MIL-OSI United Nations: Stringent Banking Directives, Detention of United Nations Personnel Expected to Only Worsen Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen, Speakers Warn Security Council

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Source: United Nations General Assembly and Security Council

There is an urgent need to address recent concerning developments in Yemen, which compound existing obstacles to lasting peace in the country, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today, pointing to the detention of UN colleagues and a slew of stringent banking directives expected to worsen the already dire humanitarian emergency gripping the country.

Outlining the “worrisome circumstances” surrounding the arbitrary detention by Ansar Allah, last week, of 13 UN personnel, in addition to five staff members of international non-governmental organizations, and representatives of Yemeni civil society, Hans Grundberg, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for that country, stated that this situation needed to be addressed before tackling the economic escalation, fragile military situation and constricted mediation space, as well as protecting the path to a ceasefire and a political process.  Also concerning were Ansar Allah’s judgements, issued on 1 June, sentencing 45 individuals to death, he said, recalling the UN’s moratorium on the death penalty.

Moreover, a retaliatory sequence of actions by Ansar Allah and the Central Bank of Yemen risked cutting off all banks in Sana’a from international financial transactions, severely impacting the economy and opening the door to a potential military escalation, he warned, outlining his Office’s engagements to resolve the crisis.  On the military front, he cautioned that, while the April 2022 truce was holding along the front lines, it would not be sustainable if parties continued their escalatory trajectory, marked by an uptick in fighting and Ansar Allah’s increasing efforts to strike commercial and military ships in the Red Sea.  “I am frustrated because we have seen the progress the Yemenis so desperately need overtaken by a regional situation that is beyond our control,” he added.

Edem Wosornu, Director of Operations and Advocacy, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, urging the immediate release of the detained UN colleagues, all Yemeni nationals, as well as the four UN personnel in detention since 2021 and 2023, said:  “We still do not know their exact whereabouts or the conditions in which they are being held.”  Further, she pointed out that the Houthis and the Government of Yemen have issued “competing and increasingly stringent” directives, including a potentially imminent decision to exclude Sana’a-based banks from using the SWIFT banking system for international financial transactions, which threatens to weaken Yemen’s already struggling economy.

“All these factors will likely deepen poverty, worsen food insecurity and malnutrition, and increase reliance on humanitarian assistance,” she cautioned.  Such developments might impact her Office’s ability to transfer funds required to sustain humanitarian operations, which is particularly concerning given a worsening cholera outbreak and already high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition, she added.

In the discussion that followed, Council members vociferously echoed the Secretary-General’s call for the immediate and unconditional release of all arbitrarily detained United Nations personnel and staff.  Speakers were also near unanimous in urging the scaling up of humanitarian relief efforts, voicing concern over the stark scale of humanitarian needs, compounded by the banking crisis.  However, views diverged on the escalating tensions in the Red Sea, with some members drawing a link between the Houthi’s attacks on vessels and the ongoing violence in Gaza.

Among them was the Russian Federation’s delegate, who observed that the ongoing escalation in Gaza and consequent regional instability cannot but impact peace processes in Yemen.  Such efforts are also thwarted by the ongoing militarization of the Red Sea and Yemeni waters, he stated, calling for an end to attacks on civilian vessels and for the release of the crew of Galaxy Leader, as well as the “illegitimate interventions” by the United States and United Kingdom-led coalition.

In a contrasting address, the representative of the United States condemned the Houthi rebels’ “reckless attacks” on commercial and merchant vessels in the Red Sea, despite “explicit warnings”.  He urged that group to immediately cease such activities.  Doing so would enable the unimpeded delivery of food and supplies across Yemen, he said, also warning about Iran’s provision of advanced weapons to the Houthis.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s delegate condemned the abductions by the terrorist Houthi militias of staff members of the United Nations, among others, also lamenting that the Council has failed to reach consensus regarding a press statement on those actions, which egregiously violate international humanitarian law.  He also condemned the death penalties handed down by Houthi-affiliated illegal entities against 45 detainees as “arbitrarily done”. Detailing the destructive economic impact of the group’s activities, including through attacks on oil facilities and commercial shipping in the Red Sea, he lamented:  “Yemen is currently facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.”

