Hodeidah Ceasefire Holding but Faster Progress Key to Stopping Yemen from Sliding into Regional War, Deepening Humanitarian Crisis, Speakers Tell Security Council
8578th Meeting (AM)
While a ceasefire in the key Yemeni port city of Hodeidah is holding, faster progress is needed to fully implement the 2018 Stockholm Agreement between the Government and the Houthi militia, the Security Council heard today, as briefers warned of the risks of the country being dragged into a regional conflict and a deterioration of a humanitarian crisis that is already the worst in the world.
“We are facing a crucial moment for the destiny of the war and we need to think of the realities and opportunities which now define our chances of making a move on peace,” said Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen. Speaking via videoconference from Amman, he said a two-day meeting between Government and Houthi representatives aboard a United Nations ship on the Red Sea - led by the Head of the United Nations Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) - was a “notable success”. He conveyed widespread dismay, however, at death sentences imposed in Houthi-controlled Sana’a on 30 individuals listed to be part of a prisoner exchange. He also expressed alarm at Houthi attacks directed at Saudi Arabia, adding: “It’s not in the interest of Yemen to be dragged into a regional war.”
Addressing the humanitarian crisis, Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that since June, 120,000 more people have fled their homes, bringing total displacement in 2019 so far to more than 300,000 people on top of the millions forced to flee in previous years. Humanitarian agencies meanwhile reported 375 incidents in April and May when aid was blocked or delayed, mostly in Houthi-held areas. The militia, also known as Ansar Allah, has also delayed a United Nations assessment of a decaying oil tanker that threatens to spill 1.1 million barrels of oil into the Red Sea.
David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), updated the Council on its decision on 20 June to partially suspend aid deliveries to Sana’a due to the diversion of shipments. He said he was assured this morning that an agreement with Ansar Allah authorities is within reach. On the wider crisis, he said more than two thirds of Yemen’s population – 20 million people – now live in a state of food insecurity. The WFP hopes to scale up efforts to reach 12 million people by August. “But I must say, we are reaching the point where no amount of money in the world will truly alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people. We cannot give up. We owe them nothing less,” he said.
In the ensuing debate, delegates urged the parties to swiftly implement the Stockholm Agreement in full, thus paving the way for a political process to end a conflict dating back to 2015. They also called for the death sentences in Sana’a to be revoked, condemned Houthi attacks into Saudi Arabia and appealed to Member States to make good on pledges to fund the ongoing humanitarian response.
Several speakers also welcomed the Council’s unanimous decision on 15 July, through resolution 2481 (2019), to extend the mandate of UNMHA until 15 January 2020. (See Press Release SC/13881.)
The representative of the United Kingdom, the main sponsor of Council resolutions on Yemen, proposed that the 15-member body meet in private to discuss concrete answers to the current situation in Yemen, which risks a perfect storm. These answers do not necessarily lie within the Council, she said, stressing the need to seek them from the wider United Nations system.
The representative of Kuwait, lamenting that seven months have elapsed since the Stockholm Agreement, recalled three Council resolutions that reiterate the need for its full implementation. Welcoming the resumption of the meetings of the Redeployment Coordination Committee after five months of suspension, he stressed that there is no military solution to the conflict. He also recommended the biometric registration of beneficiaries to avoid manipulation of food assistance by the Houthi militia.
The representative of the United States called for Iran to stop supplying the Houthis with weapons and technology used in attacks on Saudi Arabia. On the dire humanitarian situation, he said the United States remains seriously concerned about the growing risk of famine. It is heartening that the WFP was able to salvage some of the wheat stored at the Red Sea Mills, he said, adding that there is no excuse for obstructing United Nations humanitarian assistance.
Focusing on the humanitarian situation, the representative of the Dominican Republic – who noted that 500,000 new cases of cholera have been reported this year – said humanitarian principles must be upheld. “We cannot allow hunger to be turned into a weapon of war,” he said, adding that civilian areas, including agricultural lands, must urgently be cleared of land mines and improvised explosive devices.
