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UN Calls Darfur Rape Charge "Inconclusive," Despite UNAMID Release

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 11, more here -- Ten days after after the UN issued a statement on its internal investigation into charges it covered-up attacks in Darfur, its UNAMID mission there issued a statement that "village community leaders reiterated to UNAMID that they coexist peacefully with local military authorities in the area" and that no evidence of rape was found.

 On November 11, Inner City Press again asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq about it:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask again about the allegations of rape in North Darfur.  Radio Dabanga there has not only questioned, you know, the UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] press statement but has interviewed both victims and has quoted a local community leader in Tabit, basically threatening people that if they spoke on the rapes to UNAMID, they would face the consequences.  So I wanted to know, now at this remove… yesterday the President of the Council spoke about it, at this remove, what is UNAMID going to do to get to the bottom of it?  And also, the reporting to Ms. Aicha Elbasry’s allegations, who would brief the Security Council on that?  He said yesterday, the President of the Council, that they are looking to take it up and are looking for the right briefers.  Does the Secretariat have in mind either the author of the report or who would be the appropriate briefer?  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  As the Council President informed you, they'll be looking at briefers, so we'll work that out with them.  Regarding your initial question, yes, we've been in touch with the UN-African Union Mission, UNAMID, who have informed us that security personnel were in fact present during UNAMID's mission to Tabit.  The African Union-UN Mission in Darfur will continue to look into the rape allegations in the area of Tabit, North Darfur.  As reported to the Security Council yesterday, the findings of the UNAMID team, which was granted access to Tabit on 9 November, are inconclusive and need further investigation.  UNAMID remains committed to this and it will revert with any additional findings that might shed light on these allegations.

Inner City Press:  [Inaudible] I just wanted to ask you again if there's been any reflection again on that line where it says residents… and I'm going to paraphrase it, residents said that they get along fine with the military.  Just seemed the line was such a clunker, basically, it was totally inconsistent with other reports…

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not going to second-guess how my colleagues write press releases.  Different press releases are written by different people at different times.

Inner City Press:  Who wrote this one?

Deputy Spokesman:  Someone from the Mission.  The point is: you're writing, trying to get all the information out as best you can in the circumstances you have.  What I have been able to say right now is that we are aware that security personnel was present during UNAMID's mission there.

  We'll have more on this. Later on November 11 Inner City Press asked International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda if she had seen the whole UN report on allegations of cover-ups by UNAMID, or only a summary. She said only the summary, and only the day before. We'll have more on this too.

  On November 10,  Inner City Press asked UN Security Council president for November Gary Quinlan of Australia about the UNAMID press release, and if and when the Security Council will act on the "cover-up" report, including requesting the full report from the Secretariat, which to date has provided only a summary. Video here. From the Australian transcript:

Inner City Press: Sure, thanks a lot. I wanted to ask on Darfur. Thanks for what you said about what Ms Bangura said. There’s a press release put out by UNAMID that has this line in it: “Village community leaders reiterated to UNAMID that they co-exist peacefully with local military authorities in the area.” The press release doesn’t mention at all the military presence. So I wanted to ask you, one, if you could comment, what do you make of this press release by UNAMID? And two, does the report by the Secretary-General on allegations of covers up by UNAMID of attacks on civilians and on peacekeepers, where does it stand? He said that the, the Spokesperson said that an executive summary of the report went to the Council. Is the Council going to have a meeting on it? Are you going to have a full report?  And are you satisfied with UNAMID’s press release on these allegations of rape?

AMBASSADOR QUINLAN: Matthew, on the second part of the question. Members of the Council are very concerned on this whole question of UNAMID and UNAMID reporting, but also what UNAMID is doing. And one of the big issues there is the denial of access and restrictions that are imposed largely by the Government of Sudan, with whom UNAMID has a formal arrangement on access. But also, of course, by armed opposition groups and that is inherently more difficult sometimes to get the access that’s needed.

That report has not yet been discussed by the Council. I expect that it will be over the next couple of weeks. A number of members of the Council are extremely interested in it. We want to be sure that we’ve lined up the briefers from the Secretariat to have a proper discussion of that report.

