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Amid Increased Fighting, Threat of Famine in Yemen, Warring Parties Must Work towards Nationwide Ceasefire Declaration, Top Officials Tell Security Council

With fighting intensifying in Yemen and the threat of famine looming large as donor countries fail to deliver on their humanitarian pledges, the parties to the conflict — which flared in 2015 — must choose the path of peace and work with the United Nations to finalize a joint declaration on a nationwide ceasefire, briefers told the Security Council today.

Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, said the country seems to be moving away from the road to peace, with increased fighting, greater humanitarian needs and the COVID-19 pandemic still taking its toll.  At this point, the parties must choose in order to find a solution and finalize a joint declaration that reflects and balances the comments from prior rounds of talks, he said of the draft agreement his office has prepared.  “My appeal at this time is simple:  Choose peace.  End this conflict.  Work with us urgently on the joint declaration,” he said.

Nowhere is the importance of this choice more evident than in the northern city of Ma’rib, he said, describing heavy fighting along its front lines.  “If Ma’rib falls, this would undermine prospects of convening an inclusive political process,” he warned.  He expressed deep concern about the humanitarian impact of fuel shortages in Ansar Allah-controlled parts of northern Yemen and that group’s decision to close Sana’a airport to humanitarian flights.  He also stressed the need to remain focused on putting a United Nations technical mission aboard the dilapidated oil storage vessel FSO Safer, which threatens to spill 1.148 million barrels of light crude into the Red Sea.  (See Press Release SC/14254.)  Finally, ahead of a meeting in Switzerland this week on prisoner exchanges, he expressed hope for action, particularly given the threat of COVID-19 in places of detention.

Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, speaking via video teleconference, said that “the spectre of famine has returned” in Yemen, just as it did two years ago when swift international action saved thousands of lives.  This time, however, those in a position to help — and with a particular responsibility to do so — are mostly choosing not to.  Echoing the Special Envoy’s remarks, he said that a major confrontation in Ma’rib would be disastrous for the more than 1 million people who have sought refuge there since 2015.  While acknowledging fuel shortages in the north, he said that did not justify closing Sana’a airport.  He also said that, frustrating as endless delays have been, the United Nations is hopeful that the Houthi authorities will quickly a new proposal to begin repairs on the Safer.

Turning to financing humanitarian efforts, he said that increased funding in 2018 was the main reason that famine was prevented, but, this year, only 30 per cent of what is needed has been received.  Several donors — including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, which have a particular responsibility — have so far given nothing this year.  “It is particularly reprehensible to promise money, which gives people hope that help may be on the way, and then to dash those hopes by simply failing to fulfil the promise.”  With more than 9 million people affected by deepening cuts to aid programmes, holding back money will be a death sentence for many families, he said, calling on all donors to immediately make good on their pledges and increase their support.

In the ensuing debate, delegates echoed the briefers’ concerns and urged the parties to the conflict to sign onto a joint declaration for a ceasefire.  They also encouraged the Houthi authorities to expedite United Nations access to the Safer.  They reiterated their support for the Special Envoy’s efforts, but also expressed deep concern about reports of grave human rights violations on both sides, contained in the third report of the United Nations Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, released on 9 September.

Tunisia’s representative said that military options can only deepen the violence, loss of life and humanitarian tragedies in Yemen, undermining the ability to find a political solution.  He urged the parties to adhere to a ceasefire and put the interests of the Yemeni people first.  He added that the conflict has already deepened their suffering, which has been exacerbated further by the COVID-19 pandemic and underlined the importance of continued aid deliveries to avert a looming famine.

The United States’ representative said that Iran continues to send lethal aid to the Houthis, adding that her country will restore sanctions on Iran, aimed at curbing Tehran’s actions in Yemen.  The Council is utterly failing to maintain international peace and security by letting Iran continue its destructive actions, she added.  Noting that the United States is the largest single donor to Yemen, she urged donors to disburse their 2020 pledges and consider additional support.

