Intensive diplomatic efforts by the United Nations and other partners to broker a ceasefire and restart a political process in Yemen have failed to produce tangible progress, the United Nations mediator for that country said today, describing a five-year dearth of direct talks between warring parties as “a shocker”.
“What has been most frustrating during my time […] has been the absence of comprehensive peace talks,” said Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, during his briefing to the Security Council, adding that he had emphasized time and again the primacy of a political process to negotiate the core political and security issues needed to end the war.
The last time the Government of Yemen and Ansar Allah, or the Houthis, sat down to discuss the sticking issues was in Kuwait in 2016, he said. “Only a negotiated political settlement can truly turn the tide in Yemen,” he said, arguing that a mediator is not responsible for the war nor for the peace, despite the common assumption to the contrary. Rather, the mediator’s privilege is to present to the parties the ways the war can end, he stressed.
He said that for the past year and a half, he has conducted rounds of shuttle diplomacy with the parties, and the United Nations has offered different solutions to bridge their positions, including his four-point plan for a nationwide ceasefire, opening Sana’a airport, lifting restrictions on shipping through the Hudaydah ports and restarting a political process.
Unfortunately, none of these suggestions have been accepted by the parties, the Special Envoy reported, explaining that Ansar Allah is demanding a stand-alone agreement on the Hudaydah ports and Sana’a airport as a precondition for the ceasefire and the launch of the political process, while the Government is insisting these issues be agreed to and implemented as a package.
Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, re-emphasized the five key priority areas to mitigate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, namely, the protection of civilians, humanitarian access, funding for the aid operation, support for the economy, and the need for a political solution.
On the issue of protecting civilians, he said that on average, at least five civilians are being killed or injured by hostilities in Yemen every single day. He called on the warring parties to spare civilians and civilian objects in military operations.
On humanitarian access, he said greater efforts are needed to facilitate future assessments, allow aid workers to travel without undue restrictions, and agree on standard operating procedures to fast track project approvals, visas and other routine processes. The humanitarian response plan is now 43 per cent funded, up from 15 per cent at the start of March, he said, expressing hope that the upcoming event in September offers an opportunity for donors to increase their support. Yemen averted a major famine in 2018 and 2019 and could avoid it again this year. “But two brushes with mass famine in three years is not a success — even if the worst was avoided,” he said. “It is a failure.”
Warning that Yemen’s economy has collapsed as a result of the conflict, he emphasized that the two fastest ways to help the economy are to free up commercial imports and bolster the exchange rate. A nationwide ceasefire would give Yemenis a break from the violence and create space for more political engagement, he said, declaring: “War has solved nothing. Try something different. Give peace a chance.”
Today’s briefing was the last scheduled public meeting for both Mr. Griffiths and Mr. Lowcock in their current capacities, as the former will soon replace the latter.
Also addressing the Council was Najiba Al Naggar, founding member and Programmes Manager of SOS Center for Youth Capabilities Development, who highlighted the importance of women’s political engagement in Yemen. She noted that 80 per cent of first responders are women and they provide life-saving humanitarian assistance even when the international community has been unable to reach communities desperately in need.
Yemeni women negotiate local ceasefires, successfully call on warring parties to open humanitarian corridors, and drive the peace agenda in their communities. They do this “against the odds, challenging gender norms, and with far too little backing and resources from national and international actors,” she said. Despite their critical role, women have been excluded from formal, meaningful roles in the United Nations-led peace process and from the new Government, she pointed out, calling on the Organization and Yemeni authorities to do more to ensure women’s direct participation as set out in resolution 1325 (2000).
Yemen’s representative welcomed recent efforts by the United Nations, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Oman to end the conflict, stressing that the Government has positively engaged with all proposals, extended all political and diplomatic efforts and offered compromises “one after the other” to reach sustained peace and end Yemeni suffering. The Houthi militias have responded, however, with brutal attacks on civilian targets in the city of Marib and in Saudi Arabia. This escalation reflects not only the terrorism and criminality of these militias, but also their allegiance to the Iranian regime, which seeks to foment crisis in the region, he said.
Council members joined forces in their support for the Special Envoy’s mediation efforts, repeating calls for a ceasefire, condemning the recent missile and drone attacks in Marib, as well as continued Houthi cross-border missile and drone strikes against Saudi Arabia. Several members also reiterated concerns about the environmental and humanitarian threat posed by the Safer oil tanker moored off the Houthi-controlled oil terminal in the Red Sea.