Secondly, in relation to the UNAMID press release, I think the key is that they’ve indicated that they had access but it was the first time since November 4, when they’d been seeking access. And they had proactively been seeking access to be able to undertake investigations. That’s a long period to have access denied, by the way, in a circumstance like rape. You really do need, as Ms Bangura reminded us, to have access straight away, for obvious reasons. So that’s one point I’d make. The second point is UNAMID has made it extremely clear in its press release that it will conduct further follow-up actions, including possible further investigations and patrols and that they will do that in cooperation with the Government of Sudan and other parties. We have confidence that that will happen. SRSG Bangura is making this a top priority for her and so is the Secretariat itself and we were reassured about that this morning by ASG Mulet. So I think that’s basically it.

  We'll continue to follow this -- but how can a peacekeeping mission already accused of covering up for the Sudanese government say, today, that "village community leaders reiterated to UNAMID that they coexist peacefully with local military authorities in the area"? To some, this is shocking - and indicative of problems in today's UN Peacekeeping.

Inner City Press on November 7 asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric about the challenges to the UN's statement it couldn't and didn't access the site of mass rapes in Tabit in Darfur. Video here; transcript:

Inner City Press: there are witnesses in Darfur who actually say that the UNAMID investigators, rather than being stopped outside Tabit went inside and interviewed four people and after that they were spoken to by Sudanese military intelligence.  And so these are credible people that have been reporting on Darfur for some time and see the reports being issued by UNAMID although as a reaction to the quote “cover up report” as not being accurate.  And I wanted to know, can you check with them to be sure that the UNAMID investigators didn't in fact enter Tabit Tuesday at 5 am and whether they were spoken to by Sudanese intelligence and decided to say that they hadn't been able to enter the town?

Spokesman Dujarric:  I'm not going to judge the credibility or lack of credibility of people who have been reporting on Darfur.  I mean, they report.  What I can tell you is the Mission clearly stands by its reporting.  They've sent us a bit more detail, said the verification patrol comprising of military police and civilian personnel on Tuesday, 4 November, that it was sent on Tuesday, 4 November, from Shangil Tobaya to Tabit to 14:50 hours,  I assume local time.  The patrol was denied access at the outskirts of the town at a Sudanese military checkpoint.  Attempts to negotiate access to Tabit were unfruitful and the team returned to the base in Shangil Tobaya.  We've repeated… the Mission's leadership has repeated its call to the Government to grant the UN, to grant UNAMID unfettered access to the whole of Darfur and obviously especially in areas where we're trying to investigate horrendous reports of mass rape.  So that's a longer, a long way of saying that the Mission stands by its reporting.

   But if UNAMID and UN Peacekeeping was just outed for under-reporting attacks, how it is now automatically credible? On November 6, Inner City Press asked Dujarric about similar cover-ups in Central African Republic, exposed by an Amnesty International report about that country.

From the UN's transcript:

Inner City Press: I'm sure the Secretary-General has seen the Amnesty International's report today about the peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic.  They basically, I mean, they say a number of things.  Maybe you have some kind of response to it.  But, I wanted to especially ask you about the reporting aspect of it they describe a number of killings and attacks that have taken place in Dekoa, Bambari and elsewhere in [the Central African Republic] about, which, at least being here every day, I've heard nothing from this podium.  So, I wanted to know both substantively what's the response of UN peacekeeping to not protecting civilians and in terms of communications and transparency the response to what appears to be an underreporting similar to that analogous to that in Darfur?

Spokesman Dujarric:  Sure.  Obviously, a big part of the Missions' mandate is the protection of civilians.  The Mission, its peacekeeping forces, its formed police units, are doing that to the best of their ability.  Obviously, it's a very challenging situation.  It's a challenging terrain in which they work.  And there is, obviously… one could always use more troops and more police.  I'm not sure they're up to their mandated force as of yet.  As far as reporting goes, you know we report from here whatever we receive from the Mission.

Inner City Press: Because of the Darfur thing, I wanted to ask:  Their report is very detailed.  The report, it says names of places, number of people killed.  Maybe, first of all, does the Mission send it to [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations] in New York and they're supposed to give it to your office?  At what point has this information in the Amnesty report, has it reached New York before or is it a surprise to UN?

