Saturday, April 2, 2016

On Yemen, Dujarric Denies DPA Witch Hunt, Claims Free Press Amid Eviction Bid

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 29 -- A month before the one year anniversary of the Saudi-led Coalition's campaign of airstrikes on Yemen, Inner City Press exclusively published, not for the first time, an email leaked to it between UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and UN Department of Political Affairs chief Jeff Feltman.
  As Inner City Press subsequently reported, Feltman conducted questioning -- some called it a witch hunt -- of DPA staff to try to find out who had leaked it to Inner City Press.
 On March 28, after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq had refused to let Inner City Press asked Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed a single question at his length press conference at the UN, Ban's top lawyer issued a threat of imminent eviction threat to Inner City Press, here.
  Not surprisingly, particularly given Feltman's questioning, some viewed the UN's escalation against Inner City Press as a response to its publication of UN leaks. 
 On March 29, Feltman wrote to Inner City Press and we publish it in full:
"Dear Matthew,

On Yemen:  Your job is to publish what you consider to be news.  My job includes the protection of what is UN sensitive information.  So we are naturally going to be at odds over things such as leaked e-mails; that's just part of the respective roles we play.  I don't blame you for publishing what you had -- were I a journalist, I would likely do the same -- but you are surely sophisticated enough not to be surprised that I would try to stop leaks.  

As for your status at the UN, you are of course welcome to continue to send e-mails to me, but, as I expect you know, others, not DPA, have the appropriate responsibilities in this case.  DPA is not involved.

Jeffrey Feltman
Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs
United Nations, New York"
 Feltman cc-ed his spokesman, who ironically used to work at Amnesty International. Feltman's statement that the retaliation against Inner City Press is only attributable to Cristina Gallach's DPI and now Miguel de Serpa Soares' OLA does not wash. 
  Inner City Press has written back to Feltman, in part that:
"Meant to thank you for your response, at least the part acknowledging that publishing leaks is (some of) what journalists do - spend much of the day dealing with new exclusions to access, unable to cover a meeting in Trusteeship, even an event in the GA / Visitors Lobby.

I raised my accreditation cut without due process to you after I woke up to news of a protest of USG Gallach's decision in Jaffna. I view DPA's work as among the substantive work of the UN; DPI is more in a service role, akin to the relation between DPKO and DFS.

If you were to think and say that this arbitrary accreditation cut causes problems for the UN, or problems in communities the UN cares about, I feel sure it would be reversed. And I think it has and will continue to cause harm. That's the basis of my request to you -- that and that a UN system for journalists with no rights whatsoever, to due process or appeals, undercuts the UN's credibility.

And in this case, all I was doing was trying to cover in the UN Press Briefing Room an event, which I believed and believe is related to the ongoing John Ashe, Ng Lap Seng et al corruption scandal - that is, journalism. This totally disproportionate response is what indicates, to me andothers, retaliation.

Without undercutting that point, which I hope someone has some impact in the real world, on leaks I'd think more of a technological solution, like documents that disappear after they are read, rather than questioning people. Since the UN, to my chagrin, doesn't have a FOIA, self-erasing documents would be no problem.

Mostly, if you see that the protests in Jaffna, and the acting Res Rep's disingenuous response to the Northern Provincial Councilor, are indicative as are responses from some in Burundi, and about Yemen and Western Sahara, of harm from the accreditation cut and office seizure, please make that known to those who can and should reverse the decision."
At the March 29 noon briefing, Inner City Press asked, UN Transcript here:
Inner City Press: On Yemen, I'd wanted to ask, on March 5 Inner City Press published an e-mail from Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to Jeff Feltman.  And today, I've been informed by Mr. Feltman… I was informed before, but he's confirmed attempting to… to… what some have called a witch-hunt in DPA [Department of Political Affairs], i.e., many people called in, grilled about whether they're the source of the leak.  And, you know, Mr. Feltman, to his credit, says journalists do their job.  But, he also denies… so, I wanted to ask, what is the policy, if there is one, of the UN in terms of how far a department can go in terms of trying to plug a leak?  And also, what safeguards are in place to ensure that a media that is leaked to is not… doesn't find itself, as you'll find in my next question, faced with summary eviction from the UN?  What safeguards… I know that UN staff have an Ethics Office where they can assert retaliation, but what protections, if any, are there for journalists in the UN system?

