Political Will, Inclusive Dialogue Key to Ending Conflict in Yemen, Special Envoy Tells Security Council

While fresh violence and a worsening humanitarian situation continues to unfold in Yemen, international efforts to work towards peace are finding fragile inroads, briefers told the Security Council during a videoconference meeting today.

Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen,  said the situation has taken a sharp escalatory turn with Ansar Allah’s most recent offensive on Marib Governorate. Reiterating repeated calls that the attack on Marib must stop, he said it puts millions of civilians at risk, especially with the fighting reaching camps for internally displaced persons. Indeed, the quest for territorial gain by force threatens the prospects of the peace process at a time of worsening conditions, looming famine, fuel shortages and other grave challenges. Although the situation on the ground is deteriorating, an encouraging report reflects a renewed international momentum behind finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Welcoming the United States renewed focus on this conflict, he said international support is indispensable, and offers a new opportunity to reopen space for a negotiated solution.

“There is a negotiated way out of this conflict, but, in any negotiation, the parties need to know where they are going; they need to clearly see the end‑state,” he said, highlighting elements of a mutually acceptable end to the war and a path towards peace. This includes peaceful political participation, accountable governance, equal citizenship and economic justice. The only way to realize these aspirations of the people is through a genuinely inclusive, Yemeni‑led political process under United Nations auspices and supported by the international community. Through such a political process, Yemenis could negotiate an agreement to end the conflict and bring about sustainable peace. Such a time-bound agreement should ensure a complete end to the use of violence for political gain and culminating with national elections. During the period of transition, Yemen’s unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must be respected. The Yemeni people will need guarantees for equal citizenship under the law, including for women and girls, and of humanitarian relief, reconstruction, transitional justice and economic recovery.

None of these elements of an agreement are new, he said, stressing that, to seize this chance to revitalize the political process, the parties should immediately agree to a ceasefire and agree to economic and humanitarian measures, at a minimum to include ensuring the unhindered flow of commodities through Hudaydah ports, with port revenues put towards civil servant salaries and opening Sana’a airport to commercial traffic. These measures should maximize humanitarian objectives, while providing appropriate security guarantees in line with Security Council resolutions. Now is decision time, he said, noting that the ceasefire, Hudaydah ports and Sana’a airport have long been under negotiation, and mechanisms can be agreed upon. What is needed is political will to end the conflict. An agreement on these issues would offer Yemenis a break from relentless cycles of violence, facilitate movement of people and goods and could create a conducive environment for the parties move to the real issue at hand — inclusive talks to end the war. The political process would need to resume promptly. A nationwide ceasefire will not be sustainable if it is not tied to progress on the political track.

Emphasizing what is at stake, he said the military situation is extremely tense, with civilians bearing the brunt of the hostilities in addition to shocking violations of international humanitarian law, worrying spikes of violence and hostilities continue in Hudaydah and Taïz Governorates and alarming cross-border attacks. However, the negotiating table can produce win-win results, he said, recalling that the parties successfully negotiated a large-scale release of prisoners and detainees in 2020. For the past three weeks, the parties have been meeting again in Amman in an effort to agree on more individuals to release, he added, urging them to bring this round to a successful conclusion and calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all sick, wounded, elderly and children detainees, as well as all arbitrarily detained civilians, including women and journalists. “As a mediator, I seek common grounds for agreements,” he said. “With the support of the international community, I persuade, facilitate and encourage dialogue, but there is nothing anybody can do to force the warring parties into peace unless they choose to put down the guns and talk to each other. The responsibility to end the war, first and foremost, lies with the parties to the conflict. I hope they will not miss this chance.”

Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, outlined a five-point action plan to avoid famine in Yemen, describing measures related to protection of civilians, humanitarian access, funding for the aid operation, support for the economy and progress towards peace. “Yemen is speeding towards the worst famine the world has seen in decades,” he  warned, noting that data released last week confirm, yet again, that time is running out. Malnutrition rates are at record highs. About 400,000 children under the age of five are severely malnourished across the country. “These are the children with distended bellies, emaciated limbs and blank stares — starving to death,” he said, adding that, across Yemen, more than 16 million people are going hungry, including 5 million who are just one step away from famine. Welcoming the 12 February decision of the United States to reverse its designation of Ansar Allah as a foreign terrorist organization under its domestic law, Mr. Lowcock underscored Washington, D.C.’s, intention to prioritize diplomacy to end the war in Yemen and deal with the humanitarian crisis.

