Amid ‘Positive Indications’, Warring Parties in Yemen Must Stop Hostilities, Restart Talks to End World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis, Special Envoy Tells Security Council

SC/13990
17 October 2019
8642nd Meeting (AM)

Amid ‘Positive Indications’, Warring Parties in Yemen Must Stop Hostilities, Restart Talks to End World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis, Special Envoy Tells Security Council

With signs of hope appearing on the horizon in Yemen, warring parties must cease hostilities, facilitate food and fuel distribution and relaunch talks aimed at ending the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis, United Nations officials said today as they briefed the Security Council on recent developments.

“Today we have some positive indications,” said Martin Griffiths, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, referring to military and political shifts on the part of both the Government and the various factions challenging it since 2015.  Among those fragile signs of hope, he cited the parties’ stronger willingness to engage, progress in facilitating the movement of much‑needed oil supplies and a tenuous calm in the southern city of Aden.  Meanwhile, talks continue in Saudi Arabia and there are encouraging signs that an agreement will be reached to resolve an impasse between the Government and the Southern Transitional Council.

Welcoming a visible reduction in air strikes since the beginning of October, he also hailed the release of 290 detainees by the Houthi movement — formally known as Ansar Allah — and invited the parties to meet with the United Nations to accelerate all elements of the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement.  However, he cautioned that such progress remains fragile, requiring diligent care, and that the country’s humanitarian situation is still dire.  “Let’s be under no illusion about the challenges and the difficulties ahead,” he stressed.

Echoing those concerns, Mark Lowcock, Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, declared:  “With more than 30 active front lines, we can only hope that recent steps towards de‑escalation will continue.”  September was the deadliest month for civilians so far in 2019, with reports of 388 killed or injured due to conflict.  Recounting gruesome instances of shelling and bombing casualties, he said humanitarian access remains limited due in part to restrictions imposed by Ansar Allah.  Citing some progress, he said programmes that had been suspended due to clashes have resumed, but still face difficulties.  More support is also needed to bridge shortfalls in humanitarian funding.

As Council members took the floor, Germany’s delegate was among those who welcomed recent dialogues, prisoner releases and ceasefire announcements as signs of hope.  To sustain the fragile momentum, however, he called for a broader dialogue involving civil society, including women and youth.  Emphasizing that all parties must abide by their obligations under human rights law, he demanded an end to impunity for abuses and stressed that the protection of civilians must be a priority.  In addition, he joined other delegates in calling on the Houthis to grant international inspectors access to a beached oil tanker in the Red Sea in order to prevent a possible environmental disaster.

The representative of Côte d’Ivoire joined other speakers in voicing grave concern about the humanitarian crisis, citing recent warnings by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that Yemen may soon become the world’s poorest nation.  Pointing out that the country’s poverty rate has already risen from 47 per cent in 2014 to 75 per cent in 2019, he called on the belligerents to fully implement the Stockholm Agreement and its component Hodeidah Agreement, ensure unhindered humanitarian access and accelerate both the release of prisoners and the opening of humanitarian corridors.

Indonesia’s representative expressed hope that the recent de‑escalations will create room for the parties to enhance confidence and build trust.  Noting that Hodeidah remains the “centre of gravity” in Yemen — serving as the main corridor for humanitarian assistance as well as a source of port revenue for the Yemeni people — he called for the implementation of all the Hodeidah Agreement’s technical modalities and welcomed the activation of a tripartite Ceasefire Enhancement and De‑escalation Mechanism to prevent security incidents in the city.  “A resumption of peace talks should be the main priority before the end of the year,” he added.

The representative of Yemen, meanwhile, said his Government is working hard to end the suffering of the Yemeni people, which resulted from an unjust war imposed by Houthi militias.  Expressing support for prisoner and detainee exchange efforts, he went on to outline the Government’s efforts to stabilize the economic situation including by transferring fuel to all areas in need — even those controlled by militias — if overseen by the United Nations.  He also urged Council members to exert more pressure on the Houthis currently blocking inspections of oil vessels, warning of a possible environmental disaster four times larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Also speaking were the representatives of the United Kingdom, Kuwait, United States, France, Dominican Republic, Russian Federation, Peru, China, Belgium, Poland, Equatorial Guinea and South Africa.

