Permanent Representative Urges Pressure to Ensure Opposing Houthi Militia Group Implements Stockholm Agreement
Significant progress in implementing recent agreements in Yemen represents an opportunity for that country to move away from the “logic of war” towards one of peace, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today.
“There is momentum in Yemen,” emphasized Martin Griffiths, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy for that country, during his briefing to the 15‑member Council. Speaking via video-teleconference from Amman, Jordan, he reported on the progress made on implementation of the Stockholm Agreement reached in December 2018, including the first phase of the Hodeidah redeployment plan, calling upon the Yemeni authorities and the opposing Houthi militia group to act without further delay. He welcomed the role of Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard — the newly appointed Head of the United Nations Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) — in leading the negotiations.
Describing phase one of the Hodeidah redeployment plan as a sign that the parties are committed to maintaining the momentum, he said it also demonstrates their will to turn words into tangible progress on the ground while reinforcing trust and showing political will. “We need to agree on small things now, not big things later,” he declared, emphasizing: “We have an overriding responsibility to build on the momentum created in Stockholm towards resolving the conflict, not least because the alternative is unimaginable.” He added that the third High‑level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen, to be held in Geneva on 26 February, will estimate the financing needs of humanitarian programmes. “This reminds us that the cost of the war, if our collective efforts fail, will rise steeply at the tragic expense of the people in Yemen.”
Delivering a second briefing, Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, described next week’s Geneva conference as an important opportunity for the international community to make clear its commitment to saving lives in Yemen amid continuing efforts towards a political solution. The price tag is steep, he cautioned, noting that all the life-saving and protection programmes set out in the 2019 United Nations‑coordinated response plan, released today, will cost more than $4 billion to deliver.
Although humanitarian agencies are hoping to help 15 million Yemenis in 2019, the reality on the ground is grim, he continued, citing the 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen released last week by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Reporting “considerably worse” conditions than in 2018, he said that about 24 million people, or approximately 80 per cent of the population, are now in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, with some 20 million people — half of them a step away from famine — requiring help to secure food. “I urge Member States to attend the Geneva meeting at a senior level and to pledge generously,” he said, emphasizing that Yemen’s people need a realistic chance for a better future.
Yemen’s representative said his country is at a critical juncture. Urging the Council to sustain the momentum created by the Stockholm Agreement and to condemn those wishing to see that momentum fail, he also called on members and the broader international community to exert pressure on the Houthis to implement the Stockholm Agreement within a clear time frame. At the same time, other persistent grave concerns include the continuing blockade on the Red Sea Mills food storage facility, he said.
Council members were united in expressing their concerns about the suffering of Yemen’s people, with many pledging generous contributions at the donor conference. Several members urged signatories to the Stockholm Agreement to work hard on its implementation, especially in meeting their obligations under international humanitarian law by allowing access to food-storage facilities. The Dominican Republic’s representative said that blocking access amounts to a violation of international humanitarian law and is no different from launching a direct attack on the population, emphasizing: “We cannot allow hunger to become a weapon of war.”
Delegates also highlighted recent achievements and the challenges ahead, with South Africa’s representative welcoming recent progress within the Redeployment Coordination Committee. China’s delegate urged the parties to strengthen cooperation with the United Nations and to assist in deploying UNMHA, established pursuant to Council resolution 2451 (2018) and tasked with monitoring force withdrawals and ceasefire arrangements.
France’s delegate described Security Council unity as a precious and valuable asset, encouraging members to use it as a lever to advance a political solution. The Russian Federation’s representative called upon Council members to continued working towards a comprehensive ceasefire arrangement. Underlining the importance of humanitarian assistance, he said it should go to all inhabitants, regardless of who controls the territory in which they live.
Also speaking were representatives of the United Kingdom, Poland, Kuwait, Indonesia, Belgium, United States, Côte d’Ivoire, Peru, Germany and Equatorial Guinea.
