Dodges on Burma's Border Through UNICEF Sanctions Banking to Umoja
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, September 8, updated -- With the UN's Spokesperson's Office
back on a
daily schedule, more questions could be asked last week although
still too few were answered. In cast, to start the week on August
Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe openly surveyed the room and asked if
anyone - ANYone -- other than Inner City Press had a question. Then
September 1, her associate Farhan Haq fielded a question
about a major UN program and scandal:
City Press: May I ask about, there is this draft report
on the ERP,
or Umoja project, has emerged, in which it seems to say that it’s a
nearly $300 million UN program that is both over budget and behind
schedule. Is that your understanding of where it stands?
Spokesperson Haq: What is the ERP Umoja project?
City Press: It’s the computer overhaul, the attempt to integrate
400 separate UN computer systems. It’s been bouncing around for
almost 15 years, the Fifth Committee has voted a lot of money for it,
but this report has emerged saying that there’s nothing
Spokesperson: Let me check and see whether there is anything to
e-mailed Inner City Press called it "a very early draft of the
report; since then, the text and numbers have changed significantly.
The Secretariat is currently in the process of finalizing the report.
In due time, we will be able to provide more information on the ERP
report to the press."
But given the
dollar size and history of
the project, and the re-branding as Umoja, it is telling that the UN's
Associate Spokesman asked,
"What is the ERP Umoja
September 2, Inner City Press turned to the Chinese-Burmese border,
and to Sri Lanka:
City Press: There are these reports of flows of refugees from
Myanmar into China’s Yunnan province. I’m wondering whether
either UNHCR or any UN agency is following that. There has been an
upsurge in fighting in Myanmar and people are fleeing across the
border. Are those people refugees, and if not, why not?
Spokesperson: Well, in terms of that, we had some information about
this at the end of last week. I think UNHCR did provide some
information about displacement from Myanmar, and so I’ll just refer
you to what they said and to UNHCR. [*- see update below]
City Press: Also I wanted to ask you, there is a report on something
that’s come up here, and Michèle has answered, that the nephew
Sri Lankan President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa that was an employee of the
International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda, that the authorities there
have arrested three people in connection with his death or perhaps
murder. First she’d said he’d been murdered and then she said he
wasn’t murdered. Is the UN tracking this, and what can you say
Spokesperson: We continue to get information. Obviously, this is a
person who worked for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda,
and so the Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is receiving information on
this, and we’ve been consulting with them as new information comes
out. The reason she mentioned that foul play had been ruled out last
week, that was following autopsy results. If we get further
information, we’ll reflect that once we hear from our colleagues on
the Rwanda Tribunal.
City Press: And just one more on that. There is in this schedule for
the General Assembly debate, it’s listed that Sri Lanka will be
represented at the level of Head of Government, which is the Prime
Minister. There is only one problem: that the Prime Minister is not
the Head of Government, even according to the Sri Lankan Constitution
-- he’s further down. The President is both Head of State and Head
of Government. Since the schedule of who speaks is based on this, if
a Government either misrepresents who somebody is or errors are made,
what’s done on this?
Spokesperson: As far as that goes, the Protocol Office deals with
all the respective Governments on who will be representing and what
their placement is, and they get the information about this. It
would be up to the Sri Lankan Government to provide accurate
information on who is coming. I don’t know at this stage who the
individual is who is going to show up.
Spokesperson's Office is still, as of September 8, giving out a
speakers' list dated August 14, it is unclear if this has been fixed.
Marie Okabe, at right, with UN Police: are there any OTHER
City Press also asked about the "Cuba Five" --
City Press: In the Cuban press it says that Ban Ki-moon has received
a letter from Cuba protesting the US’s denial of a visa to the wife
of one of the so-called Cuban five, Adriana Perez. Can you confirm
that Ban has received this letter? And does he believe that the host
country has a duty to allow in the wife of what Cuba calls an
incorrectly imprisoned person?
