The crisis in Yemen has never been worse, United Nations experts told the Security Council today, as delegates — meeting in person for the second time in four months — addressed the unrelenting violence, uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 and efforts to both right the peace process and pull the economy from the brink of collapse.
Special Envoy Martin Griffiths said Yemen’s Government and Ansar Allah have yet to agree on the text of a joint declaration outlining a nationwide ceasefire and a path for resuming a political process to end the conflict. While both parties have provided feedback on various proposals over the last four months, he encouraged them to conclude the United Nations-brokered negotiations before the window of opportunity closes.
“There is a real risk that these negotiations will slip away, and that Yemen will enter a new phase of prolonged escalation,” he said. The coming period will test parties’ political will to bring forward a breakthrough.
Meanwhile, life for Yemenis has become more unforgiving, he said, with all economic indicators “pointing in the wrong direction”. Rising food prices, a depreciating currency and lack of fuel have made it near impossible to survive. The military campaign against Ma’rib has had a profound humanitarian and economic impact, while aerial attacks in Al-Jawf and Hajjah have caused numerous civilian casualties. In Hudaydah, the Redeployment Coordination Committee overseeing the ceasefire and redeployment of forces from the port city are still not functioning.
Adding to these concerns, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock drew attention to the “sorry saga” of the Safer oil tanker moored in the Red Sea off Hudaydah, as a United Nations technical team, requested by Yemen’s Government to assess the risk of an oil leak, awaits authorization to deploy from Ansar Allah, which now controls the area. “There has been no progress,” he said. “The rhetoric on Yemen is often reassuring, and the actions relentlessly ruinous.”
Hostilities have intensified across the country, he continued, with 43 front lines currently active, compared to 33 in January. The number of conflict incidents causing civilian harm increased in the second quarter of 2020, for the third quarter in a row, with 12 civilian deaths in a 15 June attack in Sa’ada, and another 9 in a 12 July attack in Hajjah. At the same time, there have been severe cuts to essential aid operations, which are “on the verge of collapse”.
With adequate funding, he said humanitarian agencies can address the most immediate needs and prevent a “renewed slide” towards famine. “Help Yemen now, or watch the country fall into the abyss,” he warned.
Putting a human face on the statistics, Wafa’a Aisaidi, General Coordinator of Médecins du Monde in Yemen, described her experiences helping mothers dying from preventable complications during pregnancy, fathers despairing because they cannot afford treatment for their malnourished children, and children who survived bombings in Hudaydah now living with post-traumatic stress which leaves them fearful of the rain.
On top of this, more than half of Yemen’s health centres barely function — if at all, she said. Health workers are forced to choose between caring for their patients and feeding their children. “Stop the war in Yemen,” she implored. The Council must push parties to engage faithfully in peace talks and pressure those directly involved in the conflict to cease their military operations. It must also pressure countries — including permanent Council members — to end their logistical and military support. “Regular civilians like myself keep wondering if there truly is collective international willingness to end this war,” she said.
Raja Abdullah Ahmed Almasabi, Chairwoman of the Arab Human Rights Foundation, speaking via video teleconference from Sana’a, similarly described life as a person with a disability. “I fight for our rights,” she said, noting that, before the war began in 2015, the number of persons with disabilities in Yemen stood at 2 million.
Today, she said there are between 3.5 million and 4.5 million — an increase largely due to injuries from air strikes, landmines and explosive war remnants. When fighting breaks out, some people with disabilities are left behind. She urged the Council to stop the war in Yemen and to cease arming the combatants. “Persons with disabilities must be part of every statement you release and every resolution you consider,” she stressed. “We must have a seat at the table.”
In the ensuing dialogue, delegates echoed calls for a nationwide ceasefire and intensified efforts to reach a political solution. Representatives of Indonesia, Viet Nam, China and Tunisia in particular called for upholding the Riyadh Agreement, a power-sharing accord between Yemen’s Government, supported by Saudi Arabia, and the Southern Transitional Council, supported by the United Arab Emirates. Niger’s representative broadly urged the main power centres to stop “pointing the finger at each other” and instead work together.