The meeting began at 10:16 a.m. and ended at 12:13 p.m.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, briefed via video-teleconference, reporting significant progress on implementation of the Stockholm Agreement, including the first phase of the Hodeidah redeployment plan. Welcoming the role of Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard — newly appointed as Head of the United Nations Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) — in leading the negotiations, he said that redeploying from the ports of Saleef and Ras Isa, followed by phase two redeployments in Hodeidah port and parts of the city will facilitate humanitarian access to the Red Sea Mills, which holds enough food to feed 3.7 million people for one month.
“There is momentum in Yemen,” he said, calling upon all sides to begin implementing the Agreement without further delay. Describing the December 2018 accord as a breakthrough representing a major shift, he said agreement on phase one of the Hodeidah plan is also a sign that the parties are committed to maintaining the momentum. “It demonstrates that the parties are able to deliver on their commitments to turn words into tangible progress on the ground,” he said, adding that it also reinforces trust among the parties and demonstrates political will. “With the beginning of the implementation of the Hodeidah Agreement, we now have the opportunity to move from a logic of war to a logic of peace.”
Citing further progress, he said the parties have intensified efforts to follow up on a prisoner-exchange agreement and reaffirmed their commitment to a statement of understanding on Taizz, agreed in Stockholm. “We need to agree on small things now, not big things later,” he emphasized. “No one is suggesting the process is straightforward.” Stressing that Taizz is a highly symbolic place for Yemenis, he said the area has seen some of the worst of the conflict, but tangible progress can now be seen. However, Hodeidah remains the war’s centre of gravity, he said, underlining that efforts towards a political solution must be the real “centre”. The Hodeidah Agreement announced today allows for looking beyond the Stockholm Agreement, he continued, reiterating: “We have an obligation to focus our minds on finding a political solution.” He added: “We need to start talking about the future.”
He continued: “The beginning of a discussion on political and security arrangements would be a major step forward and an important statement of intent from the parties that they are determined, finally, to bring this conflict to a close.” Yet, the Stockholm Agreement was only ever intended to be a preliminary step, he noted, adding that there is a general desire among stakeholders for a peaceful settlement to the conflict, and a comprehensive solution is the only way. “We have an overriding responsibility to build on the momentum created in Stockholm towards resolving the conflict, not least because the alternative is unimaginable.” He went on to state that the forthcoming third High-level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen, to be held in Geneva on 26 February, will estimate the financing needs of humanitarian programmes. “This reminds us that the cost of the war, if our collective efforts fail, will rise steeply at the tragic expense of the people in Yemen,” he pointed out.
MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen, released by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs last week, paints a bleak picture. Citing that survey, he reported that about 24 million people, or approximately 80 per cent of the population, need humanitarian assistance and protection, with some 20 million people — half of them a step away from famine — require help securing food. Almost 20 million people have no access to adequate health care, nearly 18 million lack sufficient clean water or access to adequate sanitation, and more than 3 million — including 2 million children — are acutely malnourished. Some 3.3 million people remain displaced from their homes, he continued, emphasizing: “These numbers are considerably worse than last year.”
He went on to emphasize that although violence is down in Hodeidah, it persists — or is getting worse — in other places, particularly Hajjah. Meanwhile, the economy continues to unravel, with Yemen’s rial losing a third of its value, which, in turn, is driving food prices up. “In short, […] things are very bad,” he stressed, adding that it is against that backdrop that aid agencies are running out of money. Funding is quickly becoming their biggest challenge, he said, cautioning that current resources are expected to run out by the end of March. Pointing out that the United Nations-coordinated relief operation in Yemen is the biggest in the world, he said more than 250 humanitarian agencies, most of them Yemeni, helped nearly 8 million people in every month of 2018. Progress on reducing food insecurity, cholera and severe acute malnutrition during that year would not have been possible without nearly $2.6 billion in donor funding, including $930 million from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, he noted.