Spokesperson: First let me check whether we’ve received it, and
I’ll check and see whether that’s the case.
Associate Spokesperson later said that the letter has been received
and was circulated as a document.]
September 3, Inner City Press asked Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe
about a UN system scandal:
City Press: Marie, it’s been reported, and can it be confirmed that
UNICEF is soliciting donations through a bank that’s on the
Security Council sanction list, Bank Mali and Bank Cedera in Iran? So
the question, I guess, arises when the UN system, whether the
Secretariat believes that the UN system is not subject to the
sanctions and the directives of the Security Council. What does the
Secretary-General think of a UN agency soliciting funds through a
bank that’s also on… it’s also subject to US and EU sanctions?
Spokesperson Okabe: I have not got any updates from either UNICEF or
the Sanctions Committee on this subject, so you’d have to follow up
with them first.
City Press: It’s been some time since UNICEF and Ann Veneman or
whoever has done some kind of briefing here. Is there some way to
get, not just on this topic, but on…?
Spokesperson: We can certainly ask.
Associate Spokesperson Haq said that going forward, there will be
more briefings by senior UN officials, after Ban spoke with them.
Will this include Ms. Veneman? Another swing and a miss:
City Press: Okay. And also I just wanted to ask this, it’s just
back… In the eastern Congo, in Kisangani, there are these two
Norwegian, the Government describes them as mercenaries, on trial for
the death of a driver and they face the death penalty. Is it
something that MONUC is aware of? It’s by military court.
Spokesperson: I have not received anything from MONUC on that today.
September 8, the
two were in fact sentenced to death, and the UN has still said
nothing. On Friday
September 4, the questioning turned to the
Holocaust and if and how it's taught in UNRWA schools:
City Press: I have questions on Myanmar and Sri Lanka, but I wanted
to follow up... In what you just read out, does UNWRA teach the
Holocaust course or not? Somebody in the office said that to us that
UNRWA follows whatever the curriculum is of the host country.
Spokesperson Okabe: That is correct.
City Press: Is it possible to give just a yes or no answer. Do they
teach… what do they teach about the Holocaust?
Spokesperson: [We] read that statement to you the first day, when
you asked about Hamas’ accusations about the UNWRA programme, and
[we] did mention that the Holocaust is not taught. That was in
accordance with what you just mentioned about the e-mail that you
just received. This is in response to another criticism. So now I
am telling you that UNRWA does have a statement and that UNWRA
implements human rights, conflict resolution and tolerance programmes
in its schools and that there is no truth to the fact that they are
denying the Holocaust, which is the latest accusation that the Agency
is faced with.
City Press: Just to be clear, they don’t teach it, but if somebody
then they teach it. I want to understand what the distinction is.
Spokesperson: I think I already answered your questions.
no. Then a
return to Burma:
Inner City Press: On Myanmar, there are reports that in this Kokang
region, not in
China but in Myanmar itself, that there were UN agency staff from WFP
and other agencies that were not allowed to reach the region and now
are leaving the region and suspending operations there. Is that
something that the UN can confirm? It is also said that they were
kept there so as not to report what was going on. Can you comment on
Spokesperson: I have not received anything from WFP, but I am sure
that if you ask them, they will be able to provide you with an update
on their situation there
none has been
provided, four days later. And so it goes at the UN.
Update -- on
September 10, Ms. Okabe read this out:
been asked about the movement of World Food Programme staff at the
Myanmar-China border, and I have the following update from WFP which
they wanted me to share with you. WFP did suspend operations in the
area on 25 August, in view of the growing insecurity in the region,
and brought staff back from deep field positions to Laukkai
temporarily. After fighting escalated in the vicinity of the town of
Laukkai, WFP requested safe passage out for its staff to another
location. This was not possible for a period of four days, because
of fighting in and around the three roads in and out of Laukkai.
is not correct to suggest they were kept there so as not to report on
what was going on; in fact, WFP had continual updates on developments
from the team throughout the fighting. WFP now has a new team on the
ground and are in the process of re-starting its activities along
with its NGO partners. The situation remains stable and normal
economic activity is returning to that town.
war zone =
stable and normal, including on economic activity, per UN and WFP....
