UN General Assembly Debate – Day 1 Wrap

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin at the leaders lunch hosted by Ban Ki-moon (UN Photo)

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin at a leaders lunch hosted by Ban Ki-moon on Monday (UN Photo)

Sept. 28, 2015 – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the 70th General Debate with a speech in which he called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court and said that five countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkey and the United States – are key to finding a solution to the conflict, now in its fifth year, and which has claimed more than 250,000 lives.

Three of those countries – the United States, Russia and Iran – spoke in the morning session with U.S. President Barack Obama telling delegates that the US is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to find a solution but there is ultimately no place for Bashar Al Assad in a future Syrian government. He called for a “managed transition away” from Assad who he held responsible for killing tens of thousands of his own citizens and creating the conditions that led to the emergence of ISIS, who he called “an apocalyptic cult.” Obama said military power alone is not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria. Preempting criticism from Putin, he said the U.S. learned a “hard lesson” in Iraq and that after the 2011 intervention in Libya, U.S. and other NATO members did not do enough for the country after the killing of Muammar Gaddafi and this had contributed to the collapse of institutions there.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, making his first appearance at the UN in ten years, told the General Assembly that foreign interference in the Middle East and North Africa had lead to the “flagrant destruction of national institutions” and that “nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life.” He said arming opposition forces in Syria only leads to more arms going to, and people joining, ISIS. Putin said it should “be acknowledged” that Assad forces and Kurdish militia are the only ones “truly fighting ISIS.” Russia has been supplying arms to Assad forces and recently moved military logistics equipment into Syria. Putin called for a coalition to fight terrorism “similar to the anti-Hitler coalition” and that the Sept. 30 ministerial Security Council meeting under the Russian presidency is aimed at agreeing on a resolution on coordinating actions on fighting ISIS and other terrorist groups.

Neither Obama nor Putin made any mention of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in their addresses. Nor did either mention the deteriorating situation in Yemen.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, began his speech by saying mismanagement by Saudi Arabia had led to last week’s Haj tragedy that left more than 800 pilgrims dead, including more than 200 Iranians. He called for an independent investigation and immediate consular access to help identify the bodies. Rouhani said the agreement reached with the E3+3 on Iran’s disputed nuclear program had opened up a “new chapter in Iran’s relations with the world.” He said his country is “prepared to assist in the eradication of terrorism and … are prepared to help bring about democracy in Syria and Yemen.” He blamed U.S. intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and its support for Israel, which he called the “Zionist regime,” for the current situation in the Middle East. He closed by declaring “ultimate victory will be won by those with good-natured piety.” Iran provides arms and financing for Hezbollah, which is currently fighting in Syria in support of Assad forces. Members of Iran’s Republican Guards are also fighting on Assad’s behalf in Syria. A recent UN Security Council report stated that an Iranian vessel had delivered 180 tons of arms to a Yemen port under Houthi control.

In the afternoon, Obama held a leaders summit on peacekeeping and said some 50 countries had pledged to contribute an additional 30,000 troops to current and future peace operations. He added that the US would double the number of military advisers serving in UN peacekeeping operations. In a separate memo, Obama said he would not relinquish command over any troops deployed to UN peace operations. The US currently has 78 personnel deployed in UN missions. The total number of current peacekeepers deployed in 16 missions is more than 106,000. The U.S. is the biggest financial contributor to peacekeeping operations – assessed at 28 percent of the more than $8 billion annual budget.

China’s President Xi Jingpin said his country would provide 8,000 troops to a UN peacekeeping standby force as well as providing $100 million to the African Union for peacekeeping operations. Beijing, which is the largest troop contributor among the permanent five members of the Security Council, will also take the lead in establishing a standing UN police force.

Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said his country – currently the fourth largest troop contributor with more than 7,500 Pakistanis deployed in blue-helmet operations – vowed continuing support for peacekeeping, including pledging additional utility helicopters, an infantry battalion, and a canine unit. He said UN peacekeeping should not be used for counter-terrorism operations.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the summit that troop contributing countries do not have a role in the decision-making process to form a peacekeeping operation. He also said troop contributing countries lack representation in senior management posts and as force commanders. India, which UN insiders say covets the top peacekeeping job currently held by France, is the third biggest troop contributor, and has served in 48 of 69 peacekeeping mission and lost 161 troops. Modi pledged an additional 850 troops for new operations as well as three police units. In closing, he called for reform of the Security Council to keep the UN relevant.

Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi spoke of his country’s contributions to peacekeeping, which includes heading the UN mission in Lebanon, a 10,000-strong force. He proposed establishing a peacekeeping unit that would be tasked with preserving cultural heritage.

Among the some 50 countries also speaking was the Netherlands. The country’s prime minister, Mark Rutte, announced that the current deployment of 450 Dutch troops with MINUSMA in Mali would be extended by one year. He also said the Netherlands, in conjunction with the U.S., is devising a training program for peacekeepers on protection of civilians. The country is still grappling with shame over the decision by its troops to handover Bosnian Muslims to Serb forces in 1995 when they were sheltering in a UN compound. A court in the Hague last year found the Netherlands liable for the deaths of 300 Bosnian Muslim men killed in the Srebrenica massacre.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz 

A Ceasefire or Humanitarian Pause: What’s Happening in Yemen?

Airstrike in Sana'a photo: Ibrahem Qasim - Licensed by Creative Commons

Airstrike in Sana’a photo: Ibrahem Qasim – Licensed by Creative Commons

July 25, 2015 – Media reported on Saturday that a five-day ceasefire (Reuters) or humanitarian ceasefire (CNN) was to take hold in Yemen beginning on Sunday between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels.

The source of the news was a Saudi Press Agency (SPA) report announcing a “humanitarian truce.”

So which is it?

It seems certain from the SPA report that what is planned is not a ceasefire, which would mean both sides have agreed to a longterm cessation of violence in conjunction with a political process to resolve the conflict.

Instead, it appears that the announced five day cessation of hostilities is a humanitarian pause, such as what was planned for earlier this month but which never took hold, and its sole purpose to allow in desperately needed aid supplies.

Here is a useful glossary from UN OCHA on pauses during conflict.
AccessMechanismsWhile the news of a pause to allow the delivery of aid is welcome, and absolutely vital, it seems like none of the parties is committed to a political process to resolve the conflict, and the UN appears unable to negotiate one.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Related Stories:

UN Yemen Appeal Only 15 Percent Funded

Yemen’s Saleh Worth $60 Billion Says UN Sanctions Committee

UN Yemen Aid Appeal Only 15 Percent Funded

Airstrike in Sana'a photo: Ibrahem Qasim - Licensed by Creative Commons

Airstrike in Sana’a, May 2015 – photo: Ibrahem Qasim – Licensed by Creative Commons

July 14, 2015 –  Gulf countries are conspicuous by their absence on the list of donors to the UN’s $1.6 billion humanitarian appeal for Yemen where more than 80 percent of the population are in need of assistance.

The United Arab Emirates is the sole donor among the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), having committed $18 million towards the $284 million received so far, according to information from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs.

More than 3,200 people have been killed and some 16,000 more injured since a Saudi Arabia-led mission to restore the former Yemeni government began in March after an offensive by Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former president Saleh.

The government in Riyadh has pledged $244 million to the UN appeal but has not delivered the funds. Similarly, Kuwait has pledged $100 million but has also not yet committed.

Oman, Qatar and Bahrain have neither pledged nor committed funds to the appeal. With the exception of Oman, all members of the GCC reportedly have fighter jets taking part in the Saudi-led mission while the United States is providing intelligence and logistical support and has speeded up the sale of arms to the coalition.