However, the operational challenges faced by humanitarian agencies, while daunting, can be managed, but the same cannot be said about funding, he pointed out, warning: “Without adequate resources, the aid operation will grind to a halt at a time when more people need more help than ever before.” It will cost more than $4 billion to deliver all the life-saving and protection programmes set out in the 2019 United Nations-coordinated response plan released today. Emphasizing that humanitarian agencies are hoping to help 15 million Yemenis — half the country’s population — in 2019, he said next week’s high-level pledging conference to be convened by the Secretary-General in Geneva is an important opportunity for the international community to make clear its commitment to save lives as efforts continue towards a political solution. “I urge Member States to attend the Geneva meeting at a senior level and to pledge generously,” he said, underlining that Yemen’s people need a realistic chance for a better future.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) welcomed the recent progress and emphasized the critical importance of agencies gaining swift access to food storage so as to alleviate dire humanitarian needs. Equally important is the need to translate recent agreements into progress on the ground, she added. Concerned about logistical challenges facing UNMHA, she encouraged the parties to iron out differences together. While peace remains fragile, their efforts towards a political settlement of the conflict must be relentless, she stressed.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the priority is for the parties is to remain engaged in implementing the Stockholm Agreement. Welcoming recent achievements, he said discussions should continue to bolster progress. Concerned that the security landscape in Hodeidah remains fragile, he said the parties must adopt a responsible and constructive posture in negotiations and their efforts must also aim to overcome humanitarian challenges. France will shortly announce its contributions to humanitarian initiatives, he added. A negotiated political settlement is the ultimate goal, he said, emphasizing that progress on the ground is essential to advancing the current momentum. Describing Security Council unity as a precious and valuable asset, he encouraged members to use it as a lever to advance a political solution.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) emphasized the utmost importance of the Hodeidah Agreement’s implementation and of reaching consensus on the modalities of force redeployment. She welcomed the progress made over the weekend and encouraged the parties to finalize the deployment’s second phase. At the same time, she expressed alarm over the recent surge in violence, stressing that all sides must respect international humanitarian law, notably in protecting civilians. Noting that the Stockholm Agreement has not led to an improved humanitarian situation and access to the Red Sea Mills grain silos is still lacking, she urged parties to prioritize the opening of humanitarian corridors and the acceleration of efforts to carry out other important steps agreed in Stockholm, notably the exchange of prisoners and settlement of the situation in Taizz. The Government and the Houthis must continue their cooperation with the Redeployment Coordination Committee, UNMHA and the Special Envoy, she said.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) emphasized the crucial need for political will to implement the Stockholm Agreement in full in order to open the door to further talks, leading to an end to the conflict. On the humanitarian situation, he said the United Nations and its specialized agencies must be granted access to food stocks in the Red Sea Mills district in Hodeidah. For its part, the international community must redouble efforts to fund humanitarian assistance by participating in the Geneva donor conference, he said, reiterating Kuwait’s appeal to the parties in Yemen to implement the Stockholm Agreement and other accords, including the one on the exchange of prisoners.
MA ZHAOXU (China) cautioned that practical difficulties in implementing the Stockholm Agreement cannot be underestimated. The humanitarian situation, meanwhile, remains dire. The parties should implement the Stockholm Agreement, strengthen cooperation with the United Nations and assist in deploying UNMHA, he emphasized. The Security Council should remain united while respecting the opinions of the Yemeni parties and those of other countries in the region, he said, urging the international community to provide humanitarian assistance in a targeted fashion. Emphasizing the need to turn political will into genuine action, he said China hopes to see an early launch of the next round of peace talks.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said that securing humanitarian assistance corridors should be the top priority for all parties, who themselves must make every effort to de-mine roads and clear a path for safe humanitarian passage. All parties must permit humanitarian access to the Red Sea Mills compound, he emphasized. “The world cannot afford to lose these important commodities capable of feeding 3.5 million needy people.” The Hodeidah Agreement will provide a safe humanitarian corridor and a gateway for the political process, which could be replicated in other parts of Yemen, he said. Welcoming the parties’ agreement on phase one of the mutual redeployment of forces, he urged them to de-escalate tensions beyond Hodeidah since any hostilities could undermine implementation of agreed commitments. Restraint will gradually build confidence among all parties, he added.
