Houthis Continue to Target Hospitals, Refugee Camps with Military Support from Iran, Says Permanent Representative
The recent escalation of violence in Yemen is jeopardizing the quest for a political solution to the conflict in that country and inflicting significant harm on civilians, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today.
Martin Griffiths, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, said the country is at a critical juncture, emphasizing that thousands of families displaced by the fighting need shelter and assistance. The escalating violence could trigger conflicts elsewhere, creating a new cycle of violence leading to devastating humanitarian and political consequences, he warned.
Crucial humanitarian measures must not be politicized, he continued, appealing to all concerned to exercise maximum restraint. The parties to the conflict bear a responsibility to ease the impact of war on civilians, he stressed, urging them to work on exchanging prisoners, opening and securing access to roads, and ensuring that public sector salaries are paid. He also called for reopening the airport in Sana’a, the capital, to commercial flights.
In similar vein, Ramesh Rajasingham, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ad Interim, declared: “This is dangerous territory.” Although civilian casualties in 2019 fell by one third from the 2018 figures, children now account for 1 in 4 civilian casualties — up from 1 in 5 in 2018, he added. Further, more than half of all civilian casualties now occur in family homes, up from 40 per cent in 2018. Civilian casualties are rising again in 2020, he said, noting that 187 people were killed or wounded in February alone — a 20 per cent increase since January.
Turning to humanitarian assistance, he said restrictions in the north have become untenable and a new approach is needed. The Government of Yemen has left approvals for 44 humanitarian projects pending, he added, noting that shifting Government demands have again stalled a multi-sector needs assessment in the south. Furthermore, 30 major programmes will shrink or start to close by the end of April without additional funds, he cautioned. He went on to state that Yemen’s currency, the rial, remains far below its pre-crisis value. Recalling that the currency’s rapid depreciation was a key factor pushing Yemen towards famine in 2018, he called for injections of foreign exchange to strengthen the rial.
In the ensuing discussion, delegates agreed that a political solution is the only way to resolve the crisis. Most speakers also expressed concern over the grave humanitarian crisis that continues to unfold, with many calling for an immediate ceasefire and for the parties to facilitate the delivery of aid to those in need.
Tunisia’s representative said the renewed military escalation threatens the political track, exacerbates the humanitarian situation and deepens the people’s suffering. Calling for the redoubling of humanitarian relief, he welcomed the convening of a donor conference for Yemen, to be held next month in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He went on to emphasize that an immediate and unconditional freeze on military operations, followed by de-escalation and a transitional period, will ensure Yemen’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.
Indonesia’s representative cautioned that the current escalation impedes humanitarian efforts and may prompt a return to the elevated levels of civilian casualties seen in 2018. He also reiterated calls for access to the deserted oil tanker Safer — moored at the port of Hudaydah — before it is too late to avert an environmental disaster for Yemen and the wider region.
The Dominican Republic’s representative also remarked on the escalating hostilities, warning that the fighting could jeopardize hard-won political headway and has had a devastating effect on civilians. A national ceasefire is urgently needed, and issues of justice and accountability cannot be ignored, he stressed. He also called attention to unprecedented swarms of locusts in Yemen’s desert areas.
However, the representative of the United States warned that her country will suspend assistance to Houthi-controlled areas by the end of March, except for certain critical life-saving programmes.
Germany’s representative said it is “incomprehensible” that leaders in Sana’a treat humanitarian workers in a manner that calls into question the entire aid operation in the north. He called upon all parties to stop harassing humanitarian staff, facilitate unhindered access, lift bureaucratic restrictions and implement project agreements without delay.
However, the Russian Federation’s representative stressed that the conflict in Yemen — like any other in the Middle East — cannot be resolved by trying to find scapegoats. The situation is close to the point of no return, he warned, pointing out that, each day, the war not only increases the cost of post-conflict recovery, but also plays into the hands of terrorist groups as they capitalize on the chaos.
Yemen’s representative said that the Houthis continue to obstruct United Nations peace efforts, adding that the recent military escalation is a sign that they were never serious about peace. They also continue to target hospitals and refugee camps in many parts of the country, restrict the movement of the United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) and to target observation posts in that port city. Iran continues to supply the Houthis with military support while encouraging them to obstruct United Nations efforts, he said, warning that the situation could deteriorate further without international support. He went on to call for renewed pressure on the Houthis to grant a United Nations technical team access to the deserted oil tanker Safer, which holds 1 million barrels of crude oil and represents a potential environmental disaster.
