On Yemen, After Saudi Ousted UN Envoy, US Looks to UN for Location
By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, April 22, 2015- The day after Saudi Arabia said it was ending its campaign of airstrikes on Yemen, the US issued a statement starting:
"The United States welcomes the decision by the Government of Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners to conclude Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen. With this announcement, we look forward to a shift from military operations to the rapid, unconditional resumption of all-party negotiations that allow Yemen to resume an inclusive political transition process as envisioned in the GCC Initiative, the National Dialogue outcomes, and relevant UN Security Council resolutions. We also welcome the United Nations continuing to play a vital role in facilitating the political talks and look forward to the United Nations announcing a location for the talks in the very near future."
So, after Saudi Arabia was allowed to oust UN mediator Jamal Benomar for being insufficiently supportive of its airstrikes, the UN is being promoted, again, as an honest broker. How so, when the UN is UNtransparently moving toward naming as a replacement mediator an individual who previously failed in Yemen, refusing to make public financial disclosure?
How weak and untransparent is today's UN? It it apparently considering appointing as replacement envoy to Yemen a partial individual whom one side has indicated it would not speak with.
On April 15 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.
After that Inner City Press report, the UN Spokesman sent out this a canned statement that Benomar "expressed an interest in moving on" and would be replaced in due course. But by whom?
On April 15, Inner City Press named the name which was floated by Saudi and UN sources, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, and linked to its February 15, 2015 exclusive report on this individual's previous "incompetence" in Yemen, and side fishing business. There is yet more on both of these below.
On April 17, Inner City Press asked Ban's Office of the Spokesperson WHY there is no public financial disclosure for Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, and to confirm or deny he has links with businesses -- fishing - with Gulf funders. The response was, We will check and get back to you. Video here and embedded below.
By April 22 there had been no answer. Meanwhile Hassan Zayd of the Al Haq party wrote on Facebook that Ban should not appoint Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, mentioning corruption and, yes, Inner City Press' reporting, going back to Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed's stints in Libya and before that in Yemen.
So at the April 20 noon briefing Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Dujarric for his response. He said whomever Ban appoints, all sides should speak with. But would they? And with Ban meeting six GCC ambassadors on April 20 at 4 pm, what outreach is there to the other side? It is UNclear. Video here.
Inner City Press is informed that when the GCC ambassador came down from Ban's office, they spoke only in Arabic and not in much detail. Dujarric promised Inner City Press a read-out. Watch this site.
From the April 20, 2015 UN transcript:
Inner City Press: on Yemen, in terms of trying to find a replacement for Mr. [Jamal] Benomar that can actually speak with both sides, I wanted to ask you, on Friday, I'd asked the spokesperson here about whether Mr. [Ismail Ould] Cheikh Ahmed, why he has filed no financial disclosure online… public financial disclosure… and whether he has a business that's funded by gulf interests and was told we will check and get back to you. So, I wanted to know, now that's Monday…
Spokesman Dujarric: It is, indeed, Monday. That is a fact. When I have something to share with you, I will do so.
Inner City Press: And I wanted to ask whether you're aware of Mr. Hassan Zaid of the Al-Haq party, which has been on and off affiliated with the Houthis has said online that Mr. Cheikh Ahmed is unacceptable and is viewed as being Saudi selected and will not be received by… I just wonder…
Inner City Press: Are you going to consult with the Houthi side with someone…?
Spokesman Dujarric: We are… by answering your question, I am not confirming or denying the person you mentioned as an envoy. What is clear is that any envoy especially in dealing with very difficult political negotiations in what is an active conflict zone needs to be received by all the parties. And we expect that when our envoy is named that he or she will be received and engaged with… with all the parties.
Inner City Press: But I noticed that the Secretary-General was scheduled today at 4 p.m. to meet with the GCC ambassadors. I just wonder, what outreach are you doing to quote the other side that's in Yemen…?
Spokesman Dujarric: I think… contacts are being held at various levels. The meeting with the GCC ambassadors was at their request so we will have to see what message they come with and we will try to get you a readout.
On April 17, Inner City Press also asked if Ban was considering any female candidates and if Ban thought Saudi Arabia would or should have to accept one, if selected. We'll see.
