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On Syria, OCHA's O'Brien Speaks on Madaya, ICP Asked Dips about Yemen's Sa'ada

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 11 -- When the UN Security Council held closed door consultations with OCHA chief Stephen O'Brien on January 11, it was supposed to be on both Madaya in Syria and aid issues in Yemen. Here was O'Brien's statement when he emerged, fast transcribed by

"We’ve seen, as I’m sure you have, the harrowing images  recent days of adults and children suffering. These are wholly credible reports which are emerging, and we’ve had today, as people have been able to get in, confirmation of these harrowing scenes are real, very real on the ground. I’m pleased to be able to report that the United Nations and its partners including the ICRC and the SARC have worked tirelessly to try and negotiate this access to bring life-saving assistance to te people in need in the besieged nd hard to reach areas and these communities across Syria. Madaya is but one, as I know you are aware.
I told the Council that of course it is our first duty and wish to pay tribute to the extraordinary bravery of aid workers, drivers, those who are undertaking the work; also our UN colleagues, who often travel over many months doing delicate negotiations with people in some places which is dangerous work. So, we pay tribute.
As you’ve heard the trucks have reached their destinations today in Madaya, in Kafraya and Fuaa and have been offloading supplies. As the night has drawn on, part of the problem there hasn’t been oil, so they’ve been having to do it under flashlight, using, where they have charge, i-Phones to get the supplies off the trucks. Of course we don’t regard the mission as complete until all the drivers and all the people involved in supply have returned safely.
I’ve just been told by the humanitarian coordinator, you may have heard this, earlier, that whilst he was in the hospital in Madaya he saw around 400 people have been identified who must be evacuated immediately. We must seek to do this and put the arrangements in place as soon as at all possible for medical treatment or they are in grave peril of losing their lives and dying with either the causes being malnutrition or for complications for other medical reasons.
 I did remind the Council whilst I was briefing them that Madaya is tragically far from unique. There are about 400,000 people in Syria who are trapped in areas besieged and that’s within the 4.5 million or so who are in the overall hard to reach areas. So that gives you an idea of what we’ve just been discussing and I’m very happy to take questions."

 While a rare stakeout from O'Brien on aid access issues is welcome, what about Yemen? Another MSF-supported hospital there, in Sa'ada, was just bombed, as Inner City Press asked diplomats entering the meeting about, Periscope video here; there is of course Taizz, as Saudi TV was asking. OCHA signed an MOU with Saudi Arabia to accept its funds for Yemen which the Saudi led Coalition is bombing, including reportedly with cluster bombs. Where's O'Brien on this? Inner City Press has asked.

Back on December 18 in the Lotte New York Palace Hotel, ministers Lavrov and Gentiloni, Fabius and Kerry passed through with entourages; UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon left early typically without answering any questions, as Inner City Press Periscoped and reported. Hours later, the draft resolution was agreed to, then adopted 15-0 by the UN Security Council, here.

 On December 26, the UN issued this for its envoy Staffan de Mistura:

"Further to resolution 2254 (2015) of the Security Council, unanimously adopted on 18 December 2015, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, has intensified efforts towards convening representatives of the Syrian Government and the broadest possible spectrum of the Syrian opposition and others to engage in a political process leading towards implementation of the objectives and principles for a political solution to the Syrian conflict as contained in the Geneva Communique of 30 June 2012, and the Vienna Statements of 30 October and 14 November 2015.
"In line with the clear parameters outlined in Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), the Special Envoy intends to complete his consultations in early January, with a view to initiating intra-Syrian talks on a target date of 25 January 2016 in Geneva. He counts on full cooperation of all the relevant Syrian parties in this process. Continuing developments on the ground should not be allowed to derail it. The Special Envoy also relies on the continued crucial support of the International Syria Support Group.
The people of Syria have suffered enough. Their tragedy is now felt throughout the region and beyond. They deserve the full attention and commitment from all their Syrian representatives, who should now show leadership and vision to overcome differences for the sake of Syria."

 The day before, on December 25, on Syria UNRWA's spokesman Chris Gunness said:

"UNRWA welcomes any developments that could end the armed conflict in and around Yarmouk, and ease the inhuman conditions that Palestine refugees and other civilians are in Yarmouk continue to endure. Over the past three months, there have been persistent reports of negotiations for some form of truce or evacuation arrangement in Yarmouk.  These reports are credible and UNRWA is taking them seriously, although they have not been officially or formally confirmed, and details have been vague. There are several thousands of civilians living in deeply abject conditions in Yarmouk. As UNRWA is deeply concerned about their well-being, the Agency is seeking from the Syrian government further details of any negotiated arrangements that will affect the humanitarian situation of civilians in Yarmouk. In particular, UNRWA demands that any arrangements being negotiated in and around Yarmouk must include guarantees for a durable cessation of hostilities, for the protection of civilians, and for safe, uninterrupted humanitarian access for UNRWA and other humanitarian actors. UNRWA is redoubling its strong appeals to the Government of Syria and relevant actors to allow and facilitate humanitarian access to Yarmouk.  This is urgently needed to enable UNRWA to   deliver food, clean water, winter supplies,  healthcare,  and other humanitarian assistance and services to civilians in Yarmouk. UNRWA stands ready immediately to respond to the humanitarian needs of the entire civilian population of Yarmouk."

