Officials Highlight Demilitarization of Ports, Prisoner Exchange, Airport Re-opening as Vital to Relieving Dire Humanitarian Situation
Reporting on the newly reached agreement to demilitarize ports in Yemen, United Nations officials urged the Security Council today to take swift action to ensure full implementation of the accord in order to relieve the dire humanitarian situation in the war-torn country.
“Verification is the key to building trust,” said Martin Griffiths, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen. “I personally hope that this Council will play a part in keeping international attention on the minutiae of implementation.”
Briefing via video-teleconference from Amman, Jordan, he described the agreement reached in Stockholm, Sweden, this week between the parties to the conflict in Yemen, saying it requires mutual withdrawal of forces from Hodeida city and its ports and a governorate-wide ceasefire to allow desperately needed humanitarian assistance to flow in.
Noting that the United Nations has been afforded a lead role in the agreements on the ports, he expects that the Security Council will weigh in on the requirement to establish a compliance-monitoring regime. “A robust and competent monitoring regime is not just essential, it is urgently needed,” he emphasized.
He went on to report that the parties have also reached an understanding to ease the situation in the large urban centre of Taizz, with the prospect of opening humanitarian corridors, reducing fighting in the governorate, deploying demining operations and facilitating the release of prisoners. Acknowledging that the agreements are time-limited and focused on humanitarian relief, he stressed, however, that they also represent a long-delayed turnaround in the diplomatic impasse. The parties have agreed to discuss a political route forward on the basis of the framework submitted by the Office of the Special Envoy in January, he noted. “No longer can Yemen be considered a forgotten war,” he said. “Now we can begin to hope for a track that will lead to its early resolution.”
Joining the Special Envoy in the briefing was Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, who also urged swift action to implement the agreements. While things might start to get better thanks to the progress made in Sweden, “the people I meet see no tangible improvement yet”, he said, noting that more than 20 million Yemenis are now food-insecure and nearly a quarter of a million literally on the brink of starvation. Relieving that situation requires the opening of all ports, easing entry and movement restrictions, protecting humanitarian supplies and facilitating the performance of aid workers in doing their jobs, he stressed.
Highlighting the need for billions of dollars in external support for the Government’s 2019 budget, he said that year’s humanitarian response plan for Yemen requests $4 billion, about half of it for emergency food assistance. He encouraged all parties to continue to engage seriously in implementing the agreements reached in Sweden, stressing that the measures are a package, not a menu.
Following the briefings, Council members welcomed the Stockholm Agreement and thanked all those who helped to bring them about, commenting that the Council’s united support for the effort has been crucial and must be maintained to ensure implementation, including through establishment of the monitoring regime. While expressing hope that the agreements will help to relieve the suffering, most speakers also acknowledged that they are a humanitarian stop-gap requiring follow-up negotiations for a Yemeni-led political solution under United Nations auspices.
In that context, the Russian Federation’s representative praised the “almost ideal” unity exhibited by the five permanent Council members in helping the Special Envoy at a critical moment, while acknowledging that much remains unresolved.
Kuwait’s representative expressed the hope that consensual Council efforts on the way forward will form the bedrock of future political agreements to restore lasting peace to its neighbourly country.
Yemen’s representative declared: “We come today filled with great hope,” thanking all who facilitated the agreements. He cautioned, however, that the Houthi militia have not abided by previous accords, estimating that some 75 have been signed since the beginning of the conflict. In fact, the Government had looked forward to further confidence-building measures and to the opening of Sana’a airport, but the “intransigence of the Houthis, supported by the Iranians”, foiled that effort, he said. A Government priority now is to revive the economy while continuing the pursuit of peaceful means to restore legitimate State institutions and political processes affected by the coup d’état, he added. “We are ready to go all the way to bring peace to Yemen.”
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, United States, Sweden, France, Peru, Poland, Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, China, Bolivia and Côte d’Ivoire.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 12:11 p.m.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Special Envoy for Yemen, spoke via video-teleconference from Amman, Jordan, noting that “after two-and-a-half years of missed opportunities, the political process to find a comprehensive solution to the conflict in Yemen has resumed”. Parties to the conflict reached several agreements included in the Stockholm Declaration that entered into force on 13 December, he reported. Welcoming the eight days of intensive good-faith efforts by representatives of the parties, he thanked the Swedish hosts, regional representatives and all those, including the Council, who helped to achieve progress.
Most dramatically, he continued, the parties agreed to a rapid mutual withdrawal of forces from Hodeida’s three ports and the city itself, in the context of a governorate-wide ceasefire, with the United Nations asked to monitor compliance. He added that he expects the Council will want to address that requirement. “A robust and competent monitoring regime is not just essential, it is urgently needed,” he emphasized, noting that both sides said that they welcome it. At the Secretary-General’s urging, relevant departments in New York and elsewhere are already active in planning for urgent deployment subject to the Council’s decisions, he said.
