Permanent Representative Decries ‘Unilateral Actions’ of Rival Fighters, as UNICEF Chief Warns ‘Time Is Running Out’ for Children
With Yemen “at the crossroads between war and peace”, both sides of the conflict in that country must set aside their differences and move towards a lasting political settlement, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today.
Outlining recent developments, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen said “change is a reality” as the first phase of the Hodeidah Agreement advances, notably with the redeployment of Ansar Allah movement fighters from the ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa. The initial withdrawal will allow the United Nations to play a leading role in supporting the operation of those key ports, which receive vessels delivering badly needed supplies, he added.
“We were never expecting the implementation of this agreement to be easy,” he emphasized, recalling that the first concrete step towards implementation of the Hodeidah Agreement was taken with the Security Council’s swift and decisive support, under the stewardship of the United Nations Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA). “This moment is significant, but this is only the beginning,” he said. The parties are expected to deliver concrete actions under their Stockholm Agreement obligations, agreed in December 2018 as a road map to peace, he said, adding: “These beginnings must be protected from the threat of war. We must not allow it to take peace off the table.” Although the current ceasefire is generally holding in Hodeidah, conflict is intensifying in other parts of Yemen, he continued, pointing out that tangible progress on port operations will enable the concerned parties to look ahead to negotiations and facilitate resumption of the political transition.
The Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), provided glimpses of the dire situation of Yemen’s children, warning that time is running out. With 360,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition and 2.5 million — or half of all children under the age of five — stunted, the country is spiralling perilously close to the brink, she warned.
She went on to recall that UNICEF and its humanitarian partners treated 345,000 severely malnourished children in 2018, “children whose mid-upper arm circumference is less than 11 centimetres — or three adult fingers in circumference”. Urging the Council to speak with one voice to protect Yemen’s children and stop grave violations against them, including recruitment by parties to the conflict, rampant violence, destroyed schools and civilian infrastructure, as well as malnourishment, she declared: “Fifteen million children in Yemen are asking you to save their lives. Please help them.”
Also briefing was the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, who said that intensive discussions with authorities affiliated with Ansar Allah are progressing. In addition, one fifth of the 107 districts at risk of famine in 2018 no longer face that threat. However, serious challenges remain, he said, noting that the cholera outbreak has affected 300,000 people amid the looming risk of famine, with 10 million people relying on emergency food aid. Restrictions on movement are delaying humanitarian deliveries, and violence is raging in many areas, he added. Emphasizing that these challenges require strong, steady support, he noted that, although the 2019 United Nations response plan received only 6 per cent of the required resources in April, that figure climbed to 20 per cent today. “But, there is still a long way to go,” he stressed, calling for the full disbursement of the pledges they made at Geneva in February.
The Council also heard a briefing from the Chair of the Committee established pursuant to resolution 2140 (2014) concerning sanctions imposed by the Security Council.
Council members agreed that there can be no military solution to the conflict, expressing strong support for a political process leading to lasting peace. They urged all parties to refrain from actions that could jeopardize that goal. Members also expressed concern about the humanitarian situation, including the cholera outbreak and food shortages, with many urging the parties to ensure prompt, unconditional delivery of aid to all those in need. Delegates also condemned yesterday’s drone attacks against Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, as well as persistent violence that continues to cause civilian casualties.
Echoing a common concern, Kuwait’s representative pointed out that not all elements of the Stockholm Agreement are being implemented, including the planned exchange of prisoners.
The representative of the United States emphasized that Iran must stop arming the Houthi fighters, adding that United Nations findings indicate that “these weapons have Iranian-designed characteristics”. Iran’s actions not only violate the arms embargo, they are fuelling the war, he said.
China’s representative underlined the need for the parties to put the interests of their people first and relaunch political talks in pursuit of a lasting and holistic solution to the conflict.
The Russian Federation’s representative emphasized that the strategic goal remains the launch of a fully fledged political process to discuss a solution. The window of opportunity is now open to implementing other aspects of the Stockholm Agreement, he said, stressing that impartial United Nations mediation is of extreme importance. It hinges on the good faith of the parties and on their wish to stabilize the situation, he said. Indeed, all countries of the region, including Iran and those in the Gulf, must cooperate for the sake of security throughout the Middle East, he stressed.
Yemen’s representative, emphasizing that implementation of the Stockholm Agreement must be built on trust, said the Houthis are attempting to implement measures through unilateral actions rather than through the United Nations. Indeed, their failure to build confidence means the existence of many puppets of Iran, he added. At the same time, the Government of Yemen has tried to halt the conflict while the Houthis continue to destabilize the country and the wider region, including through drone attacks.
