Silent on Boat People and Uighurs, UN Brothel and Child Porn,
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, October 20 -- With the UN on the cusp of choosing a new
Spokesperson, and according to sources also prepared to bring in a
new Director of Communications, a review of last week's UN noon
briefings finds proliferation of questions left unanswered or dodged.
In the space of five days, the UN Office of the Spokesperson said it
knew nothing about more than 250 asylum seeking boat people from Sri
Lanka who called publicly for UN intervention, nor about Morocco's
detention of seven officials of the Polisario Front regarding Western
Sahara, where the UN is supposed to be conducting a referendum.
came a week
after the Office
publicly misstated the simplest of facts, whether
new carpeting had been installed on the 23rd floor of the UN building
which is supposedly being emptied by December. Some say the UN
Communications shake-up couldn't come soon enough.
12, Inner City Press asked about the Congo and South Korea, and got
two canned read-outs, the latter only belatedly in
City Press: Senator Boxer just met with the Secretary-General. She
said, of these five names that the United Nations Organization
Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) gave to
President Kabila, that two continued serving in the Congolese army.
These were five senior Congolese army officials accused of being
responsible for sexual abuse of women. Did that come up in the
meeting and what is MONUC going to do about the two that continue
serving, according to Senator Boxer?
Montas: Well, I will have to ask. Anyway, it is something that
concerns the army itself -- not MONUC -- to keep those guys on board. I
know that Ms. Boxer discussed climate change and violence against
women. The Secretary-General said he was actively seeking early
appointment of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of
violence against women and early establishment of a single entity
dealing with the status of women. On climate change, the
Secretary-General listened to the Senator’s update on global
warming legislation in the United States Congress and voiced his hope
that progress would, or could, be made before the Copenhagen climate
change summit. This is what I know of the meeting. That is the
readout I got. Ok, in terms of those Generals, I can check with
MONUC whether those two generals have, indeed, been kept onboard by
City Press: I guess the question is whether MONUC should continue
to work with units led by leaders that have been accused by the UN of
sexual violence against women.
Montas: I’ll get your answer for you.
Yonhap news service has quoted a South Korean legislator, Park-jin,
who met with the Secretary-General, I guess some dinner meeting, as
saying he has no interest in local politics, and Mr. Park-jin said
this means there is no chance he would run for office even after
retirement in South Korea. Is that accurate?
Montas: I don’t know. I don’t have readout of that meeting.
Could we get one?
Montas: I will try to get one.
Spokesperson later added that, during a meeting with the Korean
parliamentarians visiting New York, the Secretary-General reiterated
his longstanding position that he has no personal interests in Korean
domestic politics. Since he took office more than two and a half
years ago, he has concentrated on one thing alone - fulfilling his
enormous responsibilities as Secretary-General as mandated by the
Member States. As he has often stated, serving as Secretary-General
is the greatest privilege of his life. He will remain focused on
accomplishing the weighty and ambitious agenda of the United Nations
in this time of renewed multilateralism.]
Press had asked for the read-out, the Spokesperson's office never
called or emailed it, only stuck it in the transcript. Also on
Monday, Inner City Press asked
about public reports that random had
been paid, including in terrorism suspects, for the UN's stealth
envoy to Niger:
City Press: There has been a report in Canada by the Globe and Mail
that for the release of then-UN envoy Robert Fowler, Al-Qaida and
Islamic Magreb people were released and several millions of dollars
were turned over through Baba Uld Sheikh Amalian, as negotiator. Given
that he was a UN envoy, and it’s a pretty detailed report,
does the UN have any response? Were they aware of that at all?
Montas: No, I don’t, I cannot confirm that. I can try to find out
a little more for you.
since, no information has been provided. In fact, the Office of the
Spokesperson has said it won't even state on what day Fowler stopped
getting paid, purportedly on grounds of security. Still on Monday
October 12, Inner City Press asked
City Press: Over the weekend it was reported that Morocco arrested
or detained seven Polisario representatives that had visited Algeria
and the Polisario leader is quoted as saying that the UN should
somehow get involved or monitor this. Is the UN aware of this?
Montas: I’m not aware of it and we’ll try to find out.
City Press: The attack on the African Union base in Mogadishu, there
is a report now over there that the UN vehicle may have been one
taken from UN[MEE], and Reuters reported that the UN is investigating
this lead. Can you confirm that this is the lead that the UN is
Montas: I would have to talk to people in the field to find out. I
City Press: What happened with the UN vehicles that were part of the
United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) when that
mission was disbanded?
Montas: When a mission is ending, everything is repatriated or sent
to other missions.
the eight days
since, nothing has been provided about the Polisario detentions -- a
representative of Polisario at the UN has expressed outrage at the
above quoted response -- and a response about Somalia was obtained
only because Inner City Press itself followed up with a responsive
officer of UN Peacekeeping:
the question of whether the vehicles that were stolen by Al Shabab
and later used in the 17 September suicide attack against AMISOM came
from the logistical support package donated from UNMEE:
UNMEE donated equipment, including vehicles, are in use by AMISOM and
some of these are located in the AMISOM Mission HQ situated near the
Mogadishu airport. None of these vehicles were used for the attack.