The Russian Federation’s delegate agreed that reviving both the Stockholm and the Riyadh Agreements would facilitate a comprehensive settlement. Moscow will continue, both in its national capacity and as a permanent Council member, to assist United Nations mediation efforts. However, resolving the conflict is not helped by attempts to shift blame to regional players who are in a position to help, he said, drawing attention to the Russian Federation’s blueprint for collective security in the Persian Gulf zone.
Most delegates urged Houthi authorities to follow through on their commitments, notably to grant United Nations experts access to the Safer tanker, with the United Kingdom’s representative emphasizing that “anything less is extremely reckless”.
“How cynical can you be?”, asked Germany’s delegate, recalling that the Houthis gave the Council their confirmation two weeks ago that they would allow the United Nations team to inspect the tanker. “The Houthis have not delivered,” he said.
The representative of the United States called the hardened positions taken by the Houthis earlier this month “unacceptable”. With 24 million people in need of aid, she objected to vast underreporting of COVID-19 in Houthi-controlled areas. “The Houthis can, and they must, do better,” she insisted, notably by approving pending sub-agreements, respecting independent procurement procedures and facilitating free movement for aid workers. She also pressed Iran to stop arming the group.
Rounding out the debate, Yemen’s representative said the 2014-2015 Houthi coup left the country with one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. The Government, by contrast, has accepted documents aimed at establishing a ceasefire and launching confidence-building measures. It will continue to engage with United Nations mediation efforts, as it cares about peace.
“We have made this clear in past positions,” he said, including on the payment of salaries, the opening of roads, release of all detainees and prisoners, and the opening of Sana’a airport for flights by the national carrier. It also has upheld the Riyadh Agreement and respected agreed timelines. He called on the Transitional Council to abide by the accord, which is considered the road map for exiting the crisis.
He said Government pleas for the Houthis to adopt a unified health‑care policy were rejected by the militias, who deny the COVID-19 pandemic, intimidate health teams and commit inhumane acts against those suspected of infection. And now two weeks after a special meeting on the Safer oil tanker, they continue to “drag their feet”, adopting their standard method for deflecting international pressure just before a Council meeting on Yemen, and disregarding all Council requirements.
He urged the Council to pressure the militias into allowing the United Nations technical team access to evaluate and empty the tanker, and to facilitate the team’s duties without preconditions.
Also speaking today were representatives of South Africa, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominican Republic, France, Belgium and Estonia.
The meeting began at 10:37 a.m. and ended at 12:47 p.m.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, said the United Nations-brokered negotiations between the Government of Yemen and Ansar Allah aim to reach agreement on a Joint Declaration outlining a nationwide ceasefire, economic and humanitarian measures, and resumption of the political process to end the conflict. Over four months, both parties have provided feedback on various drafts and proposals — but they have yet to agree on a final text. He described the process as long and challenging, marked by bursts of momentum and significant hurdles. Parties must continue to engage — and conclude the negotiations “before the window of opportunity closes”, he said, stressing that, for Yemenis across the country, life has become even more unforgiving.
“Yemen is experiencing the worst of times,” he said. The military situation has not improved over the past month, with the campaign against Ma’rib creating profound humanitarian and economic consequences that could undermine prospects for a ceasefire. Stressing that the strategic importance of Ma’rib should not be underestimated, he called for immediate and urgent steps to de-escalate the situation and pointed to aerial attacks in Al-Jawf and Hajjah that have led to civilian casualties and likewise raise serious concern.
In Hudaydah, an area marked by unrelenting violence and a growing number of ceasefire violations, he said the Redeployment Coordination Committee and the joint mechanisms to implement the Hudaydah Agreement are still not functioning. The United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) meanwhile is working to restore dialogue between the parties. On the economic front, all indicators are “pointing in the wrong direction” amid rising food prices, a depreciating currency and most Yemenis lacking the means to meet their basic needs. He urged parties to agree on mechanisms that will deliver real economic and humanitarian benefits to people’s lives.
