Place of the Cost-Cut UN in Europe's Torn-Up Heart;
Deafness to Consumers, Even by the Greens
Matthew Russell Lee, in Brussels
BRUSSELS, April 28 --
Ears ringing with the talk of waste within the UN system, an Inner City Press
reporter yesterday visited the consolidated, scaled back and renamed UN Regional
Information Center (UNRIC) in Brussels, to see how an early attempt at
cost-saving is working out.
narrow, car-filled Rue de la Loi, just passed the European Commission, the UNRIC
is tucked in on the 7th and 8th floors of a stately building in the Residence
Palace compound. Outside are construction zones, the city literally torn-up to
build office space for the ten new EU members. Inside UNRIC it is spacious, with
hardwood floors and uncaptioned photos of each Secretary-General. The UNRIC's
deputy director is an engaging Dane who is among other things the answer to the
UN system Jeopardy question: who was the spokesman for the president of the
General Assembly when the World Trade Towers were demolished by hijacked plane?
Who is... Jan Fischer. Mr. Fischer also served the UN in Iraq in 1993, along
with a stint in Australia. He knows the System, and the context of the
cost-cutting he's witnessed at the UNRIC.
travel budget the more than half-dozen country desk officers based in Brussels
is $16,000 for six months. This has resulted in fewer trips to the countries
covered by each desk officer, and even to them staying with family and friend on
such trips. There's a striking correlation between surname and country covered:
Carlos Jimenez for Spain, Fabio Graziosi for Italy, Dimitrios Fatouros for
Greece and so forth. The desk officers were once "national information
officers," which required this consonance. Now that they've had to move to
Brussels, they've been "professionalized," in the parlance of the UN civil
service. Still some stay with friends and family on their UN trips back home.
Brussels some 15,000 journalists cover the doings of the European Union and to
some degree NATO. It is hard, Jan Fischer says, for UN news to break through.
They hold press conferences, and briefings by visiting UN envoys, from conflict
diamonds to the rights of the child. Across from the well-guarded United States
embassy, there's a storefront for UNICEF, with its tell-tale blue sign. The UN's
refugee agency, it appears from a list, has a dozen Brussels employees, seeking
EU funding for their far-flung operations. UNRIC tries to get their stories
told. Mr. Fischer says he'd rather say too much than too little; he suggests
that the media not abandoned UN staffers who go off script and speak their
minds. It's a plan that makes much sense, and one that we will follow. This
series of occasional visits with continue from Inner City Press, consonant with
the cost-cuts as they come.
Footnote: in a
third-floor room in the European Parliament on April 27, Green party delegate
Heide Ruhle listened while nodding to consumer advocates despairing of non-bank
input into the pending Consumer Credit Directive. When asked, with an
administrative colleague, about merger review in the Euro zone, the Green
response was that review by particular nations is outmoded. Will Brussels'
review consider predatory lending? That remains unclear.
Background Checks at the UN, But Not the Global Compact; Teaching Statistics
from Turkmenbashi's Single Book
Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.
UNITED NATIONS, April
25 -- For the United Nations to know with whom it does its business, it is
accepting the donated services of World-Check, a London-based firm formed five
years ago, in the wake of the City banking scandal over billions looted from
Nigeria by Sani Abacha.
At a press
conference Tuesday at UN Headquarters, World-Check's founder David Leppan stated
that while his service will not tell the UN who not to do business with, it
would for example highlight companies that broke U.S. Office of Foreign Assets
Control rules by improperly engaging in dollar-denominated transactions with
parties on a block list. The example was hardly hypothetical: the
Swiss bank UBS,
for example, was fined $100 million by the
Federal Reserve for
its transfer of dollars to the Saddam Hussein regime.
Inner City Press
asked about UBS, as well as Citigroup which was stripped of its banking license
in Japan for lack of anti-money laundering controls. USB is a member of the UN
Global Compact; Inner City Press asked if World-Check will be used by the Global
Compact, including to screen companies before they join the Compact. Mr. Leppan
did not know.
Inner City Press'
written question to the Global Compact was responded to as follows, by the
Compact's Matthias Stausberg: "This development is new to the Global Compact.
