United Nations Relief Chief Says Civilian Casualties Fell to Lowest Level in Months, as Permanent Representative Calls Houthis ‘Tool’ of Iran
Hailing the announcement of a two-month nationwide truce between the parties to conflict in Yemen, top United Nations officials emphasized the importance of continued efforts to bring about an end to the once seemingly intractable crisis that has gripped the country for seven years.
Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, highlighted that “a brighter future” now looks within reach. The truce, forged on 2 April, is already alleviating humanitarian conditions, while hostilities have decreased and civilian casualties have dropped to the lowest reported level in months.
Moreover, he said the establishment of a new Presidential Leadership Council on 7 April and announcement of a $3 billion economic aid package during consultations convened by the Gulf Cooperation Council have further set Yemen on a positive course. The package includes a $2 billion deposit into the Central Bank to help stabilize the economy, an “extremely welcome” move that has prompted the rial to bounce back, meaning that food and other essential goods will soon become more affordable, he added.
Bolstering those gains, he said fuel ships are now able to dock in Hudaydah ports, alleviating shortages that have driven up food and health-care costs, while a United Nations proposal to move oil from the damaged Safer oil tanker moored in the Red Sea to a temporary location and replace the aged vessel has helped to address a looming environmental threat.
On the humanitarian front, he said the pledging conference in March raised $1.3 billion, although more funding is desperately needed. Aid agencies are seeking $4.3 billion to assist 17.3 million people across Yemen, he said, stressing that “allowing the aid operation to collapse would run directly counter to the positive momentum we are seeing.” In addition, access constraints have hampered humanitarian efforts and he called on all parties to do everything possible to address the issue.
Hans Grunberg, Special Representative for Yemen, told Council members that “there is light at the end of the tunnel” thanks to the agreement on a two-month, renewable truce. He contrasted conditions today to those just a few months prior, when the country faced a daunting escalation of military activities. He pointed to a “significant reduction in violence and civilian casualties”, fuel entering Hudaydah ports and preparations for civilian flights to resume from Sana’a airport, adding that progress has also been made on the exchange of detainees.
“The truce is a chance to steer Yemen in a new direction,” he told Council members, cautioning that challenges remain. “To consolidate this path, and to prevent a slide back into fighting, there needs to be progress on the political front as well”, he said.
In the ensuing dialogue, delegates lauded the major developments. “This truce provides an opportunity to foster trust and build momentum towards a permanent ceasefire,” Brazil’s delegate affirmed. Drawing attention to reports of armed clashes around Marib and Taiz, he warned that “this is not a time for brinkmanship or irresponsibility […] the Yemeni people do not deserve to have their hopes dashed yet again.”
In a similar vein, the representative of the United Arab Emirates highlighted the consultations held by the Gulf Cooperation Council that produced a road map for peace. He expressed support for the Presidential Leadership Council and praised Saudi Arabia’s call for that body to commence negotiations with the Houthis, under the auspices of the United Nations. The Houthis, he said, must “seize this valuable opportunity” and engage in efforts to bring peace to Yemen.
The United States delegate meanwhile took the opportunity to flag the deleterious impact of the Russian Federation’s “war of choice” in Ukraine on rising wheat prices in Yemen, compounding the already acute humanitarian crisis, a point refuted by her counterpart from the Russian Federation, who said Western Governments must recognize their own role in causing food and financial market movements.
Several delegates commended efforts to resolve issues around the Safer tanker, with Kenya’s delegate pointing out that an oil spill would not only destroy the fragile ecosystem in the Horn of Africa but also the livelihoods of those who depend on the blue economy. He called on all stakeholders to urgently fund and launch the proposed operation.
Offering the national perspective, Yemen’s representative agreed that the creation of the Presidential Leadership Council — with its broad and inclusive membership — confirms the Government’s commitment to working for the good of all Yemenis. He blamed the Houthis for continuing to reject calls to come to the negotiating table, preferring to remain a “tool in the hands of Iran”.
He assured that the Government seeks to maintain the truce, despite flagrant violations seen in governorates where the Houthis continue to target civilians. He called on the Security Council to play its role as a moral authority and bring pressure to bear on the Houthis to commit to the terms of the truce.
Also speaking were representatives of the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Ghana, China, India, Gabon, Norway, Albania and Mexico.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 11:44 p.m.