Spokesman:  I can only speak to what I receive from the Mission

Back on October 29, Inner City Press asked if the full Darfur report will be released, at least to the Security Council, and about under-reporting of attacks in the Central African Republic. Video here.

  Dujarric said that even before the summary was given to the Security Council members -- so that is apparently all that has been given to them -- UN missions were told to be sure to report attacks. He said he reads out what the missions sent him.

  So has the UN mission in CAR, MINUSCA, simply not send in reports about killings in Bambari and elsewhere? We'll see.

Despite a request from Inner City Press and the Free UN Coalition for Access the UN will not release the report. Back on October 29, Inner City Press asked, given that even the sanitized statement says information on attacks was withheld from the media and UN Headquarters - at its request? - who is responsible? Video here.

  Back on September 12, eight days after Inner City Press exclusively reported that the head of the Darfur peacekeeping mission Mohamed ibn Chambas was being given the UN Office in West Africa post in Dakar, and asked about it, the UN confirmed the move.

  Inner City Press has asked on September 5, and did again on September 12, if this move didn't undercut or pre-judge the UN's investigation into charges that the Darfur mission under Chambas under-reported attacks on civilians.

  On September 12, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric insisted he didn't want to "pre-judge" the inquiry.  But by giving the new post, this has already been done. Now this sanitized statement, with the report still withheld:

A review, initiated by the Secretary-General, was conducted into recent allegations that the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) intentionally sought to cover up crimes against civilians and peacekeepers.

The Review Team examined all the material related to 16 incidents, which were the basis of these allegations. It also interviewed former and current staff in UNAMID and at UN Headquarters. The Review Team did not find any evidence to support these allegations. However, it did find a tendency to under-report unless absolutely certain of the facts. In five of the cases examined, the Mission did not provide UN Headquarters with full reports on the circumstances surrounding these incidents, which involved possible wrongdoing by Government or pro-Government forces. The Review Team also found that the Mission took an unduly conservative approach to the media, maintaining silence when it could have developed a press line, even in the absence of all the facts.

The Secretary-General is deeply troubled by these findings. He recognizes that UNAMID faces unique challenges owing to its complex mandate and operating environment. Nevertheless, keeping silent or under-reporting on incidents involving human rights violations and threats or attacks on UN peacekeepers cannot be condoned under any circumstances.

The Secretary-General will take all necessary steps to ensure full and accurate reporting by UNAMID. Every effort will be made to ensure that sensitive information is systematically brought to the attention of UN Headquarters and the Security Council in a timely fashion. UNAMID’s media policy will be re-examined to ensure greater openness and transparency. The Mission will be expected to follow up formally and report on Government investigations into incidents where peacekeepers have been killed or injured.

Ensuring that the UN speaks out consistently against abuses and identifies the perpetrators is a key goal of the Secretary-General’s Human Rights up Front initiative. The Secretary-General will ensure that all missions are provided with clear guidance on the fulfilment of their reporting obligations, particularly with regard to human rights and the protection of civilians. He looks forward to the upcoming review of UN peace operations as an opportunity to comprehensively address this issue, which is a core element of his Human Rights up Front initiative.

   On August 22, Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: in Darfur, it seems that Mr. Mohamed ibn Chambas went to Kalma Camp and met with residents who expressed a variety of complaints, but he was quoted as saying there that UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] cannot stop Government forces from entering camps for the displaced, and it has left many people confused whether, what is UNAMID’s role in terms of protection of civilians given these [inaudible] entrances in the camp and people lying on the ground?

Spokesman Dujarric:  I will… we will check with the Mission to verify the quotes and see what actually they have been doing.

  Two weeks, no answer. Now this. 

  UN Peacekeeping and its mission in Darfur continue take a selective and lax approach to protecting civilians. 

   This example concerns the UN's evolving statements on the Al-Salam camp.

  After whistleblower Aicha Elbasri further exposed UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous as covering up attacks in Darfur, on June 17 several Security Council members joined International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in calling for an investigation.

  On August 7, Inner City Press asked the Joint Special Representative of the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, about the status of the probe.

   Chambas told Inner City Press he had met earlier in the day with the commission, whose members will be on their say to Darfur.

