DÁIL PQ ON VIOLENCE IN YEMEN

  1. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he is taking with his EU colleagues to help in bringing the war in Yemen to an immediate end; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47993/18]

Deputy Simon Coveney

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 81, 91, 92, and 109 together.

I have already set out in general terms my views on the situation in Yemen, which is shocking. I share the Deputies’ concerns about the dire security and humanitarian situation in Yemen and the urgent need to bring about a political solution for the country. There are direct threats to civilians from the ongoing fighting and credible reports of violations of basic human rights in the course of the conflict. The United Nations has warned of an imminent threat of famine on an appalling scale, with millions of people potentially at risk of starvation, as well as significant public health risks due to the almost complete collapse of the healthcare system.

The challenge of resolving this complex conflict should not be underestimated. The civil war which has been ongoing for almost four years has opened fault lines in Yemen which will be difficult to heal. Historically, the country was divided between north and south, with a larger proportion of the population in the north being Shia and the south being largely Sunni. The two parts of Yemen were united in one state in 1990. The internationally recognised Government of Yemen now controls less than half of the country, while the de facto authorities, usually referred to as the Houthis, control much of the north and west, where the largest concentrations of people are located, including the capital.

Both parties to the conflict have the support of outside actors, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates among those supporting the internationally recognised government, while Iran is closely connected with the Houthis. Rockets have been fired from Houthi controlled areas into Saudi Arabia, including towards Saudi cities. This has put civilians at risk and I firmly condemn the attacks. There are serious concerns about violations of international humanitarian law on all sides, with indiscriminate attacks endangering civilians, unfortunately, being very common. There are reports of serious human rights abuses on both sides, as well as of obstacles being placed in the way of the effective delivery of humanitarian aid, a matter about which we spoke earlier.

Both at UN level and in EU discussions on the issue, Ireland has sought at all times to stress that military action cannot be a solution. Rebuilding stable and inclusive government and rebuilding links between communities across Yemen will require a painstaking and long process. There are already clear challenges in restoring effective governance in these areas where the government has resumed control. This is particularly worrying in a country where al-Qaeda has had a significant presence for over a decade. A ceasefire will be only the first step, but it is essential.

Even prior to the conflict, Yemen suffered from serious underdevelopment, corruption and drought. This has exacerbated the impact of three years of fighting on the Yemeni people. The war has had a severe impact on the economy and public services. Access for humanitarian aid is a key issue, as is access for commercial goods. However, there are reports that even when food and medicines are available for purchase, the devaluation of the currency and the cessation of much normal economic activity owing to the conflict mean that many families have no resources or income left to buy what they need. As the United Nations and humanitarian agencies report, we now have an acute humanitarian situation, with a cholera outbreak and the real risk of starvation for millions of Yemeni civilians. The United Nations’ humanitarian co-ordinator in Yemen, Lise Grande, has warned that as many as 13 million civilians are at risk of famine if the fighting continues.

At the Foreign Affairs Council in which I participated in Brussels yesterday EU Ministers discussed the humanitarian situation in Yemen, the difficulties aid agencies faced in attempting to reach those in need and what the European Union could do to help to alleviate the crisis. We are particularly concerned about the recent violence in Hodeidah which is the entry point for an estimated 70% of goods imported into Yemen. Ireland and the European Union strongly support the efforts of the UN envoy Martin Griffiths who is working to bring the parties together for a new round of peace talks which may take place before the end of this month. At the request of the United Nations, Sweden stands ready to host such talks. The United Kingdom which currently leads on the Yemen file at the UN Security Council is also making efforts to bring this about, for which I thank it.

Ireland is doing what it can to address the devastating humanitarian situation and try to help to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people. Since 2015, it has provided almost €16.5 million in humanitarian assistance for Yemen. This includes a contribution of €4 million made this year to the UN Yemen Humanitarian Fund which provides assistance in the areas of education, logistics, food security, nutrition and health. Ireland also provides humanitarian support for Yemen through its contributions to EU funds. Since the beginning of the conflict in 2015, the European Union has contributed a total of €438 million to Yemen which includes humanitarian, development, stabilisation and resilience support. On 6 November Commissioner Stylianides announced an additional provision of €90 million in assistance for Yemen, bringing the total this year to €118 million.

On 6 November, Commissioner Stylianides announced an additional provision of €90 million in assistance to Yemen, bringing the total this year to approximately €118 million.

