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Pillay Finding France Put Muslims at Risk Taken by AU, Banned by France

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 20 -- After the Central African Republic meeting of the UN Security Council on the afternoon of February 20, the UN, African Union and France spoke in that order to the media. Video here and embedded below.

   UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon took three questions, pre-selected by his outgoing spokesperson Martin Nesirky, South African Broadcasting asked if CAR is a genocide -- Ban dodged the question -- and then Al Arabiya asked about Syria. Finally, as foreshadowed at the day's noon briefing, the last of the three questions was on Ukraine. (Ban read from notes).

   That is, even on the Central African Republic's big day at the UN, it was the subject of one-third of the pre-selected questions.

   When the African Union's Smail Chergui came to the microphone, Inner City Press began to ask him about a January 20 finding by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Pillay, that "the disarmament of ex-Séléka carried out by the French forces appears to have left Muslim communities vulnerable to anti-Balaka retaliatory attacks." But a Radio France Internationale reporter jumped in - fine, because this Pillay question would and will not go away.

  Inner City Press asked it again to Chergui, who with Araud standing next to the stakeout listening said that the investigations should be "on every element." Whether than happens, particularly with regard to Security Council Permanent Five member France, remains to be seen.

  And France, as it turns out, won't even take much less answer the question. When French Ambassador Gerard Araud came to the microphone, the first question was give to the same RFI reporter as took it on Chergui. Finally another France 24 reporter was called on -- to ask about Syria.

   So even on former French colony CAR's big day at the UN, it was the subject of only two of the three questions pre-selected for Araud.

  As Araud floated away from the microphone, the special wooden rostrum brought for Ban Ki-moon, Inner City Press asked about Navi Pillay, doesn't France want to respond? There was no response. This is the UN.


Amid the carnage in the Central African Republic, US Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on February 20 announced something of a second plan for the CAR, noting some new contributions and pledges. He said the UN Commission of Inquiry will soon be there.

  Ban said "I am pleased to announce today Denmark confirmed a contribution of $2 million... Norway has also confirmed today that it will make a donation."

  This gave raise to an obvious question, which Inner City Press posed: how much?

  Norwegian Permanent Representative Geir O. Pedersen answered: "we've already given more than 10 mill USD and will allocate to SG initiative. How much being discussed in Oslo now."

  The International Criminal Court has said it will begin an investigation. The question is whether this will include pursuing what High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay said on January 20, that France left Muslim communities vulnerable to attack by first disarming the ex Seleka militia.

  What were the legal responsibilities of the French Sangaris force when it intervened?  Did it meet or violate these responsibilities, according to what the UN's own Navi Pillay found?

   At the UN's noon briefing on February 7, Inner City Press asked about convoys of trucks leaving Bangui carrying Muslims away. Is this religious cleansing? Does that violate international law and will the ICC investigate -- ALL responsible parties? 

  Back on January 31 Haq said, "I was asked yesterday about alleged killings involving the French troops." The UN Mission "BINUCA is aware, and is in contact with parties allegedly involved." It will "first establish the facts" then "report in due course." Video here, from Minute 8:47.

  What changed? Well, beyond what Inner City Press cited on January 30, since then the Red Cross ICRC has reported that "in one incident this week, marauding gangs with machetes hacked to death a man as French peacekeepers awaited instructions from their base."

   UN acting deputy spokesperson previously on January 30 told Inner City Press, Ask France. Beyond the fact that French Permanent Representative to the UN Gerard Araud refused on January 28 to take the Press' request for France's response to UN High Commission for Human Rights Navi Pillay saying France left Muslim communities vulnerable to attack -- Inner City Press asked, doesn't the UN have a role here?

  On January 30, when Inner City Press cited reports including one from UN (and usually French) favorite Human Rights Watch, Haq said of course if the UN got specific information its office in CAR would look into it. He ended, though, again saying the UN would look to France for the information. Video here.


In any event, here's a link to the HRW report, which says:

"The French Sangaris troops, who are disarming the Seleka, often seem reluctant to intervene and told me they cannot take sides, even when Muslims, now unarmed, are killed in revenge attacks by the anti-balaka."

    On January 28 in front of the Security Council, Araud's spokesperson Frederic Jung ordered the UNTV boom microphone to go first to two correspondents in French. Inner City Press asked about a criticism made in the open Council meeting to the resolution Araud said was presented by France, but Araud said, go ask the critic. But what is France's response to the criticism?

  The European Union's Thomas Mayr-Harting, ever polite, did take the question about France leaving Muslim's vulnerable. Video here and embedded below. But rather obviously, it's not for him or the EU to answer. Perhaps the EU should encourage its member states to answer rather than refuse such human rights questions.

 Mayr-Harting also said he could not confirm the killing in Bangui of the brother of former Seleka #2 Nouredinne Adam. Araud previously pushed back at reports, by Al Jazeera, that Nouredinne Adam was taken into custody by the French Sangaris force. What now of the reported killing of his brother by anti-Balaka?

   Why did Araud, who previously answered even if combatively, now refuse to answer on the critique in the Security Council and before that by Pillay? Absent another explanation, it may be a further attempt to erase the document from the NYPD of another French diplomat taken into custody - click here for story and audio; we'll have more, it seems sure, on all this.

