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Yemen: No Round Table Negotiations Yet

Sunday, June 21, 2015

René Wadlow,
President and a Representative to the United Nations (Geneva) Association of World Citizens

As bombs continued to fall on Yemen, there were the start of indirect contacts among some of the parties in the Yemen conflict in Geneva, facilitated by the UN-appointed envoy on Yemen, the Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. There was a hope among some of the United Nations secretariat that the talks coming at the start of the month of Ramadan could lead to a ceasefire, at least for part of the month. As a symbol, the Ramadan period could serve as a time of peace, brotherhood and other good things. However, symbols also have to correspond in some way to material realities. In Yemen, there is no peace, no brotherhood, and a very small supply of other good things as people are uprooted and food and water are lacking. For the moment, there is no realistic agenda of the issues on which there could be negotiations.

As with the on-again off-again Geneva talks on the Syria-Iraq-ISIS-Kurds conflict, the parties in the Yemen conflict refused to meet face-to-face. The envoy Cheikh Ahmed went from one room in the UN Palais des Nations to another, and later from one hotel to another with messages and questions. The process went on two days more than planned, but by Thursday night, 18 June, it was evident that none of the people in Geneva were prepared to set an agenda of possible issues, much less to discuss content. As always in such situations, the envoy must say a few encouraging words on the lines of 'it is a victory that they talked at all; it is not the end of the story but only the start'. There is no date set for a new round of meetings in Geneva.

Moreover, not all the significant parties were in Geneva. Yemen is a highly fractured society; divisions on tribal lines are usually more important than divisions between political groups. However political factions are more easily identified by outsiders and are thus invited to participate in negotiations. The strength of tribal groups and their shifting alliances are more difficult to set out and the political factions will do everything to keep the spotlight on themselves.

What one never knows at the time is if there were informal contacts among some of the participants. Geneva has many small restaurants where people can meet without being observed. I recall that during the long-drawn out civil war in Lebanon, there were peace-seeking meetings in Geneva. The main leaders would refuse to meet, giving one pretext or another. However, lesser members of the delegations would meet quietly or pass messages through the fairly large community of Lebanese living in exile in Geneva. There is no equivalent Yemen community in Geneva, but there may have been some informal meetings which will not be mentioned publicly. At times such informal meetings will give fruit later.

On 24 June, there will be a meeting at the UN in Geneva to prepare a conference to be held 7-11 September 2015 in Dubrovnik, Croatia to review the Convention on the Ban on Cluster Munitions. My hope is that the use of cluster bombs by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen will be discussed in public during the 24 June meeting. However, as I have been an NGO observer at other meetings of the same type, the preparatory meetings deal with logistic and administrative questions and not with content. However cluster bomb use as well as other violations of the laws of war in the Yemen conflict will be in the minds of diplomats. Thus it is up to us as world citizens and others of good will to see that the issue of cluster munitions use is widely discussed as a violation of a universal legal culture of world law based on a single and coherent vision of justice and fairness.

More By René Wadlow:

*Difficult but Necessary Road to Yemen Negotiations: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Difficult-but-Necessary-Road-to-Yemen-Negotiations.htm

*Palmyra: Protection of the Cultural Heritage of Humanity in Periods of Armed Conflict: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Threat-to-Ancient-Syrian-City-of-Palmyra.htm

*NPT: New Opportunities and Obsolete Perceptions: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/NPT-New-Opportunities-and-Obsolete-Perceptions.htm

*Photo Credit: France 24

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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