We are not familiar with World-Check's services and cannot say at this point if
and how they could be of use to our operations." Mr. Leppan stated that
World-Check's involvement with the UN, initially suggested by
PriceWaterhouseCooper, grew out of the UN's post-tsunami efforts. Now that the
Global Compact is aware of World-Check's offer, time will tell whether future
and current members are passed through World-Check's screen.
in the UN building's basement, a meeting was held from 11 to 1 in Conference
Room A entitled "DPKO/Logistics Support Division: Darfur Planning Team, Closed."
At the noon briefing, it was clarified that this meeting was in preparation for
presenting the Security Council with options in Darfur.
Computer databases, learning in Ethiopia
Following the daily
briefing, a UNESCO report was
entitled "Teachers and Educational Quality: Monitoring Global Needs for 2015."
The year in the title was not by accident. The report on education is closely
related to the Millennium Development Goals, according to UNESCO's Peter Smith,
formerly a U.S. Congressman and university president. Mr. Smith spoke at length
of the lack of teachers, particularly in the developing world. The report
contains over 100 pages of statistics, although the entries for several counties
consist of empty spaces, "No Data Available."
Inner City Press
specifically asked about page 134 of the report, where "No Data Available" is
the entry for Uzbekistan, which the UN recently praised for its progress toward
the Millennium Development Goals, just as the Islam Karimov regime expelled
UNHCR and now the
American Bar Association's rule of law
also "no data available" regarding Turkmenistan, in which
President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov
requires that schools teach only one book, his Ruhnama. [Niyazov's money is
another Global Compact member; World-Check's view of all this is not yet known.]
While Mr. Smith stated that UNESCO at times intervenes and makes suggestions,
seem limited to how data should be collected, and not to the substantive
point that maybe more than one book should be taught.
Global Needs for 2015" report will now also be launched in Brussels, from which
Inner City Press will be reporting. Watch this space, including for delayed
reports on UNHCR and refugees in Uzbekistan, south Sudan, Chechnya and Burundi
(where we're told the Gasorwe camp will regain UNCHR services on Thursday).
Burundi: Chaos at Camp for
Congolese Refugees, Silence from UNHCR in New York While Reform's Debated by
Forty Until 4 AM
BYLINE: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.
UNITED NATIONS, April 21 -- Reports from
Burundi earlier today indicated that UNHCR had suspended its activities at
Gasorwe camp in the northern province of Cibitoke, where over eight thousand
Congolese refugees were transferred by UNCHR in August 2004 from Gatumba after
the killing of more than 160 refugees at that camp. The basis for UNCRC's
the UN's IRIN service, was the protest by a denied Burundian applicant for UNHCR
assistance, joined in by Congolese camp residents, that "damage[ed] several
UNHCR vehicles." In the height of double-hearsay, the UN's IRIN quoted a UNHCR
spokesperson, Catherine Lune-Grayson, that "the Congolese refugees who took part
in the violence said they are dissatisfied with the assistance they have so far
received from UNHCR."
Inner City Press asked about events at
the Gasorwe camp at the noon media briefing and UN headquarters. Anticipating
referral to the same UNHCR office that only the day before proved less than
responsive on a written question about returnees to Liberia from Sierra Leone,
Inner City Press asked the Secretary-General's spokesman to make the inquiry
into the events at Gasorwe camp. At press time, Robert E. Sullivan of the OSSG
was able to confirm the incident, providing these paraphrased details: 'the
disturbance was caused by a Burundian family which had only recently tranferred
from the Mwaro Camp... It was 10 a.m. when the husband, NDUWAYEZU
entered the office. He asked that paperwork be provided to him for food
assistance or he would be returned to his birth province, Mwaro. He was asked to
wait, to return when it was his turn. At this point, the rest of the family
entered the office. Then the husband grabbed the UNHCR personnel by the belt,
and some ransacking of the office began. The UNHCR personnel with the help of
camp security only narrowly escaped. While they left with the vehicle, rocks
were thrown. The vehicle was damaged.'
This more detailed and
exclusive account varies from UN IRIN's story, which among other things stated
that the UNHCR agent determined that the Burundian family's claim
this version has only one
vehicle, and no mention of the wider disgruntled Congolese refugee population.
