Wednesday, April 26, 2017

On Yemen, UN Guterres Talks Political Solution But Leaves Failed Envoy IOCA in Place Amid Complaints

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 25 – At the Yemen conference in Switzerland, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, again, that only a political solution will put an end to the crisis in the country. But why then, some says, did Guterres reflexively extend the mandate of Ban Ki-moon's (and Saudi Arabia's) envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who doesn't even purport to comply with the UN's rudimentary public financial disclosure law, despite his lack of not only accomplishment but visibility? Inner City Press has been informed, by the protagonists, that several respected international NGOs, all of them "pro-UN," have mulled publicly urging the removal of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. But they are still worried about their continued access to the UN: what if Guterres simply ignores their call, as he ignores others? Where has IOCA, as some call him, been during all this time? He took one vacation, then another, in the middle of the conflict. How many days has he been in Sana'a since Ban Ki-moon named him the envoy? There are Press questions that three-SG spokesman Stephane Dujarric, also unwisely kept on by Antonio "No Change" Guterres, has refused to answer. (By contrast to Dujarric, who moved to throw Inner City Press out of the UN Press Briefing Room (Para 9-10) and has it still restrictedafter 14 months, the IMF for example answers Inner City Press' questions, for example last week here.) Bigger picture, what is the role of Hadi and why should his insistence that thousands die so he can return to a position he was never elected to be given so much deference? We'll have more on this.

In advance of Guterres' first Children and Armed Conflict report, at the UN on April 20 a detailed call to re-include the Saudi-led Coalition for its killings in Yemen was made by the non-governmental organizations Watchlist and Save the Children. Tellingly, the UN did not list the press conference in its Media Alert nor begin webcasting it - so Inner City Press live-streamed this Periscope, here. Inner City Press asked the panelists (Christine Monaghan, Sarah Ashraf and Laura Silvia Battaglia) and moderator Eva Smets if they had spoken with Guterres' selection as Special Representative, Virginia Gamba. Not yet, was the answer; Watchlist had not been familiar with Gamba as a child rights advocate. (She has been working on Syria chemical weapons, in which capacity Inner City Press has covered and questioned her). Watchlist did, however, praise Guterres for the speed with which he replaced Leila Zerrougui, not leaving the position unfilled. Gamba is set to begin on May 1. Inner City Press also asked about Guterres' holdover envoy on Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, his perceived pro-Saudi bias and if he has been open to NGOs on humanitarian issues. It seems not. As Inner City Press has reported and questioned Guterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric about, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has refused to make even the most basic public financial disclosure in the UN program. He is otherwise invisible too. So on April 18, Inner City Press asked the UN's holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here: 
Inner City Press:  I wanted to ask you on Yemen, James Mattis is in Riyadh, and he said, this is a quote, “Our aim for this crisis”, meaning Yemen, “is to be handled by a team of negotiators under the aegis of the United Nations.”  So I'm wondering, is there any communications between the administration…? There is, not a team, but there's Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.  What's he been doing?  And is this call by Mattis understood by the UN to be for something different than what Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has been doing?

Spokesman Dujarric:  No, I don't understand it as something being different.
 Then Dujarric, as he increasingly does on Inner City Press and its Yemen and other questions, quickly turned to another correspondent. Related in a way, is the recent BBC The Inquiry show into "Why Is No-one Trying to Stop the War in Yemen?" - it mentions the ineffectiveness (but not the corruption) of the UN, but does not mention Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. He is trying to air-brush himself out amid the double standards and suffering. We'll have more on this.
With the UN's involvement in the slaughter in Yemen more and more openly twisted by obsequiousness to the Saudi-led Coalition, from the firing of Leila Zerroughui who put the Coalition on the UN's Children and Armed Conflict annex only to have Ban Ki-moon remove it (she's been replaced by Ms Gamba) to the more recent ignoring of communication from those in control on Sana'a, now there's more. Fishy UN envoy Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, sources exclusively inform Inner City Press, has only bee extended for six months and not a year. "He's on a shorter leash," one said. But why was he extended at all?

Inner City Press has exclusively been told by a number of trusted sources that Saudi Arabia has pushed the UN to "dump" the current head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O'Brien, who was already soft on the Saudi, in exchange for an "even more pro-Saudi Brit." And, we reporte here, the name is Mark Lowcock. Watch this platform.

