Saturday, September 29, 2018

Yemen at the UN General Assembly 24-28 Sep 2018

Yemeni President, Hadi was highly criticized for his picture in New York with a cake, celebrating the
anniversary of the September 26 Revolution of 1962; while a widespread starvation is hitting Yemen.

This week, the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) annual debate began and, as I predicted in my review of last week, all eyes were on the American president Donald Trump - which has shifted the focus away from more serious global issues. This week has also been bad timing for Yemen, as almost all American press attention has been focused on the all-American if historical hearing in Washington, Ford-Kavanaugh Senate hearing.

Overall, Yemen for UN officials remains a top humanitarian concern while it remains solely a political issue for the Yemeni-Saudi-Emirati block. Between Trump’s misleading claims about Yemen, the Yemeni government’s continuous obsession with Iran’s role in Yemen, and the Saudi-UAE well-planned and well-funded PR work in New York, discussions about the conflict in Yemen remain highly selective and focused on more war rather than peace. Despite the fact that Yemen is on this year’s UNGA agenda, no substantial progress was achieved this week in the security council. However, a glimpse of victory was achieved for Yemeni victims of war in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council, when the council voted to extend an inquiry commission into war crimes in the country.

Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan

The week began with a high-level session on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen organized by the UN office (watch here), headed by the UN Relief Chief, Mark Lowcock. The session included remarks made by Lise Grande from OCHA in Yemen, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus from the World Health Organization, Kelly Clements from the UNHCR, Helle Thorning-Schmidt from Save the Children, Mai Al-Eryani from the Yemeni Women’s Union. All have painted a bleak picture of the unspeakable human suffering in Yemen. However, I found the speeches shying away from denouncing the weaponization of aid by the warring sides. The speakers might have been intimidated to express so fearing the consequences.

Sep 24 - UN high-level session on Yemen.

Next, we heard from the Yemeni foreign minister, Khaled al-Yamani, the Saudi ambassador to the UN, Abdallah al-Mouallimi, the UAE minister of state for international cooperation, Reem Al Hashimy and other European countries. The most striking remark was made by al-Mouallimi,, who with a straight face stated that, “Yemen is not a man-made disaster, it’s rather a Houthi-made disaster.” Outrageous, right?! Saudi Arabia has mastered the blaming-game in the course of Yemen war, and the Hadi government has just followed along. 

Both the Saudi and Emirati officials minimized the problem of limited access for aid operations to Yemen, stressing that it wasn’t important to open Sana’a airport as other entries are opened. This implies that the UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths’ recent wish to open Sana’a airport soon is only a wishful thinking.

The good news is that both Denmark and Canada said during the session that they will add new funds for the humanitarian aid fund; about $20 million from Denmark and $28m from Canada. I also finally managed to do an interview with Sweden's Special Envoy for Yemen, ambassador Peter Semneby who attended the session. I say “finally” because both my two previous interview request emails were had gone unanswered. The interview will be published soon.

Trump on Yemen

Tuesday was day one of UNGA’s annual debate and it began with the most truthful moment in this year’s UNGA session so far consisting of the audience laughing at Mr. Trump’s first sentences in his speech. It was difficult to expect any hopeful comment from Trump about American efforts for a peace process in Yemen, as he was busy bashing Iran and globalism. Next day, Trump made another awful misleading claim, this time about Yemen, during a major press conference held on the sidelines of the UNGA. Unfortunately, I had nasty flu and couldn’t attend the press conference, but hundreds of journalists attended the conference and none of them posed a single question about Yemen. Questions mainly were focused on American domestic affairs; especially the Ford-Kavanaugh Senate hearing. Despite the lack of questions on Yemen, Trump mentioned Yemen once in his 80 minute-long press conference when he was speaking about Iran. “Yemen is a mess, but it’s getting better,” said Trump. No journalist dared to challenge him about his false claim about the soon-to-be world’s largest famine.

Saudi-UAE PR Work

One might think UNGA is the most powerful diplomatic event of the year but I’ve been observing how events happening on the sidelines of UNGA are rather more important events. There are about dozens of events happening outside the UN organized by Saudi Arabia, United Arab of Emirates, the Yemeni government, Qatar, the US state department, where stronger messages are conveyed via controlled narratives.

The annual “United Against Nuclear Iran” summit; for instance, has been taking place since 2008 on the sidelines of UNGA to bash Iran and all its supporters. This year’s summit included an explosive speech by the National Security Advisor of the United States, John Bolton - one could leave the room believing a US war against Iran is surely on its way.

Both the Saudi UN ambassador and the Saudi foreign minister, Adel Al-Jubeir held separate conferences on the sidelines of UNGA. These events are attended by invitation only, sent to influential officials and media outlets. Not to mention that Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar have each its own media groups working with it. Hence, it’s not only a diplomatic war but also a media war. Each country seems well-prepared with its UN events, outside-UN events, its media outlets - all geared to shaping the international public opinion.

Where is the Yemeni government in all of that? The Yemeni government remains a puppet in the hands of the Saudi-UAE coalition's hands. Evidently, Yemeni president, Hadi’s speech on Wednesday was one written by Saudi Arabia.

My takeaway from this week is that media is a weapon both KSA and US have used very well because of their great economic capability. They can control newspaper coverage, and direct their own TV channels and organize well-publicized press conferences, thus sending their well-crafted messages to the world from - in other words, money speaks loudly!

As an independent freelance journalist, I don’t know how long I can survive in this media landscape. Last year, I founded “Sana’a Review” aiming to provide independent critical stories on Yemen with a group of Yemeni writers. I’ve been looking for funds and have knocked on Swedish and Danish doors, but all my requests have been unsuccessful so far. I am calling on you, dear readers, to forward any tips you may have on potential funding sources, specifically for Sana’a Review, or even if you would personally like to support this publication, please contact me: (