On Yemen, Amid Saudi Airstrikes, Ban Poised to Name Fisherman As New Envoy
By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, April 1, 2015 -- How weak is today's UN?
Earlier this evening, Inner City Press reported that despite UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's claims to stand behind the UN's envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar, who refused to call Saudi airstrikes positive, Ban was planning to replace him.
Now, after that Inner City Press report, the UN Spokesman has just sent out this:
Note to correspondents on Jamal Benomar stepping down as Special Adviser on Yemen
Jamal Benomar, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Yemen, has expressed an interest in moving on to another assignment. A successor shall be named in due course. Until that time and beyond, the United Nations will continue to spare no efforts to re-launch the peace process in order to get the political transition back on track.
Mr. Benomar has spent the past four years working closely with the Yemenis to realise their legitimate aspirations for democratic change fulfilled. On behalf of the Secretary-General, Mr. Benomar brokered the Transition Agreement in November 2011, facilitated the successful conclusion of the National Dialogue Conference in January 2014 that took 10 months of deliberations, and mediated the Peace and National Partnership Agreement in September 2014. More recently, Mr. Benomar chaired and facilitated all-inclusive negotiations for over two months to get the transition back on track. Unfortunately, this process was interrupted with the dramatic escalation of violence.
The Secretary-General greatly appreciates the tireless efforts Mr. Benomar has made over the years to promote consensus and trust on a peaceful way forward in Yemen. New York, 15 April 2015
This is a new low for the UN - and there have been many.
After Saudi Arabia started it airstrikes on Yemen, knocking out electricity and hitting an internally displaced persons camp, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon belatedly asked Saudi Arabia for a two hour a day humanitarian pause.
When Saudi Arabia said, No, unless Ban endorsed the airstrikes, Ban never went public. More people suffered, more people died.
Now Ban has acquiesced in the ouster of his own envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar - and is poised to accept Saudi dictates and name as Benomar's successor Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmad, previously the deputy chief of the UN Support Mission in Libya.
There, as Inner City Press exclusively reported, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmad used his UN-paid time running a fishing business. Previously, in Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmad was “an embarrassment,” as multiple UN sources put it to Inner City Press. But, hey, whatever the Saudis want.
It's like Ban accepting Sudan's PNG of Jordan's Za'tari - except here, it will be portrayed a good thing. This is today's UN.
Inner City Press has been multiply and exclusively informed of plans to create supposedly "safe havens" for UN national staff inside Yemen - even after the staff representatives said clearly that "relocation inside the country is not an option any more."
Inner City Press: I want to ask pretty specifically about this request by national staff of the UN in Yemen. They basically, in writing, requested the evacuation and they said that relocation inside the country is not an option anymore. And from what I've seen, Helen Clark of UNDP [United Nations Development Program] wrote back and said, we are doing everything we can consistent with UN regulations at this time and saying that we are currently exploring safe haven approaches. So, I wanted to know, is this response by Helen Clark only applicable to UNDP regulations? Has there been any discussions within the agencies? And what regulations are there that are holding back making the offer of evacuation and what safe haven approaches which the staff union said are unacceptable?
Spokesman Dujarric: I'm not going to go into what Helen Clark may or may not have written. I did not see that email. All I can tell you is that our colleagues in the Department of Safety and Security working with the relevant agencies, funds and programs are doing whatever they can to support and to keep safe our staff in Yemen.
Inner City Press: What I want to understand, is it a policy decision by the Secretary-General that no agency of the system will evacuate people? Is there some regulation that prohibits it?
Spokesman: I'm not going to go further into it. Yes, sir
As noted, it wasn't Ban Ki-moon who told UN national staff in Yemen that their plea was being rejected, it was Helen Clark of the UN Development Program, who answers press questions at UN headquarters even less than Ban, while seeking to succeed him. In the six hours after the noon briefing, apparently the Secretariat did not review Clark's email or ask that any of it be withheld, as Inner City Press initial did. So now her full email is exclusively here (and portion below.)
In the midst of this, the UN Security Council scheduled an April 14 vote on a resolution imposing an arms embargo on the Houthis and Saleh supporters, with no commitment to halt the airstrikes on the country. The resolution passed and afterward Inner City Press asked Saudi Arabia's ambassador about evacuating UN national staff; this part, he did not answer.
The so-called UN Correspondents Association, rather than push for answers or even just more Q&A sessions from Ban (and Clark) instead bragged they will party with Ban and Prosecco -- "UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will attend for a toast! Cocktail and refreshments to be served: Italian Appetizers, Piadina, Ravioli, Dolcini, Red & White Wine, Prosecco and Spirits." They took and tweeted photos of their meno; it was listed on Ban's own "public" schedule, after he met with a minister from Burundi who justified the killing of civilians in 2013.
Inner City Press: Yesterday the UN staff unions, with the plural, I guess, because the one in New York, it's unclear who the union is, basically raised questions about the UN not making any move whatsoever to either evacuate or offer protection to national staff members inside Yemen. Farhan said it's not the policy to ever evacuate national staff. But, if it's unsafe for international staff... the safely level doesn't matter what your passport is. So, what's the UN's thinking?
Spokesman Dujarric: I think we're obviously… our national staff is continuing to work inasmuch as they can to help deliver humanitarian aid, which is critical, and I think we honour their bravery in doing so in very challenging circumstances. We are in touch with them, whether it's through the Secretariat or through the heads of agencies, to ensure that they're as safe as possible. And we're doing that on a daily basis. And if we have anything more to say on that, we'll…
Inner City Press: Does Ban Ki-moon join this call by the humanitarian resident coordinator for humanitarian pause? Is that…?
