Parties in Yemen Must Return to Negotiations or Risk Escalating World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis, Senior Officials Tell Security Council

SC/13301
17 April 2018
8235th Meeting (AM)

Parties in Yemen Must Return to Negotiations or Risk Escalating World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis, Senior Officials Tell Security Council

With three quarters of Yemen’s population in need of international assistance and hostilities on the rise, senior officials briefing the Security Council this morning urged parties to the conflict to promptly resume peace talks or risk further escalating the world’s worst humanitarian emergency.

“A negotiated political settlement through inclusive intra-Yemeni dialogue is the only way to end the Yemeni conflict and address the ongoing humanitarian crisis,” said Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, in his first substantive briefing since taking up that role on 11 March.  Noting that he planned to present to the Council a framework for negotiations within the next two months, he described initial meetings with Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and his Government — as well with as the leadership of the Ansar Allah movement — as encouraging, with both parties demonstrating constructive attitudes.

“Peace becomes possible when we see the good in our foes, even though we can see clearly the cruelties of war,” he stressed, adding that the people of Yemen were in desperate need of signs of hope that the war would end soon.  While he had yet to visit south Yemen, where the conflict had brought about major changes and made long-standing frustrations more prominent, he underlined a need to listen to their voices and ensure their inclusion in political arrangements to end the war.  The first step must now be to stop the fighting.

Agreeing, Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed the Council on recent developments, emphasizing that the situation in Yemen remained the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 22 million people requiring some form of help.  Thanking Member States for pledging more than $2 billion for Yemen at a recent funding conference, he called on all parties to the conflict to take practical steps to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access.  While United Nations humanitarian flights and vessels were moving regularly, delays in importing commercial goods and subsequent shortages had sharply driven up prices, forcing hundreds of thousands of destitute families to turn to aid to survive.

Exacerbating the situation was a risk of another major outbreak of cholera, he said, also voicing concern that Sana’a’s airport remained closed to commercial traffic and that bureaucracy had caused delays in relief operations.  Meanwhile, the impact of air strikes, shelling and fighting on the civilian population was deeply worrying, and some 3 million women and girls were now at risk of sexual and gender-based violence.

As Council members took the floor, some delegates strongly condemned attacks by all parties on populated areas and civilian infrastructure.  Many expressed support for efforts to keep Yemen’s ports open, including in Hodeida and at the Sana’a airport, describing them as a lifeline for the Yemeni people.  Several delegates also condemned attacks they said had been launched by the Houthi movement into Saudi Arabia.

Joining other speakers in emphasizing that there could be no military or humanitarian solution to the Yemeni crisis, only a political one, Kuwait’s delegate said those missile attacks against demonstrated that the Houthis were working against a political solution and appeared to prefer a military escalation to peace and dialogue.  Emphasizing that it was unacceptable to put personal interests and political ambitions over the interests of an entire people, he said an ideal solution should focus on Yemen’s unity and territorial sovereignty and respect for its people.

“This is a solvable conflict,” said the United Kingdom’s representative, adding that the “absolutely shocking” humanitarian scenario outlined by Mr. Lowcock should serve to spur the Council to action.  Warning of the conflict’s impact on regional stability, especially risks faced by Saudi Arabia, she said all parties, including Iran, must comply with the Council’s arms embargo including the provisions of resolution 2216 (2015).

Striking a similar tone, the representative of the United States called on Iran to end its interference in Yemen’s conflict and its violations of the Council’s arms embargo.  Recalling that debris from a Houthi missile had killed a Saudi civilian in March, she said the Council had failed to hold perpetrators accountable despite confirmation that the weapon’s material had originated in Iran.  Ending Iran’s supply of weapons to the Houthis would be a major step towards ending the war, she said, expressing support for Saudi Arabia’s right to self-defence.  The Council must unite against such aggressions, she said, calling on all parties to show flexibility and restraint.

Among those delegates voicing grave concern over Yemen’s worsening humanitarian situation was Bolivia’s representative, who also pointed out that the fighting had led to the displacement of some 85,000 people since December 2017, bringing the current total to more than 2 million.  Calling on Council members to remain united against all indiscriminate attacks against civilians, including air strikes, he called on all parties to ensure the continued operation of Yemen’s air and sea ports and the roads leading to them and to abandon any preconditions for the resumption of negotiations.