MARTHINUS VAN SCHALKWYK (South Africa) welcomed the progress made by the Redeployment Coordination Committee in planning for the redeployment of forces during the fourth joint meeting on 16 and 17 February. “This meeting was a commendable confidence-building measure,” he said, adding that his delegation looks forward to the Committee’s meeting next week to finalize the second phase. He expressed concern, however, over the serious humanitarian and security situation, emphasizing that all parties must commit to a political process. Welcoming the Committee Chair’s proposal to move forward on implementing the Hodeidah Agreement, he said it is imperative that all parties adhere to the ceasefire because the conflict cannot be resolved through military might. All sides must ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches its intended destinations because any hindrance only exacerbates the crisis, he stressed.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic), noting that recent progress is already having a positive trust-building impact, said the final goal is a political solution leading to a sustainable and lasting ceasefire. Reiterating calls for the parties to respect international humanitarian rights in light of the current situation, he said they must grant access to humanitarian workers so they can help to alleviate suffering since, with more than 20 million people needing assistance. Blocking access amounts to a violation of international humanitarian law and is no different from launching a direct attack on the population, he said, emphasizing: “We cannot allow hunger to become a weapon of war.” Expressing hope that the forthcoming Geneva conference will help to address humanitarian needs, he underlined the importance of continuing Council unity on Yemen.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) urged the parties to implement the Stockholm Agreement fully and in a realistic time frame. Given the current dire humanitarian conditions, the Hodeidah Agreement must also be swiftly implemented, he said, calling upon the parties to remain engaged, abstain from inflammatory rhetoric and mutual ceasefire-violations accusations and focus on implementing the agreements in good faith. He also underlined the importance of ensuring the security of United Nations personnel as the redeployment plan advances. Meanwhile, efforts to improve the catastrophic humanitarian situation are crucial, he said. He went on to express concern about the persistent recruitment of children, calling he upon the parties to halt the practice and for the Special Envoy to put the protection of children at the centre of the peace process.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) expressed concern that the World Food Programme (WFP) has been unable to gain access to the Red Sea Mills, where grain stocks are in danger of rotting. He urged the parties to facilitate immediate access to that facility and to ensure that the surrounding area is safe. While the ceasefire in Hodeidah is a promising first step, the United States remains focused on a comprehensive, credible and durable end to the conflict, he emphasized. That will require compromise on all sides, he said, adding that his delegation will continue to work with the United Nations and other Council members to ensure the success of all political and humanitarian efforts in Yemen.
