Saudis, UAE pressured UN for favorable media coverage in exchange for Yemen aid – report

Saudis, UAE pressured UN for favorable media coverage in exchange for Yemen aid – report
Saudi Arabia and the UAE demanded favorable PR from UN aid agencies at an unprecedented level, including articles written in major Western newspapers, in return for a $930 million aid package for Yemen, leaked documents reveal.

The Gulf kingdoms said future humanitarian donations to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) would be reflected by the amount of positive humanitarian coverage both countries received for their efforts in Yemen, now in its fourth year of civil war, according to the internal UN files seen by Guardian.

Both nations are heavily involved in the conflict, joining after Houthi militants overthrew the government, with the Saudi-led bombing campaign responsible for scores of civilian deaths and casualties. The destruction caused by the air campaign has devastated infrastructure and areas essential to aid supply, with over half the Yemeni population - some 14 million - now at risk of famine, according to the UN’s own statistics.

Entitled ‘Visibility Plan,’ the document covers the terms for the entire 2018 Yemen aid budget, where Riyadh considered it very important that “our dear fellow Yemenis are all aware of our donations.”

Combined, both the UAE and Saudi Arabia contributed more than a third towards the total UN humanitarian budget allocated for Yemen in 2018.

It added: “More emphasis should be placed on strengthening the local visibility plan by engaging local media… so that donors get deserved recognition and not to be overshadowed by the recipient agencies’ visibility.”

READ MORE: ‘Evidence’ Saudi-led coalition aims to destroy food production in Houthi-controlled Yemen – report

In addition to demanding that receiving agencies document Saudi and UAE-supported activities in Yemen with photographic and video material, Riyadh also asked that OCHA seek favorable publicity, “highlighting our contribution” in Yemen, in major foreign newspapers such as The Guardian and New York Times.

The document also sets out 48 specific steps that the UN, along with agencies such as OCHA, the WHO, UNICEF, and UN Development Programme, agreed to carry out to publicize Saudi humanitarianism.

While the UN resisted many of the Saudi demands, OCHA did agree to the hiring of “a specialized person” with the specific responsibility of ensuring the implementation of the “plan by all recipient agencies and to consolidate reports.”

The revelations about Saudi and Emirati aid-for-publicity demands come as the coalition’s military actions against civilian targets comes under increased international scrutiny.

READ MORE: UN's Ban Ki-moon admits threats resulted in Saudi-led coalition being removed from blacklist

Recent bombings of a fruit and vegetable market and of a bus carrying school children have seen the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, call for a halt in the targeting of heavily-populated civilian areas, and a ceasefire and peace talks to take place within the next 30 days.

Recent data suggests that 56,000 people have been killed by armed violence in Yemen between January 2016 and October 2018, a figure five times higher than previously estimated.

Collected by the independent Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), the casualties did not factor in deaths caused by the humanitarian crisis, such as diseases like cholera, or malnutrition.

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