Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, delivered a statement to the United Nations Security Council during last Tuesday’s Council meeting on Yemen. O’Brien spoke of the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, warning that the situation there had become the world’s largest food security crisis and that lack of access to food and clean water created the conditions for the cholera epidemic. While he lauded the United Nations and its partners, along with medical personnel in Yemen, for their work to stem the spread of cholera and other diseases, he criticized the parties to the conflict for putting their own interests above the needs of the Yemeni people, explaining that both lack of access to food and disease are, in the case of Yemen, man-made phenomena that could be avoided if the parties were willing to negotiate an end to the conflict.
Furthermore, O’Brien accused the international community of inaction and of allowing the Yemeni conflict and humanitarian crisis to escalate. He called on the international community to dedicate more resources to humanitarian aid and to negotiations toward a political solution to the war, the only long-term solution to the humanitarian and institutional collapse that afflicts Yemen today. He mentioned child marriage, internal displacement, and other social and economic issues within Yemen as related to the conflict as well.
O’Brien concluded his statement by calling on the warring parties to reach a political solution and by calling on the international community to ensure the protection of Yemeni civilians, hold the warring parties accountable to international law, act to keep land routes open for the distribution of aid, prevent an attack on al-Hudaydah Port, support the resumption of commercial flights to and from San’a, facilitate the payment of Yemeni civil servants’ salaries, and take concrete action to stop the spread of cholera and to distribute food aid across the country.
Radhya al-Mutawakel, Chairperson of Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, which documents and gives voice to survivors of human rights violations by all sides of the conflict in Yemen, addressed the Security Council as well. She expressed agreement with O’Brien’s statement and added that parties to the conflict have recruited child soldiers and that the collapse of state institutions has led to the growth of extremist groups. She discussed Coalition airstrikes on hospitals, schools, factories, residential areas, and other civilian targets, as well as the use of landmines by forces loyal to the Houthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh. She lambasted both parties for indiscriminately shelling civilian areas. She also mentioned the repression of the free press and harassment of minorities such as Yemen’s Baha’i community, and she emphasized that women in particular are harmed by the war.
Al-Mutawakel called on the Security Council to facilitate unbiased peace negotiations intentionally inclusive of women, youth, and civil society groups. She also asked the Council to prevent arms transfers to warring parties and to take urgent action to mitigate the suffering of Yemeni civilians in several ways, including by establishing a commission to investigate violations of human rights, demanding an end to the targeting of civilians, bringing about the release of arbitrarily held civilian detainees, ensuring unhindered access to humanitarian aid, reopening the San’a airport and preventing an attack on al-Hudaydah Port, facilitating the payment of government employee salaries, and working for freedom of the press.