Noting that efforts are ongoing to reach agreement on allowing the regular entrance of ships carrying oil into Hudaydah port, he said it is essential to immediately remove obstacles to imports and the domestic distribution of fuel. The Government’s positive step of clearing a number of fuel ships in recent weeks can only provide temporary relief. He urged parties to engage with his proposals and urgently agree on a mechanism to disburse the revenues from Hudaydah port as a contribution towards civil servant salaries. The long‑planned United Nations technical mission is still awaiting authorization from Ansar Allah to deploy to the decaying FSO Safer oil tanker threatening the Red Sea in order to assess its condition.
In the southern governorates, he cited a decrease in military activity as a positive sign, stressing, nonetheless, that tensions over State institutions persist in Adan and elsewhere, which are particularly troubling amid the threats of COVID-19 and alarming economic decline. On the political front, he said there has been intense public debate around the elements under negotiation in the Joint Declaration process, expressing his gratitude for the guidance received from Yemeni civil society and stressing that his Office is systematically integrating gender perspectives into all Joint Declaration-related planning.
While expressing hope that the Joint Declaration negotiations will “turn the tide towards peace”, he pointed to a real risk that these negotiations will slip away, and that Yemen will enter a new phase of prolonged escalation, uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 and economic decline. He called on the Council to lend its full support, emphasizing that the coming period will test parties’ political will to bring forward a breakthrough.
MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the humanitarian crisis in Yemen has never been worse, with famine again on the horizon, conflict escalating and the economy in tatters. COVID-19 is spreading out of control and the “sorry saga” of the Safer tanker continues, without any progress made in the last two weeks. An oil spill could force the ports of Hudaydah and Saleef out of action for weeks — even months. It would be the “unhappiest of ironies” if Ansar Allah’s failure to allow the United Nations to deal with the tanker were to be the cause of port closures, as his 2017 and 2018 predictions of the impact would have proven correct.
“I hope wiser counsels will prevail,” he said, adding: “The rhetoric on Yemen is often reassuring, and the actions relentlessly ruinous.” Turning to the protection of civilians, he said hostilities have intensified across the country, with 43 front lines currently active, compared to 33 in January. The number of conflict incidents causing civilian harm increased in the second quarter of 2020, for the third quarter in a row, with 12 civilian deaths in a 15 June attack in Sa’ada, and another 9 in a 12 July attack in Hajjah. He expressed particular concern about recent shelling in Ma’rib and urged parties to de-escalate the violence now — both in Ma’rib and across Yemen.
On the humanitarian front, he cited improved operating conditions in the north, noting that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will work with everyone to build on good practices for approving project agreements. However, the long-planned World Food Programme (WFP) pilot project for biometric registration of food aid recipients must begin. Noting that the coalition agreed that the technical equipment can be shipped to Yemen, he urged Ansar Allah to move quickly to implement the pilot. In the south, he expressed serious concern about the uptick in violence against humanitarian assets, with local authorities adding new bureaucratic requirements for aid agencies.
He went on to describe severe cuts to many essential aid operations, noting that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs used to provide food to 13 million hungry people every month, but, today, reaches 5 million with full rations. Eight million have had their rations cut in half, and millions of people who rely on aid for water and health care have been affected by similar cuts. Aid groups have received 18 per cent of what they need for the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan. “What had in recent years been one of the better‑funded humanitarian operations around the world is now one of the most underfunded,” he said.
In August, that will mean a 50 per cent cut to water and sanitation programmes in 15 cities and a halt to hygiene activities for people who recently fled their homes, he said. In September, nearly 400 health facilities — including 189 hospitals — will lose supplies of clean water and essential medicines, potentially cutting off care for 9 million people. “Without more funding, we should all expect large increases in hunger, malnutrition, cholera, COVID-19 — and above all — death,” he asserted, stressing that demands for assistance are set to increase.