HANS GRUNBERG, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Yemen, recalled that at the start of 2022, he had told the Council that the military escalation in Yemen was among the worst in years. Now “there is light at the end of the tunnel”, he said, noting that after three months of bilateral negotiations, “the parties have agreed to a United Nations initiative for a two-month nationwide, renewable truce”, which commenced at the start of Ramadan and includes provisions to improve the free movement of goods and civilians. “The agreement is broadly holding,” he said, offering “a moment of respite for Yemenis — and a moment of possibility for pursuing peace”. However, it requires commitment from the parties, as well as broad support from the region and the international community, to ensure it becomes a turning point towards peace.
Since the start of the truce, he said there have been encouraging signs about the possibility of halting the cyclical patterns of escalation. He cited significant reductions in violence and civilian casualties, as well as no confirmed airstrikes inside Yemen or cross-border attacks emanating from the country. In addition, more fuel is now flowing through Hudaydah port into the country and preparations are under way for commercial flights to depart from Sana’a airport for the first time since 2016. At the same time, there are concerning reports of military operations, particularly around Marib, which must be addressed urgently through the mechanisms established by the truce, he said.
Against that backdrop, he acknowledged that many Yemenis fear the truce will be exploited to set the stage for a new escalation. “This fear is understandable, given the lack of trust,” he acknowledged, encouraging the parties to engage seriously and meaningfully in the coordination mechanisms created by his Office to address all aspects of the agreement and underscoring that the easing of movement restrictions is a priority. A number of ships have already entered Hudaydah ports, which is having a positive impact on people’s lives. Reaching an agreement to open roads in Taiz and other areas is also a priority. It is imperative that serious work is done in Taiz to open roads, allowing civilians on either side of the frontlines — both in the city and surrounding areas — to go to work and school, and facilitating trade. Moreover, headway is being made on the exchange of detainees, and he urged parties to agree on the details so that families can be reunited with their loved ones, adding that his Office and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as co-chairs of the Supervisory Committee, will support them in this endeavour.
He welcomed that President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi Mansour, on 7 April, delegated his full authorities to a newly formed Presidential Leadership Council and looked forward to that body assuming its responsibilities. It reflects a broader array of political actors and he recalled the Security Council’s expectation that its formation will mark an important step in efforts to foster stability and an inclusive Yemeni-led and owned political settlement. “The truce is a chance to steer Yemen in a new direction,” he emphasized, cautioning that “to consolidate this path, and to prevent a slide back into fighting, there needs to be progress on the political front as well”. Through dialogue, Yemenis must determine and own a negotiated settlement to the conflict, he affirmed.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said recent developments in Yemen could, “very possibly, help pave the way to a brighter future”. The truce described by the Special Envoy is a critical step forward and is already having a positive impact on the humanitarian situation. Despite reports of limited clashes in a few areas, mainly in Marib and Taiz, hostilities have dropped sharply across the country. Civilian casualties have fallen to their lowest level in months — a major improvement after weeks of escalating conflict earlier in 2022.
Adding that more fuel ships are now arriving in Hudaydah, helping to ease severe fuel shortages, he said those deficits had for months been driving up the cost of food, health care and other crucial services. Women and girls were more exposed to risks as they travelled further away to seek water or cooking gas. The truce also aims to facilitate the movement of people, goods and humanitarian assistance by resuming commercial flights from Sana’a airport and working to re-open roads in Taiz and other areas. Communities living near front lines, including in Taiz, will become easier to reach, and those who need to travel abroad for medical care or other reasons will at last be able to do so.
Beyond the truce itself, he said there may be more good news on the horizon. The $3 billion economic support package announced during the recent Yemeni consultations, convened by the Gulf Cooperation Council, is “extremely welcome”. It includes fuel support, development assistance and, crucially, a new $2 billion deposit in Yemen’s Central Bank — split between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — that will help stabilize the currency. Already, the Yemeni rial has recovered 25 per cent of its value since that announcement, meaning that food and other essential goods — nearly all of which must be imported — should soon become more affordable. Also welcoming progress in resolving the threat posed by the moored Safer oil tanker, he said the new United Nations proposal to replace it — and in the meantime, move the oil into a temporary vessel — has received strong support.
Also expressing hope that the new Presidential Leadership Council may help resolve the fragmentation that has created challenges for aid agencies, he urged the parties to seize the many opportunities offered by the current moment and called on the Security Council and other Member States to use “all avenues” to support those efforts. The fact remains that millions of people still urgently need humanitarian assistance to stay alive. While humanitarian partners are doing everything possible to help — and the recent pledging conference on 16 March raised $1.3 billion — funding remains the biggest challenge to the response.