* * *
UN, From Sex Abuse in Africa to Welfare Fraud in
Paris and a Somali Warlord, Another Three Day Week
Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, August 30 --
Even with only
three UN noon briefings last week, ostensibly for the last time,
issues arose about three UN system
abusers, from child
sexual exploitation by a UN staff member in
Liberia and, it seems, Sierra Leone to welfare fraud by a French UN
official to questions unanswered since
August 24 about reported
contacts been the UN's Somali envoy and a notorious war lord,
26, Inner City Press asked
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Michele Montas about a
UN staff member in Liberia whom even the UN acknowledged was under
investigation for child sexual abuse:
City Press: they’re reporting that the individual who passed away had
previously accused of sexual misconduct while serving the UN in
Sierra Leone. Can you say whether the UN has been aware of previous
charges against him, and if so, why they moved him to Liberia?
Montas: They have not been aware.
City Press: They have not been aware?
No. Actually, they acted on complaints that they received in Liberia,
from Liberians, and they acted quite swiftly, and I have to say that
the Liberian National Police has taken that in hand and they are
handling that really in a very serious way.
But in Monrovia, the
New Democrat reported
Sierra Leone, in charge of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone or
UNAMSIL's general supply. There, there are allegations he was tied to
the same circle-sex with under age children recruited by women he
hired as "girlfriends". But when Dale Fosnight decided to
dump his Liberian 'girlfriend' for his Sierra Leone one, the lid was
removed on his alleged activities deep in video-taped orgies with
little girls, neighbors say and insiders say. His Liberian
'girlfriend,' in an apparent show of vendetta as a response to being
abandoned, blew her whistle."
And so on August
28, Inner City Press
the UNMIL employee in Liberia, Mr. Fosnight: there are now reports
there saying that he didn’t, that it wasn’t natural causes, that
he stabbed himself, and again, reiterating that he had engaged in
similar abuse in Sierra Leone, and the UN knew about it. You’d
said that the UN knew nothing and, I guess, that he died of natural
Montas: I can check for you exactly what we have on that.
Also, I’ll show you, there is a pretty detailed article that’s
come out in Liberia saying how he was found, you know, the whole
thing. I’m just wondering, because I know that the UN tried to get
out in front of it with a statement of the press release you read
know that he was put under house arrest, and what I said the other
Afterwards, the UN added
to the transcript
something that hadn't in fact been said: " [The Spokesperson
later added that the United Nations knew nothing about any past
activities of the deceased staff member. The cause of his death is
still being investigated with an autopsy to be conducted in the next
It's a big statement,
that "the United
Nations" knew nothing of complaints against Fosnight in Sierra
Leone. We'll try to see if it is true.
We question the UN's
claimed zero tolerance
policies at all levels because, as simply one more example last week,
the French UN employee exposed
for welfare fraud is still, sources
tell Inner City Press, in line for a new two year contract.
UN in Liberia, abusers not shown
28, Inner City Press asked
There is a pretty detailed
report out about a UN employee, Bruno
Bastet and that he was receiving welfare housing payments in France
while living in New York in a condominium and he was also receiving
rental subsidy from the UN. I wanted to just ask two things about
it. I wanted to ask first, why does the UN or what is the
Secretariat’s thinking on paying rental subsidy to people that
actually own, you know extremely expensive apartments? They don’t
get rental subsidy if they live in the apartment they own. But, if
they rent it out to others and rent another apartment, then they
receive rental subsidy. Does this seem reasonable to the Secretariat
Montas: Well, this is a matter, you know, as concerned that matter, you
the matter of the staff member’s rental subsidy, in the case of Mr.
