Sunday, September 23, 2018

Yemen at the UN General Assembly 18-21 September 2018

(c) Abdi Latif Dahir. 

Next to Dag Hammarskjöld's portrait. 

I was fortunate to be accepted in the Dag Hammarskjöld Journalism fellowship program and have the opportunity to attend the UN General Assembly (UNGA) 73rd Session in New York. The fellowship program established in remembrance of the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, the late Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld aims to empower journalists from developing countries to have a fuller understanding of the deliberations of the United Nations and allow them to shed light on the challenges facing their countries. I will be covering developments on Yemen, publishing with the Atlantic Council and other publications.

Even though the fellowship program has been run since the death of Hammarskjöld in 1961, I was surprised when I was told that it’s probably the first time the program had an application from a Yemeni journalist. It saddens me how Yemeni journalists face challenges in reaching such opportunities. I am also aware that I was only able to arrive in New York, thanks to being a Swedish citizen.

During the welcome-reception for all this year’s fellowship program participants (Abdi Latif Dahir from Kenya, Amitoj Singh from India and Maria Laura Carpineta from Argentina) I was interviewed by the UN news website and I was asked how do I feel about my participation in the fellowship? 

With the other fellows at the Security Council's stakeout. 

I feel delighted and I honestly feel not so proud. I was very hesitant to announce the news on my social media pages as I know I have lots of readership from inside Yemen. For me, it is difficult to travel around as a Yemeni journalist while millions of Yemenis are sieged by the Saudi-led coalition (in most parts of Yemen) and by the Houthis (in Taiz). It is difficult for me as well to be in the UN while Yemenis feel how the UN has failed to find an end to the war.

I can’t stress enough how it’s important that the UN must at least intervene and make the Saudi-led coalition lift the siege on Yemen. And gain a little bit of trust from Yemenis. 

Secretary-General of UN, Antonio Guterres and his spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric
press briefing in the UNGA's opening day, Sep 18.

This past week is marked as the first week of UNGA and Yemen has been several times under focus - as Yemen is one of the top issues in this year’s UNGA’s agenda. The crucial briefing on Yemen took place yesterday in the UN Security Council (UNSC). The UN Relief Chief, Mark Lowcock raised once again the alarm of the looming famine in Yemen, saying, “the situation in Yemen is bleak. We are losing the fight against famine in Yemen.” Lowcock spoke about people in some part of Yemen have only leaves to eat.

I had the chance to pose questions to the Dutch ambassador to the UN, Lise Gregoire-van Haaren who briefed the press on Yemen minutes ago before entering the UNSC and Mark Lowcock after his UNSC statement. I kept asking on what actions exactly the warring parties in Yemen are doing to address the famine in Yemen. Both of them stressed on that they are pushing warring parties to prevent famine in Yemen and how the UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths is exerting major efforts in addressing this and other issues.

Dutch ambassador to the UN, Lise Gregoire-van Haaren.

UN Relief Chief, Mark Lowcock.

United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.

I know the truthful answer and I know that UN diplomats can’t disclose much information. Famine in Yemen exists because all warring parties have used food as a weapon of war. I have an upcoming analysis piece in the Atlantic Council, analyzing how despite all the international funds for Yemen (over $2billion), Yemen’s humanitarian crisis persists. I illustrate how internal and external factors have led to where we are in Yemen.

The week ahead will be extremely busy at the UNGA and I plan to keep you updated on Yemen and relevant developments; daily on both my Twitter page and story section on Facebook, and weekly on my blog here. On Monday, there’ll be a high-level session titled, “The Humanitarian Response in Yemen” which I’ll attend and cover. But all eyes will be on the General Debate opening on Tuesday with U.S. President Donald Trump and other world leaders (including Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi) speaking.

Let’s hope, a miracle will happen and good news will come out of the UNGA for Yemen this year.