The meeting began at 10:00 a.m. and ended at 11:56 a.m.

Briefings

MARK LOWCOCK, United Nations Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that even as the United Nations expands its aid operations in Yemen in what remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis – reaching 12 million people with more than 250 humanitarian agencies – the drivers of the crisis continue to get worse.  “In fact, it often feels in Yemen that the more we achieve, the bigger and more complicated the problem becomes,” he stated.  September was the deadliest month for civilians so far this year, with reports of 388 killed or injured due to conflict.  Recounting gruesome instances of shelling and bombing casualties, he added that air strikes last week again hit a United Nations‑supported water system for 12,000 people.  “With more than 30 active front lines, we can only hope that recent steps towards de‑escalation will continue,” he said, calling for a nationwide ceasefire and respect for obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Humanitarian access remains extremely challenging, he said, particularly in the north, due to over 100 restrictions imposed by Ansar Allah, which has also expelled or refused entry to several United Nations personnel.  Movement restrictions remain severe.  Some progress has been made through talks with Ansar Allah authorities in unblocking humanitarian projects and on paving the way for an assessment of the decaying Safer oil tanker to prevent potential environmental catastrophe.  But there are still blockages on both fronts.  In the south, he welcomed reports that talks between the Government and the southern front are progressing.  Programmes that had been suspended due to clashes have resumed but still face difficulties.  The Government has also made substantial progress in giving clearance for humanitarian projects, though several are still backlogged.

Funding for the aid operation in Yemen still faces shortfalls, with gaps forcing key programmes to close, he said.  In that regard, he welcomed recent substantial contributions from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.  Now that the humanitarian plan has reached 65 per cent funding, some United Nations programmes have resumed in the health sector.  Inflation is still reducing the ability of civilians to buy necessities, with the Yemeni rial at 580 to the United States dollar, near its 600 to the dollar peak.  He called on Yemen’s partners to provide regular injections of foreign exchange in a manner that would stabilize food prices.  Welcoming the recent Government clearing of several fuel shipments, he cautioned that severe fuel shortages remain in many areas, hampering humanitarian operations.  He called on the Government to manage commercial imports in a way that does not exacerbate humanitarian needs.  He also called on Ansar Allah to avoid any steps that may worsen shortages or push prices higher, stressing that everything must be done to ensure families can buy what they need to survive.  Welcoming again the humanitarian funding recently received, he stressed, however, that the only way to end to suffering is to end the war.

MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for Yemen, briefing via video teleconference from Riyadh, recalled his dark warnings to the Council in recent months regarding the perils facing Yemen.  Those include the prospects of instability in the south and frightening risks that the country will be drawn into a regional conflict.  While at times he had lost hope, today he told the Council that there are reasons for optimism for the people of Yemen “even in the middle of a misery […] which sometimes must seem endless”.  Outlining those current signs of hope — which he characterized as fragile and requiring diligent care and attention — he cited stronger willingness by the parties and noted that the last few days have seen progress in facilitating the movement of much‑needed oil supplies.  In addition, there has been no large‑scale fighting in the volatile south of the country and a tenuous calm continues to hold in Aden.

“This can be taken as a testimony to the restraint shown by those on the ground,” he said.  Many partners had hoped that an agreement would be announced today, as talks continue to progress in Jeddah under the leadership of Saudi Arabia.  Indeed, there are encouraging signs that an agreement aimed at resolving issues between the Government and the Southern Transitional Council might be within reach.  Underlining the need for the Government to return to Aden and for State institutions to become fully functional again, he welcomed the initiative by Ansar Allah to suspend all drones and ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and the reduction of violence following that announcement.  Since the beginning of October, the number of air strikes has been visibly reduced across Yemen.

Recalling that Lieutenant General Abhijit Guha just assumed his duties as Head of the United Nations Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) and Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee, he said confidence‑building is the key to the full implementation of that accord.  The establishment of a Joint Operations Centre along with the two parties has resulted in a tangible reduction of ceasefire violations and the redeployment of forces will continue to be a primary focus.  Welcoming the release of 290 detainees by Ansar Allah, he invited the parties to meet with the United Nations and its partners, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), at the earliest opportunity to resume discussions on further releases as laid out in the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement.  Also voicing gratitude to the humanitarian actors currently working to deliver assistance to people in need in Durhaimi and elsewhere, he pointed to encouraging efforts by both parties to open humanitarian corridors.  “Today we have some positive indications,” she said, while cautioning:  “Let’s be under no illusion about the challenges and the difficulties ahead.”

