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As UN Fires Pepper Spray in Haiti, Sri Lanka Gives Tea, UNICEF Info Still Awaited

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 22 -- With both Brazilian and Uruguayan UN peacekeepers shooting rubber bullets and pepper spray at Haitians seeking food, in New York on Tuesday the UN's John Holmes and UNDP's Jordan Ryan were asked by Inner City Press about donations by Ghana and Sri Lanka of cocoa and tea, respectively.

  The UN's humanitarian coordinator John Holmes said such donations are likely to "clog up distribution," and that cash is better. Video here, from Minute 35:05. Neither he nor UN spokesman Martin Nesirky, to whom Inner City Press directed the question the day previous, responded to the complaint by a Canadian who flew two helicopters down which have sat unused in the Dominican Republic for more than a week.

  Inner City Press asked when schooling will recommence, and what the UN is doing about it. UNDP's Ryan said there had been a 15 day vacation, and to "get details from UNICEF." But although asked last week during a UN briefing, UNICEF has yet to provide basic information about how many staff it had in Haiti before the earthquake and since. We continue to wait for these requested disclosures.

Holmes referred to the January 25 statement by WFP's Josette Sheeran, that food aid for now is only for women, saying that this might change "in a few weeks." Many at the UN in the wake of that statement said maybe that explains some of the rioting: men are legally barred from WFP food distributions. What does UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay have to say about this?

Haitian hit by UN tear gas on January 26, Navi Pillay not seen

Footnote: numerous readers have written to remind Inner City Press that over 100 Sri Lanka UN peacekeepers were thrown out of the country following allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation. This is not to say there are not hard working UN peacekeepers, only to say that even before the current tear gas and rubber bullets, there have been incidents.
  Meanwhile, the UN has yet to provide information requested in televised briefings, about whether it is still paying $94,000 a month for the Christopher Hotel, whether the Hotel was MOSS compliant or cracked, and whether its benefits for international and national staff are the same. Watch this space.

* * *

On Haiti at UN, Dominican Dodging on Immigration, UNICEF on Staffing, IFAD to Forgive?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 22 -- The UN in New York was full of Haiti news on Friday, some of it misleading, other "off the record." At the day's noon briefing, by video hook up from Haiti Carlos Morales Troncoso, Foreign Minister of the Dominican Republic, bragged to the Press about his government's help to Haiti.

   Inner City Press asked about the blocking of sick Haitians, including infants, at the Dominican border. I haven't seen that report, Morales Troncoso replied. Video here, from Minute 25:57.

   Later on Friday there was a briefing by UNICEF about Haiti, but it remained unclear what information could be used by the press. UNICEF spokesman Chris De Bono introduced an official who could not, it seemed, be named.

   Inner City Press asked de Bono on the record why UNICEF had not been able to lead the water and sanitation cluster after the earthquake.

  De Bono replied that UNICEF had only ten international staff in country on the day of the earthquake, but was able to take over the WASH cluster by "day two."

  Inner City Press asked how many staff UNICEF has there now. De Bono said he didn't know, to email him for the answer. Inner City Press did, but as of 10 p.m., with a fundraiser on network television benefiting UNICEF among others, no response had been provided on how many staff UNICEF has in Haiti.

Rubble of UN's Christopher Hotel - was it MOSS compliant?

   Appearing with Ban Ki-moon on January 21, Bill Clinton was asked to which charities people should give. Only those with big presences in Haiti, Bill Clinton replied. So it would seem UNICEF should be able to say how many staff it had and has in Haiti. Inner City Press has also asked UNICEF about its operations in Sri Lanka and Somalia.

   Finally, a day after Inner City Press asked a question about the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development and its outstanding loans to Haiti, would the loans be forgiven? On January 22, spokesman Martin Nesirky said

"you asked a question, Matthew, yesterday, about the debt repayments by Haiti. The Secretary-General, of course, welcomes any efforts to ease financial burdens placed on Haitians. As for the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD, it says it has supported, and is supporting, rural and agricultural development in Haiti through seven loans, for a total amount of $90 million on highly concessional terms. Six of these loans are now completed and closed. And they’re covered by the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries relief initiative, and consequently, the debt repayments are covered by debt relief. There is one loan not covered by that initiative, and repayments for this loan will not start before 2018. The Fund is now reviewing its approach towards these repayments with a view to call on its Member States to assist in directly supporting Haiti with further relief."

We'll see.  Inner City Press also asked, but Mr. Nesirky did not answer, about the material assistance the UN provides to bereaved families of international and national staff members:

Inner City Press: Can you either state now, or at the next briefing or in between, what material assistance is being provided to the families of those UN staff, both international and national, who perished in Haiti? And whether the benefits are the same, the material assistance? How, you know, between these two groups. And just what the number…? I’ve heard that [it’s] Schedule D of the benefits package, but I’d like to know what it is.

Spokesperson Nesirky: I’m sure you would. And I’m sure that more than you, the family members would like to know. And that is being worked on very intensively, and it’s something that occupies the mind of many people, not least the Secretary-General.

Inner City Press: But isn’t there a standard, I mean, isn’t there a UN policy? What I’m asking for is the policy, not actually what, what… You see what I mean?

Spokesperson: Yes, I do understand. This has to do with insurance and other matters, and that’s being looked into very closely by the right people in Field Support, in the Department of Management, Department of Human Resources Management.

Inner City Press: Sure. When a decision is made, you’ll…?

Spokesperson: The question of payments of whatever kind to family members or those who were injured is really a matter for them, between the United Nations and them. The principle that you refer to, of course, is something that we would want to make public.

Inner City Press: Isn’t it a public…? I mean, it’s a public organization.

Spokesperson: That’s what I’m saying. The principle is very clear. It’s a matter of public interest, you’re absolutely right. And on the principle, we will make it clear what’s going on. But, the details are something for the family members.

Watch this site.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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