On April 16, Inner City Press exclusively reported another candidate: Martin Kobler of Germany, currently the head of MONUSCO in the DR Congo. Kobler ran for head of the Office of Humanitarian Affairs, but that post "belongs" to the UK, in the person of Stephen O'Brien. Inner City Press' exclusive were credited in the Telegraph and Channel 4. (At least Andrew Lansley was avoided, as Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed should be here.)
Kobler speaks Arabic; as Inner City Press has exclusively reported, some six years ago he was in line to become UN Special Coordinator on the Middle East until a Permanent Five member blocked him (more on that soon), given the job to Robert Serry. Now Kobler is ready. But is Saudi Arabia?
Another name floated by UN sources (also reported exclusively by Inner City Press) is Lisa Buttenheim, currently at the UN mission in Cyprus. Like Kobler, she has more diplomatic experience than Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
She is a woman. For the UN, that should be a plus, given what Ban Ki-moon has said. But as a well placed sources put it to Inner City Press, if Ban gave in to Saudi Arabia and got Benomar out, will he stand up to an edict NOT to name a woman? Watch this site.
"UNSMIL's former deputy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania has been moved to head UNMEER, the UN's Ebola mission. Sources in Yemen say Ould Cheikh Ahmed was the UN's “designated security official” when a UNICEF staffer was taken hostage while traveling to the Sana'a airport without the required (and needed) security detail. Some say Ould Cheikh Ahmed was distracted, in Yemen and later in Libya, by side business interests.
Now on April 17 we can report: in Yemen UN personnel where to have escort to the airport, and armored vehicles. But designated official Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed allowed the guards he hired to do nothing, and left the armored vehicles in customs. The staffer was kidnapped by a criminal group affiliated with Al Qaeda and was traumatized.
"But a check of Ban Ki-moon's Public Disclosure website, where his officials are supposed to make rudimentary disclosure of the finances and outside business interests, does not even list Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed (while numerous other Deputy SRSGs are listed). His is not in the most recent database, for 2013 - and may escape any disclosure by become an Under Secretary General with a mere nine month stint at UNMEER. Then what? We'll stay on this."
So, no matter how much of a sycophant for the Saudi-led coalition he is, how can he get this post? How can the "P4" support this?
For now, Inner City Press asked this additional question: in Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed's business(es), are there any Gulf investors?
For now, here's what Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric at the UN's April 16, 2015 noon briefing:
Inner City Press: On Yemen, I’m, I would assume you have seen this report that the Saudi airstrikes killed 31 people in a dairy factory in Hudaydah. They make it pretty clear it may have been an errant missile, but it killed 31 civilians. And I’m wondering, what’s the, is there any comment from the Secretariat on that?
Spokesman Dujarric: Obviously, as we said here, that it is incumbent for all the parties in this conflict to fully respect international law which clearly includes the non-targeting of civilian infrastructure or civilian infrastructure, schools, facilities, civilian infrastructure in general. We have no way of knowing what exactly was the intended target. What we do know is that in many instances, since the fighting has started, civilians are the ones who are suffering, and I think that’s why the Secretary-General wants to see a halt to the violence, restart of the political process, and most urgently, the free flow of humanitarian aid going in. I think we’re seeing the food situation getting dire and dire every day. As our colleagues at the World Food Programme said, you know, when you’re a country that imports 90 per cent of its food is already vulnerable at any time and a time of conflict, that just increases that vulnerability very much so.
Inner City Press: And also on Yemen, I’m sure you’ve seen the reports — I don’t know if the UN is the source of them — floating Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed as a possible replacement. What I want to ask, I know you’re not going to say yes or no, but given he was so recently appointed to UNMEER, can you say that whoever’s working on Ebola will probably stay in that job? Or—
Spokesman: I think, you know, whenever there’s a senior vacancy at the United Nations, a lot of things float, a lot of names float around. When we’re ready to announce, we will announce. Obviously, the Ebola file is one of, it’s very important to the Secretary-General and to the United Nations, but when we’re ready to announce somebody, we will
Watch this site.