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After Helmand Shelling Kills 25, What's UN Relation with Afghan National Army?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 1 -- The day after a rocket killed more than two dozen people at a wedding party in Helmand province in Afghanistan, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon churned out a statement condemning the bombing but not mentioning the role of the Afghan National Army.

The UN said Ban “condemns in the strongest terms the shelling that hit a wedding party in Helmand province yesterday and which reportedly killed 25 civilians and wounded 45 others" and "urges the Government to carry out a full investigation of the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

  Previously, when Afghan National forces were involved in the the killing of UN staff members Louis Maxwell, Ban's UN never followed through. Ban said a movie should be made about Maxwell; now follow through is not even on the agenda of the UN mission there, only of the UN Department of Safety and Security.

  Chile took over the presidency of the UN Security Council on January 1. Will this shelling in Afghanistan trigger the first of what are sure to be many Security Council Press Statements during Chile's month?

  Back on December 18 after the UN Mission in Afghanistan's new chief Fink Haysom briefed the Security Council, he came to the Council's stakeout and took questions from the Press.

His predecessor Jan Kubis had previously answered about the scandal plagued UN Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan, promising a “public accounting;” further back when he was Afghanistan envoy, Staffan de Mistura told Inner City Press he would get to the bottom of the killing of UN staff member Louis Maxwell there.

  Haysom on December 18 said that the Louis Maxwell case was being handled by the UN Department of Safety and Security. On December 19, when to his credit he held a sit-down press conference, he said that the LOTFA issues were more for the UN Development Program -- which has been far from responsive -- and that it is largely a matter of answering the questions from donors. That's certainly part of it. But what about the “public accounting”?

  Some of these issues go beyond Haysom as SRSG. It was up to Ban Ki-moon to push the Karzai government about the killing of Louis Maxwell, and he didn't. UNDP should be answering the questions about LOTFA, but isn't. Still, doesn't this make the UNAMA mission's job more difficult?

  Again to his credit, Haysom said that UNAMA formally reached out to the Taliban, on human rights issues, and meet with them in Doha. He emphasized there can be no (entirely) military solution.

  Inner City Press tried to ask UNAMA Human Rights Office chief Georgette Gagnon if her office works with the International Criminal Court's inquiry into Afghanistan.

 But it was Haysom who answered, saying yes UNAMA participates constructively but that it is confidential. With the release, even redacted, of the summary of the US torture report, the ICC's Afghanistan inquiry has become all the more interesting. We'll have more on this.

Footnote: in terms of accessibility during his visit to UNHQ in New York, Haysom should be credited. Under Secretaries General like Herve Ladsous and even, less abusively, Jeffrey Feltman rarely speak to the media. Inner City Press for the new Free UN Coalition for Access on December 19 thanked Haysom -- and posits that willingness to answer questions from the media should be one of the criteria by which UN officials, including for example the next head of OCHA, are chosen.


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