Permanent Representative Decries Houthi Attacks on Oil Tankers, Efforts to Impose Sectarian Agenda
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Yemen told the Security Council today that he plans to invite parties to the conflict in that country to Geneva on 6 September for consultations on a potential framework for talks, confidence‑building measures and plans for moving the peace process forward.
With the Council united on the situation in Yemen — where 22 million people rely on humanitarian assistance to survive, amid escalating violence in the strategic port city of Hodeidah — Martin Griffiths said the focus must remain on achieving a political solution to a conflict that broke out in 2015.
“I ask for the Council’s support,” he said, emphasizing that his decision is based on the advice received from Yemenis “from all quarters” since his appointment earlier this year. An end to the war cannot come too soon for the people of Yemen, he said, stressing that, without such success, millions more will require humanitarian assistance.
Surveying the situation, he reported progress on a potential United Nations role in Hodeidah, the main gateway for humanitarian aid into Yemen. Expressing concern that the area could be a flashpoint, he said he would seriously consider any offer of de-escalation — including a unilateral offer by Houthi combatants to suspend attacks on Red Sea shipping.
John Ging, Director of Operations of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said three out of four Yemenis need humanitarian assistance or protection. “The humanitarian situation is shocking both in scale and severity,” he said, urging all parties to seize the current opportunity for dialogue and to work with the Special Envoy.
He noted, however, that no contingency plan exists that could protect civilians from dire humanitarian consequences if the conflict in Hodeidah escalates, where the capacity of the international response would quickly be overwhelmed. Hodeidah and nearby Saleef are the lifeline for most food and fuel imports needed by millions of Yemenis daily to survive, he stated.
In the ensuing debate, Council members took turns voicing support for the Special Envoy’s efforts and emphasizing that there can only be a political solution to the conflict. They also expressed concern over reported attacks on 31 July in Hodeidah in the vicinity of a fish market and a hospital.
The representative of Kuwait, where negotiations among the parties took place two years ago, said a political solution not underpinned by the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, the National Dialogue outcomes and Council resolution 2216 (2015) will only prolong the crisis. Missile attacks on neighbouring countries, threats against maritime routes and the use of civilians as human shields cannot be accepted, he stressed.
“There appears to be a window of opportunity that should be seized to restart serious talks,” said Ethiopia’s delegate. The issue of Hodeidah should be prioritized as a first step towards the resumption of political dialogue. Attacks against oil tankers passing through the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb are unacceptable, she asserted, and will have serious implications for the safety and security of commercial ships.
The representative of the United States told the Special Envoy that the Council is united in its support for his efforts. Welcoming his proposal for talks in Geneva, she said the United States looked forward to a positive response from the parties. Noting that the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 2140 (2014) confirmed that Iran is supplying the Houthis, she said the warring sides must understand the seriousness of the situation, and that the port of Hodeidah must stay open for humanitarian assistance.
Yemen’s representative underscored the support of his Government and the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen for the Special Envoy’s efforts. Emphasizing the desire for a durable peace, he encouraged the international community to exert pressure on the Houthi militia and reject its hijacking of civilian institutions. Regarding claims of an explosion near a Hodeidah hospital, he said the Arab coalition has stated it did not carry out military operations in that area and that an investigation will be made.
On the political process, he said United Nations efforts must respect the legitimacy of the Yemeni State. To do otherwise would prejudice international norms and enable the militia to pursue their agenda against the will of the Yemeni people. A successful political solution — the best and least costly option — would remain elusive without a focus on the humanitarian suffering.
Also speaking were representatives of France, Peru, Russian Federation, Sweden, Bolivia, Côte d’Ivoire, China, Netherlands, Equatorial Guinea, Poland, Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom.
The meeting began at 3:02 p.m. and 4:48 p.m.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, said the pace of war has grown in Yemen, where the battle for Hodeidah has become the centre of gravity, with action in the Red Sea. “We are still trying” to avoid a battle for Hodeidah, and while the requirements for a deal have not yet been met, he said his efforts — with unified support from the Council — has narrowed the gap between the two sides. Two years since the last round of negotiations in Kuwait, it is time for an early resumption of the political process, he said, requesting that the Council urge the parties to resolve the conflict through negotiations, not military means. He planned to invite the parties to Geneva on 6 September for a first round of consultations on a potential framework for talks, confidence‑building measures and specific plans for moving the process forward. “I ask for the Council’s support,” he said, emphasizing that his decision is based on the advice he has received from Yemenis “from all quarters” since his appointment earlier this year. An end to the war cannot come too soon for the people of Yemen, he said, stressing that without success soon, millions more Yemenis will require humanitarian assistance.
