By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, September 1, 2015 -- The UN Secretariat's bungling of Yemen mediation has become ever more clear, according to multiple sources and documents exclusively seen by Inner City Press, see below.
The consequences continue to rise. On September 1 the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights raised its estimate of civilians killed to 2,112 (from March 26 to August 27), with 4,519 civilians injured in that period in what OHCHR called a "conservative estimate."
OHCHR cited an airstrike on Taiz on August 20 which killed 53 civilians. OHCHR said "Fifty-three of these civilian deaths occurred on 20 August, reportedly as result of a series of airstrikes by Saudi-led coalition forces that hit 20 homes near Salah Palace in Taiz. According to local reports, active fighters in the Houthi popular committees were believed to be based in the Salah Palace at the time." Believed? Question to OHCHR in this case: what is international law?
Or this one: "attacks by coalition forces on Hodeidah port, which is a key entry point for humanitarian supplies and commercial imports into Yemen."
UN Relief Chief Stephen O'Brien on August 19 told the UN Security Council, "To date only 18 percent, some $282 million, of the $1.6 billion requested through the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan has been received. UN agencies have still not received the funding from Saudi Arabia of $274 million pledged in April."
After O'Brien said that, Inner City Press asked Yemen's Permanent Representative at the UN, down the hall toward the Trusteeship Council Chamber, about it. He told Inner City Press, among other things, that explains the request for a UN "liaison" in Riyadh.
After the Security Council's triplet of meetings on Yemen, Syria and South Sudan ended on August 19, Inner City Press asked New Zealand's Permanent Representative Gerard van Bohemen "On Yemen. Mr O’Brien said that Saudi Arabia haven’t paid the pledge and that there was some dispute about the UN sending maybe somebody to be a liaison, what was said about actually getting aid unblocked?"
Ambassador van Bohemen replied, "I think you need to talk to him about it. What he explained was there’s been quite a complicated discussion going with the Saudi government about the terms on which the money will be made available, but he knows the detail about it, I don’t."
We still hope to have more on this.
On August 7 Inner City Press was informed that as Houthis and Saleh's GPC headed to Oman for consultations on August 8 and 9, the UN's replacement envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed was not even initially invited. He had to beg to get included, which after sweating has been allowed, in the run-up to his briefing on August 12 to the Security Council.
On August 12, Inner City Press asked Yemen Permanent Representative, outside the Council meeting, questions ranging from the destruction of schools and health care facilities in Sa'ada by Saudi airstrikes to when, according to him, the Houthis might be "driven" out of Sa'ana. Video here. He said in a few weeks - and added that the Oman talks were "not UN."
So how then might the parties negotiate? UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed was headed back to Riyadh. That seems to be his base, where he works from - and for? Watch this site.
Oman has received murky thanks for France for facilitating the release of a hostage, who was working for the Social Development Fund there. Did Oman pay for France? Or will others be released, as France brought about in Mali?
Amid hoopla about reported travel of sanctioned Qasem Soleimani, what about the open travel and sojourn of sanctions Sheikh El Zindani in Saudi Arabia?
On August 7, US Ambassador Samantha Power said, "Qasem Soleimani is subject to the United Nations travel ban. And this travel ban requires all states to prohibit Qasem Soleimani from traveling to their nation. And the only exception to that is if the Iran sanctions committee grants an exemption. And to our knowledge, no such exemption was granted – and we would know."
So what ABOUT Sheikh El Zintani in Riyadh? We'll have more on this.
On July 28, Inner City Press asked Saudi Arabia's Permanent Representative about Mokha or Mocha; he replied that previous allegations about Saudi airstrikes on Old City Sana'a and on a palace in Aden once used by Queen Elizabeth had been proven untrue. We'll have more on this.
Inner City Press asked Yemen's representative about the talks in Cairo involving the United Arab Emirates, allies of former president Saleh and, it's said, the US and UK. He replied that the Yemeni government - in exile - deals through formal channels, the GCC or UN.
He might have been asked, which foreign minister is he reporting to: the one named by Hadi, or the one - his predecesor - named by Bahah? We'll have more on this as well.
Inner City Press asked the president of the Security Council for July, Gerard von Bohemen of New Zealand:
Inner City Press: did any of the members, talk about discussions taking place in Cairo, between the UAE, US, UK and supporters of the former president Saleh? Did US or UK bring up any of these talks?
A: We were talking mostly about, only about the humanitarian situation.
