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On  Yemen, Sanctions for "Undermining" Transition Limit South Speech Rights?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 26, updated -- The Yemen sanctions resolution adopted by the UN Security Council on February 26 directs sanctions at those "obstructing or undermining the successful completion of the political transition, as outlined in the GCC Initiative."

  Inner City Press asks, and asked lead Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant and UN envoy Jamal Benomar, doesn't this restrict or impinge on free speech rights, for example of those who want independence for the South?

  After it was adopted by the usual 15-0 vote in the Council, French Ambassador Gerard Araud as translated summarized that it's sanctions on those who "destabilize the transition;" Lyall Grant used the word "derail."

  But it would take less to arguably "undermine" the transition: could merely saying "the South should be independent" be enough?

  When Lyall Grant came out, Inner City Press asked him. He denied there is a problem: "What we are trying to target are those who are deliberately, through their acts, or through the acts of others, are trying to undermine that political transition." (Transcript below).  One wonders if the European court decisions about sanctions now provide protections only to Europeans.

  When Jamal Benomar came out, Inner City Press asked him about a specific example, the government's blocking of publication of the Al Hirak (or Harak) aligned Al Ghad newspaper, and about the language of Operative Paragraph 18(a), "obstruct or undermine."

  Benomar replied by quoting 18(b) and (c), about violence and violating human rights. But again, the vague term "undermining the transition" seems an invitation for abuse. It would not fly in a US court, under the First Amendment rights of free speech and association. But this is the UN.

Back on February 15, 2013 the Security Council issued a Presidential Statement expressing

"concern over reports of interference in the transition by individuals in Yemen representing the former regime, the former opposition, and others who do not adhere to the guiding principles of the Implementation Mechanism Agreement for the transition process, including former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and former Vice-President Ali Salim Al-Beidh. The Security Council reiterates its readiness to consider further measures, including under Article 41 of the UN Charter"

  Ali Salim Al-Beidh was formerly the president of South Yemen, which until 1990 was the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. Now based in Lebanon -- or "south Beirut" as some darkly point out, with its Shi'a Crescent connotation -- Ali Salim Al-Beidh is once again asserting the right of southern Yemen to be independent.

  Does that alone make him a spoiler, legitimately subject to UN Security Council sanctions? South Sudan long advocated for the independence it ultimately received. So there is nothing per se spoiler about such advocacy.

  The Security Council also on February 26 had scheduled a delayed briefing about the French-led Council trip to Mali. They traveled to Mopti, near the north, and met with leaders from some communities in the north, but not Kidal. Former colonial power France has said all must participate in a dialogue. Would refusal to, and espousing of a right to independence, be considered sanction-able by the Security Council?

  The loophole may be the allegation of external support, an allegation amplified and self-proved in Gulf and Western media. If groups in Yemen are making advances, they must have support from Iran, the dark talk goes -- therefore, they should be stopped and sanctioned; they are terrorists.

  Aren't armed groups in Syria getting external support? Those that advocate secession or even just autonomy, like the Rojava Kurds, are excluded from the process of Geneva Two. But are they spoilers? Sanctionable? There is no law, no protection of free speech or political participation. This is the UN.

  Now al-Beidh may well have other problems; it may be as UN envoy Jamal Benomar told Inner City Press at the Security Council stakeout twice, than many in the Southern Movement are amenable to the National Dialogue and that by implication al-Beidh is an extreme. But is advocacy sanctionable? Should it be? We'll see, under OP 18(a). Watch this site.

Update: here's from the UK's transcript:

Inner City Press: The resolution says that there might be sanctions on those who obstruct or undermine the transition and I just wonder how would this affect, for example, the continuing expressed desire for independence of some in the south. Would it be enough to simply say: “We want to be independent.” Would that be undermining the transition? Would this somehow sanction, basically political views, as opposed to terrorism or violence, and what would you say to it, that it’s sort of a, something new, to criminalise a political view?

Amb Lyall Grant: The criteria for sanctions are clearly set out in the resolution and I don’t need to add or subtract from those criteria. There is no attempt to hinder free speech and express opinions. What we are trying to target are those who are deliberately, through their acts, or through the acts of others, are trying to undermine that political transition. The National Dialogue had some very clear outcomes in it. Those make a lot of good sense to us. The Security Council has supported them. Those who try and subvert that, or go against that, in the ways set out in this resolution, will be sanctioned.


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