Permanent Representative Accuses Houthis of Targeting Coordination Meeting Venues
The Government of Yemen and the Houthi militia forces fighting it have accepted a detailed plan for phase one of the redeployment of their respective forces from the vital port city of Hodeidah, as stipulated in the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy told the Security Council today.
“It has been a long and difficult process,” said Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy for Yemen, explaining that General Michael Lollesgaard, Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee and Head of the United Nations Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), has been working non-stop towards an agreement on operational plans for the redeployment of forces in the port city, in accordance with the Stockholm Agreement.
Phase one requires the opposing forces to move out from the key ports of Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa, and from critical infrastructure such as the Red Sea Mills, which hold enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month. He said that he will focus next on resolving outstanding issues related to phase two and the status of local security forces.
Despite the need to see tangible progress in Hodeidah before moving to focus on the political solution, “the larger battlefields should not be forgotten”, he emphasized, saying he intends to winnow down differences between the parties so that when they meet again, they can respond precisely about the nature of arrangements to end the conflict. “Let us move with all speed and with no hesitation towards the political solution that this Council has repeatedly asserted is the only solution,” he said.
Also briefing the Council was Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, who warned of a catastrophe if fighting damages or cuts the main water source in Abs, which serves 200,000 people. He added that there is also the risk of displacing up to 400,000 more people if the fighting moves south to the Hodeidah boundary. He went on to state that humanitarian agencies are confronting an alarming resurgence in the cholera epidemic, with nearly 200,000 suspected cases reported so far in 2019 – three times more than during the same period in 2018.
“We remain keenly aware that a sustainable peace would be the most effective remedy for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” he said, adding: “Without peace, we will simply go on treating the symptoms of this crisis instead of addressing the cause.” Noting that the United Nations Yemen Response Plan has received only $276 million, or 10 per cent of the $2.6 billion announced during the February donors’ conference in Geneva, and only 6 per cent of the requirements, he warned that the relief operation is running out of money and urged donor countries to honour their pledges.
Virginia Gamba, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, reported that more than 3,000 children were verified as having been recruited and used from April 2013 until the end of 2018, adding that more than 7,500 children were killed and maimed, and over 800 cases of denial of humanitarian access to children were documented. “The impact of this conflict on children has been horrific,” she said, noting that all parties to the conflict have acted and reacted militarily to events, resulting in the use and abuse of children in multiple ways.
Muna Luqman, Chairperson of Food for Humanity, a civil society organization, said she is a survivor of the war in Yemen, explaining that her home in Taiz was partly demolished by an air strike directed by the Saudi-led coalition against a nearby school used by the Houthis as a military warehouse and prison. She went on to say that she mediated the evacuation of children from an orphanage stormed by Houthis seeking to position snipers. “Escaping death in Yemen is increasingly becoming difficult,” she said, noting that four months after the signing of the Stockholm Agreement, armed clashes continue in Hodeidah, more families are being displaced and people are deprived of food, medicine, fuel and electricity.
Many Council members expressed concern over the Stockholm Agreement’s non-implementation. The representative of the United States said that, while welcoming the fact that the Houthis finally agreed to the details of phase one, his delegation is closely watching if they will make good on their words.
The Russian Federation’s representative said there are chances for positive outcomes in Hodeidah and it is, therefore, counterproductive to attempt to marginalize one of the parties.
Germany’s representative said his country stands ready to host a possible subsequent round of negotiations, adding that they must include more women, unlike those in Stockholm, where only one woman was present.
The United Kingdom’s representative urged the parties to get the Stockholm Agreement implemented and to remove all obstacles to United Nations operations. “The stakes are too high” to let it fail, she emphasized.
Council members also reiterated their concern over the humanitarian crisis and the importance of ensuring access to areas in need. Poland’s representative said the recent cholera outbreak exacerbates the dire situation, cautioning that the effectiveness of financial support will be limited unless obstacles to humanitarian delivery are lifted.
Yemen’s representative said the Government has spared no effort to reach peace through many cycles of dialogue, but the armed Houthi militia, supported by Iran, rejected what was agreed in Stockholm more than four months ago. The Government, on the other hand, has demonstrated flexibility and patience in negotiations and intends to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches those in need, he emphasized. The Houthis refuse passage even for medical supplies being delivered to areas under their control, where cholera is claiming lives, he added.
