Houthi Militias Seek to Abort Peace Process, Says Permanent Representative, as Delegates Voice Concern over Humanitarian Situation
The recent military escalation in Yemen threatens any potential political progress and raises serious concerns over the gathering humanitarian crisis in that country, putting at risk millions of people in need, high-level United Nations officials told the Security Council today.
Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, briefed members by video-teleconference from Geneva, highlighting the increasingly dire conditions in the country over the past month, during which both parties to the conflict announced expansive military objectives.
He said that several previously quiet front lines have been drawn into the escalation, which may threaten the vulnerable port city of Hudaydah and challenge efforts to maintain calm by the United Nations Mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA). Expressing alarm over the lack of progress in addressing the threat posed by the deteriorating condition of the oil tanker Safer, he warned that the potential rupture of that vessel could spill more than a million barrels of oil into the Red Sea, causing an environmental and economic catastrophe for Yemen and its neighbours.
Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, reported that hostilities in formerly quiet areas have displaced more than 35,000 people since mid-January, notably in Marib, Al-Jawf and Sana’a. As for the narrowing space for humanitarian work and serious problems in territory controlled by Ansar Allah — also known as the Houthi movement — he noted that approximately 40 per cent of projects undertaken by non‑governmental organizations were left unapproved in 2019. “The situation is unacceptable,” he emphasized, warning that preventing the world’s largest aid operation would be fatal for millions of people.
Yemen’s representative said that, despite hopes that the Stockholm Agreement would lead to the easing of humanitarian suffering caused by the reckless war waged by Iran-backed Houthi militias, nothing has been achieved and the conflict is becoming worse. He described Houthi crimes against the Yemeni people and their serious escalation against hospitals and mosques as an attempt to abort the peace process as the international community remained silent.
The Dominican Republic’s representative called for a genuine truce, urging all parties to respect international humanitarian law and refrain from attacking civilians and infrastructure.
China’s representative said that, although the escalation of military operations is worrying, the Houthis and the Government of Yemen should strive to implement the United Nations-led political process, as well as the Stockholm and Riyadh accords.
A number of delegates cited promising developments during a meeting of the parties in Amman, Jordan, between 10 and 16 February, when they agreed to an exchange of prisoners and to the first flights of a medical air bridge transporting 28 patients from Sana’a for medical assistance abroad.
Viet Nam’s representative noted that 250,000 Yemenis have died since 2015 — including 100,000 as a direct result of the hostilities and 130,000 from hunger and disease — and 4 million people are displaced.
Germany’s representative deplored reports of systematic sexual violence against women, especially in Houthi-controlled areas, emphasizing that such actions are unacceptable and must not go unpunished. Inhumane treatment of humanitarian personnel in those areas means there are now 8 million people in need who cannot be reached, he noted, emphasizing: “This is unacceptable.”
The representative of the United States cited continued interference by Iran, pointing to missile attacks from that country’s territory against Saudi Arabian oil facilities on 14 September 2019, as well as the interception and seizure of 358 Iranian missiles intended for Houthi fighters.
However, the Russian Federation’s representative warned that anti-Iran rhetoric is counterproductive, calling upon stakeholders to study recent proposals by his own country’s Government, as well as France and Iran to facilitate a genuinely global approach.
Several speakers expressed concern over the perilous situation of the oil tanker Safer, with Estonia’s the representative stressing that access to that vessel must be granted to prevent an environmental disaster.
Council members also heard from the Chair of the Committee established pursuant to resolution 2140 (2014), who delivered a briefing on that body’s work.
Also speaking were representatives of the United Kingdom, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia, South Africa, Indonesia, France, Niger and Belgium.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 11:59 a.m.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, briefed by video-teleconference from Geneva, saying that the situation in that country has grown increasingly dire during the past month, with both sides announcing expansive military goals and exchanging fierce rhetoric. Most of the heavy fighting has taken place in Nihm District, as well as in Al-Jawf, Ma’rib and Sa’adah Governorates, with previously quiet front lines being drawn into the escalation. Despite reassurances that the parties believe in a peaceful political solution, their current actions are in direct contradiction of this, he noted, expressing concern that the escalation may threaten the vulnerable situation in Hudaydah.
He expressed fears that, while the United Nations Mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) strives to maintain cooperation between the parties, the escalation may challenge its efforts to maintain calm in that port city. Despite the dire military situation, however, the parties met in Amman, Jordan, between 10 and 16 February and agreed to exchange prisoners and detainees as a firm commitment to reuniting families with their loved ones, he reported. The first two medical air bridge flights also transported 28 patients from Sana’a for medical assistance abroad, he said, noting, however, that, despite that sign of hope, thousands of people needing medical care abroad remain in Sana’a.
