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On Burundi, ICP Asks Why UN So Quiet on Mass Graves, Simonovic's Spin

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive publication, credited here

UNITED NATIONS, February 11 -- 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.

Transparently, Inner City Press published the DR Congo Group of Experts Update Report including about 18 Burundian combatants, here (credited here) and see below.

 On February 10, AFP's English language reporter, not even at the UN Security Council stakeout for the February 10 meeting on Burundi, later channeled a "senior UN official" speaking "to reporters" that the UN is really pushing to go and investigate mass graves. Inner City Press put in a question -- on the record -- and, getting no good answer, asked the UN Spokesman on February 11, UN transcript here:

Inner City Press: on Burundi, I've seen that Mr. Šimonovic apparently yesterday said that the UN wants to be present when mass graves are examined.  And I wanted to know a little bit more about that.  Has that request been made?  Has there been a response by the Government?  And also why Mr. Šimonovic, ASG [Assistant Secretary-General], doesn't say it in a more public way?

Spokesman:  I think Mr. Šimonovic has been here quite a few times at the briefings.  We'll try to get him here some more.  As you know, I think the High Commissioner for Human Rights had talked about satellite photos and traces of potential mass graves.  A prosecutor was named in Burundi, tasked to investigate those reports.  As part of our support, we have offered… the High Commissioner for Human Rights has offered technical support, including to the Government of Burundi to help with that investigation, including forensic experts.  I've not heard that we have gotten a response back from the Government of Burundi.

Inner City Press:  Just one last thing on this, because he seems to be quoted:  "We would like to be present when this is done."  And, obviously, there are many people or at least some people in Burundi that would be somewhat suspect of a Government investigation if the Government is the one…

Spokesman:  I think that's in the vein of asking, offering to the Government to have UN experts there.

On February 8, Inner City Press asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Spokesman Stephane Duajarric about more deaths in Burundi and a speech attributed to Pierre Nkurunziza in which he likened himself to Jesus,and those who visited trying to forestall more killing to “Satan,” making offers.

  Dujarric said he would have no comment on the “very colorful statements made,” video here.

  (On Burundi, ICP has been exclusively informed that a FIFA post for Nkurunziza was floated to try to avoid this ill-fated third term.

  On February 8, Inner City Press also asked Dujarric for any Ban Ki-moon response to Sri Lanka's Gotabaya Rajapaksa calling the visit of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid “a big joke;” there was no comment, video here.)

At the February 5 UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq about Burundi, video here, transcript here.  

  Handpicked to go and memorialize the trip was Reuters, which barely reported what happened. There is a history, of Reuters UN bureau here and here; on February 3, Reuters correspondent Michelle Nichols went so far as to cut off Inner City Press' questions to the UN, Vine here.

  On February 3 Reuters' UN bureau chief Lou Charbonneau, a censor,  channeled a UN (DRC) report -- note not only the former Reuters official turned Eritrea sanctions “experts” exposed by Inner City Press here, but also that this same now discredited Reuters / UN individual was previously ON the DR Congo panel. Typically, Reuters did not actually put the report online.

  Inner City Press in the spirit of transparency is publishing the (update) report, dated January 15, 2016, signed by Coordinator Gaston Gramajo, and its two paragraphs about 18 Burundian combatants, here.

DR Congo "Group of Experts" Progress Report Including on Burundi by Matthew Russell Lee

Readers can draw their own conclusions, including about the mandate and motivation, and if these 18 is really the way it would go.

 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.

(Inner City Press has reported the UN Peacebuilding Configuration will visit February 15-19, click here for that.)

Inner City Press on February 3 asked Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq, transcript here.

On February 2, Inner City Press similarly asked the UN's Haq, transcript here.

  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 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.

 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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