While the Government has withdrawn its forces and accepted phase one of the redeployment, the Houthis refuse to work with the Redeployment Coordination Committee, he said, adding that they are conducting mortar and drone attacks against venues where meetings are held. He emphasized the Government’s readiness to work with WFP to facilitate access to the Red Sea Mills, adding that it is also undertaking economic measures to address the plummeting value of the national currency, restore financial flows and pay the salaries of civil servants.
Also speaking today were representatives of Kuwait, Dominican Republic, France, China, Peru, Belgium, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea and Indonesia.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 12:42 p.m.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, spoke via videoconference from Amman, Jordan, saying that General Michael Lollesgaard, Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee and Head of the United Nations Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) has been working non-stop towards an agreement between the Government of Yemen and Ansar Allah on operational plans for the redeployment of forces in the port city, in accordance with the Stockholm Agreement of December 2018. Both sides have accepted a detailed redeployment plan for phase one, he said, adding that next efforts will focus on resolving outstanding issues related to phase two and the status of local security forces.
The first voluntary redeployments of the conflict are taking longer than hoped, he said, while welcoming the fact that they are happening at all. Describing Hodeidah as “a test of many things”, he noted that levels of violence in Hodeidah Governorate are down significantly since the ceasefire entered into force, as are civilian casualties. Some people are reportedly returning to their homes. However, the economic situation remains extremely fragile, with ships encountering difficulties in gaining access to Hodeidah and fuel prices rising. As for the rest of Yemen, he said the war shows no signs of abating and “the larger battlefields should not be forgotten”. That includes Hajjour, where humanitarian agencies are struggling to keep up with the impact of devastating battles.
“Let us move with all speed and with no hesitation towards the political solution that this Council has repeatedly asserted is the only solution,” he said, emphasizing that, going forward, he intends to focus on winnowing down the differences between the parties so that when they meet again, they can respond precisely about the nature of arrangements to end the conflict. He asked the Council to support that approach. Turning to the role of women in the peace process, he said it is very good news that the Government will ensure that at least 30 per cent of its delegation will be made up of women, adding that senior leaders of Allah Ansar reassured him that they are keen to be more inclusive of women in negotiations.
MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that while the ceasefire in Hodeidah has largely been holding, conflict has intensified in several areas of Hajjah, just north of the port city, and fierce fighting in Kushar District displaced up to 50,000 people in February and March. The fighting was marked by continuous reports of shelling and air strikes causing scores of civilian casualties, he said, adding that it has forced nearly 100,000 people in the Bani Hassan area of Abs District to flee over the last two weeks. About half fled to other areas of Abs, an extremely poor and water-scarce district now hosting more than 300,000 displaced people, he said, warning of a catastrophe if fighting damages or cuts off the main water source in Abs, which serves 200,000 people. If the fighting moves south to the Hodeidah boundary, up to 400,000 more people could be displaced, he warned.
He went on to state that humanitarian agencies are also confronting an alarming resurgence in the cholera epidemic that had been successfully rolled back in 2018. Cholera has affected nearly every family in some way, with nearly 200,000 suspected cases reported so far in 2019, triple the number from the corresponding period in 2018, he reported. Due to the breakdown of the health system, more than 3,300 cases of diphtheria have also been reported since 2018, the first outbreak in Yemen since 1982. He noted that about 2 million school-age children remain out of school and that some 2,000 schools are unusable because they have been damaged.
He went on to recall that in 2018, the United Nations and its partners reached an average of 8 million people a month, which made Yemen the world’s largest aid operation. The World Food Programme (WFP) has delivered emergency food assistance to more than 9 million people every month and hopes to reach 12 million people in the coming months. Thousands of humanitarian personnel are staffing some 1,500 cholera-treatment facilities in 147 districts across the country, he said, adding that humanitarian agencies have kept millions of people alive. Two major challenges are restrictions on access and delivery of aid, he said, emphasizing that the United Nations and its partners face serious challenges in accessing mills containing enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month. Commercial food imports and fuel imports are also down, he added.
