EU warns against humanitarian disaster in Yemen

The Foreign Affairs Council adopted this week an unusually critical resolution on the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen and the worsening humanitarian situation in the country. The war in Yemen has according to UN figures resulted in the death of 10 000 civilians and the outbreak of one of the worst cholera epidemics on record. More than 22 million people – 80% of the population of the country – are in need of humanitarian or protection support.

The war in Yemen broke out in March 2015 when Saudi Arabia and its closest ally the United Arab Emirates, with logistical support from the US, intervened in the civil war in Yemen against the Shiite Houthi rebels who had conqured the capital Sana and are supported by Iran.

The civil war followed in the wake of the Arab Spring when Yemen’s president Saleh was forced to resign and replaced by his deputy Hadi who still is seen as the legitimate leader of the country but only controls part of it and lives in exile in Saudi Arabia.

Council conclusions

At the Council meeting (25 June), EU foreign ministers discussed the latest developments in Yemen together with new UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, who briefed them on his peace plan, and explored ways to strengthen an UN-led peace process.

The process is based on an UN Security Council decision 2216 from April 2015 which largely gave legitimacy to the Saudi-led coalition, imposed a weapons embargo on the Houthis and demanded that only they should immediately and unconditionally end the use of violence.

Since then the situation on the ground has changed dramatically. The war escalated with the coalition’s airstrikes against military targets and civilian infrastructure in Yemen and the Houthis responding by firing missiles against Saudi Arabia.

The war has also led to an increased presence in Yemen of criminal and terrorist groups, caused the near collapse of Yemen’s economy and produced the worst humanitarian crisis in the world according to UN and EU.

EU is especially concerned about the on-going military operations by coalition forces in and around the port of Red Sea port Hodeidah, through which 70% of food imports to Yemen are shipped. “This has led to an escalation of hostilities and a further worsening of an already catastrophic humanitarian situation.”

According to EU, there is currently no viable alternative to the port of Hodeidah as a distribution hub for the commercial and humanitarian items needed and calls on all the parties to ensure the full and effective functioning of the Hodeidah port as the lifeline for humanitarian support.

While not mentioning Saudi Arabia and the coalition by name, EU reiterated its strong condemnation of attacks against civilians and renewed its urgent call on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and to comply with international humanitarian law and human rights law.

EU condemned the launch of ballistic missiles by the Houthis against Saudi Arabia and called for the full implementation of the arms embargo against them imposed by the UN Security Council. Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners are not targeted by the embargo and continue to acquire weapons from EU member states, including Belgium.

The EU calls on all parties to cease the present escalation, exercise restraint, work urgently towards a nationwide ceasefire and engage constructively with the UN. “Sustainable peace can only be achieved through negotiations involving meaningful participation of all parties concerned including civil society, women and youth.”

Coalition spokesperson in Brussels

The Council resolution follows a visit in Brussels last week by the official spokesperson of the “Coalition to restore legitimatacy in Yemen”, Colonel Turki Saleh Al-Malki. A press briefing (22 June), mainly in Arabic with questions and answers in English, was held at Brussels Press Club in the presence of the ambassadors to EU from Saudi Arabia and UAE.

Neither the spokesperson nor the European External Action Service (EEAS) have confirmed whether any meetings between them took place.

Al-Malki said that the current military operations in Hodeidah was not an attack on the city itself but a response to the legitimate governmen’s request to liberate the port to cut the supplies to the Houthis and ensure safe navigiation in the Red Sea.

“The Houthis are obstructing aid deliveries and have refused to hand over the port to a neutral body. We’ll allow the aid to reach all intended recepients. Our operation will help us bring about a political solution,” he said.

Asked by The Brussels Times about a political solution to the conflict, he referred to the UN Security Council solutions, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) agreement from 2011 and the outcome of the National Dialogue Conference in 2014.

According to the spokesperson the operations aimed to exert pressure on the Houthis and force them to the negotiotion table. While describing them as a terrorist group similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon, he included them as part of Yemen’s social fabric.

The Brussels Times

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