He went on to stress the importance of protecting civilians, expressing concern about fighting in Marib, which had been relatively safe until recently. Since 2015, about 1 million people have fled to the area to get away from the war in other areas. Shelling now threatens to send hundreds of thousands of people again running for their lives at a time when everyone should be doing everything possible to stop famine. International humanitarian law requires all parties to take constant care to spare civilians and civilian objects throughout military operations. Delivering aid in Yemen is still much harder than it should be. In the country’s south, challenges mainly include delays in signing project agreements or releasing equipment. These challenges limit agencies’ efforts to expand their operations in the south. In the north, the problems remain more severe. Ansar Allah authorities regularly delay routine processes, attempt to interfere with aid delivery and harass aid agencies and staff. This is unacceptable, he said. In 2020, aid agencies helped more than 10 million people a month, working in every one of Yemen’s 333 districts. That is no small feat. On the  Safer tanker issue, Ansar Allah authorities recently announced plans to “review” their approval for the long-planned mission and advised the United Nations to pause some preparations. They have now dropped this review. It is now difficult to say when exactly the mission might go.

In 2020, the aid operation received $1.9 billion, or about half of what was needed, he said. That forced cuts of many programmes that millions of people need. The United Nations response plan in 2021 will need about $4 billion, which is on par with what was asked for in 2019. Donors met nearly 90 per cent of funding requirements that year. As a result, there was no famine. He went on to urge donors to show their commitment to the country’s people at a virtual high‑level pledging event for the Yemen crisis on 1 March. He said its economy has shrunk by more than 50 per cent after years of conflict. Because Yemen imports nearly everything, the exchange rate is a major factor in what people can buy. Calling on Yemen’s partners to work urgently with the Government to devise a workable programme for foreign-exchange injections, he said that steps are also needed to ensure essential commodities can reach the country through all ports. There is an important opportunity right now to help Yemen move towards lasting peace. Preventing famine will be critical to making that opportunity a success. But, the violence must stop, he said, calling on the parties to stop the dangerous escalation in Marib.

Inga Rhonda King (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), speaking in her capacity as chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2140 (2014), highlighted recent developments. Since February 2020, members have met twice by videoconference, hearing the Panel of Experts’ presentations of its midterm update and final report (document  S/2021/79). The Committee acted on two of the update’s recommendations and are discussing nine recommendations in the final report relating to the implementation of the targeted arms embargo, compliance with international humanitarian law and related issues, consideration of individuals who meet the sanctions designation criteria and reporting on sanctions implementation in general. The remaining seven recommendations are addressed to the Council. The Committee also approved one exemption request under paragraph 3 of resolution 2511 (2020), and no negative decision was taken on an exemption notification under paragraph 12(a) of resolution 2140 (2014). It received four implementation reports, from India, Mexico, Norway and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and continued to receive vessel inspection reports from the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism.

In the ensuing discussion, Council members shared grave concerns about the blanket of humanitarian suffering affecting much of Yemen’s population, imminent famine, starvation and chronic violence. Many called on the Security Council to shoulder its responsibility to act and for stakeholders to work towards a ceasefire. Several speakers commended the United States for revoking its designation of Ansar Allah as a terrorist organization. Several delegates called on Yemeni authorities to work towards ensuring safe aid deliveries and support, opening ports and airports and granting a United Nations team access to the  Safer oil tanker to avoid a possible environmental disaster. Many reiterated that a political solution is the only way to end the conflict and suffering.

The representative of Estonia called on the parties to end the war and engage with the Special Envoy to begin political talks. Welcoming international efforts supporting a political settlement of the conflict and the resumption of prisoner-exchange talks, he noted with deep concern that the Panel of Experts’ report reflects the parties’ continuing violation of humanitarian law. Such crimes must end, with perpetrators held accountable. He commended the United States reversal of its decision to designate Ansar Allah as a terrorist group and also called on the Houthi authorities to provide the United Nations team access to the  Safer oil tanker.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that ending conflict requires confidence-building measures in political, military and civil spheres. That will help to ease the dire humanitarian situation there. It is important to continue countering terrorists, who are using the protracted conflict to strengthen their positions in and outside Yemen. He went on to welcome the efforts of Mr. Griffiths to create a constructive atmosphere towards a political settlement. The Russian Federation focuses its efforts on the search for compromises. He also welcomed the decision of the United States to reverse its designation of Ansar Allah as a terrorist group. Aid to Yemen should be provided without discrimination to the entire population, he said, urging parties to abandon unilateral steps both inside and outside Yemen, which complicate the work of humanitarian workers. Stressing the importance of Yemen’s stability to the Gulf region, he drew attention to the Russian concept of collective security.

The representative of Viet Nam noted that the first two months of 2021 continue to witness fierce fighting in Yemen, especially in Hudaydah and Marib, expressing grave concern about military escalation. He echoed the view of Mr. Lowcock and Mr. Griffiths that the current situation has endangered the lives of millions of Yemeni civilians. It is extremely urgent for the concerned parties to heed the call for a ceasefire by the United Nations Secretary-General, immediately cease all military operations and resume negotiations for a joint declaration towards a nationwide ceasefire. He went on to call upon international donors to provide further funding for Yemen, welcoming new commitments and efforts towards ending the war in the country. In this regard, Viet Nam reaffirms its support for Yemen’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, he said.