Reviewing the situation on the ground, he said progress has been made on the role of the United Nations in the port of Hodeidah following serious cooperation from all sides and the Council’s active support. However, progress on Hodeidah — or the lack thereof — must not distract from the primary focus on the search for a political solution. Expressing concern that Hodeidah could be a flashpoint, he said he considers seriously any offer of de-escalation, including Ansar Allah’s unilateral offer to stop attacks on Red Sea shipping. His concern, he said, is to avoid any actions that might have dire humanitarian consequences or which might undermine the resumption of the political process in September. He called on parties to create a conducive environment for that to happen, emphasizing that he is greatly encouraged by a common desire for prisoners of war to be released, and that he has had positive meetings with the President of Yemen on that topic.
Summing up his requests to the Council, he advocated support for his effort to begin consultations in Geneva in September; support for de-escalation in Hodeidah and for keeping the Red Sea out of the conflict; support for measures that will give hope back to the Yemeni people; and recognition of the extraordinary courage of international humanitarian organizations. The Council’s continued unity is key to resolving the conflict, he asserted.
JOHN GING, Director of Operation of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that, more than three years into the conflict, 22 million people — or 75 per cent of the population — require humanitarian assistance or protection. Two million people have been displaced and 8.4 million do not know where their next meal will come from. Yemen suffered the worst cholera outbreak in the world in 2017 with 1.1 million cases. “The humanitarian situation is shocking both in scale and severity,” he said.
He noted that in Hodeidah, since 1 June, violence has forced more than 340,000 people from their homes across the governorate. There is no contingency plan that can effectively protect civilians from dire humanitarian consequences if conflict in Hodeidah escalates, and the capacity of the international humanitarian response would quickly be overwhelmed. Hodeidah and nearby Saleef are the lifeline for the majority of food and fuel imports needed by millions of Yemenis daily to survive.
He went on to stress that regular humanitarian programmes have expanded significantly across the country, with emergency food assistance reaching 7.5 million people in June — an increase of 200,000 people since January. Water, sanitation and hygiene services reached 6.3 million people, a 60 per cent increase since January. As of mid-year, 60 per cent of people targeted with assistance have been reached.
However, humanitarians face numerous restrictions in areas controlled by decision-makers in Sana’a, he said, including detention of staff and supplies. All parties must seize the current opportunity for dialogue and work with the Special Envoy to achieve a lasting political settlement and sustainable peace, as humanitarian assistance cannot mitigate the destructive effect of conflict on every facet of daily life.
NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) told the Special Envoy that the Council is united in its support for his efforts. Welcoming his proposal for talks in Geneva, she said the United States looked forward to a positive responsive from the parties. She noted that the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 2140 (2014) has confirmed that Iran is supplying the Houthis and that “they are as much to blame” for the situation as that group. She also noted recent attacks in Yemen, including on a fish market and hospital, as well as on water facilities. The international community must demand that the two parties come together and understand the seriousness of the situation, she said, emphasizing that the port of Hodeidah must stay open for humanitarian assistance.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), expressing support for the Special Envoy’s efforts, said there are no military solutions to the crisis in Yemen, only a political one underpinned by the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, the National Dialogue outcomes and Security Council resolutions, especially resolution 2216 (2015). Any plan not underpinned by those three pillars will only prolong the crisis. On the security front, he said the Houthi group has continued to deliberately target civilian sites using ballistic missiles and explosive devices, as well as target Red Sea shipping with mines and anti-ship missiles, including against Saudi Arabian oil tankers that could have prompted an environmental catastrophe.
Condemning ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, he said Kuwait supported all measures taken by Riyadh to maintain peace and security, and commended its decision to grant pilgrimage visas to Yemenis from all parts of the country. While the $2 billion in humanitarian pledges made at the donor conference in Geneva in April had made a positive impact, Houthi control of Hodeidah City and port, and over humanitarian access routes, will only lead to further suffering. Noting that Kuwait’s own pledge of $250 million has been fulfilled, he said the Council must remain united and firm in its stance, with a clear message to all parties, particularly the Houthis. A blind eye cannot be turned to resolution 2216 (2015). Missile attacks on neighbouring countries, threats against maritime routes and the use of civilians as human shields cannot be accepted.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France) expressed support for the Special Envoy and underscored the need to protect civilians. Escalating violence is troubling and he raised particular concern over attacks on hospitals, stressing that priority must be given to the protection of medical establishments and personnel and calling on all parties to respect the humanitarian law. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 121,000 people have been displaced and required access to humanitarian aid. There is no military solution to the conflict and he expressed hope for the success of United Nations mediation efforts, led by the Special Envoy, especially to resume negotiations for a political solution. He urged all parties to engage in talks in “good faith” and called on regional partners to support that process.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) welcomed efforts by the United Nations and its partners seeking solutions in difficult conditions, stressing that all parties to the conflict continue to violate international humanitarian and human rights law. “There is no humanitarian plan B,” he said, drawing attention to unmet needs and cautioning against further escalation of the violence. Ports and airports must remain open, and humanitarian access should not be conditional. Noting that a political solution requires a shared vision of the future, he welcomed the announcement that political talks would be held in September in Geneva.
VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) expressed support for the Special Envoy’s initiative to reopen negotiations in Geneva next month, stressing that all key players must be involved, helping to find a common denominator. Emphasizing the need for calm around Hodeidah and other parts, he agreed on the need for de‑escalation and for confidence-building measures. Humanitarian assistance must continue, he said, adding that neither humanitarian work nor military action is enough to end the conflict. The crisis must be brought quickly into the political arena. The potential for international assistance to the Special Envoy has not been fully recognized, he said, noting that a political process would help stabilize the entire region. “We must have dialogue and cooperation, instead of threats and conflicts,” with joint efforts to improve the situation, he said, calling on all parties to seize the opportunity created by the Special Envoy’s initiative.
JOAKIM VAVERKA (Sweden) said the Special Envoy’s visits to Yemen and the region have helped create a window of opportunity to restart negotiations on Hodeidah and end both the conflict and the intolerable civilian suffering. “All parties must seize this opportunity,” he stressed, calling on them to engage in good faith without preconditions. They should also suspend or freeze fighting in Hodeidah; engage in the upcoming political consultations in Geneva based on the framework presented on 18 June; ensure women’s effective inclusion and participation in political consultations; respect international humanitarian law; and exchange detainees and prisoners in jail as a result of the conflict. Keeping the Hodeidah and Saleef ports open — “as a lifeline to millions of Yemenis” — remains critical. He warned against a full-scale offensive against Hodeidah which would aggravate the situation, stressing: “Urban warfare or a siege would be equally catastrophic.”
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) expressed support for the Special Envoy, stressing that there can be no military solution, only a political one. Some 121,000 people have been displaced and he voiced particular concern over fatalities by airstrikes. Yemen is on the verge of famine and starvation, he stressed, lamenting that bombing had damaged markets, hospitals and water facilities, which, in turn, increases the risk of cholera outbreak. He warned against such indiscriminate attacks.
DESIRE WULFRAN G. IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) said his delegation remains concerned by the ongoing political impasse. He expressed support for a proposal that a United Nations Committee take control of the port of Hodeidah and decried as deplorable attacks against civilian infrastructure, which increase the risk of cholera outbreak. He called for de-escalation of combat and reiterating that there is no alternative to a political solution. All parties must end hostilities, he said, inviting the international community to support such efforts.
YAO SHAOJUN (China) voiced support for the Special Envoy’s intensified mediation efforts, calling his idea of an organizational meeting in Geneva an important opportunity for peace. He expressed hope that all parties will seize that moment to address their differences, break the impasse and relaunch the political process, with support from countries in the region. Emphasizing the need for safe, swift and unimpeded humanitarian access, he said China opposes any moves that target civilians. He went on to note China’s announcement of $88 million in humanitarian assistance for Yemen, as well as its support for its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
HEDDA SAMSON (Netherlands), echoing calls on the parties to engage constructively with the Special Envoy, said any political agreement is nevertheless unlikely to last if local grievances and regional divisions are not addressed. She also expressed concern about the effects of a protracted fight for the city and port of Hodeidah, which could have severe humanitarian consequences for its residents. Calling for the full and sustained opening of the Hodeidah and Saleef ports, as well as the unimpeded distribution of supplies throughout the country, she warned against the use of sea mines and attacks on commercial vessels by Houthi groups. “The longer the future of Hodeidah remains unclear, the more the willingness of commercial shippers to deliver to Yemen will continue to diminish,” she said, stressing that “there is no viable plan B” should the port be further compromised. In addition, she advocated full respect for international law, condemning the Houthis’ firing of ballistic missiles at civilian targets, and calling on the Group of Eminent Experts mandated by the Human Rights Council to carry out a comprehensive examination of all alleged violations and identify those responsible.
AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) said the humanitarian situation in Yemen is without precedent, with 8 million people in urgent need of assistance. Noting today’s attacks on a market and near a hospital, she said Yemen is on the verge of famine, exacerbated by a cholera outbreak. Commending the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ efforts, she expressed concern about the 3 million internally displaced people, urging both the Council and the warring factions to make concerted efforts to ensure unimpeded and safe humanitarian access. Welcoming the Special Envoy’s suggestion of a framework to renew negotiations, she said the parties must understand that only through frank and inclusive political dialogue can there be a lasting solution.
PAWEL RADOMSKI (Poland) welcomed the announcement that the first round of intra-Yemeni peace talks will take place in September in Geneva, encouraging all parties to abide by international law and stressing that civilians, especially children, must be protected from atrocities. Attacks, such as bombing on hospitals and fish markets, would undermine the prospects for successful talks. She urged those involved in the peace process to demonstrate flexibility in order to reach a solution. While there had been three successful discharges of fuel at the Hodeidah port, they are not enough to assist the 22 million Yemenis in need, she said, expressing strong support for the Special Envoy’s efforts to bring about an inclusive political solution.