Noting that aid agencies are seeking a total of $4.3 billion to assist 17.3 million people across Yemen, he cautioned: “Allowing the aid operation to collapse would run directly counter to the positive momentum we are seeing.” Beyond funding, the response remains constrained by serious access challenges and attempted interference, he said, pointing out that in 2021, half of all Yemenis in need lived in areas affected by access constraints, primarily as a result of bureaucratic impediments. Reiterating his call on the parties to do everything possible to facilitate humanitarian access, he recalled that two United Nations staff members detained by the Houthis remain in custody — in contravention of their privileges and immunities and despite promises to release them — and that five others kidnapped by armed men in Abyan have now been held for more than 60 days. “The staff must be released,” he affirmed.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), Council President for April, spoke in her national capacity, welcoming the truce. “For the first time since 2016, Yemenis will feel what it is like to live in relative peace,” she said. Commending the parties and all those others who contributed, she praised the creation of the Presidential Leadership Council as a vital step and President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi Mansour for facilitating that peaceful transfer of power. Urging the new Council to work seriously and quickly towards political negotiations with the Houthis, she also called on the latter to continue to engage with the Special Envoy. However, it remains crucial for the international community to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis, she said, noting that the recent donor conference only raised one third of the funding needed. “Ultimately, the truce provides a window of opportunity to make the lives of many Yemenis better, [and] this must be seized,” she stressed, also calling for more progress in diffusing the “ticking time-bomb” of the Safer oil tanker.
BRIAN PATRICK FLYNN (Ireland) welcomed the United Nations-brokered two-month truce, the commitment to allow the entry of fuel ships into Hudaydah port and the resumption of commercial flights in and out of Sana’a. Pointing to food insecurity across the globe, he stressed that the free movement of life-saving commodities and fuel into Yemen is essential. Such de-escalation efforts must be coupled with efforts to pursue accountability for international law violations. While welcoming the Yemeni-Yemeni talks, he nonetheless expressed hope that future dialogues will see a minimum of 30 per cent participation by women and expressed regret that no women are included in the Presidential Leadership Council. He described the shortfall in commitments made at the March pledging conference as “troubling”, given recent hunger projections, and welcomed that a sustainable solution to the Safer tanker issue appears to finally be within reach.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) described the establishment of the Presidential Leadership Council as an important step that brings together many stakeholders. The Special Envoy’s visit to Sana’a is also encouraging. However, the humanitarian situation remains critical and serious human rights violations persist amid worsening risks for famine. He expressed concern over the abduction of five United Nations staff in the south of Yemen and called for their immediate release. He expressed support for the United Nations-coordinated response plan for the Safer oil tanker and said France will “step up to the plate” at the donor conference in May. “Yemen is now in a crucial phase”, he observed, emphasizing that conditions are in place to transform the truce into a lasting ceasefire with a plan for peace. He encouraged all stakeholders to cooperate with the Special Envoy to achieve a lasting solution.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) said the two-month nationwide truce is “a positive development” that offers a much-needed respite from the war, eases the humanitarian burden and creates a conducive environment to bolster political processes. The transfer of power by President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi Mansour to the newly created Presidential Leadership Council likewise is “an important act in the search for a comprehensive and inclusive political solution that keeps all parts of the Yemeni society together”, he said. However, he expressed concern that Yemeni women have still not been provided a rightful place in these efforts. They are disproportionately affected by the conflict and have a role to play in deciding how it should be resolved, he insisted. He welcomed the reopening of the Sana’a airport and Hudaydah port for limited commercial flights, as well as commercial imports and humanitarian aid. He highlighted the growing risk of a major oil spill from the dilapidated Safer tanker and thus welcomed the memorandum of understanding to permanently address that threat, including arrangements to offload 1.1 million barrels of oil to a temporary vessel within the next four months, pending the search for a replacement vessel.
RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil), joining other speakers in welcoming the truce and the resulting steep reduction in civilian casualties, called for it to be upheld and expanded. “Perhaps most importantly, this truce provides an opportunity to foster trust and build momentum towards a permanent ceasefire and a comprehensive and inclusive political solution,” he said. Voicing alarm over reports of armed clashes around Marib and Taiz, he warned that “this is not a time for brinkmanship or irresponsibility”. Against that backdrop, he voiced hope that the creation of the Presidential Leadership Council will be a positive step towards peace and urged the Houthis to step up their engagement with the Special Envoy — both by observing and extending the truce and by committing to a political solution. As the humanitarian situation remains dire, the causes of the crisis must be addressed, and until then no amount of aid will suffice. “The Yemeni people do not deserve to have their hopes dashed yet again,” he stressed.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates) welcomed the unprecedented consensus-building and positive momentum towards ending the war in Yemen. Noting that the Gulf Cooperation Council recently held consultations featuring a wide array of political actors and civil society members, which resulted in a road map for peace, he affirmed full support for the Presidential Leadership Council as it works to end the crisis and achieve security and stability in Yemen. He praised the call by Saudi Arabia for that new body to begin negotiations with the Houthis under the auspices of the United Nations and renewed his strong condemnation of the recent Houthi terrorist cross-border attacks targeting civilian facilities in Saudi Arabia. “We call on the Houthis to seize this valuable opportunity, stop biding their time and seriously engage in the ongoing efforts to end the war in Yemen,” he stressed, voicing hope that the current delicate period will bring renewed hope and calling for international support to that end.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), agreeing that today marks a chance for peace to finally take root in Yemen, welcomed the Special Envoy’s visit to Sana’a and expressed hope that it is an indication of the peace process moving forward. The parties should continue negotiating in good faith towards opening the roads to Taiz, which will help ease blockages in the flow of critical goods. She welcomed the formation of the Presidential Leadership Council, as well as the recent Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue, hosted by the Gulf Cooperation Council. “This truce opens a window of opportunity for a long-term and sustainable peace, a peace that the Yemeni people desperately need,” she said, urging the parties to adhere to their commitments and expressing concern over reports of clashes emerging on the ground. While there is cause for optimism, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’s war of choice in Ukraine has made an already dire humanitarian situation in Yemen even worse. Yemen is among those countries most seriously impacted by rising wheat prices due to that conflict, she said, in yet another example of how the Russian Federation’s aggression affects vulnerable people around the world.
DAI BING (China) said “the light of hope is dawning for Yemen”, as parties have entered into a two-month truce and people will now have their first fighting-free Ramadan in seven years. Peace is the common wish of the Yemeni people, he said, noting it was in no one’s interest to resume hostilities. He called on all parties to make the ceasefire hold. Ultimately, the Yemeni issue should be resolved through a peace process owned and led by Yemenis themselves. On 7 April, the Government announced the formation of a Presidential Leadership Council, injecting a new impetus into the political process. He called on regional countries with influence to continue to foster those efforts. The humanitarian crisis is one of the worst in the world, with some 12 million facing severe starvation. The soaring prices of food and energy have exacerbated the plight of the Yemeni people. Adequate funding is crucial to sustaining United Nations humanitarian programmes in Yemen.
AMARNATH ASOKAN (India) expressed support for all efforts to consolidate the truce into a comprehensive ceasefire, condemning cross-border terrorist attacks into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have resulted in the death and injury of civilians, including Indian nationals. The truce could be the first step to a permanent peace, he said, underscoring the importance of resuming a Yemeni-led, Yemeni-owned process that includes women’s full and meaningful participation. He also called for further confidence-building measures, such as the exchange of prisoners and detainees. He welcomed President Hadi’s irreversible transfer of powers to a new Presidential Leadership Council, as well as the pragmatic approach taken by the United Nations to resolve the Safer oil tanker problem, expressing hope that it will be implemented with adequate funding. India has extended humanitarian aid to Yemen and remains committed to doing so, he added.
ALLEGRA PAMELA R. BONGO (Gabon) said that, since the Council’s last meeting, security and political conditions in Yemen have shifted significantly, offering hope for peace. The 2 April truce marks a positive step towards the ceasefire desired by the international community and long-awaited by the Yemeni people, while the lifting of fuel restrictions has allowed tankers to access Hudaydah port. Also welcoming the 25 per cent improvement in Yemen’s rial, international pledges of support and the reopening of Sana’a airport, she encouraged all stakeholders to “take advantage of this dynamic and to solidify an effective and lasting truce”, followed by a permanent ceasefire. She described the recent transfer of executive power to a new Presidential Leadership Council — evenly divided between northerners and southerners — as yet another milestone, while calling for vigilance by the global community regarding the persistent risk of famine posed by a shortage of wheat supplies. United Nations staff kidnapped months ago must also be unconditionally released, she said.