On that, Inner City Press is informed that a Latin member of the Council asked for a breakdown of casualties between (Saudi) airstrikes and others' ground offensives and was told that data only distinguishes between civilians and non-civilians. Why?
The Saudis themselves announced a five day pause. UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed as exposed by Inner City Press has been on vacation, as has his deputy Gluck, so the UN is uninvolved in this pause. But, Inner City Press asked in a July 25 article, how long until UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issues a statement welcoming and implicitly taking some credit for the announcement?
More than 24 hours after that, Ban did in fact issue a statement, welcoming the Saudi announcement - already being violated - while referring only obliquely to "reports of civilian deaths in Mokha on Friday evening." But who might have caused those, more than 48 hours earlier? Here's Ban's statement:
"The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement by the Saudi-led Coalition of a unilateral five-day, renewable humanitarian pause set to commence on Sunday, 26 July, at 23:59 (GMT+3). He urges the Houthis, the General People’s Congress and all other parties will agree to and maintain the humanitarian pause for the sake of all the Yemeni people, and that all act in good faith throughout the pause. The growing number of civilian casualties, including the disturbing reports of civilian deaths in Mokha on Friday evening, in the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe make a pause and an eventual extension an imperative.
"The Secretary-General calls on all parties to the conflict to suspend military operations during the pause and refrain from exploiting the pause to move weapons or seize territory. He appeals to all parties to exercise maximum restraint in cases of isolated violations and to avoid escalation.
"The Secretary-General urges all parties to facilitate the urgent delivery of humanitarian assistance to all parts of Yemen, as well as rapid, safe, and unhindered access for humanitarian actors to reach people in need of humanitarian assistance, including medical assistance.
"The Secretary-General calls on the parties to the conflict to comply fully with their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and to urgently work with the United Nations and humanitarian aid organizations to bring assistance to millions in need throughout the country.
On the dozens killed in Mocha, Inner City Press linked here to this video -- Ban waited 48 hours to vaguely reference them, despite having in the past quickly condemned the killing of two Saudi police officers. The UN has become more and more irrelevant on Yemen, and subject to protest as "betrayers" in Sana'a.
While the party of former president Saleh meets with the United Arab Emirates and others, the UN's replacement envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, after his failed humanitarian pause, is not involved. He had, as Inner City Press was exclusively told and report, gone on vacation.
On July 24, Inner City Press asked UN Associate Spokesperson Eri Kaneko:
Inner City Press: There have been a lot of reports and quotes about a process taking place between the party of former President [Ali Abdullah] Saleh and the [United Arab Emirates), [United States], [United Kingdom] and Cairo. I wanted to know: Is the UN aware of that? Is the UN in any way taking part in that? And how does it relate to Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed's trip to Riyadh?
Associate Spokesperson Kaneko: I had the same question myself. My understanding is that we were not involved in those talks, but we've seen the same reports you have and we would welcome any type of dialogue that would bring the… that would bring the parties closer together towards discussions to resume dialogue on a democratic transition.
So, the UN's envoy was not involved, just as he was not involved in Oman other than to write them a desperate letter. To this has the UN fallen.
After publishing its multi-sourced story, Inner City Press on July 22 asked the UN's Associate Spokesperson about new APC and weapons in Aden, and if Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is on vacation. Video here. She replied that she would check - but did not revert with any response either way.
So on July 23, amid reports that without Cheikh Ahmed or any UN presence talks were occurring about Yemen in Cairo, Inner City Press asked:
Inner City Press: on Yemen, yesterday you'd said you would check on Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed, whether, in fact, he is on vacation at this time. Did you?
Associate Spokesperson: No.
Inner City Press: You said leave is a good thing. In the transcript, you said, I'll check on his vacation. But yes, people do take leave, it is a good thing, although there are people in Yemen who say, given that the humanitarian pause failed, it seemed a strange time to do it. So I just wanted to know, factually, is it, in fact, the case?
Associate Spokesperson: Is it the fact…?
Inner City Press: That he's on vacation after the failure of the humanitarian pause.
Associate Spokesperson: I don't know specifically for the Special Envoy, but I can tell you that, you know, most people at that level at the UN, all people at that level at the UN continue to work on their portfolios wherever they are and whatever they're doing. These are portfolios that you can't just drop. And I'm sure that's the case also with the Special Envoy. As far as leave goes, you know, I'm not going to get into a “who's on leave when”, blah, blah, blah, with you. I just… I don't want to do that…
Inner City Press: I'm just saying because yesterday, you said, "I'll check".
