1.The United Nations Secretary General has described Yemen as “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”. The collapse of Yemen’s public institutions has disrupted access to essential services such as water, sanitation, health care and education. Twenty-four million people—three quarters of the population—are in need of some form of aid. The poorest nation in the Middle East before the conflict began, in the three years to March 2018 Yemen’s GDP per capita declined by 61%, and basic food prices and fuel prices increased by 98% and 110% respectively. The humanitarian crisis is widely accepted to be the result of the conflict, and thus “manmade”.
2.The International Relations Committee took evidence from the Rt. Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for the Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and Minister of State, Department for International Development (DfID), Dr Louise Walker, Head of Office—Yemen, DfID, and James Downer, Yemen Team, FCO.
3.The transcript of the evidence session, held on 16 January 2019, is on the Committee’s webpages.
4.This report has been produced to inform the House about the current situation in Yemen, and to raise issues for the Government to address. It is deliberately limited in scope: it is not a report on the wider Middle East or the extent to which the United Kingdom has a strategic rationale for engagement in this region—which we considered in our report The Middle East: Time for new realism, published in May 2017.
5.Following protests during the Arab Spring of 2011, Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was forced to hand power to Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, his deputy. In 2014 the Houthis, a Shia rebel movement, seized control of territory in the north of Yemen and went on to capture the capital, Sanaa. Mr Hadi was forced into exile. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and eight other mainly Sunni states (known as the Saudi-led coalition), with the support of the US, the UK and France, began air strikes on Yemen with the aim of restoring Mr Hadi to power.
6.Figure 1 shows the areas controlled by the different forces.
7.The Minister said the government led by President Hadi “had the legitimacy of the offices of state that ensured that they continued to be recognised by the United Nations and others”. The UK’s position was that there was “no legitimacy whatever in the Houthi rebellion”. A “militant insurgent group with no elected authority seizing the reins of power” was “to be regarded with great concern”.
8.He said that while the government of President Hadi had not included the Houthis or the Southern Movement (a group seeking the secession of the southern region) in power-sharing arrangements, “a new system was absolutely anticipated” through the National Dialogue. This was a process supported by the UN to “empower Yemenis to lead their transition, to plan for it in a deliberate, considered and informed manner, and to learn from the experiences of other countries”. “It was that process which the Houthis disrupted by their activity to usurp the government of Yemen.”
9.When the government of President Hadi had “asked for help and assistance to be supplied by coalition forces led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”, the UK Government had thought that it was entitled “to support that process in order to see a legitimate government restored.” The UK had shown “steadfastness in recognising what the coalition was designed to do in Yemen”, in spite of “media and political pressure”. Opponents of the Saudi-led coalition had used a “very easy narrative” that had “misunderstood the nature of this conflict”.
10.He said that “none of us would have wished anything other than that this conflict had not been provoked, had not started and did not go on for as long as it has.”
11.The Minister said that while “when people discuss Yemen it is almost exclusively in the context of outside forces: what the coalition is doing, what Iran is doing, what the great powers may be doing”, the UK’s view was that “fundamentally this will be settled only when the Yemeni people themselves make decisions about how their political process is going to develop.” He thought “ultimately Yemeni people … will make their own decisions, and the conflict will not end until that comes about.”
12.He said that “the Houthis are not a proxy of Iran in the same way you could argue in other places, and the government of the state of Yemen are not a proxy of their coalition partners, who are trying to restore them to rule.”
13.He noted the complexity of the conflict: there were as many as 1 million combatants, and “each has expectations of what may happen next”. This “also has to be included in consultations and decisions”. He also noted the dangers of “ungoverned space” in Yemen, which could allow “those who would exploit the space for terror purposes more of an opportunity to do so”.
14.The Minister said that “the degree of apprehension and lack of confidence among various states in the region” should not be underestimated. Neighbouring countries had “huge, existential fears for their states”. This meant that some of the issues at stake in Yemen were “fundamental to them”. While discussions instigated by external countries could “have some impact … going about this very carefully is of huge importance.”
15.The Minister said that “it is known that there is some relationship between the Houthis and Iran.” There was “a measure of academic difference as to the degree of that control, but our assessment is that the Houthis are very independent minded, but that in a struggle like this they will take support from where they can get it, and it suits Iran to have an interest.” Iran had “taken the view that the actions of the coalition and the government of Yemen in relation to the civilian population needed some assistance”. There was “a degree of obscurity about equipment and those who might be training”, but “publicly Iran has taken a position that recognises and understands what the Houthis are doing.”