TRINE SKARBOEVIK HEIMERBACK (Norway) said the nationwide truce in Yemen comes at a critical time, following months of military escalation and multiple cross-border attacks. “The situation is fragile, but this truce is a crucial step in the right direction,” she said, stressing that its humanitarian elements are vital, given the dire situation on the ground. Also welcoming the recent entry of fuel ships into Hudaydah, she expressed hope that more positive steps will follow, such as the opening of the roads to Taiz and the resumption of commercial flights in and out of Sana’a. Emphasizing that the only solution is a political one, she said the resignation of President Hadi marks a shift in Yemen’s politics and she encouraged the new Presidential Leadership Council to engage in an inclusive process towards a lasting peace. She voiced regret that no women are among those newly appointed to that body, and called for efforts to bolster women’s direct, full, equal and meaningful participation.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) acknowledged that it has been a long time since there was good news from Yemen, “to the point that the name itself had become a synonymous with despair”. Welcoming the truce, he said now is the time to think seriously about peace and development. Reiterating the call on all parties to fully engage with the Special Envoy, he said the political participation of women remains of paramount importance, as called for in resolution 2624 (2022). “All these important developments for the benefit of the Yemeni people would not have been achieved without the bold commitment of the Gulf Cooperation Council for hosting the Yemeni-Yemeni consultations,” he said, urging further engagement by that regional forum. The new Presidential Leadership Council must bring a fresh focus on Yemen’s urgent humanitarian and economic needs, he said, welcoming the positive momentum created by the $3 billion economic support package announced by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), recognizing efforts by the Special Envoy to implement the truce and strongly urging all parties to stand by the agreements reached, cautioned that restoring peace in Yemen will be possible only through dialogue that considers the perspectives of all concerned. He noted the establishment of the Presidential Leadership Council as “an important development” for the Yemeni people, also recognizing political efforts by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council in that regard. He expressed hope that members of the Presidential Leadership Council will do their utmost to achieve peace. He welcomed the Special Representative’s willingness to work with the five permanent Security Council members on the Yemen file and urged all parties to return to the negotiating table under United Nations auspices to reach a lasting political settlement. Regarding conjecture that the current global food crisis was sparked by his country’s actions in Ukraine, he said that expressing these claims might be “a nice thing for our Western partners”, but those Governments must recognize their own blame in causing food and financial market movements.
ENRIQUE JAVIER OCHOA MARTÍNEZ (Mexico) said that for the first time in a long time, there is progress on the truce, the political process and the Safer oil tanker. He expressed hope that the truce will be extended, leading to a sustainable ceasefire, adding that the conflict will not be resolved through military means, but rather through dialogue and cooperation. He thus welcomed the Gulf Cooperation Council’s facilitation of Yemeni consultations and recognized the formation of the Presidential Leadership Council, which includes representatives from various factions. Mexico insists on the importance of women’s full, fair and substantive participation in this process, he affirmed. The conflict is a main reason behind the serious and growing humanitarian crisis, he said, noting that Yemen only has a third of the resources needed to meet people’s basic needs. He recognized contributions made by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help Yemen’s economy and welcomed the revaluation of the currency. However, increasing food and fuel prices are a serious concern. He also called for international solidarity in raising the funds needed to conclude the Safer oil tanker operation.
MICHAEL KAPKIAI KIBOINO (Kenya) commended the Gulf Cooperation Council for uniting various political stakeholders and acknowledged the decision by President Hadi to peacefully hand over authority by forming a new Presidential Leadership Council. He expressed cautious optimism, given that Yemen still faces several challenges, among them a gradual decrease in humanitarian funding in recent years amid worsening living conditions, pointing to around $2.7 billion shortfall in the humanitarian funding appeal. Welcoming the move by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to provide $2 billion to the Central Bank, as well as $1 billion for development projects and fuel, he acknowledged that addressing Yemen’s challenges will also require humanitarian agencies to recalibrate their approaches. He pointed out that an oil spill from the deteriorating Safer tanker would not only destroy the fragile ecosystem in the Horn of Africa but also the livelihoods of those who depend on the blue economy, and called on all stakeholders to urgently fund and launch the proposed operation.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) said the Government has chosen the path of peace in order to end the longstanding conflict. However, that path remains troubled by the actions of the terrorist Houthi rebels. Noting that the creation of the Presidential Council — with its broad and inclusive membership — confirms the Government’s commitment to working for the good of all Yemenis, he commended former President Hadi for his leadership and thanked the Gulf Cooperation Council for creating the right conditions for Yemen’s “historic turning point”. The Houthis, on the other hand, continue to reject calls to sit at the negotiating table, preferring to remain a “tool in the hands of Iran”. The Government now seeks to maintain the truce, despite flagrant violations seen in various governorates where the Houthis are targeting civilians.
Outlining progress made since the signing of the truce agreement, he said the Government has reopened the Sana’a airport, is working to stabilize the currency and is attempting to reopen the road to Taiz. For its part, the Security Council should play its role as a moral authority and bring more pressure to bear on the Houthis to commit to the terms of the truce. While the Government will do everything possible to provide peace and prosperity to the Yemeni people, these goals will remain elusive as long as the Houthis choose the opposite path, he stressed, calling for more international support to stabilize the economy. He also warned against allowing the Houthis to further manipulate issues around the Safer oil tanker, pointing out that the group has used the moored vessel as a way to blackmail the international community for several years.