Spokesman Dujarric: I think I just… I just said we obviously were urging for cessation of hostilities. I think that… I think that covers it fairly broadly.
Inner City Press: Have you conveyed that to the Saudi led coalition?
Spokesman Dujarric: I think that… this is a message that will be passed along to… in the Secretary-General and his contacts and obviously the ones our humanitarian partners are having.
In the more than three days since, the UN has provided no information on any evacuation of its national staff from Yemen. But multiple sources have exclusively provided Inner City Press with an email from Helen Clark as head of the UN Development Program, floating among other things the idea of "safe haven" inside Yemen:
Subject: RE: SOS-URGENT- Request for Evacuation for National Staff of UNDP in Yemen
From: Helen Clark, Administrator, UNDP
Date: 04/09/2015 01:27PM
..."At this time we are also in contact with some Member States asking for all to respect the neutrality and non-belligerent status of UN premises and staff.
For national staff of UNDP who are working from locations outside Yemen, we will adopt a work from home approach until we have reassessed the situation.
"And, finally, we are currently exploring safe haven approaches within Yemen for national staff and families that will allow a place of greater safety for you and allow a return as soon as possible of our international colleagues."
Many have asked, what are these "safe haven approaches," and how do they differ from "shelter in place"? We'll have more on this.
Ban scheduled a "press encounter" for April 9, his first one this year in UN Headquarters by some counts; the UN canceled its noon briefing.
After bland open statements (one correspondent called them platitudes, others were less diplomatic), Ban's spokesman handpicked questions such that the only question on Yemen was whether Iran could be condemned for sending warships to the Gulf of Aden.
Inner City Press asked, quite audibly, Should the airstrikes stop? But this simple question was not answered.
And now, what about the UN national staff in the country?
In fact, Inner City Press has been reliably informed that when Ban deigned to ask the Saudis for a mere two hour humanitarian pause, they said only if Ban more openly supported their coalition (which included, for example, Sudan, which now brags that Saudi Arabia has removed trade sanctions on it.)
Then Ban left, to Panama and tellingly Qatar.
It was surprising to some that Ban or his team did not go public with this attempt to condition humanitarian access on a political statement.
On Saturday April 4 an urgent UN Security Council meeting began at 11 am, on a proposal for Russian draft resolution for "humanitarian pauses" -- and evacuation.
Nearly an hour after the meeting broke up, April's Security Council president Dina Kawar of Jordan came to the stakeout and gave a summary, or two (as President and in her national capacity) and took two questions, including one from Inner City Press (the US did not raise the issue of evacuations in the meeting).
Here's what Ambassador Kawar said as Jordan's Ambassador:
“As you know the GCC has been engaged for some time on a draft resolution that deals with the political situation in Yemen. We will continue our efforts to reach a consensus on that. We should not forget the root causes that led to the current grave situation and humanitarian situation in Yemen is due to the failure of the implementation of Resolution 2201 by the Houthis.”
“We just met. We have arranged for meeting on the side between a few members of the Council and the GCC, we are working on that all day today. We hope that by Monday we can come up with something.”
Inner City Press asked Kawar if any UN Security Council member raised the issue of evacuations. She said, evacuations are under way. Inner City Press asked if the US had raised the issue of evacuations in the meeting. She said, No, the US did not raise it.
Here is what Ambassador Kawar said as UNSC President:
“The Council met this morning upon a request from the Russian delegation. The Council members reaffirmed their views on the importance of the full implementation of the Security Council's resolutions on Yemen in particular Resolution 2201. The Council members also reiterated their concern over the grave humanitarian situation that Yemen has been facing for a while.
“The Russian delegation circulated a draft resolution to the Council members regarding humanitarian pauses in Yemen and expressed concerns over the humanitarian situation in Yemen since a long time. The Council members need time to reflect on the Russian proposal.”
The meeting ended at just after noon at 12:30. Saudi Arabia's ambassador and an entourage arrived outside the Security Council. Inner City Press asked him if Saudi Arabia has spoke with the US about allowing safe evacuation of Americans. Video here and embedded below.
Overall, the Saudi ambassador said that the GCC draft resolution is "more comprehensive" than what Russia proposed, and that he hopes Russia wouldn't veto the GCC proposal. He said that aid access should be coordinated with the Secretary General -- now though this exclusive we know why.
When the meeting ended, UK Deputy Peter Wilson said he'd leave it to the Presidency - that is, Jordan's Dina Kawar - to say what happened as a result of the meeting. Which was, very little.
The UK's Wilson on his way into the Security Council said, "we continue to support the Saudi-led action in Yemen... in response to a legitimate request.”
Wilson said, "any civilian casualties and all civilian casualties are ones that we deeply regret. We remain fully committed to ensuring that international humanitarian law is complied with and that proper access is given to agencies who need to get access to grant relief."
So does Saudi Arabia trying to condition humanitarian access on Ban Ki-moon making a statement in support of the military offensive comply with international humantarian law?
Back on March 30 Inner City Press asked the US State Department if any steps are being taken to evacuated Yemeni Americans.
On March 31 a State Department official provided Inner City Press on background with this answer:
"We have no current plans to evacuate private U.S. citizens from Yemen. We continue to watch the situation closely. The protection and safety of U.S. citizens overseas are among our top priorities."
Some of those impacted, including Yemeni Americans, pointed out to Inner City Press that other countries, as simply one example Pakistan which is part of the Saudi-led coalition, have done evacuations. This has been followed by India, China and others. But not (yet?) the US, leading to the campaign #StuckInYemen. We'll have more on all this.