Bastet, that could be reviewed through the UN internal process to
determine the accuracy and completeness of any statement and claims
submitted by Mr. Basted. So, that’s what I can say. In terms of
the actual, I can get some additional information for you on rental
subsidies, but usually rental subsidies are given for a certain
number of years to staff members coming into the system, and they are
done according to the statements made by the staff member. [The
rental subsidy declines gradually over a seven-year period, so that
eventually the staff member must adjust fully to the local market.] And
you can get, of course, full information on this. I think you
can find this on our website, about the policy on subsidies.
What I mean, because I think Marie was asked about it yesterday,
because she is quoted in this report and she says it’s entirely
legal for a UN official to own property, but nonetheless apply for
rental subsidy to live elsewhere. And I guess I am just asking, you
know, whatever the specifics of Mr. Bastet is, does that policy make
sense that… Is the purpose of the rental subsidy to give it to
somebody that can own, that only lives in rental housing? Or does
this create an incentive to actually, as they say, build a real
estate empire? Like somebody could own three buildings and still be
getting a rental subsidy from the UN. Is that…?
Montas: I’ll try to forward that question for you to the people in
On what ever timeline
that takes place, Inner
City Press is aware that its questions, above, have been submitted to
the head of OIOS Ms. Inga Britt Ahlenius -- who has yet to rule on
in the Office of the President of the General
Assembly or by DPKO's
Alan Doss, among many other pending or buried
items -- and to Ethics Office chief Robert Benson. This last is known
to be in New York, last seen strolling through Grand Central. His
action on UNDP whistleblower(s) remains murky.
Welfare fraud and
nepotism are trumped,
however, by war crimes. While the UN's Political Office on Somalia
has in the past declined to answer basic questions about its funding
and activities, such as approaching Norway to
pay for Somalia's Law
of the Sea filing made, in fact, by Kenya, then voted down by the
Somali parliament, now Inner City Press' Somali sources say that
UNPOS boss Ahmedou Ould Abdallah has sunk to recruiting war lords,
such as Mohamed Ali Samantar, who is still being sued by his victims.
24, Inner City Press asked
some are saying that Ould-Abdallah has personally invited the
participation in the process in Somalia of Muhammad Ali Semanta, who
was a warlord during the 80s Black Hawk Down era. And he actually
has a human rights case against him. Is there some way to know
that’s what many people in Somalia are saying. But it seems to be
difficult to know what Ould is doing.
Montas: Well, you just have to ask him.
City Press: I
know, but there has been some difficulty. Even on that issue of the
Law of the Sea treaty it took like three weeks and finally
[inaudible] that one. So I wanted to ask you, just a simple yes or
no whether he’s invited Mr. Semanta, and if so…
I cannot answer yes or no if I don’t know, right?
in this specific case, I have to ask Mr. Ould-Abdallah.
Five days later, there's
still no answer.
Watch this site.
* * *
Dodges on Biting, Bout, Boat and Bangladesh, Flubs Iran
Letter and Shriver Condolence
Matthew Russell Lee
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.
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.
on Monday, August 10 all concerned what's now being called
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
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?
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.
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
12 referral of questions to the New York County District
Attorney as concerning only biting and immunity and saying that
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.
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:
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
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
then asked specifically about Kinshasa. At week's end this arrived:
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."
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:
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…?
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:
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?
Spokesperson: I don’t think we’ve received ay reports on that,
but we’ll look into that for you.
been provided, even though a senior Ban advisor from the 38th floor
unprompted told Inner City Press that they had been expecting the
question about extraordinary rendition. Extraordinary.
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?"
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
track, following the death of Special Olympics founder and all around
philanthropist Eunice Kennedy Shriver, by week's end the UN Secretariat
issued a condolence statement. UNICEF did, on August 12, and so a long
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.
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
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?
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.
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?
Spokesperson: I don’t know what specific report
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:
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?
Spokesperson: I have nothing on either one of those, so we’d have
to look into that for you.
City Press: But, I mean, does the UN in Iraq use private military
contractors –- that’s my…?
Spokesperson: I have to look into that for you.