Earlier, delegates noted that today marks the last day for Ambassador Karen Pierce (United Kingdom) in the Security Council Chamber, commending her service while wishing her well in her future endeavours.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, France, Niger, Estonia, South Africa, Viet Nam, Belgium and China.
The meeting began at 10:17 a.m. and ended at 12:03 p.m.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, emphasized that the county is at a critical juncture whereby the parties to the conflict will either move it towards de-escalation and a resumed political process or towards greater violence and suffering that will make negotiations difficult. Pointing to the military escalation in Al Jawf, he expressed concern about the impact of the violence on the people of that governorate, where thousands of families have been displaced and require shelter and assistance. The escalation could trigger conflicts in other governorates, creating a new cycle of violence with devastating humanitarian and political consequences, he warned, calling upon the parties to exercise maximum restraint and uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law.
He went on to recall that, during his recent visit to Marib, he met with local government officials, political parties, tribal chiefs, leaders of civil society and displaced persons. He added that he heard a strong demand for peace, “but not a peace that would be dictated from a position of military dominance”, reiterating that there is no justification for military escalation in Marib. As for Hudaydah, he noted the continuing clashes in that city and in the southern part of the eponymous surrounding governorate, warning that developments since the recent incident at the joint observation post in Hudaydah city threaten to undermine de-escalation efforts and the achievements of the Redeployment Coordination Committee. He called upon both sides to work through established mechanisms to restore calm.
It is imperative that the parties agree to participate in a public, accountable, nationwide de-escalation mechanism that “quiets the tempo of war”, he continued, stressing that any discussion on de-escalation must be reinforced by efforts to resume the political process. All parties bear a responsibility to ease the impact of war on civilians, he added, urging them to work on exchanging prisoners, on opening and securing access to roads in Ta’izz, Hudaydah, Marib and elsewhere, and on ensuring payment of public sector salaries across Yemen. The airport in Sana’a must be opened for commercial flights, he said, emphasizing that such crucial humanitarian measures must not be politicized. He went on to underline that, during a transition, power must be shared among different political and social components — including women and civil society — that transitional security arrangements must be implemented, and that Yemen’s people must be guaranteed humanitarian relief, reconstruction and economic recovery.
RAMESH RAJASINGHAM, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ad Interim, agreed that escalating hostilities have pushed peace further away, declaring: “This is dangerous territory.” Urging all parties to freeze military activities and work towards de‑escalation, he emphasized the urgent need to protect civilians, a requirement under international humanitarian law. He went on to point out that, although civilian casualties in 2019 fell by one third from the 2018 figures, children now account for 1 in 4 civilian casualties — up from 1 in 5 in 2018. More than half of all civilian casualties now occur in family homes, up from 40 per cent in 2018, he added.
Civilian casualties are rising again in 2020, with 187 killed or wounded in February alone, he continued, noting that the figure amounts to more than six people every day and a 20 per cent increase since January. Much of the increase is due to fighting in Al Jawf and Marib, he said, calling for an end to the violence and for a nationwide ceasefire. Equally important is safe, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access, he added, stressing that restrictions in the north have become untenable and “everyone agrees that a new approach is needed”. He said the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is intensifying dialogue with the de facto authorities to ensure conditions are in place to facilitate humanitarian efforts, preparing to adjust programmes in case they are not.
