October 21, 2011

Saving Yemen From The UN

Over the last two weeks, as the world’s most powerful diplomats debated Yemen’s future, several constants began to surface above a haze of UN meetings.

First, the UN Security Council’s resolution was lifted from the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) initiative, ensuring a central role regardless of additional amendments. Permanent members of the UNSC also muted their public criticism of Ali Abdullah Saleh as they weighed Yemen’s situation, a “precaution” that encouraged the strongman to continue assaulting pro-democracy protesters. What started as a U.S. soundbite has now been internationally legitimized. According to
UNSC resolution 2014, the GCC’s initiative is “an inclusive and Yemeni-led political process, which responds effectively to the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Yemeni people for change.”

This claim is blatantly false; Nobel laureate Tawakel Karman, whose initial protests and arrest sparked Yemen’s uprising in January, recently met Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to warn him against corrupting Yemen’s revolution. Asked by Inner City Press (the UN gadfly) whether she had seen the council's updated version, Karman responded, "Yes, I've seen it and it's bad. It's worse that the first."

While Ki-moon promised a “clear stance against impunity for gross human rights violations,” the issue remains shrouded in ambiguity. Constructed on a flimsy platform, the UNSC’s resolution welcomes “the engagement of the Gulf Cooperation Council, reaffirming the support of the Security Council for the GCC's efforts to resolve the political crisis in Yemen.” However the GCC's Saudi-bankrolled diplomacy is unwelcome amongst Yemen’s youth and civil movement. Brokered in April between Saleh’s officials and the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), the GCC's initiative functions as a stalling mechanism before morphing into an instrument of control.

The unpopular initiative stems from a compromise between Saleh’s regime, an unrepresentative political opposition and a selection of foreign actors. Built on Washington’s initial Egyptian contingency, executive power would transfer to Saleh’s vice president, Abd al-Rahman Mansur al-Hadi, rather than a revolutionary council. Beyond giving Saleh additional time to resign - contradicting the meaning of “immediate” - and scheduling an election before the popular opposition can organize, external powers wielded unilateral authority to excuse his regime from punishment. During a speech outside UN headquarters, Karman announced that Yemen’s revolutionaries, “reject and refuse any immunity for the criminals. Immunity is against what the UN was founded upon."

“In trying to assess the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative,” warns Yemen’s Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change (CCYRC), “which is supposedly intended to solve the political upheaval existing in Yemen, it seems quite clear by now that neither the authors of the GCC Initiative, nor the parties that are signatories to this farce of regional diplomacy with international blessings fully comprehend what the so called political crisis in Yemen is really all about.”

The UNSC's resolution stands divided on the fate of Saleh’s immunity. Point two “stresses that all those responsible for violence, human rights violations and abuses should be held accountable,” while point four reaffirms the GCC’s initiative without striking its immunity clause. Even more disturbingly, resolution 2014 “notes the commitment by the President of Yemen to immediately sign the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative,” when his consistent refusal necessitated a push from the UNSC. Contrary to the theory that foreign powers are luring Saleh with immunity, Washington and Moscow aligned in order to cover up military support for his regime, including the deployment of U.S.-trained security units against Yemen's protesters.

“Today the international community sent a united and unambiguous signal to President Saleh that he must respond to the aspirations of the Yemeni people by transferring power immediately,” the White House
replied soon afterward, ignoring the international community's distorted signal.

The UNSC’s resolution would have breezed through a vote and forced an unpopular deal on Yemenis if not for their collective response. Although the immunity clause remains unsettled, the council did attempt to tighten its language without removing the GCC. Yemenis cannot be expected to face down the UNSC’s veto-wielding members, but they did squeeze a now-ubiquitous
reaction out of Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. While Colville refused to comment on the resolution’s specifics, he cautioned that, “international law prohibits the use of amnesties that prevent the prosecution of individuals for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity or gross violations of human rights.”

Unfortunately this legal council failed to impact the UNSC’s final resolution. “The GCC deal's the only game in town,” one Western diplomat told Reuters, a blunt assessment of abysmal diplomacy. The GCC's initiative is the only existing proposal because Washington and Riyadh monopolized the market; the UNSC’s rubber stamp was needed because Yemen isn’t an official member of the GCC. Ironically, removing the GCC's initiative from the UNSC’s resolution would provide a starting point for genuine regime change.

The problem is that foreign powers seek regime alteration instead.

Unrealistic as emergency amendments appear, the UNSC’s obscured resolution will only antagonize Yemen’s environment. A proposal that sincerely responds to the aspirations of Yemen’s people would be cleared of the GCC’s name. Under direction from Western capitals, GCC involvement has stunted the civil movement’s growth by refusing to negotiate with them, along with enabling Saleh’s violent streak. An immediate transition starts with his immediate resignation, not after 30 days, and an ICC referral should follow. An election schedule must favor Yemen’s civil movement, not Saleh’s regime and the JMP, as the current arrangement could retrench old political lines. Instead of calling on Yemen's opposition to obey the GCC's initiative, which it already signed, the revolutionaries should be encouraged to form an official transitional council.

Furthermore, the regional components of Yemen’s traditional opposition, the northern Houthi sect and Southern Movement, must be brought into a comprehensive solution.

In general, world powers must sever their support for Saleh’s regime, end their frequent meetings with his officials, break their media silence and apply the sanctions left out of resolution 2014. The Obama administration in particular must halt military cooperation - including drone strikes - until government oversight can be established. Their use, when combined with the GCC’s political obstruction, has minimized the White House’s urgency to act in Yemen. Both the GCC initiative and drones serve as a crutch, just as Washington is to Saleh, and must be removed in order to cure a stagnant U.S. policy. al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) cannot be subdued with the Pentagon and CIA's current strategy.

Ahmad Soufi, one of Saleh’s close advisers, automatically responded that he won’t resign before elections are held. Since the international community only listens to Yemen’s regime and traditional opposition, they shouldn’t ignore spokesman Mohamed Qahtan’s prediction that, "Saleh will not give up power voluntarily, not today, not tomorrow, not 2013 or even 2020.”

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