Yemen

Welcoming Mass Prisoner Swap in Yemen as ‘Airlift of Hope’, Speakers Urge Government, Houthi Rebels to Negotiate Durable Peace, during Security Council Briefing

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SC/14328

Security Council
8770th Meeting (AM)

Welcoming today’s large‑scale prisoner release in Yemen as “an airlift of hope” for ending the suffering caused by the long conflict in the country, speakers in the Security Council today called on the Government and Houthi rebels to build on that hope to stop the fighting and negotiate a lasting solution to the conflict.

“An end to the shooting war and opening the gates of peace” was the ultimate goal called for by Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy for Yemen, in the monthly briefing on the situation. Also briefing today was Mark Lowcock, Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Humanitarian Coordinator.

Mr. Griffiths, emphasizing the rarity of good news from Yemen, reported that over 1,000 prisoners were being released as agreed upon during September talks in Switzerland. He said that today’s events showed that dialogue between the parties can indeed pave the road to peace, urging them to agree on the Joint Declaration he was currently facilitating through shuttle diplomacy. He warned that peace becomes harder to achieve the longer a conflict lasts.

Pointing to a “tense but calm” situation in Ma’rib, where fighting had decreased recently and to high casualties from fighting in the south of Hudaydah, he called on the parties to immediately end clashes and shore up the Hudaydah Agreement, to allow access to a damaged tanker that threatened dangerous leaks and to facilitate humanitarian aid. Regretting that Yemenis risk their lives merely to continue their children’s education, he pled for stepped‑up action to resolve the situation peacefully.

In his briefing, Mr. Lowcock said, “Yemen needs a nationwide ceasefire – one that covers Ma’rib, Hudaydah and everywhere else”, noting that there are 47 active frontlines of fighting across Yemen – the most ever recorded. Nearly 150,000 people had fled the fighting this year and, despite Yemen’s hunger crisis, farms are attacked with alarming regularity, he reported.

All parties must take constant care to spare civilians and civilian objects throughout military operations and violators must be held to account, he said, welcoming the recent mandate renewal of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen to document violations and promote greater accountability. He reiterated calls to open all transportation infrastructure for aid, to end harassment of humanitarian workers and to ease bureaucratic obstacles to assistance.

Threats of a worsened hunger crisis have been exacerbated by high fuel prices and a plummeting exchange rate for Yemen’s currency, he said, calling for assistance in easing both those factors. In addition, he noted that only 42 per cent of the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is funded. “The window to prevent famine is closing,” he warned, calling upon donors to honour unfulfilled pledges.

Following those briefings, Council members expressed strong support to the Special Envoy and the Humanitarian Coordinator. Welcoming the prisoner release agreement, speakers affirmed that it represents a positive dynamic of which the parties must take advantage in order to end the devastating conflict, starting with an agreement on the Joint Declaration and implementation of the Hudaydah Agreement, as well as ceasefires in all conflict zones.

Most speakers called for significant participation of women in the peace process and access to the disabled tanker. Underlining the dire humanitarian situation, they also called for unimpeded humanitarian access, support to alleviate high oil and food prices and greater contributions from humanitarian donors.

The representative of the United Kingdom called on Iran to cease military support to the Houthis and to instead help facilitate peace. Echoing that call, his counterpart from the United States said that such support is well documented and includes supplies of arms, defying Security Council sanctions, and must stop.

The speaker for the Russian Federation, Council President for October, speaking in her national capacity, said the situation in Yemen has a direct bearing on the wider Middle East region, reiterating Moscow’s call for the establishment of a collective security architecture for the Persian Gulf.

South Africa’s delegate called on all parties to the conflict to agree to a unified set of measures to counter the spread of COVID‑19, and to agree on confidence‑building steps such as the payment of civil servants, reopening of Sana’a airport and lifting of commercial import restrictions.

The speaker for Yemen said more international efforts are needed to end the Houthis’ Iranian‑led coup. His Government, he emphasized, continues to push forward efforts to end the devastating war, in line with the outcome of its national dialogue and relevant international agreements such as those of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Security Council resolution 2216 (2015). The Government has made a series of important compromises to that end, he added, but the Houthis “always come up with new conditions and preconditions” to the Government’s extended hand.

