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UN Tells Gambari to Avoid Partying with Bashir in Future, After Week of Press Qs

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 1 -- After Ibrahim Gambari, Joint UN - African Union envoy to Darfur, took pictures with Omar al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and war crimes, Inner City Press published them and three times last week asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky to state UN policy for dealing with ICC indictees, and if Gambari's actions complied with UN policy.

  After Nesirky on January 26 forwarded only Gambari's defense of the interaction with an ICC indictee, which cited "African traditions," on February 1 Inner City Press asked him again.

  Nesirky first asked if Inner City Press wanted to quote Gambari's whole answer, which is below, then answered that "Mr. Gambari's attention has been drawn... to the need to avoid such encounters in future, how ever unintentional this particular encounter may have been."

  It is unclear when and by whom Gambari's "attention" was drawn " to the need to avoid such encounters in future." It is clear, how ever, that Nesirky did not announce it at the beginning of "his" noon briefing on Wednesday, nor inform Inner City Press, which had three times asked about it, before the briefing.

  Inner City Press has asked for Nesirky to provide the UN policy on dealing with ICC indictees, since for example the UN has provided air transportation for Bashir's fellow indictee Ahmed Harun, to meet with the very type of militias in Abyei that he is accused of organizing for war crimes in Darfur, the janjaweed.

  Nesirky has yet to provide the policy, but from the sequence here it appears to be to "limits interactions with individuals indicted by international tribunals to 'what is strictly required for carrying out UN mandated activities'" and specifically in Sudan that "interactions of a ceremonial nature with President Al-Bashir should be avoided, including courtesy calls, receptions, photo opportunities, attendance at national day celebrations and so on."

  In this case, it was at a reception to celebrate the wedding of Chad's president Idriss Deby with the daughter of janjaweed leader Musa Hilal that Gambari greeted ICC indictee Bashir.

  Before his belated answer on February 1, on January 26 Nesirky told Inner City Press that "the ICC is an independent judicial institution. And it needs to be able to carry out its work in an independent fashion. And so I don’t think that it is appropriate to comment further on cases that are being looked at and in the judicial process already."

  Inner City Press asked, "can you see why the Gambari photo creates some confusion? Attending a wedding ceremony is hard to describe as a humanitarian gesture."

  Later, Nesirky's office sent Inner City Press the following:

Subject: Your question on JSR Gambari
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply [at]
Date: Thu, Jan 26, 2012 at 1:02 PM
To: Matthew Russell Lee [at]

The Departement for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) advises the following: JSR Gambari attended the wedding at the invitation of President Deby of Chad, who is an important regional partner in the peace process. JSR Gambari had no control over the guest list and it is contrary to basic diplomatic courtesy and African traditions to ignore greeting other invited guests.

   So it appeared that the UN system's policy on engagement with individuals indicted by the ICC for genocide has a "wedding reception" or even "African traditions" exception. It's worth noting, as the Sudanese Mission to the UN confirmed to Inner City Press apparently proudly, that Idriss Deby wasn't even AT the reception. But Gambari went anyway, and greeted Bashir.

The Enough Project cited "dogged reporting by Inner City Press" as "finally compelling" the UN's response.

  But should it have to be so dogged, asking Ban's spokesman four times without getting any updates, as on so many matters?

Gambari & Bashir, UN policy and updated answers to Press not shown

  The UN's policy on dealing with ICC indicted individuals is in the purview of Ban's head of Legal Affairs Patricia O'Brien, who has repeatedly refused to answer press questions. This is Ban's UN - watch this site.

Footnote: it appears that the fact that Gambari greeted Bashir, and that photos existed, did not move Ban's UN, at least as of January 26. Nesirky on February 1 answered Inner City Press that a letter was received from Human Rights Watch "last week," and was brought to Gambari's attention.

  Again, when? Has Ban "outsourced" his conscience to HRW, which declined to describe or even summarize its meeting with him last year, then largely praised him last month? Did the facts move Ban, or the letter from a group now apparently seen by Team Ban as friendly?

  Some wonder if HRW will publicly chime in on Ban accepting as his Senior Adviser on Peacekeeping Operations the Sri Lankan General Shavendra Silva, named in Ban's own Panel of Experts report on Sri Lanka as shelling hospitals and playing a role in the killing of those seeking to surrender?

  And why doesn't Ban's Spokesperson's Office provide updated answers, including prospectively on this, when what they previously publicly said is not longer true?

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