The representative of Tunisia, expressing hope that the parties would build on the diplomatic momentum, said that current alarming conditions risk further complicating the resumption of peace talks. Continued violence would jeopardize the lives of more than 2 million people with a range of grave consequences. With so many of the country’s people relying on humanitarian assistance, he said Yemen needs a broad de-escalation of violence and to take steps towards stability. A political solution is the only way forward, he said, calling for an immediate ceasefire to set the stage for negotiations. Reiterating the need to protect civilians and related infrastructure, he regretted to note continued targeted attacks. To prevent famine and ease suffering, the problems must be resolved to ensure access for humanitarian workers and supply deliveries. He also called for measures to deploy the United Nations team to assess the  Safer oil tanker.

The representative of Kenya voiced concern about increasing reports of maritime insecurity along the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, especially reports of arms smuggling off the coast of Somalia, as well as persistent attacks on commercial vessels along the key shipping routes and rampant attacks targeting innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities and schools. Expressing support for the Special Envoy’s efforts towards a political settlement, he emphasized that the only sustainable solution must be a Yemeni-led and Yemeni-owned peace process. Turning to the continued delays that hinder the inspection and repair of the  Safer oil vessel, he urged all parties to expedite the necessary logistical arrangements for the facility to be attended urgently to avert the looming environmental catastrophe.

The representative of Ireland said the desperate humanitarian emergency in Yemen demands urgent action, but humanitarian solutions alone cannot bring an end this crisis, she said, calling on all parties to seize this opportunity for meaningful political progress. For a solution to the crisis to be sustainable, it must be inclusive, as well as Yemeni-led and Yemeni-owned. Yemeni-owned must also mean Yemeni-women-owned. The structural inequalities holding back Yemen’s women are also holding back the cause of peace. She urged all parties on the ground to engage in an immediate nationwide ceasefire. Yemen has the most unwanted distinction of being home to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. The Council must do its part as the international community cannot simply lose any more time in addressing the devastating consequences of the conflict for the 24 million people in need of assistance.

The representative of India declared that, with the new Cabinet in place, time is now ripe to get all Yemeni parties on board to commence a comprehensive peace process. Any peace process should be fully inclusive and led by the Yemenis with the United Nations being a facilitating partner, he added, stressing the important role of regional countries with influence on various Yemeni parties. While the larger goal of national reconciliation and sustainable peace is under consideration, the immediate dire economic, health and humanitarian situation must be effectively addressed, he said, stressing that any international assistance should be impartial. The cornerstone of his country’s centuries-old relations with Yemen is people‑to‑people ties, he said, explaining that thousands of Yemeni students continue to study in India and many Yemenis travel to India for medical treatment every year.

The representative of Mexico, encouraged by a glimpse of the end of the conflict, welcomed the Special Envoy’s efforts, the continuing constructive prisoner-release talks and the United States decision to reverse its designation of Ansar Allah as a terrorist organization. However, continued violence is worrisome, he said, calling for an end of attacks in Marib and that perpetrators are held accountable. On worsening humanitarian conditions and violations of the arms embargo, he called for swift action to resolve these and other challenges. Among other areas needing attention, he called on the Houthis to allow the United Nations team to access the  Safer tanker to avoid an environmental disaster.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, speaking in her national capacity, said that, while the threat of famine in Yemen is looming for some, it is already a reality for others. She expressed hope that the positive momentum that comes from the reversal of the Houthi designation by the United States will facilitate continued imports of essential commodities into Yemen and have a tangible impact on the ground. Noting that more than 2 million Yemeni children under the age of five are expected to endure acute malnutrition by the end of 2021, she requested donors, including countries in the Gulf region, to consider stepping up their contributions at the upcoming pledging conference. “The gains achieved by military means will only get us so far, but then comes the political dialogue, which is the only viable path to sustainable peace, security and prosperity,” she said.

The representative of Niger, welcoming the recent United States decision on Ansar Allah, said such efforts are among several encouraging steps to end the conflict. Parties must maintain mutual trust and end confrontation to ensure successful negotiations. However, tensions persist, including recent attacks. Inviting the international community and regional actors with influence on the parties to encourage a return to peace talks, he said the crisis is not sustainable for the population. As such, he called on donors to honour their commitments to contribute to humanitarian efforts, adding that the Security Council can no longer close its eyes to what is happening in Yemen.