He went on to report that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is requesting that the de facto authorities process its 71 aid projects still pending approval. “We need more monitoring missions to be approved”, as well as urgent humanitarian assessments to proceed on the basis of global standards, he added. “These points are essential.” There are other challenges in Government-controlled areas, he said, noting that the Government has left 44 humanitarian projects pending approval and that a multi-sector needs assessment has again stalled in the south due to shifting Government demands. On funding for United Nations aid operations, he said more than 13 million people receive food and other assistance each month, but with delayed assessments in both the north and south, it is not yet possible to quantify any changes over the last year, he said.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs intends to roll over the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen in order to maintain programmes that have helped to prevent famine and roll back cholera, he said, adding that they will require considerable funding. He went on to caution that, without additional funds, 30 major programmes will shrink or start to close by the end of April. “I want to be clear that these cuts would be purely due to lack of funding,” he stressed. Turning to the economy, he said commercial food and fuel imports enter Yemen through all ports and in accordance with established averages, but fewer people are able to afford what they need to survive because the rial, Yemen’s currency, remains far below its pre-crisis value. The rial’s rapid depreciation was a key factor pushing Yemen towards famine in 2018, he said, calling for injections of foreign exchange to strengthen the currency. Now is the time to take the bold steps, like opening Sana’a airport, which will give people hope that the political dialogue will prevail, he said. “Only a political solution can end the crisis altogether.”
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) echoed the pleas for an end to the fighting and the start of de-escalation, accompanied by negotiations that make tangible progress. The parties must seize the present opportunity to ensure that 2020 is the year in which the dreadful conflict comes to a close, she said. Describing figures indicating rising casualties among children as “shameful and should horrify us all, she called upon the Houthis to facilitate humanitarian deliveries, emphasizing that the world’s worst humanitarian crisis cannot be allowed to worsen. She went on to call upon that group to allow the removal of oil from the tanker Safer or to permit a repair mission to proceed, emphasizing: “They are playing dice with people’s lives and the environment in a very important part of the world.” She concluded by stressing that the last thing Yemen needs is an outbreak of COVID-19.
ADEL BEN LAGHA (Tunisia) said that renewed military escalation is a worrying trend that threatens the political track, exacerbates the humanitarian situation and deepens the people’s suffering. Emphasizing the need for an immediate ceasefire, he said a political settlement is the only solution to the crisis. Tunisia supports the Special Envoy’s call for an immediate and unconditional freeze on military operations, followed by de-escalation and a transitional period, in accordance with the Gulf Coordination Council initiative, national dialogue and relevant Council resolutions, he said, adding that such steps will ensure Yemen’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. He went on to renew calls for redoubling humanitarian relief and welcomed the convening of a donor conference for Yemen, to be held next month in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It is also vitally important to secure access to the oil tanker Safer, he said, warning that an environmental incident emanating from the vessel would threaten the entire region.
KELLY CRAFT (United States), noting the escalation of violence, expressed hope that the parties will commit to de-escalation and resumption of the political process. Emphasizing that obstruction of aid is unacceptable, she called upon the Houthis to meet the minimum requirements for principled delivery of humanitarian assistance, warning that the United States will suspend assistance to Houthi‑controlled areas by the end of March, except for certain critical life‑saving programmes. She went on to welcome the Council’s adoption of resolution 2511 (2020), thereby renewing the Yemen sanctions regime, and called upon all Member States to implement those measures in full. The United States also urges the Houthis to allow inspection and maintenance of the Safer, and to stop using the oil tanker as “a bargaining chip”, she said.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) expressed his delegation’s extreme concern over the fighting in the north, warning that military gains could fuel a cycle of ever‑growing violence. He urged all actors, notably on the Houthi side, to refrain from seeking territorial gains by force, to adhere strictly to international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure. He also called on them to engage without delay in order to de-escalate the situation, including through confidence-building measures. He went on to emphasize the need for implementation of the agreed prisoner exchange, the continuation of mercy flights, access to the Safer and unrestricted cooperation with the United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA). There is no alternative to an inclusive political process, he stressed. Describing as “incomprehensible” the fact that leaders in Sana’a are treating humanitarian workers in a manner that calls the entire aid operation in the north into question, he called upon all parties, especially the Houthis, to stop harassing humanitarian staff, facilitate unhindered access, lift bureaucratic restrictions and implement project agreements without delay.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) expressed concern about the increase of hostilities in Yemen that jeopardize hard-won political headway in the country. The conflict’s devastating effect on the civilian population makes a national ceasefire urgent, and issues of justice and accountability cannot be ignored. He condemned Houthi attacks on civilians and stressed that all parties to the conflict have an obligation to permit the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Further, the situation created by the Safer oil tanker cannot be left unaddressed. Noting reports of unprecedented swarms of locusts in the desert areas of the country, he called for the international community to address the danger of potential famine. Parties to the conflict must facilitate access by relevant organizations to avert this problem, he added.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said that slow movement on the political track reveals the deep divide between the current situation and a future of peace for all Yemenis. “But, we must not be discouraged,” she said, noting that the Council is well positioned to influence the course of events. Emphasizing the need for a Yemeni-owned dialogue, facilitated by the United Nations, she cautioned that implementing the Stockholm Agreement or the Riyadh Agreement before peace talks begin is “tantamount to inaction”. The conflict will not be resolved without progress on the political front, she reiterated. The Council must, at a minimum, strongly discourage any actions potentially jeopardizing Yemen’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, she stressed, adding that the peace process must be inclusive and participatory, allowing for recognition of the aspirations of all people for whom peace is secured.
VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation), expressing concern about the deadlock in the political process and the escalation of hostilities in Yemen, stated that the situation is close to the point of no return. The conflict has done irrevocable damage to the country’s economy, and its people are starving and lack access to necessary medical services and treatment. He called for the opening of the airport in Sana’a, and on all parties to exercise restraint, as militaristic approaches are doomed to fail. Each day, he said, the war not only increases the cost of post-conflict recovery, but plays into the hands of terrorist groups as they capitalize on the chaos. Confidence-building measures and a ceasefire must be implemented. The conflict in Yemen — like any conflict in the Middle East — cannot be resolved through attempts to find scapegoats, as this only complicates the quest to settle it.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France), deploring the escalation of violence in the north of Yemen, reiterated that only an inclusive political solution will lift Yemen out of crisis. Direct contacts and mediation by the Special Envoy must lead to a ceasefire as soon as possible, particularly in Al Djof and Marib. In the south, the Riyadh agreement must be fully and promptly implemented. Respect for international humanitarian law is non-negotiable and binding upon all, she said, expressing grave concern that children account for a quarter of civilian casualties. It is also vital that the United Nations gain access to the Safer tanker, as an oil leak would have a dramatic impact on the entire region.
ABDOU ABARRY (Niger) said that the picture the briefers painted today is no brighter than it was a month ago. It is, in fact, worse. He urged the parties to resume dialogue and work towards a political solution. Peace talks must include all sectors of society, including women. He went on to spotlight ongoing violations of human rights and the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, pointing out that one civilian in Yemen dies every eight hours. The parties must live up to their commitments and foster the trust required to resume dialogue and give the political process a fighting chance, he said.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) deplored the lack of progress towards resuming dialogue, as well as the escalation of violence in Marib and Al Jawf. It is significant that, until now, Marib was a safe haven untouched by the open conflict. He echoed the Special Envoy’s call to freeze all military activity and start a comprehensive, inclusive and accountable de-escalation, as well as dialogue. “The military approach or search for territorial gain cannot settle the conflict in Yemen,” he said. The current fighting impedes humanitarian efforts, he warned, expressing a deep concern that the hostilities may prompt a return to the elevated civilian casualty levels of 2018. He went on to urge the parties to abide by international humanitarian law. The Houthis must give the United Nations team access to the Safer oil tanker before it is too late. The city of Hudaydah is the centre of gravity and the humanitarian lifeline. Parties must do their utmost to implement the terms of the Hudaydah Agreement, particularly the agreed ceasefire. “As we prepare to celebrate the seventy-fifth year anniversary of the United Nations, it is inconceivable to have a humanitarian catastrophe as in the world war era,” he said.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) noted that civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict, expressing alarm over ceasefire violations in Hudaydah while cautioning all parties against undermining the cessation of hostilities. He called for the start of an unconditional de-escalation process, emphasizing that only an inclusive, comprehensive and United Nations-mediated political compromise can lead to a lasting solution. Encouraging the parties to return to implementation of existing agreements and confidence-building measures, he called for safe and unrestricted access for aid delivery and urged the Houthis to allow United Nations officials access to the Safer without delay.
XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa) expressed particular concern over the effects of the crisis on civilians and its disproportionate impact on women and girls, noting that more than 3.25 million women face increased health and protection risks. Noting that implementation of the Riyadh Agreement has been impeded by several challenges, he reiterated calls for implementation of that accord and that of the Stockholm Agreement. He also called for free, regular and unimpeded passage of food and other assistance, cautioning against actions that deprive civilians of their right to food and basic health services. The only solution will be a negotiated, inclusive, Yemeni-led settlement that places people’s well-being first, he stressed.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam), noting that the new wave of hostilities in northern Yemen has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis, emphasized that there is no military solution to the conflict and called upon all parties involved to stop military operations and work towards an unconditional and permanent ceasefire. The parties must also take immediate, necessary steps to protect civilians and ensure that international aid can reach the people. He went on to urge the relevant parties to facilitate the inspection and maintenance of the Safer, in accordance with resolution 2511 (2020), and to cooperate with UNMHA so that it may effectively carry out its mandate.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), noting the escalation of violence since mid-January, emphasized the need to resume the political process, warning that any de-escalation will be fragile if not underpinned by such a process. Calling for the Government to be involved in talks led by the United Nations “sooner rather than later”, he said they must be inclusive, provide for meaningful participation by women and young people, and reflect the diversity of Yemen’s people. He stressed the need to end all obstruction and restrictions on delivery of humanitarian aid, while calling upon the Houthis to provide access to the Safer with a view to preventing an environmental disaster.
ZHANG JUN (China), Council President for March, spoke in his national capacity, emphasizing that an inclusive political process led by the United Nations is the only way to end the conflict. All parties must safeguard Yemen’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, he said, while also expressing concern over the humanitarian situation, as the people face violence, natural disasters, as well as inadequate access to food, commodities and medical care. All parties must cooperate with humanitarian relief operations of the United Nations and other agencies, and grant access for aid delivery, he said, also urging the relevant agencies to monitor the locust situation and the spread of COVID-19.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) said the Houthis continue to obstruct United Nations peace efforts, including by refusing to honour their obligations under the Stockholm Agreement. The Government of Yemen signed that accord in good faith, hoping to end civilian suffering and to build confidence on the road to a political solution, he added. However, the recent military escalation, particularly in Al Jawf, is a sign that the Houthis were never serious about peace and that they are indifferent to civilian suffering after five years of farcical war, he noted, pointing out that they continue to attack, targeting hospitals and refugee camps in many parts of Yemen, to restrict the movement of the United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement, and to target observation posts in Hudaydah, most recently wounding a Government liaison officer who remains in critical condition. Such incidents demonstrate that the Houthis are neither heeding the voice of reason nor choosing peace, he noted.
The Council and the international community must shoulder their responsibilities by compelling the Houthis to honour the agreements into which they entered, he continued. They must stop disregarding the efforts of the United Nations, the Council and the international community and cease its military operations, killings and obstructive behaviour. Political consultations cannot succeed as long as previous agreements remain unimplemented and as long as humanitarian aid to those in dire need are restricted. The objective should be a sustainable peace based on the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, the outcomes of national dialogue and Council resolutions, particularly resolution 2216 (2015). Attempts to bypass those agreements and failure to address root causes of the conflict will crush Yemeni hopes for a new federated State founded on equality, justice, the rule of law and fair distribution of wealth, he warned.
Iran continues to supply the Houthis with military support while encouraging them to obstruct United Nations efforts, he said, urging the Council to press that country to end its interference in Yemen’s affairs. The Government of Yemen is making tremendous efforts to implement the Riyadh Agreement and to unify all political circles under one banner, he said, adding that his country values Saudi Arabia’s efforts. He went on to state that the Government is drawing up plans to improve tax and customs collections, but the Houthis’ ban on new bank notes is undermining Yemen’s economy, creating a market for hard currency while aggravating the humanitarian situation.
Warning that things could deteriorate further without international support, he said that, by obstructing humanitarian efforts, and by looting and imposing levies on aid supplies, the Houthis are threatening relief for millions. They also continue to target residential areas and places of worship, arrest and sexually abuse women, and draw children into their reckless war. Urging the Council and the international community to call upon the Houthis to revoke the death sentences they imposed on 35 parliamentarians, he also called for renewed pressure on that group to enable a United Nations technical team to board the Safer, which holds 1 million barrels of crude oil. Recent letters to the Secretary-General and the Council from Permanent Representatives of countries in the region sounded the alarm about a potential environmental disaster, he recalled.