The speaker for China said that under the good offices of the United Nations, the parties should continue dialogue and consultations. The Special Envoy, UNMHA and the Redeployment Coordination Committee should strengthen dialogue and collaboration, and the Council should maintain unity and support the political process. Emphasizing the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Yemen, he said China supports enhanced dialogue among regional actors to create favourable conditions for advancing the political process.
Taking the floor at the end of the debate, Yemen’s representative emphasized the Government’s commitment to implement the Stockholm Agreement in full and its rejection of any attempt to manipulate its interpretation or to justify the practices of the Houthi militia. He said the Iranian regime is supporting the militia, showing a manifest will to perpetrate the war and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. This is a challenge to the international community, he said, calling on the Council to ensure that the Iranian regime answers for its actions. Stressing that the situation in Yemen is not just a humanitarian crisis, he added the international community must support peace efforts, end the 2015 coup d’état, restore State institutions and support the Government, which is working hard to provide services, relaunch the economy and restore normal life. He went on to say that the Houthi militia continue to divert and steal food assistance, including from the WFP, and that it is responsible for the WFP’s decision to partially suspend operations in areas under its control.
Also speaking today were representatives of France, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Russian Federation, Poland, Equatorial Guinea, Belgium, Indonesia, Germany and Peru.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, speaking via videoconference from Amman, said that since his previous briefing, he has met ministers and senior officials engaged on Yemen, finding among them a unanimous desire for quick progress towards a political solution, based on the Stockholm Agreement concluded on 13 December 2018 between the Government of Yemen and the Houthi militia. The way forward is clear and supported by international consensus: implement the Hodeidah ceasefire and then swiftly engage the parties on a settlement with outlines well known to all. Noting the “dire and worsening” humanitarian situation, he added that during his meetings, he found a strong desire to keep Yemen out of a regional conflict.
“We are facing a crucial moment for the destiny of the war and we need to think of the realities and opportunities which now define our chances of making a move on peace,” he said. As senior Coalition officials have confirmed, the redeployment of some Coalition forces in parts of Yemen is intended to place “peace first” at the centre of their efforts to restore peace and stability. Hodeidah, meanwhile, remains the gateway to the political process, he said, describing as a “notable success” a two-day meeting of the parties this week aboard a United Nations vessel in the Red Sea. That meeting, led by the Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee and Head of the United Nations Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), agreed to the operational details of all redeployments envisaged in the Stockholm Agreement. However, an agreement on local security forces remains a major hurdle, he said, emphasizing that he will redouble his efforts in that regard in the coming weeks and calling on the parties to muster the political will to conclude an agreement as soon as possible.
Everyone is dismayed by last week’s announcement in Sana’a of the imposition of the death sentences on 30 prisoners who were listed for release, he said, urging both due process and clemency in the spirit of humanity. He also expressed concern that Yemen’s political and security landscape is becoming increasingly fragmented, raising the risk of further tensions that will be hard to reconcile the longer the war goes on. Ongoing political and military provocations can hold back the peace process as well. While the Hodeidah ceasefire is broadly holding, military operations continue on several other frontlines and on Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia. Ongoing attacks by Ansar Allah on civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia are particularly alarming as well.
Emphasizing that Yemen is near the front lines of a potential tragedy arising from regional tensions, he said: “It’s not in the interest of Yemen to be dragged into a regional war.” Yemeni parties should desist from taking actions that take Yemen in that direction, he said, calling for reduced regional tensions, a de-escalation of violence and the saving of lives. Stating that “I can’t help thinking that Yemen is nearing the end of its war,” he quoted a senior official in the region as saying recently that the conflict can end this year. He took that as an instruction and he hopes to share with the Council his views on how to meet that goal.
MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, recalled that in June he reported to the Council that conditions for most people in Yemen are getting worse, not better. If the current trajectory continues, they will continue to deteriorate. The fighting rages on. Since June, 120,000 more people have fled their homes, bringing total displacement in 2019 so far to more than 300,000 people on top of the millions forced to flee in previous years. In April and May, humanitarian agencies reported 375 incidents where aid was blocked or delayed across the country, some across Government-controlled areas, but mostly in areas controlled by Ansar Allah. During this period, Ansar Allah-affiliated authorities detained more than 180 trucks carrying humanitarian cargo and held them for an average of 36 days before release.
That group also continued to delay a United Nations technical assessment of the decaying Safer oil tanker, which threatens to spill up to 1.1 million barrels of oil into the Red Sea, he said. The United Nations assessment team had planned to deploy to the tanker next week, but the necessary permits remain pending. In the Government-controlled areas, coalition forces continue to impose bureaucratic requirements on humanitarian agencies trying to travel up the west coast from the south. The Government is moving to introduce new regulations on commercial fuel imports. Fuel is essential to power generators at hospitals, pump water and run sanitation systems.
In February, donors pledged $2.6 billion, he said. Twenty-seven of the forty donors have paid more than 75 per cent of their pledges and 20 have paid in full. But those who made the largest pledges – Yemen’s neighbours in the Coalition - have so far paid only a modest proportion of what they promised. As a result, the humanitarian response plan is 34 per cent funded, compared with 60 per cent a year ago. In June, he told the Council that support to medical facilities was being suspended in some areas. Suspensions are now disrupting services of health facilities that serve 9 million people. Agencies are starting to suspend some regular vaccination campaigns targeting 13 million people, including 200,000 infants. Work on 30 new feeding centres in areas with the worst levels of hunger has been halted. Up to 60 existing centres could close in the coming weeks, putting at least 7,000 malnourished children at immediate risk of death. This year, nearly 500,000 cases of cholera have been reported, with more than 700 deaths, including 200 children. The death toll will surely grow, he warned.
DAVID BEASLEY, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), said that despite the suspension of assistance in Yemen in late June - affecting 850,000 people - there has been an increase in the number of men, women, boys and girls reached, from 10.6 million to 11.3 million, and efforts are being scaled up. In addition, WFP has held numerous meetings with the Ansar-Allah authorities, hearing concerns and explaining “our positions over and over and over”, looking for common ground and putting forward workable proposals.
Pointing to substantial progress, he said he was assured this morning that an agreement is within reach and expressed hope that outstanding issues can be resolved in the coming days, if not hours. Once an agreement is signed, WFP is ready to implement it, ensuring that the right people get the food and allowing for a cash programme to stimulate the economy. “But let me be clear,” he stated. “If we don’t reach an agreement, or an agreement is reached and progress is not made in implementation, we will find ourselves in the same position we are in today, if not worse. But let us hope and pray that everyone, on all sides, will do what is good for the people of Yemen.”
He went on to point out that the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe has left more than two thirds of the population – 20 million people - food insecure, with 10 million of them severely food insecure. As such, WFP hopes to scale up efforts to reach 12 million people by August. Initiatives have already tripled food assistance in the hardest hit districts, thanks to the generous support of key donors - United States, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. In addition, programmes have provided meals to 700,000 children in schools. “These meals give moms and dads a little extra comfort, knowing their children will get fed. This keeps kids in school, and it’s an investment in the future of Yemen,” he said.
While donors have been generous, he emphasized that $1.2 billion is needed over the next months, but this is only 43 per cent funded. “If our partners do not have the support they need, it does not matter how much food we deliver; lives will be lost,” he said. “But I must say, we are reaching the point where no amount of money in the world will truly alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people. We cannot give up. We owe them nothing less.”