Sierra Leone’s representative — also speaking for Algeria, Guyana and Mozambique — underscored the need to de-escalate the economic war and address the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen.   To that end, he urged the parties to refrain from measures that would further divide that country’s banking system and address the depreciation of Yemeni rial.  Calling on States to address funding gaps of Yemen’s Humanitarian Response Plan, he said that movement restrictions on women should be lifted to facilitate their access to aid.

In a similar vein, the Republic of Korea’s delegate, Council President for June, speaking in his national capacity, voiced concern over the worsening humanitarian situation due to the Houthi’s actions, such as issuance of 100-rial coins, which triggered countermeasures by Yemen’s Government.  “Economic confrontation at this juncture will exacerbate liquidity crises, leading to a further contraction of vital humanitarian activities,” he said, adding:  “Without economic stability throughout all of Yemen, a peaceful political transition process would not be realized.”

Briefings

HANS GRUNDBERG, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, described the “worrisome circumstances” forming the backdrop for today’s briefing, directing Security Council members’ attention to Ansar Allah’s ongoing crackdown on Yemeni civil society, non-governmental organizations and the UN, stating that this situation needed to be addressed before tackling the economic escalation, fragile military situation and constricted mediation space, as well as protecting the path to a ceasefire and a political process in the country.  On that, he reported that, last week, 13 UN personnel, in addition to five staff members of international non-governmental organizations, among others from Yemeni civil society, were arbitrarily detained by Ansar Allah, and remain in incommunicado detention, along with four previously detained staff members from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). He urged Ansar Allah to release all those detained immediately and unconditionally.  As well, he voiced concern over judgements on 1 June by Ansar Allah sentencing 45 individuals to death, reiterating the UN’s calls for a mortarium on the death penalty.

Turning to his efforts towards a ceasefire and inclusive political process, he said that, since December 2023, when the parties agreed to a set of commitments to be operationalized through a UN road map, the regional situation — and the escalation in the Red Sea — has severely complicated this process, leading to the parties reverting to a zero-sum game.  “This mindset is most apparent in the economy,” he stated, pointing to a sharp economic contraction following the attack on oil export facilities in October 2022. Meanwhile, in the banking sector, the already complicated situation — due to its two competing monetary authorities and two currencies — has worsened due to a cycle of escalatory actions, beginning in March, which culminated in retaliatory actions by the Central Bank of Yemen, which, in turn, led to the branch controlled by Ansar Allah banning all banks with headquarters in Aden from operating in their area.

If, as part of these punitive measures, banks in Sana’a are indeed cut off from international financial transactions, the impact would severely impact the economy, and open the door to potential military escalation, he warned, outlining his Office’s efforts in Riyadh, Aden and Sana’a to resolve the crisis.  On the military situation, while it has been stable along the front lines since the April 2022 truce, it is not sustainable if the parties continue the current escalatory trajectory, he said, pointing to an uptick in fighting over past months and an unresolved situation in the Red Sea, with Ansar Allah increasing efforts to strike commercial and military ships during the reporting period.

“I am frustrated because we have seen the progress the Yemenis so desperately need overtaken by a regional situation that is beyond our control,” he went on.  However, he took note of positive developments, including the opening this week of two additional roads, including one between Ta’iz city and the neighbouring Hawban area, enabling for the first time in over nine years civilian movement across the front line running through the city.  Voicing hope that this positive step would trigger the opening of additional roads in Ta’iz, in Ma’rib, and elsewhere, he said:  “This development is also a reminder to all of us of the power of mediation and negotiation.”  He also took note of the release, by Ansar Allah, of 113 detainees, encouraging the parties to continue to work towards additional releases.

EDEM WOSORNU, Director of Operations and Advocacy, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, detailed “two extremely concerning developments” in Yemen.   The Houthi de facto authorities have detained 13 United Nations colleagues, five from international non-governmental organizations and many more from national non-governmental organizations and civil society.  They are all Yemeni nationals and remain in detention as of this morning.  “We still do not know their exact whereabouts or the conditions in which they are being held,” she reported, adding that the United Nations is actively seeking clarification from the Houthis on these issues, requesting access to those in detention and urging their immediate release.  These circumstances apply to the four UN personnel in detention since 2021 and 2023. “I must recall that international law prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of liberty,” she stressed, urging all warring parties to respect and protect humanitarian personnel.  These acts put UN personnel and civil society staff at risk and delay and impede the delivery of critical assistance to millions of people.