Associate Spokesperson: Because as you mentioned… as you mentioned yourself, you know, leave is part of working life.
Inner City Press: Okay. Was he also on leave when UN staff had to leave Libya and he was the deputy SRSG in Libya? Because that's what I'm told by the people…
Associate Spokesperson: He was also on leave when what…?
Inner City Press: On leave when the people were evacuated from Libya that were the staff members of the UNSMIL mission.
Associate Spokesperson: Well, I just said I'm not going to go and check his attendance sheet.
So much for checking.
Inner City Press asked the UN where Cheikh Ahmed is. UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told Inner City Press that he has been "planning his travels," soon to Riyadh. Yeah, Inner City Press was told by another less constrained but at least as knowledgeable source: planning his future travels while already on vacation. Another source compared it to then UN envoy to Pakistan Jean-Maurice Ripert going on vacation amid national disasters in Pakisan and then losing his post.
The buzz in Sana'a, where Hadi has named a governor in exile described as an Islamist, is that Cheikh Ahmed may well have known of the plans to bring in APC and weapons to those fighting the Houthis in Aden, and so "misleadingly" urged a pause. Another compared this to the UN luring out surrendering rebel leaders in Sri Lanka - to their deaths.
And so from Aden, photographs of brand new light brown vehicles, American-made, brought in. Will they end up in the hands of Al Qaeda?
On July 20, Inner City Press asked UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq:
Inner City Press: I wanted to check first if you have anything on Yemen and the activities of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. What's he been doing in the last few days, amid reports of continued death and destruction in the country?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed has been planning his onward travels. The only one to confirm at this stage is that he does plan very shortly to travel to Riyadh, where he is to meet with Saudi authorities, authorities of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and with President [Abd Rabbuh Mansour] Hadi and Vice-President [Khaled] Bahah. And so, he is going to try to talk to them. He's continuing with his efforts to see what can be done to secure a humanitarian pause, even following the end of Ramadan and Eid. And so, he's going to continue with those efforts and travel more broadly in the region after that. We'll try and inform you of other stops as that progresses.
Inner City Press: There's some talk of, if not Mr. Hadi, other ministers trying to return to Aden. Is the UN aware of that? Do they have any comment on that?
Deputy Spokesman Haq: It's not for me to discuss what the Government of Yemen is trying to do. Regarding Aden, we have been concerned about the humanitarian situation on the ground. Our humanitarian colleagues have been continuing even in the absence of a humanitarian pause on the ground to try to provide supplies. I believe that, even though the pause did not go forward as we had wanted, about 60 per cent of the humanitarian activities that we had been planning did, in fact, take place. And so we were able to provide some aid, although not nearly enough. And, of course, we continue to be concerned about the fighting in Aden.
Back on July 9, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon proudly announced a humanitarian pause to start on July 10 at midnight.
When the supposed pause failed, Inner City Press was told on July 14, it took Ban Ki-moon more than two days to speak with Saudi Arabia, through its foreign and defense ministers. Ban, it was said, was "in the air."
On July 14, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric:
Inner City Press: Something on Yemen. Yesterday, you said the Secretary-General was very, very disappointed. So, I wanted to ask, if you can say, starting, I guess it would be, Saturday morning, right after midnight, it became pretty clear that there was no pause. Did he make any… did he make any actual, like, calls, meaning like telephone calls or in some… did he reach out? And can you confirm or deny that some within DPA [Department of Political Affairs] had suggested that he not put out that statement that seemed to imply that there was a pause agreed to as…?
Spokesman Dujarric: No, I… listen, I'm not… Secretary-General was in the air a large part of the weekend. He's also attending the Addis conference. People at various levels were having various contacts. The Secretary-General spoke to both the Defence Minister of Saudi Arabia and the Foreign Minister yesterday, in addition to other contacts that were had in the previous… you know, on Monday and over the weekend. As to the deliberation… the internal deliberations of different opinions expressed within the UN Secretariat, I'm not going to go into that. At the end of the day, it's the Secretary-General's call, and the statement he issued was clear.
Dujarric answered that envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed had told the Suadis of his desire for a pause. But that's not what the UN said on July 9.
Dujarric, who has still to issue any written statement, said this at the July 13 briefing:
“Obviously the Secretary General is very, very much disappointed that the humanitarian pause did not take hold over the weekend in Yemen. We are continuing with contacts at various levels.
“Despite the continued airstrikes, despite the fighting our humanitarian partners were able to distribute some vital aid to the desperate people of Yemen where ever they can and how ever they an. Obviously the security situation makes it that much more difficult for critical human aid to be delivered.