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) proposed that the Security Council meet in a private setting to discuss concrete answers to the current situation in Yemen, which risks a perfect storm. These answers do not necessarily lie within the Council, she said, stressing the need to seek them from the wider United Nations system. She condemned attacks by the Houthi on airports and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, as they pose a threat to regional security and stability and undermine political process. She called on all parties to comply with Council resolution 2451 (2018) and facilitate unhindered humanitarian access and requested all donors to rapidly disburse their pledges. Both parties should be able to build on revenue-sharing from port operations. Stressing the importance of respecting human rights and expressing a serious concern about the death sentences imposed on 30 men by the Houthi, she called on the group to revoke these sentences.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) lamented that seven months have elapsed since the Stockholm agreement without progress. Noting that resolutions 2451 (2018), 2452 (2019) and 2481 (2019) all reiterated the need for full implementation of that agreement. No progress has been seen on the exchange of prisoners. Welcoming that the resumption of the meetings of the Redeployment Coordination Committee after five months of suspension, he stressed that there is no military solution. The WFP suspended its general food assistance in Sana’a, he said, calling for the conduct of biometric registration of beneficiaries to avoid manipulation of food assistance by the Houthi.
RODNEY M. HUNTER (United States) said progress on the political process, while vitally important, is facing obstacles within Yemen and from outside forces. He called on the Houthis to immediately cease attacks, including against Saudi airports, and for Iran to stop supplying that group with the weapons and technology used in the attacks. While progress at the recent Redeployment Coordination Committee meeting is encouraging, harder work lies ahead, he added, expressing hope that a recent meeting between the President of Yemen and the Special Envoy will lead to further collaboration. Expressing disappointment over the sentencing to death of 30 activists by Houthi authorities in Sana’a, he said tangible progress on the exchange of prisoners would indicate the seriousness of the parties to build confidence. On the dire humanitarian situation, he said the United States remains seriously concerned about the growing risk of famine. It is heartening that the WFP was able to salvage some of the wheat stored at the Red Sea Mills, despite obstacles placed by the Houthis, he said, adding that there is no excuse for obstructing United Nations humanitarian assistance.
NICOLAS DE RIVIERE (France) drew attention to the Council’s decision earlier this week to extend by six months the mandate of UNMHA, saying the Mission’s presence on the ground and its growing operationalization is “a good thing”. It is up to the parties to ensure its security and freedom of movement. He said the Special Envoy’s efforts are even more important given a deteriorating regional security context that could affect the willingness on the parties to implement the Stockholm Agreement and reach a political agreement. Condemning recent Houthi attacks as unacceptable, he said all parties must refrain from any escalation of tensions. The military redeployment announced by the United Arab Emirates could be an opportunity for de-escalation while helping the quest for a political solution. He went on to call on the parties to facilitate implementation of the Yemen humanitarian response plan, saying it is more essential than ever that civilians, especially women and children, and also humanitarian workers, be protected.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) focused on the humanitarian situation, including reports that 500,000 new cases of cholera have been reported. Relevant actors must coordinate a robust response to improve the living conditions of the most vulnerable, especially children. Emphasizing the need to respect humanitarian principles, he stated: “We cannot allow hunger to be turned into a weapon of war.” He added that civilian areas, including agricultural lands, must urgently be cleared of land mines and improvised explosive devices. He went on to echo the concerns of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) regarding the death penalty imposed on 30 people, mostly academics and students, by the de facto authorities in Sana’a. Those persons must be guaranteed due process and a fair trial, he said, adding that any political motivated charges should be dismissed.
XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa), welcoming progress made in implementing the Hodeidah Agreement in the face of the serious humanitarian and security situation, expressed support for renewing the UNMHA mandate. He called on all parties to de-escalate fighting and commit to a general ceasefire to enable dialogue and inclusive peaceful negotiations. The Stockholm Agreement’s success will require the sustained implementation of confidence-building measures by both parties. He also called on all parties to ensure that the necessary humanitarian assistance is able to safely reach intended destinations, without being used as a tool to further fuel the conflict. In this regard, South Africa remains concerned about the recent WFP suspension of food aid and called for the matter to be resolved so deliveries can resume. “Any hindrance to the delivery of this vital humanitarian aid only exacerbates the already severe crises,” he said.
GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire), recalling that the Council recently extended UNMHA’ mandate for six months, expressed regret that little progress has been made on the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement. It is essential to implement a ceasefire, as well as other elements of the accord, namely a prisoner exchange mechanism and memorandum of understanding on the city of Taiz regarding opening humanitarian corridors. A return to lasting peace and stability is possible, he said, welcoming mediation efforts by the Special Envoy and calling on regional actors to support these efforts. Yemen is now an exhausted country, he said, noting that 24 million people need emergency aid, 14 million are food insecure and 3.3 million are internally displaced. Deliberate obstacles to food delivery are unacceptable, he said, expressing hope that WFP food assistance will resume soon. He urged the Yemeni parties to refrain from thwarting humanitarian aid, honour their obligation to protect civilians and end recruitment of child soldiers.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) expressed his delegation’s support for mediation efforts by the Special Envoy in seeking to get all the parties to acknowledge that military solutions will not bear fruit. Welcoming the latest meetings of the Redeployment Coordination Committee as confidence-building measures, he said withdrawal of the Houthi forces from the key ports in Yemen will enable progress on other fronts. The humanitarian situation has reached a point of no return. Assistance should be provided indiscriminately, regardless of who controls the area. Parties must stop indiscriminate attacks on civilians and public infrastructure. He called on the Secretary-General to consider a new security architecture for the Persian Gulf region, as it can help resolve the conflict in Yemen. A Russian proposal on that matter remains on the table.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) welcomed the recent meeting of the Redeployment Coordination Committee about the situation in Hodeidah and encouraged parties to take meaningful steps to implement the Stockholm Agreement. The Hodeidah ceasefire was intended to be a confidence-building exercise designed to help to pave the way for the resumption of the political process, showing that direct dialogue is possible. But the Hodeidah Agreement itself will not solve the conflict or end the violence. It is time to step up efforts to find a comprehensive solution to the conflict, he said, urging parties to refrain from taking actions that threaten to undermine the United Nations-led political process. Condemning attacks on Saudi Arabia’s territory, he said parties must de-escalate tensions and show restraint. He also urged parties to allow and facilitate the flow of aid and goods upon which millions of Yemenis depend.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said leaders of the parties must ensure full compliance with the Stockholm Agreement and work with the Special Envoy in good faith. He called on the parties to immediately begin work on remaining aspects of that Agreement, such as prisoner exchanges. He expressed concern about the humanitarian crisis, including food insecurity, epidemics and WFP’s decision to partially suspend the provision of assistance in Sana’a, and called on the parties to work towards re-establishing deliveries. He noted the growing number of fatalities due to the rapidly spreading cholera outbreak and urged the parties to allow aid to reach displaced persons.
YAO SHAOJUN (China), noting that the ceasefire in Hodeidah is holding and redeployment is making headway, said the Stockholm Agreement should be implemented in earnest. Under the good offices of the United Nations, the parties should continue dialogue and consultations. The Special Envoy, UNMHA and the Redeployment Coordination Committee should strengthen dialogue and collaboration, and the Council should maintain unity and support the political process. Emphasizing the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Yemen, he said China supports enhanced dialogue among regional actors to create favourable conditions for advancing the political process. On the humanitarian situation, he said the international community should step up assistance and honour its pledges in a timely manner.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) called on all parties to comprehensively implement the Stockholm Agreement and encouraged the Special Envoy to continue preparations for the next phases of the political process. He expressed deep concern about the high number of children who have fallen victims to air attacks and fighting on the ground, and condemned drone and missile attacks on civilians targets in Saudi Arabia claimed by the Houthis. Such attacks are unacceptable, he said. Describing the humanitarian situation as catastrophic, he strongly condemned any diversion of assistance. He noted with concern the financial situation of the Yemen Humanitarian Fund, saying Belgium has made its contribution and calls on others to do so as well. He went on to express alarm at the Houthis’ death sentences of 30 people in Sana’a on the list of prisoners to be exchanged.