China’s delegate said that it is “truly harrowing” to see the suffering in Yemen, a major birthplace of Arab civilization, calling for the immediate cessation of hostilities to facilitate the peace process in Yemen. He expressed support for the efforts of Gulf countries to ease tension in the region.
Kenya’s representative said that the recent explosion in Abyan that claimed six troops belonging to the Southern Transitional Council is a stark warning of a possible surge in terrorism, stressing the need to remain acutely alert to these emerging threats and undertake pre-emptive measures. “Otherwise, Yemen could become a net exporter of terrorism and violent extremism to the region and across the Gulf of Aden to the Horn of Africa and beyond,” she warned.
Ireland’s delegate was among the speakers who called for greater participation of women in the peace process. She said to Ms. Al Naggar that “Yemen needs women like you at the table, both in the peace talks and Government,” expressing regret that women are not represented in the current Government. The full, equal and meaningful participation of women can unlock new, inclusive paths to peace, she said.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Mexico, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Viet Nam, Tunisia, United States, Norway, India, Niger, France and Estonia.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 12:12 p.m.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, said that this will be his last briefing to the Security Council in this capacity. The United Nations has long characterized Yemen as the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis, underlining the man-made part of that statement. Ending a war is a choice. Yemeni men, women and children are suffering every day because people with power have missed the opportunities presented to them, to make the necessary concessions to end the war. He declared: “No amount of humanitarian assistance can compensate for a brighter future. Only a negotiated political settlement can truly turn the tide in Yemen.”
A mediator is not responsible for the war nor for the peace despite the common assumption to the contrary, the Special Envoy pointed out, emphasizing that the mediator’s privilege is to present to the parties the ways the war can end. For the past year and a half, he has conducted rounds of shuttle diplomacy with the parties on issues that he has often described to the Council many times, he said. It is with deep regret that he reports today that the parties have not overcome their differences. Ansar Allah, or the Houthis, is insisting on a stand-alone agreement on the Hudaydah ports and Sana’a airport, as a condition precedent for the ceasefire and the launch of the political process. The Government of Yemen, on the other hand, insisted these issues be agreed to and implemented as a package, including the start of the ceasefire.
The United Nations has offered different solutions to bridge these positions. Unfortunately, none of these suggestions have been accepted by the parties, he said, expressing hope that the efforts undertaken by Oman and others following his visits to Sana’a and Riyadh will bear fruit. “What has been most frustrating during my time as Special Envoy has been the absence of comprehensive peace talks,” he said, having emphasized time and again the primacy of a political process to negotiate the core political and security issues needed to end the war and ensure peace.
The last time the parties sat down to discuss these issues was in Kuwait in 2016, he said, exclaiming: “That is a shocker.” What the Yemeni people want is precisely what the Council wants: stability based on rights and freedoms. Yemen needs, for its survival and the welfare of its citizens, a Government that is accountable to its people and united in support of fundamental rights, and an open and prosperous economy. Every day of this war threatens this future more. “Let us, for the sake of Yemen, end this war without delay so that we can begin the real and final battle, the battle for peace,” he said.
MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, recalled that soon after he assumed the current position, he went to Yemen in October 2017 to see what was going on there and what the world might do to help. What he saw was bombed out buildings, children starving to death, families crowded into tents, surging disease and a collapsing economy. The only way to stop all this suffering, he said at that time, was to end the war. Nearly four years later, they are still the things the international community asks for every month. In 2018-19, a major famine was averted. There are some early signs that it would manage to stop a big famine again this year. However, a lot depends on what happens in the next three months. “But two brushes with mass famine in three years is not a success — even if the worst was avoided,” he said. “It is a failure.”
On average, at least five civilians are now being killed or injured by hostilities in Yemen every single day, he reported, noting that May was the deadliest month so far in 2021, with more than 60 civilians killed across the country. On 10 June, a missile and drone attack — apparently launched by Ansar Allah forces — struck Marib City, causing dozens of civilian casualties. The explosions also damaged a nearby residence for aid workers. The Ansar Allah offensive in Marib continues to pose a direct threat to millions of people. Air strikes, shelling, clashes and other incidents have continued in other parts of Yemen over the last month as well, causing civilian casualties in Sa’ada, Taizz, Hudaydah and elsewhere. At all times, he insisted, the parties must take constant care to spare civilians and civilian objects throughout military operations. There must also be accountability for serious violations.