16.There was “a relatively low level of Iranian engagement on the ground”. The Houthis had “shown themselves capable, once they have been armed, of conducting operations outside their borders through the use of ballistic missiles that have gone from Houthi territory into Saudi Arabia”.
17.The Minister noted that while some view Iran as a destabilising power in the region, “Tehran sees life very differently. The Iranians view themselves as being surrounded by people who are supplied with arms and weapons from elsewhere.” But its “search for alliances and support” was “done in such a way that it appears threatening to others”.
18.He said that Iran had played a part in “ensuring that the Houthis attended the [peace] talks in Stockholm” in December 2018 (discussed later): “That should not be missed in all this.”
19.The Minister said it was necessary to “understand … the fears of those who have been involved in the coalition have had about the loss of another state in the region along with what they see as the instability that has followed in many parts of the region at the loss of existing governments”. This had caused “great fear—the fear that on their border there could be some hostile force that could conduct actions existentially and put them at risk”.
20.The “attack on the government in Sanaa and their replacement with a de facto authority of the Houthis” had been “of such concern to neighbours in the region that they realised that they had to take an active part.” The Saudi-led coalition’s actions were “ostensibly … absolutely defensive and fundamental to their defence but that can be seen in an entirely different way elsewhere.”
21.In particular, Saudi Arabia was “not going to take the risk of a border that could be under the influence, if not the control, of another power that it considers to be hostile.” Referring to Houthi missile attacks (see Box 1), which in March 2018 had targeted cities in Saudi Arabia, including the airport, he said that Saudi Arabia had “direct experience of ballistic missiles and other weaponry being fired by the Houthis which the United Nations has designated as being of Iranian origin”. Such missiles “could threaten not only Saudi Arabia but international areas”, and risk the loss of life and “conflagration in response”.
When the Houthis captured Sanaa, they assumed control of Yemen’s stock of missiles, which included weaponry from the former Soviet Union and North Korea. The Saudi-led coalition cited the Houthis’ missile capabilities as one justification for its military campaign,and has repeatedly targeted Houthi missile silos.
There have been numerous reports of missile attacks by the Houthis at targets in Saudi Arabia since June 2015, when the Saudi Press Agency confirmed that the Royal Saudi Air Defence Forces had intercepted a Scud-type missile headed towards the Saudi city of Khamis Mushayt, to the west of the King Khalid Air Base—an important base for the coalition’s air operations.In 2017 thetargets for Houthi missile attacks included Mecca, Yanbu and Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport—the first attack on the Saudi capital. By March 2018, there had been more than 100 missile attacks into Saudi territory by the Houthis. Missile attacks on Saudi Arabia continued until November 2018, when the Houthis announced a cessation of attacks in response to the Saudi-led coalition’s decision to halt in its offensive against Hodeidah, in advance of the peace talks in Sweden (see Box 3).
22.The Minister said the UK’s “commitment to those who have been under attack and under threat … was not a narrow decision; it was recognition of the threat that they were under, and support for that”. The knowledge “that they have a partner who will not see them physically threatened” was “very important” to Saudi Arabia.
23.The Minister said that the UK’s policy towards Yemen had been “relatively straightforward and clear”. He said “from the earliest point” the UK “had the sense that there was no military solution” to the conflict. The Government had “worked consistently to try to do our best to bring [the conflict] to an end while recognising the threats in the region and the complex overall political situation in which it has arisen.”
24.It had sought to do “whatever is possible to seek to restore calm and stability to the state of Yemen so that the Yemeni people can continue their journey to find a process of governance that is right for them.”
25.The Minister wished to make it “very clear” that the UK was “not a party to the military conflict as part of the coalition.” As we set out in our report The Middle East: Time for new realism, at the start of the Saudi-led coalition’s military intervention in Yemen the then Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond MP, said the UK would “support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat”. This support has included providing spare parts, maintenance, technical advice and resupplying for the Saudi air force, training in targeting and weapon use, and providing liaison officers in Saudi headquarters.
26.Since the war began, the UK has licensed £4.7 billion of arms exports to Saudi Arabia, and £860 million to its coalition partners. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Arms Transfer Database, between 2010 and 2017 the UK was the second-largest exporter of arms to Saudi Arabia (after the US), and accounted for around 25% of arms imports to Saudi Arabia. Typhoon combat aircraft and associated systems formed the majority of these exports.
27.In August 2018 the Group of Regional and International Eminent Experts on Yemen found that “Coalition air strikes have caused most of the documented civilian casualties”. It concluded there were reasonable grounds to believe that individuals in the government of Yemen and the Saudi-led coalition may have conducted attacks in violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution, which may amount to war crimes.
