Jamal Benomar

Jamal Benomar

Benomar at Chatham House in 2013

Benomar at Chatham House in 2013
Born 1957 (1957) (age 59)
Nador, Morocco
Nationality Moroccan
Citizenship English
Occupation United Nations Under Secretary-General
Successor Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed
Religion Sunni Islam

Jamal Eddine Benomar (Arabic: جمال الدين بن عمر; born c. April 1957) is a Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General, at the level of Under Secretary-General (USG). In November 2015 he was appointed Special Adviser on Conflict Prevention, and is currently leading the UN response to the political crisis in Burundi.

Early life and education

Benomar was born in c. April 1957 in Nador, north of Morocco. At 19, as a political activist known for his peaceful opposition to the government, he was arrested and imprisoned for eight years.[1]

“I just ‘disappeared’,” he told the New Internationalist in 1986. “That night I was tortured from midnight to 5 o’clock in the morning. They used the classical methods: binding the hands and feet of my naked body to an iron bar and whipping the soles of my feet while forcing my head back in a bucket of excrement.”[2]

After eight months in a secret detention centre in Casablanca, Benomar was finally charged—with conspiracy to overthrow the government, threatening state security, and membership of illegal organisations—and moved to a regular jail.

He and other political prisoners went on a hunger strike to demand their right to a fair trial. The trial finally took place. It lasted seven weeks, and at the end, Benomar and his fellow 130 defendants were all found guilty and handed heavy sentences.[3]

By this time, Amnesty International had been made aware of the cases, and each of the 130 prisoners was adopted by a regional group. Benomar's group in Sweden wrote to him for two years before he finally received one of their letters. When he and other prisoners went on a 45-day hunger strike, Amnesty sent telegrams and issued appeals on their behalf. "It was a great moral support to know that there were people in the other end of the world who were organising all these activities for my release, people who didn't know me but were concerned about human rights," Benomar said. It gave me quite a lot of courage."[4]

During his time in prison, Benomar earned a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees from the Sorbonne in Paris. Following Amnesty’s efforts and interventions by his professor in Paris, he was released in 1983, re-arrested soon after and then re-released in 1984, but placed under house arrest.

Escaping house arrest in 1984, he fled Morocco on a fisherman’s boat and flew from Spain to the UK, where he was granted political asylum, Benomar continued his studies at the Sorbonne and completed his doctorate at the University of London. He went on to become a lecturer and research associate in African and Middle Eastern politics at the University of Paris VII, and worked as an Africa specialist for Amnesty International in London.[5]

Career at the United Nations

On appointing Benomar Special Adviser on Conflict Prevention, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described him as “a veteran United Nations senior leader who brings to this position a deep understanding of political dialogue processes and international peacebuilding efforts”.[6] In his 23 years at the UN, Benomar has worked for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Department of Political Affairs (DPA).

His work has largely focused on peacebuilding and governance issues in conflict countries. In 2005 he helped to establish the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission and Peacebuilding Support Office, which he also directed. He has advised on conflict resolution issues in over 30 countries, including Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq, where in 2004 he served as the Secretary-General’s Envoy to support the National Dialogue Conference.

Prior to his UN career, Benomar served as Director of the Human Rights Program for the Carter Center of Emory University where he worked with former US president Jimmy Carter on human rights, mediation and conflict resolution issues.

The Under Secretary-General has authored numerous publications dealing with governance, rule of law, constitution writing and peace building.

He has been described as “quintessentially political”[7] by the head of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, David Harland, who has worked closely with Benomar. “He is not a simple man who is willing to put all of his cards on the table,” Harland told the Atlantic Council in 2014.

Role in Yemen

In Yemen, Benomar served for four years as the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy, "where he worked tirelessly to facilitate the combined efforts of the international community to promote a democratic transition in the country".[8] In 2012, he was voted Yemen Times Person of the Year 2011.

Benomar brokered the country’s Transition Agreement in November 2011, facilitated the successful conclusion of the National Dialogue Conference in January 2014, which took 10 months of deliberations, and mediated the Peace and National Partnership Agreement in September 2014. Benomar facilitated a new round of negotiations, in February and March.[9]

The talks were close to a conclusion, when on March 25, 2015, the Saudis intervened militarily.[10] Less than a month later, Benomar resigned.

In a statement delivered to the press following his final briefing on Yemen to the Security Council, Benomar condemned “systematic acts of obstruction” and warned against “interference and coercion from outside forces”.[11]

“I stressed [to the Security Council] that getting the political process back on track and achieving lasting peace and stability in Yemen could only be reached through Yemeni-led peaceful negotiations, where Yemenis could determine their future,” he said. The statement sparked outrage among the Saudis and their Gulf allies, who poured scorn on Benomar in the Arabic-speaking media.

Personal life

A British citizen, Benomar is married with four children, and lives in the U.S. state of New York.


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