In February, he recalled, donors pledged $2.6 billion for humanitarian action in Yemen, including $1 billion from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In 2018, those two countries channelled their donations through the United Nations, a best practice in humanitarian donorship, but nearly four months into the year, the United Nations Yemen Response Plan has received only $276 million, or 10 per cent of what was pledged, and only 6 per cent of the requirement, he noted. “We remain keenly aware that a sustainable peace would be the most effective remedy for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” he said, adding: “Without peace, we will simply go on treating the symptoms of this crisis instead of addressing the cause.” He continued: “Violence has again increased,” warning: “The relief operation is running out of money. Barring changes, the end is nigh.”
VIRGINIA GAMBA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, reported that more than 3,000 children were verified as having been recruited and used from April 2013 to the end of 2018, adding that more than 7,500 children were killed and maimed, and over 800 cases of denial of humanitarian access to children were documented. In addition, more than 350 attacks against schools and hospitals were verified. Due to difficulties in gathering information, sexual violence against children is chronically underreported in Yemen and only a few cases could be verified in that period, she reported. “The impact of this conflict on children has been horrific,” she said, noting that all parties to the conflict have acted and reacted militarily to events, resulting in the use and abuse of children in multiple ways. The accumulating years of war, compounded by the economic crisis, have taken a devastating toll on children, who have died of curable diseases such as cholera, and from starvation, she said. The large majority of incidents of denial of humanitarian access, more than 70 per cent, were attributed to the Houthis, about 10 per cent to the coalition and 7 per cent to Government forces.
She went on to report that the Houthis recruited two thirds of the children, followed by the Popular Resistance, Yemen Armed Forces and Security Belt Forces, as well as Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and Salafists, to name only a few. The Houthis were responsible for most of the child casualties as a result of ground fighting, followed by Government forces. In December 2018, the Government of Yemen endorsed a road map intended to revitalize and expedite implementation of the Action Plan signed in 2014 to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children, she recalled, adding that last month, following engagement with the coalition since 2017, she signed a memorandum of understanding on strengthening the protection of children affected by the armed conflict in Yemen. “The violence Yemeni children have been subjected to and still are is simply unacceptable,” she stressed, urging all parties to take immediate measures to ensure that their military operations are conducted in full compliance with international law, including by respecting the principles of distribution, proportionality and precaution. Perpetrators of grave violations should be held to account for their actions before relevant jurisdictions, she said, requesting that the Council ensure that child protection is central to efforts for peace in Yemen going forward.
MUNA LUQMAN, Chairperson of Food for Humanity, described herself as a survivor of the war in Yemen, during which her home in Taiz was partially demolished by an air strike of the Saudi-led coalition against a nearby school used by the Houthis as a military warehouse and prison. She said that she also experienced the ongoing siege of Taiz, which has deprived civilians of food, water and other daily necessities. She said that she mediated the evacuation of children from an orphanage stormed by the Houthis in order to position snipers, after which some of the children suffered injuries from broken window glass after a coalition air strike targeted a nearby building. “Escaping death in Yemen is increasingly becoming difficult,” she said, noting that four months after the signing of the Stockholm Agreement, armed clashes in Hodeidah continue, more families are being displaced and people are deprived of food, medicine, fuel and electricity.
Humanitarian access is restricted by the coalition blockade and by the Houthis preventing aid delivery in areas under their control, she continued, adding that the prisoner-exchange agreement signed before the Stockholm Agreement has yet to be implemented. Space for civil society organizations is increasingly restricted, especially in Houthi-controlled areas, with women peacemakers facing arbitrary detention and forced to halt their activism. “We are disappointed that all national, regional and international parties are yet to take bold action to end the war and the suffering of the Yemeni people,” she said. Noting that the role of women in peacebuilding is ridiculed, she said women remain excluded from ceasefire and peace processes.