28.In The Middle East: Time for new realism, we noted that the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) had launched a judicial review at the High Court of the UK’s licensing of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The case focused on Criterion 2c of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, which states that licences should not be granted “if there is a clear risk the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law”. The High Court found in favour of the Government in July 2017. The Court of Appeal has granted permission to the CAAT to appeal the judgment; the appeal will be heard in April 2019.
29.The Minister said that a “judgement … has to be made … about the adherence to humanitarian law of any partner with whom we have export licences.” The UK’s “judgement was … and remains that [the coalition] are on the right side of international humanitarian law.” This is consistent with the position set out by the then Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson MP, in January 2017. He said that that for licensing to be suspended, “there has to be a clear risk that there will be a serious breach of international humanitarian law”, and the Government had “received sufficient assurances from the Saudis about the incidents that have taken place so far to think that we are still narrowly on the right side of that threshold”.
30.The Minister, Alistair Burt MP, said the conduct of the war had “thrown up various issues of great concern to the UK Government and others”. There was “a process by which the coalition looks at incidents in which it might have been involved”: the Joint Incidents Assessment Team. He said the Saudi coalition had admitted to some errors. A comparator process “does not exist on the Houthi side or on the side of any other party to the conflict”.
31.The Government was “always deeply and genuinely concerned about reports that a number of civilians are killed in an air strike.” It monitored “all incidents of alleged international and humanitarian law violations using all available information”. It was “clear that airstrikes have been a cause of concern”, and the UK had looked “very hard at individual incidents”. These were “assessed in the UK as best as they can be”. Analysis included “matters that might give rise to concerns about Saudi Arabia’s approach to international humanitarian law, such as the equipment used and whether a military target has been identified”.
32.Such analysis, “together with other information about [coalition] processes and attitudes”, was used to form an overall UK view on the coalition’s actions. The Government had “to make the best judgements that we can”. It did “regularly raise issues of compliance with the Saudi-led coalition.”
33.The Minister added that “we cannot completely exclude the possibility that, in some instances, attacks by other forces—not Saudi—such as Houthi artillery and mortar attacks, may have been influential”.
34.The Minister said the UK was “on record as having said for a lengthy period of time that we do not see a military solution to what is happening in Yemen”. This had been the case “when it has been quite clear that some elements in the coalition partnership might have disagreed with that and believed that one more heave would see success.” This position had now changed: the coalition no longer believed that the war could be ended by taking Hodeidah by force.
35.The Minister outlined the UK’s “constant” and “consistent” support for diplomatic progress. The former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson MP, had taken “a significant part in the small-group meetings of like-minded nations that were essential for progress”. The current Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP, had “been very active” in diplomatic efforts and had travelled to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. He had also visited Iran, as part of a number of UK “visits to Tehran to try to understand more closely the relationship which the region needs to have” with it. These discussions with Iran had been “really helpful”, although such dialogue “in no way precludes our concerns about Tehran, which we have made very public and very clear”.
36.The Foreign Secretary also “went to the Stockholm peace talks in December” 2018 (discussed below), where he “met leaders of both delegations. He was the first British Minister to meet representatives of the Houthis.”
37.The UK had done “everything that we could as pen-holders at the UN to encourage the efforts of successive envoys”. The Government had “great faith” in the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen, Martin Griffiths. The UK had used its “best endeavours” to give him “the support and space that he needed in order to be able to do his job.”
38.The Minister said the UK had been “one of the major donors of humanitarian support in Yemen”—it is the fifth-largest (after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and the United States). The UK’s contribution for 2019 was “£170 million, which brings us to a total of £570 million since the conflict began”.
39.Dr Walker, Head of Office—Yemen, DfID, outlined this contribution. The UK was “very focused on food security”. It was a donor to the World Food Programme (WFP), which was “currently feeding 10 million people, and that will go up to 12 million within the next couple of months.”
40.Commenting on reports that some WFP food aid is being diverted by parties to the conflict, the Minister said that 95% of food aid was getting through. Houthi-controlled territory posed particular problems:
“They are more restrictive with access, and they are more difficult on the ground about visas and about people working to distribute aid. Also, being quite straightforward, there is more risk of supplies being diverted or taxed as they go through in Houthi-controlled areas. That is how they make their money.”
In September 2018 the UK announced a £96.5 million programme focused on nutrition in Yemen. This would “provide screening for 2.2 million children, treat 70,000 children with acute malnutrition and provide antenatal care to 800,000 women”.
41.A second area was UK support for the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM)—see Box 2. The UK had been one of the three initial donors to the mechanism (alongside the US and Japan). “Within a few weeks” of UNVIM being established, the UK had sent “UK experts to increase the capacity of UNVIM to carry out actual physical inspections. They would board fuel ships with sniffer dogs and climb down into the holds in order to look at what was going on.” The UK has provided £1.3 million to UNVIM in 2018–19.
The UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM) facilitates the unimpeded flow of commercial items into ports not controlled by the government of Yemen, through verification, inspection and clearance request reviews.
It was established at the request of the government of Yemen to ensure compliance with Security Council Resolution 2216 (2015) for vessels sailing to ports of Yemen not under its control. UNVIM is managed and operated by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) in Djibouti.
42.The Minister said that “the work that has been done on that so patiently over the past year or so has helped with the availability of ships that can come in and unload.” In Hodeidah the problem was the economy: “Commercial ships will not dock if they cannot sell their produce.”
43.Dr Walker said that UNVIM was “a well-functioning system that actually works and is not a barrier to shipping”. It had “increased those visible inspections tenfold and we have also worked with the Saudis and UNVIM to improve the procedures so that there are fewer delays in getting the paperwork through and sorting out the communications.”
44.A third area of support was DfID funding for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
45.Fourth, DfID had “done a tremendous amount over the past two years on cholera”. Yemen experienced the world’s most severe cholera epidemic in 2017 and 2018, affecting 1 million people. Dr Walker said that “a lot of the work that we do is about water and sanitation.” It had “made progress … primarily through prevention in the form of clean drinking water”.
46.A fifth area was vaccinations: the UK had “contributed 25% of the cost of a vaccination campaign in Yemen that vaccinated 1 million people in both the north and the south”.
47.Sixth, DfID had supported internally displaced people (IDPs). Dr Walker told us that “about 3 million people have fled their communities because of the conflict”. DfID was working with organisations including UNICEF, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and the International Organisation for Migration “to provide temporary shelter”. When the conflict had moved close to Hodeidah, they were “quickly able to move several thousand emergency tents and supplies for people who were immediately fleeing”. The UK was also helping IDPs facing gender-based violence, as well as providing “legal support”.
48.Seventh, the UK had intervened to stabilise the Yemeni economy. Dr Walker explained that in late 2018 the Yemeni rial was “collapsing, which for ordinary Yemenis meant that their rials bought less in the market, so if there was food in the market they could not afford to buy it, so they were making horrific choices about who to feed in their families and how much to feed them”. The UK, the US, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates “were able to take measures so that letters of credit were issued, and we got foreign currency into the country so that commercial importers could make purchases of food on international markets”. This action “helped to restore confidence, and since then the rial has appreciated significantly and the prices of basic commodities, such as wheat and rice, have dropped.”
49.The Minister acknowledged that “on the one hand” the UK was supporting the coalition, and “on the other hand” providing humanitarian support. It had to consider why it was doing so, “and what is the justification for each?” While “clearly” the UK would be providing humanitarian support “in any conflict situation while at the same time trying to resolve the conflict”, in Yemen the UK’s “relationship with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular makes things more difficult.”
50.He thought the UK was “on the right side of trying to bring this conflict to an end”, and was “more encouraged than I have been for some time”.
On 6–13 December 2018 the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, convened talks between the representatives of the government of Yemen and of the Houthis in Rimbo, Sweden, focused on humanitarian issues. The parties agreed the Stockholm Agreement, which set out:
(1)An agreement on the city and port of Hodeidah and the ports of Salif and Ras Issa;
(2)An executive mechanism on activating a prisoner exchange agreement; and
(3)A statement of understanding on Taïz (Yemen’s third largest city).
The agreement on the city and port of Hodeidah, and the ports of Salif and Ras Issa, included: the agreement of a ceasefire; the mutual redeployment of forces; not to bring military reinforcements into these areas; and to remove any military manifestations from the city. The parties agreed to a phased implementation, but that the “full mutual redeployment of all forces from the city of Hodeidah and the ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa” was to be “completed within a maximum period of 21 days after the cease-fire enters into force”.
Prisoner exchange agreement
A joint committee to plan for the mutual release of all prisoners met in Sweden during the talks. An Agreement for the exchange prisoners, detainees, missing persons, arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared persons, and those under house arrest was signed by both parties under the auspices and the supervision of the Office of the Special Envoy, “to demonstrate goodwill and to promote the peace process”.
The parties agreed to create a joint committee with the UN and civil society participants. The Special Envoy reported that the parties “reached a mutual understanding” to ease the situation in Taïz, “with the prospect of opening of humanitarian corridors to allow the safe passage of goods and people across the front lines, the reduction of the fighting in the governorate, the deployment of demining operations and the release and exchange of prisoners”.