Reporting that Houthi fighters recently shelled an industrial complex in Hudaydah, with clear humanitarian repercussions, he called for the relocation of the United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) to an area outside Houthi control. Responding to the statements that called on his Government as well as the Houthis to lift any impediments to humanitarian aid, he stressed his Government spares no effort to support its people without discrimination, even in areas controlled by Houthi militias.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Indonesia, China, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, France, Dominican Republic, Viet Nam, Germany, Niger, Tunisia, Estonia and Belgium.

The meeting began at 10:26 a.m. and ended at 12:27 p.m.

Briefings

MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for Yemen, said there was unusually good news from Yemen today, as over 1,000 prisoners were being released as agreed upon during the September talks in Switzerland. He called it the largest such operation of its kind in the history of the conflict in Yemen. He thanked the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Swiss Government, his deputy and the parties for facilitating that agreement. Noting that the agreement did not include many thousands more detained in the conflict, he called for negotiations to continue to release all detainees, including journalists and other civilians, welcoming ongoing efforts of civil society in that regard.

Today’s events demonstrate that peaceful dialogue between the parties can pave the road to peace, he said. Negotiations for a Joint Declaration continue, which would include pledges for a ceasefire, humanitarian measures and elements of an agreement to end the conflict. These negotiations have continued through shuttle diplomacy with himself as the mediator. Such talks can go a long way, but could not replace face‑to‑face dialogue. Stressing the need for the parties to act with urgency to “end the shooting war and open the gates to peace”, he commented that that goal becomes more difficult to reach as time passes. Actors multiply, governance deteriorates, the war economy ruins the national economy, outside interference grows and the suffering of the people gets worse.

On conflict areas, he said that the fighting in Ma’rib has lessened in past days, but the situation remains volatile. He called on the parties to end their hostilities there. In Hudaydah, the military situation has deteriorated, with intense fighting in the south of that area, resulting in many civilian casualties. His mission has engaged with both sides to try and stop that fighting and the current situation is “tense but calm”. The validity of the Hudaydah Agreement must be shored up, he stressed. A solution is needed to end the impasse between the various forces there, involving all stakeholders and contributing to reconciliation, to opening schools, and reopening trade to alleviate suffering.

He said that meanwhile fuel prices are increasing and vital services are being affected. Some ships have been permitted to enter, but an agreement is needed that allows the unimpeded flow of fuel and humanitarian assistance. He called on the parties to engage on the current proposals for that purpose, also reiterating the need to allow United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to assess the threat of the leaking tanker. He also called on all parties to take special measures to protect and empower Yemeni women in their valuable efforts toward a just and equitable peace.

MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, stressed the need for a nationwide ceasefire to protect civilians and civilian objects and improve access to humanitarian aid, adding that there are 47 active front lines of fighting across Yemen – the most ever recorded. In recent weeks, the heaviest clashes have occurred in Hudaydah, Ma’rib and Al Jawf. In September, civilian casualties reached the highest levels recorded this year. In recent days, hostilities have subsided somewhat, but it is not enough. Some 1 million displaced people are sheltering in and around Ma’rib city. “A major confrontation there could be disastrous,” he said. Escalating violence in Hudaydah – whose port remains a major lifeline for northern Yemen - is also very worrying and any escalations in fighting there would put more people at risk.

Noting that nearly 150,000 people have fled this year, most of them in Ma’rib, he said, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 80 per cent of people displaced in the last two months have moved into already overcrowded shelters. And despite Yemen’s hunger crisis, farms are attacked with alarming regularity. The Norwegian Refugee Council estimates that air strikes and shelling have hit farms more than 900 times since 2018 – about once every day. “So I repeat: Yemen needs a nationwide ceasefire – one that covers Ma’rib, Hudaydah and everywhere else,” he said. All parties must take constant care to spare civilians and civilian objects throughout military operations and violators must be held to account, he said, welcoming the recent mandate renewal of the Group of Eminent Experts to document violations and promote greater accountability.