One of the two vehicles has been positively identified as formerly
belonging to one of the UN agencies. Verification on the other
vehicle has not yet been made.
the more general question as to what happens to all the UN vehicles
once a Mission closes:
the final disposition of all assets (including vehicles) is planned
in consultation with the respective asset managers at UN HQ. In this
connection, equipment is categorized for transfer to other operations
or to UNLB if it is in good/new condition. In instances where
equipment is categorized for disposal locally it can be disposed at
nominal value to other UN Agencies Funds or Programmes or it may be
sold commercially conditional on the requisite taxes being paid by
the purchaser. It may also be disposed as scrap depending on
condition, and in some instances, equipment is donated to the host
government with the approval of the GA.
October 13, Inner City Press asked
City Press: Oxfam and some other groups have put out a report on the
Democratic Republic of Congo, saying that the United Nations
Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC)
-- if harm to civilians continues to occur from the Congolese Army,
with MONUC attacking Rwandan Liberation Democratic Forces the FDLR,
that MONUC should withdraw its support from those. I wanted to know
if the Secretary-General or MONUC has a response. And I wanted to
make sure we were going to get Alan Doss in this room for a press
conference during his visit to New York, given the other issues that
Spokesperson: We will certainly try and see what kind of
arrangements we can make on that.
fact, Doss never
came to the briefing room, but instead did a stand up at the stake
out, where he was free to relegate to last the questions about
nepotism, and to leave at any time. This is still between than Helen
Clark, the Administrator of UNDP, where Doss directed his request for
"lee-way" to get his daughter a UNDP job. Despite repeated
requests, including to the OSSG, Ms. Clark in six month has not done
a press conference in the UN briefing room.
Q & A at the UN, one is busy, the other
October 14 Inner City Press asked about the Uighurs, and Cyprus
City Press: In China, in the wake of the disturbances in Xinjiang
Uighur Autonomous Region and that six Uighurs have been sentenced to
death after trials that involved no legal representation -- what’s
the UN done on that issue since the single statement by the
Secretary-General that there was some concern of unrest in western
China? What’s been done generally and is there any comment on this
Spokesperson: I don’t have any particular comment on this, but I
would refer you back, I believe that the High Commissioner for Human
Rights, Navi Pillay, also made some comments; I would refer you back
to the concerns that she expressed.
City Press: In light of the cancellation of Turkish military
exercises in northern Cyprus and Cyprus as well, did the UN or Mr.
[Alexander] Downer or that whole mission have any role in defusing
that, or does it have any comment on it?
Spokesperson: We have no specific comment on the cancellation of the
military exercises. This is something that the parties themselves
have decided upon. Obviously, any step which helps to build
confidence among the parties is a welcome one. To that end, the
leaders have been taking a number of confidence-building steps, and
we welcome those that have been taken, as well as those that they
intend to take in the coming days.
City Press: The Guardian in the UK has reported on a climate change
activist who was barred trying to travel to Copenhagen for plans for
protests at this December confab. They put it as a sign that there
may be some attempt to not allow the full range of civil society to
be present in Copenhagen. I understand the Secretary-General’s
focus is on sealing the deal. Is he aware of that, and does he feel
that even those who feel the deal that may be reached doesn’t go
far enough have a place in Copenhagen? What will the UN do to ensure
Spokesperson: Certainly there are preparations in place for active
NGO participation in Copenhagen. The Secretary-General has been
trying to hear from all points of view as he goes about this. And he
has, as you know, been widely consulting with not just Governments,
but with non-governmental organizations, and we do hope that there
will be an active NGO presence in Copenhagen.
City Press: One last thing, because it’s been hanging around. That
report that was due, Alan Doss seeking a job for his daughter in
UNDP; this happened in June. In August it was said that the
Secretary-General was expecting a report upon his return to New York.
About two months later, Mr. Doss is coming to town. So I’m
wondering what the status of getting that report and of the
Secretary-General’s thinking on this now months-old, pretty simple
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General continues to await the
conclusion of the process, and will withhold comment until that’s
done. We checked up recently and the OIOS-UNDP investigation is in
fact still ongoing.
is the way the
UN tries to bury issues. On Thursday,
October 15, Inner City Press
asked the only questions at the noon briefing:
City Press: There was a ship of over 250 asylum seekers from Sri
Lanka that was headed to Australia and was diverted to Indonesia. It’s
now at sea. The people said they are going to do a hunger
strike. It’s received a lot of coverage in Australia. Is the UN
system, including the Secretariat because of its stated interest in
Sri Lanka, aware of this and have any involvement in it or comment on
Spokesperson I’m not aware of what involvement we have. We’ll
try and check up with Office of the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees in particular, and see what they’ve got on that.