Expressing alarm over the lack of progress in addressing the threat posed by the deteriorating condition of the oil tanker Safer, he warned that the vessel’s potential rupture could spill more than a million barrels of oil into the Red Sea, causing an environmental and economic catastrophe for Yemen and its neighbours. He went on to note that all commentary from Yemeni leaders points to a core principle that “peace can only emerge from a political compromise between both parties through a United Nations-led process”, and he emphasized: “It will not be dictated from a position of military dominance.” Engagement in the United Nations process must be unconditional and cannot be secondary to military gain, especially when there is no military solution, he emphasized. “But a reduction in violence is not enough,” he added, calling upon the parties to unite around a vision entailing an inclusive Government, a political transition process, a military and security sector that safeguards Yemenis, and acceptance that enmities must end even when differences remain. “These are achievable goals when the political will is truly there,” he stressed.
MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, provided updates on the protection of civilians, humanitarian access, funding of assistance, the national economy and progress towards peace. He expressed concern that escalating hostilities in places that have been quiet for the last two years have displaced more than 35,000 people since mid-January, notably in Marib, Al-Jawf and Sana’a, in addition to clashes and air strikes that are causing civilian casualties, noting that 160 people were killed recently. He went on to emphasize that his months-long calls for a national ceasefire are ever more urgent since violence poses a very real risk of spiralling out of control.
The narrowing space for humanitarian work also remains a concern, he continued, noting that agencies in the south of the country must wait too long for Government approvals. More serious problems persist in areas under the control of Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthi movement, with approximately 40 per cent of projects undertaken by non‑governmental organizations left unapproved in 2019. “The situation is unacceptable,” he stressed, warning that stopping the world’s largest aid operation would be fatal for millions of people. The United Nations is looking to intensify dialogue with Ansar Allah leaders, who have recently returned food taken from a World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse, dropped a proposed 2 per cent levy and indicated that they would implement a WFP agreement on biometric registration and other issues.
Key among them are approval and monitoring of projects and advancing food security assessments, he said, also urging rapid action in dealing with the Safer. Despite those conditions, WFP still provides aid to 13 million people each month, and the World Health Organization (WHO) conducts 1.5 million consultations, he said. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other agencies report that water networks reached 4 million people a month from September to December 2019. While a shortage of assessments makes it difficult to determine pockets of unmet needs, there have been no reports of famine-like conditions returning in high-risk areas, he reported. Thanking donors, he cautioned that anyone hindering humanitarian efforts to meet the population’s real needs must understand the risks linked to the continuing generosity of contributors.
Turning to the economy, he said Yemen depends on commercial imports, which are arriving through ports, but must remain affordable. A dispute between the parties over bank notes continues to drive the disparity between the exchange rate in the south, which is around 650 rials to the United States dollar, and in the north, where it is about 595 rials. He went on to recall that the rapid currency depreciation in 2018 brought Yemen to the brink of widespread famine, noting that Saudi Arabia has played a key role in stabilizing the rial. “Peace is the only way to end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” he said. “We are now entering the sixth year of this war,” he pointed out. “Enough is enough.”
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), Chair of the Committee established pursuant to resolution 2140 (2014), reviewed that body’s activities since 16 May 2019, noting that four recommendations have been sent to the Committee. She called for building the capacity of the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism in Yemen. The Committee has received two implementation reports from Portugal and Panama, she reported, urging the parties to respect international law and prosecute the perpetrators of violations.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), welcomed the recent prisoner‑exchange plan, while emphasizing that her delegation remains concerned about the persistent violence. Regardless of who started it, the Houthis have clearly exploited the situation, she said. Encouraging the parties to redouble their efforts towards political discussions, she stressed that women must be included in all processes. Turning to restrictions on access to aid, she said humanitarian agencies must be able to work, warning that there is a real risk that life-saving shipments will remain undelivered unless the current obstruction ceases. Regarding challenges facing the Bank of Yemen, she noted that at least $2 billion in assistance is urgently needed. She went on to condemn recent acts of violence against women, stressing that the Security Council must reiterate its position on that and related issues, while also expressing concern about the Safer and the situation in Houthi-controlled areas.