Two outstanding humanitarian issues were not addressed at the talks: the reopening of Sanaa airport (the Saudi coalition currently controls Yemeni airspace) and the collection of revenue by the Central Bank of Yemen (necessary to pay the salaries of civil servants).
On 21 December 2018 the UN Security Council endorsed the agreements reached in Resolution 2451 (2018). The parties agreed to reconvene at the end of January 2019.
51.The Minister said that “after years of conflict we have reached the broader realisation that this will not be won in conventional military terms”. The talks in Rimbo “were a success just by taking place in the first place and by there being a definitive agreement that came out of them afterwards, principally in relation to Hodeidah, but not exclusively so”.
52.Following the Agreement, the UK, as the UN Security Council penholder on Yemen had, “painstakingly put together” Resolution 2451 (2018). This “complemented the efforts of the Envoy to create a space for an agreement that has held and has had beneficial effects is a good step forward.” The Minister said it “does not end the problems, it does not end the conflict, it does not deal with all the humanitarian aspects, but without it we would be in a very much poorer position today than we are at present.” On 16 January 2019 the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2452 (2019), which established a special political mission to support implementation of the Stockholm Agreement.
53.The Minister said the “acid test” would be the implementation of the Agreement by the parties. His assessment was that “both sides have largely complied with the agreement on the ceasefire in Hodeidah, and the relative calm there reflects the benefit of the Stockholm Agreement.” The situation was “broadly … stable”, but “far from dealing immediately with all the problems”.
54.The Minister hoped that “there may be no need for one side or the other to seek that overwhelming military solution, because there is a better answer available”. There was, however, “no sudden breakthrough. Confidence between the parties” was “incredibly low.” For this reason, “It is really about confidence building”.
55.The Minister said the Redeployment Co-ordination Committee—established to oversee the ceasefire and the redeployment from Hodeidah—had “met a number of times”. We note that further meetings of the Redeployment Co-ordination Committee were delayed because Houthi participants refused to cross into territory controlled by the government of Yemen. According to the International Crisis Group, a major issue is the interpretation of the Stockholm Agreement’s provision that “local forces” will control Hodeidah port and city and the port facilities at Salif and Ras Issa, after the withdrawal of Houthi forces. The members of the Redeployment Co-ordination Committee met for a third time between 3 and 6 February aboard a UN vessel berthed in the inner harbour of Hodeidah port.
56.The Minister said that “we should keep those talks going, because it is not the letter of the law that anyone will necessarily adhere to. We will see things beginning to move when those with weaponry who are facing each other have confidence in what the other is going to do.”
57.The agreement on the exchange of prisoners was “still very much a live issue that is being discussed”. The Supervisory Committee on the Implementation of the Prisoner Exchange Agreement held its second meeting in Amman, Jordan, on 5-8 February 2019. The Office of the Special Envoy reported that it had “made important progress in moving the release process forward, including by providing additional information on the status of individuals included in the lists of prisoners”.
58.The Minister said that the Stockholm Agreement had had a positive impact on the situation in Hodeidah. The head of the World Food Programme had described to him a change in the atmosphere following the talks, and “a more positive attitude from the Houthis” about providing access for humanitarian supplies. Dr Walker said that, following the agreement, the UN was considering moving some UNVIM staff from Djibouti to Hodeidah.
59.The Minister said that as a result of the Stockholm Agreement and “the greater availability of ships—there are currently four food ships and seven fuel ships on their way to Hodeidah”—the situation was “getting easier, but it is still very bad”. He described the humanitarian situation as “potentially catastrophic, unless access improves, the agencies continue to be able to work and the money keeps being paid to ensure that supplies are going in.”
60.On 22 January 2019 the Foreign Secretary announced an additional £2.5 million from the Conflict, Security and Stability Fund to help establish the UN Civilian Co-ordinator’s Office. This would “play the leading role in co-ordinating support to the ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Isa” and “focus on demining work and other civilian aspects of the Hodeidah Agreement”, including support for the re-establishment of a local civilian policing function and the planning and implementation of customs facilities and revenue collection for the ports.
61.The Minister said that matters were “complicated” by the interests of other countries, such as the members of the Saudi-led coalition. The UK would support further steps towards a peaceful resolution, including “some very direct conversations with our friends” in the coalition. The UK would hold their “feet to the fire” to encourage their support for the Stockholm Agreement, while recognising “the threats that they feel they are under.”
62.He said the Special Envoy “wants to get the next stage of the talks agreed”. While no date has been fixed for that”, it was “very much in people’s minds that it will happen”.