  More pressingly on the Central African Republic, what other than spin and trying to get lower UN officials to contradict Pillay is France's response to her critique?

  France on January 22 selectively promoted one part of what the UN's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng answered to Inner City Press about the Central African Republic, while ignoring Dieng's admission that after French disarmament, people were killed.

  Compare UN Video here, from Minute 0:36 to these French tweets, quoting only Dieng's final, face-saving statement.

   That smaller countries under fire from the UN's human rights machinery selectively quote anything that defends them is one thing. But France?

  In the same dynamic through which France today tries to evade the criticism in the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights report on the Central African Republic by focusing on a part of another UN officials response, France had tried to claim that its Operation Turquoise in the Great Lakes region in 1994 saved lives. But it also helped genocidaires escape. Plus ca change.

 

  On January 22, Inner City Press asked Dieng about France and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay's January 20 testimony that "the disarmament of ex-Séléka carried out by the French forces appears to have left Muslim communities vulnerable to anti-Balaka retaliatory attacks."

  Dieng replied among other things that there were killings after the first French disarmament, and "we raised it with the Sangaris," the French force. See UN Video here, from 0:36. Inner City Press mused, is that accountability? Will this question be answered by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon new Commissioners on CAR, Jorge Castańeda of Mexico, Fatimata M’Baye of Mauritania and Bernard Acho Muna of Cameroon?

  The moderator said one more question could be asked. After a lull, Inner City Press asked about those having to flee the country. The UN's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura replied that this is having a regional impact, namign Chad, Sudan and the Congo. She might have added Cameroon and even Senegal. One wanted to ask her about the findings, yet to be disclosed, on rape allegations against UN peacekeepers in Mali.

 Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Kyung-wha Kang came over and provided additional information, that the the International Organization for Migration is in the lead, at times using airplanes. One wanted to ask her about MSF's critique of the UN in CAR: has it been met? Is the UN really putting Rights Up Front?

  The UN's Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui also briefed the Council, noting 23 children released on January 17. One wanted to ask her for an update on Chad, part of the UN force in Mali while still on the UN's child soldier recruiters' list. Maybe next time.

  Finally Jordan's Prince Zeid emerged; Inner City Press on CAR asked him of the proposed 500 Moroccan guards, and about the mornings presentation on drones by UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous. Prince Zeid said the forthcoming CAR resolution would address the former, and to ask Ladsous about the drones. We'll see.

    On January 14, Pillay's office said it "received credible testimonies of collusion between some Chadian FOMAC elements and ex-Séléka forces."

   At that day's UN noon briefing, Inner City Press sought to pursue this and its implications. From the UN's transcript:

Spokesperson Nesirky: Matthew, last question please? Keep it short.

Inner City Press: I'm sure you've seen the report by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) about human rights abuses in Central African Republic and what I wanted to ask you is that, they say that the disarming, that the French disarming of some left Muslim communities subject to attack and that Chadian FOMAC (Multinational Force of Central Africa) peacekeepers credibly colluded with ex-Séléka forces that they’re accusing of human rights violations. So, I wanted to know how it works. Given that the Chad Army is also a peacekeeper in the UN force in Mali, does, what happens in the Secretariat or DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) on a finding such as this, that peacekeepers in one country may have colluded with human rights abusers? What’s the next step?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, let's just be clear. This was a team that was deployed, four people who were deployed, to the Central African Republic from the twelfth to twenty-fourth of December. And what they have produced today, and what Ms. Navi Pillay’s office has been talking about today, and she herself has been talking about preliminary findings that describe a cycle of widespread human rights violations and reprisals. And Ms. Pillay has made clear she will give a fuller account of the team’s findings during a special session called by the Human Rights Council, and that’s due to take place in Geneva on 20 January. So, I think I’d rather wait until that and see

  Well, on January 20 Pillay dropped the word "credible." From her statement: "The mission also heard witness accounts alleging the involvement of some FOMAC/ MISCA soldiers in the killing of Christian civilians, which should be further investigated."

  By dropping the word credible and calling for investigations -- note that UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous has allowed Chad to do its own investigation, and then not make public any result -- the can is kicked down the road, so that the UN and France can continue to use Chadian "peacekeepers" in Mali. Rights Up Front?

   That France's military operation in Central African Republic left Muslims to be killed by Christian anti-balaka militia was noted even by the UN Human Rights team that recently visited the country.

   But a dubious wire service quotes the European Union's usually sharp humanitarian chief Kristalina Georgieva that the problem in CAR is "the complicated relations between Chad and Central African Republic."

  That "complication" surely exists. But consider this detailed video report of France and the anti-balaka, here. What does the EU have to say to that? Are these "Rights Up Front," as the UN dubbed its post Sri Lanka failure plan which it now claims to apply to CAR? Disarming one community to be killed by another?

  After the UN's envoy to the Central African Republic Babacar Gaye was asked on January 13 by Inner City Press about Chadian "peacekeepers" and undue influence on CAR from outside, i.e. from France, the UN simply edited it out of its summary. 