The Russian Federation’s representative said that rectifying the humanitarian situation hinges on finding a political solution.  Existing agreements have not produced desired results, risking a scenario that sees terrorists exploiting an unstable situation.  He added that efforts to settle the conflict should be linked with steps to de-escalate Middle East tensions.  Indeed, there is one country that could play a positive role in de-escalation in Yemen, he said, inviting all interested parties to begin a dialogue to foster better relations in the region.

Indonesia’s representative, appealing for the reopening of Sana’a airport, encouraged parties to cooperate with the Special Envoy in his efforts to foster peace.  He condemned ongoing Houthi attacks, adding that avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe is critical.  The implementation of Council resolutions and other commitments is also essential, he said, adding that parties must abide by international humanitarian law.

Yemen’s representative, taking the floor at the end of the meeting, said that the Government has demonstrated a positive response to efforts aimed at achieving progress and the Special Envoy’s initiatives towards implementing a ceasefire and advancing peace.  However, the Houthis continue attacks on civilians, which indicates their rejection of peace efforts.  The Houthis also use children in their war, undermine freedom and exploit the suffering of Yemeni people for their own gain.  The Government is committed to expediting implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, including restoring State institutions and establishing peace.

“We want peace,” he said, calling on the international community to pressure the Houthis to end their attacks.  Recalling the Government’s proposal to give all vessels access to the port of Hudaydah, he said that provisions would require that revenues be placed in a new account until agreements are reached on expenditures.  Regarding the languishing problem of the Safer tanker, he said more pressure must be put on the Houthis to prevent a potential catastrophe.

Also speaking were representatives of United Kingdom, China, Estonia, South Africa, Germany, Belgium, France, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominican Republic, Viet Nam and Niger.

The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 12:04 p.m.

Briefings

MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, briefing via videoconference, said the country seems to be slipping back away from the road to peace, with increased fighting, greater humanitarian needs and the COVID-19 pandemic still taking its toll.  At this point, the parties must choose in order to find a solution, and finalize a joint declaration that reflects and balances the comments from prior rounds of talks, he said of the draft agreement his office has prepared, adding that:  “My appeal at this time is simple:  Choose peace.  End this conflict.  Work with us urgently on the joint declaration.”

Nowhere is the importance of this choice more evident than in Ma’rib, he said, describing heavy fighting along its front lines.  Raising concerns about a high level of loss of lives and threats to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons and people in need, he said Ma’rib is a safe haven for these people displaced from other parts of Yemen, and a battle there would tragically displace them yet again.  “The political importance of Ma’rib must also not be underestimated,” he said, emphasizing:  “If Ma’rib falls, this would undermine prospects of convening an inclusive political process.”  At the same time, daily ceasefire violations in Hudaydah continue, and the United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) are experiencing restrictions that hamper its operations.

Deeply concerned about the humanitarian consequences of fuel shortages in Ansar Allah-controlled parts of northern Yemen, he emphasized the importance of ensuring that civilians can regularly access adequate supplies of fuel and other essential goods.  The flow of essential commercial imports, including food, fuel and medical supplies, and their distribution throughout Yemen to civilians, must be ensured.  He said he remains deeply concerned that Ansar Allah recently announced the closure of Sana’a airport to humanitarian flights and underlined the need to remain focused on ensuring the earliest possible arrival of the United Nations technical mission to the Safer oil tanker.  Ahead of the parties’ meetings in Switzerland on prisoner exchanges, he expressed hope for action, particularly given the threat of COVID-19 in places of detention.