On the rapidly deteriorating banking and economic situation, she noted that the Houthis and the Government of Yemen have issued “competing and increasingly stringent” directives banning individuals, businesses, and local and international financial institutions from dealing with banks based in areas controlled by the other party.  This includes a potentially imminent decision to exclude Sana’a-based banks from using the SWIFT banking system for international financial transactions.  These developments threaten to further fragment and weaken Yemen’s already struggling economy.  They undermine the private sector’s ability to import food and other essential goods and disrupt the flow of remittances to many families in Yemen.

“All these factors will likely deepen poverty, worsen food insecurity and malnutrition, and increase reliance on humanitarian assistance,” she warned.  Furthermore, the increasingly volatile banking environment has worsened an existing liquidity crisis, making it very difficult for humanitarian organizations to pay staff salaries or procure and pay for the many services they rely on.  If banks in Sana’a and other areas controlled by the Houthis are cut off from international financial institutions and networks, “we will lose the ability to transfer the funds required to sustain humanitarian operations”, she cautioned.  This is particularly concerning given a worsening cholera outbreak and already high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition, she added.  Recalling a May 2024 briefing, in which her Office urged the parties to put the interests of the people of Yemen first and end hostile economic measures, she declared:  “This appeal is even more pertinent today.”

Statements

The representative of the United Kingdom condemned the Houthis’ arbitrary detention of United Nations personnel and staff, calling for their immediate and unconditional release.  On the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen, she said that 18.2 million people need humanitarian assistance, over half of them children, while 17.6 million people remain food insecure.  Also, only 50 per cent of hospitals across the country are partially or fully functioning.  “It is critical that the parties take steps to address this, including through facilitating unfettered access for aid workers to provide essential support to those in need,” she asserted, urging the parties involved to de-escalate and resolve the ongoing banking dispute as a matter of urgency and safeguard the well-being of ordinary Yemenis.  For its part, the United Kingdom has committed to spending over $175 million in 2024 to help alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable.  She further called on the Houthis to cease their illegal and unjustified attacks on maritime shipping through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, including recent attacks on M/V Tutor, M/V Norderney, and MSC Tavvishi.

The representative of China voiced support for a Yemeni-led and owned political settlement under the auspices of the UN, as well as for dialogue and negotiation to bring about internal unity and economic reconstruction in the country.  Against this backdrop, he voiced support for the efforts of the Office of the Special Envoy, calling on all parties with influence to play a constructive role.  On the situation in the Red Sea, he underscored the right, under international law, of the navigation of all merchant vessels, calling on parties to exercise restraint and cease escalatory actions.  On the humanitarian crisis, which drags on while relief remains underfunded, he called for assistance to be scaled up.  He went on to echo the Secretary-General’s statement calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all UN personnel, as well as an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, to de-escalate tensions in the Red Sea and bring about peace.

The representative of France condemned the recent captivity by the Houthis of 13 UN personnel and at least 11 personnel of humanitarian non-governmental organizations.  These actions “undermine the capacities to act of organizations on the ground that have been working in an already deteriorated context”, she said, stressing that humanitarian workers must be able to carry out their operations safely and unhindered.  She also lamented that the Houthis continue their destabilizing actions in the Red Sea, defying the Council’s warnings and resolution 2722 (2024), which underlined the right of States to defend their ships against these attacks.  Paris will continue its commitment as part of the European Union Operation ASPIDES to guarantee maritime security and freedom of navigation.

The representative of Ecuador voiced concern over the increase in Houthi attacks on boats in the Red Sea, as well as reports of the launching of missiles towards Israel.  The escalation of hostilities threatens to deepen the regional conflict, reverse the limited progress that has been made in restoring the livelihoods of Yemenis and reignite fighting between warring factions.  One of the factors that have aggravated the humanitarian crisis in Yemen — which affects more than half of its population — has been the decline of its economy, he observed, noting that “the paralysis in oil exports and high domestic prices put pressure on the Government budget and foreign exchange reserves”.  He further underscored that war — along with the ravages of climate change — have paralysed agricultural production, raising fears of worsening food insecurity.