What did UNHCR staffer Catherine-Lune Grayson-C. mean, when IRIN quoted her that
"the Congolese refugees who took part in the violence said they are dissatisfied
with the assistance they have so far received from UNHCR"? ICP continues
to await response to the question heard by and forwarded to UNHCR's spokesman in
Immediately after the noon briefing, Inner
City Press was told by UNHCR-New York to "please appreciate that UNHCR
colleagues including myself, can't always drop everything else and reply to
queries from journalists given other obligations and priorities." This from the
individual identified by UNHCR-Geneva and the OSSG as the UNHCR's spokesman in
NYC. A New Yorker's response might be: what exactly would a spokesman be
dropping in order to, burden of burdens, response to a reporter's question about
the agency's field work? With all due respect for
self-identified lawyers, maybe UNHCR needs a spokesperson in the world's
media capital who views responding to reporters' questions as part of their job.
UNHCR has in past years made many statements and
claims about the Gosorwe camp, including for example about its "information
The Gasorwe camp has come up in previous
noon briefing in New York by the OSSG, for example on August 24, 2004,
"the first of some 20,000 Congolese refugees living near the insecure border of
Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are set to move to a camp
further inside Burundi. Tomorrow, UNHCR plans to start relocating the refugees
from two transit centers (Rugombo and Karurama) in western Burundi's Cibitoke
province to an existing refugee camp at Gasorwe in north-eastern Burundi."
from the UN's humanitarian arm OCHA in early 2005
that "as of 23 January, UNHCR reports 2,008 facilitated and 277 spontaneous
returnees... With regard to refugees in Burundi, the local press has reported
threats of attack against Banyamulenge refugees since 21 January. The alleged
threats, which are directed against Banyamulenge refugees who are staying in
Gihinga (Mwaro) and Gasorwe (Muyinga) camps."
are further background papers and photographs of Gasorwe camp
What there's not, four hours after the question was posed, is any update
on the status of the refugees in Gasorwe camp, much less of their complaints
about their treatment. We hope to have more on this and on related issues;
watch this space.
Meanwhile, the Spokesperson for the
President of the General Assembly informed reporters that UN reform was
discussed from Thursday until Friday, 4 a.m.. Asked for specifics by Inner City
Press, the very fast response was that thirty to forty delegates met in
Conference Room 5, especially on the Secretary General's (Report's)
Proposals 16, 20 and 21.
Notably, much of the discussion was Iranian-led...
Liberia, From Nightmare to Challenge; Lack of Generosity to Egeland's CERF,
Which China's Asked About by Inner City Press
Matthew Russell Lee, at the U.N.
UNITED NATIONS, April
20 -- In Liberia, on the same day that the United Nations
end of programs for internally displaced people by its Mission to Liberia (UNMIL),
the refugee agency UNHCR
"we are not here to transport refugees back to their countries" and that
"because of the increase of number of Liberian refugees all over that are
requesting our assistance to return back home, now we are in logistics
noon briefing at UN headquarters, Inner City Press inquired into the specifics
of this "nightmare," and immediately followed up with written questions to the
spokesman at UNHCR's New York office:
"is UNHCR asking for additional resource
for the return to Liberia of the 2000 refugees in Sierra Leone and Guinea that
Representative Mengesha Kebede projects will seek this week to return? Is any
other UN agency involved or being asked to become involved? Long shot: were any
of the corporate CEOs on UNHCR's 'Council of Business Leaders' being asked to be
Four hours later,
UNHCR's New York spokesman sent a copy of
this press release. From Annette Rehrl of UNMIL, these details:
"My assistant... who went with the Rep
yesterday to another opening ceremony just confirmed that he made that
statement, but the sentence is out of context... What Mr. Mengesha Kebede
referred is firstly extremely poor road conditions in Lofa county, where most of
the returnees from Guinea and Sierra Leone go to... UNHCR has had to engage
itself in road and bridges repair... UNHCR is appealing to donor countries to
continue supporting its efforts to bring Liberian refugees back home."