He cited a new food security survey, released last week, showing that 40 per cent of people in 133 districts controlled by the Government could be highly food insecure — an increase from 25 per cent at the start of 2020. Sixteen districts are now categorized as “Phase 4”, one step away from famine. The results of an assessment of Ansar Allah-controlled areas are expected in the coming weeks. He urged those with undisbursed pledges to “pay now” and called on Yemen’s neighbours to increase their support, citing the sharp drop in pledges and payments from Gulf countries in 2020 as the main reason for the large shortfall.
Finally, on the economic front, he described Yemen’s economy as being in “free fall”, with the Government in need of regular foreign exchange injections to stabilize the rial, underwrite essential imports and pay salaries. Fuel is also needed to distribute goods around the country, pump drinking water and power basic services, he said, adding that COVID-19 has cut into remittances by as much as 70 per cent.
“With adequate funding, humanitarian agencies can address the most immediate needs in Yemen and prevent a renewed slide towards famine,” he said. In turn, this would create more space for the political process. “Help Yemen now, or watch the country fall into the abyss,” he warned.
WAFA’A AISAIDY, General Coordinator in Yemen of Médecins du Monde, said that, as a citizen of Yemen and leader of her organization, she is allowed to move regularly in areas controlled by both sides of the conflict. She sees mothers and children dying from preventable complications during pregnancy or birth, fathers despairing because they cannot afford treatment for their malnourished children, patients dying because they cannot afford medicine, and children who survived bombings in Hudaydah now living with post-traumatic stress, which leaves them fearful of the rain. She described a 12-year-old now in shock after stumbling over her dead classmate while escaping the bombing of her school in Sana’a.
Such insufferable experiences have been aggravated by COVID-19, she said, with people dying, above all, from lack of timely access to basic health care. More than half of Yemen’s health facilities do not function well or at all, due to a lack of supplies, fuel shortages and the irregularity of Government salaries. Health workers are forced to choose between caring for their patients and feeding their children, she said, stressing that “no health worker should be put in such a position” and that these are the choices forced upon all public servants.
“Stop the war in Yemen,” she implored. The Council must push parties to engage faithfully in peace talks and put pressure on countries directly involved in the conflict to cease their military operations and weaponization of armed groups. It must also put pressure on countries — including permanent Council members — to end their logistical and military support for military operations. “At the street level, regular civilians like myself keep wondering if there truly is collective international willingness to end this war,” she said, as countries continue to sell weapons in the region.
As for the economy, she urged the Council to lift the blockade and other import-export restrictions on commercial goods, stressing that repeated fuel crises have damaged people’s ability to survive. “Fuel in Yemen is not just about cars [… it] is equal to water, because water pumps depend on fuel. It is equal to health because hospitals are working on generators,” she said, adding that fuel is also equal to food as cultivation and transport of basic goods come at a higher cost, and in turn, become unaffordable for regular civilians.
She urged the Council to pressure parties to pay all taxes and oil revenues to the Central Bank, support unimpeded aid access, push all warring parties to respect international humanitarian law, and importantly, to maintain funding. “Do not abandon Yemen,” she stressed. While aid cannot replace peace, funding cuts at a time when Yemen is being torn apart by war, facing unprecedented economic collapse and tackling a global pandemic are “absolutely unjust”. Yemenis — in the north and south — are peaceful, full of dignity, pride and generosity. “Growing up hopeless, powerless and just waiting for what the world will give them out of charity is not a future that any kid in the world deserves,” she said. “We want our lives back”, and an equal chance to build the country.
RAJA ABDULLAH AHMED ALMASABI, Chairwoman, Arab Human Rights Foundation, speaking via video teleconference from Sana’a, said that her organization is the only one in Yemen that advocates for the human rights of persons with disabilities. “As a woman with a disability myself, I speak from experience — I fight for our rights.” Before the war began in 2015, the number of persons with disabilities in Yemen stood at 2 million, but, now, it is estimated to be somewhere between 3.5 million and 4.5 million, if not more, an increase that is largely due to injuries arising from air strikes, landmines and explosive remnants of the war. Many children have meanwhile acquired a disability due to malnutrition. She noted that when fighting breaks out, it is difficult for people with disabilities to flee.