63.The parties have subsequently informed the Special Envoy that they do not want to hold the next round of talks until progress is made on Hodeidah. He has agreed this approach. On 28 January 2019 the Special Envoy said that the timelines for implementing the agreement on Hodeidah and the prisoner exchange agreement had been extended. He said that “Such changes in timelines are expected. The initial timelines were rather ambitious. We are dealing with a complex situation on the ground.” The two parties had demonstrated “remarkable political will, first to reach a ceasefire agreement, and then to abide by it. What we need to see now is the implementation of the provisions of the agreement, fully and rapidly.”
64.The humanitarian situation remains severe. On 11 February 2019 the Special Envoy and the Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, Sir Mark Lowcock, issued a joint statement that the WFP urgently needed access to grain stored in the Red Sea Mills in Hodeidah, which could feed 3.7 million people for a month. They emphasised that ensuring access to the mills was “a shared responsibility among the parties to the conflict”, and said they were “encouraged by recent engagement of all sides, working with the United Nations on the ground, to create the necessary conditions for the team to reach the mills without further delay”.
65.The UN and the governments of Sweden and Switzerland will host the 2019 High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen in Geneva on 26 February. Fourteen charities met on 28 January 2019 in London to demand urgent action to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. In an open letter they said the ceasefire gave “some hope for the future” but “most Yemeni people do not feel this hope”. They said that “Aid and commercial goods are not yet flowing to the level needed”, and urged the parties to the conflict to “remember that the people of Yemen must come first”.
66.The UK’s role in Yemen has three interrelated aspects: diplomacy, humanitarian assistance, and military support for the Saudi-led coalition.
67.The humanitarian situation in Yemen is unconscionable. The Government should give much higher priority to resolving—not just mitigating—this situation, particularly in light of the tension between its support for the Saudi-led coalition and its role as a major donor of humanitarian relief to those affected by the conflict.
68.We commend the Government for its ongoing humanitarian contribution, and the work of the Department for International Development and those British volunteers who are risking their lives to deliver assistance to those in need. But a solution to the humanitarian situation cannot be achieved through aid alone. The Government must address the root causes of this suffering: the hostilities themselves.
69.The efforts to resolve the crisis, led by Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen, are worthy of praise. While the UK has no ‘magic wand’, it must do more to support this work. It should put its weight behind the UN peace process in new and imaginative ways. It should consider appointing a Special Representative, based in London, to speak to all the parties concerned, both internal and external, to reinforce the efforts of the UN Special Envoy.
70.The Government should be more willing to use its role as penholder at the UN Security Council to intervene if peace talks are not progressing and if blockages arise.
71.The UK should redouble its diplomatic efforts with all external actors—particularly the US, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran—to keep them committed to the Hodeidah ceasefire, and its extension to Sanaa and elsewhere in Yemen.
72.We reiterate the conclusion of our report, The Middle East: Time for new realism, that the UK’s sales of arms to Saudi Arabia, which are used against Yemeni civilians, are the source of considerable public disquiet. We are deeply concerned that the Saudi-led coalition’s misuse of their weaponry is causing—whether deliberately or accidentally—loss of civilian life. Relying on assurances by Saudi Arabia and Saudi-led review processes is not an adequate way of implementing the obligations for a risk-based assessment set out in the Arms Trade Treaty.
73.We recognise that there are legitimate reasons for UK arms exports overseas. Export licensing decisions for the sale of arms always require fine judgements, balancing legitimate security concerns against human rights implications, and each situation must be assessed individually. The Government asserts that, in its licensing of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, it is narrowly on the right side of international humanitarian law. Although conclusive evidence is not yet available, we assess that it is that it is narrowly on the wrong side: given the volume and type of arms being exported to the Saudi-led coalition, we believe they are highly likely to be the cause of significant civilian casualties in Yemen, risking the contravention of international humanitarian law.
74.The UK should immediately condemn any further violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition, including the blocking of food and medical supplies, and be prepared to suspend some key export licences to members of the coalition.
75.The Government should also signal that failure by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Iran to back the Stockholm Agreement in deeds as well as words would have negative consequences for our relations with these countries.
76.The Government should state clearly that it is ready to strengthen its contribution to the UN’s work in Yemen, in particular to the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen through the provision of specialist personnel and equipment, if required by the UN.
1 United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, ‘Concept Note—2019 High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen’: [accessed 7 February 2019]
2 (Dr Walker) and United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, ‘Concept Note—2019 High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen’: [accessed 7 February 2019]. In December 2018 the results of the UN’s Integrated Phase Classification analysis confirmed that more than 20 million people are food insecure, of which nearly a quarter of a million people are facing catastrophic levels of hunger. In addition there has been a major outbreak of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea, and worsening rates of malnutrition.