Aid agencies are now helping more than 10 million people every month in Yemen, but they still face too many obstacles, he said. Most, but not all, of the problems are in areas controlled by Ansar Allah. Much more is needed, particularly to facilitate future assessments, allow aid workers to travel without undue restrictions, and agree standard operating procedures to fast track project approvals, visas and other routine processes. Since the donor conference on 1 March, the humanitarian response plan for Yemen has moved from about 15 per cent funded to 43 per cent today. The wider aid operation is on a better financial footing. But the money will soon start running out again. More than $200 million in promises from the March event remain unpaid, he pointed out. Drawing attention to an upcoming humanitarian event on Yemen in the margins of the General Assembly in September, he urged donors to use the opportunity to increase their support.
Warning that Yemen’s economy has collapsed as a result of the conflict, driving many of the most severe needs, including the risk of famine, he emphasized that the two fastest ways to help the economy are to free up commercial imports and bolster the exchange rate. There is no shortage of opportunities to stop the war. But it’s up to the parties to turn those opportunities into reality. He has been calling for a nationwide ceasefire since late 2017. It would give Yemenis a break from the violence and create space for more political engagement. There should be no preconditions, he said, declaring: “War has solved nothing. Try something different. Give peace a chance.”
NAJIBA AL NAGGAR, Founding Member and Programmes Manager of SOS Center for Youth Capabilities Development, recounting fleeing with her family multiple times in late March 2015 following conflict in the cities of Aden, Taizz and Sana’a, stressed: “I cannot fully describe to you the terror that haunts me, and so many other Yemenis like me, who have endured untold suffering from almost seven years of war.” Even prior to the outbreak of the war, Yemen was the poorest country in the region; now, it has lost $90 billion in economic output, and economic decline coupled with the impact of COVID-19 have made the lives of millions of Yemenis unbearable. They face a severe shortage of fuel, exorbitant food prices and no access to basic services, such as electricity, water and health care. Women are disproportionately affected, and many women reduce how much they eat to give more food to their children and are going into debt to meet basic needs.
“Our resilience is close to the breaking point,” she said, and yet 80 per cent of first responders are women, providing life-saving humanitarian assistance even when the international community has been unable to reach communities desperately in need. Yemeni women negotiate local ceasefires, successfully call on warring parties to open humanitarian corridors and drive the peace agenda in their communities. They do this “against the odds, challenging gender norms, and with far too little backing and resources from national and international actors”. Despite their critical role, women have been excluded from formal, meaningful roles in the United Nations-led peace process and from the new Government. She called on the Organization and Yemeni authorities to do more to ensure women’s direct participation pursuant to resolution 1325 (2000).
Underscoring that Yemen’s people feel abandoned by the international community and are losing hope, she urged the Council to: engage conflict parties and their backers to secure a sustainable, inclusive and nationwide ceasefire in line with resolution 2532 (2020); call on the United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) and the international community to increase support for local and national Yemeni women-led and women’s rights organizations; and initiate the provision of an effective, sustainable economic rescue package for the country.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), recalling recent Houthi attacks on civilian sites in Marib and on a school in Saudi Arabia, stated: “it is clear that the Houthis do not want a ceasefire”. Further, the armed movement continues to violate the rights and freedoms of Yemeni women, as well as religious and ethnic minorities, “further demonstrating the stunted expanse of Houthi morals”. Turning to the humanitarian crisis, she called on the Houthis to ensure that fuel imports are distributed transparently and on the Government to ensure a reliable, sustained flow of fuel into northern Yemen. She also called on the Houthis to engage substantively on the issue of the Safer oil storage vessel to avoid a potential disaster.
ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico) expressed concern over the significant increase in demand for humanitarian assistance in Yemen in light of the limited resources available for a broad response. The conflict has had a disproportionate effect on vulnerable groups — such as women and minors — and the cycle of conflict and food insecurity must be broken, as 16 million Yemenis currently depend on humanitarian aid for survival. Noting further an increasing number of internally displaced persons resulting from the Houthi offensive in Marib, she called on Houthi militias to immediately cease hostilities and for an end to the transfer of weapons to parties to conflict. She also expressed concern over obstacles to authorization for humanitarian operations — calling on the Government to facilitate unhindered access and streamline the granting of permits for humanitarian programmes — and over the threat posed by the FSO Safer. Any accident involving that tanker, she stressed, will significantly impact civilians, including the Houthis themselves.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) condemned the unabated fighting that made May one of the deadliest months for civilians so far in 2021, noting that fighting in the region has denied over 2 million children access to education. Welcoming a recent announcement by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition to end attacks, she said that, without a nationwide ceasefire and resumption of political talks, “civilians in Yemen will continue to carry the burden of this conflict”. Parties must also honour their obligations under international law; in a country where malnutrition rates among women and children remain the highest in the world, humanitarian assistance is the difference between life and death. Further, economic support is needed as the decreased purchasing power of Yemeni households makes basic goods and services inaccessible to many; to this end, she called for restrictions on civilian commercial imports to be lifted. Bilateral and multilateral pressure must be exerted on relevant parties, she added, to resolve the issue of the FSO Safer.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam) noted there have been no significant changes in Yemen’s peace process despite tireless and resilient efforts of Special Envoy Griffiths, his predecessors and their teams. Joining other Member States in calling for a political settlement, he rejected a military solution to the nearly seven-year conflict in Yemen. All parties must cease military hostilities and spare no effort to work with the Special Envoy, regional partners and the international community in securing an acceptance of the United Nations-led peace proposal, he insisted. The inclusion of women in the political process in Yemen should also be ensured and promoted. Expressing a concern over increased hostilities and subsequent displacement, economic crisis, fuel shortage, food insecurity, starvation risk and the spread of COVID-19, he called for a prompt, safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to Yemenis in need, especially in the country’s north.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia), stressing that “the conflict has lasted too long”, said that militarily imposed fait accompli only lead to further victims, chaos and displacement, endangering the lives of millions and compromising prospects for peace. “The status quo is untenable,” he stated, calling on parties to institute a ceasefire and join the political process to end the suffering of Yemenis and preserve the country’s sovereignty, independence and unity. Further, the Houthis must cease attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Marib and on the territory of Saudi Arabia, and the relevant parties must facilitate the provision of food and medical assistance while eliminating restrictions on sea and air ports. Turning to the FSO Safer, he underscored the necessity of allowing United Nations experts to inspect the tanker and subsequently carry out required maintenance as soon as possible.
JEFFREY DELAURENTIS (United States) said that the Houthis are refusing to engage meaningfully regarding a ceasefire or take steps to resolve the seven-year conflict, instead proceeding with a devastating offensive on Marib. He condemned the 6 June attack on a gas station in that city that killed 21 people, along with other “egregious actions” that continue to inflict lasting, irreversible damage on the Yemeni people. Houthi intransigence, however, is not the only impediment to lasting peace in Yemen — the people need a unified Government that can provide services and exert leadership during this crisis. Noting that an estimated 20.7 million people — 66 per cent of the population — currently require humanitarian assistance, he said that the only way to address this situation is to implement a lasting ceasefire and an inclusive political solution; until then, the international community must fund the humanitarian response without delay. All parties, he added, must permit the free flow of commercial and humanitarian commodities through Red Sea ports.
MONA JUUL (Norway) said that negotiations on the four-point plan have been going on for more than a year, and regrettably, the Houthis have signaled that they would limit the deal to humanitarian measures, namely opening the airport in Sana’a and the port of Hudaydah. The Houthis will carry a very heavy responsibility if they continue to ignore parties that are ready for peace and reject a nationwide ceasefire, which is indeed a humanitarian measure. This opportunity might not come again, she said, calling on all parties to engage in unconditional talks to end the suffering of Yemen’s people. Norway will continue to advocate for an inclusive political process. Women and civil society groups in Yemen have considerable experience in brokering local truces, reopening roads and freeing prisoners. “We must empower those most affected by conflict to be at the centre of shaping solutions,” she said.
RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) said that prolonging the hostilities will benefit no one but terrorist groups like Al-Qaida, who will exploit the situation for their own gain, thereby further aggravating the humanitarian and security situation. Noting the resumption of attacks arising out of Yemen on commercial ships navigating the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, he expressed deep worries that this trend threatens not only the safe passage of commercial vessels but also maritime security in the region. Condemning the cross-border attacks on critical civilian and energy infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, he said such action threatens regional security and stability. A peaceful resolution of the conflict hinges on the political will of the warring parties, but the countries in the region have a major role to play in influencing Yemeni parties to stop the fighting, he emphasized.