Spokesman Dujarric:  First of all, I don't think there's been a witch-hunt.  I think it's only natural that, if there's a leak, somebody asks questions, but I'm not aware of any official investigations or any witch-hunt, whatever that, whatever that means.  As far as media, I think, you know, most of the journalists here have, one time or another, been the happy recipient of leaks and have enjoyed it, and that is their, that is their right to do that.  If you're referring to your particular case, as you know, it has nothing to do with whatever questions you may want to ask, whatever leaks you may or may not have received or e-mails you…

Inner City Press:  I actually don't know that.
  Feltman, who previously covered the Middle East for the US State Department, appears to have "gone native" at the UN, like at least two of Serpa Soares' (American) lawyers, glorying in impunity. We'll have more on this.
 In Yemen, the Houthis and Saleh's GPC held separate rallies in Sana'a on March 26, photos below. 
At Saleh's rally, the first time he'd addresses people in public place in the past year according to Inner City Press' sources he said that the UN Security Council - and by implication its envoy -- will do nothing to resolve the conflict and that he would "ignore it". If it's a real Security Council speaking for the peoples, Saleh said, it should stop the war.
 On March 28, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: about Yemen, on the one-year anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing, which was held on the 26th, there were two big rallies in Sana’a.  One was by the Houthis, but another one was by followers of former President Saleh.  It was a pretty large one.  There are photographs of it.  And at this rally, he said he has no more interest in working with the UN Security Council or its envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, that only to deal directly with the Saudis.  And that if the UN had meant business, they would have stopped these air strikes long ago.  So I wanted to know, given that this is sort of a third element in the Yemen situation, what are Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s comments, relations with the Saleh side and this massive rally?

Spokesman:  Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed is continuing to speak to all sides in the region.  That has not changed.  And it is not, it’s not the Secretary-General that can stop the fighting.  It is those who have their fingers on the trigger or on the bomb doors that can actually stop the fighting.

Inner City Press:  Right.  I think their critique was just that it’s not an even-handed mediation...
Note: Inner City Press is informed that after its recent exclusive report on Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed's email to Feltman, not only did Dujarric's deputy Haq in retaliation deny Inner City Press any question -- also, Department of Political Affairs were questioned about their possible leaking

Saleh's rally, March 26, 2016
  Saleh reiterated calls for direct talks with the Saudis, which the Houthis are already doing, and said that his party is coordinating with other Yemeni groups including Houthi to end the conflict. This came after Saleh's seeming exclusion from the direct talks between Houthis and Saudis which led to a lessening of border fighting and exchange of prisoners. h/t Shuaib Almosawa

Houthis' rally, March 26, 2016
When Inner City Press asked US State Department spokesperson John Kirby about Yemen on March 15, Kirby said "we welcome the fact that there is a cessation of hostilities." On March 23 at the UN, Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq did not even allow Inner City Press a question to UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
 On March 24, Inner City Press asked Farhan Haq, UN transcript here:  On March 23, Inner City Press asked at the end about Saleh leaving the country, if any Permanent Five member of the Security Council is asking for that. I haven't heard that, the fishy envoy said (Vine here), leaving without answer about his blocking practices on Twitter.
 On March 24 Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft about the Yemen talks going on outside of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed's track -- Rycroft said it's a good question, the various talks should all come together -- and if the UK thinks Saleh should leave Yemen. Video here.
  That's up to the Yemeni people, Rycroft said. Another Press question is, whither Hadi? Has he lost legitimacy? Does the UAE support Bahah? On the UAE, where is the UN's former Libya envoy -- and former top Spanish official in the UN system, a title now in the news -- Bernardino Leon? We'll have more on this.
Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced a cessation of hostilities - but not under April 10 - and talks on April 18 in Kuwait. Inner City Press is told that despite how pro-Saudi he (and the UN's question selection) is, there is still anger at things the envoy said. Here a link to his opening remarks. We'll have more on this.
  On March 16, Inner City Press returned to the State Department and asked Kirby's deputy Mark Toner about the Saudi airstrikes in Hajjah which killed, it asked, 41 or 107 people; Toner replied in part that the US could not verify the specifics, see below.
 On March 19, amid yet MORE Saudi airstrikes on Sana'a, the UN's fishy envoy Ismail Ould Cheick Ahmed said something pubicly, on Twitter - but it was not about the bombing and suffering. Instead it was: "Important meetings in Sana'a today in order to prepare for the next round of peace talks for #Yemen."
  So Inner City Press asked him, "Press question for @OSESGY: I see you saying you have important meetings in Sana'a; any comment on #Saudi airstrikes there?"
  While some predicted blocking -- the approach taken by Burundi's current Ambassador to the UN, and a former of a P5 -- we will await a response and explanation, watch this site.
On March 18, Inner City Press asked Kirby again:
Inner City Press: On Yemen, I see that you answered yesterday and you said you didn’t have the details yet about this airstrike in Hajjah province, but now the UN’s human rights commissioner has said that his team got there on Wednesday.  They put the death count at 106.  UNICEF Yemen puts it at 118.  So I’m just wondering, do you accept that as kind of – as – is that enough information to – for the U.S. to say this did happen and that’s the death count?