Ireland is using its leverage in other multilateral fora to focus on the situation in Yemen. At the Human Rights Council in September 2017 Ireland was part of a core group of countries which ensured the establishment of a group of eminent experts on Yemen to investigate alleged violations of human rights and contraventions of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict. In September of this year Ireland worked to ensure the extension of the mandate of the group for another year to allow the group more time to complete their valuable work. I assure the House that we will continue to support all efforts to bring an end to the violence and to alleviate the humanitarian situation.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan

I asked the Tánaiste about this previously in September. At the time, the Tánaiste expressed grave and serious concern. He has told us today that the situation is shocking. Some 13 million people are in danger of famine. This number includes hundreds of thousands of children. Perhaps up to 50,000 are dead. Is there something more proactive the Tánaiste can do? I asked the Tánaiste about the use of weapons by the Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates collation and the steps that could be taken in that regard. For example, I mentioned the referring of Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud to the International Criminal Court on foot of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the litany of serious war crimes in Yemen. I note that yesterday Germany issued a travel ban on 18 Saudis who are suspected. The CIA produced a report about the matter recently in which it directly accuses the Crown Prince of bring responsible for the murder. Germany has announced a travel ban on 18 Saudis in the Schengen area. Is that something the Tánaiste will support? It could bring serious pressure to bear on the Saudi authorities to stop this fighting and bring it to an immediate end.

Deputy Simon Coveney

There is a great deal of inflammatory language in the House, understandably, because people have genuine concern about this issue. However, it is not helpful for Deputy Boyd Barrett to talk about Saudi citizens who are in an embassy here and who are diplomats. The ambassador, whom I met last week, is from my experience a decent person who is trying to make a coherent case in very difficult circumstances in the context of the Khashoggi murder. I do not think it is either right or accurate to be referring to all Saudi citizens in the way the Deputy has today.

That is the first thing. Second, I agree with some of what Deputy Wallace said. This matter is more complex than it is sometimes portrayed. There are clans and many different sources of power in Yemen. The impact of this war is devastating across those multiple clans. They are being bombed from the air, and many women and children are being killed alongside soldiers. That has to stop. The EU wants to use all of the influence it has to stop this conflict. I attended the meeting yesterday and heard French and British Ministers, among other EU ministers, speaking about how we can put as much pressure as possible on Saudi Arabia to stop military attacks in Yemen. Deputy Boyd Barrett’s portrayal of the western world is driven by an ideology, rather than accuracy, unfortunately.

There is now the prospect of talks due to the work of a number of actors. The United States has been looking for and demanding a ceasefire in recent weeks and we need to build on that positive momentum. There is a clear signal from the Houthi side that it wants a ceasefire, and a lot of pressure is being put on the Saudi side to facilitate real and substantive talks in Sweden before the end of the year so that we can have a political solution rather than the futility and tragedy that comes from continuing military action. From an Irish perspective, we will support collective EU efforts, and indeed Swedish efforts, to provide the basis for those talks. Even if this ceasefire takes hold a significant international effort will be required to prevent a massive famine in Yemen which will cost a lot of money. The EU must be part of that solution, financially and logistically. We also want to be part of that solution. Our focus is very much on ensuring that these peace talks happen and that the humanitarian assistance required is in place. It will involve a long, expensive and difficult process to help to rebuild a country, politically and in terms of infrastructure and social regeneration. Ireland will be a strong, positive voice on this.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan

The Minister said that he supports collective EU efforts. Does that include supporting the German foreign minister on the travel ban issued to 18 Saudis? The Minister told us about the implementation of the arms trade treaty in 2014, which sought to stop high grade weapons from being used in a country such as Yemen. Every member of the EU has signed up to that treaty. How does that work in reality, in terms of American and British weapons in Saudi Arabia?

Deputy Simon Coveney

On the issue of arms sales, Ireland does not have an arms industry. Some products are sold in Ireland that have been described as having a duel use, but I am not aware of any sales of products used by the Saudi Arabian military. There was a discussion over lunch yesterday, and a number of ministers spoke about the approaches taken in their countries. Some do not sell arms to countries that are involved in wars while the wars are ongoing. That applies to Saudi Arabia in this case. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms Federica Mogherini, made it clear that she was not able to achieve consensus across the EU on an arms embargo because there was no agreement on the issue. Ireland has to focus on areas in which it can have an impact. We have focused on humanitarian assistance and are trying to support a talks process that could lead to a lasting political solution. Hopefully Irish aid agencies and Irish funds can play a part in the long and difficult process of rebuilding Yemen, in time. However, until there is a ceasefire such action will be impossible.