- Posted by: Valerie Vaz MP
- Category: News
Last month, I joined colleague Flick Drummond MP in front of the Backbench Business Committee. We asked the committee for time to discuss the situation in Yemen. Yemen is in the midst of an 8-year long conflict which the UN estimates has cause 377,000 deaths. The two warring sides agreed a truce in April of this year, but sadly they have failed to reach an agreement to extend this.
The debate took place on 3 November, just over a month after the truce agreement ended. I was pleased to see colleagues from across the House take part in the debate and share both their fond memories of Yemen and concerns about the ongoing conflict.
Here is my speech:
It is a pleasure to serve with you as Chair, Mr Davies, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley (Mrs Drummond) for suggesting this debate. We both went along to the Backbench Business Committee and were able to pitch the debate, because—like my brother and my sister—she and I were born in Aden, and we did say we wanted to go back and visit it in all its beauty. I left when I was 10 years old, so I do remember quite a lot of it. It is important that the Backbench Business Committee has granted us this debate at this time, because amid the millions of ongoing problems and crises that are going on around the world today, the prolonged conflict in Yemen has been forgotten.
We wanted to draw the House’s attention to the dreadful state of affairs in Yemen, which has already been outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley and which we cannot simply stand by and watch from the sidelines. We are a great nation and we have always stood up against what is wrong in this world—we were the framers of the European convention on human rights—and we owe that to the thousands of innocent people who are dying in Yemen.
I will set out the background to the conflict. It has been eight years in the making, which is almost as long as the time I spent in Yemen. The eight-year-old conflict in Yemen is between the internationally recognised Government, who are backed by the Saudi-led military coalition, and Houthi rebels, who are supported by Iran.
After almost a decade of this prolonged conflict, the parties involved are far from reaching a peaceful solution. The failure in October 2022 to renew the ceasefire agreements is alarming and disturbing. But it is good that there was a ceasefire. The peace efforts gained some momentum in April, when Yemen’s new governing council helped to consolidate anti-Houthi forces, a move that could set the stage for inclusive negotiations. The first nationwide ceasefire in years allowed commercial flights to resume from Sanaa and some fuel ships to dock in Hodeidah.
After six months of relative peace, however, the parties failed to renew the ceasefire agreements. Both the Yemeni Government and the Houthis have blamed each other for the disintegration of the deal, which has led them back to heavy fighting and plunged Yemen into a full-scale crisis.
I will outline some really upsetting and disturbing statistics, which my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley has already touched on. The United Nations Development Programme estimates that more than 370,000 people have died as a result of this war, with indirect causes, such as lack of food, water and health services, causing almost 60% of those deaths. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, three out of four Yemenis require humanitarian aid and protection and 4 million are internally displaced. Five million are at risk of famine and the cholera outbreak has affected over 1 million people. Fewer than half of the health facilities in Yemen are functioning, and many that are operational do not have even the basic equipment they need. Some health workers have not even been paid their salaries. In March, about 17.4 million people were in need of food assistance, with a growing proportion of the population having to cope with emergency levels of hunger. The conflict’s death-toll has been growing.
This is an urgent humanitarian situation, because the crisis in Yemen is exacerbated by the effect of the war on the humanitarian footprint and thousands of innocent people. An economic crisis continues to compound the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen. In autumn last year, the sharp depreciation of Yemen’s currency significantly reduced people’s purchasing power, so it was more difficult for them to purchase even the basic necessities, taking them even further out of reach. With around three quarters of Yemen’s population living in poverty, disease is rampant and of course the pandemic made matters worse.
This beautiful country is being destroyed and fragmented, town by town, street by street, and house by house. We are in the midst of a terrible war in Yemen and the humanitarian impact of this war on the Yemeni people, especially women and children, is painful for us to watch as silent bystanders.
So how can we go forward? The UN-backed peace negotiations have made limited progress. I, too, want to acknowledge the incredible work of Hans Grundberg, the UN’s special envoy of the Secretary-General to Yemen. He is looking at de-escalating mechanisms through the military co-ordinating committee, turning swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. And of course I also acknowledge Martin Griffiths for his work on the Stockholm agreement.
The regional conflicts and tensions among the actors involved have simply turned this crisis into a prolonged war. All the actors involved seem to be wedded to a military solution, but war can never be a solution for the millions of people who are suffering.
I have a series of questions for the Minister. Will he pursue every effort for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen, as well as for the implementation of the Stockholm agreement? Will he look at establishing a new international accountability mechanism for Yemen? The existing mechanism is simply not enough. We need independent reporting on war crimes. Will the Minister, as the UK penholder, consider drafting an appropriate resolution immediately that moves the country on to a peace process? We have done it in Northern Ireland. There are people who can facilitate a peace process. Even today, there is peace negotiated in Ethiopia.
We cannot stand by and watch the destruction of a country and the death of so many innocent civilians. The situation in Yemen is tragic and heartbreaking. The war and the stalemate have led to the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, because of widespread hunger, disease and attacks on innocent civilians. The country is burning and the people are suffering. I know we have our own problems to deal with here, but ignoring this massive crisis is a disgrace to humanity.