Permanent Representative Vows Defiance of Houthis, Blaming Them for ‘Coup’, Efforts to Entrench Iran Governance Model
Amid escalating violence and lack of participation by one party in Yemen’s recently relaunched peace talks, the international community must commit to supporting dialogue, protecting civilians and preventing the country’s further decline into chaos, the senior United Nations official tasked with shepherding the negotiations stressed today as he briefed the Security Council.
“This is no longer a race between political and military solutions, it is instead a race to salvage what is left of State institutions as quickly as possible,” emphasized Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, via videoconference from Amman, Jordan. Noting that the conflict has been escalating on all fronts — and that one side failed to join the negotiations he convened recently in Geneva — he said Yemen’s formal peace process has nevertheless resumed, with solid support from the country’s people and the international community.
While the peace talks will continue to see ups and downs, he urged international partners to nurture it with the aim of delivering tangible results to the people. Expressing relief that the port city of Hodeidah has not yet suffered the calamity of military operations, he nevertheless voiced concern over intensive fighting on the city’s outskirts and described escalations elsewhere in the country. He said that, as part of his work in the coming weeks, he will hold meetings with parties in Muscat and Sana’a with the aim of building confidence and securing firm commitments for continued talks.
A number of Council members underscored the fact that there is no alternative to a political resolution of Yemen’s downward-spiralling conflict. While some expressed concern about the absence of Houthi delegates at the Geneva talks, several others said the groundwork for a peaceful solution has nonetheless been laid and pledged their support.
Bolivia’s representative, urging all Yemeni parties to “get on board” and refrain from any escalation of violence, warned that any campaigns targeting civilians contravened international law. All actors must adhere to the principles of proportionality and distinction while ensuring the protection of civilians. She called upon the parties to cease all hostilities, abandon any preconditions for dialogue and abide by the Council’s various resolutions on the matter, while emphasizing that all international efforts must be carried out with full respect for Yemen’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.
Kuwait’s representative, meanwhile, expressed regret over the intentional Houthi absence from the Geneva consultations, despite all efforts to address hurdles to their participation. The talks would have been an opportunity to distinguish which party wants a political solution and which one does not, he said, adding that the Houthis’ absence demonstrates their indifference to Council resolutions. Urging Council members to shoulder their responsibilities and insist on implementation of their decisions, he described the 2014 Houthi coup against Yemen’s legitimate authorities as the root cause of the conflict.
The representative of the United States, echoing the expressions of frustration over the Houthis’ failure to attend the Geneva talks, warned against any attempts to undermine United Nations-led peace efforts. Emphasizing that the stakes are high, she warned that “we are potentially one missile strike away from a full-blown crisis”. Indeed, with the international community losing patience, there should be no question of the Council’s confidence in the Special Envoy and all parties must commit to working with him, she said.
Yemen’s representative said his country’s Government sent a delegation to the Geneva consultations in good faith, hoping that they will lead to improvement in the lives of Yemen’s people. Vowing to support the Special Envoy’s efforts, he voiced the Government’s determination to end the Houthi coup which overthrew an elected president. Supported by Iran and its proxies, the Houthis continue their efforts to entrench an Iranian model of governance in Yemen, he said, calling upon the Council to ensure full implementation of its resolutions and compel the Houthis to respect the will of Yemen’s people.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Netherlands, France, Sweden, Peru, Kazakhstan, Poland, Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Russian Federation, China and Ethiopia.
The meeting began at 3:09 p.m. and ended at 4:20 p.m.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, briefed the Council via video-teleconference from Amman, Jordan, saying the parties in Yemen have not met in more than two years. “The war has been escalating across all fronts,” he said, noting that the level of confidence among the parties is currently at its lowest point and humanitarian costs continue to rise. Meanwhile, the Yemeni people — the main victims of the war — yearn for a peaceful political solution to end their misery and allow their Government to meet their basic needs. “This is no longer a race between political and military solutions; it is instead a race to salvage what is left of State institutions as quickly as possible.”
He said that, following months of intensive discussions with the parties — and on the basis of his strong conviction that a political solution to the conflict is needed — he decided to call for formal consultations on resuming the political process. Despite the absence of one side of the Geneva-based consultations, the political process has been relaunched with the solid support of the Yemeni people and the international community. Underlining his disappointment at the Sana’a delegation’s absence from Geneva — and stressing that the same will not happen again in the future — he said the political process will continue to see its ups and downs, but that is not a sign that the political and military situation is not conducive to formal consultations.
“We need to stay focused on nurturing a political process […] building the much-needed momentum so that it can deliver tangible benefits to Yemenis,” he continued, adding that his role will be to work with the parties and understand their concerns, hopes and expectations in order to provide the required support in moving the process forward. That does not include exposing or undermining the parties, he said, noting that as they resume formal negotiations to compromise and build trust, it is important that they not allow themselves to become embroiled once again in large-scale military confrontations. Expressing relief that the City of Hodeidah has not yet suffered the calamity of military operations, he nevertheless voiced concern that intensive operations on the city’s outskirts are a “gloomy portent of what is to come”, describing fierce fighting in areas including Sa’ada, Hajjah, Ma’reb and Taiz Governorates.