“Imagine having to run for your life without a wheelchair, crutches or any assistive device you need to be able to move. Imagine having to completely depend on your loved ones or whoever is willing to help you move,” she said. Some people with disabilities end up being left behind by their families, while others choose not to flee so as not to put their families at risk by slowing them down. Life in camps for internally displaced persons is particularly difficult, as they are not designed for persons with disabilities, with poor access to health care, water and sanitation facilities. People with disabilities are also at higher risk of infection from COVID-19, but there are no specific or targeted actions to reach them.
“The longer the war continues, the situation will continue to keep getting worse for all civilians, including people with disabilities,” she said, urging the entire Council to do everything in its power to stop the war and to cease arming the combatants. The rights and needs of persons with disabilities must be in the minds and budgets of the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and Governments, and they must also be included in peace negotiations. One year has passed since the Council adopted its first resolution on the protection of people with disabilities in conflict situations, but there has been no meaningful change on the ground. “Persons with disabilities and their representative organizations are struggling to survive,” she said, calling on the Council and Member States to allocate resources and to target funding to support them. “We are not an afterthought,” she added. “Persons with disabilities must be part of every statement you release and every resolution you consider. We must have a seat at the table.”
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), citing statistical modelling that suggests that as many as 85,000 people could die from COVID-19 in Yemen, said it is frustrating that the Houthis are not reporting cases in the territory that they control and called for that group to ensure unrestricted humanitarian access to combat the pandemic. Warning that famine in Yemen is now a realistic prospect, he appealed for significant funding for the United Nations humanitarian appeal and for financial assistance to be extended to Yemen’s Central Bank to ensure that it has enough hard currency to sustain food imports. He expressed extreme concern about the developing threat of desert locusts, noting that heavy rains have created favourable breeding conditions. Experts must be granted access to impacted areas to evaluate options, including spraying. He went on to say that the Yemeni parties must make compromises to achieve a comprehensive ceasefire and get the political process on track. For their part, the Houthis — whose behaviour cast doubts on their intentions — must cease provocations. He also urged the Houthis to facilitate access for United Nations technical experts to the Safer tanker, emphasizing that “anything less is extremely reckless”.
ABDOU ABARRY (Niger) said that disease and malnutrition have hampered efforts to help Yemenis recover from COVID-19, leading to an increase in deaths. To combat the virus, the three power centres must stop “pointing the finger at each other” and instead work together. The lack of a central authority makes it difficult to implement the necessary prevention measures, which people must adopt in a coordinated manner. No progress can be achieved — on the political or humanitarian fronts — without a cessation of hostilities. Parties must follow through on the Secretary-General’s appeal for a comprehensive ceasefire. He pressed the Council and regional actors with influence to exercise the pressure necessary to advance the Special Envoy’s efforts in that regard. He also welcomed the recent renewal of UNMHA’s mandate, stressing that the Mission plays a crucial role in stabilizing Hudaydah.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) said the disturbing humanitarian situation, aggravated by COVID-19, is inextricably linked to the political impasse, stressing that persons with disabilities face multiple barriers to accessing humanitarian assistance. He called on all authorities to agree on unified measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, allow food access, accelerate customs procedures so that personal protective equipment can reach those in need, facilitate travel of United Nations staff into Yemen and enable health workers to slow the rate of infection. It is vital that all parties abide by their international humanitarian and human rights law obligations. Citing continued fighting along the Saudi Arabia border, and in Ma’rib, Hudaydah and Ta’izz, he went on to decry a lack of substantial progress on the political front. He called on all parties to cease their hostilities, abide by the call for a global ceasefire and respect resolution 2532 (2020). Further, import restrictions must be lifted. Indeed, a spirit of compromise must prevail in the political process, placing all Yemenis at the centre of such efforts. He called for full implementation of the Riyadh and Stockholm Agreements, and the full participation of women in the political process.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) called for a ubiquitous ceasefire in Yemen and a compromise political solution that is acceptable to all. Reviving the Stockholm and Riyadh Agreements can help facilitate a comprehensive settlement. He called on the parties to refrain from the use of force and to revive political dialogue. He also emphasized the urgent need for a full-fledged response to the humanitarian situation, which is deteriorating by the hour, with millions starving and COVID-19 striking Yemen like a tidal wave. Humanitarian assistance must be impartial in nature. He went on to say that the Russian Federation will continue, both in its national capacity and as a permanent Council member, to assist United Nations mediation efforts, emphasizing, however, that resolving the conflict is not helped by attempts to shift blame to regional players who are in a position to help. He concluded by drawing attention to the Russian Federation’s blueprint for collective security in the Persian Gulf zone.
