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On Burundi, ICP Asks UN of Death & Censorship, Deputy Spox Canned Statement

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 2 -- After UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on New Year's Eve issued a statement surreally praising the Burundi “talks” held in Entebbe, Uganda, multiple sources told Inner City Press these not really talks but rather a photo op. The January 6 session announced for Arusha did not happen.  Inner City Press requested to cover the UNSC's trip to Burundi, but was UNtransparently rejected.

 At the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ban Ki-moon barely if at all pushed for peacekeepers for Burundi; his or France's head of UN Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous had largely undercut the idea with a memo than Inner City Press published in full.

On February 2, Inner City Press asked Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq, transcript here:

Inner City Press: on Burundi, first of all, there's a report of more grenade attacks and violence in Butare and the capital.  And also, the two international journalists that were arrested have been released, but their visas and accreditations have been revoked and their cameras and notebooks taken.  And I'm wondering what the UN thinks of that and if you have overall any kind of new plan by Mr. [Jamal] Benomar or otherwise in terms of how to try to get a greater presence or more protection.

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  Well, certainly, the Secretary-General brought up the whole idea of what the international community, and particularly, the African Union need to do to support Burundi.  And I would refer you back to the comments he made over the weekend when he was at the summit of the African Union leaders.  Beyond that, of course, Mr. Benomar has continued with his work.  He did travel with… to Burundi at the same time as the Security Council mission, and you'll have heard last week what the Council's mission has come up with.  We continue to have concerns about the violence.  And, again, much of that is dealt with in what the Secretary-General has said, and we certainly hope that the African Union will continue their efforts to follow up the situation, as they have been doing in the last few days in Addis Ababa.

  Meanwhile, on January 29, the UN Spokesman threw Inner City Press out of the UN Press Briefing Room then on February 1 made this threat, here. This was echoed on February 2.

On February 1 Ban's lead spokesman Stephane Dujarric, typically, had a canned statement from Ban when Inner City Press asked, as if Ban had pushed. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: on Burundi, I saw the Secretary-General's comments at the summit, but does he have any specific comment on the decision not to deploy the peacekeeping force MAPROBU, and does he have any knowledge of the, what some say will be a high-level delegation sent to Burundi to try to still convince Pierre Nkurunziza to accept it?

Spokesman:  Sure, I mean, we're obviously aware of the delegation.  The Secretary-General has also taken note of the discussions just held at the AU summit on the preventive deployment to Burundi of MAPROBU, as well as the position of the government of Burundi on the matter.  He welcomes the decision of the AU leaders to dispatch a high-level delegation to Burundi for further consultations with President Nkurunziza and Burundian authorities and stresses that measures must be found to address the ongoing violence in the country.  It is critical to start an inclusive political process in Burundi, as we've been saying here for quite some time.  The African Union and the countries of the regions will play a crucial effort in that… crucial role in that effort, and the UN will continue to work with our partners to support dialogue and find ways to prevent a further deterioration of the situation through the Secretary-General's Special Adviser, Mr. Jamal Benomar.

 On January 28, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about a meeting held but not televised on January 27, at which it was urged that mass grave sites in Burundi be preserved as evidence, video here, transcript here.

On January 29, Inner City Press asked Dujarric again, transcript here.

  So it's all on Zeid, nothing from Ban Ki-moon, who appears to be playing this like he did Sri Lanka...

 On January 27, Inner City Press put questions to the UN and US Ambassador Power about the UN's continued use of Burundian troops as “peacekeepers,” for which the UN's Herve Ladsous gave the country a waiver to continue to get paid for under-equipped troops in the Central African Republic, where they have been accused of rape.

  The UN Spokesperson answered

Inner City Press: On Burundi, given that the government has not responded to, or has blocked, the human rights experts from Geneva, and given the other things said on this podium, what sense does it make for UN peacekeeping to continue to use, and give waivers to Burundian peacekeepers in CAR? Is there a connection between a country’s compliance with the UN’s demands, requests, and in fact paying money, which some say doesn’t even go to the troops, for service in peacekeeping missions?
UN Spokesman Dujarric: Peacekeeping troops, units that serve in peacekeeping missions, undergo various vetting processes that involve the UN and the host country. ?? in cases we have not accepted certain individuals, we’ve also returned battalions in other cases. This will be continued to be looked at on a rolling basis.
Inner City press: Will you confirm that they have a waiver to serve in CAR until April, by Mr. Ladsous, granted on October 1?