TIEMOKO MORIKO (Côte d’Ivoire) said the Stockholm Agreement, as well as Council resolutions, offer a ray of hope to the Yemeni people and there is urgent need to roll out new initiatives alongside confidence-building measures. Inviting the parties to finalize provisions on the exchange of prisoners, he also encouraged the international community to provide an urgent response to the humanitarian situation, tailored to the scope of the crisis. Parties to the conflict must ensure the security of United Nations personnel and facilitate, while ensuring unhindered access to food, he stressed.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), emphasizing the need to be patient and coherent, said that, despite the fragile de-escalation in Hodeidah, the conflict is continuing in full force, creating a full-scale humanitarian catastrophe as civilian infrastructure lies in ruins and with the cost of rebuilding the economy growing. He called upon Council members to continue to work towards a comprehensive ceasefire while providing humanitarian assistance to Yemen’s people. Foreign aid should go to all Yemenis, regardless of who controls the territory in which they live, he stressed. He went on to recall the Russian Federation’s proposal of a process for building confidence in the Gulf region.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said the current progress could indeed trigger further gains. Encouraging the parties to take steps in this direction, he urged authorities to help UNMHA begin its work on the ground. He also called for urgent action to address the needs of the extremely vulnerable population, with a view to averting conditions that could lead to the flourishing of violent extremism. The parties must guarantee the unhindered flow of food and medicine through ports and corridors and the international community must enhance its contributions in, among other things, helping to stabilize the fragile economy. The forthcoming donor conference will be an opportune time to address these and other pressing concerns, he added.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) emphasized he crucial importance of implementing all agreements, while calling upon the parties to finalize details on the second phase of the Hodeidah plan. Military steps taken inside or outside Hodeidah will have a severe impact on the humanitarian situation of the civilian population and move efforts farther away from engaging in a political process, he noted. At the same time, he stressed the need for further tangible results, predicting that the momentum created by the Hodeidah Agreement created will “fizzle out” if implementation efforts lag. Welcoming progress on prisoner exchange talks, he called upon the parties also to advance de-mining efforts to facilitate the free flow of goods. Expressing concern at the still dire humanitarian situation, he called on the parties and all players to respect human rights law, stressing that a long-term solution can only be found through an inclusive process that gives a voice to women, young people and other under-represented groups.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea), Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity, emphasizing that any solution to the conflict requires the parties to negotiate a settlement, which, in turn, deserves the international community’s robust support. The Hodeidah Agreement represents hope for Yemen’s people, increasing trust on the road towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict, he noted. However, implementation of resolutions 2151 (2018) and 2152 (2019) to establish UNMHA is challenging, he said, appealing to all parties to comply fully with the Stockholm Agreement. While the overall path for negotiations is moving in the right direction, such progress must be replicated in other areas of Yemen, always with a view to improving the dire humanitarian situation, he said, while emphasizing that all necessary efforts must be deployed to find a solution to the humanitarian crisis.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) reiterated the commitment of his country’s Government to peace and to ending suffering by rebuilding a new federal State. The other side, however, shows no real desire for peace and dialogue, he added. While the Government is committed to implementing the Stockholm Agreement, and is open to all United Nations proposals, the Houthi militia persist in violating the ceasefire with the goal of torpedoing peace efforts, he said, citing more than 1,000 violations in Hodeidah between the start of the ceasefire on 18 December 2018 until 12 February 2019, with 80 civilians killed and many injured. All kinds of weapons are being used to target civilians, public areas, companies and military installations, he said, adding that mines are also being laid and blockades erected to ensure that the Stockholm Agreement fails.
Stressing that the Government shares the Under-Secretary-General’s concern about the inability of the United Nations to gain access the Red Sea Mills, which contain enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month, he said the Houthi have refused to let the Organization’s personnel approach that facility that for five months, adding that fires set by the militia have destroyed 20 per cent of the cereal stocks stored there. Yemen calls upon the Security Council and the international community to pressure the Houthi in favour of the Stockholm Agreement’s implementation within a clear time frame, he said, calling upon the militia to lift the blockade on Taizz.
He went on to underline that the Government will leave no stone unturned in addressing the question of prisoners and missing persons. On the economy, he recalled that one of Yemen’s largest banks was recently forced to stop its activities in Sana’a and other places under Houthi control, and that the militia is exploiting resources to finance their destructive activities. In Government‑controlled areas, efforts are being made to pay pensions and public service salaries, he noted, adding that the Government is also seeking ways to finance the national deficit. He called upon the international community to support its efforts to stabilize the exchange rate in favour of the rial and improve the economy. Welcoming the convening of the forthcoming Geneva conference, he called upon donor countries to extend more support and to honour their obligations. Yemen is at a critical juncture, he stressed, urging the Council to sustain the momentum created by the Stockholm Agreement and to condemn those who wish to see it fail.