Yemen’s representative, also addressing the Council, said the crisis was a direct result of the coup d’état launched by Houthis against Yemen’s legitimate Government in 2014.  The use of chaos and violence by Iran and its allies was a “clear example of political brinksmanship” and an attempt to advance Iran’s expansionist agenda in the region.

Spotlighting agreements by the Gulf Cooperation Council and resolution 2216 (2015) as the basis for a political solution, he called on the Houthis to work with the Government on such issues as the release of prisoners, lifting restrictions on humanitarian access and ensuring unimpeded food imports.  Both the Council and the Special Envoy should focus on ensuring the Houthis’ compliance with relevant resolutions, he said, adding that rewarding that group for its crimes would only serve to embolden other armed militias around the world.

Also speaking were the representatives of Sweden, France, Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Poland, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Russian Federation and Peru.

The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 12:10 p.m.

Briefings

MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, described the work he had undertaken since taking up his new role on 11 March, including meeting with Yemenis of all parties and various civic organizations.  “Peace becomes possible when we see the good in our foes, even though we can see clearly the cruelties of war,” he said, adding that he planned to bring to the Council a framework for negotiations within the next two months.

A political solution to the conflict in Yemen was available, he said, highlighting that stakeholders on the ground had expressed their desire for it.  In his initial meetings, he had been encouraged by the constructive attitudes of Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and his Government, as well as the leadership of the Ansar Allah movement.  While he had yet to visit south Yemen, he had begun to meet with groups from that area, where the conflict had brought about major changes and made long-standing frustrations more prominent.  Underlining the need to listen to the voices of the South and ensure their inclusion in political arrangements to end the war, he said the first step must be to stop the fighting.  “A negotiated political settlement through inclusive intra-Yemeni dialogue is the only way to end the Yemeni conflict and address the ongoing humanitarian crisis,” he said.  Building peace would nevertheless be a much larger task, with the national dialogue being a decisive precedent in that regard.

Drawing attention to the increased number of ballistic missiles launched towards Saudi Arabia and intensified military operations in Sa’ada Governorate, he expressed particular concern about confrontations and air strikes in such areas as Sana’a, Taiz, Al-Jawf, Ma’reb, Hajjah and others.  Added to that disturbing reports of civilian casualties raised fears that such developments might lead to the prospect of peace being taken off the table.  “The people of Yemen are in desperate need of signs of hope that this war will soon end,” he said, underlining the strategic importance of ensuring Yemen’s stability by ending terrorist activities and making its sea lines reliable.

MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said Yemen remained the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with three quarters of the population — more than 22 million people — requiring some form of help.  The ongoing relief operation was one of the largest and most complex in the world, with five humanitarian hubs in place to coordinate assistance, reaching people in 33 districts across Yemen.  He thanked Member States for pledging more than $2 billion at the recent conference for Yemen, recognizing Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in particular for the $930 million contribution to the Humanitarian Response Plan.

He called on all parties to the conflict to take practical steps to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.  While United Nations humanitarian flights and vessels were moving regularly, delays for commercial imports at Yemen’s ports, the lifeline of the country, and subsequent shortages had sharply driven up prices, forcing hundreds of thousands of destitute families to turn to humanitarian assistance to survive, he said, encouraging all those concerned to accelerate the normalization of shipments.  He also expressed concern that Sana’a’s airport remained closed to commercial traffic and that bureaucracy had caused delays in relief operations.  The risk of another major outbreak of cholera was another enormous challenge.

Meanwhile, the impact of air strikes, shelling and fighting on the civilian population was deeply worrying, he said, noting destroyed infrastructure, increased displacement and negative impacts to agricultural production and the wider economy.  In addition, some 3 million women and girls were at risk of sexual and gender-based violence.  While the humanitarian response was doing a lot, it could not resolve that crisis, he concluded, calling on all parties to engage meaningfully with the United Nations to achieve a lasting, negotiated settlement towards sustainable peace.

