Deplorable, Man-Made Catastrophe Escalating in Yemen, Humanitarian Chief Tells Security Council, Urging Immediate Funding of Cash-Strapped Relief Plan

United Nations Security Council meeting (UN Photo)

18 AUGUST 2017

SC/12961

SECURITY COUNCIL
8027TH MEETING (AM)

Iran-backed Rebels Blocking Aid Delivery, Deputy Prime Minister Stresses, Pledging Airport Reopening Provided Government Forces Control Security

The “deplorable, avoidable and completely man-made catastrophe” in Yemen continued to worsen and ravage the lives of millions of people facing famine, the world’s largest ever single-year cholera outbreak, daily deprivation and injustice, the United Nations humanitarian affairs chief told the Security Council today.

Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said it grieved him that in the last two years, despite his best efforts, he had been unable to make any significant improvement in the war-torn country. “On the contrary, the Yemini people’s suffering has relentlessly intensified,” he added. Some 17 million Yemenis did not know if and where they would get their next meal, nearly 7 million were facing the threat of famine, and 16 million lacked access to water, he continued, also adding: “We must remember that these figures represent human faces and enormous suffering.”

Yemen’s catastrophe was the direct result of deliberate policies, tactics, and actions of the parties and their big, powerful proxies, he said. Only 45 per cent of health facilities remained functioning and some 1.2 million public employees, including health workers and teachers, had been paid erratically or not at all since last October. “This human tragedy is deliberate,” he stressed.

The war continued to be vicious and brutal, with frequent disregard for international humanitarian law, he said. In 2017, the number of air strikes per month was three times higher than in 2016, and monthly reports of armed clashes were up by more than 50 per cent. Earlier this month, an air strike in Sa’ada had killed 12 civilians, including six children in their home. “Investigations continue, though we know already that only the Saudi coalition has the means to carry out aerial attacks,” he said, stressing that in the absence of accountability mechanisms, the violence continued to intensify.

Expressing concern that the Government and Saudi-led military coalition continued to unilaterally deny or excessively delay entry to vessels carrying essential cargo, he called for the reopening of the Sana’a airport, among other points of entry, and for the safe movement of humanitarian staff. Despite extraordinary challenges, more than 120 aid partners had assisted 5.9 million people. The cholera response had established 222 cholera treatment centres and 926 oral rehydration points across the country. Despite those achievements, partners continued to struggle with funding shortages; only 39 per cent of the revised requirements of $2.3 billion had been met. He urged Member States and other partners to contribute to the humanitarian response plan, “please and now.”

He called on the Member States to pressure parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and advocated for civil servants across the country to be paid immediately. Strengthening accountability was essential, he added, welcoming the creation of an independent body to investigate alleged human rights violations.

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, said Yemen was going through a critical and agonizing period. “In brief, death looms for Yemenis by air, land and sea,” he said, including military clashes in several governorates, hostilities along the Yemeni-Saudi border and elsewhere and a Government offensive — backed by the United Arab Emirates and United States special forces — in Shabwa targeting Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula fighters, in addition to uncontrolled migration through the Gulf of Aden and unprecedented levels of disease and epidemics.

Reviewing his recent visits to Egypt, Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, he said there was still consensus on the need to reach a political solution and to support the United Nations-sponsored peace process. However, certain parties were still taking advantage of internal divisions and putting personal interests ahead of the need for peace. With political tensions undermining State institutions, immediate measures were needed to prevent the humanitarian situation from deteriorating and save Yemen from further violence.

He said the parties were being urged to agree to measures that would, among other things, secure the flow of humanitarian aid, payment of salaries to civil servants and control the smuggling of weapons. The proposal also called for the safe and uninterrupted functioning of Hodeida that would be handed over to a committee of respected Yemeni security and economic figures, working under United Nations oversight and guidance. In parallel, efforts were afoot to reopen Sana’a airport for commercial flights, he said, adding that roads to Taiz for humanitarian and commercial cargo must be reopened immediately. He said he met a few days ago with the President of Yemen and received a letter in July from Ansar Allah (Houthis) and the General People’s Congress reaffirming the need to build on what was discussed in the Kuwait talks. In that regard, he proposed a meeting that would take place in a third country.