Emphasizing the vital role of Yemeni civil society in demanding an end to the conflict, he said it is central in maintaining the pressure for a peaceful resolution.  His office is engaging Yemeni civil society with respect to the negotiations on a joint declaration and is developing plans to ensure their meaningful inclusion in a future political process.  Although the situation is very dire, the parties to the conflict in Yemen do have choices before them; they can choose to continue down the current trajectory of escalating violence and humanitarian suffering, or they can choose to make the compromises necessary to revive the political process and allow for a political settlement.  The United Nations and Council members must and will do everything possible to push for and support the latter outcome.  However, the outcome ultimately lies in the hands of the parties to the conflict.  The international community and the people of Yemen will be closely watching to see what choices they make.

MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, spoke via video teleconference, saying that “the spectre of famine has returned” in Yemen, just as it did two years ago when swift international action saved thousands of lives.  This time, however, those in a position to help — and with a particular responsibility to do so — are mostly choosing not to.  Conflict has escalated in recent weeks, particularly in central Yemen, with more civilians killed across Yemen in August than in any other month this year.  He said that he was extremely worried about the situation in Ma’rib, where more than 1 million people have sought refuges since 2015.  “A major confrontation there would be disastrous for civilians,” he said, calling on the parties to work urgently with the Special Envoy to agree a nationwide ceasefire.

He expressed deep concern that the Ansar Allah authorities have closed Sana’a airport to United Nations and humanitarian flights, a decision they attributed to fuel shortages.  Such shortages are having severe humanitarian consequences, but they do not justify closing the airport, he said, emphasizing that a rapid solution is essential to maintain operations at the necessary scale.  Faster progress is also required on the wider operating environment for aid agencies, including the implementation of an agreed plan to pilot biometric registration of food aid beneficiaries.  On the FSO Safer oil tanker, he said that the United Nations team, which has submitted a revised proposal to assess the vessel’s condition and carry out initial repairs, has held several rounds of constructive technical discussions with the de facto authorities.  “Frustrating as the endless delays have been, we are not giving up and we hope the new proposal will be quickly approved so work can begin,” he said.

Turning to financing humanitarian efforts, he said that increased funding in 2018 was the main reason that famine was prevented, but this year only 30 per cent of what is needed has been received.  All aid agencies on the ground in Yemen agree that this is their biggest challenge.  Several donors ­ including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, which have a particular responsibility — have so far given nothing this year.  “It is particularly reprehensible to promise money, which gives people hope that help may be on the way, and then to dash those hopes by simply failing to fulfil the promise.”  With more than 9 million people affected by deepening cuts to aid programmes, holding back money will be a death sentence for many families, he said, calling on all donors to immediately make good on their pledges and increase their support.

He went on to discuss Yemen’s economy, which has shrunk by 45 per cent since 2015.  Remittances, which the Government estimates have been supporting half the population before the COVID-19 pandemic, have fallen by up to 70 per cent.  The rial’s value has meanwhile collapsed, trading at a record low of more than 800 to the United States dollar and pushing food prices even higher.  Fuel costs on the informal market are more than double the official rate, mainly due to acute shortages in the north.  Only about half the normal volume of commercial fuel has entered Hudaydah since June, while more than three months’ worth of fuel is stuck outside the port, awaiting Government permission to enter.  The resulting shortages mean that water, sanitation and health services are shutting down for lack of fuel, he said, adding that it is essential to resolve the dispute behind the Hudaydah fuel blockade to stop Yemen’s drift towards famine.

Statements

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) raised concerns about the dire humanitarian situation, saying that action is needed now, including public health mitigation to stem the spread of COVID-19.  Still, the pandemic’s indirect effects will have long-term consequences on its economy and food security.  Key actions to prevent famine include providing aid to the United Nations appeal, filling existing funding gaps.  The United Kingdom will provide an additional £25 million, he said, calling on all donors to play their part.  He urged parties to cooperate and agree with the Special Envoy’s proposals and reach an agreement.  Welcoming Security Council unity on Yemen, he said the United Kingdom will be co-hosting an event with the Secretary-General, demonstrating this united approach.  Urging the Council to send a strong message to the Houthis to cease hostilities in Ma’rib and embrace peace, he called on them to allow a United Nations team access to address the issue of the Safer tanker.

