Monday, May 23, 2016

On Yemen, Saudi-Led Coalition Bombs Rally in Sana'a, UN Silent

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 22 -- 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. 
 On May 9, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric about Saudi-led Coalition air strikes on Amran, and if the UN would admit that the Houthis have controlled the base there since 2014. "Not for us to say, "was the answer from Dujarric, who as it happens blocks Inner City Press on Twitter just as the UN Envoy blocks journalists in Yemen. Video here. From the UN Transcript: 
Inner City Press:  does the UN believe that this base was already controlled by the Houthis…  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  That’s not for us to say. 
But see below.  On May 22, after a banal UN read-out of a meeting between its Ban Ki-moon and Hadi, the Saudi-led coalition dropped bombs in Sana'a, near a rally in Maidan Assab'een (Seventieth Square) in Sana'a, to frighten and break up the rally. 
  Some didn't run; some fired in the air. Where are Ban Ki-moon and his fishy envoy on this one? Selling cars?
  On May 21, Dujarric's office issued this read-out of Ban's meeting in Qatar with Hadi, whom many now want to see pulling back from the picture. Has Ban ever met with the other side(s)? Here's the UN read-out:
"The Secretary-General met today with His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Amir of the State of Qatar, and with H. E. Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi Mansour, President of the Republic of Yemen.

The Secretary-General appreciated the Amir’s leadership and support for several UN initiatives, including reconstruction in Gaza.

During the meeting, President Hadi of Yemen joined them. The Secretary-General underlined that peace negotiations are rarely smooth but that there was a need for commitment and perseverance by all sides. He said he strongly hoped that the talks that will shortly resume in Kuwait will lead to concrete results, and he appreciated Qatar’s support.

The Secretary-General requested his Special Envoy to respond to the recent letter received from the Government of Yemen. The President of Yemen confirmed that he will send the Government’s delegation back to the talks as requested by His Highness the Amir of State of Qatar and the Secretary-General.

The Secretary-General added that in parallel to the peace talks, all parties needed to redouble their efforts to provide and facilitate humanitarian and other supplies, including fuel, to alleviate the appalling living conditions of millions of Yemeni citizens."
On May 17 Inner City Press City asked UN OCHA's John Ging, just back from Amran, if HE could say. He said he'd seen the impact of the airstrikes, but heard nothing about the Houthis taking over the base. Video here.
 Inner City Press also asked Ging about the Saudi King Salman Center's partial aid convoy to Yemen with the OIC "assistance would be distributed to hospitals and health facilities in Yemen’s major cities, including Aden, Lahj, Abyan and Taiz." What about Sanaa, much less Saada? We'll have more on this.
On May 6, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Dujarric if the envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed or anyone else in the UN knew of US forces and equipment being moved into Yemen, UN transcript here:
Inner City Press:  I want to ask you about Yemen.  I don't know if the Envoy would know this or if the UN would have a way of knowing.  But, there are reports of US military, material and troops arriving at Al Anad Air Force Base.  Blackhawk helicopters.  Again, I'm asking…

Spokesman Dujarric:  No, we don't have any… we don't have any… I mean, we've seen the reports, but I don't have any confirmation. [The UN cut a reference to the Pentagon,Vine here. There's been, of course, no US Pentagon announcement.]

Inner City Press:  Would the Envoy view it as part of his mandate to reach out and find out if that's the case given the constant statement that there's no military solution?

Spokesman:  I think the Envoy, in the Secretary-General's opinion, has always been that there should be a focus on the political track.

   Meanwhile the UN envoy - a car dealer through Dubai, Inner City Press has learned - and a slew of media have cooperated to present as reasonable the Saudi propped up Hadi government claiming the Houthis have “taken over” a base in Amran they have controlled since 2014.
  This way the failure of the Kuwait talks can be blamed on the Houthis and not Hadi, and Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
  Previously, Inner City Press asked MSF about the Saudi-led Coalition's airstrikes on health care facilities in Yemen; MSF said one can't be perpetrator and judge at the same time. Vine here.
 On May 2, Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephan Dujarric said "Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the Special Envoy for Yemen, issued a statement in which he said that he understood the reasons that led the Government of Yemen to suspend its participation in the plenary sessions of the Yemeni Peace Talks."
Inner City Press asked Dujarric UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: One is you said that the envoy on Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, understood the reasons for the breakdown of the talks, and it seems to be the alleged takeover of a base in Amran by the Houthis.  And many people who know it say the Houthis controlled that base since September 2014 and so they view it as a pretext.  I'm wondering are you… can you say a little bit more about why the envoy says that he understands why one side walked away from the table and if the UN understands this base in Amran was not controlled by the Houthis since 2014?

Spokesman Dujarric:  I have nothing more to add than what I have said on Yemen.
  Earlier, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric to explain Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed's repeated trips to Dubai, without answer. Now we've heard: IOCA has been importing luxury cars from there into his native Mauritania. 
 Kicking the tires, indeed. He has STILL not released the public financial disclosure that Ban claims he urges from his senior officials. Then again, Ban and his officials like USG Cristina Gallach are embroiled in the UN bribery scandal, and respond by evicting the files of the critical Press, video and petition, and trying to hinder reporting. We'll have more on this.
 On April 27, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about complaints to his envoy about violations of the cessation of hostilities by Saudi Arabia, and if a "plenary" had been canceled. Video here, UN transcript here.
 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. And then the UN moved to evict Inner City Press from the UN, video here and here. 
But still, the UN is supposed to send out its Yemen news or statement beyond its own "UN News Center." On April 20, Inner City Press asked, UN transcript here.
   Over the April 23-24 weekend, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and the / his UN News Center did it again, here:
"Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, UN Special Envoy for Yemen, said in a press release that 'significant differences in the delegations' points of view remain but nonetheless there is consensus on the need to make peace and to work intensively towards an agreement.'"
The UN's media practices have moved from evicting independent critical media to controlling like state media their own UN "scoops."
On April 21, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric, video hereUN transcript here.
 On April 19, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric, Vine hereUN transcript here.
  On April 15, the eve of eviction, Inner City Press asked Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to respond to Ali Abdullah Saleh, to a large rally on March 26, saying he would not work with the UN on anything. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed replied he does not comment on public statements, just the presence of Saleh party members in the negotiations. 
 On March 28, after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq had refused to let Inner City Press ask 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.
  Not surprisingly, particularly given Feltman's witch hunt, 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 does not wash. While not absolving Gallach, it goes to the top. 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.
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 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.
 On March 7, two days after exclusively publishing Envoy IOCA's email to Feltman, Inner City Press asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq about it. He did not deny the email, instead saying that the envoy is working hard.
  Inner City Press asked Haq to confirm or deny at least the delivery of the humanitarian IT equipment, by email since Haq's "squawks" over the press floor public address system don't reach it, with UN DPI Banning ICP from its longtime office (petition here). We'll see.
 Here is the email:
"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.)