International support for a full and comprehensive solution and for the efforts of the United Nations was unwavering, he said. What was missing was for the parties to the conflict to demonstrate their intention to end the war and put the national interest above personal gains. Blaming the United Nations or the international community would not secure peace, nor would posturing for the media. “It is no secret that there are many merchants of war in Yemen who do not want peace,” he said, pledging to continue to work with human rights groups, women’s groups and civil society to secure safety and stability for the Yemeni people.

The representative of Uruguay said parties to the conflict must resume peace talks without delay, knowing that they must make concessions. Countries with influence on the parties must cooperate as well. Emphasizing the plight of women and children in Yemen, he said the Council had the means and the power to set up an impartial and transparent investigative mechanism into violations of international humanitarian law. Recalling the presidential statement issued by the Council on 9 August, he appealed for an immediate cessation of hostilities that would pave the way to humanitarian assistance and political negotiations.

The representative of Bolivia said the situation in Yemen was getting worse in an alarming fashion while the international community remained indifferent. He expressed alarm at the military targeting of homes and public spaces, as well as the situation of migrants from the Horn of Africa. Parties involved in the conflict must comply with resolution 2140 (2014) and commit to a sustained dialogue process that would respect Yemen’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he stressed.

Abdulmalik Al-Mekhlafi, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Yemen, said the humanitarian and health situation in Yemen was dire and complex, also adding that: “We have never called for war. War was imposed on us by a rebel gang.” Citing his country’s participation in Geneva and Kuwait talks, he said that the participation of “coup masters” was their way to push forward their criminal plot to destabilize Yemen. Iran sought to destroy the Yemeni Government and replace it with recklessness and chaos but Yemen would continue to reject such tyranny.

The Government had made considerable reconstruction efforts and had improved security and health sectors under the leadership of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, he continued. Food was available in the markets but militia continued to block access and pillage funds from the central bank. The war had become lucrative for militia while the Yemeni people continued to suffer from famine, die from preventable diseases. Houthi rebels were earning millions, he stressed, also emphasizing: “Why would they stop a war they are profiting from?”

Reiterating that it was the Houthi militia that continued to prevent the delivery of humanitarian aid and medical supplies to people in need, he said that he appreciated international appeals to open Sana’a airport. Despite the many security challenges, Yemen would open the airport on the condition that Government forces would be in control of its security.

The people of Taiz were being shelled, their city destroyed, and its mosques and hospitals obliterated to rubble, he said. More than 4,000 had been killed in Taiz alone and yet there were no calls from the international community to restore peace. “It used to be the city of culture, education and love,” he said, appealing to the conscience of the international community and stressing the need to lift the siege on Taiz.

While the Yemeni Government was willing to make concessions however difficult to restore peace, the Security Council and international community had to send a decisive message to the “coup masters” and urge them to participate in negotiations in good faith and with an open mind. The Houthi coalition rejected the arrangements proposed by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, he added, also emphasizing: “This gang would not be able to reject such proposals if it was not receiving aid from Iran.”

Yemen’s Government would continue to fight terrorism and combat Al-Qaida militarily, culturally and intellectually, he said. A minority — one sect — was seeking to control all of Yemen; such marginalization was unacceptable. The reality was that militias had turned a blind eye to peace.

“We do not accept extortion and rewarding the militia for their crimes,” he emphasized. Yemen was working to address the humanitarian crisis, the cholera outbreak and facilitate the delivery of treatment and humanitarian aid. He urged States to fulfil their pledge commitments and stressed the need to address the root causes of the crisis, restore legitimacy and State institutions and save the country from being kidnapped by Tehran militia. “Stay with us,” he told the Council.

Speakers today also condemned the terrorist attack in Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday, expressed deepest condolences to the victims’ families and wished speedy recovery to the injured.

The meeting began at 10:12 a.m. and ended at 11:23 a.m.

For information media. Not an official record.