ABDOU ABARRY (Niger) said that in the six years of conflict in Yemen, there were some moments of hope for a definitive resolution of the crisis, such as the signing of the Oslo and Riyadh accords, as well as the prisoner exchanges in October 2020. Sadly, these signs of hope soon faded with the resumption of hostilities. Expressing regret over recent attacks in Marib, he called on the Houthis to end the offensive. A lasting solution must be based on dialogue, he stressed, urging the warring parties to revisit the proposals made by the Special Envoy. It is also critical to lift all blockages, which are bringing the already dire humanitarian conditions to an untenable level. Warning that some 50,000 people live in famine-like conditions, he called for more predictable funding for humanitarian aid.
GENG SHUANG (China), pointing out that it is “truly harrowing” to see the suffering in Yemen — a major birthplace of Arab civilization — called for the immediate cessation of hostilities to facilitate the peace process in Yemen. Expressing concern over the large number of civilian casualties and displacement in Marib and a recent escalation of hostilities in Hudaydah, he called on all parties to conflict to avoid further harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure, including fuel stations, residential areas and mosques. China supports the efforts of Gulf countries to ease tension in the region and hopes that the same will be a catalyst for the peace process. Given Yemen’s multiple crises of hunger, the COVID-19 pandemic, an oil shortage and currency devaluation, he stressed that the international community must provide assistance in order to save lives, also urging the Houthis to allow a United Nations technical team access to the FSO Safer to maintain the safety of the environment and international shipping lanes.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France), urging that the “Houthis must make peace in Yemen” called on the armed movement to give up the military option and cease attacks on Marib and the territory of Saudi Arabia. The Houthis must also cease the recruitment and use of child fighters in Marib and give the United Nations immediate, unfettered access to the FSO Safer. Further, they must choose to meaningfully negotiate towards a political solution, which includes the implementation of a ceasefire, the opening of sea and air ports, and the meaningful participation of women and youth in the process. She also said that the international community has a moral duty to avoid widespread famine — the risk of which is increasing every day — and accelerate the COVID-19 vaccination campaign. “Peace in Yemen is possible,” she added, so long as the Houthis “stop being part of the problem and become part of the solution”.
GERT AUVÄÄRT (Estonia), Council President for June, speaking in his national capacity and noting that civilian casualties continue despite a relative decrease in the intensity of fighting, called on all parties to immediately end hostilities, including the Houthis’ assault on Marib and cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia. Further, the parties must show willingness to compromise and agree to a sustainable, nationwide ceasefire in order to move forward with an inclusive political process. He also said that more attention should be paid to the vulnerability of women and children in light of worsening economic and humanitarian conditions, noting that almost one in four civilian casualties in Yemen over the past three years have been children. Humanitarian actors must have unimpeded access, he added, and a long-term agreement must be reached to allow the import of fuel and commercial goods through the port of Hudaydah.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) pointed out that the Yemeni people have suffered for more than six years because of the Houthi coup against the State and the aspirations of its people. The conflict has exacted a heavy toll on the nation — which has seen deteriorating economic and social living conditions — and civilians have paid the price for “the dark war waged by Houthi militias”. Welcoming recent efforts by the United Nations, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Oman to end the conflict, he said that the Government has positively engaged with all proposals and extended all political and diplomatic efforts — offering compromises “one after the other” — to reach sustained peace and end Yemeni suffering.
He said that the Houthi militias have responded, however, with brutal attacks on civilian targets in the city of Marib and in Saudi Arabia — this escalation reflects not only the terrorism and criminality of these militias, but also their allegiance to the Iranian regime, which seeks to foment crisis in the region. He displayed a picture of a five-year-old girl who fell victim to ballistic missiles targeting a fuel station in Marib — where 21 people were killed — adding that he “would refrain from showing a picture of her charred corpse”.
Underscoring that the Houthis seek to kill as many civilians as possible and sabotage peace efforts, he said that the world must not forget the “atrocious situation” in many other Yemeni cities, including Taizz and Hudaydah. He called on the international community to support humanitarian efforts that provide for the basic needs of the Yemeni people and to understand the magnitude of the crisis facing his country. “Houthis do not understand the language of dialogue,” he urged, and continue to ignore international appeals to allow access to the FSO Safer. He therefore called on the Council to exert maximum pressure to prevent a crisis involving the tanker, adding that “it is time to silence the guns and sound the bells of peace.”