 Inner City Press asked if the report will be public. Chambas only said his staff will cooperate. Apparently it will be up to Ban Ki-moon, or even Herve Ladsous, to decide to release or withhold the report.

 Back in Khartoum on August 11, Chambas said this:

"And on the attack on Alsalam camp, let me state that we have information about this. We have always stated that the responsibility for maintaining law and order in Sudan lays with the Government. This is a sovereign country, it has law enforcement obligations, it has its justice system and the AU, the UN is only here to facilitate and ensure that law and order and justice are maintained and are enforced according to due process of law. So, we want to say that we will continue to engage with the Government of Sudan in accordance with its own protection of civilian mandate and to ensure that the activities on law enforcement agencies are carried out without infringement of the rights of innocent civilians specially vulnerable communities in IDP camps. We hope that on the other hand residents of IDP camps can understand and do understand that possession of weapons, carrying of weapons is not allowed in IDP camps under international humanitarian law.

"It’s also imperative, and it’s a responsibility of the leaders of IDP camps to ensure that no one is using these camps to keep weapons or to hide weapons, because this is against international humanitarian law. These are the issues involved there and we as UNAMID we will continue to work with both sides, with IDP leaders to educate them what is permissible in these camps and what is not, and at the same time working  with Government to enforce legitimately law and order but to do that respecting the civic and human rights of the citizens and also respecting due process of law. Thank you."

  Since this seemed to defer to Sudan's Abu Tira, and even to blame the victims, Inner City Press on August 13 asked:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask about Darfur, Missouri and Afghanistan.  On Darfur, photos have come out of the Sudanese uniformed Abu Tira forces going through a refugee camp or [internally displaced persons] camp in El Salam and making the residents lie on the ground.  And Mr. Chambas was asked about it and said that this was entirely up to the Sudanese and it just seems sort of strange. I mean, I know there is a Human Rights component to these peacekeeping missions.  Does the UN, does UNAMID [United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] or does anyone in the Secretariat, are they aware of these photographs?

Spokesman Stephane Dujarric:  I will check.

  Twenty three hours later, Dujarric sent nothing to Inner City Press. But UNAMID issued a belated statement, which seems to contradict or attempt to rehabilitate Chambas' dismissive August 11 comments:

"Following a security raid conducted on Al Salam IDP camp on 5 August when individuals were arrested for alleged possession of illegal drugs, weapons and ammunition, UNAMID monitored the trials of those arrested during the operation; most of whom have since been released. UNAMID has been engaging relevant state authorities on the conditions of those still being detained.

"Other security raids have been conducted in Otash and Dereig camps and are part of a wider campaign by the South Darfur authorities to address the high level of criminality in the State, especially around Nyala.

"The security raids have generated alarm and anxiety amongst IDPs in Kalma camp, who are anticipating a similar operation at their camp and have expressed their concerns to UNAMID."

 We'll continue on this.

  Inner City Press asked UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq if an independent investigation of Ladsous' UN Peacekeeping will be done, and if not, why not? Video here.

  Haq claimed that UN Peacekeeping is already acting on Elbasri's complaints, and that it had been telling the press about it. Inner City Press asked, where have these updates been provided.
  Haq cited a read-out given in March, largely generic; then he said the requests made on June 17 would be studied.

 Now on July 2, Ban's spokesman Dujarric - in the midst of a controversy about a non-factual response on June 27, not corrected when asked June 30 and July 1, about Ladsous' mission in the DRC flying sanctioned FDLR leaders around, released this:

"The Secretary-General is concerned about the recent serious allegations against the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). These allegations cover a wide range of issues, including inaccurate reporting of the facts on the ground in Darfur, specific instances of failure to protect civilians and accusations of mismanagement of UNAMID.

"UNAMID has undergone several investigations and reviews over the last two years, which have sought to address both strategic issues and specific incidents related to the Mission's performance. The Secretary-General’s Special Report of 25 February 2014 provides an overview of the strategic and managerial challenges faced by the Mission and the work being done at United Nations Headquarters and in UNAMID to address them.

