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As UN's Amos Leaves, It's Syria Only, Sudan Border Disparity Not Explained

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 28 -- When it emerged that Valerie Amos was leaving the UN and her post as Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, the focus turned to who would replace her: David Cameron's first choice Andrew Lansley, or one of Cameron's two second choices, Caroline Spellman or Stephen O'Brien, would get the (UK) post.

  The shift in interest wasn't entirely fair to Amos, who while sometimes reliably following the line of her country, which has now held the OCHA post three times in a row, also showed independence, most recently by chiding if only implicitly Saudi Arabia for trying to politicize aid to Yemen, which it has bombed.

   In her final media stakeout on May 28, however, Amos insisted she would only speak about Syria and not, when Inner City Press requested, on Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile in Sudan.

  Those areas have suffered throughout Amos' tenure at OCHA. But neither she nor OCHA explained why they made a formal request for cross border aid into Syria, but not Sudan. Clearly, the Western P3 Permanent members are more interested in Syria. But what are the humanitarian grounds, if any, for the disparity?

  Amos at this final stakeout wouldn't answer on Sudan; she said "Syria only" but then answered an obsequious question about "What will you do next?" (Go on vacation, was the answer.)

  There are still many good things to say about Amos, that got lost in the focus on which Brit would replace her.

  But that was made up for on May 14, when a large area outside the General Assembly on the UN's third floor became "Club Valerie," complete with a jazz band, Beyonce by video and Forest Whitaker in the flesh.

  This last was a propos -- one of the speeches said that Amos had toured with Idi Amin, who Whitaker played in "The Last King of Scotland."

 The first speech was by UNICEF's Tony Lake, relaying Amos' love of the Tottenham Spurs (while offering her a jersey of F.C. Barcelona, with its UNICEF logo.)

 Then came Ban Ki-moon; his security detail hushed the crowd while he spoke. He said he hope the journalists present would also come to his farewell  - then conflated all of them with the increasingly divisive and discredited UNCA, now known as the UN's Censorship Alliance, including on one of Ban's low points, Sri Lanka.

  Kung-hwa Kang recounted a story of Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, coming back to set things straight, adding that she doubts Amos will do that, instead looking forward.  She declared this the biggest party in New York City in the year 2015 so far.

  Amos herself spoke movingly, recounting a story of trying to get into Homs in Syria, generously shouting out her Syria Humanitarian Coordinator who was present, adding that she wished her parents had been alive to see her get the OCHA post.

  Amos' niece, who had introduced the speakers, added details about Aunt Val, calling her an idol growing up, like a mother. She screened a re-make of Beyonce's "I was here " video, turned into "Valerie Was Here with footage of Amos in Pakistan, Jordan and in North Korea, with Ban's adviser - now on disarmament - Kim Won-soo. The video cut off, and acting moved into what has been known as the Ex-Press Bar but should perhaps be renamed, at least for some time, Club Valerie.

  But was Amos' successor Stephen O'Brien present?

  Inner City Press was first to report Cameron's begrudging submission of the alternate candidacies of Spellman and O'Brien, and the victory of O'Brien, as credited in the Telegraph, UK Channel 4 and IRIN (which was spun off from OCHA under Amos' watch).

  Inner City Press offers this admitted partial recap:

   After taking over the OCHA post in 2010, following fellow Brit John Holmes (he of passionate ambivalence about the Tamil Bloodbath on the Beach in Sri Lanka), Amos started quietly. In 2011 when Tony Blair visited the UN, it was by her side. But she branched out: for example into Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan in Sudan, on which she always to her credit took questions.

  On Syria, Amos was unwilling ever before ISIS' takeover in Iraq to talk about OCHA operation in Raqaa; she did however get into specifics on aid workers killed and kidnapped.

   In 2014, she told Inner City Press she was disappointed by MSF's criticism of the UN in Central African Republic. But given that in 2015 it is revealed that the UN system -- not OCHA -- helped cover up rapes of children in CAR by the French Sangaris forces, and that Amos' fellow USG Herve Ladsous pushed to get the whistleblower who revealed this fired, according to a UN Dispute Tribunal rule not contested by OHCHR (only Ladsous denies it), we'd bet MSF was right.

  This is the balance, this is the dance: the MSFs and Aids-Free Worlds of the world tell the truth, and the range of UN USGs push back, some as colleagues, others like Ladsous as unaccountable drone.

  Amos was and is no drone, that we can say. We wish her well in future endeavors. We will have more on this.


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