The Security Council must act now to end the fighting in Yemen or face the irreversible Balkanization of the country, creating safe havens for terrorists and potentially shattering regional stability, the United Nations human rights chief warned today.
“I urgently call on the Council to expedite and intensify diplomatic efforts to bring about a ceasefire and help create a framework for negotiating a comprehensive and sustainable peace,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein told the 15-member body, stressing that life has become untenable for the vast majority of Yemenis, with at least 21 million people, 80 per cent of the population, reliant on some measure of humanitarian aid.
“Failure to act decisively does not only spell misery for the millions of vulnerable people in Yemen today. It would inevitably push the country into an irreversible process of Balkanization, the consequences of which would lie outside of anyone’s control.
“The potential ramifications of a failed state in Yemen would almost inevitably create safe havens for radical and confessional groups such as the so-called ISIS (or ISIL, Islamic State in Syria and the Levant). This, in turn, could expand the conflict beyond Yemen’s borders, potentially shattering regional stability.”
Mr. Zeid said he was encouraged by recent UN-brokered peace talks in Switzerland, but these were adjourned on Sunday for a month in the face of numerous ceasefire violations to allow for bi-lateral in-country and regional consultations to achieve a proper cessation of hostilities.
Meanwhile, intensified fighting has resulted in a dramatic increase in civilian casualties, with over 600 children killed and more than 900 seriously injured, a five-fold rise over 2014. More than 2,700 civilians have been killed and over 5,300 injured since the start of the conflict.
“I have observed with extreme concern the continuation of heavy shelling from the ground and the air in areas with high a concentration of civilians as well as the perpetuation of the destruction of civilian infrastructure – in particular hospitals and schools – by all parties to the conflict, although a disproportionate amount appeared to be the result of airstrikes carried out by Coalition Forces,” Mr. Zeid said.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who facilitated the talks in Switzerland, told the Council that although the meetings did not end the fighting “as we all had hoped,” they did see constructive talks between the Government and its opponents, providing a solid foundation for a resumption in the near future.
“The talks came during a very bleak period for Yemen and amidst a worsening security situation,” he said, citing hundreds of civilian deaths, the catastrophic state of Yemen's health care system, cross-border attacks in the north with heavy weaponry, air and artillery attacks on the central city of Taiz, and a security vacuum leading to a dangerous expansion of extremist groups, particularly in the south where Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has consolidated its presence.
But he noted that the sides agreed to set up a Coordination and De-escalation Committee of military advisors from the two delegations and UN experts to minimize ceasefire violations, and that this work will continue over the coming months, commending the progress made so far.
“The talks revealed deep divisions between the two sides on the path to peace and the shape of a future agreement. Trust between the parties remains weak,” he declared. “The commitment of the delegations, especially the chairs, in the end proved stronger than these divisions.
“By the end of the talks, the delegations have agreed to meet again next month using a common framework which will help them map out a clear and effective path to peace, towards a negotiated and inclusive political transition.”
In her briefing to the Council, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang detailed the “appalling” conditions faced by Yemenis, with some 7.6 million requiring emergency food aid to survive, and at least two million malnourished, including 320,000 children suffering from severe malnutrition, a two-fold increase since March.
At least 1.8 million children have had to drop out of classes, adding to the 1.6 million who were already out of school before the crisis began. Over 170 schools have been destroyed, and more than 600 damaged. At least 58 schools have been occupied by armed groups, nearly all of them in Taiz Governorate; another 238 are hosting people displaced by the violence.
Some 14 million people lack adequate access to health-care assistance, and relentless airstrikes, shelling and violence continue to force families from their homes, with over 2.5 million internally displaced – an eight-fold increase since the start of the conflict.
“Despite a challenging and dangerous environment, humanitarian organizations on the ground are responding with life-saving assistance,” Ms. Kang declared. “Four million people have been provided access to emergency water and sanitation through water trucking and provision of fuel.
“Since April, monthly food distributions have been steadily expanding, with 1.9 million people reached in November and 3 million people planned for December. By February, five million people should be receiving food assistance each month across the country,” she added.
“UN agencies and partners will continue to scale up our assistance to save lives. However, only a political settlement can end the immense suffering facing more than 20 million men, women and children in Yemen today.”