Statements

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) welcomed the progress outlined by Mr. Griffiths, especially his efforts to push forward talks in parallel with the Stockholm Agreement’s implementation on the ground.  Despite that good news, underlying concerns remain “that could tip the situation back towards famine or other risks,” she said.  On the political track, she voiced concern about the increasing intensity of Houthi attacks in recent months but welcomed the group’s 20 September announcement that such air strikes will cease.  In the south of the country, inclusivity is critical, she said, and expressed hope that efforts to bring the Southern Transitional Council into peace talks will create a self‑sustaining, virtuous circle.  Urging the Security Council to appeal to all parties in order to get a peace agreement across the finish line, she went on to warn that more must be done to prevent a rupture or explosion of oil tankers, which could dump millions of gallons of oil into the Red Sea.  She further noted that Yemen’s humanitarian appeal remains severely underfunded and urged all partners to step up their support, noting that the United Kingdom has already provided more than 80 per cent of its committed funds, and called for the protection of the minority Baha’i people in the region.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) recalled that the Yemeni issue was at the heart of many international discussions throughout the General Assembly’s high‑level debate week.  Among other meetings, officials from Kuwait, United Kingdom and Sweden met and released a joint statement in support of the Stockholm Agreement.  They also condemned the attacks perpetrated by the Houthis against civilian installations in Saudi Arabia and urged all parties to engage in peace talks.  In addition, Kuwait has offered to host consultations with the Yemeni parties in preparation for official negotiations.  Welcoming the resumption of humanitarian operations in various parts of Yemen, he said the financial support of many partner countries — including more than $600 million from Kuwait pledged since the start of the crisis — made such efforts possible.  Expressing hope that the recently announced initiative to accelerate the delivery of oil to the port city of Hodeidah will continue to progress, he nevertheless joined other speakers in voicing regret about the decision not to allow international inspections of oil tankers in the Red Sea.

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States), affirming his country’s commitment to the people of Yemen, said it is unacceptable that 17 million people need immediate food assistance there.  He welcomed in that regard the expansion of beneficiary reach by the World Food Programme (WFP), which his country is supporting along with health programmes and cash distributions.  Adding that the needs are too vast for any one country to meet, he welcomed humanitarian contributions from the Gulf countries and concurred that a political solution is needed to end the suffering.  All paths that could achieve that goal should be pursued, he said, expressing hope that recent agreements will lead to a political settlement.  All parties should facilitate humanitarian aid, which could also galvanize political progress.

NICOLAS DE RIVIERE (France) stressed the absolute priority of civilian protection and humanitarian access in Yemen and said restrictions placed by Houthis on humanitarian operations are unacceptable.  Welcoming recent contributions to those operations, he called for the parties to find a global solution to finally end the suffering.  He reiterated full support for the Special Envoy in that regard.  Welcoming recent talks and agreements, he called for positive progress on the ground and actions to reduce tensions.   Affirming also the important role of the United Nations in fostering a political solution, he added that combating terrorism is equally a concern in Yemen and that France will continue to work for a political solution to the crisis.

Ms. MORRISON (Dominican Republic) expressed concern about the humanitarian situation in Yemen and praised efforts by regional countries to foster a sustainable political solution.  Expressing hope that recent agreements will reach fruition, she called for expansion of humanitarian access immediately.  She also called for full implementation of the Hodeidah Agreement as well as urgent action to address the fuel shortage, economic decline, displacement and other ills.  A means to pay teacher’s salaries is particularly needed.   Welcoming recent humanitarian contributions, she called for the Council to maintain unity to help Yemen emerge from the crisis.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), expressing concern about the continued suffering in Yemen, welcomed recent dialogue and agreements, recognizing that there is now momentum for a broader agreement.  He supported the Special Envoy’s mediation and his efforts to convince the parties that there is no military solution to the conflict.  He also welcomed the Special Envoy’s work towards further implementing the Stockholm Agreement, particularly as regards Hodeidah, and in laying the groundwork for a political agreement.  Meanwhile, humanitarian access is a top priority.  His Government’s priority of fostering collective security in the Persian Gulf is in line with Security Council resolutions concerning peace and security in the region.