  Meanwhile the head of Jaysh al Islam Zahran Alloush was killed al Ghouta.

  Back on December 18 at the UN the US day ended in a bilateral meeting between Iranian minister Zarif and John Kerry -- a photo spray was canceled -- and a low key meeting on Iraq and Turkey that we asked about and reported on here.

  Kerry and Lavrov, joined by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, held this three-question press conference. Kerry said the negotiations should begin in mid to late January (in contrast to the early January in the resolution). Lavrov said only the “patriotic opposition” should be involved in negotiations. Staffan de Mistura said very little.

  That Kerry's spokesman John Kirby, who ran the press conference, gave the second question to the Washington Post, and the third to Russian media, was perhaps understandable. But the first question, Kirby set aside for “Al Arabiya.”  The question quickly turned into three, after being branded for “UNCA,” now the UN Corruption Association, a group which sold seats with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for $6000 only earlier this week.

 We now add: UNCA gave one of its prizes, a free trip to Turkey, to one of its Vice Presidents, from Agence France Presse. Even Kellogg's prohibits its employees from competing for its prizes. But not UNCA, which ignoring the Iraq - Turkey meeting in the Security Council was trying to buy people with Prosecco on December 18, after selling seats with Ban for $6,000.

  Several other UN-based journalists -- not (only) this one -- complained afterward that the first question and attempted follow up were a “Saudi circus” which made the UN press corps look bad -- as did attempt to throw out certain journalists, photographers, from the front row at the beginning.

   Afterward a photo spray of a meeting between Kerry and Iran's Zarif was declared “by invitation only” and then canceled. In the Security Council, with very few journalists still at the stakeout, the US presidency began the meeting on Iraq's complaint against Turkey being in its territory. We'll have more on this.

After the vote inside the Council Lavrov said, “The unanimous adoption today on the Council has created a broad front on the basis of the UN Charter, on the basis of all of those who are pushing back against terror, including the Syrian army, [some] armed militias, parts of the Syrian opposition, and the Russian air forces, in response to the legitimate request of the Syrian government."

Inside as Nasser Judeh of Jordan spoke, UN TV cut repeatedly to Syria's Bashar Ja'afari, looking more and more skeptical. France's Fabius spoke briefly and left. Outside at the stakeout, talk turned to a Kerry press conference, open to all.

 Italy's Paolo Gentiloni, by contrast, scheduled a press availability only for Italian media. A wag from the Free UN Coalition for Access asked, Isn't Gentiloni the foreign and not interior minister? Isn't he running for a Security Council seat? We'll have more on this.

In the  hotel lobby in the late morning a Permanent Five member of the Security Council's spokesperson briefed a gaggle of journalists in the lobby amid hissed that it was “off the record.”

  There was a gingerbread model of the NY Palace hotel which, the sign said, took 300 hours to make. All that was lacking, one wag - this one - snarked on Twitter, was a little gingerbread Laurent Fabuis.

 Back that UN, the 1 pm stakeout by the EU's Mogherini was postponed and then canceled. The Security Council scheduled for 3 pm got pushed back to 4.  Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric if Ban had spoken, what would he have said? Vine here.

On December 17, the day before Syria talks resumed at the New York Palace Hotel in Manhattan, finance ministers spoke in the UN Security Council about cutting off financing for ISIS. French finance minister Michel Sapin spoke darkly of the use of pre-paid cards for the November 13 Paris attacks; Russia's Ambassador Churkin named two Turkish companies as involved in ISIS oil sale.

  Inner City Press asked Syria's Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, who came to take questions at the Council stakeout, about ISIS' oil. He named Turkey, then want on to name Qatar and Saudi Arabia, slamming its “Sunni coalition” recently announced.

  When US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, along with Sapin and the UK's George Osborne held a short press conference in the UN briefing room, Inner City Press hoped to asked Sapin about pre-paid cards, and Lew and Osborne about Bitcoin. But the question, just four, were limited to Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the New York and Financial Times. So it goes.

   It seems there will be no Press access at the New York Palace; Ja'afari has said he will speak, at the UN, and whatever ISSG press availability there is should be at the UN, with a 3 pm meeting on December 18 scheduled. Watch this site.

