Delegation of the European Union to the

UN and other international organisations in Geneva

#DontForgetYemen: Fighting Famine and Human Rights Violations in War-Torn Yemen

11/06/2021 - 00:00
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The conflict in Yemen hits its 6th year and the humanitarian situation is worsening every day. Between famine large scale international humanitarian law and international human rights law violations are further acerbating the humanitarian crisis. On June 7 the EU Delegation in Geneva co-hosted a webinar on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, discussing the growing threat of famine that is severely affecting the economy, the worsening health sector and the resulting impact on the civilian population.

EU Deputy Head of Delegation Thomas Wagner opened the panel discussion portraying a dire picture of the reality in Yemen after 6 years of conflict, with intense fighting and serious international human rights violations by all parties to the conflict affecting the civilian population. He stressed that “millions of people are in need and we cannot allow Yemen to be forgotten. This is a priority for the EU and we will also continue to support the effort of the UN Special Envoy Martin Griffith to negotiate a political solution – this is the only path for peace in Yemen.”

As one of the keynote speakers, Carl Hallergard, EEAS Managing Director of the MENA region, put the spotlight on the ongoing human rights violations in Yemen. Especially the situation of children is particularly worrisome with increase in child recruitment and use of children by parties to the conflict in complete violations of international humanitarian law. He further raised the issue of gender violence and the continuous decreasing of women’s rights, placing Yemen now at the bottom place in international ranking. Carl Hallergard stressed that “the inclusion of Yemeni women in politics and in the peace process is essential to achieve sustainable peace.”

Deputy Director General of DG ECHO, Michael Koehler stated in his intervention that “Yemen is in statistical humanitarian terms, the biggest man-made crisis with over 30 million people affected and in need of humanitarian supplies, which has a devastating impact on children’s health and wellbeing, fuels humanitarian access problems and recurrent serious IHL violations.” He further pointed out that the EU has provided €1 billion to alleviate the Yemen crisis.

 

An equally worrisome picture was portrayed by Summer Nasser, the CEO of YemenAid that highlighted how the worsening humanitarian situation and the threat of famine have disproportionally affected women and children.   Millions are on the verge of famine, access to drinking water has become a luxury and the COVID-19 has further worsened not only the ongoing crisis but posed an additional layer of challenges to an already dilapidated and destroyed health system leaving millions at danger of chronic diseases.  She further highlighted that with the increasing humanitarian needs, more than ever today Yemen “needs a sustainable peace, accountability and humanitarian interventions” in order to move forward from this situation. She says, that these three elements combined will help humanitarian NGOs on the ground to deliver.

Radhiya al Moutawakel, the founder and co-chair of Mwatana for Human Rights and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, focused on the large-scale violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by all parties to the conflict and how these are impacting civilians and worsening the humanitarian situation. There is a clear linkage between famine and international humanitarian law violations. She states that “Yemenis are not staving, they are being starved” and the starvation is used as an instrument of war. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen would not have reached the current levels if the parties to the conflict and their regional backers had respected international humanitarian law. She appealed for a ceasefire that can allow for the peace process to restart and the establishment of a state based on the rule of law and democracy (what the Yemenis aspire for). She concluded by calling on more accountability and appealed for more efforts, also within the framework of the HRC.

Nabil Maged, Deputy Minister for Human Rights, Government of Yemen  presented some of the key challenges faced by the Yemeni government in the current war context with a particular focus on the economic, humanitarian and security levels. He highlighted in particular how the rapid depreciation of the national currency (400% since the beginning of the conflict) has left over 40% of the population without income and fuel insecurity. The increase in prize of basic food communities have dramatically increase the number of people dependent on humanitarian aid. On the security front he highlighted how the Houthis took control of the Yemeni state’s stockpile of weapons and missiles, and Iran and the Revolutionary Guard have transferred to them new technologies related to the manufacture of missiles, drones and communications, and also supplies them with weapons, missiles, and individual and naval mines. This makes it very difficult for the Yemen government to provide protection to the civilians living in militia’s controlled area.  He highlighted that monitoring and documenting violations was a key priority for the Yemeni Government.

Concerning the food insecurity situation in Yemen, Rasmus Egendal, Deputy Country Director Yemen, UN World Food Programme provided an overview. He said in his intervention, that up to 13 million people are affected and dependent on food assistance, which is one of the main drivers of the conflict that has triggered displacement of 4 million people. He further elaborates the link between the increasing food basket of 60%, a severe fuel shortage and rocketing fuel prices, requiring concerted commitment and efforts of the international community to address a dire food insecurity situation and avert the outbreak of famine.

Country Director of Save the Children Yemen, Xavier Joubert highlighted the protection crisis in Yemen, affecting children and most vulnerable people. While needs have increased the funding has decreased over the last 2 years. He states that “2 in 3 Yemeni need aid but half of them do not know how to cope for the next day. 1in 3 children suffer a worrying condition, including expose to negative coping mechanism and skipping of meals.  Some 1,2 million below the age of 5 years suffer from malnutrition”. 

Closing the event, Head of Delegation Yemen Hans Grundberg reiterated the EU’s firm commitment not to allow Yemen to be forgotten. The EU Delegation is increasing its efforts regarding the protection of human rights as well as  women’s inclusion is the peace process, and is currently leading on two local initiatives to support women’s and children’s rights. He further recalled the adverse impact of the conflict on women, the increase of gender inequalities, and the need to recognise the critical role of women in peacebuilding efforts including prisoners release hence the need to ensure their meaningful participation in the peace process to ensure sustainable peace can be achieved. Ambassador Grundberg recalled that “the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen could be mitigated if parties to the conflict respect and comply with their obligations under international law”. He concluded by stressing that the protection of human rights cannot be postponed until “after the war”, calling for countering the narrative that human rights are secondary matters that can only be addressed when conflicts have ended.

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