The United Nations humanitarian chief, in a briefing to the Security Council, called today for greater international pressure on the parties to the conflict in Yemen in order to better protect civilians, facilitate relief access to all parts of the country, and encourage the resumption of peace talks and a cessation of hostilities.
Speaking via video link from Brussels, Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that since his last briefing to the Council on 16 February, the conflict had continued unabated, and that the protection of civilians — millions of whom had been facing relentless and often indiscriminate bombing every day — was by far the most pressing concern.
“Air strikes and random shelling of civilians and civilian areas violate cardinal rules of international humanitarian law and constitute unlawful conduct of hostilities,” Mr. O’Brien said, emphasizing that it was unacceptable that health facilities or schools were being hit, and it was critical that all parties to the conflict guarantee the protection of such locations.
He added: “Once again, I underscore the urgent need for this Council, and the international community more broadly, to impress upon the parties to this conflict their obligations to take greater measures to protect civilians and to facilitate unconditional and sustained access to all parts of Yemen. I also ask the Council to press the parties to resume peace talks and agree to a cessation of hostilities.”
Mr. O’Brien cited a number of recent incidents in which civilians had been killed, including an apparent air strike on a market in the Nahem district of Sana’a Governorate on 27 February in which some 30 people had died, six of them children, and coalition air strikes in Bidbadah district, Marib Governorate, on 24 February that reportedly destroyed a health centre.
The delivery of assistance where it was most needed was being impeded by a number of factors, Mr. O’Brien said. Those included attacks carried out by such parties as Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the so-called Aden and Abyan branch of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL); a proliferation of checkpoints that were holding up trucks for days and sometimes weeks; and bureaucratic requirements by Houthi authorities and the Ministry of the Interior in Sana’a, with the latter still blocking a critically needed emergency food security and nutrition assessment led by the World Food Programme (WFP).
Despite such challenges, he said, assistance was being delivered, often at great risk, across all sectors of Yemen. In February, over 3 million people had received WFP food assistance, or about 400,000 more people than in the previous month, and the humanitarian community remained committed to reaching 13.4 million people this year.
“Let me therefore remind all parties that providing timely and unimpeded access to humanitarian organizations is not only the fundamental prerequisite to any meaningful humanitarian response, but also an obligation under IHL [international humanitarian law]. I call upon the Council to request all parties in no uncertain terms to stop any denial of access and facilitate lifesaving needs immediately,” he said.
Turning to the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism — instituted by the Secretary-General on 12 February at the request of the Government of Yemen, and intended to speed up the legitimate imports of such crucial goods as food, fuel and medicines — the Under-Secretary-General said all States and relevant organizations, including the International Maritime Organization, had been notified of its procedures. In recent months, there had been a significant increase in fuel and other life-saving commodities through Yemeni ports, he said, and it was imperative that such imports, as well as trading within Yemen, be allowed to continue. All parties were called upon to ensure the protection of shipping ports and other civilian infrastructure.
Speaking after Mr. O’Brien, the representative of Yemen reiterated his country’s readiness for talks with all parties to stop the bloodshed and achieve a lasting peace. Expressing strong support for the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy and the international community for their efforts, he noted that despite significant improvements, the humanitarian needs of Yemeni people, particularly in areas under militia control, remained unmet. Houthi militias and Saleh forces continued to target civilians, besiege cities, and prevent the delivery of humanitarian aid, including oxygen, water and food.
Noting that the international community had failed to condemn terrorist acts undertaken by the militias, he expressed appreciation to humanitarian organizations which had helped Yemenis return to a normal life. At the request of his Government, the Secretary-General had instituted the Mechanism, aiming to expedite legitimate commercial imports of critical commodities such as food, fuel and medicines. However, he said, it was unfortunate that without consulting his Government, the Mechanism had been set up in Djibouti.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 10:26 a.m.