Ms. KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), speaking in her national capacity, expressed her delegation’s concern about stalled aid deliveries, recalling that the recent funding conference in Brussels called for the removal of all restrictions. While aid is critical, however, it is not a panacea, she said, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive peace agreement and calling for the resumption of the desperately needed peace process. That is the only way to avoid the further unravelling of the situation, she stressed. Efforts such as the start of “mercy flights” and the prisoner‑exchange plan reflect a willingness to engage and rekindle hope for peace in Yemen, she said.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) said that, despite Yemen’s delicate situation, efforts by the international community and the United Nations have led to de‑escalation over recent months. However, the current increase in violence has a negative effect on civilians and may impact resumption of the political process. Calling upon the parties to sign a ceasefire in the interest of Yemen, he emphasized that military action is not a solution, especially given the threat of violence spreading to other fronts. He went on to stress the need to implement the Stockholm Agreement, exchange of prisoners and the Riyadh Agreement, welcoming the prisoner-exchange accord reached in Amman. He also called for stepping up relief and humanitarian efforts.
KELLY CRAFT (United States) said she is troubled by the slow action on implementing the Riyadh Agreement, also expressing dismay over the lack of progress towards a political solution. Recalling Iran’s launch of missile attacks against Saudi Arabian oil facilities on 14 September 2019, she said that country continues to interfere, citing the interception of 358 Iranian-made missiles on their way to Houthi fighters. She further expressed concern over mounting Houthi interference in humanitarian efforts, saying that, as a result, donors face the dilemma of delivering aid while remaining responsible to taxpayers. She cautioned that her country’s Government may have to consider suspending aid as early as March. She went on to reiterate calls for the Houthis to allow the United Nations to board and assess the Safer or face sole responsibility for any future environmental catastrophe.
VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) emphasized that the guiding principles of any peace initiatives should be Yemen’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. All provisions of the Riyadh Agreement must be upheld, he said, adding that an inclusive dialogue remains the only path forward. Recent agreements on the exchange of prisoners and medical flights can build trust between the parties, which must continue to move in that direction. He went on to stress the importance of maintaining the gains made in Hudaydah in terms of aid shipments. Armed hostilities only benefit terrorist groups, he said, underlining the need to focus on fighting them. The parties must compromise on difficult issues and work together to transform Yemen into a prosperous country, he added, urging Member States to support that goal. Stoking anti-Iran rhetoric is counterproductive, he said, calling upon stakeholders to study recent proposals by France, Iran and the Russian Federation, with a view to launching a genuinely global approach.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) called for a genuine truce, with all parties respecting international humanitarian law and refraining from indiscriminate attacks against civilians and infrastructure, such as hospitals and health centres. Dialogue with the Houthi movement could lead to a ceasefire and an end to hostilities, he said. However, deteriorating humanitarian conditions, complicated by climate change and a plague of locusts, risk severe consequences for an already fragile food security situation, he noted. Urging all stakeholders to intensify efforts towards a political agreement, he emphasized the need to implement the Stockholm and Riyadh accords in full, while welcoming plans to exchange prisoners. He went on to stress that all processes must include women, as well as young people, and reflect the needs of the population, pointing out that women are increasingly taking on agricultural production. Their voices must be heard, he said, underlining that only an inclusive, credible peace process can open the gates of prosperity for Yemen.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) strongly condemned the resurgence of violence in northern Yemen, calling upon both parties to break the cycle and instead engage in efforts to de-escalate the situation. The recent exchange of prisoners and mercy flights, as well as efforts by UNMHA, are critical, he said, encouraging the Houthis and the Government of Yemen to pursue that path. He went on to deplore reports of systematic sexual violence against women, especially in Houthi‑controlled areas, emphasizing that such actions are unacceptable and must not go unpunished. With humanitarian personnel subjected to inhumane treatment, particularly in Houthi-controlled territory, there are now 8 million people in need who cannot be reached, he noted, stressing: “This is unacceptable.” He went on to call upon all parties, especially the Houthis, to cease any harassment of humanitarian personnel and to facilitate safe access.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam) noted that 250,000 Yemenis have died since 2015 — including 100,000 as a direct result of the hostilities and 130,000 from hunger and disease — and that 4 million are displaced. He urged the parties to fulfil their obligations under international law and facilitate the humanitarian efforts of the United Nations. He went on to commend the humanitarian flights that brought Yemeni patients from Sana’a to Jordan, saying that, despite the current fragile situation, a peaceful political settlement of the conflict is achievable. Viet Nam calls upon the parties to implement the Stockholm and Riyadh accords, he added.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) emphasized that there is no justification for bombing hospitals, noting that such attacks recently left 15,000 people with limited access to medical care. Restrictions on the delivery of aid, in breach of international law, must also stop, he said, adding that the Houthi movement’s indication that it will cancel its tax on deliveries is a step in the right direction. He went on to state that access to the abandoned Safer must be granted with a view to preventing an environmental disaster. Expressing hope that the exchange of prisoners and humanitarian flights could act as confidence-building measures to advance peace talks, he urged the parties to implement the Riyadh Agreement, which is crucial to a comprehensive political settlement.