As one source put it to Inner City Press, "It's a new low." And that's saying something. Another UN source opined, "That's what makes the Security Council such a side-show on Yemen, the power has been delegated out to non-Council member Saudi Arabia." And yet, after the Security Council's closed door meeting on March 29, hours later, this is what the UN's envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed put out: "
The United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed briefed the Security Council members today on the situation in Yemen and the efforts to continue negotiations on the peace process at a closed-door meeting.  The Special Envoy expressed his deep concern about the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian and economic situation amidst a worrying escalation of military operations. "The only real way to prevent a worsening of the situation is to reach a peaceful resolution to this tragic conflict which has been going on for too long. It is my firm belief that further military escalation and humanitarian suffering will not bring the parties closer together.” The Special Envoy had presented to the parties a framework that included a set of sequenced political and security measures which were designed to ensure a rapid end to the war, withdrawals of military formations and disarmament in key areas, and the creation of an inclusive transitional government. He urged the Security Council members to put pressure on the parties to engage constructively in discussing the framework. He said "the Government of Yemen should agree to engage in talks based on the framework, and Ansar Allah and the General People's Congress must end their long-standing refusal to undertake serious discussions on security arrangements." The Special Envoy presented a bleak picture of the current situation. He warned that the impact of the conflict on the economy and food security will be felt long into the futureand jeopardise attempts to restore stability.  The Special Envoy reiterated his call to the International Community to speak with a unified, consistent and bold voice to the parties, now more than ever. He concluded by urging the Council to “use all of its diplomatic weight to push for the relevant parties to make the concessions required to reach a final agreement before more lives are lost. We must give peace another chance.” Shades of John Lennon. Watch this site.
After the killing of at least 43 Somali refugees off the coast of Yemen, Somalia's Foreign Minister Abdusalam Omer has said "we call on our partners in the Saudi-led coalition to investigate the raid. It is very sad, targeting a boat carrying Somali migrants near the coast of Hodeida in Yemen." So will Somalia, on the agenda of the UN Security Council, formally act the Council to ensure that an investigation takes place, and that those responsible are punished? Inner City Press on March 17 asked the Council's president for the month, Matthew Rycroft of the UK, who will investigate it, and it remains UNclear, see below.
  Also on March 17, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about it, UN transcript here: 
Inner City Press: On Yemen, this attack on what are thought, people say they had UN travel documents, that these were certified UN refugees being moved from Yemen to Sudan, given that the attack was by Apache helicopters and there's only a certain number of parties using them, is the UN calling for an investigation to find out who did it?  And do you consider it a war crime to sink a boat of refugees?

Spokesman:  Clearly, we stand firmly against the sinking of… the hitting of civilians.  I mean, my understanding is that these were Somalis who had been… sought refuge in Yemen.  Yemen has been… the people of Yemen have been extremely generous to Somali refugees.  They receive, mostly on prima facie evidence, refugee papers.  I don't think they were travel papers per se, but they were papers certifying that they are refugees, and there needs to be accountability for this crime.
  Also on March 17, Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft about the  bombing, UK transcript here:
Inner City Press: In the Yemen consultations, did this bombing of a ship full of refugees come up? And is there a desire among Council members to find out whose Apache helicopter may have been behind it? Including if UK armaments were used, if in fact it was a Saudi attack, if not a US attack?

Amb Rycroft: Yes, it came it. I raised it first for all at outset of this part of the meeting, Jeff Feltman as part of his briefing, he was the briefer on it, and at least one or two other Council members raised it as well. I think it’s too early to be reaching any definitive conclusions on it, but rest assured, that in my national capacity, the UK is following up in detail and with urgency to get to the bottom of it.

Inner City Press: Who will do the investigation?

Amb Rycroft: We’ll follow up on that. 
  Back on March 10, Inner City Press asked Rycroft about the bombing of Khokha, and if the Saudi-led Coalition shouldn't at least stop banning journalists from the UNHAS flights into Sana'a. Video here, UK transcript here: 
Inner City Press: Since you met about Yemen as well, I wanted to ask you – while you were meeting, or maybe slightly before – there was an airstrike in a place called Khoka. Some people say 22 civilians dead. In any case, there are some very graphic photographs. I wanted to know, what’s the Council, in terms of a political process, or trying to get these airstrikes to stop, what’s it doing? And also, is there any interest in getting journalists there? There are these humanitarian flights that go to Sana’a but I think that even when Mr. O’Brien visited there were no journalists on his trip. Do you think that the Saudi-led coalition should, at minimum, allow witnesses into the country to report on what’s taking place there? Thanks.

Amb Rycroft: The first issue the Security Council, from what I heard in our open session today, is united in the view that it’s only through a political solution that the conflict in Yemen will end. And that is why we all support the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed in his attempts to bring the parties into a meaningful political process which will end the war. That’s the UK view as well and we stand ready to do whatever we can to help Ismail in that process. It terms of journalists, I think that’s really a question for the UN or for the Saudi-led coalition, which the UK supports, but it’s a question that should be answered by them.

Back on March 6, Inner City Press asked UN Department of Political Affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman: does Feltman concede that Ban Ki-moon's envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has failed, as it's said the UN's resigning Western Sahara envoy has, and why was the issue of putting the Saudi-led Coalition back on the UN Children and Armed Conflict not raised during Feltman's trip with new Secretary General Antonio Guterres through the Gulf Region? Feltman said that human rights were "raised on their own merits" during the trip; he did not answer on the envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, even while provided further detail about the letter of the Western Sahara envoy to Guterres. Video here; we'll have more on this.
  Back on February 22, days after Saudi Arabia received yet more praise from the UN for its role in Yemen comes reports to Inner City Press of a double-tap airstrike by Saudi jets in Sana'a: "two airstrikes targeting a gathering funeral for women in Arhab district / Sanaa, then targeted first responders with another airstrike... People there are still trying to take out dead bodies from the location."
  The airstrikes have been on ports as well. On February 22, Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft of the role of these airstrikes in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen on which still relatively new Secretary General Antonio Guterres was set to speak at 2 pm. Video here.  From the UK transcript: 
Inner City Press: Do you think in Yemen the air strike campaign contributes to the humanitarian crisis? The bombing of ports, etc...?

Amb Rycroft: In all four of these cases, there is a mixture of factors. Clearly in Yemen, there can be no military solution. There must be a political settlement, and we strongly support the UN in seeking to achieve that, and we support the UN in ensuring humanitarian access to the people who need it in Yemen.
   The sudden focus on hunger in Yemen, without mentioning that the UN under Ban Ki-moon took the Saudi-led coalition off its own Children and Armed Conflict annex, is problematic. We will have more on this.

 On February 13, Inner City Press asked the UN's deputy spokesman Farhan Haq about it. Video here