3 (Dr Walker)
4 UN News, ‘Yemen in numbers’ (no date): [accessed 7 February 2019]
5 Lise Grande, quoted in Bel Trew, ‘Yemen facing the ‘world’s worst famine in 100 years’ if fighting does not stop, warns the UN’, The Independent (15 October 2018): [accessed 7 February 2019]
6 Oral evidence taken on (Session 2017–19)
7 International Relations Committee, (2nd Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 53). In our report, we concluded that the UK did not “have the luxury … of reducing its exposure to, or engagement with, this neighbouring region”, and so UK policy in the Middle East “ideally, must still be to foster and pursue its national interests, but also to contain the threat of state conflict, and encourage stability in the region while supporting democratic institutions where they emerge.”
8 The Houthis are Zaydi Shias, a minority with significantly different doctrine and beliefs to other Shia communities. Bruce Riedel, ‘Who are the Houthis, and why are we at war with them?’, Brookings (18 December 2017); [accessed 7 February 2019]. The US State Department estimates that more than 99% of the population of Yemen is Muslim, belonging either to the Shafi’i order of Sunni Islam or the Zaydi order of Shia Islam. It estimates 65% of the population to be Sunni and 35% Zaydi. US Department of State, Yemen 2017 international religious freedom report (2017): [accessed 12 February 2019]
9 The other eight states were: the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan. Qatar withdrew from the coalition in 2017. Aziz El Yaakoubi, ‘Qatar crisis strains Saudi-led Arab alliance in Yemen war’, Reuters (20 July 2017): [accessed 7 February 2019]
13 The National Dialogue concluded on 25 January 2014 with the adoption of an Outcome Document that stipulated a roadmap towards the full transition of Yemen into a state that upholds democracy, freedom, the rule of law, human rights and good governance. Issues considered included the “Southern question, Saada, national issues and reconciliation and transitional justice, state building, good governance, foundations for building military and security, independent entities, rights and freedoms, and sustainable development.” Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, ‘National Dialogue Conference’: [accessed 1 February 2019]
14 (Alistair Burt MP)
34 (Alistair Burt MP)
35 UN, ‘Security Council Press Statement on Yemen’ (28 March 2018): [accessed 7 February 2019]
36 (Alistair Burt MP)
37 IHS Jane’s Military and Security Assessments Intelligence Centre, ‘Yemeni rebels enhance ballistic missile campaign’ (2017), p 3: [accessed 7 February 2019]
38 Noah Browning, ‘Houthi missile arsenal holds key to future Yemen peace’, Reuters (22 November 2016): [accessed 7 February 2019]
39 IHS Jane’s Military and Security Assessments Intelligence Centre, ‘Yemeni rebels enhance ballistic missile campaign (2017), p 3: [accessed 1 February 2019]
40 ‘Saudi coalition downs Yemen rebel missile near Mecca’, Reuters (28 July 2017): [accessed 7 February 2019]
41 ‘Iran may have passed ballistic missiles to Yemen Houthi rebels, UN says’, The Guardian (14 December 2017): and CNN, ‘Saudi Arabia intercepts ballistic missile over capital’ (5 November 2017): [accessed 7 February 2019]
42 Brookings, ‘What you need to know about the latest Houthi attack on Riyadh’ (27 March 2017): [accessed 7 February 2019]
43 Aziz El Yaakoubi, ‘Yemeni Houthis halt missile attacks on Saudi coalition raising peace prospects’, Reuters (18 November 2019): [accessed 1 February 2019]
49 , para 73
50 Business, Innovation and Skills and International Development Committees, (First Joint Report of the Business, Innovation and Skills and International Development Committees, Session 2016–17, HC 679)
51 Full Fact, ‘The UK has licensed at least £4.7bn of arms exports to Saudi Arabia since the start of the Yemen War’: [accessed 7 February 2019] These figures do not include all licences, but not all licences result in goods ultimately being exported. Licensing data is available from Gov.uk, ‘Strategic export controls: licensing data’: [accessed 7 February 2019]
52 House of Commons Library, UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia: Q&A, , 25 October 2018, pp 1–2. 2017 is the latest year for which of figures available from the SIPRI Arms Transfer Database.
53 United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights containing the findings of the Group of Independent Eminent International and Regional Experts and a summary of technical assistance provided by the Office of the High Commissioner to the National Commission of Inquiry (17 August 2018): [accessed 12 February 2019]
54 Office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘Yemen: United Nations Experts point to possible war crimes by parties to the conflict’ (28 August 2018): [accessed 7 February 2019]. It found that these airstrikes had hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and medical facilities.
