Thursday, October 13, 2016

On Yemen Airstrike, Inner City Press Asks Of Arms Sales, Ban Won't Say Why Saudi Still Off List

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS,  October 11 -- The Saudi led coalition bombed the funeral of the father of Yemen interior minister Jalal al-Roweishan in Sana'a on October 8, the same day the UN Security Council met about airstrikes in Syria. 
Inner City Press asked Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the UN Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi to confirm it was an Saudi strike and explain it. He said, "I am not aware of it." Vine video here.
Even as the Saudi led Coalition belatedly announced its own "investigation," nothing was heard back from the Saudi Ambassador or Mission. 
On October 10 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held a two-question stakeout and spoke about the airstrike -- he did not, however, say that he was putting Saudi Arabia and the Coalition back on the Children and Armed Conflict annex he took them off of. Inner City Press asked audibly, Are you putting them back on the list? Vine here. Ban did not answer.
On October 11, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here: 
Inner City Press: there are controversy in a number of countries, but the UK and the US are two of them, about continued arm sales to Saudi Arabia.  And I wonder, given the things that the Secretary-General said at the stakeout yesterday, does he believe that countries should review under the new arms… you know… control treaty, arms sales to Saudi Arabia at this time?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, the Secretary-General, I think, a few months ago had already spoken to this when he was in London.  First of all, all those countries that sell weapons have a responsibility that those weapons are used in a way that does not violate international human rights law, international humanitarian law, as a broader point, that those States who are parties to the arms trade treaty need to set an example in fulfilling one of the treaty’s main purposes, which is controlling the arm flows to actors that may use them in a way that breach international humanitarian law.

ICP Question:  Right.  And so… and so a double-tap airstrike on a funeral building would qualify as… as the type of… [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I think there’s no… I think the Secretary-General could not have been clearer that there’s absolutely no excuse for what happened yesterday.
   At the October 10 UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric what it would take.Beyond the Vine video here. It remains unclear. Ban's envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is delaying his briefing of the Security Council from October 20 to the 31st -- some urgency -- and when Inner City Press asked about the Interior Minister's critique of the envoy, Dujarric insisted the envoy has no control. 
Was he told, did he convey the message, at least as a bridge? If not, should he be replaced? The EU's Yemen representative has already moved on. We'll have more on this.
The US says John Kerry called the Saudis - but says nothing about any UN Security Council action. Here is the US statement: 
"Secretary Kerry spoke on October 9 to both His Royal Highness Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir regarding the situation in Yemen. Secretary Kerry reiterated our deep concern about the October 8 attack on the funeral hall in Yemen that resulted in a large number of civilian casualties. He welcomed the Deputy Crown Prince's commitment to launch a thorough and immediate investigation of the strike and urged him to take urgent steps to ensure such an incident does not happen again. The Secretary also reiterated the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities, and the Deputy Crown Prince stated his desire to institute a renewable 72-hour cessation as soon as possible, provided the Houthis will agree.

"The Secretary also noted, as part of the broader de-escalation effort, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's legitimate request that the Houthis pull back weapons from Saudi Arabia's border and respect its territorial integrity. The Secretary expressed appreciation for the Deputy Crown Prince's support for returning the Houthi/ Saleh negotiating delegation to Sana'a as soon as possible to facilitate the UN-led political process. Secretary Kerry emphasized that the United States will work closely with all parties to establish the cessation of hostilities and revive the political process."
  No word of any UN Security Council action.
The UK, which "holds the pen" on Yemen in the Security Council, has issued a comment - with no mention of trying to do anything in the Council. Perhaps they are or will; we are following this. But for now, only this from the UK: 
"UK Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, expresses concern following an airstrike which hit a funeral hall in Yemen and will raise concerns with the Saudi Ambassador to London Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood said:

'I am deeply concerned by reports of an airstrike hitting a funeral hall in the Yemeni capital Sana’a yesterday. The scenes from the site are shocking. I am raising my concerns with the Saudi Ambassador to London today and urge the Saudi-led coalition’s announced investigation into the incident to take place as a matter of urgency.

'There can be no military solution to this conflict. We urge all sides to recommit to political talks and to implement a cessation of hostilities.'"
  So - no UN Security Council reaction? We'll await more, particularly from the UK as penholder.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who removed the Saudi coalition from the UN Children and Armed Conflict annex on Yemen, offered what he called his "sincere" condolences.
  France, whose foreign minister Jean Marc Ayrault declined to answer Inner City Press' question on October 8 about the Saudi bombing, now says it is "shocked" - without mentioning Saudi Arabia. The Security Council, in which the UK "holds the pen" on Yemen, has yet to say anything.
Now Interior Minister Jalal Rwichan has issued a statement, forwarded to Inner City Press, stating that Ban Ki-moon's envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed was told of a cessation in hostilities for the funeral, that on that basis people went - and were killed. He says not to trust the UN or its envoy anymore. This has been a trend under Ban Ki-moon, in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. We'll have more on this.
After the French resolution failed in the Security Council, its foreign minister Jean Marc Ayrault came to the stakeout. Inner City Press asked him, loudly, if he thinks the Saudi bombardment of Yemen should also be taken up by the Security Council, after an airstrike on a funeral most recently. He did not answer, despite the question being repeated. Vine here. He left.