 Video here, from Minute 12:06; compare to UN's sanitized summary, here.

  Now on January 14 the UN's own Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reports that its "mission received multiple reports that the disarmament of ex-Séléka carried out by the French forces left some Muslim communities vulnerable to anti-Balaka retaliatory attacks."

 This might be called the polar opposite of "Responsibility to Protect" -- the affirmative putting of civilians at risk, on religious lines.

  The OHCHR also notes that "witnesses consistently reported that ex-Séléka, wearing the armbands of Chadian FOMAC peacekeepers, went from house to house searching for anti-Balaka, and shot and killed civilians. The team also said it received credible testimonies of collusion between some Chadian FOMAC elements and ex-Séléka forces."

  The UN Human Rights Council takes up CAR on January 20. Will these UN reports of France and FOMAC be addressed?

  On January 13, Gaye said that the problem was the Chadian component of the Seleka rebels; he acknowledged that there was an intention to assign the troops from Chad outside of Bangui. But he said for now they remain there, patrolling with the Sangaris forces of France, both countries' colonist.

  Of Bozize, he said that Michel Djotodia blames human rights violations -- be to discussed in Geneva January 20 -- on Bozize followers, but said Bozize's name had not come up in the talks in Chad. (The UN had refused, when Inner City Press asked, to even confirm that Gaye and his UN mission had any role in the talks in Chad).

  Now that Michel Djotodia has resigned, after that two-day meeting held in Chad, confirmed along with the disproportionate role of Chad and France in CAR is another point.

  The UN has been marginalized even in the Central African Republic. This UN has allowed itself to become, often, a mere fig leaf for big powers, here the former colonial rulers.

   When Inner City Press on January 8 asked UN spokesperson Farhan Haq of any UN role or presence at the next day's meeting in Chad at which France says the country's leadership will be determined, Haq would not directly answer. Video here from Minute 18:50; UN transcript:

Inner City Press: On the Central African Republic, Mr. [Laurent] Fabius and a Defense Minister are both quoted as saying that it will be determined tomorrow at a meeting held in Chad whether the current interim or temporary Prime Minister remains in power, that it will be decided by regional countries. And I wanted to know, given, you know, the UN’s mission and role in the Central African Republic, is the UN attending that meeting? Do they have any… what’s their presence there and what would they say to those who say that there should be more involvement in Central African people in deciding, you know, who the leader is, rather than the neighbouring countries or France?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I wouldn’t speculate on what the meeting has to accomplish. We’ll actually see what the outcome of the meeting is once it takes place. At this stage, it’s speculative to see what the meeting entails for the leadership of the Central African Republic.

Inner City Press: Is Babacar Gaye going? I just want to know that before it takes place.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll try to monitor the meeting as best we can. I don’t have any details to give you right now, but once the meeting happens, we’ll let you know.

 Now what? On January 6 some noted that UN Department of Political Affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman avoided directly answering on France's lack of impartiality in its intervention in its former colony. 

   Feltman seemed to focus on the UN's role on humanitarian issues -- even on that, the UN has been subject to scathing criticism from Doctors Without Borders -- while leaving the finding of a political solution to others.

    Reuters quotes three French officials, two named and one unnamed, opining about who should lead CAR, including, "Djotodia and us, it's not a love story. The quicker he goes, the better things will be. We are making do with him and holding him back."

   And yet Reuters, now the colonial news wire, did not mention FrancAfrique or this colonial relationship, whether such picking of leaders from outside like France did with Ahmad al Jarba in Syria, is appropriate. This is, to some, "the international community."

  Back on January 6 as the Central African Republic consultations of the UN Security Council stretched past 6 pm, Permanent Representatives then even Deputy Permanent Representatives left, even as new Council member Lithuania spoke.

One departing diplomat told Inner City Press that US Ambassador Samantha Power "gave a moving speech" but "it's not longer a time for speeches but action."

Inner City Press asked the diplomat if the sentiment is to move to a UN peacekeeping mission, or stay with MISCA (in which component contingents have fought each other) and the French SANGARIS force, accused of disarming the Seleka but not anti-balaka militia.

  The answer was UNclear. The briefer was the head of the UN's Department of Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, whose statement during the open meeting said "this is the first case for the Secretary General's new Rights Upfront agenda." That was the UN's belated reaction to its own systemic failure during the killing of tens of thousands of civilians in Sri Lanka in 2009.

  But last month Doctors Without Borders pilloried the UN for not protecting civilians, even inside its own compounds, and for not deploying despite requests to Yaloke and Bouca. UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told Inner City Press she was "disappointed" by MSF's letter. What would Feltman say?

  When finally Feltman emerged, Inner City Press asked him about reports of France disarming the Seleka, not the predominantly Christian anti-balaka. Feltman replied that a "non-discriminatory way" is required, all most be disarmed. He said more coordination is needed between the UN, France's Sangaris, and MISCA.

 Moments later, Inner City Press asked Jordan's Permanent Representative Prince Zeid, the president of the Security Council for January, about perceived (im)partiality. He responded that the situation is complex, as African members pointed out, and that he and other new Council members had material to work through. We'll see.


 

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