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Sri Lanka Falls Off Radar of UN and US, Despite Rapp Report and Disappearances

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 10 -- How far the plight of the Tamils and other minorities in Sri Lanka has fallen off the radar of the United States and United Nations was made clear on Thursday. After US Ambassador Susan Rice made remarks to the press about human rights day and accountability, Inner City Press asked her about "the State Department report on Sri Lanka that seemed to allege war crimes, what [are] the next steps for the State Department on Mr. Rapp’s report?"

  Ambassador Rice answered, "with respect to Sri Lanka, and frankly other instances of alleged and definite human rights abuses, we will examine these with seriousness internally, and look at what steps we might take bilaterally to reflect those concerns, with respect to any nation. And the President in his remarks in Oslo mentioned today Zimbabwe, Sudan and Burma specifically." Video here, from Minute 6:15.

  Last week, as Stephen Rapp walked into the UN Security Council, Inner City Press asked him about the Sri Lanka report he had signed. "We are pushing hard on that," Rapp said. But what exactly is being done? Another report authored by Senator John Kerry urges rapprochement with Sri Lanka. So what was that about accountability?

Susan Rice, President Obama and Secretary Clinton, Sri Lanka not shown

  The UN, too, spoke of accountability of one of three things necessary in Sri Lanka. On December 10, Inner City Press asked the UN official who has most visited Sri Lanka, John Holmes, about reports of people released from the Manik Farm camp only to be put in other closed camps, and about additional disappearances. Video here, from Minute 20:15.

  Holmes said he wouldn't call those disappearance, rather that people who previously worked with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were "still being identified" and put into "rehabilitation camps." Video here, from Minute 21:31. Holmes put the number at "ten to eleven thousand," fewer that those the Red Cross has been allowed to visit. Again, what about accountability? Watch this site.

From the US Mission's transcript:

Inner City Press: Parliamentarians from 29 countries have written to the Council asking for them to setup a commission of inquiry on what the call crimes against humanity committed by the military government of Myanmar/Burma. I’m wondering if you received that and what you think of it. And the State Department report on Sri Lanka that seemed to allege war crimes. What’s the next steps for the State Department on Mr. Rapp’s report? What steps are going to be taken?

Ambassador Rice: I have not seen the letter you reference on Burma so I won’t comment. With respect to Sri Lanka, and frankly other instances of alleged and definite human rights abuses, we will examine these with seriousness internally, and look at what steps we might take bilaterally to reflect those concerns, with respect to any nation. And the President in his remarks in Oslo mentioned today Zimbabwe, Sudan and Burma specifically. And obviously we will continue our discussions here in the United Nations and in Geneva at the Human Rights Council on what action might be desirable and feasible multilaterally. Thank you.

  For more, see this same authors piece on Sri Lanka in John Hopkins University's "SAIS Review," Summer-Fall 2009...

* * * *

UN Did Not Vet Nepal's "Killer Major" Who's Still in Chad, Misplaced Trust in TCCs

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 9 -- When a peacekeeper serving with the UN is accused of torture and murder, what happens? He or she is sent back to their country.

  For a week now Inner City Press has asked the UN about Nepalese Major Niranjan Basnet, serving with the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Chad, accused of the torture and rape of a 15 year old girl. Nepal sent him on the UN mission, for which they get paid, knowing of the allegations against him.

  The UN's chief of peacekeeping Alain Le Roy on Wednesday told Inner City Press that Basnet "is being repatriated... in the next 48 hours," that all the remains is to "make the plane ticket." Inner City Press asked how the UN vets such people before sending them out among vulnerable people with the UN's blue helmet and immunity. Video here, from Minute 48:01.

  Le Roy said that senior officials are vetted, while for lower level people, the UN relies on the Troop Contributing Country. Inner City Press asked, "how senior?" then what the UN does when a TCC tries to game the system like here: Nepal knew of the allegations against Basnet, and sent him at a lower level to escape scrutiny. Video here, from Minute 51:03

  The UN's head of Field Support Susana Malcorra specified that all "individual" deployments, regardless of rank, are vetted by the UN. This appears to be limited to force commanders and their deputies -- even so, the UN let in as deputy in Darfur a Rwandan changed with war crimes. In apparent exchange for not renewing his service, the UN gave Rwanda the higher, Force Commander post, being vacated by Nigerian Martin Luther Agwai.