Given the ghastly prospect of famine in Yemen, the nature of the agreed withdrawals revolves around humanitarian needs, he said, stressing that allowing the United Nations to take the lead role in the ports is the vital first step. Others include providing support for the Yemen Red Sea Ports Corporation’s management and inspections at Hodeidah, Salife and Ras Issa, with enhanced monitoring by the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM). “We must see this happen within days,” he said, adding that the United Nations country team has developed a plan seeking specific support from Member States in the port. He noted, however, the unique nature of the arrangements. “Very deliberately, the arrangements agreed, particularly as regards governance, set no precedent,” he pointed out. “They are time-bound,” he added. “This is a humanitarian stop-gap to save lives and turn the tide of war towards peace.”
He went on to state that the parties have also reached an understanding to ease the situation in the large urban centre of Taizz with the prospect of opening humanitarian corridors to allow the safe passage of goods and people across front lines, reduce fighting in the governorate, deploy demining operations and facilitate the release and exchange of prisoners. For that purpose, the parties agreed to the creation of a joint committee under the leadership of the United Nations. “That Committee should meet soon and agree on a plan to bring the massive urban centre back to a kind of temporary peace,” he said. To plan for the mutual release of all prisoners, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has pledged full support, he added, expressing hope that an exchange involving as many as 4,000 prisoners will take place in mid-January. Agreements have yet to be finalized on the opening of Sana’a airport and on the measures needed to enable the Central Bank of Yemen to allow full payment of salaries to civil servants, he noted, adding that the parties have agreed to reconvene at the end of January.
The Special Envoy said that the parties meeting in Sweden also discussed his framework for restoring State institutions and its monopoly on the use of force by providing a clear political future for all parties and stakeholders. They also agreed to continue that discussion in the next round, he said, emphasizing that the Government’s reservations in relation to the framework will be considered seriously at that time, as discussions turn from humanitarian imperatives to issues that must be addressed to resolve the conflict. As to whether the parties can be trusted to uphold the Stockholm Agreement, he said “verification is the key to building trust”. He added: “I personally hope that this Council will pay a part in keeping international attention on the minutiae of implementation. No longer can Yemen be considered a forgotten war. Now we can begin to hope for a track that will lead to its early resolution.”
MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that a fortnight ago, he had a glimpse of what life is like in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Some families who fled the violence have been living for years under plastic sheets and young mothers repeatedly have to rush desperately malnourished children to hospitals, he said, adding that the terrible tragedy unfolding in Yemen is getting worse. While things might start to get better thanks to the progress made in Sweden, “the people I meet see no tangible improvement yet”, he said.
Citing the Integrated Phase Classification analysis published by a consortium of agencies last week, he said it decisively confirms “Yemen’s descent towards famine”. More than 20 million Yemenis are now food-insecure with nearly a quarter of a million literally on the brink of starvation. War is the primary cause, he said, adding that the economic crisis is also playing a major role, with food prices 150 per cent higher than they were before the crisis. Outlining measures to prevent famine from taking hold, he called for a cessation of hostilities and protection for the supply of food and essential goods. “This means keeping all ports open, easing entry and movement restrictions, protecting humanitarian supplies and facilitating aid workers in doing their jobs,” he said.
Another vital task is to stabilize the economy, he continued, noting that the Yemeni rial is trading at just over 500 to the dollar. To finance imports, pay salaries and pensions while reliably meeting minimum costs, the Government will need billions of dollars in external support for its 2019 budget, he emphasized. Moreover, the 2019 humanitarian response plan for Yemen is costed at $4 billion, about half of which is for emergency food assistance. “Our understanding is that most or all of this new funding will be channelled through next year’s United Nations-coordinated response plan,” he said, expressing hope that this will jump-start contributions from other countries. Encouraging all parties to continue to engage seriously in implementing the agreements reached in Sweden, he stressed that these measures are a package, not a menu.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) welcomed the agreements and thanked all those who helped bring them about, said that the Council’s united support has been crucial. She endorsed the agreements reached, while acknowledging that it is a humanitarian stop-gap to relieve the dire situation that persists on the ground, pending implementation and a durable solution. She hoped to be able to work expeditiously with colleagues to provide the firmest support to full implementation of the agreements, including by establishing the necessary monitoring mechanism. She called on all other Council members to engage in that pursuit in a united manner.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) also welcomed “a great success” in reaching the agreements, crediting the Council’s unity as well as efforts by coalition members and the parties in Yemen. Emphasizing that the Council must retain that unity in supporting the agreements, he pledged all possible assistance, including air travel. He also stressed the importance of channelling revenues to the Bank of Yemen for the payment of salaries and support for the currency. Expressing hope that the Yemeni parties will move swiftly to implement the agreements in order to relieve the humanitarian situation, he said that consensual Council efforts on the way forward will form the bedrock of future political agreements to restore lasting peace in Kuwait’s neighbourly country.
NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) noted that, while “this is a season of hope”, hope alone does not make things better, recalling the horrific pictures coming out of Yemen. Noting also that the talks in Sweden have produced concrete outcomes, including an agreement on the exchange of prisoners, she welcomed the willingness of all parties, including Saudi Arabia, to work on confidence-building measures. Turning to the ceasefire, she called upon all parties to exercise restraint, pointing out that the Council will be monitoring the situation closely and must stand ready to act if one or more of the parties failed to comply with the Stockholm Agreement. Human beings created this crisis and human beings can end it, she said, calling upon the Council to find the simple political will to save lives.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said efforts must now turn to immediate implementation of the Stockholm Agreement and to keep up the momentum of the political process. He emphasized the urgent need to implement the Hodeidah ceasefire, not least to address the humanitarian situation, and to address other issues, including the easing of tensions in Taizz, the reopening Sana’a airport, the exchange of prisoners and continuing the dialogue on economic issues. The commitment to keep engaging on a negotiating framework will also be critical, he added. Going forward, the Security Council should adopt a resolution in support of the Stockholm Agreement, including on the United Nations monitoring of the Hodeidah ceasefire, he said, emphasizing the need for all sides to continue their constructive engagement with United Nations efforts. Expressing hope for rapid progress even before the next meeting of the parties by the end of January, he encouraged the parties to pursue discussions in the same spirit of dialogue and compromise seen in Stockholm and called for greater efforts to ensure full and effective participation by women in in future rounds of talks.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), congratulating the facilitators of the negotiations and the Government of Sweden for hosting talks, said the talks are but the first step. The agreement on Hodeida is critical to making headway towards a full cessation of hostilities, he said, adding that it is potentially a breakthrough that marks the turning point towards the end of the conflict. Peace is possible in Yemen, with the iron-clad commitment of all parties and unity in the Council. As Yemen is wracked by the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the positive momentum generated in Stockholm should lead to protection of human rights on the ground, he said, expressing willingness to work with the United Kingdom on an updated draft resolution.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), noting that the international community is now closer to a politically inclusive solution in Yemen, underscored the need to maintain the momentum. Hailing the host country, he also applauded the flexibility of the Yemeni parties. The Yemeni people at risk of famine need immediate assistance, he said, calling on the parties to continue to build trust. Building on the prisoner exchange, the parties should work towards the opening of the airport in Sana’a. The withdrawal of forces from Hodeida make it appropriate and timely for the Council to adopt a resolution, he said, calling on the international community, especially Yemen’s neighbouring countries, to help stabilize and breathe new life into Yemen’s economy.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) recalled that the Council agreed in November that an opportunity to relaunch a political process had presented itself in Yemen and it was vital to make the most of it. Noting that the outcomes of consultations in Rimbo are the first significant step towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict, he urged parties to deliver on the commitments made in Sweden, taking advantage of progress to build trust and engage with the Special Envoy to pave the way for resumed peace negotiations. International support, especially by the Security Council, is essential to increase the prospect for peace. While welcoming progress on the political track, he said persistent challenges must be addressed in the coming weeks, including the reopening of Sana’a airport and measures to improve the economy.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) commended the commitment shown by the parties in Sweden. The cessation of hostilities in Hodeidah, when implemented, will greatly benefit humanitarian efforts, he said, welcoming progress on the exchange of prisoners and humanitarian corridors into Taizz. He regretted, however, the lack of women in the delegations in Sweden, despite clear calls from the international community in that regard. On the threat of famine, he said the number of deaths from avoidable causes, including starvation and preventable diseases, will soar if the cessation of hostilities in Hodeidah fails to hold. “Those who think we can sit back and delay our actions in the absence of a nationwide famine declaration should think again,” he said. The Security Council — “which has stayed silent on Yemen for far too long” — must show unity, and voiced strong support for a resolution that would back up the Stockholm agreement and place humanitarian access front and centre.
KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) stressed that an agreement on Hodeidah — “the centre of gravity in the war in Yemen” — will have a huge impact on both the security situation and humanitarian efforts. The ceasefire and withdrawals of all forces from the port, and then from the city itself, will also allow humanitarian corridors to open to the city of Taizz. Emphasizing that all parties must adhere to their international humanitarian law obligations — including by cooperating with the United Nations and relevant humanitarian partners — he urged parties to refrain from damaging civilian infrastructure, and committing violent acts and non-selective bombings that could lead to mass civilian casualties. Additionally, he said, the cessation of hostilities will provide an opportunity to revive Yemen’s economy, resolve the humanitarian crisis and restore public services.
