The EU should lead the international community in ensuring that the Yemen Peace Deal is not allowed to collapse, argues Mohamed Issa Abushahab.
H.E. Ambassador Mohamed Issa Abushahab is the UAE’s Ambassador to the EU.
The adoption of the Stockholm agreement, one month ago, represented a rare flicker of hope for the people of Yemen. It promised an end to the fighting in Hodeidah, the mutual redeployment of forces, the unblocking of vital humanitarian aid, and the exchange of thousands of prisoners.
Most importantly, the agreement offers a singular opportunity to build confidence between Yemen’s warring parties – and with that, a potential bridge towards a future political settlement.
All of this now hangs in the balance.
Ever since returning from Stockholm, the Houthis have consistently, verifiably, and with callous impunity, violated both the letter and the spirit of the agreement.
In a letter to the UN Security Council sent on 15 January 2019, the Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen documented 573 violations of the ceasefire by the Houthis. Since the Stockholm agreement came into force, 41 coalition soldiers have been killed and 396 have been wounded.
But that is not all. Instead of grasping at the opportunity that the agreement provides, the Houthis have done everything to obstruct its implementation and circumvent its conditions.
Their refusal to reopen the Hodeidah-Sana’a highway is holding up critical humanitarian supplies; a deadline for the Houthis withdrawal from Hodeidah and the ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa has passed; measures to de-escalate the situation in Taiz have stalled; and dozens of new Houthi fortifications have sprung up across Hodeidah in flagrant violation of the agreement.
Houthi intransigence and delay tactics have also obstructed the work of the UN Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC), headed by General Cammaert. The Houthis’ refusal to meet with their Yemeni Government counterparts in the RCC is particularly alarming, given that it is mandated to implement and supervise the conditions of the agreement.
There is a clear pattern to these actions. Since the start of Yemen’s bloody conflict, the Houthis have time and again pledged to accept international mediation and agreements, only to later dither on implementation, question what was agreed, and eventually demand new concessions.
Despite the Houthis’ intransigence, the Coalition remains determined to do everything in its power to ensure the full implementation of the Stockholm agreement.
But to prevent the collapse of the agreement, we urgently need the help of the international community, including our partners in the European Union. Together, we need to send a clear message to the Houthis and their foreign supporters that they need to respect the conditions set out by the agreement and that their current path is unacceptable and leads to ruin.
Europe, in particular, could use its diplomatic weight and international credibility to push the Houthis to start implementing the Stockholm agreement. And Europe could signal to the Houthis that any further violations carry clear consequences, including by sanctioning the Houthi leadership, and ultimately designating the group as a terrorist organization.
Separately, the EU could do much to convince Iran to halt its well-documented smuggling of weapons and other resources to Yemen, which are sustaining the war and threatening Yemen’s neighbours.
As long as Iran faces no costs for its meddling, it will continue to hold the process hostage by pushing the Houthis to undermine the agreement.
Stockholm represents an inflection point in Yemen’s four-year old conflict. The agreement goes further than many of the previous efforts and its implementation would have a real and significant impact on the lives of millions of Yemenis. If it can be saved, it provides a tangible path to a peaceful Yemen. However, if the agreement collapses, rebuilding trust amongst the parties will be near impossible, condemning Yemen to further unnecessary suffering and bloodshed.
Following the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, the EU is already one of the most generous providers of humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people and has played an important role in facilitating the Stockholm agreement. Europe, the international community, and the Coalition, have a shared responsibility to save the Stockholm agreement by ensuring that the parties stick to their commitments.
Failure to do so risks squandering what may be one of Yemen’s last opportunities to end this devastating conflict.