With parties to the conflict in Yemen pursuing a futile and cruel military conflict of benefit only to a few of the powerful, millions of citizens were enduring the worst suffering in the nation’s history, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for that country told the Security Council today.
Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, briefing alongside John Ging, Director of the Coordination and Response Division in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the sharp increase in civilian casualties showed the warring parties’ continued disregard for their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including their obligation to stop recruiting child soldiers and to end sexual and gender-based violence.
“The bloodshed and destruction of Yemen has to end,” he said. “There are no excuses. There are no justifications.” He noted that an air strike against a residential suburb in Sana’a, the nation’s capital, on 25 August had reportedly claimed the lives of 14 civilians and injured 16 others; shelling from Houthi-controlled zones of residential areas in Taiz city on 15 and 18 September had killed and injured tens of civilians.
The conflict affected every facet of daily life, he said. The economy was shrinking. Dwindling state revenues were used to fund the war and prevented salary payments on which millions of Yemenis depended. Moreover, some 17 million individuals were food insecure. The destruction of infrastructure and breakdown of public services had fuelled the world’s worst outbreak of cholera.
The most dangerous aspect of war was when people became used to it, he warned. Although the people in Yemen were suffering, many of the powerful benefited from the current conflict. “The people are getting poorer while influential leaders get richer. They are not interested in finding solutions, as they will lose their power and control in a settlement,” said, stressing that only the warring parties could decide to bring peace. He requested the Council to use all political and economic power to pressure all parties to commit to a path of peace.
The Special Envoy said an agreement to secure access of humanitarian and commercial goods to the Hudaydah western seaport and distribution to the rest of the country, opening Sana’a airport and ensuring consistent salary payments would be essential, but could not replace a broad solution towards a comprehensive peace agreement. He said he was in the process of discussing a proposal to rebuild trust and to bring the parties back to the negotiating table, and would discuss the details with the Government of Yemen and the alliance of the Houthis and General People’s Congress, who had committed to engage in further discussion on the proposal.
Mr. Ging, briefing on Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, said that as the conflict entered its third year, the impact on civilians was devastating, with air strikes, shelling and ground fighting continuing in urban areas, causing death and destruction of vital infrastructure. Some 15 million people lacked access to adequate clean water, sanitation and hygiene or health services and seven million faced the threat of famine. The largest single-year cholera outbreak on record had sickened over 800,000 in 90 per cent of communities, according to estimates. Two million remained displaced, many in scavenged shelters. “This remains a man-made crisis, generating intolerable suffering for the Yemeni people,” he said.
In carrying out relief efforts, he said, humanitarian workers faced denial of access, with authorities in Sana’a also delaying or denying dozens of requests for personnel to enter the country and authorities in Aden reportedly freezing issuance of some visas. Such obstacles cost lives and were abhorrent, he stated, expressing hope that recent commitments by the parties would relieve the situation. The interruption of regular salary payments for 1.25 million civil servants also had widespread negative effects. Meanwhile, prices were spiking. Some 460,000 children were severely malnourished; thousands faced stunted growth, work instead of education and early marriage.
With the country dependent on imports, commercial transport was vital, he said, renewing calls for protection and continued operation of Hudaydah port and the unconditional instalment of the four mobile cranes of the World Food Programme (WFP). The resumption of commercial flights into Sana’a airport was urgently needed, with no apparent reason why the previous inspection mechanisms operated by the Saudi-led Coalition could not be reinstated.
The Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan was 55 per cent funded, he said, with $1.3 billion of the $2.3 billion required to reach 12 million people this year. Despite the challenges, humanitarian workers had already reached 7 million with direct assistance. He encouraged Member States to directly support the Response Plan. The Yemen Humanitarian Fund, which this year reached a record $128 million, had swiftly responded to the cholera outbreak and threats of famine, with over 21 per cent of allocations going to national partners, to whom he paid tribute.
He called on all States to exert their influence on all parties in the conflict to comply with their humanitarian and human rights obligations. He welcomed, in that light, the Human Rights Council’s recent adoption of a resolution on the situation. “The parties and their supporters need to show greater commitment to finding a political solution. At the same time, we need the international community to be at the forefront of finding a viable solution that addresses the root causes and restores the Yemeni people’s hope for a better future,” he said. “They deserve nothing less.”
Yemen’s representative expressed support for the Special Envoy’s efforts, but noted that peace could not be achieved unilaterally. Since the Houthi Alliance had started the war three years ago, millions of people had plunged into misery and tens of thousands had been killed. Children were recruited and infrastructure was being destroyed. War could not settle the crisis, and sustainable peace could not be achieved if Iran did not stop its interference and expansionist policies. He recalled that rockets fired into the border area of Saudi Arabia were produced by Iran. Any solution could only be based on the withdrawal of militias from cities and the State had the exclusive use of arms, he said.
As the Government had limited capabilities and faced great economic and security sector challenges, it needed international support, he said. The Houthi Alliance did not pay salaries in the areas under their control and had looted the Central Bank’s reserves. War merchants were robbing humanitarian aid and had imposed protection money on citizens. Racist teachings had replaced school curricula. He called on the international community to pressure the parties to accept the Special Envoy’s proposals and the militias to offer real concessions and to allow access of humanitarian aid to all Yemenis. The Sana’a airport could be reopened the moment the militias exited the airport, he stressed. Dealing solely with the crisis’ humanitarian aspects without working for a solution was just an exercise in damage control, he said, urging the Council also to address the root causes of the conflict.
The representatives of Bolivia and Uruguay expressed deep concern over the worsening humanitarian situation and called for all those who violated international human rights and humanitarian law to be held to account. Bolivia’s representative said the Council must strongly remind the parties of their obligation to allow access for relief workers. He urged the Council to take a unified, firm position to encourage the parties to quickly bring about a political end of the conflict.
Uruguay’s representative also called on the parties to return to talks in order to end the violence as quickly as possible, noting that continuation of the war favoured the advancement of Da’esh and other terrorists, along with increased suffering every day for civilians, particularly the most vulnerable groups. He welcomed the attention of the Human Rights Council to the situation, saying that all parties had committed war crimes. Accountability was crucial, he stressed.
The meeting started at 10:15 a.m. and ended at 11 a.m.