Statements

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said the “absolutely shocking” scenario outlined by Mr. Lowcock should serve to spur the Council to action.  “This is a solvable conflict,” she said, welcoming Mr. Griffith’s initial meetings, including several with Houthi leaders.  While generous donations had been made by some States in the region along with others, like the United Kingdom, which had contributed $500 million for 2018 and 2019, money would not be enough.  Commercial supplies were critically needed, as humanitarian assistance would not suffice to meet existing needs, and all parties must cooperate to urgently allow the import of goods.  In Houthi-controlled areas, evidence had revealed severely malnourished children requiring humanitarian aid and vaccinations.  Warning the Council of the conflict’s impact on regional stability, especially risks faced by Saudi Arabia, she called on all parties to cease attacks against civilians in line with their obligations under international law and urged them to comply with the Council’s arms embargo.  As Iran was in violation of resolution 2216 (2015), she called on all parties to ensure an end to arms shipments into Yemen.

NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) said Yemen should be one issue on which all Council members could easily agree.  However, Iran must end its interference in the country’s conflict and its violations of the Council’s arms embargo.  Recalling that debris from a Houthi missile had killed a Saudi civilian in March, she said the Council had failed to hold perpetrators accountable despite confirmation that missiles launched into Saudi Arabia had originated in Iran.  Ending Iran’s supply of weapons to the Houthis would be a major step towards ending the war, she said, expressing support for Saudi Arabia’s right to self-defence.  The Council must unite against such aggressions, she said, calling on all parties to show flexibility and restraint.  Calling for expanded access to imports and an unhindered flow of humanitarian aid, she said the United States was engaged in efforts to keep the Hodeida port open and had contributed almost $87 million in humanitarian aid to Yemen during the current fiscal year.  The Council could take steps to address the Houthi’s provocations and ensure humanitarian aid delivery, and it must not be afraid to call out the Houthis and their Iranian patrons in future resolutions.

CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden), urging parties in Yemen to engage in negotiations on confidence-building measures related to such issues as the Sana’a airport and the release of prisoners, recalled that the Council had on 15 March agreed to a statement recognizing the vast humanitarian needs and calling for immediate steps to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people.  Those calls had been based on the parties’ obligations under international law, such as ensuring rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access, the opening of ports for humanitarian and commercial imports, increased access to Sana’a airport for humanitarian supplies and the implementation of the arms embargo.  “Regrettably, implementation of this strong and clear statement from the Council is clearly lacking,” he said.  Outlining a number of core challenges, ranging from shipment restrictions and delays at ports to continued strikes on civilians from all sides, he recalled that Sweden’s Special Envoy for Yemen had visited the country in March to meet with Government and Houthi leaders, urging them to engage in the United Nations-led political process and respect international humanitarian law.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), calling on parties to return to United Nations‑led negotiations without preconditions, said there was no military solution.  He condemned recent missile strikes by Saudi Arabia, which had grave repercussions to regional stability and affected the possibility of a future negotiated settlement.  Calling on all parties to ease tensions, he said the continuation of the conflict would only benefit terrorist groups, with the biggest group of victims being civilians.  He welcomed both the adoption of the recent Security Council presidential statement, providing a humanitarian road map, and pledges stemming from the recent conference for Yemen, while noting that the funding gap had not been fully bridged.  Calling for all ports to be kept open and accessible, and welcoming the plan to reduce wait times for commercial vessels, he raised concerns about other issues, including the plight and vulnerability of women exposed to sexual violence and the risk of a cholera outbreak.  For its part, France would host a conference on Yemen in Paris in the coming months to focus on new initiatives for civilians.  Regional actors must play a responsible role in Yemen with a common aim to cease hostilities and revive dialogue towards an inclusive political agreement that respected the country’s sovereignty.

LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands) said 2018 would be a crucial year for the political process, noting that dialogue was desperately needed.  Condemning the Houthi ballistic missile launches, she urged all parties to refrain from taking steps that would lead to further escalation.  In the absence of a ceasefire, the impact of hostilities on civilians also remained a cause of great concern, she said, noting frequent violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.  As the war dragged on, the need for accountability was ever greater.  Without it, a sustainable, negotiated settlement had little chance.  While welcoming recent pledges of humanitarian assistance, she said they meant little if access was not ensured.  On that note, she called for the full opening of all of Yemen’s ports for humanitarian and commercial goods.  She also drew attention to the economy, noting that inflation and the loss of income had led to a rapid decrease in commercially available supplies.  It was therefore essential that public sector salaries were paid and income was provided to millions of Yemenis in need.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said there could be no military or humanitarian solution to the Yemeni crisis — it must be political.  On the security front, he condemned Houthi ballistic missile attacks against populated areas in Saudi Arabia, which underscored that they were working against a political solution.  The Houthis had done nothing but continue such attacks and appeared to want a military escalation over peace and dialogue.  In that context, he called on all Member States to respect the arms embargo pursuant to Council resolution 2216 (2015).  He also welcomed the recent conference on Yemen, during which his Government had pledged $250 million.  Meanwhile, the Council must remain unified and firm, making clear to all parties that it was not possible to defy its resolutions and international law.  It was unacceptable to put personal interests and political ambitions over the interests of an entire people.  The ideal solution to that crisis must focus around unity and territorial sovereignty of Yemen and respect for its people.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) welcomed the decision of the coalition to keep Yemeni ports open to allow humanitarian and commercial cargo without restrictions.  On the political track, he expressed alarm at the resurgence of the hostile situation in the Al-Jawf Governorate and called on all parties to cease hostilities, which would enable the resumption of negotiations.  While stabilizing Yemen would require the international community’s involvement, a ceasefire would provide an opportunity to revive the economy, resolve the humanitarian crisis and restore basic public services.  He called on the Council to work more resolutely to resolve the Yemeni conflict with a view to stabilizing the situation in the entire region, combat terrorism and avert a state of war.  Dialogue and confidence-building measures should be intensified and a universal ceasefire without preconditions must be reached to pave the way for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

PAWEL RADOMSKI (Poland), underlining the urgent need for the resumption of negotiations, said the Council’s role must be to support that process.  Regional actors with influence over the parties should encourage them to engage constructively with the Special Envoy and the negotiation process.  Despite some positive recent developments, Yemen’s humanitarian situation remained dire, he said, calling for the resumption of salary payments to public servants, which would help to ensure the delivery of basic services.  All parties should fully comply with the Council’s 15 March statement calling for Yemen’s ports to remain open and fully operational, he said, also urging them to refrain from actions that could lead to an escalation in hostilities.  Condemning all indiscriminate attacks and Houthi ballistic missile strikes against Saudi Arabia, he said all parties should cooperate fully with the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen in order to investigate all alleged human rights abuses.

WU HAITAO (China) said the international community should boost its mediation efforts and encourage all parties to commit to a ceasefire and return to the negotiation table.  Respecting Yemen’s sovereignty and territorial integrity was crucial, he said, adding that the Council and relevant parties should remain united in their support for peace talks and efforts to break the stalemate.  The Special Envoy should swiftly develop a road map leading to negotiations.  Voicing concern about the humanitarian crisis, he echoed calls for Member States to contribute additional financial support.  Ensuring smooth access to humanitarian assistance was also essential, he said, calling on the parties to provide access to relevant stakeholders.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) expressed concern that violence continued to escalate despite repeated calls from the Council for the parties to resume dialogue and cease hostilities.  The constant fighting had led to the displacement of some 85,000 people since December 2017, bringing the total number of displaced persons to more than 2 million.  Also expressing concern about reports that thousands of children were being recruited as fighters and about the dire humanitarian crisis, he said a recent diphtheria outbreak had exacerbated the situation.  Against that backdrop, he called on Council members to remain united against all indiscriminate attacks against civilians, including air strikes.  All parties must ensure the continued operation of Yemen’s air and sea ports and the roads leading to them, which constituted lifelines for the population to access food and other critical goods.  All parties must also abandon any preconditions for the resumption of dialogue and commit to peaceful negotiations, he said, underscoring the importance of respecting Yemen’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

THÉODORE DAH (Côte d’Ivoire), given the gravity of the worsening humanitarian situation, called on the international community to show solidarity.  Despite recent aid pledges, he condemned the political impasse and called for the international community to invest more heavily in a political solution to the crisis.  However, such efforts would be in vain with the resumption of a ceasefire.  Commending United Nations efforts to breathe new life into peace talks and the Special Envoy’s visits to Riyadh and Sana’a for consultations with concerned parties, he called on all parties to return to the negotiating table with the view of reaching a peaceful settlement.