  This led Nigeria to threaten to pull its troops from Darfur unless it got the Special Representative job, which was was just awarded in the form of Ibrahim Gambari, Nigeria's former ambassador to the UN. And so it goes.

Alain Le Roy and senior peacekeeper, vetting not shown

On December 3, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: Marie, I wanted to know if you can confirm that a Nepalese major serving in MINURCAT, Niranjan Basnet, who was found guilty of both murder and torture in Nepal is being repatriated from the mission and Nepalese media accounts say that the UN only vets senior officials, therefore didn’t vet this major despite the charges that were swirling around him at the time he was deployed. It’s reported that DPKO has decided to send him back. Is that true?

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: I think we’re waiting for some updates from DPKO on that issue, but I haven’t seen any yet. So if they’re listening, please send it down.

It was the next day, December 4, that the UN read out this:

And in response to another question yesterday about the deployment of a Nepalese officer to the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) has provided us with the following information:

DPKO vets all senior appointments to its missions. However, with more than 115,000 personnel currently in the field, it is impossible to vet each and every peacekeeper deployed. Therefore, the United Nations relies on its troop- and police-contributing countries -- which ultimately have the mandated responsibility for the good conduct, order and discipline of their forces -- to screen all contingent members nominated to take part in peacekeeping operations in accordance with international norms and standards.

With regard to this specific case, due to the serious nature of the allegations against Major Niranjan Basnet, who was deployed as a member of the Nepalese contingent, a decision has been made to repatriate him immediately.

But five days later, when Inner City Press asked Alain Le Roy, Basnet had still not been repatriated. Watch this site.

* * *

In Somali Chaos, Japan and Germany Offer Separate Training, U.S. Cuts Aid

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 8 -- Mirroring the chaos of the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia, donors and vultures and purported helpers are all working at cross purposes. Among the vultures we place a company called "Phoenix," which brags of having contracts with the TFG to train security forces in Jordan for deployment in Somalia. We will have more on this.

  Meanwhile while the UN claims that it alone is authorized to train Somali forces, a senior UN official on Tuesday complained to Inner City Press that Japan and Germany are moving toward doing their own trainings, outside of Somalia.

  This has reportedly angered the UN's envoy to Somalia Ahmedou Ould Abdullah enough that he has traveled to Tokyo. His spokesperson has repeatedly declined to answer questions from Inner City Press in the past.

  Three top UN humanitarian managers for Somalia briefed the Press on Tuesday, about shortfalls in fundraising. Inner City Press asked if they have solved their dispute with the United States, which slowed aid because transfers to Al Shabaab would violate U.S. anti terrorism laws. Mark Bowden, the UN's Nairobi based humanitarian coordinator, confirmed his talks with "donors," stressing that time is of the essence.

  Inner City Press asked Bowden about the UN urging the TFG president not to fire the police chief of Mogadishu, which nevertheless took place. Bowden confirmed the UN has concerned, but said they "come from the political side." Then what is Ould Abdullah doing in Japan?

  In belated disclosure of how the TFG's parliamentarians were paid, Inner City Press was told that when the parliament contained 250 members, countries including the U.S., UK and Norway paid their salaries. When the parliament swelled to 500, the UN Development Program started paying, Inner City Press was told. UNDP itself has repeatedly refused to answer questions about its funding in Somalia.

UN's Ban and Somalia's president, Germany and Japanese training not shown

  Al Shabaab has ordered the UN World Food Program to stop importing food, to buy locally or not bring food in. The Food and Agriculture Organization's Graham Farmer conceded that bringing in food aid during the harvest season depresses the prices farmers get.

  Does WFP buy locally in Somalia? Farmer said WFP tries to buy locally elsewhere, but does not do so in Somalia. Why not? Watch this site.

Footnote: Bowden's press conference was delayed, a spokesperson said, because he was blocked at the UN's visitors' entrance. Afterwards, Bowden told Inner City Press he showed his pass from the UN Office in Nairobi, but that this wasn't accepted at the UN in New York. Ironically, Kentucky Fried Chicken's Colonel Sanders impersonator got into the building with no problem, but the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Somalia was stopped...

* * *

UN's Congo Expert Covers Up for MONUC, Chides Press He Was With Under Other Name

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 7 -- The coordinator of the ostensibly independent UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo appeared in the UN briefing room on Monday to criticize the Press for focusing on portions of the Experts' report which show the UN working with murderous former rebels engaged in Congo mining. Video here.