The representative of Switzerland stressed that, at the political level, the parties must refrain from actions that could jeopardize implementing the road map.  She noted that the regional repercussions of the situation in the Middle East have slowed down the talks towards reaching the agreement.  Recalling the importance of the navigation rights and freedoms in the Red Sea, she called for the release of the Galaxy Leader crew members.  While efforts to contain the cholera epidemic are hampered by the conflict, landmines laid by the Houthis and other armed groups continue to kill and injure civilians. Noting that, since the 2022 truce, the Yemen crisis has moved to the economic sphere, she said that, if no international money transfers are enabled, humanitarian aid will be even more limited.  “The longer the conflict persists, the deeper these divisions become entrenched, making the prospect of future reunification a monumental task,” she added.

The representative of Japan said it is “unfortunate” that the 15-member organ has failed to issue a press statement on the detention of UN personnel, adding:  “The Council should swiftly speak up, condemn this outrageous conduct by the Houthis.” Expressing condemnation over the group’s attacks on international shipping, she said she was outraged that the Houthis have been holding 25 Galaxy Leader crew members for more than 200 days. She also voiced concern over the nationwide cholera outbreak and malnutrition, reporting that Japan has contributed $46 million in humanitarian assistance over the past two years.  “The safety of humanitarian aid workers must be fully respected and their freedom of movement must be guaranteed,” she underscored, also highlighting that half of Yemen’s population depends on basic humanitarian supplies.  Pointing to the tensions between Yemen’s Government and the Houthis, she stressed that only a political settlement can resolve the decade-old conflict.

The representative of Malta stressed that the detained UN personnel must not be subject to any harassment and mistreatment, adding:  “These arrests can have serious, far-reaching ramifications on the delivery of humanitarian aid.”  Expressing concern over mothers going hungry to feed their children, she called for the urgent scale up of funding for Yemen’s Humanitarian Response Plan. Tensions in Yemen and the region, including escalations in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, continue to disrupt mediation and hamper conflict, she noted, calling on the Houthis to cease attacks against commercial shipping.  “Parties to the conflict must prioritize de-escalation and dialogue,” she stressed.  Noting that, after a decade-long conflict, Yemen faces the possibility of losing progress towards peace, she said that the parties should support humanitarian relief and take decisive steps towards a ceasefire and political settlement.

The representative of Sierra Leone, also speaking for Algeria, Guyana and Mozambique, expressed concern over the detention of UN personnel, while also pointing to the impact of Yemen’s protracted conflict on the livelihood of its people.  “Over the past decade, this conflict has resulted in countless deaths and unimaginable suffering,” he said, underscoring that progress in the political talks can only be achieved through a Yemeni-owned political process.  He pointed to the need for an integrated approach to restart political talks, stressing that all stakeholders must be engaged.  Noting the key role of the Special Envoy in rebuilding the momentum for peace talks, he also spotlighted the crucial facilitating role of Saudi Arabia and Oman and other regional actors.

Further, he stressed the need to de-escalate the economic war and address the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen, observing:  “The Yemeni economy has been devastated by the conflict.”  To that end, he urged the parties to refrain from measures that would further divide that country’s banking system and address the depreciation of Yemeni rial.  Calling on States to address funding gaps of Yemen’s Humanitarian Response Plan, he said that movement restrictions on women should be lifted to facilitate their access to aid.  Also voicing concern over the security situation in the Red Sea, he called on the Houthis to refrain from escalatory actions and prioritize political and diplomatic means in resolving the situation in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. “We urge all parties to commit to constructive dialogue and genuine efforts towards reconciliation,” he said.

