UN monitors alone cannot establish peace in Yemen

UN monitors alone cannot establish peace in Yemen

Comment: A broader crisis of trust is stopping the warring sides from implementing their side of the peace agreement, writes a Yemeni journalist.
5 min read
30 Jan, 2019
UN-appointed Patrick Cammaert overseeing the peace deal in Hodeida will step down next month [AFP]
It did not take long for the head of the UN monitoring team in Yemen's Hodeida to tend his resignation. 

Just one month on the job was sufficient to make the UN-appointed retired Dutch general 
declare he would not be doing the task for much longer.

Last week, Patrick Cammaert who arrived last month to oversee the truce agreement and redeployment of forces in Hodeida city, announced he would step down after his attempt to implement the UN-mediated hard-won ceasefire and avert an all-out war in Hodeida city between the forces of the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Iran-allied Houthis.

"As far as we know he is only resigning because he said he wouldn't do it very long," said a senior UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Cammaert's convoy was shot at while on duty in Hodeida this month, and Hodeida city is now surrounded by armed forces and huge quantities of weapons, enough to transform the entire city into debris in no time.

The UN has announced a replacement for Cammaert, in a bid to demonstrate that its efforts have not fallen apart and this resignation does not mean an end to the peace process in Yemen.

The UN will go on playing a feeble role so long as punitive measures are not taken against any party that purposefully obstructs the peace process

On Friday, Danish Major General Michael Anker Lollesgaard, who headed a UN peacekeeping missions in Mali in 2015 and 2016, was nominated as the new leader of the monitoring mission in Yemen.

Will this new head of monitoring be able to make a difference?

The news of Cammaert's resignation augured badly for the country. The parties to conflict in Yemen like to pin the blame on UN officials when peace efforts falter. They say the UN is biased, or that UN officials have suspicious agendas. This leads in turn to a lack of cooperation and ballooning distrust.

This month, the Houthis boycotted a meeting with the head of the UN monitoring team, expressing their doubt towards his role, and heightening tensions around it. But the fact of the matter is that the problem does not lie solely in the UN monitors or envoys. It lies in Yemen's warring sides and their conflicting interpretations and understandings of peace agreements. This is a crisis of trust.  

The Houthis protested the role of Cammaert in Hodeida, calling on UN envoy Martin Griffiths to step in. So, will the new head of the monitoring team be able please the Houthis and their opponents alike? This is an arduous job.

If the two sides, particularly the Houthis, persist behaving in this way, no UN envoys or monitors will be able to help Yemen reach any peace agreement. Moreover, the UN will go on playing a feeble role so long as punitive measures are not taken against any party that purposefully obstructs the peace process in Yemen.  

If and when, the UN changes its flimsy rhetoric, and when it adopts a strict plan B agreement where violations occur, peace can be possible. Yet if it continues its lax stances and ineffective resolutions, the cycle of the civil conflict will not cease.

The parties to the conflict appear willing to risk going to war as the solution

Yemenis seem to have abandoned the idea that the UN has the capability to pressure the warring sides into stopping the atrocities in the country. Accordingly, the replacement of the head of the monitoring mission is effectively meaningless for multitudes of Yemenis.

Indeed, the Houthi shots fired at Cammaert's convoy in Hodeida this month hammered home the feeling that the UN role in Yemen is not respected by many. If the warring sides - especially the Houthis - had more faith in the UN, they would act with extreme caution and implement the agreed upon pacts without deviation or posturing.  

The total collapse of a peace agreement in Hodeida would be disastrous.

Last week, reports indicated that shelling hit two food silos in Hodeida, leaving substantial damage. The attack appeared as a rapid and direct consequence of the rising tensions between the warring sides, and the shrinking role of the UN monitors in Hodeida city.  

"We are very concerned that some of our wheat stocks at the Red Sea Mills have been damaged," said the UN World Food Programme's Yemen director, Stephen Anderson, in a statement by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Read more: Yemen UN chief 'safe' after convoy comes under fire

The situation in Hodeida has been highly explosive since the departure of the head of the UN monitoring team. The people are in a state of panic, fearing the eruption of armed confrontations any time.

To date, about a half million people are reported to have fled from Hodeida. The fresh surge of fighting will force thousands of families to escape from the city, and new scenes of the humanitarian catastrophe will been seen in Yemen.

Hodeida is not a minor concern. Further fighting there will give rise to worse famine, lack of access to humanitarian aid and food commodities. The repercussions will be fast and conspicuous across the northern territories of Yemen.

While the UN seems to understand the dangers associated with the fighting in the city, the parties to the conflict appear willing to risk going to war as the solution.

The time is now ripe for better UN policies for dealing with the conflict in Yemen. Monitors and envoys alone will not help, unless they are accompanied by unequivocal international support for making all UN resolutions a living reality in Yemen.

The writer is a Yemeni journalist, reporting from Yemen, whose identity we are protecting for their security.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.