Yemen: A failure of the United Nations?
All wars are horrible, and there is no hierarchy in the horror of conflicts.
Today, I have the difficult task of trying to answer the question of whether the United Nations has failed in one of the world’s greatest humanitarian crises.
Before I begin to put forward elements of an answer, I would like to briefly present the situation in Yemen in terms of a humanitarian disaster.
Yemen is the country that is currently experiencing one of the most profound humanitarian crises and the largest aid operation.
By 2023, 21.6 million people will require some form of humanitarian assistance, while 80 per cent of the country’s population struggles to access food, clean water and adequate health services. Multiple emergencies have hit the country: violent conflict, economic blockade, currency collapse, natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic.
An estimated three-quarters of Yemen’s 4.3 million internally displaced persons are women and children, and 26 percent of displaced households are now headed by women.
Yemen’s maternal mortality rate remains one of the highest in the Middle East and North Africa region. A woman dies in childbirth every two hours in Yemen, mostly from entirely preventable causes. More than 1.5 million pregnant and lactating women are expected to be acutely malnourished by 2023. They are at risk of giving birth to severely stunted newborns and breastfeeding malnourished children due to increasing food insecurity.
Women and girls also continue to suffer disproportionately from gender-based violence that is exacerbated by the crisis. Girls are increasingly vulnerable to child marriage, human trafficking, begging, and child labor. Women and girls with disabilities are even more at risk.
Reading this brief account of the dramatic situation in Yemen, one might think that the UN and all the actors who have tried to resolve this conflict have failed.
So, what about the UN in this catastrophe?
The 4 fundamental goals of the UN are:
– to maintain international peace and security,
– to promote international cooperation,
– to fight against poverty
– and to ensure the respect of Human Rights.
What is the role of the UN in maintaining peace in Yemen?
The UN Security Council adopted several resolutions between 2011 and 2022 regarding the alarming situation in Yemen:
resolution 2014 on October 2011 with key elements focusing on the GCC initiative for a transfer of power in Yemen, concern over the activities of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the need for humanitarian assistance.
resolution 2051 on 12 June 2012, expressing its “readiness to consider further measures, including under Article 41” should actions to undermine the government of National Unity and the political transition continue. The Secretary-General notified the Security Council of his intention to establish a small office of the Special Adviser on Yemen for an initial period of 12 months.
On 26 February 2014 the Council adopted a resolution (S/RES/2140) expressing its strong support for completing the next steps of the transition, in line with the Implementation Mechanism, including the drafting of a new constitution, the adoption of a new electoral law, the holding of a referendum and general elections and the transition of the structure of the state from unitary to federal
resolution 2216 on 2015, and the establishment of a national unity government, but that the sides were divided over the “sequencing” of the steps in the roadmap (S/PV.7721). Council members issued press elements urging the parties to show flexibility to secure an agreement.
On 23 February 2017, the Council adopted resolution 2342, extending the Yemen sanctions measures for an additional year and the Panel of Experts until 28 March 2018.
On 26 February 2018, the Council adopted resolution 2402, extending the Yemen sanctions regime. At the adoption, members first voted on a draft resolution prepared by the UK, which Russia vetoed, objecting to references to the Yemen Panel of Experts’ findings that Iran was in non-compliance with the arms embargo.
On 15 July 2019 the Council adopted resolution 2481, renewing the mandate of UNMHA for six months until 15 January 2020. On 18 July, Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths.
On 15 February 2022, the Security Council held a briefing (S/PV.8966), followed by closed consultations, on Yemen. UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, and the chair of the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Ferit Hoxha (Albania), briefed. The head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), Major General Michael Beary delivered his first briefing to Council members since assuming his position.
This list of resolutions shows that the Resolution Council has tried to fulfill its role of restoring peace in Yemen and yet in reality we see the failure to resolve the situation in Yemen which is only getting worse.
We should analyze each of these resolutions and other declarations to try to understand what is going wrong with the peacekeeping mechanisms.
I would just comment on the resolution passed in 2015:
In March 2015, an Arab coalition under the Saudi banner launched a military intervention in Yemen, at the request of President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. This coalition is to protect Yemen against an insurgency by Houthi rebels.
On April 14, 2015, the UN passed a “Chapter 7” resolution that imposed an arms embargo on the Houthi rebels, targeted sanctions and called on them to withdraw from areas they controlled.