The representative of the Russian Federation observed that the ongoing escalation in Gaza and consequent regional instability cannot but impact peace processes in Yemen.  Such efforts are also thwarted by the ongoing militarization of the Red Sea and Yemeni waters, he said, calling for an end to attacks on civilian vessels and for the release of the crew of Galaxy Leader.  Turning to strikes by the United States and United Kingdom-led coalition, he said that, as with other situations in the Middle East and North Africa, the reckless use of force by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries leaves behind a stain of blood through civilian casualties and the devastation of civilian infrastructure.  Such illegitimate interventions cannot be justified by invoking Council resolution 2722 (2024) or the right to self-defence under the Charter of the United Nations.  He called for the expeditious implementation of the existing [UN] road map without waiting for the situation in the Red Sea to change.  As well, he condemned restrictions on humanitarian assistance and called for the immediate release of UN personnel.

The representative of Slovenia expressed regret about “little progress” on Yemen’s pathway to peace since the Council’s last discussion. He said the significant gains made until the end of 2023 should not be reversed, calling for greater efforts to create conditions for peace.  Citing the recent detention by the Houthis of UN and civil society personnel as “deeply disturbing”, he went on to express “serious concerns about the impact of these latest developments on the provision of humanitarian aid in Yemen, at a time when needs remain so high and the country continues to face one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises”.  He pointed out that unilateral economic decisions are exacerbating an already dire situation in Yemen, noting that they risk complicating humanitarian operations and affecting commercial imports.  He therefore called for an immediate end to economic hostilities by all actors, urging:  “At this sensitive juncture, all parties should prioritize de-escalation, dialogue and diplomacy.  The benefits of long-term peace for Yemenis should remain our driving force.”

The representative of the United States expressed concern about reports that Houthi rebels detained at least 50 Yemeni employees of UN agencies, diplomatic missions, and international and non-governmental organizations.  Their detention negatively affects their ability to provide humanitarian aid, he observed, urging for their immediate release.  The humanitarian situation remains dire, he said, adding that “the Yemenis need the support of the international community now more than ever.” He also condemned the Houthis’ efforts to spread disinformation regarding the role of detained current and former United States mission local staff through televised forced confessions, adding that these individuals — who have been held without justification for over 2.5 years — must be released immediately.  Despite explicit warnings, the Houthis have continued their reckless attacks in the Red Sea, he observed, urging them to cease their attacks on commercial and merchant vessels immediately.  Doing so would enable the unimpeded delivery of food and supplies across Yemen. He also warned about Iran’s provision of advanced weapons to the Houthis.

The representative of the Republic of Korea, Council President for June, spoke in his national capacity to stress that the detention of UN personnel, who are working to “meet the great humanitarian needs of the Yemeni people on the ground”, is unacceptable.  He expressed concern over the worsening humanitarian situation due to the Houthi’s actions, such as issuance of 100-rial coins, which triggered countermeasures by Yemen’s Government.  “Economic confrontation at this juncture will exacerbate liquidity crises, leading to a further contraction of vital humanitarian activities,” he observed, noting that further economic uncertainties combined with volatile security conditions will only hinder efforts to resume political dialogue. “Without economic stability throughout all of Yemen, a peaceful political transition process would not be realized,” he underscored.  As a Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2140 (2014), he welcomed the appointment of two experts on the Panel on international humanitarian law and armed groups.

The representative of Yemen condemned the abduction by the terrorist Houthi militias of staff members of the United Nations and international and local humanitarian organizations.  “This constitutes an egregious violation of international humanitarian law,” he said, also lamenting that the Council has failed to reach consensus regarding a press statement related to these abductions. His country’s Government for years warned against the atrocities perpetrated by the Houthis, their use of blackmail and their pressure on humanitarian organizations in Yemen.  He also condemned the death penalties handed down by Houthis-affiliated illegal entities against 45 detainees as “arbitrarily done”.

Describing how the Houthis undermined the country’s economy including through attacks on oil facilities and commercial shipping in the Red Sea, he said that living standards have further deteriorated, with poverty rates reaching 78 per cent and unemployment at 35 per cent. Basic services have continuously withered.  “Yemen is currently facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world,” he lamented, citing that 18.2 million people need humanitarian assistance and 5 million people are living in makeshift camps.  He then renewed the commitment of the Presidential Steering Council and the Government to shoulder their responsibilities to ensure the welfare of the Yemeni people and support economic, administrative and financial reforms.

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