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Press Conference by United Nations Special Adviser for Yemen

Press Conference by United Nations Special Adviser for Yemen


“The transition process in Yemen is moving forward with the participation of all sides,” the Special Adviser dealing with the situation in that troubled country said at Headquarters today, adding that the United Nations would continue to support the 10-day old unity Government as it implemented a landmark power-transfer accord that would “hopefully steer the country towards stability and reform”.

Just out of a closed-door briefing to the Security Council, Jamal Benomar, United Nations Special Adviser for Yemen, said at a press conference that he had reported to the 15-nation body on implementation of its resolution 2014 (2011) in the wake of the 23 November transitional settlement agreed between warring factions, under which President Ali Abdullah Saleh had agreed to hand over power to Vice-President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi.

“We are pleased to see the progress that has been made,” he said, explaining that a new unity Government had been sworn in on Sunday, 11 December, and presidential elections scheduled for 21 February 2012.  He also noted that the transitional agreement included instructions for the removal of roadblocks, the return of soldiers to their barracks and of militias to their villages.  Yet, even as the Vice-President and Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa carried out those measures in the capital, Sana’a, and elsewhere, “serious commitment from all sides will be required to make inroads to stability a success”.

Reporting on his seventh visit to the country, he said that he had travelled to the south-western cities of Taiz and Aden, and to Sa’ada in the north-west, to gain first-hand impressions of the broad spectrum of challenges facing Yemen.  In his talks with Yemenis from all walks of life, it had become clear that the situation in the country remained “very fragile”, and would need the ongoing attention of the United Nations.  “We want to see a Yemen where the streets belong to the people, not the militias.  We want civic leaders to be the ones shaping the future, not those with arms,” he said of the world body’s ultimate goals.

The country would face no shortage of challenges as it headed towards the late-February presidential elections, he said, noting that, in response, the United Nations had already dispatched five electoral experts to help the country’s Electoral Commission during the upcoming “critical” 60-day period.  The transitional deal would be impossible to implement without the determination of political leaders, he said, emphasizing:  “Failure to implement any portion of the agreement will imperil the entire process.”

He said the Security Council and the international community would be watching the transition process unfold, “and there will indeed be consequences for those who think they can derail the process”.  Overall, the United Nations was hopeful that the reforms proposed under the agreement would meet the expectations of those calling for change.  At the same time, he stressed, the international community’s calls for agreement on a political transition had been heeded, and now it was time for donors to step up and see the country through the fragile transition period.

Asked what the latest developments meant for President Saleh, and whether the United Nations believed he would step aside after the elections, Mr. Benomar said the transitional agreement detailed the powers of the Vice-President to move the process forward.  With the announcement of the date of the election, “it was made clear that the post of President was vacant”, and therefore, “there is no doubt” the election would take place.  “Moreover, President Saleh is not a candidate, and this [election] will mark the next phase of the two-year transition process,” he added.

In response to a series of other queries, he said Yemenis were struggling with the “thorny issue” of impunity, while the United Nations had counselled the parties on ensuring that the transitional arrangements contained strong human rights components, including on women’s rights, and did not provide broad immunity amnesty for war crimes, as recognized under international law.

“There is no one formula for healing the wounds of the past,” he said.  “So we have told them they will need to develop a way to move forward with national reconciliation and transitional justice while ensuring that future human rights violations will not occur.”  The transitional agreement included a pledge by the unity Government to adhere to the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the Human Rights Council, as well as to international legal norms on human rights and good governance, among others.

Asked about “extremely harsh” laws governing early marriage and other matters affecting women, he said the “good news” about the recent events in Yemen had been the emergence of a “very active and very lively” civil society, including women’s groups.  The United Nations was convinced that such groups would press the new Government to ensure and protect women’s human rights, he added.

Responding to other questions, he acknowledged that one of the major problems that Yemen now faced was the central Government’s incremental loss of control over several parts of the country.  Indeed, five or six provinces were now believed to be outside Government control, and some were controlled by “an insurgency”.  It was very well known that Al-Qaida was in control of several strategic towns, chiefly in southern Yemen.

“The new Government is going to have a huge challenge in establishing control over these lawless regions of the country,” he continued, adding that one of the main issues of the coming constitution-drafting process would be for political leaders to decide what type of State and governance structures would be put in place.  “ Yemen has neighbours, and many countries are worried about its well-being,” he said, noting that instability there could affect major maritime routes and oil fields.

While the United Nations was working with Saudi Arabia and the representatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council to address such issues, he said, Al-Qaida continued to occupy areas very close to Aden, Yemen’s southern capital, despite all efforts by Governments and others, taking advantage of the political vacuum that had occurred in the wake of the political crisis.  Al-Qaida had skilfully exploited the Government’s weaknesses and played up legitimate local grievances to expand its reach in the region, he added.

As for the road ahead, Mr. Benomar said, there would be “ups and downs, and many challenges”, but the agreement was a significant first step and the initial phase would be crucial, which was why the United Nations was working with all parties.  “We cannot claim that all the problems in Yemen have been solved,” he emphasized.  “The agreement only addresses some of the long-standing issues.”  Moving forward would require the Security Council’s attention and a strong push by the unity Government to put a solid economic growth plan in place that would effectively address such vital issues as job creation and the provision of electricity and other basic necessities.

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For information media. Not an official record.