“We continue to reiterate our call for unconditional humanitarian pause h p and the Secretary General reminds all parties to the conflict in Yemen, from both inside and outside the country of their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.”
Even this wasn't issued as a statement or Note to Correspondents. Ban was in Addis Ababa for the Financing for Development conference; here are his UN's "messaging" points in the run-up to that conference (and here an Inner City Press story about it; we'll have more). But isn't the UN responsible to say something after a humanitarian pause it announced doesn't happen, and people are killed?
It quickly became clear that some of key parties had not been spoken with or agreed; the pause's midnight beginning came and passed amid airstrikes.
Inner City Press is informed by sources that Ban Ki-moon was urged to not make the dubious pause announcement, including from within the UN's own Department of Political Affairs -- but Ban announced it anyway.
At best, it was rolling the dice. At worse, on the very day that UN is rightly criticizing itself for making false promises of protection in Srebrenica 20 years ago, in this case Yemenis were told there would be a pause, and some perhaps relied on it, to their detriment. And still the UN had said nothing.
After the July 9 announcement, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman if the Saudis had been spoken with. The answer was, Hadi told the Saudis his position. But did Hadi ever agree to the pause, or just to the conditions set forth in his letter to UN? What of Hadi's responsibilities to the Yemeni people?
Now Saudi Al Arabiya has said Saudi Arabia never received any communication from Hadi to stop airstrikes, here. Someone is lying.
Where is the UN's replacement envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed? Headed to Ethiopia, Ban's spokesman said, to meet with Ban on the sidelines of the Financing for Development conference there. Does IOCA harbor ambitions for another UN system post, or back in his own country? What sort of a track record is this? Watch this site.
At the July 10 UN noon briefing in New York, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric if the UN had spoken with those in Yemen opposing the Houthis but not supporting or in contact with Hadi. Video here. From Dujarric's answer, it seems no such contact has been made.
So, Inner City Press asked, if such a group fires on the Houthis and they fire back, is the pause over, has it been violated? We'll see what happens.
Back on July 9, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, transcript here:
Inner City Press: can you, one, characterize not the communications with Mr. Hadi, but with Saudi Arabia that's running the coalition, the Saudi-led coalition. And does this mean the Secretary-General's understanding is no airstrikes during this time period, and no further advances or use of heavy weapons by the Houthis? Does the pause mean no firing? What does it mean to each of those two sides?
Spokesman Dujarric: What it means is that, if you read the statement, the President… Secretary-General notes that the President, President Hadi, has communicated his acceptance of the pause to the coalition to ensure their support. A humanitarian pause means no fighting. It means no bombing. It means no shooting. It means no fighting. It means exactly that: a humanitarian pause in the fighting that we've seen, to enable our humanitarian colleagues to get the aid to where it's needed, to preposition, and stockpile, and to reach the millions that need it.
Inner City Press: Right. But just for example, policing, who's doing policing in these various cities? Things happen.
Spokesman Dujarric: Obviously I think… [cross talk] In any area in the country, there is a… there is de facto control and, obviously, there is a need to ensure safety and security. What we're talking about is a humanitarian pause in the fighting that we've been witnessing for weeks on end now.
Inner City Press: So just one last thing on this. So the commitment on airstrikes is through President Hadi to the UN?
Spokesman: You know, the… [cross talk] Obviously, President Hadi is a critical interlocutor with the coalition. And as I've said, we've taken note of the fact that he's conveyed to the coalition his acceptance. We expect everyone involved in this conflict to honor this humanitarian pause.
On July 7 the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights upped its estimate of civilians killed since March 27 to 1,528, adding that one million people have been displaced since the beginning of this round of the conflict. To the Saudi airstrike on UNDP in Khormaksar, Aden, OHCHR added that "IOM’s Migrant Response Centre in Basateen, also in Aden, was struck by a mortar and an airstrike damaged IOM’s office in Harad."
IOM, as Inner City Press reported, had earlier paused its evacuation by air of those seeking to flee Yemen due to some party, which it left unnamed, demanding information about those fleeing BEFORE the flights could leave. Inner City Press has asked others in the UN about this and has been told IOM should have done the screening after the people were able to flee. IOM refused a direct question about caused it to violate this best practice, then stopped sending the Press any information.