TAREK LADEB (Tunisia), recalling current grave challenges, called for the full implementation of resolution 2216 (2015).  Military options can only deepen the violence, loss of life and humanitarian tragedies, undermining the ability to find a political solution.  Calling on parties to adhere to the ceasefire, he urged them to put the interest of the Yemeni people first.  The conflict has already deepened their suffering, which has only been exacerbated by COVID-19.  Citing a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) about a looming famine, he underlined the importance of continued aid deliveries.  Reiterating a call to facilitate the arrival of a United Nations team to examine the Safer tanker, he cautioned that inaction would lead to an environmental disaster.

GENG SHUAN (China) underlined the importance of fully implementing existing efforts, including the Stockholm Agreement.  To achieve a breakthrough in the political process, parties must make every effort, he said, urging them to adhere to the ceasefire.  In addition, the United Nations should have in-depth consultations with stakeholders, with the parties working towards building mutual trust, including through prisoner exchanges.  International organizations should play a constructive role to promote negotiation and peace.  Turning to the humanitarian crisis, he said the international community must help Yemen, including with donor nations honouring their financial commitments.  For its part, China is providing assistance to the Yemen Government for its COVID-19 response.  His delegation also supports United Nations efforts to address the problem of the Safer tanker.

KELLY CRAFT (United States) urged parties to work with the Special Envoy to broker peace.  However, Iran continues to send lethal aid to the Houthis, she said, recalling that the United States will restore sanctions on Iran, aimed at curbing Tehran’s actions in Yemen.  The Council is utterly failing to maintain international peace and security by letting Iran continue its destructive actions.  Encouraged by the resumption of talks among parties on forming a cabinet, she said such a step would advance the Special Envoy’s work on the political process.  The Trump Administration has contributed more than $1 billion over the past two years, making the United States the largest single donor to Yemen, she said, urging donors to disburse 2020 pledges and consider additional support.  Calling on the Houthis to allow humanitarian work to continue, she remained alarmed at their actions, including orchestrated fuel shortages and airport closures that choke aid deliveries.  Calling for the immediate release of Levi Salem Musa Marhabi, who has been detained for four years, she said he is a member of Yemen’s small Jewish community.  She also called for action to deal with the Safer tanker problem.

GERT AUVAART (Estonia) said that the people of Yemen have been suffering for far too long and that “it is unacceptable to seek territorial gains and engage in economic warfare in their expense”.  Maximum international efforts must be made for the parties to cease fighting and engage constructively with the Special Envoy, he said, calling on the parties to agree to the joint declaration without further delay.  Expressing concern about ongoing tensions in the south, he urged the Government and the Southern Transitional Council to continue implementing the provisions of the Riyadh Agreement, including the formation of a joint government.  Turning to the humanitarian situation, he called for intensified efforts to find a long-term solution to ensure the import of fuel and commercial items through Hudaydah port.  He also reiterated his delegation’s call to the Houthi authorities to take immediate and concrete steps without preconditions to allow the United Nations mission to access the Safer tanker to prevent a large-scale catastrophe.