TAYE ATSKESELASSIE AMDE (Ethiopia) noted the real, if still limited, progress made between the parties in Yemen for the first time in more than two years. Concrete developments emerging from the Stockholm negotiations provide a real sense of hope to Yemenis, who continue to suffer the results of their country’s appalling conflict, he said, adding that the negotiations demonstrate that progress is possible where there is genuine political commitment. The next stage — implementation of those agreements — will be critical, requiring that the parties continue to work together and refrain from actions that could undermine progress, he emphasized. Expressing concern a severe humanitarian crisis provides the backdrop for the recent political progress, he pointed out that millions of people are on the verge of famine and that Yemen’s economy has collapsed. A total rebuilding of State institutions as well as urgent and continued stabilization measures are required, he said, stressing that an urgent and concerted international effort is the only way to avert further catastrophe. Safe passage for life-saving assistance to millions of Yemenis in need will be the real measure of success, he added.
VICTOR MANUEL ELÉ ELA (Equatorial Guinea), expressing satisfaction at the results of negotiations in Sweden, said that the talks provided hope for Yemen’s future. He called the arrangements to be given tangible form through scrupulous respect for the ceasefire. He also called for efforts to continue to resolve the conflict and end the suffering in a lasting manner. The Council’s united support is critical in that context, he stressed.
MA ZHAOXU (China), welcoming the progress achieved in Sweden and paying tribute to all those who contributed, said the agreements mark a turning point in efforts to end the conflict and its suffering. Noting the deep-seated challenges that remain, however, he said the international community must ensure that the ceasefire comes into strict force immediately, and that the prisoner exchange and other agreed elements take place. The United Nations must effectively play its role in that effort. Next, work must intensify to reach a comprehensive and lasting agreement, with the Council encouraging all stakeholders to bring about progress while ensuring delivery of humanitarian aid. He underlined that Yemen’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected during this process, and drew attention to China’s ongoing support to United Nations efforts to bring about a Yemeni-owned political solution to the conflict.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), welcoming the agreements and thanking all those who made them possible, expressed hope that they will relieve the dire humanitarian situation. For that purpose, all parties must allow the delivery of life-saving aid. He called for the full implementation of all the agreements reached and for crucial unity among Security Council members in supporting efforts that have been outlined as important.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) expressed hope that the negotiations have ushered in the possibility of settling the conflict in Yemen and called for further concerted efforts towards a full ceasefire. Noting that the Yemeni people are starving, he said “the Rubicon we have neared now needs to be crossed”. Emphasizing the need to prioritize implementation of a ceasefire agreement, he said that will enable sustained deliveries of humanitarian cargo to the country’s northern parts, where most of the population live. Praising the “almost ideal” unity exhibited by the five permanent Council members in helping the Special Envoy at a critical moment, he underlined that while much remains unresolved, there can be no military solution to the conflict.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire), Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity, noting “the glimmer of hope” on the horizon. Describing the agreements reached in Sweden as a testament to what humanity is capable of doing where the will exists, he thanked the Swedish authorities and applauded the Secretary-General’s personal commitment, which contributed to the success of the negotiations. Welcoming the relative calm observed in recent days on the Yemeni battlefield, he highlighted the agreement to exchange prisoners as a prelude to ending the suffering endured by the Yemeni people. Recalling the symbolic shaking of hands between the Yemeni Minister and the Houthi rebel leader, he said a number of outstanding issues remain, including the opening of Sana’a airport.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) thanked the Special Envoy, the Government and people of Sweden and the Secretary-General, saying: “We come today filled with great hope.” He advised “cautions”, however, due to previous experiences, pointing out that the Houthi militia have not abided by previous accords. About 75 agreements have been signed since the beginning of the conflict, he recalled, stressing that what has been agreed will remain words on paper until it is implemented on the ground. He expressed hope that the exchange of prisoners will bring a smile back to the mothers and families of missing Yemenis.
He went on to state that the Government of Yemen has offered many concessions, adding: “We are ready to go all the way to bring peace to Yemen.” Highlighting the Gulf initiative and Council resolutions, he said the Government will continue to seek peaceful solutions to restore legitimate State institutions and political processes to where they were before the coup d’état. The Government had looked forward to agreeing on confidence-building measures and the opening of Sana’a airport, but the “intransigence of the Houthis, supported by the Iranians”, foiled that effort, he said, adding that the Government now aims to restore the economy while managing demand for foreign currency.