After nearly four years of conflict in this extremely poor country, the lives of millions of people in Yemen are in danger and have been for many months now. In addition to the hazards of war, many have difficulties in accessing food and healthcare due to insecurity and poor humanitarian access. Millions of others are unable to pay for food and medical care even when it is available due to the collapse of the economy under the strains of conflict. This crisis in Yemen is a matter of grave concern and a solution is urgently required.
The United Nations plays an absolutely critical role in working towards a political solution to this conflict. Ireland and the EU regard the appointment of Special Envoy Martin Griffiths in March 2018 as a very positive move. Mr. Griffiths has worked tirelessly to bring the parties together, with EU support. At the very end of 2018, his efforts bore some fruit with the holding of talks in Stockholm between the Yemeni parties. This meeting was the first time in two and a half years that both the Government of Yemen and the Houthi leaders came together to promote the interests of the Yemeni people. However, this is only the beginning of what may prove to be a long and painstaking process. It is expected that the next round of talks will take place in the region. Their success will be dependent on progress made since December and in that regard implementation of the agreements reached in Stockholm will be crucial. In December agreement was reached on the basis for a ceasefire and troop redeployment in the port city of Hudaydah, the key point of entry in Yemen for the majority of food, medicine and aid. The ceasefire is fragile and both sides have accused the other of breaches but notwithstanding that, it is holding for the most part.
What is needed now is time to allow the agreements to be implemented and space to allow the UN sponsored talks to continue. However, that does not mean that we sit back and do nothing. The UN Secretary General has urged the international community to sustain pressure on both parties as they work together to implement the Stockholm agreement. Careful diplomacy is required to ensure we achieve the best end result for the people of Yemen.
We discussed the situation in Yemen at the EU Foreign Affairs Council last week. The UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths has thanked the EU for its support, saying it would not have been possible to reach agreement in Stockholm without it, including reaching out to Iran. However, as my Swedish colleague confirmed to me, what was agreed at Stockholm is fragile and needs EU support to move forward. Therefore, despite these hopeful steps, we should be under no illusion as to the gravity of the situation. After almost four years of conflict, the humanitarian situation on the ground remains dire, with a devastated economy and an almost complete collapse in basic public services exacerbating the crisis.
The UN has a crucial role to play in co-ordinating the delivery of assistance. The UN reports that the gravity of the humanitarian situation in Yemen is exacerbated by the underlying poverty of the country. Even when there is food in shops, people are often unable to afford it. Humanitarian access is also a critical issue and access across Yemen deteriorated significantly in 2018, both in Government and Houthi-controlled areas. Security issues, bureaucratic impediments and delays to humanitarian movements continue to interfere with humanitarian responses.
In terms of humanitarian funding, Ireland has provided almost €17.5 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen since 2015. This includes a contribution of €5 million to the UN Yemen humanitarian fund in 2018, which provides assistance in areas such as education, logistics, food security, nutrition and health. We plan to make a similar €5 million contribution to the humanitarian fund in 2019. The majority of Ireland’s direct assistance in 2018 was channelled through the UN humanitarian fund for Yemen.
Ireland and Saudi Arabia have a significant economic relationship but our trade partnership does not prevent us from raising human rights concerns through the most appropriate and effective channels. Ireland’s foreign policy has always been based, above all, on the resolution of conflict by dialogue. In many cases, continuing our trading relationships and building on our close ties allows us greater access to key interlocutors who can be influential on foreign policy decisions.
On the question of an arms embargo, I am aware that some EU member states which have arms industries have decided to halt arms exports for the present to countries involved in the conflict in Yemen. A decision at EU level for a full arms embargo on any country would require the agreement of all EU member states but there is currently no consensus at EU level on an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia or any member of the coalition. However, all EU member states have signed and ratified the 2014 Arms Trade Treaty. This treaty exists to ensure that arms sales do not fuel conflicts and to prevent arms from falling into the hands of non-state actors or terrorists. Ireland’s efforts are concentrated on ensuring the effective implementation of that treaty.
I reiterate Ireland’s deep concern on this issue. The scale of need on the ground cannot be overstated. While Ireland is contributing what we can to the humanitarian effort, we must continue to push for a lasting political solution that will address the conflict at the heart of this extraordinary human suffering.