Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that the UK is working with UN Security Council partners to decide what more can be done to alleviate suffering in Yemen.
Speaking on Monday, he addressed both sides in the conflict: the Saudi-led coalition, and the Houthi rebels.
“For too long in the Yemen conflict both sides have believed a military solution is possible, with catastrophic consequences for the people,” he said, in a statement issued by the Foreign Office.
“Now, for the first time, there appears to be a window in which both sides can be encouraged to come to the table, stop the killing, and find a political solution that is the only long-term way out of disaster,” he said.
“The UK will use all its influence to push for such an approach,” he continued. “I met UN special envoy Martin Griffiths on Tuesday, and there is a small but real chance that a cessation of hostilities could alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people.”
“This must be the first priority as we seek to put in place a longer-term solution,” he said.
The UK is in a particularly powerful position to help make peace a reality in Yemen, as it is the penholder on Yemen at the UN Security Council.
Being "penholder" means that the UK initiates and chairs the informal drafting process of a decision of the UN Security Council — and it means Britain can spearhead efforts in ending the conflict, by writing a resolution at the UN Security Council.
Hunt said he and Griffiths had agreed that the time was right for the Security Council to act to support the UN-led process, according to a statement issued by the Foreign Office.
It hasn’t been specified yet what action the UK will take.
It was reported to be some of the UK government’s most forceful criticism of Saudi Arabia, a long-term ally of Britain, to which the UK has sold billions of pounds worth of weaponry since the Yemen conflict began in 2015.
The government is also coming under increased pressure to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The organisation Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) launched a judicial review over UK-Saudi arms sales in 2017, however the case was dismissed by the High Court.
"for the first time there appears to be a window in which both sides can be encouraged to come to the table." @Jeremy_Hunt announces UK is in discussions with UNSC partners what more can be done to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.— Foreign Office 🇬🇧 (@foreignoffice) November 5, 2018
The CAAT is appealing the decision, with the case to be heard by the Court of Appeal in April 2019. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Rights Watch UK are reportedly supporting the case.
The UK is also reportedly talking to the other 14 Security Council member states, about stepping up humanitarian efforts to support the Yemeni population.
The almost four-year conflict is having a devastating impact on Yemeni civilians — over 10,000 people have died, with airstrikes having hit schools, hospitals, and essential infrastructure; and millions more people have been displaced from their homes.
“Yemen is today a living hell — not for 50% to 60% of the children — it is a living hell for every boy and girl in Yemen,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF’s regional director for the Middle East and north Africa, at a press conference on Sunday in Jordan.
UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie also called for an urgent ceasefire in Yemen on Sunday.
“As an international community we have been shamefully slow to act to end the crisis in Yemen,” she said from South Korea, to where several hundred Yemeni people have fled. “We have watched the situation deteriorate to the point that Yemen is now on the brink of man-made famine, and facing the worst cholera epidemic in the world in decade.”
It comes after Prime Minister Theresa May said last week that a ceasefire in Yemen would only have an impact if it was “underpinned by a political deal.”
The United States administration caused some surprise last week when it called for a ceasefire in Yemen, urging all parties to take part in UN-led peace talks within the next 30 days. The call reportedly served to ramp up the fighting, as both sides attempted to strengthen their positions, according to the Guardian.
There has been a significant increase in international activity concerning Yemen, after the conflict was cast back into the spotlight by the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey in October.