Also delivering statements were representatives of the United Kingdom, France, Peru, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Belgium, Poland, Germany, Equatorial Guinea, Dominican Republic and Indonesia.
The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:33 p.m.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, reported that the Ansar Allah movement has withdrawn its military forces from the ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa, with the United Nations Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) present at each location to monitor and verify the redeployments. UNMHA confirmed that Ansar Allah was fully compliant and very cooperative, he said, adding: “Change in Hodeidah is a reality.” The initial withdrawal will allow the United Nations to play a leading role in supporting the operation of those key ports, he noted, saying the Organization is ready to help improve Hodeidah’s productivity and efficiency. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will send in teams to install navigation lights so as to help ships berth safely, repair the watchtower and perimeter fences, upgrade the port’s berths and demine the outer perimeter, he said, adding that more than 4,000 people in Hodeidah will be employed in public works schemes at the port starting this Saturday.
“We were never expecting the implementation of this agreement to be easy,” he continued, noting that the first concrete step towards implementation of the Agreement was taken in accordance with the commitment of the parties and the coalition, with the swift and decisive support of the Security Council under the stewardship of UNMHA. “This moment is significant, but this is only the beginning,” he emphasizing that the parties are expected to deliver concrete actions under their Stockholm Agreement obligations. He went on to call upon both sides to agree on the operational plan for phase 2, saying that, once agreement is finalized and implementation of the rest of phases 1 and 2 under way, the parties will monitor, verify and report on all redeployments, as agreed. Regarding the economic aspects of the Hodeidah Agreement, he stressed the importance of ensuring that revenues from the ports benefit the people of Yemen across the front lines.
“Despite the significance of the last few years, Yemen remains at the crossroads between war and peace,” he said. While the ceasefire is generally holding in Hodeidah, the conflict is intensifying in other parts of the country, including escalating violence in Al-Dali and rising tensions in the south. Warning that events like yesterday’s drone attacks against Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities can wipe away hard-won achievements, he stressed that tangible progress on Hodeidah will allow the concerned parties to look ahead to the negotiations and facilitate resumption of the political transition. Only a comprehensive solution will bring sustainable peace to Yemen, he emphasized, adding that resolving the conflict will only be possible if the voices of a broad range of Yemenis, particularly women, are included. Enhancing participation in the peace process by southern Yemen is also vital. Calling upon Council members to welcome the redeployments, urge implementation of the remaining redeployments and work with UNMHA on a political solution, he emphasized: “These beginnings must be protected from the threat of war. We must not allow it to take peace off the table.”
MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, provided updates on the humanitarian situation, saying famine looms, with 10 million people relying on emergency food aid, and a resurgent cholera outbreak has already affected 300,000 people in 2019, compared with 370,000 cases in 2018. Violence rages in many areas, with more than 900 civilian casualties reported, he added, noting that the fighting continues to affect aid operations. Delivery trucks now take more than 60 hours to travel between Sana’a and Aden — four times the normal travel time — and more than 900,000 people were affected by delays or interruptions of assistance, with restrictions on the movement of goods and staff being the biggest causes.
He went on to report that intensive discussions with authorities affiliated with Ansar Allah are progressing and expressed hope that previously agreed measures will be implemented soon. Reporting progress in other areas, he said that a joint United Nations mission reached the Red Sea Mills on 5 May, with support from the coalition to travel in Government-controlled zones. Among pressing concerns is an abandoned oil tanker carrying 1.1 million barrels at risk of rupturing due to lack of maintenance since 2015, he said, noting that a United Nations assessment team plans to deploy to the site soon.
Despite all the problems, efforts continue to deliver in what is the world’s largest humanitarian operation, with 130 agencies working together to provide 9.8 million people with food, water, health care and other assistance, he continued. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is currently gathering data from 108 districts to monitor the response, he said, adding that the results tell a clear story: some 94 per cent of randomly selected intended beneficiaries confirmed receipt of food baskets. In addition, one fifth of the 107 districts at risk of famine in 2018 no longer face that threat, he reported.
Turning to the need for help, he said funding is the most immediate issue, emphasizing that donors must sustain their contributions to ensure the continuation of relief operations. While the 2019 United Nations response plan received only 6 per cent of the required resources in April, today that climbed to 20 per cent, he noted. “But, there is still a long way to go,” he stressed, calling upon all donors to disburse fully the pledges they made in Geneva in February. He went on to announce that he and officials from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will finalize a joint pledge of $1 billion next week, adding that the block grant from the two donors to the United Nations in 2018 was instrumental in scaling up aid operations. “I view this approach as a global best practice in humanitarian donorship,” he added.