Noting continued challenges to front‑line humanitarian workers in the south, due to insecurity, including harassment by armed groups, he said, discussions with the Government of Yemen to streamline bureaucratic processes to approve aid projects continue. He welcomed concrete steps to reopen Sana’a airport to humanitarian flights, which would facilitate access for personnel and cargo in the north. He also called for streamlining red tape in the country’s south and lifting restrictions imposed by the Ansar Allah authorities. Turning to the FSO Safer oil tanker, the United Nations is waiting for formal approval to carry out an assessment and initial repairs.

Turning to funding, he said that 42 per cent of the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is funded, up from 30 per cent since he last briefed the Council, but this ratio was at 65 per cent a year ago. Some key programmes are at risk of shutting down due to the funding shortfall. Last week, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was forced to close a livestock vaccination programme that was serving 3 million rural families. Aid agencies are now reaching only about 9 million people per month in Yemen – down from more than 13 million at the start of the year. “What is to be the fate of the 4 million we no longer have the money to help?” he asked, stressing, “the window to prevent famine is closing”, and calling upon donors to honour unfulfilled pledges.

Commercial food imports are stable, but the cost of food and basic goods is out of reach for millions of families, he said. Fuel prices have also increased, worsening the humanitarian situation. Some 20 commercial fuel ships carrying three months of imports are waiting to enter ports, he said, urging the Government to lift the blockade. Pointing to the plummeting exchange rate for the country’s currency, which hit an all-time low in September, he stressed the need to buttress the economy to prevent famine, warning: “Given current conditions in Yemen, I am not convinced that humanitarian agencies – even were they to have more funding – can prevent famine if there is no accompanying support for the economy”.

Statements

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), welcoming the implementation of the prisoner exchange agreement, said it demonstrates that dialogue can produce positive outcomes. That dynamic needs now to move to producing a Joint Declaration and agreements to end hostilities. He echoed the call for women to be empowered to participate fully in that process. He also called for urgent engagement on the part of all stakeholders with the United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) and the Special Envoy, reiterating full confidence in the United Nations process in Yemen. Pointing to military training of Houthis by Iran as a concern, he called on Iran to cease such activities and to help facilitate an end to the conflict. Noting contributions to humanitarian funding include those of his country, he warned, however, that funding levels remain alarmingly low. All barriers to humanitarian access must be removed, particularly on the part of the Houthis. It is particularly crucial that airports to stay open, fuel be imported and currency be supported to alleviate the deteriorating food security situation. The Government needs to develop a clear and transparent plan for economic reform. Finally, he called for facilitation of a mission to repair the damaged oil tanker.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) congratulated the World Food Programme (WFP) for winning the Nobel Peace Prize and commended ICRC for facilitating agreement on the release of detainees. The overall situation in Yemen is bleak, he said, stressing the need to replenish humanitarian funding. He said he was disappointed that the parties have not reached agreement on the Joint Declaration. Warning against military escalation, he said such a situation will undermine the Stockholm agreement. Parties must comply with international humanitarian law. Only an inclusive political solution will resolve the crisis in Yemen. The joint declaration can provide building blocks. He called for unhindered, safe access for humanitarian workers, warning that 13 million people would go hungry.

ZHANG JUN (China) noted efforts over the past two years to find a political solution, deploring that the Stockholm and Riyad agreements have not sufficiently been implemented. He also stressed the need for a nationwide ceasefire, echoing the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire. It is imperative to honour the political commitments, to avoid the vicious cycle of going back and forth between the battlefields and negotiation tables. Turning to a proposal to create a platform to foster cooperative regional security arrangements, he said that this idea should be turned into reality. China encourages concerned countries to exert positive influences to solve the Yemeni conflict, respecting that country’s sovereignty. He also expressed Beijing’s support for the World Health Organization (WHO) in fighting the COVID‑19 pandemic.

INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) pledged her country’s continued solidarity with the people of Yemen and said that the only solution there is a Yemeni‑led political process. “Enough is enough,” she said, pointing out that the children of Yemen will suffer psychologically long after a conflict that has deprived them of food, education and a peaceful childhood. She implored the international community and the actors to play their part in ending the suffering, and to humanitarian donors to release more funds. Welcoming the work of all those bringing relief to Yemen as well as those who have facilitated the prisoner release, she stressed that more progress must be made in ending the fighting and the suffering in the country.