KAIS KABTANI (Tunisia), expressing alarm at the dire and unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Yemen, called on all parties to eschew military action. There is a pressing need for an immediate ceasefire, a revival of the political process and measures to alleviate suffering, build trust and counter the COVID-19 pandemic. The Special Envoy’s pragmatic approach could be an opportunity to abandon violence and move towards a solution. He reiterated the need to implement the Stockholm and Riyadh Agreements, to honour agreements relating to Hudaydah and to bolster and ensure the full participation of women in peace efforts. He underscored the importance of pooling international efforts to combat the pandemic, implement economic reforms and ensure unfettered humanitarian assistance. He also emphasized the urgent need to dispatch inspection and maintenance teams to the Safer tanker, which is threatening an unprecedented environmental crisis.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said the protracted conflict in Yemen continues to worsen, with the humanitarian situation compounded by COVID-19. She underscored the need for unhindered passage of humanitarian assistance to people who are most in need. “The only sustainable solution is a political one,” she said, reiterating support for all actors who have facilitated dialogue among the parties. She expressed concern about the shortfall in funding, stressing that the disbursement of pledged funds is urgently needed for the delivery of life-saving assistance. She also underscored that the environment, economy and people will be gravely impacted by any leak of the Safer oil tanker. An assessment must be made. “We need to do more,” she said, adding: “We need to do better.” She reiterated the appeal to all parties to cease hostilities and return to the negotiating table.
WELLINGTON DARIO BENCOSME CASTAÑOS (Dominican Republic) expressed serious concern about increasing hostilities in Yemen, describing the shelling in civilian areas that host large numbers of displaced people as “completely unacceptable”. As COVID-19 spreads like a wildfire, 100 health‑care workers have died as result of the virus, among the highest numbers in the world for medical staff. The possible closure of vital humanitarian and development projects could lead to famine by year-end. “We cannot allow this to happen,” he insisted, expressing disappointment that the Houthis have not yet allowed access to the Safer oil tanker and pointing to serious environmental and humanitarian consequences if the oil spills. He urged the Houthis to allow access as soon as possible. The Council must consider more drastic measures for sending a stronger message about the solution to Yemen’s conflict and alleviating the suffering of Yemenis. He likewise urged all parties to adopt the Joint Declaration introduced by the Special Envoy, highlighting the importance of ensuring an inclusive peace process.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) reiterated his delegation’s full and unwavering support for the Secretary-General and the Special Envoy and called on all parties to endorse the draft agreement proposed by the Special Envoy. The Riyadh Agreement must be implemented immediately and in full, he said, welcoming Saudi Arabia’s efforts in that regard. Only a ceasefire will make it possible to counter the pandemic, he observed, reminding all parties that they are duty-bound to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law. The protection of civilians, medical personnel and civil infrastructure must be a top priority, he said, emphasizing that comprehensive humanitarian access is vital given that the mortality rate for COVID-19 in Yemen is the highest in the world. He went on to lament a lack of progress on the Safer tanker and urged the Houthis to authorities immediate United Nations access to the vessel.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) reaffirmed his country’s full support for the Special Envoy’s efforts to achieve a nationwide ceasefire, confidence‑building measures and the resumption of the political process. The concerned parties must now show political courage to reach an agreement. He expressed alarm about reports of civilian casualties due to air strikes, emphasizing that all parties must end serious violations of international humanitarian law, particularly when children are involved. Underscoring the impact of desert locusts on food security, he supported efforts by the United Nations, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), to monitor the situation on the ground and undertake control operations. The parties must provide safe access to locust breeding grounds. On the humanitarian situation, he said that all international actors must demonstrate solidarity and support the United Nations intervention plan through additional commitments. He went on to say that it is more urgent than ever to act in the case of the Safer taker. The Houthis must follow through on their commitments and grant United Nations experts access to the vessel so as to avoid a catastrophe.