HENRIETTA FORE, Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), recalled that schoolchildren in Sana’a were sitting in their classrooms last month when an explosion caused shrapnel and broken glass to fly in. “Imagine the fear these children experienced,” she said. “And imagine the pain endured by the families of the 14 children who never made it home at all.” Since the fighting began four years ago, 7,300 children have been killed or seriously injured, she reported, emphasizing that those are the verified numbers, but the actual casualties are no doubt higher. Currently, 360,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and 2.5 million — half the children under age five in Yemen — are stunted, she said.
Despite the best efforts of the humanitarian community, including more than 2 million doses of oral cholera vaccines delivered over the past year, more than 135,000 suspected cases reported so far in 2019 affect children, she said. The United Nations has also verified the recruitment and use of more than 3,000 children by all parties since the conflict began. One in five schools have been damaged or destroyed in the fighting, she said, adding: “Hospitals, clinics and water systems are in ruins.” Yemen’s economy is failing, having lost two decades’ worth of development gains, and the country is at a tipping point, she emphasized. In 2018, UNICEF and its humanitarian partners treated 345,000 severely malnourished children, “children whose mid-upper arm circumference is less than 11 centimetres — or three adult fingers in circumference”, she said.
Warning that Yemen is spiralling perilously close to the brink, she urged the Council to speak with one voice to protect the country’s children and stop grave violations against them. All parties to the conflict must open the doors to immediate, long-term humanitarian access, she stressed, saying they must also allow days of tranquillity for vaccinating and helping children. “If we cannot reach them, we cannot keep them alive,” she warned. She recalled her visits to hospitals and clinics in Sana’a and Aden, recounting the harrowing stories and struggles of children, mothers and fathers. Time is running out, she emphasized, adding: “Fifteen million children in Yemen are asking you to save their lives. Please help them.”
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), Chair of the Committee established pursuant to resolution 2140 (2014) concerning sanctions imposed by the Security Council, provided updates of its work since 1 February, focusing on its visits to Amman, Riyadh, Muscat and Tehran. He reported that in Amman, members heard briefings on the political process and implementation of the Hodeidah Agreement and met with non-governmental organizations to discuss ways to advance the formal participation of women. In Riyadh, the delegation visited a military base in connection with the targeted arms embargo. Government authorities in Muscat described their efforts to prevent the transfer of illicit items into Yemen, while Government authorities in Tehran said they are implementing resolution 2216 (2015).
Concerning the humanitarian situation, he said United Nations representatives provided a general overview and held discussions in Riyadh with coalition authorities and with President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi. Talks in Amman and Riyadh covered the issue of strengthening the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen, he added. In all discussions, the importance of continuing dialogue and engagement with the 2140 Committee and extending full cooperation to its Panel of Experts were emphasized, he reported. Unfortunately, members were unable to meet or otherwise communicate directly with Ansar Allah representatives.
Emphasizing that the engagement initiated with interlocutors on sanctions issues should not be a one-off event, he said it should continue through their representatives in New York. The visit was useful in conveying a strong political message that the Security Council and its respective subsidiary organs prioritize the situation in Yemen and follow events on the ground closely, he said. Highlighting other activities, he said the Committee took action on three of six recommendations from the final report of the Panel of Experts under resolution 2402 (2018) and will follow up on the remaining proposals accordingly.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), calling upon all parties to engage in implementation of the Hodeidah Agreement, emphasized: “This isn’t just about humanitarian efforts, it is also about the ability of the Yemen economy as a whole to revive and work properly.” Condemning the drone strike against oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia, she warned that the risks to the peace agreement remain all too real. The attack undermines the trust needed to reach a resolution of the conflict, she said, stressing: “It is not the time for provocation when we are so close to making significant progress on the ground.” Recalling the “heart‑tugging” human stories presented today, she stressed that all the parties must ensure that United Nations actors on the ground are able to do their job effectively, including by granting access, eliminating myriad constraints, approving travel permissions and allowing road access from Hodeidah and Salif. She also underlined the need for Member States to make new pledges and to ensure the disbursement of pledges already made.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) expressed concern that five years since the war began, the world has grown numb to the suffering of Yemen’s people. The Houthi withdrawals are a significant step towards a political solution and towards establishing trust among all parties, he noted, adding that they must continue to work in good faith and to enable United Nations efforts on the ground. Any party failing to allow United Nations monitors into Yemen is failing the Yemeni people, he said, emphasizing: “Council members must consider how to hold the parties responsible if they do not implement the Stockholm Agreement.” He went on to underline that Iran must stop supplying the Houthi rebels with weapons. “These weapons have Iranian-designed characteristics,” he said, citing United Nations findings. Iran’s actions not only violate the arms embargo, they are fuelling the war, he said, adding that the Council must step up its efforts to alleviate the Yemeni people’s suffering.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) described the redeployments as an encouraging step while condemning yesterday’s drone attacks against Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities. Emphasizing that all parties must abstain from any action that could jeopardize progress towards peace, he said UNMHA is crucial, adding: “It is down to the parties to ensure the security and free movement of United Nations staff.” Expressing concern over the overall humanitarian situation, he noted that it is growing worse every day while reaffirming France’s full support for humanitarian actors. Humanitarian access and the delivery of commercial goods must be guaranteed by all parties, he said, stressing that it is indispensable to lift all obstacles, particularly bureaucratic ones. Financial pledges already made must be disbursed so that humanitarian workers can address needs on the ground, he said, also underlining the importance of protecting children and schools, and of building a safe environment for teachers to hold classes.