   While Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of the UK, which holds the Council's “pen” on Yemen, also did not answer,Vine here, New Zealand's ambassador when Inner City Press asked if his country also thinks the Saudi-led coalition should stop bombing Yemen said, “I do.” Vine here.
But by the end of the meting, following a walk-out by the UK, US and others, the UK as "penholder" on Yemen in the Security Council had not, according to the president, circulated any draft Press Statement. Watch this site.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has let the Saudi led coalition off the Children and Armed Conflict annex on Yemen, while Saudi Arabia runs for a Human Rights Council seat. How much lower can the UN get?
After a UAE warship was hit - and sunk - off the Yemeni coast near Mocha, Inner City Press on October 3 asked Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesman Farhan Haq for a comment, and if the UN knows if it was a warship or as claimed an aid ship.  See October 6 US travel warning, below.
On October 4 Haq returned with, "it doesn't sound as if it was on a humanitarian mission." Vine video here.

But eight hours later, the UN Security Council issued a condemnation of the attack on this UAE "vessel."
So on October 5, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Haq again, if what he said about the UAE ship not being on a humanitarian mission still stands.  He said, "Yes," and "that was the information I had." Vine video here. But the UN Secretariat has not given any update, much less correction. So what precedent does this Security Council Press Statement create?
And what about the precedent Ban Ki-moon set by dropping the Saudi-led coalition from the Children and Armed Conflict annex for killing children in Yemen? Saudi Arabia is now running for a seat on the Human Rights Council. On October 6 Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Farhan Haq,Beyond the Vine video here, UN transcript here: 

Inner City Press: Given that the Secretary-General, whether you called it removed or temporarily removed or suspended Saudi Arabia from that Children in Armed Conflicts List what… what message does it send?  Obviously, one of the things that people… that Member States might weigh is whether a candidate for the Human Rights Council is on one of the annexes of Children in Armed Conflict or sexual violence or any of the other, sort of, lists of shame.  So how should they read this removal?  Are they going to be put back on during this campaign season?  Are they remaining off during it?  And doesn't he then acknowledge that he's had some impact on the way in which they will be evaluated for this position?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think if you look at the website, it makes clear that Saudi Arabia is currently temporarily suspended while a review is ongoing.

ICP Question:  Which is a different status than people that are on the list.

Deputy Spokesman:  It's also a different status from people who are not on the list entirely.

From the UN's October 3 transcript:

Inner City Press:  on Yemen, I wanted to know if the UN system has any comment or knowledge of this reported sinking of a UAE (United Arab Emirates) warship.  Some are saying it was an aid convoy.  The Houthis' side is saying it was a warship enforcing a blockade on them.  Since it's a pretty high-profile incident that has the potential to result in reprisals, what's the UN's understanding of what the ship was?  Was it an aid ship, or was it part of the military operations of the Saudi-led coalition?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we're aware of the latest reports, but we'll need to get some further information about the nature of this vessel before we make any particular comment.

Question:  Given the UN's role in the humanitarian operation in Yemen, do countries like the UAE coordinate with UN if they're, as they say, moving medical supplies from one place to another, or is it just, everyone goes it alone?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, we do have a verification and inspection mechanism that's designed to help expedite the process by which aid gets into Yemen, and so we do expect that countries will use that mechanism.   On Yemen, Inner City Press on October 4 asked UK Ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft how his country reviews its arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other members of the Saudi-led Coalition that has been bombing Sanaa, Saada and elsewhere. Beyond the Vine video here, UK transcript here: 
Inner City Press: Q: On Yemen, what’s the process for the UK to review its sale of weapons to the Saudi-led coalition? That seems to be an issue. What would it take to stop that flow?
Amb Rycroft: The UK has a very clear set of arms control policies in place, and they are of a very high standard indeed, and we use those to make sure that we are satisfied with any arm sales to anywhere around the world, including in relation to Yemen.
Inner City Press: But the airstrikes on MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres), did that trigger some sort of second review?
Amb Rycroft: Well, we continue to look at all of our policies in relation to Yemen. We provide political support to the Saudi-led coalition, we are not members of the coalition, and whenever there is any one of these incidents, or allegations of incidents, then we are the first to call on the Saudis themselves to be following up and investigating.
  Rycroft began with this, about the Human Rights Council session and resolution:
Amb Rycroft: on Yemen I just wanted to reassure you that the UK did not block a text from the Human Rights Council in Geneva last week calling for an investigation. In fact, the UK worked very hard to get as strong a text as possible, and we got consensus. And we’re very glad that it was agreed by consensus. 
  But it was weak.