UK Yemen envoy takes top UN humanitarian job

UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths will replace outgoing humanitarian relief coordinator Mark Lowcock. (EPA / JOHN MACDOUGALL / POOL)

The United Nations Yemen special envoy Martin Griffiths has been confirmed as the organisation’s next humanitarian relief coordinator in an appointment that has sparked hope for a restart to Yemen’s stalled peace process.

Griffiths will replace fellow UK diplomat and outgoing emergency relief coordinator Mark Lowcock, who took up the position in 2017. He is expected to remain in his post in Yemen until a successor is found.

The move has dispelled speculation that the post might go to a diplomat from another country due to the UK's recent cuts to its overseas aid program, which have sparked outrage throughout the international community.

However, Griffiths' appointment makes him the fifth British official to occupy the position, and ensures that the UK - which remains one of the largest humanitarian donors - has kept hold of the role for more than a decade.

His predecessor Lowcock has been critical of British aid cuts in the past few months, particularly the drastic impact the shortfalls will have on Yemen, where ongoing conflict and spiralling famine have led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

However, Griffiths filling the role after a three-year stint as envoy to the country could usher in renewed interest in the crisis. The new US administration under Joe Biden has also made ending the crisis in Yemen one of its top foreign policy objectives, recently appointing its own special envoy Tim Lenderking.

As envoy to Yemen, Griffiths has overseen attempts to mediate an end to the decades-long conflict, but the process has stalled in the past year, with the latest round of talks reportedly failing to reach a ceasefire agreement between the opposing forces which are backed by rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Before becoming Yemen envoy the diplomat was the executive director of the European Institute of Peace. He beats the official British candidate Nick Dyer, UK special envoy for famine, to the position, which is one of five top UN jobs traditionally held by a diplomat from one of the five permanent members of the security council: China, France, Russia, the UK and the US.

Diplomats have said Griffiths was not the first choice for the role but replaced the top candidate after last-minute issues arose.