UN Spokesman: No.

 At the UN Security Council stakeout, Inner City Press waited -- including through two North Korea questions, and softballs -- then asked if this UN use of Burundian troops makes sense. There has yet to be an answer, although there are indications one might be forthcoming. (More than 24 hours later, no).  Here for now is about the US training Burundian troops. Watch this site.

Inner City Press asked Ban's spokespeople about the trip on January 20, 21 and 22 - including asking why the UN was not providing a video or at least audio stream of the January 22 press encounters, says it has a  "UN Information Center" in Bujumbura, which produced a smiling photo of the French deputy ambassador Alexis Lamek on the tarmac. The UN said it couldn't.

  Local media in Burundi put online a video in which Lamek spoke at length; afterward a pro-government Burundian media quoted Lamek that "we" take seriously the question of interference by Rwanda to destabilize Burundi and will be working on it.

  But the four scribes handpicked to accompany the Security Council trip, inlcuding Agence France Presse, it seems, for some reasons didn't cover it. Why? We'll have more on this. Instead, AFP, Reuters and Voice of America (which saw "Liberians" then cited auto-correct) filed near-identical stories with no quotes from opposition figures or attacked journalists. None of the three even tweeted on January 23, other than Reuters as a robot: talk about Old Media.

  How could "Agence France Presse," handpicked to publicize the UNSC trip co-led by France, not even cover the controversy?

  We note that the French Mission to the UN said that Lamek was being misrepresented (the same French Mission has tried to shield Lamek from critical Press questions, which here on Vine Lamek has refused to answer even when entirely audible). Later an AFP quote emerged of Lamek saying that any AU force, even the 100 human rights observers, should significantly focus on the Rwandan border.

  On the evening of January 23 the UN has put up select clips including a mere 16 seconds of French deputy ambassador Lamek, much less than the local Burundian media present at the same press encountered had.  If the UN filmed the press encounters, why did it so selectively edit them?

  More specifically, now, who decided on the edits?

Inner City Press, which is the media which on January 22 asked for the live-stream, has asked the UN, publicly on Twitter, here, and in more detail by e-mail to three top UN spokespeople:

"having just seen that your Office put online edited video from Burundi, must ask: why did UN edit the footage it has, with no Burundi government speaker, and only 16 seconds of France, penholder in the UNSC on Burundi? Please provide the full footage, in response to this request and, separately, online. Would also still like answers to questions below" on Burundi.

 And still no answers at all, the next day. Watch this site.

  The UN spokespeople refused to say, but beyond the pro-government "religious leaders" that they cited, the Council also met with at least some of the concerned members of civil society, and some journalists who inevitably raised the issue of attacks and censorship. This was not mentioned by the UN.

  We're told that Ambassador Albert Shingiro, who blocks the Press on Twitter, told the scribes that US Power said she would send “a strong message to the government of Rwanda." Again, Shingiro blocks the Press on Twitter: some diplomat.

  One of the four handpicked pass-throughs opined that "the fact that Council members presented Nkurunziza with a largely unified message on the different issues was seen as a positive sign that they had come closer to a common position." So they traveled to Burundi to work on their own issues? We'll have more on this - and on the Council's junket-ending meetings in Addis, if not on Oromo protests, than this we've asked about. Watch this site.

   On January 22, Inner City Press asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq for the UN's response to Pierre Nkurunziza denying the existence of his party's youth militia, and why there was no video or even audio stream of the Security Council's - and Nkurunziza's -- press statements. Video here.

  Haq replied that "the facilities are difficult," that the UN Spokesperson's Office had reached out to the traveling party for information but hadn't gotten any. The Free UN Coalition for Access calls this a failure.