The UN as
many others view the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf led government installed in Liberia
on January 16, 2006, as a a dream and not a nightmare. Ms. Rehrl suggests that
rather than Mengesha Kebede's "nightmare," the situation in Liberia is more akin
to a logistical "challenge." At least that's an answer. As to Uzbekistan, from
which UNHCR has been expelled, the surreal of the day was the movement not of
people but of spent nuclear fuel described as enough for two and a half bombs.
While UNDP states that it will now deal with refugees in Uzbekistan, it also
emphasizes that most of these are Afghans. But was of those deported to
Uzbekistan, for example the eleven sent from Ukraine? Who is following up on
that, or rather, on them? We'll see.
of the UN Central Emergency Response Fund
April 20, UN -- After
Jan Egeland briefed the Security Council about humanitarian issues in Africa, he
took questions from reporters. He spoke passionately about Darfur; asked by
Inner City Press if Joseph Kony is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mr.
Egeland said he'd heard Kony is in Southern Sudan, and that he hopes Kony will
soon be in The Hague.
9, 2006, Mr. Egeland announced there had been $256 million in contributions to
UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).
The web site, as of April 20 (stating that it was updated on April 6), listed
the same amount. Asked by Inner City Press for an update, Mr. Egeland said the
number is now $260 million; he added that it is being well spent, in the Horn of
Africa, Chad and Western Cote D'Ivoire.
Ambassador Wang Guangya, asked "with all due respect" (by Inner City Press) why
China has contributed only $1 million to the CERF, stated that this is the
limits of China's capability, and that while below some countries, it compares
favorably with other developing countries. As of press time, the
CERF Donor List web site
shows the China's contribution is doubled by India, and that the Republic of
Korea's is fully five times higher.
Footnote: It was
hurriedly announced on Thursday that the CEOs of ten companies have been named
to the Global Compact's Board. Inner City Press asked if these CEOs will take
questions from the media, on their human rights performance. Again it was stated
that this would be a good idea. We'll see if it gets implemented. The Global
Compact Board is slated to meet in New York this summer.
Basement footnote: a
meeting in Conference Room 1, entitled "ICT as a Tool for Development," feature
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and a microphone with feedback. The
speakers' bios had been garbled through late-night transmission, according to
one of them. AOL's titan who owns every sports franchise in DC bragged that each
day features two billion instant messages on AOL. Not for long, one wag was
heard to say...
Other Inner City Press
reports are archived on
Mirage: Beyond French Bombs, Is Exxon In the Cast? Asylum and the
Uzbeks, Shadows of Stories to Come
Through the UN's
One-Way Mirror, Sustainable Development To Be Discussed by Corporations,
Even Nuclear Areva
Disparities Grew Worse in 2005 at Citigroup, HSBC and Other Large Banks
Mine Your Own
Business: Explosive Remnants of War and the Great Powers, Amid the
Human Rights Are
Lost in the Mail: DR Congo Got the Letter, But the Process is Still
Iraq's Oil to be
Metered by Shell, While Basrah Project Remains Less than Clear
At the UN, Dues
Threats and Presidents-Elect, Unanswered Greek Mission Questions
Kagame and Coltan: This Moment in the Congo and Kampala
Swarmer Begins, UN's Qazi Denies It's Civil War and Has No Answers if
Iraq's Oil is Being Metered
Cash Crop: In
Nepal, Bhutanese Refugees Prohibited from Income Generation Even in
The Shorted and
Shorting in Humanitarian Aid: From Davos to Darfur, the Numbers Don't
Transparency Later, Not Now -- At Least Not for AXA - WFP Insurance
Chaos, Shots Fired at U.N. Helicopter Gunship
In the Sudanese
Crisis, Oil Revenue Goes Missing, UN Says
Empty Words on
Money Laundering and Narcotics, from the UN and Georgia
What is the Sound
of Eleven Uzbeks Disappearing? A Lack of Seats in Tashkent, a Turf War
Collective Punishment and Electricity; Lights Out on Privatization of
Cleansing and (Money) Laundering, Says Georgia
Human Rights Abuses, including by UNDP in the Maldives
Who Pays for the
Global Bird Flu Fight? Not the Corporations, So Far - UN
Dissembles at United Nations Environmental Conference
Other Inner City Press
reports are archived on
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