Briefing to the United Nations Security Council by the Special Envoy for Yemen – Hans Grundberg, 12 January 2022 – Yemen
Thank you, Madam President. Allow me first of all to welcome the newly elected members to this Council and I look forward to cooperating closely with them as with all Council members.
Madam President, 2022 is starting on an uplifting note. The military escalation that I described to this Council last month has accelerated as the parties increase military options. Seven years after the war, the prevailing belief among all warring parties seems to be that inflicting enough harm on the other will force them into submission. However, there is no long-term sustainable solution to be found on the battlefield. Therefore, I will continue to emphasize that warring parties can, should, and indeed must speak even if they are not ready to lay down their arms.
Before turning to my main task of finding a way for political talks to bring a lasting end to the conflict, I am compelled to highlight some of the military escalations of recent weeks, which are among the worst we have seen in Yemen since years, and which are claiming more and more civilian lives.
Ansar Allah remains determined to continue its assault on Marib and fighting resumes in Shabwa, where three districts have been captured from Ansar Allah. We have seen an increase in airstrikes not only around the front lines, but also in Sanaa, including in residential areas. Airstrikes and shelling in Taiz have increased and fighting continues in southern Hudaydah. Likewise, attacks on Saudi Arabia have also increased. All of these events resulted in civilian casualties and damaged civilian infrastructure. Beyond my repeated calls for de-escalation and restraint, I also reiterate my call on the warring parties to respect and uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law, which include the protection of civilians and protected property. I also call on all parties to preserve the civilian character of public infrastructure.
Madam President, we seem once again to be entering a cycle of escalation with foreseeable devastating consequences for civilians and for the immediate prospects for peace. I fear the battles will intensify on other fronts. Another concern is the recent seizure by Ansar Allah of an Emirati-flagged vessel. Furthermore, I regret to reiterate my disappointment at the continued detention of United Nations personnel in Sanaa and Marib. The UN should have immediate access to these personnel and receive official information regarding their arrest.
Madam President, as the pace of war quickens, the already severe restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and within the country could worsen. The accusations of militarization of the ports of Hudaydah are disturbing, and the threats to attack them are equally disturbing, given that these ports are a lifeline for many Yemenis. UNMHA is closely monitoring the situation in the ports and has requested, as part of its mandate, to undertake an inspection. Following the withdrawal of the joint forces on 12 November, the Mission continues to engage with the parties and other interlocutors on the way forward. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the appointment of Major General Michael Beary as the new head of UNMHA. His appointment provides an opportunity to build on these efforts, address the concerns of the parties and advance the Hudaydah Agreement in this changed context.
Let me reiterate that restrictions on the movement of goods and people are a challenge throughout Yemen. The continued imposition of road and checkpoint closures across the country, as well as impediments to imports and internal distribution of essential civilian goods, including fuel, are unjustifiably harming the population. In this regard, I am concerned that the last authorization to transport fuel was issued on November 20, 2021. As always, it will be Yemeni civilians who will be the most affected by fuel shortages.
Madam President, I am pleased that Ms. Ola Al-Aghbary is briefing the Council today. As I have already reported to the Council, I was in Ms. Al-Aghbari’s hometown of Taiz in November. There, I experienced firsthand the severe impact of road closures and checkpoints on the population. Likewise, the fact that the closure of Sanaa airport has prevented northern Yemenis from traveling, including to seek life-saving medical care abroad for almost six years, is untenable. As Assistant Secretary-General Rajasingham will explain, the multi-level challenges surrounding Sana’a airport operations also have critical implications for UN operations. Yemeni, regional and international leaders all have a responsibility to address these issues for the benefit of all the people of Yemen. They have suffered enough from these restrictions.
A section of the population that particularly suffers from these restrictions are Yemeni women. Moreover, and despite tireless efforts, women continue to be largely excluded from decision-making in times of war and peace. My Office will continue to organize consultations with women leaders of political parties, civil society and the private sector. These diverse women are all actively involved in sustaining and improving life in Yemen in different ways – from supporting their families and communities to working for peace or providing valuable services and goods. Sadly, many are harassed and targeted for their work, so I urge all actors to respect the rights and work of women peacemakers and women human rights defenders. I welcome the Council Presidency’s emphasis on the crucial agenda of women, peace and security, but we all need to do more.
While developments on the ground pose significant challenges to peace efforts, my work continues on the path I have charted before this Council. I explored concrete ways to meet the parties’ stated priorities and unlock a nationwide ceasefire to end the fighting. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, these efforts have run into the same obstacles that have hampered similar efforts in the past: that is, parties’ disagreements over order, competing priorities, and lack of trust. I remain convinced that part of the challenge lies in the fact that the preconditions of the parties are linked to broader political and governance issues and, as such, a comprehensive political solution is necessary to achieve lasting results. This will require difficult discussions with and between belligerents and those who have been left behind during the war. I will nevertheless continue to explore options for accelerated de-escalation, if and when the parties are ready to pursue these options.
Madam President, I have focused on developing a comprehensive and inclusive multi-pronged approach that covers political, security and economic issues. This framework will seek to facilitate progressive progress in these different areas in parallel. The whole process will be aimed at achieving a lasting political settlement.
In the coming period, I plan to deepen consultations, both with the parties to the conflict and with a wider range of Yemeni stakeholders, in order to identify and develop short, medium and long-term priorities. that need to be addressed in each of these three areas. . As the country is increasingly fractured politically, economically and militarily, Yemenis must be supported to reverse this trajectory through a serious, sustained and structured process supported by the international community.
Madam President, we have been without a political process for too long that can produce options to improve immediate conditions and that can prepare the ground for a realistic and lasting settlement. Consultations with me and my Office are a start, but that will not be enough to resolve the conflict. Eventually, Yemenis with opposing views will have to meet to discuss solutions and determine their common future.
Madam President, I am fully aware of the politico-military context in which my Cabinet is trying to initiate a political process. The Yemen war, like many others, is strewn with missed opportunities driven in part by combatants oscillating between feeling too weak to accept or too strong to compromise. Genuine political will, responsible leadership and respect for the interests of the entire population are needed to put Yemen on a sustainable path. Furthermore, I am convinced that to have any chance of breaking this cycle, we must put in place an inclusive political process, supported by the international community, which can provide a viable basis for peace. As I convene and consult with Yemenis on the way forward, clear and consistent support from this Council, Member States and especially States in the region will continue to be vital.
Thank you, Madam President.