.

meeting with Houthi leaders

Melissa Fleming  40:10

I think we all will. Your work, I think, involves a lot of focus. And, it must be very frustrating at times, stressful. Do you do anything for fun?


Martin Griffiths  40:24

Travel? No, actually what I do for fun is not travel. I read and read and read, actually an enormous amount. I'm very lucky with my family. And you know, although they weren't in Jordan, they are now in Geneva and I see them and, of course, that is a daily refreshment. Such simple pleasures, aren't they? And they are the most real ones, I find.


Melissa Fleming  40:51

You have two children? Are they following in your footsteps?


Martin Griffiths  40:55

Oh, God, I hope not. I don't know. My daughter, Lara is at university in Edinburgh. And she is becoming more and more politically engaged, as the world is, actually, which is fantastic to see. And my son Sasha, who is 16, for me, he is Mr. Empathy, and his ability to perceive you know, how we - all our children are swans, of course, is … is magnificent. So I think those two are going to go much further than me wherever they’re going. They're going to be the new world.


Melissa Fleming  41:39

Martin, thank you so much for speaking to us today on Awake at Night.


Martin Griffiths  41:44

Thanks a lot, Melissa. Thank you very much, indeed.


Melissa Fleming  41:47

Thank you for listening to Awake At Night. We'll be back soon with more incredible and inspiring stories from people working to do some good in this world at a time of global crisis. To find out more about the series and the extraordinary people featured, do visit On Twitter. We're @un and I'm @melissafleming. Martin is @OSE_Yemen. Subscribe to Awake At Night wherever you get your podcasts and please take the time to review us. It does make a difference. Thanks to my colleagues at the UN into my producers Bethany Bell and the team at Chalk and Blade: Laura Sheeter, Fatuma Khaireh and Alex Portfelix. The original music for this podcast was written and performed by Nadine Shah and produced by Ben Hillier. The sound design and additional music was by Pascal Wyse.