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From Geneva, ICP Is Told UN Staff Put DPRK Into Eritrea Letter, SEMG Context

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 1 -- How are documents, particularly by different countries, handled by the UN Human Rights Council and its Secretariat? How can a statement by one country -- not to the UNHRC -- appear on the UN's website mixed into the statement of another country? On July 1, Inner City Press asked Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Rolando Gomez:

--How did the DPRK statement get mixed in to Eritrea's response?

--Did DPRK file that press release with OHCHR or the HRC?

--And what is the process for putting member states' submissions online? How can they get mixed up, or mixed together?

  To his credit, OHCHR spokesperson Gomez quickly provided this reply to Inner City Press:

"With regard to the reference to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the letter from the Eritrean Government received on 24 June 2015, I can confirm that this reference was mistakenly included in the letter by a United Nations staff member while it was being formatted and processed for publication.  

"Under no circumstances was this is a deliberate action, but rather an oversight that occurred for which the Human Rights Council secretariat takes full responsibility.  Please note that the Human Rights Council secretariat processes hundreds of documents including reports and correspondence from governments.  As you will appreciate, this is a huge responsibility typically carried out under tight deadlines and demanding circumstances."

  While appreciated, here is part of the context:

Back on October 7, 2014 Inner City Press exclusively reported that a member of the UN's Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group Dinesh Mahtani used UN SEMG time and letterhead for unrelated advocacy regarding Eritrea. Mahtani's letter was exclusively put online here by Inner City Press.

  The UN on October 27 specified that it was Mahtani's use of the UN letterhead that was not approved. Video here. Tellingly, Mahtani's resignation went unmentioned by wire service write-ups of the SEMG report he was involved in, which Reuters in particular is promoting (while censoring its own anti-Press submissions to the UN, click here for that.)

The silence by Reuters, for which Mahtani used to work, and Agence France Presse continues even as the two UN Security Council Permanent Representatives, one on-camera, have spoken about Mahtani, and UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric has done so twice, both times on-camera.

  Some social media users from the Horn of Africa citing Mahtani's friends in New York and Nairobi and correcting themselves that Mahtani quit but was not fired are focused on how the letter emerged, projecting their own fixations on Inner City Press (which beyond the Horn reports on Argentina debt, Sri Lankan war crimes, Ebola in West Africa) rather than whether the letter was appropriate.

 (The UN Secretariat, even with Ban Ki-moon in the Horn of Africa, is apparently just as distracted: spokesman Dujarric had no comment on the Somali President versus prime minister spat when Inner City Press asked, video here.) We'll have more on this.

  After October 8, 2014 not only Reuters but also Agence France Presse retyped copies of the SEMG report given to them -- with no mention of the SEMG scandal and resignation acknowledged right in the UN Press Briefing Room on October 8.

   Isn't this like "reporting" on a panel of judges' ruling without mentioning that one of the judges just resigned after being confronted with a letter he wrote about the subject matter of the case?

 On October 15, when the UN Security Council met behind closed doors about SEMG and the report, the bylined scribe of Reuters Mahtani-less story about the report stood briefly in front of the Council, then left.

  After an hour and a half when the meeting ended, Inner City Press asked the sanctions committee chairman Oh Joon if Mahtani and his resignation has been raised in the meeting. No, Oh Joon replied, “we didn’t have a discussion on him. It’s been taken care of, I think.”

  But some question what the chairman of the SEMG knew, and how the involvement of the now-resigned Mahtani in the report under review impacted it. We’ll have more on this.

On October 8, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric about Mahtani's letter and if it was appropriate behavior for a sanctions monitor.  No, Dujarric said, adding that the letter was “shown” to Dinesh Mahtani, who has resigned. Video here.

 On October 10, Reuters two UN correspondents dutifully regurgitated the SEMG's most recent report, even called it "exclusive" -- a basis on which Reuters pays -- with no mention that one of the SEMG's members had resigned after being exposed for pushing regime change.

  Key fact: Dinesh Mahtani used to work for Reuters, see c.v. here.

   This puts Reuters' non-mention of SEMG member Mahtani's resignation is a different light.

  On October 13, AFP in English retyped its copy of the SEMG report, no mention of regime-change scandal. This too is how the UN works, or doesn't.

 Sources had told Inner City Press that Mahtani, the finance expert on SEMG and previously on the DR Congo Sanctions group, was found requesting favors from a member state, to which the SEMG reports. Here is a document:

a letter from Dinesh Mahtani, ostensibly in his SEMG role, saying that former Eritrean official Ali Abdu "has great potential to play a stabilizing role in Eritrea with the country possibly headed to an uncertain period in its history."

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