 On January 21 Inner City Press in New York learned both of Pierre Nkurunziza plans to parade "community work" for the Security Council members on January 22 and has been provided with a letter promoting same, here.

  On January 22, even after the Council's meeting with Nkurunziza was over, when Inner City Press asked the UN for a read-out there was none, nor any good explanation of why the UN with its country team could not arrange at least an audio stream of the Council's (and Nkurunziza's) press statements.

  Inner City Press asked the head of the Campaign Against the Third Term (“Halte au troisième mandat”) Vital Nshimirimana about the UNSC visit, and why the AU human rights observers are not yet in place. His answers to Inner City Press:

"As for the deployment of the AU Human rights observers, I would recall that the same was decided back in June following the June 13, 2015 Johannesburg Summit on Burundi. Initially, the number was to be about 70 observers but the government refused and allowed a narrow team.

"My thought over the issue is that Nkurunziza has chosen to humiliate everybody in as much as he does not care about any principle or value. So, the AU and other bodies as well choose to deal with him very carefully for he is a man (and a regime) "irrational," likely to commit whatever crime, insult whomever.....

"With regard to the UNSC visit, I hope this is the very last warning towards a kind of regime likely to commit genocide. They are expected to dually and objectively assess the situation and especially the strength and presence of Imbonerakure, the CNDD-FDD militia.... And this was shown through a huge anti- peacekeeping mission mission to Burundi, MAPROBU rhetoric.
Burundians expect the UNSC support the deployment of such a mission in line with the responsibility to protect (Pillar III) since Burundi is no longer able and is unwilling to protect citizens from crimes against humanity (ongoing from April 2015) and genocide (of which dozens of signs suggest that it is likely to happen and some acts are already undertaken).

Lastly, the UNSC is expected to talk with Nkurunziza and the AU as well regarding peace talks. They should assess Museveni's performance, after what conclude that he should be assigned AU and UN teams (to enhance his capacity) or change him.... I commend your endeavors to keep the world informed about the Burundi crisis."

 We'll have more on this -- including in light the UN Deputy Spokesperson's response to Inner City Press that transcripts may be provided.

  Here are parts of an Inner City Press interview with a journalist attacked by the Nkurunziza government and for that reason anonymous:

In English: "It would be better if the Security Council met for example UPRONA leader Nditije Charles, with the non-governmental branch of the UPRONA party) or his Spokesman Thacien Sibomana. The Council should try to meet civil society but  there is almost no one left to really speak with now in Bujumbura. All those still in Bujumbura, they can't say anything about the abuses of authorithies. If it was possible, they should ask to meet the young men in prison. They should see themselves how the government abuses those young men, with tortures... Tell them visit to the prisoners in Gitega (those who are accused to attempting a coup d'etat) UN has the right to visit prisoners."

  Inner City Press note: another source says "the government moved several detainees from the SNR jails. I highly doubt they'd allow a visit to detainees."

 Tellingly, IWACU reports that bike taxi and motorcycle taxi drivers offered money to protest in favor of Nkurunziza weren't, after the fact, paid: here.

    At the January 21 UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq about the "community works" and meeting(s). Video here, UN transcript here:

Inner City Press:  I wanted to ask you this just because I'm trying to cover it, and I know that you'd said yesterday that the Special Adviser, Jamal Benomar, is in Burundi in part of the trip.  So what I wanted to ask you is, I've seen documents that show that the… the… the… tomorrow, the meeting with the President, [Pierre] Nkurunziza, will involve a demonstration of “community work”, i.e., people have been asked to go and I don't know if it's to show how happy they are — Gitega and Karuzi.  Does the Special Adviser… not the Security Council, does the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General believe that this type of… of… of show is the right one and will they be meeting with UPRONA and other opposition groups or prisoners currently in jail?

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  Well, we'll be able to provide details of the meetings once they've taken place.  As you know, the expectation is for the members of the Council to meet with President Nkurunziza.  That hasn't happened so far, but once that's happened, we'll see what the circumstances are and what the views of Mr. Benomar are.

