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On Haiti Cholera, Medrano's Spin to DPA & AFP Presage Tour, French Answers?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 26, with a song -- While on cholera in Haiti the UN has twice told Inner City Press that top UN lawyer Manuel de Serpa will NOT hold a briefing or answer any questions, envoy Pedro Medrano keeps providing his own spin.

  First it was to Agence France-Presse (click here), now it is to German agency DPA:

"Three things were related: the issue of responsibility, the issue of guilt and the issue of compensation," Medrano said. "These are not parameters that the international community has defined. If (member states) want to change this, we are prepared."

  On February 26, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's outgoing spokesperson Martin Nesirky either to explain this -- does Medrano mean, go to the General Assembly? -- or if Medrano can do a Q&A briefing by video.

  While Nesirky didn't say "no" to a Medrano briefing, he emphasized that the UN doesn't speak about "pending litigation," then added that Medrano is giving these interviews in advance of a tour of countries, presumably including Germany and France.

  As Inner City Press reported, French Ambassador Gerard Araud when he answered a question said that moral responsibility for cholera is a "vague concept." Will a Medrano visit to Paris yield a different message?

    As we reported yesterday,  the Haitian Lawyers Association and Haitian Women of Miami have filed an amicus brief about the UN's refusal to confirm even service of legal papers in the Haiti cholera case. So Inner City Press at the February 25 UN noon briefing asked the UN spokesperson, for the third time, to confirm or deny that papers have been received, by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his UN Peackeeping deputy Edmond Mulet.

  Spokesperson Martin Nesirky said, again, that he would check -- and then quickly said no to Inner City Press' February 20 request for a briefing by the head of the UN Office of Legal Affairs Miguel de Serpa.  Inner City Press keyed this request to  the UN's envoy on cholera in Haiti Pedro Medrano having told Jonathan Katz in Beacon Reader that "Itís the under-secretary [general] for legal affairs, Miguel de Serpa. They are now dealing with the issue before the federal court in Manhattan." [Full disclosure: Beacon Reader is a cooperative-like subscription site to which this reporter, like Katz, contributes, for example last Thursday here.]

  Nesirky, who leaves March 7 for the UN Information Center in Vienna, on February 20 said he doubted any briefing on the topic by Miguel de Serpa will take place, or it will be "very short." 

 On February 25 Nesirky said there will be NO briefing by Miguel de Serpa. The Free UN Coalition for Access, which has pursued such briefing since its inception, notes that under Kofi Annan the head of Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel held press conferences.

  There are other legal questions de Serpa should answer, for example question concerning if traditional peacekeepers in MONUSCO in the Congo are now combatants or parties to an armed conflict, with the Force Intervention Brigade in the same UN mission. Inner City Press wrote about and asked this as well on February 25; we'll see if there's an answer to member states, since the press and the public apparently don't get any.

  Inner City Press on February 13 has asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Martin Nesirky:

Inner City Press: on Haiti, I understand the position of not commenting on the cholera litigation, but maybe you can ask the Office for Legal Affairs whether the UN has actually accepted service or process of the papers. There were some earlier problems, and Iíve heard from them that they actually managed to serve two individuals so Iím asking you, just a yes or no answer whether papers were received.

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, I canít give either because I will need to check.

  But now twelve days have passed and no answer has been received. The "two individuals" namelessly referred to by Inner City Press in its question were Ban Ki-moon and Edmond Mulet, who spoke on the issue last Fall as shown in the Inner City Press YouTube video here and embedded below.

   In the face of such stonewalling, of such a blue wall of silence, Inner City Press has uploaded the first, raw version of its new song on the topic, here.

Last month the UN's envoy on cholera in Haiti Pedro Medrano was quoted by Agence France Presse that legal wrangling over the epidemic had to be put aside in order to tackle the sweeping advance of the disease.

   Since when Inner City Press has asked, the UN has repeatedly refused to comment on, or access legal papers in, the class action lawsuit against it for bringing cholera to Haiti, this seemed strange.

  At the UN's January 23 noon briefing Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's acting deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq how much if anything -- beyond its credibility -- the lawsuit has cost the UN, and if the UN has accepted service of legal papers.

  Haq said the UN will not comment on the lawsuit.  But, Inner City Press pointed out, the UN's Medrano DID comment on the lawsuit, saying it should be put aside.

  Then Haq said that is not the quote, pulling out the AFP article. It appears the UN chose AFP or even this AFP correspondent Tim Witcher to make its pitch for money while avoiding dealing with its responsibility for the cholera. (The correspondent Witcher was called on first at the January 23 noon briefing, and said to Haq, "On behalf of Pam, I welcome you," referring to Pamela Falk of CBS, the president of the United Nations Correspondents Association now known as the UN's Censorship Alliance.)

  How could that AFP article not have pursued the lawsuit angle? This is how the UN -- and its chosen scribes -- work, or don't work. And it is being challenged and protested by the new Free UN Coalition for Access.

    On the fourth anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a 312-word statement to UN staff there. He began, appropriately, with "grief" - but nowhere in the statement did he mention the word "cholera," much less that the UN is nearly universally viewed as having brought cholera to Haiti, through a deployment of peacekeepers from Nepal coupled with lax UN sanitation practices.

In New York, the UN dodged the claims and questions from Inner City Press about if it has standing claims commissions anywhere -- the answer is no -- and if it even now screens for cholera before deployment -- the answer is still no. Most recently, the UN has refused to accept service of legal papers in the class action lawsuit filed against it. And see below:

   When asked inside the UN about bringing cholera to Haiti, spokespeople for UN Peacekeeper have for months been telling the Press "we have nothing more to say," or more recently, "that is not a yet or no question."

  In November 2013 Inner City Press went two blocks from the UN to a panel discussion with UN Peacekeeping and the US State Department, to see if there might be a more candid answer.

  The guest was supposed to be UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, who inside the UN refuses to answer Press questions. (Video here, UK coverage here.) But he was replaced, apparently at the last minute, by his deputy Edmond Mulet, once the head of the UN's mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH.

When Mulet and the US State Department's Victoria Holt were asked about cholera in Haiti, only Mulet answered. (Holt answered another question about zero tolerance for sexual abuse, but said nothing about the US-trained 391st Battalion of the Congolese Army being implicated in 135 rapes in Minova.)

Mulet essentially blamed the cholera death on Haiti itself, noting the "same strain" -- that would be, from Nepal, brought along with the peacekeepers from there by the UN -- spread to the Dominican Republic but didn't kill anyone.

  Mulet said it spread to Cuba too, but the government there was more organized. But no follow-up was allowed on the main point: it was the UN peacekeepers' negligent santitation practices that put their fecal material in the river and introduced cholera to Haiti. Have any improvements been made since?

  The venue was the Museum of Tolerance; the host was UNA-USA. The mood was how to make the UN attractive to Americans, or really, how to best present the UN to Americans. That's why Mulet's blame-the-Haitians line doesn't work: nearly anyone who hears what happens thinks the UN should apologize, and try to help the families of those killed. This song will continue to be developed. Watch this site.


 

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