NICOLAS DE RIVIERE (France) called on the parties to quickly reach agreement on the Joint Declaration proposed by the Special Envoy, to whom he reiterated full support. Welcoming the release of prisoners today, he condemned recent Houthi attacks and the fighting in Hudaydah, emphasizing that pursuit of a military solution is “a dead end”. The Hudaydah Agreement must be enacted and a transitional government established. In addition, with food security worsening and threats of diseases, the parties must guarantee humanitarian access to all those in need. Infrastructure for that purpose must be protected, and access to the damaged tanker is crucial. He pledged his country’s continued efforts to support United Nations strategy to end the suffering in Yemen.

JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) described the recent prisoner swap agreement as “kindling hope” but expressed concern that military escalation around the port of Hudaydah poses a threat to the Stockholm Agreement. Given that about 70 per cent of imports transit through this port, it is vital to calm the situation. Noting that the number of civilian victims in September was the highest since last November, he also warned that children are being recruited as soldiers, a grave concern to his delegation. Turning to the imminent collapse of the economy, he called for the injection of foreign currency. Food insecurity, which is increasing every day, is a completely avoidable tragedy, he said, urging donors to fulfil to their commitments. He called for equal access to vaccines to fight the pandemic.

KELLY CRAFT (United States) commended the recent prisoner exchange agreement but said her delegation expects more positive updates in the coming days. Only a political solution will bring stability, peace, and prosperity to Yemen. Yet, sadly, the Houthis have been content throughout this conflict to lose tens of thousands of fighters on the battlefield. Iran’s continued exports of weapons to the Houthis in contravention of the arms embargo have been extensively documented, and that country’s role in this conflict, which defies Security Council sanctions, is serving no other purpose than to worsen this humanitarian tragedy and prolong the suffering of millions. She also condemned the Houthis’ inaction to facilitate unconditional and safe access for United Nations experts to conduct a mission to assess and repair the Safer oil tanker, while also condemning the recent shutdown of the Sana’a international airport, which has obstructed movement of life‑saving humanitarian supplies and essential personnel. Noting that WFP plays a critical role in Yemen, providing 13 million people with emergency food assistance and 1.1 million children and women with nutritional support, she stressed that her country provides 43 per cent of the agency’s budget, encouraging others to step up as well.

Ms. NGUYEN (Viet Nam), reaffirming support for the efforts of the Special Envoy to Yemen, condemned recent attacks and expressed condolences for the victims’ families. Commending humanitarian donors, she however expressed concern about the funding shortfalls. She called for immediate action to end hostilities and allow access to the damaged oil tanker. It is particularly important, she said, for the parties to reach a ceasefire, allow humanitarian access and agree on a Joint Declaration to conclusively end the conflict. She called for detailed planning for the 2021 donor conference. She also reaffirmed support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yemen and underlined the need to promote women’s participation in all processes.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) welcomed the “airlift of hope” that the prisoner exchange represented in Yemen and commended the Special Envoy on his work, particularly for his inclusion of civil society. Women’s participation in the peace talks is particularly important, he affirmed. Expressing continued concern about what he agreed is one of the worst humanitarian situations in the world, he recalled testimony given to the Council on the dire fate of persons with disabilities amid the conflict. Calling on regional countries to boost their humanitarian contributions, he highlighted his country’s support on various fronts. He also called unacceptable the blocking of humanitarian aid by various means by the Houthis, as well as any imposition of obstacles by the Government.

NIANDOU AOUGI (Niger) said that the prisoner exchange agreement gives the ray of hope all are yearning for in this conflict. The parties have shown goodwill and compromise. Despite the tensions on the ground, promising progress could pave the way for the resumption of the political process and the conclusion of the agreement on a Joint Declaration. At such a turning point, “we must do everything to maintain this positive dynamic, exploit every opportunity to silence the guns, stop the bloodshed in Yemen and bring the parties to make peace,” he said. Only a commitment to a truce will allow the parties to maintain their mutual trust that is essential in relaunching the peace talks.

