The situation in the Middle East (Yemen) - Security Council, 8854th Meeting
While no easy answers exist in addressing Yemen’s complex, sprawling seven-year-long conflict, the appointment of a new Special Envoy offers an opportunity to take stock, reassess and re-engage the parties anew, delegates told the Security Council today amid concerns over continued clashes and an escalating economic crisis.
“I am under no illusions about the difficulty of the task handed to me by this Council,” said Hans Grundberg, the newly appointed Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, as he briefed the 15-member organ for the first time in that capacity. Describing the vast destruction and suffering wrought by the conflict, as well as its ever-shifting epicentre, he said the focus since early 2020 has been the sustained offensive by Ansar Allah — also known as the Houthis — on Marib Governorate. Thousands of Yemenis there have already lost their lives or been displaced.
Noting that fighting continues across the country, he said basic service delivery has declined and the economy continues to deteriorate dramatically. Meanwhile, the conflict is spilling over Yemen’s borders, threatening regional security and international waterways. Citing the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, he said it is vital that external actors encourage de-escalation and support a Yemeni-led political settlement. Sketching out his plans for a way forward, he stated his intention to assess past efforts, identify what has worked and what has not, and listen to as many Yemeni men and women as possible. To that end, he detailed his initial plans to visit with regional leaders and the Houthi leadership in the coming weeks.
Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, Deputy Director of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, agreed that fighting in Marib has again become particularly fierce. “As always, it is civilians who are paying the highest price,” she said. Yemen’s economy is crumbling, its essential service delivery is disintegrating, and its people are being forced deeper into desperation. Noting that Yemen is now home to the world’s largest humanitarian aid operation, she cited a recent surge in donor funding that provided more than $1.9 billion so far in 2021 — about 50 per cent of the total needs. However, she warned that the threat of famine is not over in Yemen. Keeping it at bay amid spiking inflation, rising food prices and a deadly third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic will require vigilance by the global community.
Also briefing the Council was Entesar Al-Qadhi, a representative of the Yemeni organization Marib Girls Foundation. Recalling that the war in her country has already claimed more than 233,000 lives, she said the ongoing offensive in Marib is terrorizing civilians and disrupting humanitarian access. Public services have collapsed, depriving people of clean water, sanitation and health care, and fostering a breeding ground for cholera and COVID-19. Despite being disproportionately affected, women and girls remain excluded from representation in the Government and decision-making processes. Welcoming the new Special Envoy to his role, she urged him to prioritize the interests, concerns and experiences of all Yemenis — not only those aligned with the conflict parties — and to consult regularly with a diverse range of civil society actors.
As Council members took the floor, many welcomed the Special Envoy to his new role and expressed their hope that his appointment will provide fresh impetus to the international efforts attempting to bring the Yemeni parties back to the negotiating table. While many called for an immediate end to the fighting in Marib, several delegates spotlighted the escalating economic crisis — along with its potential to ignite broader food insecurity and crush Yemen’s health system amid a fresh wave of COVID-19 — as the greatest challenge now facing the country.
The representative of the United Kingdom joined others in welcoming Mr. Grundberg to his new role and describing the current juncture as an opportunity for the Yemeni parties to renew their cooperation with his office and to work with him without any preconditions. Condemning reckless recent cross-border attacks by the Houthis and describing their indiscriminate nature as deeply worrying, she emphasized that preventing the risk of famine must remain a top priority for the United Nations and its partners, as inflation continues to reach new heights and render basic food items inaccessible.
Tunisia’s representative said the Special Envoy’s appointment sends a strong message from the international community to all parties to declare a comprehensive ceasefire and put the Yemeni people’s interests above all else. Reiterating there is no alternative to a negotiated solution, he stated the doctrine of force must not be imposed, as it would further jeopardize the Yemeni people and propel the humanitarian crisis. Calling on all parties to respect international humanitarian law and respect civilians, he deplored the repeated attacks on Saudi Arabia and expressed concern over Yemen’s worsening economic situation.
Mexico’s delegate, calling for a national ceasefire in Yemen and urging all the parties to exercise maximum restraint, called on the Houthi leadership to engage in dialogue facilitated by the Special Envoy without preconditions. Noting with concern that recent efforts by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and cash injections by Saudi Arabia have not been sufficient to stop the rapid rise of inflation in Yemen, he also called on the Houthis to eliminate all bureaucratic restrictions on imported goods and allow unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance across the country.
The representative of the Russian Federation, noting that the international community stands united on the Yemen file, underscored the important mediation roles to be played by the United Nations and regional States. Faltering in that process to date has led to an escalation of violence in Marib and air strikes on Saudi Arabia. Noting that there is no alternative to negotiations that take into account the views of all parties, he echoed other speakers in voicing concern over Yemen’s dire economic situation and calling for the full lifting of all maritime and air blockades and removal of restrictions on distribution of food and fuel.
The representative of Yemen also addressed the Council, echoing members’ calls for an immediate end to the ongoing Houthi offensive in Marib and reiterating his Government’s willingness to cooperate with the new Special Envoy. “However, the Houthi militias continue to insist on war, instead of peace,” he said, advocating for a stronger approach to dealing with a group that continues to attack civilians, commit sexual violence, recruit children, loot humanitarian aid and attack Saudi Arabia. He also called upon the global community to lend support to his Government’s economic recovery plans, stressing that “there is no time to lose”.
Also speaking were the representatives of China, France, United States, Viet Nam, Kenya, Norway, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Estonia, India and Ireland.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 11:52 p.m.