Interview (2): UN Call for Ceasefire in Yemen
As part of our webinar series, spokesperson for the International United Nations Watch Maya Garner conducted an interview with Dr. Mouna Hashem on the UN’s call for a ceasefire in Yemen, in light of the global COVID-19 crisis. Dr. Hashem is an International Evaluation Consultant and Researcher with 20-years experience in the evaluation of bilateral and multilateral organizations, including UN agencies. The UN Secretary-General’s call for a ceasefire in Yemen on April 8 was endorsed by the UN Security Council. In response, the Saudi-led military coalition declared a unilateral truce, which has since been renewed.
With airstrikes continuing on the ground, Dr. Hashem put the truce into perspective, noting that UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffith had “expressed gratitude” toward Mohammad Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia even though the acts of aggression had not let up. . In the circumstances, Dr. Hashem branded the truce as no more than a “PR move.” Furthermore, she warned that a widespread COVID-19 outbreak would have catastrophic consequences for Yemen, given its already fragile healthcare system and the ordeal it had experienced already with the outbreak of cholera and the targeting of hospitals and civilian infrastructure by airstrikes.
Politically, Dr. Hashem characterized the Houthi movement, or “Ansar Allah,” as a “grassroots national movement” rather than the mainstream narrative which portrays it as being merely an Iran-backed Shia movement. In doing so, she sought to dispel the notion of the Houthis as being primarily motivated to serve the interests of Iran rather than having their own political aspirations. In this regard, Dr. Hashem stressed that the role of regional forces such as Iran is exaggerated and less significant than the political discourse makes them out to be.
The challenges posed by the Saudi-led military coalition include that of being under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, someone Dr. Hashem described as lacking the sophisticated political-cum-military experience to call the shots effectively in a system in which decision-making is centralized. This, she maintained, had been “reflected” time and again when it came to “peace initiative efforts.” Despite the Saudi-led coalition having the support of powerful nations, according to Dr. Hashem, “after five years they have still not gained anything from this war.” Dr. Hashem also noted how differences within the Saudi-led coalition were becoming increasingly apparent.
With regard to the role and responsibilities of the UN, Dr. Hashem described the work of UN entities as “band-aid” actions that failed to address the core of the problem. She had little expectation of any change coming from the UN Security Council, pointing out how France, the U.S. and the U.K., permanent members of the Security Council, were among the top arms suppliers to the Saudi-led coalition in the war in Yemen and therefore clearly subject to conflict of interest. While all three countries are “definitely capable” of pressuring regional powers to end the conflict, Dr. Hashem asserted, the question is “do they have the willpower?” Moreover, now, during the COVID-19 crisis, there is even less incentive for this, as arms exports play an even larger role in supporting the economies of all three countries.
In conclusion, Dr. Hashem emphasized the importance of lifting the blockade on Yemen in order to limit the potentially devastating effects of the COVID-19 crisis, but allowed that she did not have high hopes that the UN Security Council would move in this direction.