DIYANA SHAISTA TAYOB (South Africa), noting the causal nexus between the political impasse and the dire humanitarian and security situation, called upon the parties to implement the Stockholm and Riyadh accords in full. They must commit to a political process that can only be achieved through dialogue. Commending the efforts of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in launching medical evacuation flights, she said that measure, agreed by both parties, reflects what is possible when political will is strong. However, restrictions on aid deliveries persist in the north, she noted, calling upon the parties to allow unimpeded shipments of food and other much-needed relief items. Expressing dismay at the recent escalation of violence, she urged the parties to work towards ending hostilities, saying that would greatly help negotiations for a political solution.
ZHANG JUN (China) said the escalation of military operations is worrying, noting, however, that the Houthis and the Government reached agreement on the exchange of prisoners, indicating their willingness to make progress. Despite multiple challenges, the parties should strive to implement the United Nations-led political process, as well as the Stockholm and Riyadh accords, which should be cherished. He noted that the situation in Hudaydah remains tense, urging all involved to cooperate with UNMHA while emphasizing that the parties must prevent civilian casualties and more serious humanitarian crises. He went on to stress that sanctions are not an end in themselves, adding that China is not in favour of introducing complicating factors therein.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) emphasized that Houthi-imposed obstruction is unacceptable with 12 million Yemenis in need of assistance. While encouraged by the first agreement on a large-scale exchange of political prisoners and the beginning of mercy flights, Indonesia shares the concern over the recent escalation of violence, he said. Turning to the potential crisis posed by the Safer, noted the lack of progress occasioned by the assessment team’s inability to board the vessel. He went on to state that, at the very least, the parties should work harder to avoid civilian casualties and reduce suffering, stressing: “For humanity’s sake, dialogue should continue.”
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said that a comprehensive, inclusive political solution is the only way to end the suffering of the Yemeni people, with dialogue advancing the prospect of a ceasefire. Citing the medical flights from Sana’a, he said the role of the Special Envoy is central to coordinating those and other efforts. While welcoming the Houthi movement’s step to rescind its 2 per cent levy on deliveries, he emphasized that much more must be done, including the granting of rapid access to the Safer to the United Nations. For its part, France remains committed to assisting all efforts to bring about peace in Yemen.
ABDOU ABARRY (Niger) urged the parties to demonstrate greater restraint and give peace a chance to advance through dialogue. The de-escalation that occurred months ago can be possible again to demonstrate that political will can make a difference. Meanwhile, aid must be permitted to reach those in need, he said, condemning attacks against humanitarian workers. Commending the medical evacuations and the manner in which they were agreed, he said such steps can be a model for future cooperation. He went on to say that stakeholders must strengthen support for Yemen’s economy so that the Government can provide much-needed services to the population.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity, noting that the recent escalation has resulted in one of the deadliest incidents since the conflict began. The next step in the political process must begin as soon as possible under the auspices of the United Nations. With humanitarian space in northern Yemen shrinking considerably and humanitarian personnel under threat, all obstacles to and restrictions on aid delivery are unacceptable, he emphasized. Encouraging the Houthis to facilitate access to the Safer, he urged both parties to respect international humanitarian law.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) said the Government is keen to achieve peace, pointing to the many consultations held and compromises made in that regard. He added that he had hoped the Stockholm Agreement would mark the starting point in efforts to end the conflict and the humanitarian suffering under caused by the reckless war waged by the Iran-backed Houthi militias. However, nothing has been achieved in the year since the agreement was signed and the conflict is becoming worse, he said, adding that the Houthis have committed crimes against the Yemeni people as the international community remained silent. The serious escalation by Houthi militias against hospitals and mosques, which claimed the lives of women and children, is an attempt to abort the peace process and prolong the conflict, he stated, noting that militia actions against humanitarian personnel require a firm position on the part of the international community in terms of condemning them and preventing further violence. The Government is committed to facilitating all relief efforts, he said, calling upon friends in donor countries to coordinate with it in seeking a mechanism to help those in Houthi-controlled areas. Describing the seizure of Iranian missiles on 9 February as the result of a flagrant violation of Council resolutions, he also urged the international community to determine which Houthi leaders are responsible for the condition of the Safer.