MR KIRBY:  We’re aware and deeply concerned by reports that a significant number of civilians may have been killed or injured during a strike near a market in northern Yemen.  I’m unable today to verify any of the specifics of what happened.  I would note, though, that the coalition has stated that it will conduct an investigation of the incident, and we encourage them to conduct a prompt, transparent investigation and publicly release the results.  It’s vital that the investigation provide a thorough and objective accounting of the facts and circumstances of the incident and, if appropriate, to address any factors that led to it so that we can prevent reoccurrence, of course.

As we’ve said previously, we’re deeply concerned by the effects of the crisis in Yemen, both in terms of civilian casualties and the dire humanitarian situation which still exists.  Okay?
 On March 18, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights put the civilian death toll at 106; UNICEF in Yemen puts the figure at 118 dead including 22 children.
 On March 16, Inner City Press returned and asked Kirby's deputy Mark Toner about the Saudi airstrike in Hajjah, full video here from Minute 56:28; Vine hereUS transcript here:
QUESTION: Inner City Press. I want to ask about Yemen and something about the UN.


Inner City Press: On Yemen, yesterday, Mr. Kirby said that we welcome the fact that there’s a cessation of hostilities. And then, as I’m sure you know, there was a big airstrike in Haja province – some people say 41 killed --


Inner City Press: -- some say 107. What do you say to that? And related back to the genocide question, also still on Yemen, Sudan is part of the coalition. Sudan has troops in Yemen with the U.S.-supported coalition. And I’m wondering, how is that – does that – does the genocide finding as to Omar al-Bashir in Darfur have any implication for the U.S. not being part of a coalition or militarily cooperating with a government whose head of state is charged with genocide by the ICC and was found by Colin Powell to --

MR TONER: So to your first question, we’re certainly aware of the reports that civilians may have been killed or injured during a strike, I believe, near a market in Haja province. I can’t at this time – cannot verify the specifics. We remain deeply concerned by the devastating toll of the crisis in Yemen, both in terms of civilian casualties, but also, obviously, in terms of the humanitarian situation that Yemen faces. We urge all sides to comply with obligations under international humanitarian law.

Speaking to the broader peace process, as you know, Secretary Kerry was just there. I was with him over the weekend, as was poor Dave here. And we were on a trip to Saudi Arabia. But one of the things that we discussed – he discussed, rather, with both the Saudi – His Royal Highness King Salman, also the crown prince, and the deputy crown prince as well as Saudi Foreign Minister al-Jubeir – they talked about the need for a political solution to the situation in Yemen. And so we support the UN efforts to that end.

In terms of your second question, I’m actually – I just don’t know the specifics about that or what prohibits us – you’re saying why we would not have been part of this, are we prohibited from taking part in that?

Inner City Press: No, no, I guess I was saying – you were saying that there – or people were saying in this first round that there were some legal implications if you make a finding of genocide. And I don't know if those include not working with --

MR TONER: But I’m not sure whether they pertain to --

Inner City Press: -- the government who --

MR TONER: I’d have to – yeah, I can take that question. I don't know.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you know – just one other – because I think the question was taken yesterday.


QUESTION: I wanted to ask about this corruption case about the UN. Today, in the Southern District of New York, the former deputy permanent representative of the Dominican Republic pled guilty and has pledged to cooperate against the former president of the General Assembly, John Ashe. I wanted to know the State Department’s position on it, and also on the Government Accountability Project. They wrote a letter – a public letter to the U.S. Mission to the UN urging them to get involved in opposing retaliation by the UN against the press that has been reporting on the corruption scandal. I think that some members of Congress are actually now – but I haven’t seen anything from the State – from the U.S. mission. So I’m wondering, is the State Department aware of the corruption case, and also separately of this GAP letter, and what’s their response to it?