Urging Council members to adopt a bold new approach, she called for an immediate ceasefire covering coalition air strikes, as well as internal and cross-border Houthi missile and drone attacks. Among other steps, she called for the creation of mechanisms to implement Council resolutions focused on humanitarian access, as well as the disarmament and demobilization of the Houthis, the negotiation of local peace agreements to open humanitarian corridors and ensure the withdrawal of combatants, and the provision of support for the restoration of Government institutions, beginning in liberated areas. She also called for serious efforts to demilitarize liberated cities and disburse the salaries of civil servants in Houthi-controlled areas, demanding also that the parties ensure that women make up no less than 50 per cent of their delegations when engaging in negotiations.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said she remains concerned about the non-implementation of the Stockholm Agreement, urging all parties to get it implemented and to remove all obstacles to United Nations operations. Expressing disappointment that difficulty in gaining access to the Red Sea Mills still continues, she urged the parties to redouble their efforts to work with the United Nations. Emphasizing that she is running out of superlatives to describe how worrying the situation is, she said the Government of the United Kingdom donated $300 million and urged other donors to disburse their pledges immediately. The stakes are too high to let the Stockholm Agreement fail, she stressed.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) stressed the importance of political will and of turning words into action, including in relation to the exchange of prisoners and the memorandum of understanding on Taiz. Kuwait does not wish to see the Hodeidah conflict “go back to square one”, he added. Turning to the humanitarian situation, he said it is crucial to open safe humanitarian corridors to all affected areas and to ensure access to the Rea Sea Mills. On the 2019 Yemen Humanitarian Plan, he said Kuwait has donated $250 million, bringing the total of its contributions to $600 million since 2015.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) called upon the parties, as well as the States that support them, to do more to protect civilians when planning and conducting military operations. Humanitarian workers must have access to the Red Sea Mills as soon as possible, he said, emphasizing that the bulk of humanitarian action should mainly target women and women’s organizations. Given the progress made towards peace, the Council must do everything possible to pursue a political solution that actively includes women and young people, he stressed. He added that the international community must develop the tools to ensure justice for victims of human rights violations.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) called upon the parties to start redeployment operations in Hodeidah, where progress should help to create a virtuous cycle leading to a political solution while building trust between the parties. A military solution is less an option than ever, he added. While the holding of the ceasefire in Hodeidah is positive, the level of hostilities throughout the country has grown, he noted, urging the parties to facilitate the arrival of the remaining United Nations observers as soon as possible and to ensure access and safety for humanitarian personnel.
MA ZHAOXU (China) stressed the need to move the political process forward, noting that whereas the ceasefire is largely holding, the security condition remains fragile and the humanitarian situation dire. However, United Nations mediation efforts have not stopped, he pointed out, emphasizing the importance of continued patience. Efforts for implementation of the Stockholm Agreement must continue, he said, emphasizing the vital need to maintain political dialogue. Stressing that the Council must be united in this regard, he said assistance to ease the humanitarian suffering must continue. There is no alternative to a political solution, and the task of the international community is to create a favourable environment, he said.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) expressed concern over the lack of tangible progress towards implementation of the Stockholm Agreement and the resurgence of violence, emphasizing the need to act swiftly to maintain the momentum created by the accord. He urged the parties not to miss this window of opportunity, and to honour their commitments on the exchange of prisoners and other terms. The lack of progress should not be an excuse for resuming military operations, he emphasized, calling upon those countries with influence over warring parties to exert the necessary political pressure to address their differences through diplomatic channels. Peace requires a shared vision of the shared future, with all represented, including youth and women, he said.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) called upon all parties to respect the ceasefire fully and to implement the Stockholm Agreement in good faith. Echoing the Under-Secretary-General’s appeal for humanitarian access, particularly to the Red Sea Mills, he said Belgium’s contribution to the Yemen Humanitarian Appeal Fund will be disbursed in May. Noting that air strikes against schools and hospitals are continuing, he asked the Special Envoy to ensure that measures to protect children are at the heart of the peace process.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said that while the situation in Hodeidah is of high importance for Council members, they are deeply concerned by the surge of violence in other parts of Yemen and the impact of atrocities on civilians. All violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law must be investigated and the perpetrators held to account, she emphasized. Noting that the recent cholera outbreak exacerbates the dire humanitarian situation, she cautioned that the effectiveness of financial support will be limited unless obstacles to humanitarian delivery are lifted. Delivery cannot be politicized by any of the stakeholders, she said, adding that developments on the ground demonstrate the pressing need to resume the political process.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said that although the ceasefire is holding narrowly, it is not an end in itself, emphasizing the need to move forward to further talks on ending the conflict. The United States welcomes the Houthis’ final acceptance of the details of phase one of redeployment, but is closely watching if they will make good on it, he said, stressing that it is time for them to demonstrate that they are serious about implementing the Stockholm Agreement. It is deeply worrying that the Red Sea Mills remain inaccessible, he said, pointing out that, at this point, only the Houthi are blocking access. If food spoils, they are responsible, he added.