MAHLET HAILU (Ethiopia), welcoming the encouraging results of the Special Envoy’s shuttle diplomacy between the parties in Yemen, expressed hope that the upcoming discussions in Geneva would yield positive results. The issue of Hodeidah should be prioritized as a first step towards the resumption of political dialogue, she said, noting that while the port remains open, the humanitarian situation is a matter of concern. Attacks against oil tankers passing through the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb are unacceptable and will have serious implications for the safety and security of commercial ships, she stressed, also agreeing on the need to find a political solution to the crisis. “There appears to be a window of opportunity that should be seized to restart serious talks,” she said.
DIDAR TEMENOV (Kazakhstan) said that diplomatic moves led by the Special Envoy helped to prevent an out-and-out military invasion of Sana’a and facilitated warring parties to negotiate a potential deal that could allow fighters to leave. Kazakhstan would support efforts of interested countries and parties to reach a political path towards a fair settlement. He voiced support for the United Nations’ repeated calls on all parties to safeguard civilian lives, allow freedom of movement and protect hospitals, clinics and schools. Yet, 22 million people — 75 per cent of the population — still required assistance, including protection from malnutrition, cholera and other diseases. To address such concerns, he said a de-escalation zone should be created, asking the briefers what measures could be taken to tackle to spread of cholera, to bring parties to the negotiating table and to overcome anticipated or unanticipated humanitarian developments.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), acknowledging the key points raised by Council members today, said strong unity on resolving the conflict in Yemen was expressed by all, providing “a real spur”. All Council members had expressed concern over attacks on hospitals and fish markets, as well as urged parties to uphold international humanitarian law and protect civilians. Delegates also expressed strong condemnation of the Houthis’ attacks on Saudi oil tankers, she said, urging that group to adhere to relevant Council resolutions. The Special Envoy can count on Council’s support for the intra-Yemeni talks on 6 September, which she called a “viable” process.
AHMAD AWAD BIN MUBARAK (Yemen) said the Government and the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen supported the Special Envoy’s efforts, while the Houthis continued to build their military strength, biding their time in order to launch counter-attacks. The Government will engage positively with the Special Envoy so long as his work abides by the three terms of reference. Emphasizing the desire for a durable peace, he called for international pressure on the Houthi militia and rejection of its hijacking of civilian institutions. So long as that militia controlled large swaths of Yemen, there will be suffering. The daily bombardment of civilian areas, as well as sniper attacks, notably on women and children, constituted genocide and should be condemned by the Council, with the perpetrators held accountable.
Recent attacks on oil tankers and the laying of mines at sea were yet more examples of the Houthi militia’s Iranian-backed efforts to impose a sectarian agenda, he said, recalling that the Group of Experts has proven that the Houthi were responsible for attacks on Saudi and Turkish oil tankers on 3 April and 10 May in breach of international law, with a negative impact on shipping and on humanitarian aid delivery. Unabated attacks on Saudi population centres and use of Iranian missiles were flagrant violations of Council resolutions. Regarding claims of an explosion near a Hodeidah hospital, the Arab coalition has stated it did not carry out military operations in that area and that an investigation will be carried out.
On the political process, he said United Nations efforts must respect the legitimacy of the Yemeni State, as to do otherwise would prejudice international norms and enable the militia to pursue their agenda against the will of the Yemeni people. Those militia sought to undermine international initiatives, he said, recalling that progress would have been made during the Kuwait negotiations were it not for their last-minute unwillingness to sign an agreement. A political solution would be the best and least costly solution, but success would be impossible without a focus on the humanitarian suffering, he said, emphasizing that conditions are worsening daily. He urged international organizations to expand and decentralize their humanitarian activities, thus ensuring more efficient use of funds and access to those in need.
He commended the genuine efforts made by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and regional organizations, noting also that several donor countries — including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait — had met their pledges. Concluding, he said his Government will keep making compromises towards a durable peace. War had been imposed on Yemen by the Houthi coup and that militia will be held responsible for the non-implementation of a peace agreement. The people of Yemen are attached to their land, he said, stressing that children still dream of a bright future and mothers pray that peace will prevail. “Please don’t let them down,” he told the Council.
Mr. GRIFFITHS, taking the floor a second time, said he understood from today’s discussion that there is unanimous support for resumption of political consultations to resolve the conflict in Yemen. Efforts to resolve the crisis in Hodeidah are crucially important, especially to humanitarian colleagues, but the objective is to start work on resuming inclusive political negotiations and towards a sustainable solution. Delays will cost lives. “The math is as simple as that,” he stressed.