We wonder if the Saudis had never been caught in Jamal Khashoggi’s gruesome murder, would such essential stories and leaks now happening such as the below Guardian report ever see the light of day? On Tuesday The Guardian published select contents of a leaked internal United Nations document detailing a “pay to play” scheme orchestrated by Saudi Arabia.
According to the leaked document, the Saudis demanded that aid groups and humanitarian agencies operating in Yemen provide favorable publicity for Saudi Arabia in return for Riyadh providing close to a billion dollars to fund their efforts. The document identifies $930m given to the aid groups, even as the Saudi-led coalition bombed the very people the donations were supposed to help.
The Guardian report calls the extent of Saudi demands “highly unusual” as part of the requirement for groups to receive aid included floating favorable stories and coverage of “the Saudi humanitarian effort in Yemen” to newspapers like the New York Times and the Guardian — publications specifically named in the internal memo. Thus the nearly $1bn was essentially hush money for the sake of propaganda meant to shield the kingdom from scrutiny over its Yemen actions.
The Guardian report described the following of the leaked memo:
The document, entitled Visibility Plan, covers the terms of the 2018 humanitarian budget for Yemen, and shows the extent to which the UN aid agency, Ocha, was put under pressure to accept the PR strings attached to money given both by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The two countries provided nearly one third of the total UN humanitarian budget for Yemen for this year.
The UAE was deeply involved in the plan — especially ironically given that its pilots and warplanes have been reported at the forefront of the bombing campaign which has continued unabated since 2015, resulting in what U.N. officials have designated “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”.
Aid agencies were made aware that the extent of Saudi donations made to their efforts were expressly tied to “the amount of beneficial publicity given to Saudi Arabia,” the U.N. document reveals. And further, One demand states: “One would expect from Ocha or [a] recipient agency to publish articles in recognized daily newspapers such as the New York Times or the Guardian, highlighting our contribution.”
The Guardian further quotes one section of the leaked document requiring that aid agencies “prove” their level of promoting the Saudis’ supposed “good works”. The document states that aid agencies had to agree to the following:
We consider it very important to ensure that our dear fellow Yemenis are all aware of our donations. 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’s agencies’ visibility.
The document reveals that five different UN aid-linked agencies agreed to the Saudi list of demands, set out in 48 specific steps, with the most notable groups including: the UN Development Programme, Ocha, the World Health Organization and Unicef.