 This is reminiscent of the type of dog-and-pony show Sri Lanka's then President Mahinda Rajapaksa put on for visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and that Inner City Press accompanied and covered (apparently not to the UN's and its allies' liking - it has been Banned from trips since.) But will the UNSC, unlike Ban, have the fortitude or leverage to reject a dog and pony show? Watch this site.

On January 19 at the UN, Inner City Press asked Uruguay's Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Jose Luis Cancela, chairing the Security Council debate on Protection of Civilians, about Burundi and the Council's trip. Video here.

  On January 21, Inner City Press and the Free UN Coalition for Access asked UK Permanent Representative Matthew Rycroft about his stop-over on Addis Ababa, "will you as UK meet with AU before heading to Burundi? About AU's proposed deployment?"

   Rycroft replied, "Yes! Looking forward to meeting @AU_Chergui today. Will also return to Addis with whole UNSC after Burundi."

  In Addis, Chergui had filed the Concept of Operation for the MAPROBU peacekeeping mission. We'll have more on this.

  Burundian civil society has written to Ban seeking the repatriation of the country's peacekeepers. Inner City Press has put the letter from Vital Nshimirimana to Ban online here, and will be asking the UN about it. Watch this site.

  On December 30 Nkurunziza threatened to have his forces attack peacekeepers proposed for the country.

Obtained by Inner City Press

Ladsous' lack of vetting was criticized in the recently released report into the cover up of peacekeepers' rapes in the Central African Republic. Earlier, Inner City Press exclusive reported on Ladsous in his October 1, 2015 meeting with Burundi's vice president saying that he is "pragmatic" on human rights.

 On December 16 Inner City Press was banned from questions to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, but learned from the mission MINUSCA that Baratuza was already in Entebbe. Inner City Press asked several Security Council members, then Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric on December17.

Dujarric told Inner City Press Baratuza's deployment is suspended and he is being repatriated: "based on the information we've received regarding the Lieutenant Colonel, his deployment has been suspended, and he will be repatriated back to Burundi." Video here. Dujarric told Inner City Press this shows the UN system working - on a day when a report on rapes was issued showing UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous not sufficiently vetting for human rights. We'll have more on this.

 Amid the escalating killings in Burundi, last weekend's summary executions in neighborhoods opposed to Pierre Nkurunziza's third term stand out. But Burundi Army spokesman Gaspard Baratuza was quoted on December 12 blaming all of the deaths on attempts to steal weapons to free prisoners.

   Inner City Press had heard that Mr. Baratuza was already in the process of being deployed to the UN Peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) even when he was giving these quotes, issuing statements and speaking to state-owned radio, and so asked MINUSCA's acting spokesperson, “Is Gaspard Baratuza of Burundi's army getting a MINUSCA job?”

  On December 16, hours before UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held a rare press conference, MINUSCA's acting spokesperson sent this to Inner City Press:

"To: Matthew.Lee [at]
From: Vladimir MONTEIRO [at]
Date: Wed, Dec 16, 2015
Subject: ICP question: Gaspard Baratuza of Burundi's army getting a MINUSCA-related post?
Cc: FUNCA [at]

"No decision related to Lt Col Baratuza's deployment can be taken before we finish looking into the matter. We can confirm that Lt Col Baratuza is in Entebbe but he has not yet deployed to MINUSCA.  Regards. VNM"

There are some questions about Baratuza, a Colonel in Burundi's Army, being listed by the UN as “Lt. Col.”

  Despite multiple follow-up questions by Inner City Press, Mr. Monteiro - previously a spokesperson for the UN electoral mission in Burundi - replied that “This is what we can say about this issue.”

   But the UN should have to say more. Inner City Press has repeatedly asked the UN how its Department of Peacekeeping Operations under Herve Ladsous vets those who deploy to UN missions; Inner City Press exclusively reported on an October 1, 2015 meeting in which Ladsous told Burundi's Vice President Joseph Butare that he is “pragmatic” on human rights.

 Ban Ki-moon and his spokesman declined to take Inner City Press' questions on December 16, as they did on December 14. Vine here.  Watch this site.

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