An “airlift of hope” agreed by Yemen’s warring parties to return more than 1,000 detainees to their families has been welcomed by UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, who has urged both sides to agree to further peace-building measures.
In his briefing to the Security Council on Thursday, Mr. Griffiths confirmed that the “extraordinary” operation had begun in line with an agreement reached last month in Switzerland, between the Government of Yemen and Houthi opposition representatives.
Although the prisoner swap which continues on Friday “will bring immense relief and comfort” to many families, said the veteran UN negotiator, he noted that it “does not include many thousands more Yemenis detained during the course of this conflict”, likely numbering some 15,000.
The UN official thanked everyone involved with the move, especially “the parties and their respective leadership for their commitment to constructively negotiate and successfully reach this agreement”.
Some detainees remain
As the current prisoners’ agreement did not include many thousands of other detainees, Mr. Griffiths informed the Council that the parties would again convene to discuss more emancipations, in line with the 2018 commitment they made in Stockholm “to release all conflict-related prisoners and detainees”.
“We hope that the implementation of the prisoners’ agreement will build confidence and momentum by demonstrating that peaceful dialogue can deliver”, upheld the UN envoy.
‘Asking a lot’
Painting a picture of negotiations conducted through ‘shuttle diplomacy’ during a global pandemic and amid a raging war, the Special Envoy informed the 15-body organ that he was “neither surprised nor discouraged” that the internationally recognized Government and Ansar Allah have yet to agree on a Joint Declaration ending the war and opening the gateway to peace.
Explaining that the Joint Declaration is an “ambitious set of agreements” covering a nation-wide ceasefire, economic and humanitarian measures and the resumption of the political process, Mr. Griffiths understood why the parties are taking their time, saying, “we are asking a lot from the parties”.
However, against the backdrop of a thriving war economy, eroding State institutions, increased interference and conflict actors fragmenting and multiplying, he stressed the need for the parties to “act with urgency to conclude the Joint Declaration”.
“The longer this conflict goes on, the harder any of this will be to reverse”, the Special Representative attested.
‘Honourable’ peace required
Turning to the aging Safer oil tanker – that has had virtually no maintenance since 2015 and threatens catastrophic consequences for Yemen and the region should there be a major oil spill, explosion or fire – Mr. Griffiths reiterated that the UN be granted permission to assess and undertake urgent initial repairs.
And as Yemenis continue to suffer from rising prices, interrupted services, education disruptions and violent attacks on female human rights, the Special Envoy implored the UN and international community to help the country find “a just, honorable and sustainable peace”.
A closing window to stop famine
In his briefing, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock warned that “the window to prevent famine in Yemen is closing”.
Citing food security data, he revealed that the worst hunger is concentrated in areas affected by the conflict.
Moreover, with only 42 per cent of the country’s Humanitarian Response Plan funded, aid agencies have had to slash assistance to four million people since the year began.
As harassment by armed groups and other insecurity have left front-line humanitarian staff in crosshair, Mr. Lowcock spelled out: “the crisis urgently needs a political solution” to “help move the country back from the edge of famine”.
At the same time, the faltering economy – a key famine risk-factor determinant –has rendered food and other basic goods out of reach for millions.
He also updated that currently, there are 47 active front lines across Yemen – “the most ever recorded”.
“Yemen needs a nationwide ceasefire”, concluded the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.
UN supports continued engagement
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has urged the parties to continue to pursue engagement towards finalizing the Joint Declaration and ending their conflict, according to a statement issued on Friday by his Spokesperson.
The UN chief also welcomed the further release of detainees by both sides over the past two days.
“This is an important step in the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement and is the largest prisoner exchange since the start of the conflict. It is proof that important breakthroughs can be achieved through dialogue and compromise”, said the statement.
“The Secretary-General urges the parties to continue on this path in their engagement with his Special Envoy, in good faith and without preconditions, to finalize the Joint Declaration, consisting of a nationwide ceasefire, economic and humanitarian measures, as well as the resumption of a comprehensive, inclusive political process to end the war”, it concluded.
The Security Council also underlined that an inclusive political solution is the only way to end the fighting.
Ambassadors released a press statement on Friday in which they emphasized their steadfast support for Mr. Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy.
They urged the parties to urgently endorse the Joint Declaration proposals “without delay”. They also called for the swift resumption of talks “in full engagement with the mediation led by the UN Special Envoy”.