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said a political solution is urgently needed in Yemen, expressing hope that the Joint Declaration will be agreed upon soon and reiterating support for the Special Envoy’s efforts to facilitate an inclusive Yemeni-led and owned peace process. The threat of COVID-19 to the overall humanitarian situation cannot be overstated and he expressed frustration over the constant worsening of humanitarian conditions. Citing COVID-19 related restrictions, reduced remittances and underfunding for the humanitarian response, he said COVID-19 is also forcing more people into displacement, which, in turn, requires more assistance. A nationwide ceasefire is not an excessive demand. Expressing concern that no progress has been made on the Safer oil tanker situation, which was expected after the 15 July meeting, he urged parties to uphold past commitments — including the Stockholm and Riyadh Agreements, and resolution 2216 (2015), which constitute the legal foundation for a peace agreement. Just because some parts are complicated “does not mean we should toss away the whole agreement”. The Council is obliged to monitor such efforts, he said, noting that resolution 2534 (2020) extending the UNMHA mandate testifies to the Mission’s importance.
KELLY CRAFT (United States) said it is important for parties in Yemen to de‑escalate tensions and recommit to a United Nations-mediated settlement, calling the hardened positions taken by the Houthis earlier this month “unacceptable”, especially with COVID-19 spreading around the country. Some 24 million people depend on aid. “The Houthis can, and they must, do better,” she insisted, notably by approving pending sub-agreements, respecting independent procurement procedures and facilitating free movement for aid workers. She expressed deep concern about the vast underreporting of COVID-19, especially in Houthi-controlled areas, emphasizing that humanitarian and health workers are vulnerable, as they lack personal protective equipment. The rights of all members of Yemeni society must be respected. She also drew attention to intercepted vessels from Iran which contained weapons for Houthis, including 21 surface-to-air missiles. “Yemen does not need more arms,” she asserted, adding: “Iran must stop its efforts to arm the Houthis.”
GERT AUVAART (Estonia) urged all the parties to the conflict to listen to the calls of Yemeni civil society, cease hostilities and promptly agree on measures to alleviate suffering. Doing so is necessary for the next phase of the political process to begin. Strongly condemning recent air strikes, as well as attacks on civilian targets in Saudi Arabia, he reminded the parties of their obligation to adhere to international humanitarian law and to protect civilians, especially vulnerable groups, such as women and children. Noting that COVID-19 is exacerbating the humanitarian situation, he called upon all parties, particularly in northern Yemen, to facilitate safe and unhindered access for humanitarian workers. He went on to urge the Houthi authorities to take immediate steps without preconditions to provide United Nations access to the Safer oil tanker, warning that there is not much time left to prevent an oil spill or explosion that would have catastrophic environmental and economic consequences.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam) called for an immediate nationwide ceasefire that would facilitate humanitarian efforts and the fight against COVID-19. Moreover, all parties must uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law, and local parties must ensure safe and unhindered access for humanitarian operations in Yemen. Funding for humanitarian work must continue, he said, urging donors to save lives and head off food insecurity through their contributions. He joined other Member States in calling for full implementation of the Stockholm and Riyadh Agreements, with United Nations mediation and the meaningful participation of women in the political process. He echoed calls for the Houthis to allow the United Nations technical team onto the Safer tanker and prevent a regional environmental disaster, and reiterated Viet Nam’s support for the Special Envoy’s efforts.