Back on December 8, Inner City Press put thee questions to  Turkey's Ambassador Cevic. Video here.   Here's fast transcript by

Inner City Press: On Syria, do you think the Vienna process meeting should take place in New York on the 18th? Are you satisfied with the Saudi process for choosing the opposition?

Amb Cevik: The plans, I don’t know how fixed, I mean how clear it is, but we are making our preparations for the meeting.

Inner City Press: Are there any groups invited to Saudi Arabia that you think shouldn’t be part of the opposition delegation?

Amb Cevik: I think so far, in our view, they are working on the right concept. Let’s see if they succeed. Having a coalition group that would be able to take part in the process is one of the most important things.
Inner City Press: [Russia] said the group that killed their pilot should be put on the terror list. Do you have any view on that?

Amb Cevik: If they know the specifics, I don’t know. But to our knowledge, there was no terrorist organization, no extreme Daesh, Nusra, in that area. They are the Turkomens, and we know them, they are moderate people.

  This may be an issue. Watch this site.

On Syria after coy comments by the UN's Ban Ki-moon if the next meeting would be in New York, John Kerry in Washington at the Saban Forum in Washington on December 5 said:

"the governments involved are going to meet later in this month in New York in order to continue to move this process forward.  Our goal is to facilitate a transition that all parties have stated that they support: a unified Syria...The purpose of this transition will be to establish a credible, inclusive governance within six months.  The process would include the drafting of a new constitution and arrangements for internationally supervised elections within 18 months...Meanwhile, a nationwide ceasefire will go into effect between the government and the responsible opposition, assuming they come to the table and they begin this initial process."

  But who is this "responsible opposition"? Does it include Al Qaeda affiliates? Can last-minute mergers cleanse these groups? Watch this site.

 Back on November 14 in the shadow of the November 13 Paris attacks, the International Syria Support Group met and issued a statement in Vienna, follow by statements by US John Kerry, Russia's Sergey Lavrov and the UN's Staffan de Mistura, flashing his pince-nez and the highlighted document below.

  But what will happen when a group said to be linked to Al Nusra is hit by an airstrike, and the Free Syrian Army says it's them, not Nusra?

Meeting in Vienna on November 14, 2015 as the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), the Arab League, China, Egypt, the EU, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and the United States to discuss how to accelerate an end to the Syrian conflict.  The participants began with a moment of silence for the victims of the heinous terrorist attacks of November 13 in Paris and the recent attacks in Beirut, Iraq, Ankara, and Egypt.  The members unanimously condemned in the strongest terms these brutal attacks against innocent civilians and stood with the people of France.

Subsequently, the participants engaged in a constructive dialogue to build upon the progress made in the October 30 gathering. The members of the ISSG expressed a unanimous sense of urgency to end the suffering of the Syrian people, the physical destruction of Syria, the destabilization of the region, and the resulting increase in terrorists drawn to the fighting in Syria.