PAUL DUCLOS (Peru) expressed concern that violence persists across Yemen — representing a violation of the country’s ceasefire agreement — and about the “marked lack of confidence” which still exists between the parties.  Welcoming the recent unilateral release of detainees by Ansar Allah and its offer to cease all attacks on Saudi Arabia, he called on Coalition partners not to miss the opportunity to reciprocate.  Such efforts by all parties are needed even more against the backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, with a famine imminent and cholera cases increasing.  For its part, he said, the Council must ensure strict compliance with its August 2018 presidential statement and work to ensure the unimpeded flow of commercial goods into Yemen, including food and fuel.

ZHANG JUN (China) noted that increasing clashes in the wider Middle East have increased the complexity of the situation in Yemen.  Calling on the parties to exercise restraint and avoid any actions that could further escalate tensions, he expressed hope that ongoing talks in Saudi Arabia will yield a positive outcome.  The parties must put the interests of the Yemeni people first, safeguard the Stockholm Agreement and fully respect Yemen’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Noting that UNMHA and its partners have been cooperating in such areas as port revenue management and demining, he expressed hope that progress under its good offices will also continue to secure prisoner releases.  The Council should stand united and provide support to all those efforts, as well as to resumed peace talks.  Expressing concern about the grave humanitarian situation, he urged donor countries to honour their pledged commitments and ensure that supplies reach all those in need.  For its part, China has provided both financial and food support, among other resources, and will continue to do so.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) called on all parties in Yemen to respect the withdrawal agreement and the ceasefire.  The full implementation of the Stockholm Agreement is crucial and preparations must continue for the next stages of peace talks.  Indeed, he said, a negotiated political solution following an inclusive dialogue is the only way to effectively respond to the legitimate needs of all Yemenis, including those in the south of the country.  Warning of the risk of rising food prices and the acceleration of other economic challenges, he welcomed the fact that several fuel vessels are currently on their way to Yemen.  He went on to express concern about the high number of civilian casualties of air strikes, which include many children, and demanded that such attacks cease immediately.

TIEMOKO MORIKO (Côte d’Ivoire) joined other speakers in voicing grave concern about Yemen’s humanitarian situation, which includes millions of people in need of aid and millions of children out of school.  Citing a recent United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, he said Yemen’s poverty rate rose from 47 per cent in 2014 to 75 per cent in 2019, threatening to make it the world’s poorest nation.  Calling on the parties to continue to pursue efforts to relaunch peace talks, he said the population of the south of the country must be taken into account.  The belligerents should fully implement the Stockholm Agreement and its component Hodeidah Agreement, ensure the unhindered movement and access of humanitarian personnel and accelerate both the release of prisoners and the opening of humanitarian corridors — all of which are needed to build further trust between the parties.

MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) urged all parties to the conflict in Yemen to protect civilians as a priority, immediately end violence and introduce a nationwide ceasefire to prevent further displacement, casualties and damages of civilian infrastructure.  The disbursement of the financial pledge made by Saudi Arabia will enable the United Nations agencies to continue providing critical humanitarian assistance in Yemen.  But much remains to be done to set the country on the path to peace and stability, he said, underlining the need to guarantee the successful implementation of the Hodeidah Agreement and the remaining provisions of the Stockholm Agreement.  The only way to restore a long‑standing peace and stability is to urgently resume an inclusive, United Nations‑led and Yemeni‑owned political process, which should be conducted in parallel to other political and security initiatives, he added.

AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) expressed deep concern about not seeing sustained progress towards peace and protection of civilians in Yemen since the signing of the Stockholm Agreement.  In that regard, she supported the Special Envoy’s efforts to foster implementation of the agreement, particularly in Hodeidah, and to stem escalation of conflict.  All agreements should result in improved humanitarian access on the ground in Yemen, she stressed, saying the suffering in the country is intolerable on both the humanitarian and human rights fronts.  She called on all stakeholders in Yemen to develop a vision to end this terrible situation through a broad political solution and on the Council to keep supporting the Special Envoy’s efforts towards that end, also requesting that all those with influence in the region utilize it to support the Special Envoy’s work.

JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) welcoming signs of hope in Yemen in the form of recent agreements, dialogue, prisoner releases and ceasefire announcements, cautioned that those signs are extremely fragile.  To sustain the momentum, a broader dialogue must build upon the progress and involve civil society, including women and youth.  At this junction, a priority for talks must be to build confidence between the parties regarding Hodeidah and other issues.  The lack of a broader process should not prevent the parties from participating in the Special Envoy’s mediation efforts, which his country fully supports.  Stressing that all parties must abide by their obligations under human rights law, he said impunity for abuses must end.  He further called for unhindered humanitarian access and complete respect for international humanitarian law, affirming that protection of civilians must be a priority for all stakeholders.  Welcoming the recent humanitarian pledges from Gulf countries, he called on all donors to provide funding in a timely and flexible manner and on all actors to allow access to the beached tanker to prevent disaster.

ROLLIANSYAH SOEMIRAT (Indonesia) said improving Yemen’s security situation must be the priority.  Welcoming positive signals by the parties in that regard, he said the recent de‑escalations will create room for the parties to enhance confidence and trust, enabling the resumption of the second round of dialogue.  “A resumption of peace talks should be the main priority before the end of the year,” he said, noting that nearly a year has elapsed since the conclusion of the Stockholm Agreement.  Calling for an inclusive intra‑Yemeni dialogue to include civil society, women, youth and regional players, he said the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement should also continue.  Hodeidah remains the “centre of gravity” in Yemen, serving as the main corridor for humanitarian assistance as well as a source of port revenue for the Yemeni people.  He therefore called for the implementation of all the technical modalities of the Hodeidah Agreement and welcomed the activation of the tripartite Ceasefire Enhancement and De‑escalation Mechanism to prevent incidents in the city, and as a direct channel of communication between the parties under the auspices of the UNMHA.

JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa), Council President for the month of October, spoke in his national capacity, affirming support for the Special Envoy for Yemen and renewing the call for all parties to the conflict to cooperate with his efforts to foster a political solution by de‑escalating tensions and fully committing to the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement.  Dialogue towards a negotiated solution must be Yemeni‑led, inclusive and garner the meaningful participation of women, youth and children.  Maximum pressure should be placed on the parties to sustain the ongoing peace process, make necessary compromises, release prisoners, maintain the ceasefire and relaunch meaningful all‑party talks.  Expressing deep concern about the humanitarian situation, he urged donors to dispense all pledges as a matter of urgency.  He called on all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, and expressed appreciation for the work of all players responsible for the improved security environment.

ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) said his Government is working hard to end the suffering of the Yemeni people, which resulted from an unjust war imposed by Houthi militias.  However, he warned that, like Iran, “Houthi militias live off war and instability”.  Voicing support for UNMHA and the Redeployment Coordination Committee in Hodeidah, he said the Government is ready to redeploy observers there in an effort to further facilitate humanitarian relief.  Emphasizing that any future political solution hinges on the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement, he called on the Council to support his country to those ends.  In the meantime, talks continue in Jeddah aimed at restoring State authority and ending the coup by the Houthi militias.  Describing the exploitation of the suffering of the Yemeni people as unacceptable, he pointed out that the Houthis continue to block the reopening of the Sana’a airport and the resumption of domestic flights, despite many overtures by the Government.  Such flights would significantly reduce the suffering of the Yemeni people.

Expressing his support for prisoner and detainee exchange efforts, he went on to outline the Government’s efforts to stabilize the economic situation.  Among other things, it stands ready to transfer fuel to all areas in need — even those controlled by militias — as long as the United Nations is in charge of the resulting revenues and the militias refrain from imposing any tariffs or taxes.  Beginning in late 2018, the Government resumed paying the salaries and pensions of many civil servants, including those residing in militia‑controlled parts of the country.  Notwithstanding the stability of the Yemeni currency, more support is needed from the international community to fill gaps in funding those salaries and increasing Yemen’s foreign exchange balance.  Condemning the Houthi’s continued blocking of international agencies, he went on to underline the serious risks posed by the group’s rejection of international efforts to inspect oil vessels.  Calling on partners to exert more leverage in that regard, he warned them not to wait until a devastating environmental disaster — four times larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill — occurs.

For information media. Not an official record.