MR TONER: I would imagine we’re aware. I’m not, unfortunately. I apologize we haven’t gotten back to you on that. We’ll take it.
On March 15, Inner City Press asked US State Department spokesperson John Kirby, from the US transcript:
Inner City Press: I want to ask about Yemen.  I saw the Secretary’s comments when he was in Saudi Arabia about possibility of a ceasefire similar to Syria and something about having teams on the ground working on that.  So I wanted to know – it seems like there’s talks between the Houthis and the Saudis that don’t involve Saleh or even Hadi.  It seems – what’s the U.S.’s – like, what was he referring to?  Is it – does he view direct negotiations between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia as a positive thing?  Is that the ceasefire he’s talking about?  And what’s the role of the UN envoy, who seems not to be part of those talks, and of Mr. Hadi going forward?  Is he the future president of Yemen or is he – has time passed him by?

MR KIRBY:  So there’s a lot there.  There – we still continue to support the UN special envoy and his efforts.  That’s not going to change.  And when the Secretary was in the region over the weekend, Yemen was – as he said, was a significant point of discussion with Saudi leaders.  Nothing has changed about our support for the UN special envoy and his efforts to get a political process going and move forward.  And the United States is going to remain firmly behind that effort.

He also said that we welcome reports that there is a reduction in violence between Houthis and the coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia.  We welcome the fact that there is a cessation of hostilities, quite frankly, that appears to also be holding.  That’s a good thing, because we’ve long said that there needs to be an increased effort by the international community to get humanitarian aid and assistance to so many Yemeni citizens who are in need, and that’s hard to do when there is still violence going on between both sides.

So we welcome this – that development, and we welcome the news that there are discussions between the two sides.  If those discussions can lead to a resolution of the conflict and to a continuation of the reduction of violence, that too is a healthy thing.  But it doesn’t mean that we aren’t also going to continue to support the UN track here, because we still believe that that is an important part of putting in place a sustainable governing structure, one that the Yemeni people clearly deserve going forward.  So it’s both, it’s both.  And he’s very much focused on both tracks and I think you’re going to continue to see that be the case going forward."
 On March 15, a Saudi airstrike killed at least 106 civilians in northern Yemen... 
On March 14, Inner City Press had asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric:
Inner City Press: on Yemen, there are obviously a lot of reports now that the Saudis are negotiating directly with the Houthis.  This was referred to by some degree by John Kerry in his visit to Saudi Arabia over the weekend.  Where is the envoy?  Is the envoy part of this?  Is this outside the envoy…