The ISSG acknowledged the close linkage between a ceasefire and a parallel political process pursuant to the 2012 Geneva Communique, and that both initiatives should move ahead expeditiously.  They stated their commitment to ensure a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition based on the Geneva Communique in its entirety.  The group reached a common understanding on several key issues.
The group agreed to support and work to implement a nationwide ceasefire in Syria to come into effect as soon as the representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition have begun initial steps towards the transition under UN auspices on the basis of the Geneva Communique.  The five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council pledged to support a UNSC resolution to empower a UN-endorsed ceasefire monitoring mission in those parts of the country where monitors would not come under threat of attacks from terrorists, and to support a political transition process in accordance with the Geneva Communique.   
All members of the ISSG also pledged as individual countries and supporters of various belligerents to take all possible steps to require adherence to the ceasefire by these groups or individuals they support, supply or influence.  The ceasefire would not apply to offensive or defensive actions against Da’esh or Nusra or any other group the ISSG agrees to deem terrorist.
The participants welcomed UN Secretary General Ban’s statement that he has ordered the UN to accelerate planning for supporting the implementation of a nationwide ceasefire.  The group agreed that the UN should lead the effort, in consultation with interested parties, to determine the requirements and modalities of a ceasefire.  
The ISSG expressed willingness to take immediate steps to encourage confidence-building measures that would contribute to the viability of the political process and to pave the way for the nationwide ceasefire.  In this context, and pursuant to clause 5 of the Vienna Communique, the ISSG discussed the need to take steps to ensure expeditious humanitarian access throughout the territory of Syria pursuant to UNSCR 2165 and called for the granting of the UN’s pending requests for humanitarian deliveries.   The ISSG expressed concern for the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons and the imperative of building conditions for their safe return in accordance with the norms of international humanitarian law and taking into account the interests of host countries.  The resolution of the refugee issue is important to the final settlement of the Syrian conflict.  The ISSG also reaffirmed the devastating effects of the use of indiscriminate weapons on the civilian population and humanitarian access, as stated in UNSCR 2139.  The ISSG agreed to press the parties to end immediately any use of such indiscriminate weapons.
The ISSG reaffirmed the importance of abiding by all relevant UN Security Council resolutions, including UNSCR 2199 on stopping the illegal trade in oil, antiquities and hostages, from which terrorists benefit.
Pursuant to the 2012 Geneva Communique, incorporated by reference in the Vienna statement of October 30, and in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2118, the ISSG agreed on the need to convene Syrian government and opposition representatives in formal negotiations under UN auspices, as soon as possible, with a target date of January 1.  The group welcomed efforts, working with United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and others, to bring together the broadest possible spectrum of the opposition, chosen by Syrians, who will decide their negotiating representatives and define their negotiating positions, so as to enable the political process to begin.  All the parties to the political process should adhere to the guiding principles identified at the October 30 meeting, including a commitment to Syria’s unity, independence, territorial integrity, and non-sectarian character; to ensuring that State institutions remain intact; and to protecting the rights of all Syrians, regardless of ethnicity or religious denomination.   ISSG members agreed that these principles are fundamental.
The ISSG members reaffirmed their support for the transition process contained in the 2012 Geneva Communique.  In this respect they affirmed their support for a ceasefire as described above and for a Syrian-led process that will, within a target of six months, establish credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance, and set a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution.  Free and fair elections would be held pursuant to the new constitution within 18 months. These elections must be administered under UN supervision to the satisfaction of the governance and to the highest international standards of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians, including the diaspora, eligible to participate.   
Regarding the fight against terrorism, and pursuant to clause 6 of the Vienna Communique, the ISSG reiterated that Da’esh, Nusra, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the UN Security Council, and further, as agreed by the participants and endorsed by the UN Security Council, must be defeated.  The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan agreed to help develop among intelligence and military community representatives a common understanding of groups and individuals for possible determination as terrorists, with a target of completion by the beginning of the political process under UN auspices.
The participants expect to meet in approximately one month in order to review progress towards implementation of a ceasefire and the beginning of the political process.

When the Chair of the UN's Syria Commission of Inquiry Paulo Sergio Pinheiro took questions after a closed door meeting with the Security Council, Inner City Press asked him about airstrikes in Syria, particularly by members of the Council. Periscope video here.

   Pinheiro replied that, not having been to Syria (except once as an individual, he told Inner City Press afterward, second Periscope here), he could not determine the facts of the airstrikes. But he said he had urged the Council members involved to comply with international humanitarian and human rights law.

Here fast transcription by

Inner City Press: For the 2 commissioners: with the increasing airstrikes by many parties now inside Syria, how is the commission able to collect, are you able to collect information about the airstrikes that occur and to figure out who’s doing what? And did you have any guidance to, there’s some members of the Security Council who are involved in these strikes, in terms of how to conduct them or how to coordinate more? I’d just like to know how you’re dealing with this new change.

Pinheiro: As you know, we investigate violations of human rights law and breaches of international and humanitarian law from – by all warring parties, by government, by the armed groups, by the terrorist groups... Yes, we had said this to the Security Council in the formal meeting, that we have received delegations about casualties, about results of those airstrikes that you have mentioned. But at this point, we are not in a position to attribute what was the responsible, the member state responsible for this airstrikes. We hope by March when, or in February when we release our report, to be in a better position to elaborate on that. What we have done, it was what we said at the human rights council, that our roles is to remind member states involved in these airstrikes the necessity of respecting the protection of the civilian population in terms of human rights and humanitarian law.

   It was said the Commission would share information with countries -- or rather, prosecutors or courts -- looking into their own nationals, as victims or perpetrators. Afterward, only on Periscope, Inner City Press asked Pinheiro if this every implicated the type of privacy concerns the UN and its Herve Ladsous cite as a basis to go after OHCHR's Anders Kompass, who blew the whistle on French troops' rapes in the Central African Republic, alleged violating victims' privacy.

  Pinheiro said disclosure would require the consent of the victims, but said that is most often given. He summoned over the Commission's Coordinator James Rodehaver, who previously did similar work on Afghanistan. It was Rodehaver who clarified that it is not countries but prosecutors and courts which can request information. He noted that a court in Sweden has cited the Commission's work, to show the conditions in a particular place and time in Syria.

  Pinheiro added that the Commission's work should make the type of “Mapping” exercises as was done in Eastern Congo unnecessary. The information has been collected. Now what? Watch this site.


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