Sadly, the "compromise” draft that eventually passed removed all mentions of a
humanitarian crisis being ongoing in Yemen, obviously at the behest of Saudi
officials who feared that their criminal blocking of aid shipments would make it
clear this crisis is their fault – which indeed is. It also removed calls for an
independent investigation, which is a shame.
The US interest in getting language put in the draft that blamed Iran for the Yemen War did not make the final version for obvious and legal reasons. This was unsurprising as Russia threatened to veto any resolution that tried to spin the Saudi invasion of Yemen as an Iranian matter. After all, there are no Iranian arms or military personnel in that war-torn country – although US Diplomat Rodney Hunter issued a silly statement after the resolution passed complaining of the "omission” of the blaming of Iran, saying that the council would one day regret the decision not to single out Iran.
Actually, the council will one day regret the decision not to condemn Saudi Arabia for invading the poorest country in the Arab world. The council will also regret the decision not to mention the current humanitarian crisis triggered by the Saudi blockade and for removing calls for an independent international investigation into Saudi war crimes and crimes committed against humanity in Yemen.
Lest we forget, deteriorating conditions in Yemen mean substantially more resources will be required for the aid effort next year. The country is the world’s largest humanitarian operation, but in 2019 it will need to be substantially bigger. Donors this year have provided $2.3 billion for the 2018 response plan, or about 80 percent of requirements, which is not sufficient in any way. Let us be clear:
The situation in Hodeidah must be specifically and urgently addressed. It is Yemen’s main port, and with 14 million civilians on the brink of starvation, the supply lines of food, oil and medicine must be opened up fully. The port should be put under UN protection and control, without interference from any of the parties, to guarantee those supply lines stay open and are not misused for further Saudi airstrikes.
With the civic infrastructure in Yemen in a near state of collapse, the ceasefire must – as international aid groups have demanded – call for the restoration of the banking system, and the payment of pensions and civil service wages. The US demands that the Saudis must investigate their own alleged war crimes has been exposed as utterly inadequate, both on the UN and the international community. So the ceasefire agreement must demand an independent, UN-led investigation of all alleged breaches of international humanitarian law by the Saudis and their partners.
Finally, the "compromise” ceasefire agreement must contain proper accountability mechanisms to ensure that compliance with its terms – particularly on humanitarian access and the cessation of indiscriminate airstrike – is independently monitored, with clear sanctions ready to be enforced if they are breached by Saudi Arabia and its allies.
On which note, if the US government will not pro-actively do the right thing and suspend arms sales for use in Yemen or stop refueling Saudi warplanes, then at the very least the "compromise” ceasefire should make clear that the continued sale of arms to the Saudis – and the Emiratis - will at least cease if they breach its terms.
That is what a comprehensive, robust, and effective ceasefire agreement should look like, and if that is what the UN has produced, even if it is too late, the international civil society will be the first to welcome it. Indeed, there is a stark truth at the heart of the "compromise” ceasefire agreement. The humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate in the absence of a peace agreement that leads to a durable solution to the conflict. That fear should have been enough at the UN to outweigh the American-Saudi objections and stonewalling.
Peace talks could take several months, if not longer. In the interim, multilateral negotiating efforts should focus on confidence-building measures among the parties. As full access to Hodeidah port is critical in the short-term for relieving the humanitarian crisis and looming famine situation, discussions on cessation of Saudi airstrikes could help build confidence in the lead-up to more comprehensive talks. US military support to the coalition and arms sales to Saudi Arabia are also sources of tensions. In the aftermath of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Washington has a window of opportunity to end its military support and complicity in Saudi war atrocities.
The road to a comprehensive solution to decades of conflict in Yemen is long and fraught with potential obstacles. However, the UN-endorsed ceasefire agreement plus the international interest in the region following the Khashoggi murder saga has created a critical window for renewed attempts at negotiations and giving peace a chance.