There are countries, normally vocal about civilian deaths, which are selling military equipment to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies. Ban Ki-moon, now in Oslo, is relying entirely on Saudi-selected replacement envoy Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who was unable to even get the parties in the same room in Geneva, much less reach an agreement. There remain, for now, OHCHR's body counts.
On June 24, Inner City Press asked the UN's replacement envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed about the request by the Houthis and others to meet not with him but with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who did not meet with them in Geneva. Transcribed here.
On June 25 Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq to confirm receipt of the letter and if Ban will meet them. Haq said Cheikh Ahmed is the envoy, and Ban's headed to San Francisco. The UN Security Council issued a Press Statement, here.
Also on June 25, Inner City Press asked new UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien three questions about Yemen: cholera, the destruction of ambulances in Sa'ada and about international staff. Video here.
O'Brien replied that cholera is a risk; he had no information on WHO it was that destroyed the ambulances in Sa'ada (we can guess.) On international staff, which the UN evacuated earlier, he spoke of a rise from 17 to 70, with the goal of getting to 200. He would not say if they are anywhere in the country outside of Sana'a, citing security. But at least he spoke - the Free UN Coalition for Access thanked him.
Here's from the June 24 stakeout, as fast transcribed by Inner City Press:
Inner City Press: On the parties in Sanaa requesting to meet the Secretary General – what’s your response?
Cheikh Ahmed: "This question was raised during our discussion with the Houthis, the GPC and their allies. The Secretary General had delayed twice his travel in order to be there for the parties. We have sent twice a plane from Sanaa which the delegation from Sana'a could not take.. Therefore the Secretary General had a major engagement, which was the election of the new president of the General Assembly which takes place only once a year , and he had to attend it. But the Secretary General will continue being engaged on this."
The ceremonial elevation of the President of the GA who will take over in September was not an election at all - no vote was taken. At the top, Cheikh Ahmed said (again, as fast transcribed by Inner City Press)
"I just briefed the Security Council on the latest developments in Yemen, with a particular focus on the Geneva Consultation. I informed the Council that the Geneva intra-Yemeni Consultations are a milestone... Despite the raging battles and ongoing violence, and the dramatic humanitarian situation, Yemenis accepted the Secretary General’s invitation and participated in the consultations.
"The personal presence of the Secretary General was an indication of the primary importance attached by the United Nations and the international community, and in particular the Secretary General himself on the Yemeni situation. I deeply regret the deep division between the parties and the lack of compromise that prevented an agreement that was within reach. The holding of the Geneva consultation was itself a great achievement in light of the extreme violence unleashed in Yemen.
"While the government came to Geneva to seek the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2216, the government acted in a positive and constructive spirit. Both sides showed signs of constructive engagement. There is an emerging common ground upon which we can build to achieve a ceasefire coupled with a withdrawal.
"While we pursue a long term cessation of violence, I call on all relevant parties to agree without delay to the humanitarian truce, especially during Ramadan. We should not forget that Yemenis are living under dire conditions and it pains me to witness this ongoing suffering. I call on all stakeholders to spare no effort to help us achieve a temporary respite for the Yemeni people.
"I am aware that reviving the political process will not be easy. The Secretary General and I have been clear from the outset that this consultation was only a stepping stone towards the long inclusive political process. All the parties affirmed their commitment to remain engaged with the UN in search of a peaceful solution of the conflict. I have no doubt that it is possible to build upon this positive spirit in the forthcoming consultation.
"I strongly believe that the UN facilitated intra-Yemeni consultations offer the best chance for moving towards a de-escalation of the crisis and a return to the political process. I personally believe there is no military answer to this conflict. I therefore remain committed and will spare no effort to achieve a cease fire and the swift return to a peaceful, inclusive political process."
Before the meeting, UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft stopped and told the press of the danger of famine in the country, and of his hope for a Yemen Press Statement from the UNSC, in which the UK is the "penholder" on Yemen. Periscope video here, replay including on desktop for 24 hours.
Inner City Press was digging into the letter from political parties IN Yemen, asking for a meeting with Ban Ki-moon, NOT with replacement envoy Cheikh Ahmed. These parties, including but not limited to the Houthis, were delayed in getting to Geneva so that they could not meet with Ban (who while there DID meet with a US-listed Al Qaeda terrorist).
While some are sure to argue that Ban now meeting with the parties would undercut Cheikh Ahmed, others point out the the underlying resolution speaks of the Secretary General's Good Offices INCLUDING his Envoy. The envoy is not the only game in town - nor, given his lack of disclosure, raised by Inner City Press, should he be. We'll have more on this.