DAWIT YIRGA WOLDEGERIMA (Ethiopia) said that, despite urgency of the situation, support and patience from the Council was needed so that the Special Envoy could chart a path forward.  In that vein, he looked forward to the new framework the Special Envoy would present in the next two months.  In the meantime, the crisis continued to have devastating humanitarian effects.  Welcoming recent aid pledges, he said that safe and impeded humanitarian access was needed in addition to finances.  Meanwhile, a Yemeni-led political process that respected the country’s sovereignty was the only means of delivering a negotiated settlement.  In that regard, international solidarity was needed to find a durable solution to address the worst humanitarian tragedy in the world.  That was needed not only for the Yemenis themselves, but also for peace and security in the region, and indeed, the world.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) condemned the Houthi ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, which had endangered civilian areas and led to several deaths.  That had been compounded by news that arms were being used by uncontrolled agents in violation of the arms embargo.  At the same time, the stagnation of the political situation was a cause for concern; political steps had not been taken and the humanitarian situation was getting worse.  Warring parties must support United Nations efforts on the basis of relevant Council resolutions and Gulf Cooperation Council initiatives.  As previously indicated by the Special Envoy, a political solution could be within reach through the instalment of a transitional Government.  Echoing comments regarding the need to fulfil promises to disburse pledged humanitarian funds, he said such contributions would ensure the delivery of much-needed aid.  Raising concerns about a possible cholera outbreak and famine, he said humanitarian access must be granted to affected areas.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) voiced grave concern over the growing scale of damage, death and hostility in Yemen.  While the Russian Federation had provided significant humanitarian assistance, including through the delivery of aid, humanitarian assistance alone would not end the conflict.  A resolution must be reached exclusively through dialogue, he said, rejecting all strikes against populated areas, a practice that must end.  Also calling for a prompt cessation of hostilities and for the parties to abandon the use of force, he warned against any attempts to introduce outside influences into the political process.  The international community, especially the United Nations, must continue to prompt stakeholders to repudiate violence and draw up a blueprint for peace, while avoiding attempts to ostracize the parties to the conflict.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), Council President for April, spoke in his national capacity, echoing concerns that the parties to the conflict continued to violate international humanitarian and human rights law.  Condemning strikes into Saudi Arabia, which, when targeted at civilian areas, could constitute war crimes, he said responses must nevertheless remain proportional.  All ports should remain open to allow for safe, quick and unhindered aid delivery and access for humanitarian personnel.  To help to build sustainable peace in the country, Peru would continue to work in its capacity as Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2140 (2014) overseeing sanctions in Yemen.

KHALED HUSSEIN MOHAMED ALYEMANY (Yemen) said the crisis was a direct result of the coup d’état launched by Houthis against Yemen’s legitimate Government in 2014.  A resolution must be based on clear terms of reference, he said, warning that Iranian militia and their Houthi allies had attempted to undermine those terms by attacking Yemen and its neighbours.  Their use of chaos and violence to try to advance Iran’s expansionist agenda was a “clear example of political brinksmanship”.  Spotlighting agreements by the Gulf Cooperation Council and resolution 2216 (2015) as the basis for a political resolution, he said the Government had signed in 2016 an agreement on security arrangements.  However, the Houthis had been unwilling to do the same, having rejected attempts to establish critical confidence-building measures.  He urged the Houthis to reverse those decisions and work alongside the Government on such issues as the release of prisoners, lifting restrictions on humanitarian access, measures for economic recovery and ensuring unimpeded food imports.

Expressing support for Special Envoy’s calls for the opening of the Sana’a airport, he said that no true normalization could take place until the Houthi coup came to an end.  Calling on the Council and the Special Envoy to focus on that group’s compliance with relevant resolutions, he said the Houthis must not be rewarded for their crimes against humanity, which would only serve to embolden other militia groups around the world.  Urging them to cease their attacks on Saudi Arabia, as well as the heinous practice of recruiting children, he said Iran continued to sponsor terrorism in an effort to destabilize the region.  Noting that the Council had failed to pressure Iran to cease its aggression and its interference in Yemen’s affairs, he said the Houthis continued to use the ongoing humanitarian crisis as a pretext to achieve their goals and were portraying themselves as victims.  The Council should step up pressure on the Houthis and continue to stand beside the Yemeni people.

For information media. Not an official record.