JERRY MATTHEWS MATIJA (South Africa) said that the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen, intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic, is inextricably linked to the political impasse.  He urged the parties to work with the Special Envoy to ensure a renewed flow of oil through Hudaydah port.  Noting that United Nations agencies are being forced to reduce or close humanitarian programmes due to lack of funding, he called on donors to adhere to their pledges to prevent Yemen from slipping into famine.  He also called for a unified set of measures to curb COVID‑19, improve humanitarian access and alleviate suffering.  On the political impasse, he urged all parties to the conflict to immediately cease hostilities in line with resolution 2352 (2020) and to agree on confidence-building measures, such as the payment of civil service salaries, the reopening of Sana’a airport and the lifting of import restrictions.  Furthermore, he to called on all parties to engage in good faith with the Special Envoy, and for the Houthi authorities to make good on their agreement to allow the United Nations access to the Safer.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) said that the Council had never heard a more sombre briefing on Yemen, adding:  “We cannot get used to these kinds of briefings.”  He supported the Special Envoy’s call for re-engagement with the political process, adding that the joint declaration must be inclusive and feature the voices of women and marginalized people.  He described as appalling the violation of international humanitarian law and human rights by all parties and appealed to Iran “to do something positive for once” and put pressure on the Houthi authorities to improve humanitarian access and to permit United Nations experts to board the Safer.  He agreed with the Under-Secretary-General that there is a serious risk of famine.  Germany has provided 90 per cent of the $450 million that it pledged for 2020, to which it will add another $150 million.  It is appalling that members of the Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen have not honoured their pledges, he said, adding that it is cynical to promise funds and then dash hopes.

KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium) said that the only way to overcome the manifold crises in Yemen is to end the war and to resolve deep-rooted differences between parties.  She urged all parties to remain engaged with the United Nations peace efforts and to implement the Riyadh and Stockholm agreements.  Condemning human rights violations, she called on all parties to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law, particularly with regard to the protection of civilians, and under international human rights law.  Ensuring justice for perpetrators of all violations in Yemen remains essential.  Turning to the Safer oil tanker, she said that a new leak in its engine room, the second since May, might have been contained, but going forward “we may not be lucky again” and encouraged Houthi leaders to do their part to avoid an imminent disaster.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said collective action is needed, particularly in Yemen’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, calling on donors to increase impartial, unconditional support.  However, rectifying the humanitarian situation hinges on finding a political solution to the crisis.  Existing agreements have not produced desired results, risking a scenario that sees terrorists exploiting an unstable situation.  A general national dialogue, which includes all stakeholders, should be launched to discuss the future of Yemen.  Turning to the Safer tanker problem, he said attention is needed to resolve the issue.  More broadly, the situation in Yemen affects the region, and all efforts to settle the conflict should be linked with steps to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East.  The Russian Federation has proposed a strategy for peace in the Persian Gulf that is inclusive and does not place the blame on one country.  Indeed, there is one country that could play a positive role in de-escalation in Yemen, he said, inviting all interested parties to begin a dialogue to foster improved relations in the region.

NICOLAS DE RIVIERE (France) said a political solution must be found, urging Yemeni parties to end hostilities.  Attacks in Ma’rib and in Saudi Arabia must end, and parties must urgently engage in dialogue with the Special Envoy and agree to the joint declaration with a view to reaching an inclusive political agreement.  At the same time, the Stockholm Agreement must be fully implemented, including the disbursement of salaries.  Turning to the humanitarian crisis, he said food insecurity is growing, due in part to the locust infestation and the COVID-19 pandemic.  Aid must be commensurate with need, and access must be granted for aid deliveries, he said, calling on the Houthis to reopen Sana’a airport.  Supporting an investigation of the Safer tanker, he said France also supports efforts to promote peace in the region.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said only a political process can solve the crisis, but elements along this path have been used as bargaining chips along the way.  Appealing for the reopening of Sana’a airport to ensure aid delivery, he encouraged parties to cooperate with the Special Envoy in his efforts to foster peace.  Condemning the Houthis’ continued attacks, he called for the implementation of a ceasefire.  Avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe is critical, he said, adding that action is vital to ensure assistance is provided to those in need.  In addition, attention must be focused on the Safer tanker.  The implementation of Council resolutions and other commitments is also essential, he said, adding that parties must abide by international humanitarian law.

INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), highlighting that the international community must work rapidly to help Yemen, urged all donors who have pledged funds to make the necessary disbursements.  While humanitarian aid is not a solution, it is indeed an avenue to provide relief to the people of Yemen until a sustainable solution can be achieved.  The security situation remains extremely tense and volatile, she said, reiterating the need for an inclusive, Yemeni-led and Yemeni-owned political process.  “This cannot be overstated,” she continued, adding that the only solution is a political one that is inclusive of all people and groups, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religious belief, or other demographic variables.  Of equal importance to sustainable peace is accountability for all infractions of international law, she said, encouraging the international community and all relevant actors to support Yemen’s justice system through capacity-building to allow for the effective prosecution of these crimes to promote justice and reconciliation.  Calling on all parties to take concrete steps to address the issue of the Safer oil tanker, she appealed to them to prioritize the environment and the people of Yemen and the wider region, emphasizing that inaction at this point would be reckless.

JOAN MARGARITA CEDANO (Dominican Republic) said that, in addition to growing hostilities, enforced disappearances and torture remain commonplace in Yemen, while the repression of journalists and human rights defenders is on the rise.  Further clouding that grim picture is the lack of accountability for perpetrators and the absence of the rule of law, which contributes to the cycle of violence.  Putting the impact of the humanitarian funding gap into perspective, she said it would be as if the entire population of New York City was affected.  After five years of conflict, neither side can claim victory, she said, urging all parties to accept the Special Envoy’s joint declaration without delay.  There are only three months to go before 2021 and the Yemeni people can wait no longer, she added.

DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam) expressed deep concern that, according to a report from the Human Rights Council, teenagers in Yemen have been recruited and exploited for violent purposes.  Everyone behind such immoral and unacceptable acts must be brought to justice.  He urged all concerned parties in Yemen to stop fighting and resume talks so that negotiations on a nationwide ceasefire can restart.  He emphasized the need to provide safe and unhindered humanitarian access, called on the Houthis to reopen Sana’a airport and appealed for greater efforts to resolve the humanitarian funding gap.  It was heart-warming to learn that two six-year-old boys in London set up a lemonade stand to raise money for people in Yemen, prompting an impressive donation from the actress Angelina Jolie.  He went on to urge the Houthis to facilitate United Nations access to the Safer tanker and for all parties to fully implement the Stockholm and Riyadh agreements while also ensuring the meaningful participation of women in the political process.

ABDOU ABARRY (Niger), Council President for September, spoke in his national capacity, saying that the conflict in Yemen seems to have become a quagmire despite the United Nations efforts and the Special Envoy’s numerous initiatives, including a joint ceasefire declaration.  Progress will not be possible without a ceasefire, he said, adding that the parties must make compromises, show compassion, end hostilities and engage in dialogue.  Describing the interest shown by the Government and the Houthi authorities in the Special Envoy’s latest proposal as a glimmer of hope, he invited regional actors and those Council members who can exert pressure on the parties to encourage them to honour the Riyadh and Stockholm agreements, agree to a ceasefire and allow the Yemeni people to turn a page and focus on future development.  He went on to urge the Houthi authorities to issue the necessary permits to allow United Nations experts to access the Safer tanker, emphasizing that, after the Beirut explosion and the Mauritius oil spill, an environmental disaster on the Red Sea must be avoided.

ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) said the Government has demonstrated a positive response to efforts aimed at achieving progress and the Special Envoy’s initiatives towards implementing a ceasefire and advancing peace.  However, the Houthis continue attacks on civilians, which indicates their rejection of peace efforts.  The Houthis also use children in their war, undermine freedom and exploit the suffering of Yemeni people for their own gain.  The Government is committed to expediting implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, including restoring State institutions and establishing peace.  Efforts include political reform to save the economy from collapse, he said, adding that a new Government will be formed to face current challenges.  “We want peace,” he said, calling on the international community to pressure the Houthis to end their attacks.  Recalling the Government’s proposal to give all vessels access to Hudaydah ports, he said provisions would require that revenues be placed in a new account until agreements are reached on expenditures.  Regarding the languishing problem of the Safer tanker, he said more pressure must be put on the Houthis to avoid a potential catastrophe.

 

Source: United Nations

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