This 2015 UN resolution does not authorize the Saudi-led military intervention that is still underway in Yemen.
The UN resolution does not authorize the use of force, it has not been validated by international law. The only breach that exists and that makes it not totally considered as an illegal intervention is that the president, Hadi, himself requested the intervention.
Should this “Saudi command” have been validated to have an intervention force for peace in the region?
Can we look at this as a failure of the UN when the ceasefire that began on April 2, 2022, was renewed in extremis twice before expiring on October 2, 2022?
Neither the Yemeni government nor the Houthi rebels have reached an agreement to renew it.
However, the UN envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg in his press release, “regretted” the non-renewal of the ceasefire, promising “strenuous efforts” to revive it.
“I will continue to work with both parties to try to find solutions,” assured the Swedish diplomat claiming to have submitted to the belligerents a proposal to extend the ceasefire for an additional six months with “new elements.”
In 2018 the Security Council endorsed under resolution 2451, the Stockholm Agreement.
The Stockholm Agreement is an accord between the parties to the conflict in Yemen. It was agreed in Sweden on 13 December 2018, and it has three main components:
The Hudaydah Agreement
A Prisoner Exchange Agreement
The Taïz Agreement
On March 11, 2022, in Switzerland, started the seventh meeting of the Supervisory Committee on the Implementation of the Detainees’ Exchange Agreement started, in Switzerland.
The Supervisory Committee was co-chaired by the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen (OSESGY) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), with the parties to the conflict in Yemen as members.
“I hope the parties are ready to engage in serious and forthcoming discussions to agree on releasing as many detainees as possible. With Ramadan approaching, I urge the parties to fulfill the commitments they made, not just to each other, but also to the thousands of Yemeni families who have been waiting to be reunited with their loved ones for far too long,” said Hans Grundberg, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen.
The United Nations is also dedicated to doing everything possible before this humanitarian crisis turns into an environmental catastrophe.
The 9 March 2023, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed an agreement with EURONAV Luxemburg today to secure the purchase of a Very Large Crude Carrier – or ‘VLCC’ – as part of the UN-coordinated operation to remove more than one million barrels of oil from a decaying tanker off Yemen’s Red Sea coast that threatens a humanitarian and environmental catastrophe.
The FSO Safer has not been maintained since 2015 because of the conflict in Yemen. It has decayed to the point where there is an imminent risk it could explode or break apart, which would have disastrous effects on the region.
A major spill would devastate fishing communities on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, likely wiping out 200,000 livelihoods instantly. Whole communities would be exposed to life-threatening toxins. Highly polluted air would affect millions.
It would also result in the closure of the ports of Hodeidah and Saleef – which are essential to bring food, fuel and lifesaving supplies into Yemen, where 17 million people need food assistance. Desalination plants would close, cutting off a water source for millions of people. Oil from the Safer could reach the African coast and affect any country on the Red Sea. The environmental impact on coral reefs life-supporting mangroves and other marine life would be severe. Fish stocks would take 25 years to recover.
I will end this enumeration of the UN’s involvement in Yemen with the UN’s push for $4.3 billion this year to help more than 17 million Yemenis trapped in a war-torn country.
At a donor conference in Geneva on February 27, 2023, humanitarian organizations reiterated the urgency of helping the Arabian Peninsula country. While record global humanitarian needs are straining donor support like never before, the lives of millions of Yemenis will be threatened without sustained support for the Yemeni aid operation, humanitarian agencies warned.
“Without assistance, efforts to end the conflict once and for all will become even more difficult,” they warned.
“The international community has the power and the means to end this crisis. And that starts with the full funding of our appeal and the commitment to disburse the funds quickly,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “Together, let’s finally turn the tide of suffering. Let us give hope to the people of Yemen.”
We cannot deny that the UN bodies have done their very best to achieve their objectives as defined in the UN Charter.
Yet the reality is there in front of us, a war is underway, an unprecedented humanitarian crisis is occurring before our eyes, and the coasts of Yemen are threatened by an environmental disaster that would be one more tragedy for Yemen.
Who is accountable within the UN?
The United Nations is constituted of 3 interdependent parts, the first UN is constituted of the Member States and their delegations, the second UN is constituted of the secretariats, and offices and the third UN is the Civil Society.
I am a representative of this third UN and today through this conference I would like to express that we must unite so that all the constituent parts of the “United Nations” can achieve their goals for peace in Yemen.