  Even before the press conference, Dinesh Mahtani on December 4 declined to answer on the record Inner City Press' questions about the UN's role in providing logistical support to units of the Congolese army which were until recently the rebel forces of Laurent Nkunda and indicted war criminal Jean Bosco Ntanganda.

  In a large conference call at the German Mission to the UN, filled with an audience of several dozen, Mahtani said "I can't speak on the record," and referred Inner City Press to his press conference on Monday. Dinesh was introduced, by former head of UN Peacekeeping Jean Marie Guehenno, as having been a journalist in the past. Guehenno also declined to answer questions.

  Three days later, when Mahtani took to the UN's rostrum accompanied by an employee of the UN's Department of Political Affairs, he emphasized that the Group is independent. He criticized press accounts of his report, previously leaked to Reuters, BBC and others in Kinshasa, which emphasized on the findings against the UN.

  He said the report, now available online here, is mostly about two groups, the FDLR and the CNDP, that latter of which has become a part of the Congolese army. The UN's Mission in the Congo, MONUC, provides logistical support to these former CNDP units, for example one led by Innocent Zimurinda, who identified as Zimulinda is charged by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston with murder and multiple rapes.

  Inner City Press asked Mahtani if he believes the UN should be working for example with these "Innocent" units. Mahtani replied that his report mentions Zimurinda several times. But should the UN be working with him?

  From there, things got more surreal. Mahtani told one long time wire service correspondent that her question was "strange." Dinesh Mahtani, as it happens, reported from the DRC for Reuters, on other monkey business, under the name Dino Mahtani. Why so defensive?

In Bunia, mine awareness- land mine, that is, Experts not shown

  Mahtani also defended China, which is named in the report as flying in weapons without accounting for them to the UN Sanctions Committee. Defending itself is the company Niotan, identified as a wrong-doer in the report: it claims it has another name, Refractory Metals Mining Company Limited. Sort of like Zimulina and a certain Mahtani... To be continued.

Footnote: the Report at paragraph 119 zeroes in on a Western Union transfer to "the program manager of the Ahadi Institute, Edison Bashimbe Nshombo [whose wife] reportedly administers medical treatment to wounded FDLR in the region." But, hat tip CanWest, the Ahadi Institute has as a supporter the UN's own UNESCO, click here for that, and watch this site.

* * *

As Congo's Gold Hits 60 Minutes, UN Is Let Off Hook, Wal-Mart's 10% Solution

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 29 -- The Congo's conflict gold was the subject of a fifteen minute feature tonight on the American television program Sixty Minutes. A former rebel said he used collected gold to buy weapons and ammunition from the Congolese army. A woman said she was raped by men in Army uniforms.

  Sixty Minutes accepted UN escort and showed a UN camp, but neglected to mention that the UN now provides logistical support to the Congolese army, which beyond weapon sales and rape has been documented for the mass murder of civilians, by the UN's own special rapporteur and experts.

  But the UN's top envoy to the Congo Alan Doss has told Inner City Press there is not enough evidence, and has yet to act on Special Rapporteur Philip Alston's report detailing mass rape by Congo's Army. (Click here for coverage of Congo trip by Inner City Press.)

  Rather than at least mention this perversion of the UN's peacekeeping mandate, Sixty Minute showed a UN camp to which 13,000 internally displaced people fled. Bags of flour and beans and cooking oil were distributed on the day of filming, for the first time in five months.

  Neither Sixty Minutes nor the two non governmental organizations which appeared on screen, HRW and the Enough Project, explained the starvation just outside a UN camp.

UN's Ban and Doss in Congo, continuing support of rogue Army units not shown

  The point of the show was that just as conflict diamonds were focused on seven years ago, conflict gold now cries out for action.

  Sixty Minutes said without explanation that the UN tries to stem the flow of conflict gold. But if the UN is supporting Army units which rape, kill and sell weapons, and which themselves control mines, how is the UN trying to stop the flow?

Footnote: Back in the U.S., Sixty Minutes quotes Tiffany's as identifying the source of nearly all of its gold -- in Utah -- while Wal-Mart will only say that it will track the source of 10 percent of its gold by next year. If it were rap music with profanity, Wal-Mart would take action. But conflict gold from the Congo? Ten percent sourcing, maybe, by next year...

* * *

IMF Murky on Angola's Oil, Bond and China Deals, Doles Out $1.4 Billion

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 25 -- Days after announcing a $1.4 billion arrangement with Angola, the International Monetary Fund held a press conference call to offer explanations. At the end, things were murkier than before. Inner City Press asked if the IMF had been able to fully assess the income and distribution of revenue from the state owned oil company Sonangol.