ZHANG JUN (China), calling for an early breakthrough in Yemen, expressed support for economic, humanitarian and political measures, and respect for Yemen’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Parties must stop the violence and improve security conditions on the ground. The ceasefire achieved in the north earlier this year demonstrates that, with political will, the fighting can stop. He underscored the need to “stay committed” to a political settlement, noting that, while the Special Envoy has worked hard, progress has not been satisfactory. In the south, parties reached political and administrative arrangements in the Riyadh Agreement, however, progress has been limited. He called on all parties to engage in consultations on the peace initiative and narrow differences. Further, humanitarian access must be guaranteed, as people are facing flooding, COVID-19 and locusts swarms. All parties should assist the United Nations in carrying out relief operations, and work to ensure that the United Nations technical team can both access and repair the Safer oil tanker, with the Council urging relevant actors to prevent the situation from causing an environmental and human catastrophe.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity to stress deep disappointment that parties have not agreed on a ceasefire or signed the Joint Declaration. Indeed, he has not heard the Special Envoy express such pessimism as he did today. Citing stark increases in Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and coalition air strikes on Sana’a, he denounced the lack of food and medicine in Yemen and said people do not know how they will survive each day. Further, the United Nations humanitarian response is highly underfunded and he called on countries in the region to pledge and disburse funding as soon as possible. “How cynical can you be?”, he asked, in pointing out that the Houthis gave the Council their confirmation two weeks ago that they would allow the United Nations team to inspect the Safer tanker. “The Houthis have not delivered,” he asserted.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen), drawing attention to the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative, the outcomes of the comprehensive national dialogue and relevant Council resolutions, especially resolution 2216 (2015), said the Houthi coup resulted in one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. In May, the Government accepted the documents aimed at establishing a ceasefire and launching confidence-building measures. It will continue to engage with the Special Envoy and the United Nations-sponsored peace process, as it cares about achieving peace. “We have made this clear in past positions,” he said, including on the payment of salaries, the opening of roads, release of all detainees and prisoners and the opening of Sana’a airport for flights by the national carrier.
Rejecting the imposition of “impossible conditions” by Houthi militias, which aim only to foil international efforts and prolong their futile war against Yemenis, he said the Government, in contrast, has implemented the Riyadh Agreement and respected agreed timelines. He called on the Transitional Council to abide by the accord — considered the road map for exiting the crisis — insisting that State institutions must be allowed to perform their duties. The Security Council should work to end the violence caused by the Iran-backed Houthi militias, which is destabilizing Yemen and the region. Efforts also must be made to combat COVID-19.
He condemned meddling in Socotra, pointing out more broadly that the Government has cooperated with the Special Envoy to cover the salaries of civil servants in areas under Houthi control and allocate oil revenues from Hudaydah. As the Government pays these salaries through a special account at the central bank, an arrangement which is overseen by the Special Envoy, he expressed surprise that the Houthis had used these funds to finance their war effort and enhance their personal gain.
On the health front, he said the Government has repeatedly called on the Houthis to adopt a unified health‑care policy. These pleas were met with rejection by the militias, who deny the COVID-19 pandemic, intimidate health teams and perpetrate inhumane acts against people suspected of COVID-19 infection. They obscure any effort to control the spread and provide adequate testing. The international community must support health workers and pressure the Houthis to respect these calls, he insisted.
Regarding the Safer oil tanker, he said that, two weeks after a special meeting on the matter, the Houthis continue to “drag their feet” and impose conditions, adopting their standard method for absorbing international pressure just before a Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. Afterwards, they simply return to their procrastination and deceit, disregarding all Council requirements. He urged the Council to pressure the militias into allowing the United Nations technical team to evaluate and empty the Safer tanker, and to facilitate the team’s duties without preconditions.
Ms. AISAIDY, responding to questions from delegations, said that engaging with the parties to the conflict is part of her organization’s daily work. It does so jointly with the United Nations and other non-governmental organizations, or bilaterally when specific projects and activities are involved. It does not mix politics and aid work, but when the opportunity arises to discuss the overall situation in public, “we don’t hesitate to speak”.
Ms. ALMASABI said that she was receiving hundreds of messages via WhatsApp, asking what is going to happen next. She asked the Council to say what it intends to do, so that she can respond to those messages.