"The Secretary-General remains committed to improving UNAMID's performance and is determined to take all necessary steps to correct any wrongdoing. He has instructed the Secretariat to review the reports of all investigations and inquiries undertaken since mid-2012 to ensure that their recommendations have been implemented and that any relevant issues have been fully addressed. This review, to be completed within one month, will enable the Secretary-General to determine what has already been done and, if recommendations are outstanding, what corrective action needs to be taken."

 On DRC, Dujarric said "you can pick up the phone" - after siting next to Ladsous while he refused to answer Press questions on DRC.

  As recently as May 29, Ladsous refused Press questions, video here, compilation here.

   Back on April 24 when Darfur as such was the topic of the UN Security Council, three major Darfur rebel groups wrote to the Council to investigate "all reports of the Peace Keeping Mission, including reports presented to the UNSC by [Under] Secretary General for Peace Keeping Mr. Ladous and the reliability of the sources he had relied on."

   But unlike his abortive stakeout on the evening of April 23 about South Sudan, video here, Ladsous did not come out to answer any questions. And at the April 24 UN noon briefing, when Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq for a response to the request for an investigation of Ladsous and his reports, there was none: not one modified or corrected report was cited.

  Instead, from the "holy seat" of the UN Correspondents Association a long time scribe followed up to say that it is not all Ladsous' fault, and to cast blame on the government. (This same dynamic was repeated at the June 17 noon briefing.) This reflexively shifting of blame from the UN to the government, whose new Permanent Representative spoke in the Council on April 24, is in this case particularly absurd: how can the government be responsible for the UN's own reports being inaccurate?

  Those requesting this investigation of DPKO and Ladsous are not the government of Omar al Bashir, which whom Ladsous met in July 2013 without any readout, but rebels Abdel Wahid Mohamed Ahmed Nur, Chairperson, Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M-A/Wahid), Gibriel Ibrahim Mohamed, Chairperson of Justice & Equality Movement Sudan (JEM) and Minni Arko Minnawi, Chairperson Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M-MM).

  Pending UN answers, again we ask: how can one write about the corruption of a UN Peacekeeping mission, at length, without naming the person in charge? Why would one airbrush that person, in this case Herve Ladsous the UN Under Secretary for Peacekeeping Operations, out?

   The former spokesperson of the UNAMID mission in Darfur quit, spoke out and finally leaked documents. Radio Dabanga as well as Foreign Policy began publishing them on April 7 (FP did not mention Dabanga, and called its back to back  Ladsous-less pieces an exclusive investigation).

  The last piece focused on the US role, all to the good, but not only doesn't mention that the UN's Ladsous met with International Criminal Court indictee Omar al Bashir in July, without providing any read-out, but also omits France's hosting of Darfur rebels, for example.

 Back on March 25, 2013, Inner City Press asked the UN Spokesperson about how the UN Peacekeeping in Darfur could have let a group of Internally Displaced People be kidnapped while they were ostensibly protected:

Inner City Press: there is this incident where IDPs were taken hostage or kidnapped by people that were in Government army uniforms, and somehow UNAMID is saying that they opposed it and they denounced the kidnapping, but some people are wondering how armed UN peacekeepers could have IDPs under their care and they could all be kidnapped. Can you clarify how it took place and how it is consistent with protection of civilians?

Spokesperson: Well, I have asked the Mission for more details on that, and I think if you were listening carefully you will have heard me read out precisely what you just said to me.

Inner City Press: But what I am asking about specifically about how it could take place?

Spokesperson: I heard what you said, and I’ve said that I’ll see if I can find out more, which is what I have already asked the Mission and Peacekeeping Operations.

  Now Radio Dabanga has published a memo by UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, from April 10, 2013, still saying he didn't know how it happened.

  What is Ladsous doing? Then, and apparently now, he refuses Press questions about topics ranging from Sudan -- why did he meet with International Criminal Court indictee Omar al Bashir in July 2013? -- to rapes in the DR Congo by UN Peacekeeping's partners in the Congolese Army.

  Dabanga to its credit says it is reporting the memos along with FP. The FP story, at least the first one, does not mention Dabanga, nor Ladsous' meeting with Bashir. Previously an explanation was provided for not reporting on Ladsous' extraordinary and public "non-answering," noted from the UK by the New Statesman, here.

  We'll be following this. Watch this site.


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