ADEL BEN LAGHA (Tunisia) welcomed the prisoner exchange agreement as an important step to implementing the Stockholm Agreement, also reaffirming that a military solution cannot end the crisis. Stressing the importance of placing the interest of Yemeni people at the centre, he noted the valuable role played by the Gulf Cooperation Council. Agreeing on a Joint Declaration would be a new step, he said, urging parties to comply with a ceasefire agreement. Meaningful participation of women and civil society representatives are also necessary for the country’s political future, he said, calling upon the international community to redouble efforts and mobilize financial resources to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen while commending Saudi Arabia for honouring its pledges.

GERT AUVÄÄRT (Estonia) expressed deep concern about the casualties and humanitarian consequences of the continued conflict in Yemen. He called on the parties to immediately come to a ceasefire and negotiate pending agreements without delay. Today’s prisoner release is an important step towards those goals. He welcomed, in addition, the extension of the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, as well as called for intensified efforts to facilitate fuel deliveries and for access to be provided to the damaged tanker.

PHILIPPE KRIDELKA (Belgium) expressed concern about the recent escalations of violence in Ma’rib and Hudaydah, which he said is undermining prospects for peace. Only dialogue can resolve the deep differences in Yemen. He called on the parties to implement all previous agreements and negotiate the Joint Declaration, as well as to allow access to the oil tanker. Welcoming the release of prisoners, he expressed concern, however, over civilian detainees and forced disappearances in Yemen. He called on all parties to the conflict to inform the families of the fate of the disappeared and to release all those still detained. Human rights and accountability are particularly important for resolving conflicts. In that context, he underlined the killing and maiming of children, adding that the people of Yemen deserve peace and stability.

XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa) called on all parties to the conflict to agree to a unified set of measures to counter the spread of COVID‑19, improve the delivery of humanitarian aid and provide impetus to the overall political negotiations to end the war and alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people. He also called on the parties to immediately cease hostilities in line with the Secretary‑General’s global ceasefire call and Council resolution 2532 (2020) as well as to agree on confidence‑building measures, such as the payment of civil servants, reopening of Sana’a airport and lifting of commercial import restrictions. “The effects of the blockade are worse than the aggression itself; both a ceasefire and lifting the siege are required to start the peace process,” he said.

ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation), Council President for October, spoke in her national capacity, noting that hostilities in Yemen continue unabated amid the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Deploring the insufficient financing of United Nations programmes, including for the delivery of food, water and medical supplies, she emphasized that any assistance must be objective, regardless of who controls territories. Stressing the importance of intra‑Yemeni dialogue, she expressed regret that the Joint Declaration has not been agreed. She commended ICRC for facilitating the agreement on prisoner exchange and expressed support for UNMHA. The situation in Yemen has a direct bearing on the wider Middle East region, she said, reiterating Moscow’s call for the establishment of a collective security architecture for the Persian Gulf region.

ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) said his Government continues to push forward efforts to end the war imposed on its people by the Houthis since 2014, in line with the outcome of its national dialogue and relevant international agreements such as those of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Security Council resolution 2216 (2015). Stressing that peace necessitates finally ending the Houthi coup, he said the Government has made a series of important compromises to that end. Regrettably, the Houthis “always come up with new conditions and preconditions” to the Government’s extended hand. Echoing the Secretary‑General’s call for a ceasefire, he stated: “Our hands are still extended for peace, but they are only met with the intransigence of the Houthi militias against all agreement and understandings.” Instead, they continue to exploit the suffering of the Yemeni people and derail the peace process, even putting President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi under house arrest.

While the Government continues to uphold the 2018 Stockholm Agreement, he said the situation on the ground shows the Houthis’ indifference to its terms. Military escalations continue and Hudaydah is still being used as a launch pad for attacks. Noting that Houthi fighters recently shelled an important industrial complex in the port city - which he warned will have clear humanitarian repercussions – he called for the relocation of UNMHA to an area outside Houthi control. More international efforts are needed to end the Houthis’ Iranian‑led coup, which has cost the country significant economic losses, “put a spoke in the wheel of economic development” and driven massive waves of displacement which are now exacerbated by COVID‑19. He urged the global community to exert more pressure on the Houthis to stop them from using the Safer oil tanker as a “time bomb” to blackmail the region. Responding to the statement delivered by the representative of Germany, he said the Government of Yemen spares no effort to support its people, without any discrimination, even in areas controlled by Houthi militias.

For information media. Not an official record.