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), welcoming the agreement reached at the joint Redeployment Coordination Committee meeting on new measures to reinforce the ceasefire, said his country continues to push for implementation of the Stockholm Agreement. He expressed deep concern about the unwillingness of Houthis to cooperate with the WFP and called on them to do so. “Humanitarian aid should not and cannot be politicized”, he said, stressing that full deployment of UNMHA is critical, not only to monitor implementation of the Hodeidah Agreement but to facilitate aid, and welcoming the overall reduction in violence since the establishment of that Mission.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), expressing a concern about military attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia, emphasized that there is no military solution. Voicing support for the efforts of the Special Envoy towards a political solution, he said that this is a question of political will. Echoing concerns expressed by some delegations about the death sentences, he urged the responsible Houthi authorities to revoke the sentences. It is unacceptable that humanitarian workers should run into problems on the ground. Some who asked for assistance are the ones making it difficult for aid to be delivered. All must adhere to international humanitarian law. The World Food Programme has made the right decision to suspend aid because aid was being diverted to the Houthi and was not reaching those in need. However, humanitarian relief cannot stop, he stressed, urging the briefers to do all they can to end “the worst humanitarian crisis of our time”.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity, stressing the need for an inclusive political solution. “We find ourselves at a critical moment,” he said, emphasizing the need for all parties to show true commitment and genuine political will to find solutions to outstanding issues, including the composition of local security forces in Hodeidah, the administration of commercial revenues and the effective implementation of the two phases to relocate forces. He also called on States with influence on the parties to the conflict to exercise their clout. Further delays cannot be tolerated as millions of people need humanitarian assistance. Ports, airports and land routes must remain open. Donors should honour their pledges to avoid disruptions to aid operations.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) emphasized the Government’s commitment to implement the Stockholm Agreement in full and its rejection of any attempt to manipulate its interpretation or to justify the practices of the Houthi militia. Stressing the importance of the phased redeployment of forces, he rejected any unilateral measures or pseudo-withdrawals by the Houthi militia. He also stressed the need to open crossing points and ensure freedom of movement in Hodeidah, saying that obstructionist practices meant that the recent meeting of the Redeployment Coordination Committee had to take place at sea. He added that the Government will work in accordance with established agreements to demine and fill in trenches in Hodeidah and two other cities.
Unfortunately, confidence-building measures are difficult to establish given the fact that the United Nations did not want to put pressure on the Houthis to open crossing points, he said. For several months, there has been no tangible progress on the Stockholm Agreement apart from what has been announced in terms of unilateral withdrawals, with the Houthi militia digging trenches, strengthening positions and opening new front lines, contributing to the humanitarian crisis. Rockets and drones have meanwhile been used against Yemeni people, as well as civilian infrastructure in the friendly neighbouring kingdom of Saudi Arabia. International maritime shipping has also been targeted. He said the Iranian regime is supporting the militia, showing a manifest will to perpetrate the war and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. Comparing the Houthi arsenal today with what was seen 10 years ago shows where the weapons come from. This is a challenge to the international community, as well as a violation of Council resolutions 2216 (2015) and 2140 (2014), he said, calling on the Council to take steps to ensure that the Iranian regime answers for what it has done.
Emphasizing that the situation in Yemen is not just a humanitarian crisis, he said the international community must support peace efforts, end the coup d’état, restore State institutions and support the Government, which is working hard to provide services, relaunch the economy and restore normal life. The Government is responsible for all Yemenis, without exception, he said, noting its efforts to stabilize the State currency. He went on to say that the Houthi militia continue to divert and steal food assistance, including from the WFP, while also hindering the delivery of humanitarian assistance. He held that group responsible for the WFP’s decision to partially suspend operations in areas under its control. In addition to blocking the entry of 88 vessels bearing fuel and humanitarian assistance, the Houthi militia have targeted WFP depots and set fire to 3.7 million tons of cereals while also diverting aid for sale on the black market.
For information media. Not an official record.