BADER ABDULLAH N. M. ALMUNAYEKH (Kuwait) said blockades continue to increase the suffering of women and children. Despite meetings on the prisoner-exchange agreement, challenges persist. Underlining that there is no military solution, he said all components of the Stockholm Agreement must be fully implemented with the overall aim of ending the conflict. He condemned the attack against Saudi Arabia’s facilities. Meanwhile, the United Nations must have access to the Red Sea Mills, containing vast amounts of grain that could feed millions, he said. While commending the Government’s approval of transit permits issued to ships delivering assistance, he expressed concern over tankers carrying illicit oil.
VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) said the first phase of redeployment is an important step in implementing a broader plan to disengage the belligerents. Already, initial results have come through the painstaking diplomatic efforts of the United Nations and stakeholders, he said, adding that the strategic goal remains the same: to launch a fully fledged political process in order to discuss a solution. The window of opportunity is now open to implement other components of the Stockholm Agreement, including prisoner exchanges, he said. At the same time, impartial United Nations mediation is of extreme importance and hinges on the good faith of the parties and their wish to stabilize the situation in Yemen. Emphasizing that the goals of external players and parties in seeking a lasting solution have never been more important, he urged all stakeholders to honour the ceasefire. For its part, the Russian Federation will continue to support United Nations efforts to help overcome differences among the Yemeni parties. He went on to note with regret the dire humanitarian situation caused by “this senseless war”, stressing that the priority task is to ensure the Yemeni people obtain urgently needed assistance. Aid delivered from abroad must be made available to all citizens, he added, calling upon the parties to demonstrate restraint, provide access to humanitarian workers and cooperate with the United Nations. An investigation should identify those responsible for crimes, he said. More broadly, all countries of the region, including those in the Gulf and Iran, must cooperate with a view to achieving security throughout the Middle East.
Mr. MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), spoke in his national capacity, emphasizing that the Council must stay abreast of the situation with a view to preventing escalation. Violence has spread alongside mistrust, he noted, calling for efforts to build confidence and to address the alarming levels of food insecurity. Ports must remain open, in accordance with Security Council resolutions, and the delivery of aid must be unconditional, he emphasized. Financial support must be mobilized, among other things, to ensure the importation of essential goods and to tackle the cholera outbreak before the rainy season.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) called upon all parties to implement the Hodeidah Agreement and to resolve the current differences over interpretation of the text, specifically in reference to “local security force” in and surrounding the city of Hodeidah. Welcoming the redeployment from Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa, he called for the unhindered flow of humanitarian supplies and humanitarian personnel into and across Yemen. All pledges made in Geneva must be disbursed so that humanitarian aid can reach those in need, he emphasized. He strongly condemned attempts by some parties to divert humanitarian assistance through use of social media. Noting that the conflict is taking an enormous toll on women and children, he called upon all parties to engage with the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict in order to sign and implement an action plan to end violations of children rights.
MA ZHAOXU (China) welcomed the redeployment and the parties’ recommitment to the Stockholm Agreement, stressing: “Yemeni parties should put the interests of their people first.” They must relaunch political talks to find a durable and holistic solution to the conflict, he added. Recalling the 2140 Committee’s recent visit to the region, he emphasized the importance of respecting the positions of the concerned countries. The international community must step up humanitarian assistance to Yemen and disburse the pledges they made, he stressed, pointing out that China has shipped 1,200 metric tons of rice since March and stands ready to continue its support.
GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) stressed the need to for further initiatives to convince the belligerents to implement other aspects of the Stockholm Agreement, including the exchange of prisoners and the opening of humanitarian corridors. He expressed deep concern over the use of child soldiers in war, the destruction of schools and the repeated failure to pay teachers’ salaries.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) called for bolstering UNMHA by providing additional monitors. Calling upon all parties to implement the Stockholm Agreement in its entirety, he said that, although the Hodeidah Agreement is particularly important for the humanitarian situation, resolving the heart of the conflict requires a political solution. He further called upon all parties to demonstrate restraint and allow humanitarian agencies to improve the devastating situation on the ground. Children are the main victims of the conflict, he noted, emphasizing that measures to protect them must be included in any peace agreement.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) expressed alarm at the surge of violence causing mass displacement, a high number of casualties among civilians and severe impediments to humanitarian access. Children under the age of 15 account for nearly half of all new cholera cases, while about a quarter of the cases reported so far are of children under the age of 5, she noted. The humanitarian response is vital for the survival of millions of citizens, she said, calling upon all parties to facilitate the flow of humanitarian and commercial imports while ensuring access to all parts of Yemen for humanitarian personnel. Developments on the ground demonstrate the pressing need for a comprehensive political solution to the conflict, she said, reiterating the importance of swift and full implementation of the Stockholm Agreement. At the same time, however, the political process cannot be conditioned upon implementation of the Hodeidah Agreement, she cautioned.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany), describing the start of redeployment from the three ports as a first positive step on the road to implementation of the Stockholm Agreement, said that, as soon as redeployment is complete, port facilities must be upgraded because Hodeidah is the lifeline of the north. Expressing concern that violence has flared up throughout the country except Hodeidah, he stressed the need to resume the political process. Citing the drone attacks against Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, he urged all parties to refrain from any action that endangers the restart of the political process. Germany is ready to host the next round of political talks, he announced, emphasizing that the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Yemen should be at the top of the Council’s priority list.
AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea), emphasizing the gravity of the long war that has killed more than 200,000 Yemenis, condemned actions that only prolong the conflict. However, one month after the parties reached agreement, progress has been seen in the patrols monitoring areas from which the Houthis have withdrawn, she noted. To ensure further gains, the parties should continue their cooperation to fulfil all elements of the Stockholm Agreement. As for the humanitarian crisis, she expressed hope that the Government of Yemen and Houthi leaders can grant access to aid workers and called for urgent action to address the catastrophic situation.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) commended the first phase in implementation of the Stockholm Agreement, emphasizing that the port of Hodeidah remains a vital lifeline for the people of Yemen. Encouraging further progress, he said the parties must ensure the delivery of assistance through Hodeidah, as well as the ports of Salif and Ras Issa. However, the Dominican Republic remains deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation, including the cholera outbreak, he emphasized. The international community must continue to exert pressure on the parties to guarantee humanitarian access, he said, also stressing the need to ensure that financial pledges are realized. While all the attention seems to be focused on the Hodeidah Agreement, greater attention is also sorely needed to the dire conditions in other parts of the country, including the situation of many displaced people yearning to return home.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity, welcoming the redeployment of Houthis forces from the three ports. That exercise should continue with demining operations and the removal of heavy weaponry, he added. Indonesia supports the continuation of consultations between the Government of Yemen and the Houthis in pursuit of a political settlement and resolution of the conflict, he said. Calling upon all parties to release or exchange all detainees, he also urged them to refrain from provocative actions, such as drone attacks. As for the humanitarian situation, he said that not only is starvation lingering, but the growing number of cholera cases remains alarming. “This should be addressed immediately,” he stressed, urging the Council to take measures to ease the suffering.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) said the armed Houthi militia has unfortunately reinforced itself militarily in a flagrant breach of all agreements, as well as humanitarian law and human rights law. The Stockholm Agreement must be built on trust, but failure by the Houthis to build confidence means the existence of many puppets of Iran. Before any discussions, he emphasized, the Government affirms its right to control the withdrawal of Houthi fighters from the ports through the Redeployment Coordination Committee, and any alternative action would be a violation. Yemen rejects any measure not contained in the Stockholm Agreement and various relevant resolutions, he said. However, the Houthis are attempting to implement the Stockholm Agreement through unilateral actions and not through the United Nations, he continued, calling for a return to the measures already agreed.
The Government has tried to halt the war by many means while the Houthis continue to destabilize the country and region, including through recent drone attacks, he continued. It is taking steps to pay its employees, including those in the education sector within Houthi-held areas, and to address the humanitarian situation. However, the Human Rights Ministry has recorded the looting of 415 aid trucks, he said, calling upon the Houthis to stop targeting humanitarian assistance. He added that the Government has already warned the militias against preventing the delivery of supplies to address the cholera outbreak. In closing, he called upon the Council to send a clear message that the militias must honour the Stockholm Agreement, describing that accord as a “glimmer of hope” towards a political agreement.