Also not among the donors to the UN appeal is Iran. A UN Security Council sanctions committee report last month stated that an Iranian vessel delivered 180 tonnes of weapons in March to a Yemen port under Houthi control.

The US is the top donor to the appeal, having committed $75 million, or 26 percent of the funding received to date.

The UN last week declared the situation inside Yemen a Level 3 humanitarian crisis, the highest level. Only three other humanitarian crisis are designated L3 – Iraq, South Sudan and Syria.

More than 3,500 schools have been closed in Yemen and almost 2 million children are out of school, according to the latest humanitarian situation report from OCHA.

An outbreak of dengue fever has reached six governorates and the UN says it needs to preposition cholera kits ahead of an expected outbreak.

There are increasing cases of measles and rubella and a high risk of a polio outbreak, according to OCHA. At least 160 health facilities are affected by a lack of power and shortages of medicines, IV fluids and surgical supplies.

A delivery of 10,000 doses of Oxytocin has been made to the Ministry of Health to assist women in labor, OCHA says.

A humanitarian pause that was due to take hold over the weekend never materialized.

The full list of donors to the UN appeal for Yemen is below.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Yemen aid appeal

Yemen’s Saleh Worth $60 Billion Says UN Sanctions Panel



Feb. 24, 2015 – The corrupt practices of Yemen’s former autocratic leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, have netted the strongman up to $60 billion, a UN sanctions panel will report to the Security Council on Tuesday.

The panel’s report says Saleh amassed up to $2 billion a year from 1978 until he was forced to step down in 2012 and that the assets are hidden in at least twenty countries with the help of business associates and front companies.

“The origin of the funds used to generate Ali Abdullah Saleh’s wealth is believed to be partly from his corrupt practices as President of Yemen, particularly relating to gas and oil contracts where he reportedly asked for money in exchange for granting companies exclusive rights to prospect for gas and oil in Yemen,” the report says.

“It is also alleged that Ali Abdullah Saleh, his friends, his family and his associates stole money from the fuel subsidy program, which uses up to 10 per cent of Yemen’s gross domestic product, as well as other ventures involving abuse of power, extortion and embezzlement,” the report adds.

“The result of these illegal activities for private gain is estimated to have amounted to nearly $2 billion a year over the last three decades,” it states.

The report was prepared by a panel of experts appointed by the Council to monitor the asset freezes and travel bans placed on Saleh and other spoilers of Yemen’s political transition last February. The Council is expected to renew those sanctions on Tuesday for another year.

So far, Saleh has evaded the measures with the help “of at least five prominent Yemeni businessmen… assisting the Saleh family to remove funds from banks in Yemen and deposit them overseas.”

“The panel is also conducting investigations into a number of private and publicly listed companies inside and outside Yemen, where it is believed that former President Saleh may be the beneficial owner of investments,” the report says.

It adds that the panel “has received information from a confidential source that Ali Abdullah Saleh has a number of alternative identity passports that have been provided to him by another State” which would further enable him to hide assets under false identities.

The panel’s estimated wealth of Saleh at $60 billion would place him fifth in Forbe’s list of the world’s richest people. Yemen’s GDP for 2014 was estimated at $35 billion by the World Bank.

Saleh stepped down in 2012 in a deal that granted him immunity from prosecution and allowed him stay in the country. The transitional government that succeeded him, headed by Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, was toppled last month with Saleh accused by some of using his wealth and connections to play a part in this.

The 54-page report from the panel also says that Houthi rebels, who are now in control in Sanaa, are using child soldiers and that hospitals and schools have been used by warring factions.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked 154th out of 187 in the UN’s Human Development Index and ranked worst in the world for gender equality. More than half the population are living below the poverty line, according to World Bank figures.

Yemen lost its vote in the UN General Assembly last month because of the country’s inability to pay its dues.

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: Wikimedia

UN Panel Of Experts Report on Security Council Sanctions Yemen