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UN Dodges on Biting, Bout, Boat and Bangladesh, Flubs Iran Letter and Shriver Condolence

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 15 -- Even with the UN's Office of the Spokesperson last week holding only three rather than the normal and expected five press briefings, they still left unanswered questions about the brewing nepotism and biting scandals, mercenaries and war crimes inquiries in Bangladesh, Sudanese flogging and non-Somali piracy, an arms trader's non-extradition and a case of extraordinary rendition.

  They mis-answered by their own terms questions about Ban Ki-moon's letter to Iran's Ahmadinejad, flubbed another letter of condolence concerning Eunice Kennedy Shriver, twice misplaced Ban's vacation as being in Seoul rather than Jeju Island.

   The questions on Monday, August 10 all concerned what's now being called Bite-Gate, first reported by Inner City Press. Deputy Spokesperson Okabe said that the underlying dispute, about Ban's envoy to the Congo Alan Doss having writing to the UN Development Program urging that his daughter Rebecca be hired and that he be shown "leeway" to shift his contract to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to evade anti-nepotism rules, is being investigated by UNDP. Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: You did say that the whole thing is being investigated by UNDP’s office of audit and investigations. [inaudible] some of the complaints about Alan Doss is no longer affiliated with UNDP as of 1 July. I know that, I mean the person who filed the complaint with OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services), is this something that OIOS can look into? Who has jurisdiction over Alan Doss and basically the issues that have been raised?

Deputy Spokesperson: Right now we’re all awaiting the outcome of the investigation that UNDP is conducting into the matter, as he was affiliated with UNDP at the time.

   Later in the week, UNDP suddenly called it a joint UNDP - OIOS investigation. Ms. Okabe then e-mailed Inner City Press, requesting a re-characterization of her August 12 referral of questions to the New York County District Attorney as concerning only biting and immunity and saying that Ban expects a report on the nepotism matter upon his return to New York on August 18. Then at the August 14 briefing, or at least in the doctored UN summary, she added " a report [on what has been done to date]." We'll see.

   One Doss-Gate question that did get answered -- we noted these for better or worse -- was Inner City Press' August 12 question about the Congo as a non-family post:

Inner City Press: it has to do with MONUC (United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Can you ask them whether -- that’s a quote: “a family or non-family post”, i.e. whether staff members can bring family members to the country or not? I mean, I know at one point, at least as recently as I know, it was a non-family post, but I just want to make sure from you, whether there has been some change.

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: Well, the UN, without getting into too much detail, just to give you an idea of how duty stations work even in a given country, different locations in a given country may have different security levels. So, you know, while it may be a non-family duty station in one part of the country, you know, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the whole country is under the same security status.

  Inner City Press then asked specifically about Kinshasa. At week's end this arrived:

"Matthew, further to your question on Wednesday, please note that DRC is a non-family duty station for all UN missions, programs and agencies. Until the country was placed at Security Level III a few years ago, agencies (not the Mission) classified it a family duty station but that changed after DSS revised its security level following violent unrest after the past elections."

   We will be following up on this. Also on August 12, Okabe left unanswered questions about the restrictions on travel imposed on Lubna Hussein, slated to be flogged for wearing pants. Ms. Hussein is or was a UN staff member, while also writing for a private newspaper in Sudan -- the UN has repeated failed to clarify her status. On the travel restrictions, too, no answer came:

Inner City Press: In Sudan, Lubna Hussein has now been barred from travel. One, does the UN have any comment on it? And two, what’s her status currently with the United Nations? They say that she’s quit, therefore renounced her immunity. What’s the UN’s…?

Deputy Spokesperson: You know… let me find out more about it. I don’t have any further guidance on her today, so let me find out from the Peacekeeping Department and our Mission.

 But three days later, nothing had been provided. Nor to this:

Inner City Press: Sri Lanka has arrested, either in Malaysia or in Thailand, it’s unclear, an opposition leader Mr. (Patmen?), also known as KP. [inaudible] may extraordinary rendition, i.e., he was arrested, there was no extradition trial and now he is back in the country. Has the UN said, some people say he’s been tortured but, does the UN have anything to say about that?

Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t think we’ve received ay reports on that, but we’ll look into that for you.

   No response has been provided, even though a senior Ban advisor from the 38th floor unprompted told Inner City Press that they had been expecting the Pathmanathan question about extraordinary rendition. Extraordinary.

On August 12 Ms. Okabe did answer, at length, that "a letter did go out to President Ahmadinejad. As the Spokesperson Michele has been asked a number of times, yesterday I did confirm to those who asked that a letter did go out, as is customary at the time of the inauguration of a Head of State. But it is not accurate to refer to this as a congratulatory letter. Is that what you’re asking?"

  Well, yes. Okabe had initially confirmed to Reuters that a congratulatory letter went out, then tried to get them to remove the word. The vituperation ultimately made the UN look even worse, as Reuters ran a second story saying that the UN had reversed itself. Then the Iranian government began releasing the letter in pieces to, among others, the Fars News Agency, and it appeared to most to be congratulatory. Why not simply release such letters and let the public decide?

UN's Bans with mascots on August 12, dateline Yeosu (not JeJu, not Seoul)

  On a separate track, following the death of Special Olympics founder and all around philanthropist Eunice Kennedy Shriver, by week's end the UN Secretariat had not issued a condolence statement. UNICEF did, on August 12, and so a long time reporter who now faces disparate treatment from the UN asked if such a letter would be going out. Yes, he was told on August 13, a letter is in the works. Two more days went by and still no letter. On August 15, the Secretariat said it was still awaiting confirmation that the letter had gone out. Eunice Kennedy Shriver had already been buried.

   On August 14, beyond doctoring up the briefing summary about the nepotism scandal report that Ban's said to "expect" on August 18 -- click here for Inner City Press' story -- questions were also dodged or just not answered about a missing boat and captured arms trader Bout, as well as the UN and its Security chief's involvement with private military contractors:

Inner City Press: Bout and boats. Victor Bout -- the famous, notorious arms trader, the [inaudible] quotes have said that he won’t be, at least at this point, extradited for trial. Is that something, I know that the UN spoke about when he was engaged in his business and then he was arrested -- who in the UN is tracking it, what does the UN think should happen with this arms trader in Africa?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have anything specific on him, but there have been a number of reports in the past that the UN, UN documents, that point to his activities in the Congo and other places, so that’s where I would draw your attention for now.

Inner City Press: There’s a ship that’s gone missing, not in Somalia, but it took place in Europe and it’s now being looked for off the coast of West Africa. Does the UN have any involvement in that, or is its interest or involvement in looking at piracy limited to the coast of Somalia?

Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t know what specific report

  This missing ship has been a lead news story worldwide all week. Inner City Press followed up on its exclusive story about new UN Security chief Gregorry Starr's role in extending Blackwater's contract with the U.S. State Department, even after the 2007 killing of at least 17 civilians in Iraq:

Inner City Press: Two sets of questions: mercenaries and nepotism. On mercenaries, can you confirm that the UN in Iraq is signing an agreement with a private military contractor called Aegis that’s been accused of killing civilians, and also, that Mr. [Gregory B.] Starr, the new head of the DSS [Department of Safety and Security], was the official responsible for extending the contract with Blackwater while he was with the United States State Department?

Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing on either one of those, so we’d have to look into that for you.

Inner City Press: But, I mean, does the UN in Iraq use private military contractors –- that’s my…?

Deputy Spokesperson: I have to look into that for you.

We'll be here...

 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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