STEPHEN MAHLABADISHAGO NTSOANE (South Africa) urged the parties to fully implement the Stockholm Agreement as it remains the only hope for peace and stability. The humanitarian situation remains dire, he noted, urging all parties to respect international humanitarian law and ensure the safety and security of aid workers. Welcoming the memorandum of understanding on strengthening the protection of children, he called for accurate listing of perpetrators in the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict.
TIEMOKO MORIKO (Côte d’Ivoire) expressed concern that despite the progress made, more than 3,000 ceasefire violations have been reported. Côte d’Ivoire is also concerned that millions of people are food-insecure and children are being recruited, he added, noting also that a huge number of children are unable to attend school due to closures resulting from non-payment of salaries for teachers and damage to school facilities.
VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation), describing the Yemen situation as tragic, called upon all parties to demonstrate restraint, abandoning unilateral actions and aggressive rhetoric. Despite chances for positive moves in Hodeidah, efforts to marginalize one of the parties are counter-productive, he cautioned, emphasizing that the Russian Federation will continue to assist United Nations mediation efforts in cooperation with regional and international partners while also using its own contacts. Even if the conflict ends soon, Yemen will require help for a long time, he said, stressing that the donor community must understand how deep the problem is and respond to the Emergency Relief Coordinator’s appeal. He went on to underline that humanitarian assistance from outside Yemen must be distributed in all parts of the country without discrimination, regardless of who controls the territory.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) called for a deeper commitment among the parties with no preconditions or attempts to delay implementation of the Stockholm Agreement. The issue of security for both Yemenis and humanitarian personnel is a major concern, he said, encouraging the parties to abide by international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Emphasizing that the military option cannot restore peace, he said the parties must engage in a frank and inclusive dialogue, ensuring respect for international law and Council resolutions.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) said the parties must honour their commitments and implement the Stockholm Agreement. With Ramadan approaching, prisoners must be exchanged urgently, he added, emphasizing that all parties must abide by international law, protect children against violence and refrain from targeting schools and medical facilities. He said that since the Council is in the business of making peace, dialogue must be at the centre of its work. He went on to express hope that during this Ramadan the Yemeni people will keep their hopes for lasting peace and reconstruction high.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), Council President for April, spoke in his national capacity, noting that to listen to their statements, delegates “sound like broken records”, with everyone agreeing that there is no military solution and that everything must be done for a political settlement. Emphasizing that the Council must ensure that its voice is heard, he said Germany stands ready to host a possible next round of negotiations, which must include more women, unlike those in Stockholm, where only one woman was present. The inclusion of young people is also key, he said. He announced Germany’s decision to deploy up to 10 monitors in support of the United Nations Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement, as well as the release of the bulk of the €100 million it is contributing to humanitarian assistance.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) said the Government has spared no efforts to reach peace through many cycles of dialogue, but the armed Houthi militia, supported by Iran, have sought to undermine such endeavours by rejecting what was agreed in Stockholm more than four months ago. The Houthis refuse to implement the accord because of their arrogance and continue to benefit from the suffering of the Yemeni people, including children. The Government, on the other hand, has demonstrated flexibility and patience in negotiations and intends to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches those in need, he emphasized. The Houthis refuse passage even for medical supplies being delivered to areas under their control, where cholera is claiming lives, he added.
While the Government has withdrawn its forces and accepted the plan for phase one of redeployment, he continued, the Houthis refuse to work with the Redeployment Coordination Committee and are conducting mortar and drone attacks where meetings are held. He asked the Council to exert greater pressure on the Houthis. Emphasizing the Government’s readiness to work with WFP to facilitate access to the Red Sea Mills, he said it is also undertaking economic measures to address the plummeting value of the national currency, restore financial flows and pay the salaries of civil servants, all of whom will be paid as soon as the Government receives enough tax revenues. The Government is also addressing the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict by signing a road map with the United Nations to end such practices. The efforts of the coalition, including Saudi Arabia, are welcome in that regard, he said, thanking Member States for their donations and appealing to them to honour their pledges.