8704th Security Council Meeting: Situation in the Middle East, Yemen

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16-Jan-2020 01:42:46
Despite ‘quietest week’ since start of Yemen conflict, access constraints hinder humanitarian aid for 6.7 million people, top officials warn Security Council.

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While Yemen is experiencing the “quietest” week in its five-year-long war that triggered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, concerns persist about safe access to reach millions of people requiring urgent assistance, high-level United Nations officials told the Security Council today.

Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, citing a range of achievements since he last briefed the Council, said that de-escalation commitments are holding, the frequency of air strikes has dramatically dropped and fuel shipments are arriving in Hudaydah ports. Moreover, he said, despite a regional crisis, there have been no major acts of military provocation in Yemen, thanks to regional and Yemeni leaders who are deliberately exercising restraint. The significance and meaning of these initiatives only become real in the context of the political solution to end the conflict.

“We have indeed discussed the need for impatience in this respect,” he stressed. “Yemen has been brushed by potential tragedy from regional tensions, and so far, appears to have emerged from it unscathed. This is evidence of its leaders’ desire to keep Yemen safe from such tensions, but also to restore to its people, this year, the peace they so evidently deserve.” However, concerns persist, including dire humanitarian needs that remain unmet due to several factors, he said.

Ramesh Rajasingham, Director of the Coordination Division of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, speaking via video conference from Geneva, elaborated on the current situation on the ground, which is less dangerous for civilians than one year ago, but remains pockmarked by violence resulting in mass casualties. “It is unacceptable that civilians should so disproportionately bear the brunt of this conflict,” he said, urging parties to uphold their international humanitarian law obligations and swiftly move to a nationwide ceasefire.

Turning to humanitarian access, he said that current constraints affect an unprecedented 6.7 million people in need, amid harassment and violence against humanitarian agencies in northern Yemen. “We are doing everything we can to mitigate the impact of this crisis,” he said, adding that the Office aims to reach 15.6 million people in 2020 — about half the population. While parties are closer now to peace than they were before the Hudaydah Agreement, “that doesn’t mean peace is a foregone conclusion”, he said. After five years of conflict, millions of Yemenis are hoping that, with the Council’s support, peace may finally come.

Council members recognized the efforts of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the World Food Programme (WFP) to reach those most in need. The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, who chairs the 2040 Sanctions Committee on Yemen, stressed: “There is an urgent and critical need for unimpeded humanitarian access — for many people, this is literally the difference between life and death.”

They also commended steps taken by the Government of Yemen and the Houthi movement — formally known as Ansar Allah — to hammer out agreements and exercise restraint. Many reiterated support for the renewal of the United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA), but noted a lack of steps taken towards this accord’s implementation.

Several delegates voiced concern about the abandoned oil tanker off the coast, with the United States saying the Council should work together to avert this potential environmental disaster.

Echoing a common message, Tunisia’s delegate cited recent progress, saying these signs of hope must be built upon, including fully implementing the Riyadh and Hudaydah Agreements and establishing confidence-building measures to reach a political solution to the conflict.

The United Kingdom’s representative, cautioning that Yemen must not become hostage to a wider regional crisis, urged the international community to press the Houthis to not become a vehicle for wider retaliation by Iran in the region. A political settlement is the only way to foster stability in Yemen, underscoring the Council’s vital role in supporting the peace process.

South Africa’s delegate agreed, saying that the only sustainable solution is a Yemeni-led political settlement that is inclusive and fair and puts the interests and well-being of all Yemeni citizens first.

The representative of Yemen welcomed the UNMHA mandate renewal, but raised concerns that the Houthi militias are not serious about peace. Any attempt to circumvent the implementation of the Hudaydah Agreement will threaten the path to peace, especially regarding local security forces and authorities, withdrawal from the ports and city, and the release of prisoners. Welcoming the Special Envoy’s efforts towards a political settlement based on the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative and Security Council resolutions, he expressed hope to build a new federal Yemen based on national dialogue.

Throughout the meeting, many members expressed condolences for Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said of Oman, who was a leader in the field of peace and reconciliation.

Also delivering statements were representatives of Germany, France, Russian Federation, Indonesia, China, Estonia, Dominican Republic, Belgium, Niger and Viet Nam.

The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 11:46 a.m.

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