  The IMF's Lamine Leigh, who led the Fund's missions to Angola in August and September, replied that "in the context of our negotiations, Sonangol participated fairly well." Inner City Press asked, since Sonangol has accounts in off shore financial centers and tax havens, if the IMF had gotten to the bottom of these accounts.

  After a long pause, Lamine Leigh proffered another answer, that the government has "committed to steps in the more general area of resource revenue transparency." But what about the Sonangol accounts?

Oil in Angola, Sonangol's accounts not shown

  Inner City Press asked about the statement by IMF Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair Takatoshi Kato that in Angola "measures will be taken to strengthen further the regulatory and supervisory framework." The IMF's Senior Advisor on Africa Sean Nolan replied that the IMF analyzed the effect of the exchange rate on borrowers and "on the banks."

  In fact, Angola's government has gotten billions in pre-export oil loans from, for example, BNP Paribas, Standard Chartered and Deutsche Bank. The latter has made similar loans in Turkmenistan, assailed by transparency and human rights advocates. How much of the IMF's new arrangement benefits these banks?

  In fact, the questioner after Inner City Press, cutting off follow up, was from Standard Bank. Other than Inner City Press, the only other media questioner was from Reuters.

  Before the call ended, Inner City Press was able to ask about Angola's reported $4 billion bond sale planned for December. Sean Nolan said that the IMF's "understanding" with Angola does involve a "fundraising effort," but that the timing was not agreed to, the IMF does not "micromanage" to that extent. Nolan added that there is an agreement on an "overall limit."

  "Is it four billion dollars?" Inner City Press asked.

  Nolan replied that the precise limit will be "clear in the documents," which have yet to be released. Why play hide the ball?

 Nolan praised the country for "appointing reputable financial and legal advisers for the transaction" -- JPMorgan Chase will be the manager.

  Nolan continued that the actual size of the bond sale will depend on how much "concessionary lending" Angola gets from "countries with a strong record of financial support to Angola."

  Inner City Press asked if the size of China's loans to Angola -- China gets 16% of its foreign oil from Angola -- were known by the IMF or considered.

  "That hasn't figured in our discussions," the IMF's Nolan responded. Why not? Watch this site.

* * *

On Food Speculation, UN's Expert Says Nothing's Being Done, S. Korean Land Grabs from Madagascar to Sudan, Brazil on Ethanol

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 21 -- After many speeches at the UN about the need to crack down on financial speculation in food, nothing has been done, the UN's expert on the right to food told Inner City Press on Wednesday.

  Olivier de Schutter, a Belgian law professor just back from a visit to Brazil about, among other things, the loss of land for food to ethanol, replied that "nothing is moving at the inter-governmental level." This despite a statement by the G-20 in April favoring the regulation of hedge funds which present systemic risk. The argument is that commodities index funds which speculate in food present systemic risk to net food importing countries. But nothing has been done.

   De Schutter spoke about the monopolization of the seed industry, and made a slew of recommendations for governments. The three top monopolizers -- Monsanto, Dupont and the Swiss-based Syngenta -- are all members of the UN Global Compact, and claim to comply with human rights. De Schutter pointed out the antitrust law is directed as national and not global or subnational markets. It is all very heady but one wonders what effect it has.

  Brazil might be one of de Schutter's claims to impact. He spoke glowingly of President Lula, saying that Brazil has said that only 19% of land can be used for sugar cane for ethanol, and has committed to monitor labor rights. But what about, for example, Indonesia and Malaysia?

De Schutter, action on food speculation not shown

  After De Schutter's briefing, Inner City Press asked his staffer for an update on the proposed land grab in Madagascar by South Korea based Daewoo, which was reputed after the coup in that country. De Schutter had been scheduled to visit, but it was put off by the coup. The same thing happened in Honduras. So perhaps De Schutter does have an effect after all, mused one wag.

Footnote: immediately after De Schutter's briefing, the UN's Haile Menkerios was scheduled to speak to the Press about Madagascar. While the UN usually compartmentalizes its work such that a rapporteur looks at land grabs, while the Secretariat remains on "political affairs" narrowly defined, this land grab played a role in the change of government. Now it's said the South Korean deal is being pursued from India, while South Korea appears to have moved on to 690,000 hectares in Sudan. 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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