Spokesman:  We referred to it, as well, on Thursday or Friday where this is something that the envoy welcomes and has been encouraging for some time.
 But is he involved?
  On March 5 Inner City Press published another exclusive: UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed's email to UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, which contradicts what envoy Ould Cheikh Ahmed most recently told the Security Council. The email exclusively published by Inner City Press shows flexibility on the Houthi side, with the prospects of meeting in Jordan or Morocco, while the Saudis insist on sending low level representation. The email is published in full, below.
"Dear Jeff, I just completed a 2-day visit in Riyadh and wanted to give you a quick update on how things have developed since my discussions with H/Mohamed AbdelSalam last week in Muscat.
I had a private discussion with both State Minister Mussaeed Al Ayban and Abu Ali where I briefed them on the readiness of the Houthis to resume discrete face-to-face meetings with KSA representatives. While they welcomed the progress made and expressed their commitment to go ahead with this track, they also emphasized that:
i) in light of the progress the Coalition has been making on the ground and their advance toward Sanaa, the Houthis should seize this opportunity and discuss in good faith as they are in a weaker position on the ground and their options are narrowing;
ii) KSA will not consider elevating the level of their representation in the KSA-H talks, as Mohamed AbdelSalam had requested. KSA considers that the 2 representatives they are sending are at the level of Mohammed AbdelSalam and the Houthis should not expect a higher representation at this point;
iii) KSA accepted the proposal of Mohamed AbdelSalam to meet in a third country (Jordan). Mohamed Abe Assalem has suggested to me either Morocco or Jordan as the venue.
 I immediately called Mohemad AbdelSalam from Riyadh to share the outcomes of the meeting. He was going to talk to his leadership and revert to me with a confirmation. If the Houthis accept, the Houthi - KSA meeting could go ahead as early as next week, in Jordan. We of course would not participate nor be present. I have however already started coordination with the Jordan Ambassador to Yemen, as needed.
Although we still do not have an agreement for a new cessation of hostilities, we have continued to press for commitment to the De-Escalation and Coordination Committee (DCC), and a range of economic initiatives (especially in relation to the Central Bank's independence and the reactivation of the Social Welfare Fund).
In my meeting with the GoY delegation, I continued to impress upon them the importance of participation of the GoY in the DCC, and to training which we are planning to organize in Amman during the coming weeks. The UK Ambassador informed me that Foreign Minister and Head of GoY delegation AbdelMalik El Mikhalfi today had responded positively to his suggestion.
There are been positive developments on economic initiatives which I have supported as well. Foreign Minister Mikhalfi participated in the Central Bank board meeting last week in Amman together with the Minister for Finance and the CB Governor. DPM/MoFA Mikhalfi acknowledged that significance of the Governor's attendance from Sanaa and was very grateful for my personal efforts to secure his participation with the Houthis, which was seen by the GoY as an important confidence building measure. Mikhalfi agreed on the necessity of developing further economic initiatives including the support for the SWF and SFD. My office is working with the UNCT, World Bank and IMF in order to ensure a sufficient level of technical support for these proposals.
 I am now in Nouakchott for 4 days where I need to renew my G4 visa and will proceed to New York on 16 February ahead of the SC briefing. I intend to remain in NYC until 22 February in order to meet with key Member States and HQ officials. I plan to also travel to Washington DC 19 February and hold meetings there. I look forward to seeing you in New York in a few days.
Best regards, Ismail."
  The above email was sent on February 11 and contradicts what Ould Cheikh Ahmed told the Security Council; meanwhile Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the UN told the press on March 4 that envoy IOCA does NOT want a humanitarian access resolution.
 In the UN Security Council on the Yemen sanctions resolution adopted on February 24, language was added to try to discourage the Panel of Experts from looking into the act of the Saudi-led Coalition. Concessions were made, of a kind not made for or about other countries under sanctions.
  (Inner City Press had to follow the process from outside the UN, literally, the park on 43rd Street across First Avenue, because only days after Inner City Press asked why the UN was so quiet about false claims of Iranian military equipment in a UN WFP aid ship, Inner City Press was summarily thrown out of the UN for seeking three weeks earlier to cover an event in the UN Press Briefing Room, and Banned, without due process. Petition here.)
  On March 4 in the same UN Press Briefing Room, Saudi Ambassador to the UN Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi held an unscheduled press conference to announce that OCHA, whose Yemen pick up the pieces campaign Saudi Arabia largely funds, does not think there's a need for a humanitarian access resolution. If true, some will say that OCHA has been bought.
 Inner City Press asked al-Mouallimi why his Yemeni counterpart had claimed to Inner City Press, on the record, that the WFP ship the Saudis seized contained "Iranian military equipment"? 
Al-Mouallimi said, among other things, the ship DID come from Iran... and the equipment wasn't on the manifest and was "hidden." 
Inner City Press asked him about cluster bomb use; he denied it and many media printed that quote, without more. Inner City Press asked him, if opposed to the UN Panel of Experts looking into the impacts of the Saudi Coalition, who should do it? This was not answered, except to again emphasize how tied the PoE is to the underlying, one-sided resolution.
 At the end, Inner City Press asked Mouallimi to encourage the Yemen / Hadi delegation to hold its press session in this same UN Press Briefing Room, and not for Gulf and Western UNCA scribes only, a spoonfed breakfast,  see below. Al-Mouallimi said he would convey the request. We'll see.
 On March 1, back in on a reduced access pass, Inner City Press asked UN OCHA official John Ging about taking "aid" money from Saudi Arabia while it blasts away at Yemen. Video here.
 Ging said these two are "ring fenced," and that the UN doesn't allow Saudi Arabia to put conditions on aid or where it is delivered.

  Inner City Press asked, what about the Saudi threat that aid workers should leave Houthi-controlled areas? Ging said the UN had pushed back.
But quietly, as was the case with the Saudi diversion of the WFP ship. Does money talk?  Apparently yes.