Keith Vaz MP: This week may be the most significant for the conflict in Yemen

Posted On: 
18th October 2016

Labour MP Keith Vaz writes about the "forgotten war in Yemen" ahead of his debate on the humanitarian situation in the country.

Credit: 
PA Images

Last Chance for Yemen

For those concerned with the devastating conflict in Yemen, this week may be the most significant in the last 18 months. With all eyes on Syria, Yemen is the forgotten war.

Last week, 140 Yemenis were killed in an airstrike at a funeral in Sanaa. On Sunday, the US Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to discuss the conflict, where they made a very clear call for a ceasefire “within hours”.

This statement may be a game changer for this tragic conflict.

Off the Pace

Consider the following scenario: one of the poorest countries in the world plunges into civil war, a country with close ties to the UK, which is strategically vital for countering terrorism. Four fifths of its population require urgent humanitarian assistance, millions are internally displaced and hundreds are dying every week.

Faced by this, we would expect the international community, led by the UK and US, two of the Permanent Members of the Security Council, to be urgently bringing the conflict to an end, and putting this at the very top of the agenda at the United Nations.

Instead, when faced by this reality, the world has failed Yemen. Failed to stop the fighting and failed to prevent what is already a humanitarian disaster. The approach so far to solving this crisis has been sluggish, confused, and open to sustained criticism.

Intervention

An explanation for this, at least for the US and UK, is the Saudi-led intervention.

Let us not forget, this coalition intervened at the request of the legitimate government of Yemen. However, 18 months on, it has not produced the results that they or anyone else would have hoped for.

Instead the airstrikes, which are heavily impacting the civilian population, are now at the centre of intense criticism which overshadows every other element of the crisis. Support for the airstrikes is breeding hostility inside and outside Yemen. A generation of Yemenis are learning how to hate Saudi Arabia and the West.

The strength of this criticism means that when we are critical of Russia’s actions in Syria, they are now pointing at Yemen and claiming a moral equivalency. This is not sustainable diplomacy.

What Next?

Sunday’s announcement is therefore a vitally important step, and a call which Saudi Arabia, the Houthis and former President Saleh must heed. This is the roadmap which we now need to follow:

1. A UN Security Council Resolution within the next week: the UK has reportedly drafted a resolution for the Security Council to focus on the delivery of humanitarian aid. This needs to be much tougher, and it must end the airstrikes immediately.

2. Pressure for a final round of peace talks: All sides need to be brought to the negotiating table, where it needs to be made clear, including to those receiving UK support, that leaving without an agreement is not an option. Compromise is better than conflict, and we should be in a position to act the honest broker.

3. Support for UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed: At the top of new Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ in-tray must be dispatching the Special Envoy back to the Middle East with more resources and support for the diplomatic talks. Countries like Oman are well placed to host negotiations.  

For the first time in months, momentum may be building to force an end to this conflict. The Yemeni people cannot take another day, let alone a year, of fighting.

We must seize this moment, and MPs will be making this case to the government this evening. It is only after a ceasefire that the hard work begins, to rebuild this devastated, beautiful country that is quite literally bleeding to death.

Keith Vaz is the Labour MP for Leicester East