The representative of France, condemning the Marib attacks, said collective efforts must advance talks to end the conflict. Condemning the Houthis’ environmental blackmail, he called on authorities to permit the United Nations assessment team to visit the  Safer tanker site. Calling on the parties to seek a political solution and work with the Special Envoy, he said that the current context demands a ceasefire and an end to the conflict and the suffering of the Yemeni people. Commending the United States decision on Ansar Allah, he said that designating it as a terrorist organization would have had catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

The representative of the United States said his delegation is preparing to reinvigorate its efforts to end the conflict, with the goal being a unified, stable Yemen free from foreign influence. Outlining priority areas, he said the Biden Administration appointed a special envoy to help chart a path to peace and announced that the United States is ending support to Saudi Arabia, including weapons sales, related to operations in Yemen. However, the Houthis have committed acts that place them at odds with the people of Yemen, he said, citing an attempted assassination of Yemeni politicians and recent attacks. The Biden Administration decided to reverse its designation of Ansar Allah as a terrorist group, effective 16 February. The decision reflects the priority the United States places on humanitarian access alongside fuel and food deliveries and is also a measure to revitalize diplomacy. The United States will continue to enforce sanctions on certain Ansar Allah members. Sharing concerns about the bleak humanitarian situation, he noted that the United States was the largest donor in 2020 and encouraged others to make contributions. Concerned about recent attacks, he called on the Houthis to cease all violence, including against Saudi Arabia. While all other parties seek peace, the Houthis’ military campaign continues, he said, urging them to halt these damaging actions and to constructively engage with the Special Envoy. Likewise, the Houthis must allow the United Nations assessment of the  Safer tanker to finally take place. Going forward, the United States anticipates working with the Council on sanctions and on addressing the Panel of Experts’ latest report.

The representative of Norway expressed concern that tens of thousands of Yemenis are at risk of starving to death if needed funds are not made available, welcoming the holding of a 1 March donor conference in Geneva and urging the return of Gulf countries with significant contributions. However, the only way to truly resolve the humanitarian crisis is to find a political solution. Welcoming the recent report from the Panel of Experts on Yemen, she said that continuous and widespread violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by all parties to the conflict is distressing. Norway participated in the delegation of European countries visiting Aden in February and welcomed the establishment of a new Government in Aden and its joint work to address the multiple challenges facing the country. Full implementation of the Riyadh Agreement is key, she stressed, urging all parties to renounce violence and focus on the United Nations‑led process.

The representative of China welcomed the formation of the new coalition Government, expressing hope that it gets ready to participate in the political process. He supported calls for an investigation into the attacks at the Aden airport and opposed any attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure. Welcoming the decision of the United States to reverse its designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group, he also acknowledged Mr. Griffiths’ visit to Iran. On the humanitarian situation, he stressed the need to address the multiple challenges, including famine, economic deterioration and COVID-19. China provides food assistance to Yemen. The  Safer oil tanker requires urgent attention, he said, urging the Houthis to cooperate with the United Nations.

The representative of the United Kingdom, Council President for February, spoke in her national capacity, saying that 2021 started off where 2020 left off. Noting positive developments, including increased United States engagement, she also expressed concern that the Houthis escalated attacks on Saudi Arabia and in Marib. The Council must make a collective effort to persuade the Houthis to cease violence. Turning to the upcoming pledging conference, she expressed hope that it will succeed. Humanitarian assistance must be unimpeded, she stressed, calling for external financial assistance to Yemen’s central bank. The delay in deploying a United Nations team to the  Safer tanker is unacceptable.

The representative of Yemen said that his country’s Government seeks to end the war waged by the Iran-backed Houthis, welcoming United States engagement, including the appointment of its envoy for Yemen. The Houthis have attacked densely populated Marib, with bombardments by ballistic missiles and drones continuing. They also target civilian facilities in Saudi Arabia. This is occurring as the United Nations works to end the war. The Security Council must assume its responsibility to end the escalation in Marib, which amounts to crimes against humanity, by increasing pressure on the Houthis. The Stockholm Agreement was a glimmer of hope towards comprehensive peace, but the Houthis used this accord to prolong the war. The United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement cannot carry out its mandate due to the obstruction of the Houthis, which reject demining and opening of the humanitarian corridor. The Mission had to move to an area not controlled by the Houthis.

His country’s Government is surprised at the silence of the United Nations about the Houthis, he said, urging the international community to take a decisive stance and hold them accountable. Condemning procrastination by the Houthis on all-for-all exchanges of prisoners, he also urged the group to stop terrorist attacks. The incident against the Yemeni Cabinet at the Aden airport must be investigated to bring the perpetrators to account. The Yemeni Government designated 2021 as the “Year of Economic Recovery”, he said, calling on the United Nations and partners to support implementation of the country’s 2021 programmes, while also asking donors to make generous contributions to support the 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan during the upcoming pledging conference. He also condemned procrastination by the Houthis in providing the United Nations team access to the  Safer oil tanker, urging the Council to exert further efforts



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