55 International Relations Committee, (2nd Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 53)
56 House of Commons Library, UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia: Q&A, , 25 October 2018
58 Oral evidence taken on (Session 2017–19)
61 Human Rights Watch has described “a general failing by the [Joint Incidents Assessment Team] for unclear reasons–to provide credible, impartial, and transparent investigations into alleged coalition laws-of-war violations”. Human Rights Watch, ‘Hiding Behind the Coalition’ (24 August 2018): [accessed 7 February 2019]
67 . We wrote to the Minister on 17 October 2018 about the essential need to keep the port of Hodeidah open, and for there to be access from the port to Sanaa and territory controlled by the Houthis. Letter from Lord Howell of Guildford to Alistair Burt MP,
76 (Dr Walker)
78 World Food Programme, ‘WFP demands action after uncovering misuse of food relief intended for hungry people in Yemen’: [accessed 7 February 2019]
80 (Dr Walker)
81 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, ‘Explanatory memorandum on the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security policy’ 21 August 2018: [accessed 7 February 2019]
82 (Dr Walker)
83 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, ‘Explanatory memorandum on the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security policy’ 21 August 2018: [accessed 7 February 2019]
86 (Dr Walker)
89 (Dr Walker)
90 Sir Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, has emphasised the importance of such measures: in September 2018 he said that economic deterioration was likely to make an additional 3.5 million people food-insecure, exacerbated by the slump in the currency and increases in fuel prices. United Nations, ‘Humanitarian Affairs Chief decries widespread famine in Yemen, urging immediate security council action to prevent ‘massive’ loss of life, economic collapse’: [accessed 7 February 2019]
91 (Dr Walker)
94 Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, ‘Full text of the Stockholm Agreement’: [accessed 7 February 2019]
96 Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, ‘Unofficial Translation—Agreement for the exchange prisoners, detainees, missing persons, arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared persons, and those under house arrest’,: [accessed 7 February 2019]
97 Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, ‘Security Council Briefing of the Special Envoy for Yemen,: [accessed 7 February 2019]
98 Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, ‘2018 “Terrifying” for Yemenis but ultimately a “year for hope” says UN Special Envoy’: [accessed 7 February 2019]
99 Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, ‘Security Council Briefing of the Special Envoy for Yemen, 14th of December 2018’: [accessed 7 February 2019]
102 (Alistair Burt MP)
103 United Nations , ‘Adopting Resolution 2452 (2019), Security Council Establishes Special Political Mission to Support Ceasefire between Yemen’s Government, Houthi Militia’: [accessed 1 February 2019] The mission will “monitor compliance with the ceasefire, work with the parties to ensure that security is assured by local security forces, in line with Yemeni law, and co-ordinate United Nations efforts to assist the parties in fully implementing the Agreement”. The UN mission was initially headed by retired Dutch General Patrick Cammaert. On 28 January 2019 it was reported that Danish Lieutenant General Michael Anker Lollesgaard would take over the role. Lisa Barrington and Alex Fraser, ‘U.N. envoy urges Yemen combatants to withdraw from lifeline port’, Reuters (28 January 2019): [accessed 7 February 2019]
108 International Crisis Group, ‘Crisis Group Yemen Update #1’ (24 January 2019): [accessed 7 February 2019]
109 United Nations Secretary-General, ‘Note to Correspondents: Meeting of the Redeployment Co-ordination Committee’ (7 February 2019): [accessed 12 February 2019]
112 Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, ‘The Supervisory Committee on the implementation of the Prisoner Exchange Agreement continues its work’ (8 February 2019): [accessed 12 February 2019]
116 Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development, Press Release: Foreign Secretary announces new UK funding to support UN peace process in Yemen, (22 January 2019): [accessed 7 February 2019]
120 International Crisis Group, ‘Crisis Group Yemen Update #1’ (24 January 2019): [accessed 7 February 2019]
121 Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen (OSESGY) (@OSE_Yemen) Tweet on 28 January 2019: [accessed 7 February 2019]
122 Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen (OSESGY) (@OSE_Yemen) Tweet on 28 January 2019: [accessed 7 February 2019]
123 Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, ‘Joint Statement on the Situation in Yemen’ (11 February 2019): [accessed 12 February 2019]
124 United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, ‘Concept Note—2019 High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen’: [accessed 7 February 2019]
125 Lisa Barrington and Alex Fraser, ‘UN envoy urges Yemen combatants to withdraw from lifeline port’, Reuters (28 January 2019): [accessed 7 February 2019]
126 Caabu, ‘Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt responds to Caabu and other aid agencies concerned about the situation in Yemen’ (6 February 2019): [accessed 7 February 2019]