SANAA / ISTANBUL
As the world awaits steps by new US President Joe Biden to end the bloodshed in war-ravaged Yemen, UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths has come under fire from both rebel Houthis and President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government.
Both parties accuse Griffiths, a former British diplomat, of taking sides, rather than meditating to bring peace to the country. Appointed in February 2018, he has spent nearly three years working as a special envoy for the UN secretary-general to bring peace in Yemen.
While Houthis accuse Griffiths of being biased towards the Saudi-Emirati coalition, his call on the US to reverse its recent decision designating the Houthis a foreign terrorist organization has angered the internationally recognized Hadi government.
“Griffiths does not view the crisis in Yemen in terms of UN Resolution 2216 as a coup against legitimacy,” instead seeing it only as “a competition between certain parties to gain power,” Abdulsalam Muhammed, chairman of Abaad Studies and Research Center, told Anadolu Agency.
On Griffiths’ performance over the past three years, Muhammed said he does not seem keen to solve the crisis, with his methodology apparently based on “dividing the bigger problem into smaller parts and addressing them separately, such as the Houthis in the north, the STC [Southern Transitional Council] in the south, military operations in Hodeida, the blockading of sea and airports, food and humanitarian aid, and prisoners and the detainee problem.”
He said that the UN envoy has strayed far from his main goal to end the coup and restore the Yemeni government.
In December 2018, Griffiths managed to bring Yemen’s government and the Houthis together to sign the Stockholm Agreement, which included a mutual re-deployment of forces, establishment of a cease-fire in governorates, as well as an exchange of prisoners. This agreement later helped in enforcing a cease-fire in the key port city of Hodeidah.
Last November, Griffiths claimed to have managed to get 1,050 people released – the biggest release of prisoners so far.
UN envoy’s role in prisoner release denied
But Adel Dashela, a Yemeni writer and researcher, disputed Griffiths’ success in Hodeida. He said the number of released prisoners under the Stockholm Agreement was far less than those released with help of social figures.
“He also failed to lift the siege on Taiz and failed to convince Houthis to implement the salary distribution mechanism,” said Adel.
During 2020, Griffiths worked hard to get Houthis and the internationally recognized government (IRG) of Yemen to sign a joint declaration and agree on a nationwide cease-fire, specific economic and humanitarian measures to improve the lives of Yemenis, and resumption of the political process.
In his Jan. 14 briefing to UN Security Council, Griffiths said: “These negotiations on the Joint Declaration have been cumbersome and frustrating, I perhaps know that better than any of us that they cannot continue indefinitely.” He added that it could be done as a “whole package” or in parts.
But he called for maintaining focus towards achieving the primary goal, irrespective of roadblocks.
Muhammed argued that like the Stockholm and Riyadh agreements, the joint declaration has no conditions for dismantling militias, returning to political action, or holding elections.
“Like the Riyadh agreement, which provided legitimacy to STC forces without any practical measures for the security and military aspects, this declaration discusses the cease-fire but keeps the capital Sanaa under militia control, which means creating a parallel legitimacy to Hadi’s legitimacy. This is also a repetition of Hezbollah’s experience, which created a state within the state and eventually controlled the whole regime,” he argued.
In a recent statement, newly appointed Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Bin Mubarak spelled out proposed solutions by expressing support for the task of the UN envoy based on the three references; the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Initiative, the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference, and UN Resolution 2216.
In a May 2019 letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Hadi accused Griffiths of siding with the country’s Houthi rebels and undermining chances for peace.
“I can no longer tolerate the violations committed by the special envoy, which threaten prospects for a solution,” Hadi said in the letter. He also accused Griffiths of treating the rebels as a de facto government equal to Yemen’s legitimate and elected government.
Failure to condemn military operation
On another occasion, the Yemeni government announced its rejection of the revised draft of the joint declaration, blasting the changes made by Griffiths as "biased towards the Houthis.”
Dashela said while the government had offered some concessions over the joint declaration, it got no positive response from the other side. He said Griffiths did not condemn the military operations against civilians carried out by the Houthis in some areas.
Surprisingly, the only thing the Houthis and the Hadi government have agreed on so far is Griffiths’ unfairness. The Houthis have also accused Griffiths of being biased towards the Saudi-Emirati coalition. In a statement aired on the Al-Masirah channel, Houthi spokesperson Muhammad Abdul Salam said Griffiths’ days are numbered due to his bias towards the coalition.
He added that the UN envoy has been unable to present a political vision to end the coalition’s blockade on Yemen.
Given the nature of war, mixed with international and geopolitical complications, observers feel the chances of peace in Yemen are still distant.
“It may not be realistic to change Griffiths now unless the UN changes its policy towards Yemen,” said Muhammed. He added, however, that the UN for the sake of its own credibility should replace Griffiths so that it does not fail in its mission, as the envoy’s approach could only prolong the conflict.