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Outgoing UN Special Envoy for Yemen expresses “deep regret” over no Yemen ceasefire

In his final briefing to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the outgoing Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, has lamented a series of “missed and then lost opportunities” during his time mediating efforts to end the nation’s protracted civil war.

Martin Griffiths, who was appointed to the role in 2018, is set to succeed Mark Lowcock as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator next month. His successor is yet to be appointed, but it is believed that European Union ambassador to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, and former British diplomat and former Somalia Envoy, Nicholas Kay, are among the frontrunners.

Expressing “deep regret” to the UNSC, Griffiths stressed the “undeniable humanitarian value” of the as yet elusive ceasefire agreement. 

“It allows for the silencing of the guns, the opening of vital roads, including in Marib and in Taiz, and elsewhere and a return to some sense of security for the people of Yemen, especially for those civilians living near multiple frontlines.”

Griffiths reiterated the UN’s long-standing characterisation of the situation in Yemen as the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis, with the Special Envoy placing particular emphasis on the “man made” aspect of such a denomination. “Ending war is a choice,” he said, “Yemeni men, women and children are suffering every day because people with power have missed the opportunities presented to them, to make the necessary concessions to end the war.”  

“As a result, Yemenis are obliged to live under violence, insecurity and fear, with limits to their freedom of movement, and freedom of expression. And perhaps most tragically of all, we are a witness to the hopes and aspirations of a generation of young Yemenis for a peaceful future being dashed.” 

Griffiths informed the UNSC of the Houthi’s insistence of a stand-alone agreement for the Hudaydah ports and Sana’a airport as a preqrequesite for further negotiations on a comprehensive ceasefire and the launch of political procedure.

The government, however, asserts that any agreement regarding the ports and airport must be implemented as part of an exhaustive package, with the institution of a nationwide ceasefire taking precedence.

“Now we have offered different solutions to bridge these positions”, Griffiths said. “Unfortunately, as of now, none of these suggestions have been accepted.” 

“I hope very, very much indeed, I’m sure we all do, that the efforts undertaken by the Sultanate of Oman as well as others, but the Sultanate of Oman in particular, following my own visits to Sana’a and Riyadh, will bear fruit and that we will soon hear a different turn of fate for Yemen.” 

The diplomatic efforts of the Sultanate have shown their ability to engage both the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government in securing meaningful dialogue. Oman maintains a direct interest in the adoption of a ceasefire between the two factions, enjoying a stable relationship with both Riyadh and Sana’a. The diplomatic engagement has steadily intensified in recent weeks culminating in a high-ranking Omani delegation arriving in Sana’a with members of the Houthi rebels who have been living outside Yemen since 2016, unable to return due to Saudi control of airspace. Mohammad Abdul Salam, the spokesman for the Ansar allah movement, the official name for the Houthi rebel group, speaking before important talks on 6 June 2021, said that:

“To complement the efforts we have made in the Sultanate of Oman, we are today in Sana’a to discuss all that is of interest at the national level and the region in general.”

U.S. Envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, condemned the Houthis as being primarily responsible for the ceasefire not succeeding, noting their lack of meaningful engagement in the diplomatic efforts,

“To resolve a nearly seven-year conflict that has brought unimaginable suffering to the Yemeni people.” 

In his report to the UN Security Council, Griffiths said that although he was “painting a bleak picture”, he wanted to emphasize “the achievements of Yemenis […] to open roads, release prisoners, irrespective of the diplomatic mediation or its absence”. He described the courageous efforts of the Yemeni people to the UN audience;

“they are the hope and future of that wonderful and currently tragic country. It is our obligation to support them and also to listen to them and to understand their leaders.”

Griffiths concluded his briefing by reaffirming his and the Yemeni people’s desire for stability “based on rights and freedom”; adding that the existence of an accountable government and an open, prosperous economy are imperative to ensure the survival and welfare of millions. 

“Every day of this war, every day that we don’t get that ceasefire threatens this future more.”

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