He went on to state that the continued decline of the Yemeni riyal currency — as well as broader economic decay — is pushing people further into poverty. Noting that he will continue to hold discussions during a series of initial visits in the coming days, including to Muscat and Sana’a, he outlined plans to engage the head of the Sana’a delegation and other actors. Two major objectives of those visits include making tangible progress in building upon the Geneva discussions on key confidence-building measures, as well as securing firm commitments from the parties to convene for continued talks. He said that he also plans to meet with the Government in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, while welcoming the continued guidance of the Yemeni women’s technical advisory group. Such inclusivity is crucial, he added.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) urged all sides, including the Houthis, to get behind the process led by the Special Envoy and invest in confidence-building measures. Emphasizing that there is no alternative to a political solution, she told the Special Envoy, “we would like to continue to support you to the hilt”, adding that his remarks about Yemen’s economy give added urgency to an already desperate situation.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) expressed regret that one party did not make it to the highly anticipated consultations in Geneva this past weekend, while noting that “the beginning of consultations is never easy”, especially following two years of growing distrust between the warring parties since the last negotiations in Kuwait. Given 241 incidents, including air strikes and shelling, that impacted civilians in August, including an attack on a World Food Programme (WFP) truck, the Council must continue to send a clear signal that all parties must comply with international humanitarian law and address violations, he said. It is likely that reinvigorating the political process and bringing it to a successful resolution will be a long process, but the first steps have now been taken, he noted.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) expressed regret that the Geneva talks did not take place, but emphasized that in no way should that end efforts to advance the peace process. More than ever, the parties must remain engaged with the Special Envoy, he said, stressing that the time has come to implement confidence-building measures with a view to a political agreement. He stressed the need to respect international humanitarian law and human rights, and to guarantee swift, secure and unimpeded humanitarian access to those in need.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said that his delegation is encouraged by the launch of consultations and the steps taken in Geneva, despite the fact that one party did not make it there. The discussion with the Government of Yemen on vital confidence‑building measures relating to Sana’a airport, medical flights, the release of prisoners and the economy is “one promising step”, he said, commending also the active participation of the Yemeni Women’s Technical Advisory Group in the consultations. Sweden supports the Special Envoy’s approach moving forward, including his travel to Sana’a and the wider region to continue the political consultations, building on the latest discussions in Geneva. Now is the time for the Council and the broader international community to renew support for the Special Envoy, he said.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) agreed that, despite difficulties, the groundwork has already been laid for Yemenis to reach a peaceful political solution. While the Houthis’ absence from recent talks was a setback, it can in no way be used to justify more fighting. Instead, the complexity of the situation should compel international partners to support a return to the negotiating table. “It is our responsibility to protect the civilian population” in line with international law, he said, emphasizing that such attacks like the ones that killed scores of children last month cannot be ignored.
VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia) said the continued consultation and dialogue process is the only way forward in Yemen. The parties must, therefore, “get on board” and refrain from any escalation of violence. Noting that more confidence-building measures are needed on such matters as the reopening of ports and improving the delivery of humanitarian and medical assistance, she said any campaigns targeting civilians contravened international law, underlining that all parties must adhere to the principles of proportionality and distinction, and ensure the protection of civilians. “There is no military solution to the conflict in Yemen,” she stressed, calling upon the parties to cease all hostilities, abandon any preconditions for dialogue, and abide by the Council’s statements of 15 March 2018 and 15 June 2017, as well as resolution 2216 (2015). Meanwhile, all international efforts must be carried out with full respect for Yemen’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence, she emphasized.
KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) said it is important to keep striving towards sustainable peace through political and diplomatic means. Noting that the Special Envoy’s efforts have been of help to Yemen — and Hodeidah in particular — he said that his delegation supports efforts by interested countries and parties for a negotiated settlement that will be full and fair, and preserve Yemen’s sovereignty, independence and unity. On the humanitarian front, he echoed calls for all parties to safeguard civilian lives, prevent casualties, allow freedom of movement, and protect schools and medical facilities.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) joined other speakers in welcoming the recent political talks, but expressed regret that the Houthi contingent did not attend. Reviving a political process that will lead to a comprehensive and long-standing solution to the conflict is of paramount importance and should be a priority for all stakeholders, she emphasized, calling upon the parties to redouble their efforts to achieve that goal. Noting that the fighting in Yemen has become even more intense in recent weeks, despite progress on the political track, she expressed alarm about continued reports of attacks resulting in casualties among civilians. Condemning all indiscriminate attacks against civilians, in clear violation of international law, she urged the parties to refrain from taking actions that will lead to increased violence and abide by the principles of proportionality and distinction, while ensuring the protection of civilians. Yemen’s ports — including Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa — must remain open and fully operational, she said, calling upon the parties also to ensure unimpeded access for humanitarian deliveries across the whole country.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said he regretted the intentional Houthi absence from the Geneva consultations, despite all efforts to address hurdles to their participation. The consultations would have been an opportunity to distinguish which party wanted a political solution and which one desired no progress. The Houthi absence demonstrated their indifference to Council resolutions, he said, urging the Council to insist on implementation of its decisions. Members of the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy have stated that they will allow the safe passage of aircraft carrying Houthi representatives to Geneva in addition to halting military operations in Hodeidah, he said. Noting the Council’s assertion that the best way to resolve the crisis is to tackle its root causes, he said it is clear that the Houthi coup against Yemen’s legitimate authorities was the root cause of the conflict. He said the Special Envoy’s efforts reflected the global desire for a political solution that will end the humanitarian suffering, as well as Houthi threats to international peace and security, including missile attacks against Saudi Arabia and threats to marine navigation.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea), thanking the United Kingdom for requesting today’s meeting, expressed concern over the Houthi delegation’s absence from Geneva. With no solution in sight, the vulnerability of the civilian population remains a source of great concern, he said, appealing to all the parties to understand that a political process is the only way to a lasting solution. Events on the ground demonstrate that the conflict has no military solution, he said.
DESIRE WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire), noting the growing number of casualties, as well as atrocities and impediments to humanitarian access, said his delegation is deeply concerned that the Geneva consultations are at an impasse. Hopefully, negotiations will resume shortly, with the United Nations doing all it can to bring the parties to the table. He encouraged the Special Envoy to continue his good offices and mediation efforts to bring the Houthi side and the Government together, with regional organizations also doing their utmost to promote dialogue. He went on to call upon the warring parties to lay down their weapons and forge suitable conditions for talks.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said his delegation supported and contributed to the convening of the latest consultations, emphasizing that it never expected the process to be easy. Requesting that the Special Envoy maintain communications with all parties, he said any military escalation, including the launching of missile, must be avoided. All parties must also refrain from using force and find a solution based on dialogue. Noting that the international community’s support is not fully utilized, he said that finding a solution to the crisis in Yemen will contribute to stability in the wider subregion, emphasizing that the Russian Federation will carry out its role on the basis of its concept of security in the Persian Gulf. There is no military solution, he stressed.
WU HAITAO (China) expressed regret that the warring parties failed to seize the opportunity at the United Nations-sponsored talks in Geneva, while commending Special Envoy’s continued efforts. China will continue to support the negotiations and the process, he said, urging the parties to narrow their differences for the sake of peace. The international community should support the process while respecting Yemen’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he added, underlining the possibility of reaching an inclusive settlement through dialogue.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) acknowledged the participation of the Government of Yemen in the Geneva consultations and its constructive engagement with the Special Envoy on confidence-building measures. Expressing regret at the Houthi side’s absence, he expressed hope that its representatives will show a commitment to meaningful and constructive engagement with the Special Envoy when they meet in the coming days. The Council should maintain its support for the Special Envoy as he strives to restart the political process, he emphasized.
NIKKI R. HALEY (United States), Council President for September, spoke in her national capacity, saying her delegation shares the frustration of other Council members over the Houthi failure to turn up in Geneva. Emphasizing that attempts to undermine United Nations peace efforts must not be tolerated, she urged delegations to give the Special Envoy the strongest possible support. The stakes are high, with conflict raising the temperature throughout the Middle East, she said, warning: “We are potentially one missile strike away from a full-blown crisis.” She also recalled the launch of ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia and threats to Red Sea shipping. Underscoring the remarkable degree of Council unity on Yemen, she said the parties to the conflict must immediately find a way to pay teachers, enable children to return to school, permit medical evacuation flights and avoid the targeting of civilians while holding to account those responsible for civilian casualties. With the international community losing patience, the Council’s confidence in the Special Envoy should not be questioned, she said, demanding that all parties work with him.
AHMED AWAD BIN MUBARAK (Yemen) said that his country’s Government delegation attended the Geneva consultations in good faith at the indicated date and time, hoping that the talks would lead to improvement in the lives of the Yemeni people. The President is in constant coordination to revive hope for much-needed lasting peace, and the Government will continue to support the Special Envoy’s efforts in full. He expressed the Government’s determination to put an end to the coup that has overthrown the constitutionally elected President. On the other hand, the Houthis, known for their irresponsibility, did not attend the conference, he said, adding that this is how they exploit the international community’s efforts — with arrogance. Supported by Iran and its proxies, the Houthis are trying to establish an Iranian model in Yemen, he said, emphasizing that Yemenis will never accept that. The Houthis undermined the Special Envoy’s efforts by creating a crisis, and the Security Council must force them to respect the will of Yemeni people through implementation of its resolutions, he stressed.