City Press: At the event you were describing on OIOS in Conference
Room 8, an issue arose about whether the Department of Management
implements recommendations by OIOS and the example given was that, in
the current report of OIOS, it states that a staff member pled guilty
to charges of possession of child pornography, but remains on the
payroll of the UN. Ms. [Angela] Kane said something about due
process, but could you explain the meaning of due process? If a
staff member pleads guilty to possession of child pornography, what’s
the process in the UN, why would it take from April to October to
take action on it?
Spokesperson: I don’t have any comment on this specific case
precisely because of our due process considerations. One of the
things we try to do is to make sure that the rights of all staff are
respected as we proceed with any administrative or disciplinary
matters that need to be taken, but we do take administrative and
disciplinary measures, and we do that in consultation also with the
Department of Management, and also with our Legal Office.
City Press: It says right here in black and white in this OIOS
report that the person pled guilty -- is it thought that this was
somehow voluntary or coerced? It took place in Canada.
Spokesperson: I have no comment on this. I do not want to say
anything prejudicial about an ongoing case.
City Press: Ms. Kane expressed some frustration that her reports on
what’s done about these various investigative findings always come
out too late. Is there some way to get a briefing both by Ms.
[Inga-Britt] Ahlenius -- it’s been more than a year -- and Ms. Kane
on this specific topic?
Spokesperson: Certainly, we’ll see whether and when they are
willing to come talk to you.
City Press: Alexander Downer, the Special Adviser on Cyprus of the
Secretary-General, has written an op-ed in the Australian press
saying that Barack Obama should return his Nobel Prize, and it goes
into why he doesn’t deserve it. What I wonder is if Mr. Downer
checked with the Secretariat before publishing this op-ed, and
whether you think that publishing it might in any way impact his
ability to work with the United States or any other Member States,
including Norway, in the course of his work in Cyprus?
Spokesperson: First of all, these are obviously personal views that
do not in any way reflect the views of the United Nations or of the
Secretary-General. The Secretary-General spoke about this at length,
about the awarding of the Nobel Prize to President Obama. I’d
simply refer you to the Secretary-General’s statement on the Nobel
Prize, as well as the comments he made to you on Friday. That’s
where we stand on that. Meanwhile, his duties continue.
City Press: Some people don’t understand, for example, Mr.
Galbraith seems to have been fired for saying publicly that there was
fraud in elections in Afghanistan. But, meanwhile, you have another
special adviser, a USG, saying that Barack Obama doesn’t deserve
the Nobel Peace Prize. Is this going to be the UN’s only response
-- is to say, look at Mr. Ban’s speech?
Spokesperson: Beyond what I have already said, I have no further
comment. The point is that this is not a matter that falls within
the Special Adviser’s remit. It’s his personal view.
City Press: But doesn’t he meet with P-5 members, since Cyprus is
on the Security Council’s agenda?
Spokesperson: Like I said, this is simply a question of his personal
view, and it’s not a matter that falls within his remit, which is
City Press: : Is the Secretary-General happy with that op-ed?
Spokesperson: I have pointed to you what our views are, which are,
as you know, very distinct.
16, Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas:
City Press: On this announcement of sending an inquiry on Guinea, was
that done with the consent of the de facto Government, or was it done
unilaterally by the UN? Was a request made to the Government of
Guinea to investigate itself? I’m just wondering how it compares
to, for example, his actions on Sri Lanka, and other cases where he
always defers to the Government.
The lead on this issue was taken by the Economic Community of West
African States (ECOWAS), which is the subregional organization, and
the UN has been working with ECOWSAS on this issue and the request
was made to the Secretary-General that such an investigation take
place. He has decided to do so.
City Press: There was also a request that Morgan Tsvangirai,
Zimbabwe, announced that he is not going to work with the Mugabe
Government anymore and seems to have requested a UN, among others,
sponsored free and fair election. Is that a call that the UN is
aware of, and would it be willing to provide that support in
We have been following this situation very very closely in Zimbabwe. I
cannot answer right now on what is happening. We have been
following the situation. As you reported, there are different,
several issues, of concern right now, political issues. Most of them
have to be resolved by Zimbabweans themselves, and we remain very
much aware and attentive to the situation.
City Press: The Congolese Ambassador in the Security Council Chamber
said that there was an incident 31 July, 1 August, in which UN
[inaudible] were involved in a brothel just outside the airport in
the Congo. And he calls it a [inaudible]. And he says where are we
on the politics of zero tolerance created in 2005? I am going to try
and ask Mr. Doss.
least, even at
the stakeout, there was a chance to put a question to Doss. What
about high UN officials like UNDP's Helen Clark, who never make
themselves available for questions? What about UN spokespeople who
promise follow up answers and then don't provide them, even mis-state
basic facts like whether the UN installed new carpeting a month
before ripping it out? Note that on the above questions, despite
already waiting since last week, Inner City Press submitted a last
request and call for answers on October 20, but as of close of business
no answers were provided. Watch this site.
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