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Back at the UN, Ban Ki-moon Addresses Darfur and Ethics Office Questions, Clarifications

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, September 10 -- Returning from his weeklong trip to Turin, Sudan, Chad and Libya, Ban Ki-moon on Monday took questions from the UN press corps. Inner City Press sought to clarify and put in the past the question of the July 16 and 17 communications to the U.S. Congress by Ban's chef de cabinet Vijay Nambiar and by Mr. Ban himself, a question which has seemingly because a distraction to real reform and results.

            But first, on Darfur, Inner City Press asked for "an update on the status of Abdel Wahid Noor attending the October 27 talks" in Libya between the al Bashir government and rebels from Darfur. Mr. Ban's response both urged Abdel Wahid Noor and urged that he not been seen as so prominent among the rebels, because "giving any prominent attention to any particular person is not desirable." From the transcript:

Mr. Ban: Now, there are many leaders of movements. There is some tendency of mushrooming of these factions. I urge that all the leaders of the movements should participate in the forthcoming political negotiation. It is necessary to participate and [express] their views, rather than complaining or protesting outside of the dialogue forum. It is the same with case of Mr. Abdel Wahid Noor. I know that he is staying in France, but he should participate in this, if he really thinks about the future of Sudan and if he thinks he is one of the leaders. At the same time, I would like to point out, that, as a matter of principle, everybody should be given equal opportunity and equal attention.

            Whether this principle is applied by Team Ban to the UN press corps is a question for another day. Without being called on, Inner City Press asked for clarification:

Inner City Press: on this issue of the Ethics Office jurisdiction, an issue has arisen about your visit to Congress on July 17, where you said that the Ethics Office had jurisdiction over this case of UNDP. Now it appears not to be. Have you had updated the Congress, and how do you want to see that case play out?

Mr. Ban: On this ethics issue - I have discussed recently with our senior advisers during our Torino retreat that was very useful and I'm going to discuss this matter during the forthcoming Chief Executives Board [CEB] meeting in October. My position is that, as far as accountability and ethical standards are concerned, the whole United Nations should stand at the highest level of ethical standards. This is what I have emphasized and I'm now discussing with heads of all Funds and Programs how we can have uniform one standard - in having our staff work at the highest level of ethical standards. I am in the process of discussing very closely I will make a decision at the time of the CEB in October.

            The answer is appreciated, and the timeline -- "I will make a decision... in October" -- is helpful. With all due respect, still unresolved is the matter, which draw the ire of at least the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General, of whether the UN Secretariat has or feels it has a duty to update or correct statements made to legislatures which are superseded by subsequent developments or decisions.

Mr. Ban takes questions from Press on September 10, 2007

            When Inner City Press at the Spokesperson's September 7 noon briefing asked why "Vijay Nambiar didn't write to her and say there's no jurisdiction... what happened between the two?" the Spokesperson answered that

"a month later, the Ethics Office came out with that letter where the Ethics Office recognized that it did not have formal jurisdiction over UNDP.  So you're talking about a month apart between two letters.  I think for you to infer that there was a lie, as I read in your column, I think is going a bit far.

Inner City Press: That's a quote from somebody there, because Congress asked about this..."  Transcript here, video here, from Minute 16:00.

            Again, Inner City Press by included a quote that "you can't just lie to Congress" is doing just that: including a quote in a story which also included and even attached Mr. Nambiar's July 16 letter, so that readers could make up their own minds. Whether the UN Secretariat or its Spokesperson's Office should be in the business of dictating which quotes should be used is again a question for another day. The requested meeting set for Monday was cancelled, apparently because the request was reported. For that record, no disrespect was meant: no request for off-the-record treatment accompanied the request, copied to four other spokespeople, that "I would appreciate meeting with you at your earliest convenience."

            Inner City Press has been told via a number of channels that "calling the chef de cabinet a liar" -- which demonstrably didn't happen -- resulted, at least initially, in a move toward "a warning" or more. Whether this institutional desire, if it existed or exists, is consistent with the ideas of press freedom not only in, for example, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution but also the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights' Article 19 is debatable. While it should not be necessary, for the record Inner City Press not only did not state, but did and does not intend to imply, that Mr. Nambiar intentionally included inaccurate information in his July 16 letter to Congress. The quote, as Inner City Press understood it, referred to concern that the communications were never updated or corrected once the Ethics Office's August 17 memo stated that no Ethics Office review would continue, because UNDP's Kemal Dervis blocked it. As stated, in many such circumstances there exists an affirmative duty to update and/or correct statements that subsequently become inaccurate.

            Left also for another day is a question raised by today's Inner City Press story of another UNDP whistleblower who has written to the Ethics Office and Secretariat members, stating this his 2006 complaint to the Ethics Office's Susan John was returned because, it was said, the Ethics Office did not have jurisdiction over UNDP. Click here for that story. Developing.

  Again, because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540