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Sudan Trip by UN Council Stalled by Bashir Photo Op Concerns, P-2 Discussions

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 17 -- The Sudanese trip of the UN Security Council, initially slated for early October, is in jeopardy of being canceled. Sudan has indicated that if the Council visits, a meeting and photo opportunity with the country's President would be required.

This week several Permanent Five members of the Council told Inner City Press that their Ambassadors could not meet with Omar al Bashir, due to his indictment by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide.

While this prohibition is presented as a matter of law, three of the Permanent Five are not members of the ICC, and therefore appear under no prohibition from meeting with indictees. Thus it is a matter of choice, of politics and of perception.

On September 16, a self described senior US official told Inner City Press that

With respect to a potential Security Council mission [to Sudan], we've talked informally in the Security Council since the beginning of the year [including] about the obvious complication that such a trip poses. You guys know that the Security Council referred the issue of Sudan to the International Criminal Court, and there the outstanding indictments, and that's a political fact. We have some legal realities that can't be ignored. We're still frankly talking amongst ourselves about how to deal with them. And it's not clear whether they can be dealt with adequately to enable a trip in the near term.”

  A non-Permanent member of the Council that is a member of the ICC but say it would, given the stakes for Sudanese civilians, be willing to go and meet Bashir complained to Inner City Press that so far the discussion of this issue has been confined not even to the full P-5, but rather to the assigned leaders of different legs of the trip as planned: the US (for South Sudan) and the UK (for Darfur).

  "Real diplomats don't run scared of photo ops when people are threatened with death," the complainant argued to Inner City Press.

  Inner City Press asked the senior US official about this concern and the response was that “We always have conversations about P-5 and those conversations always end up in the larger Council.” The US official added that of course, approval of any trip would require the involvement of all 15 member of the Council. But cancellation of the planned trip can be done by a mere two members?

Bashir with UNAMID's Gambari, April 2010, US/UK not shown

  With the high profile September 24 meeting on Sudan at the UN coming closer, some wonder if with the involvement of Sudanese Vice President Taha and US President Obama, the stumbling blocks could be overcome.

  Among the suggestions are that some Ambassadors simply stay in their hotel while others meet Bashir, or that they attend but not shake Bashir's hand.

  Inner City Press covered the Council's 2008 trip to Sudan (as well as Kenya, Djibouti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Cote d'Ivoire) and witnessed then US Deputy Permanent Representative Alejandro Wolff, UK Permanent Representative John Sawers and French PR Jean Maurice Ripert meeting with Bashir and other Sudanese officials.

  That was then; this is now. Watch this site.

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UN's Amos on Working With Sudan Gov't, Justifies Withholding of Darfur Data

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 15 -- A month after the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it would provide Darfur malnutrition data to the Press in “one or two days,” new OCHA chief Valerie Amos responded that the UN has been slowed by trying to do “joint assessments” with Sudan's government.

Already, the peacekeepers of UNAMID in Darfur refuse to leave their bases to protect civilians without getting approval from the Sudanese authorities. But why would the UN's ostensibly independent humanitarian arm tie its ability to release information about malnutrition to obtaining the joint agreement of the very government accused of playing a role in the starvation?

Inner City Press asked more generally what Ms. Amos will do about humanitarian, not only in Jebel Marra in Darfur, from which NGOs have been barred since February, but also Waziristan in western Pakistan, blockaded by the military and subject to done strikes in the US. Video here, from Minute 11:53.

Ms. Amos began by saying that the “independence and impartiality of humanitarian workers” cannot be compromised by the UN. Then, by referring to security and the “duty of care,” she compromised it. Sudan, for example, tells the UN it cannot guarantee its safety, a code word for: don't go.

Most recently, local authorities in West Darfur have come up with a strategy of “persona non grata by another name,” saying that UNHCR and FAO officials in Darfur are not safe and should leave.

What does Ms. Amos think of these government announcements?

UN's Ban and Ms. Amos, access and Darfur starvation data not yet shown

 Does she believe that the UNHCR officials have a right to distribute rape detection equipment? That FAO can circulate petitions against hunger? These are the grounds on which the UN officials were told they are not safe and should leave. What will Ms. Amos do? Watch this site.

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On Sudan, UN Ban Admits Limits on Peacekeepers, Gambari Summoned, Change Pledged

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, September 9 -- In Darfur a week ago, UN Peacekeepers refused a request by the relatives of those killed and injured by janjaweed in the Tabarat Market to go to the location and try to protect those injured.

  Inner City Press obtained and published an internal document of the joint UN-African Union Mission in Darfur, UNAMID, which said that approval had to be sought before the peacekeepers could go even to a site where injured people were dying.

  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held a brief media availability on September 9, and Inner City Press asked him about the Tarabat Market killings, the restrictions on movement on UNAMID, and the failure of the other UN Mission in Sudan, UNMIS, to view the body of killed Darfuri student Mohamed Musa when they were told of his death on February 12 of this year.

  Mr. Ban acknowledged problems in obtaining the “support” of the Sudanese government, and said that he summoned UNAMID chief Ibrahim Gambari to his recent retreat in Austria to discuss these and other problems. The Justice and Equality Movement rebels in Darfur have demanded Gambari's resignation for failure to protect civilians.

  While Ban's candor was surprising to some, to characterize the UN's decision to await approvals before endeavoring to protect civilians as a problem of “administrative support” from the Sudanese authorities misses the point.

  A billion dollars are being spent on each mission, UNAMID and UNMIS. They have armed peacekeepers, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters which they have allowed Sudan to block them from using.

Since these restrictions violate the status of forces agreements the UN has with Sudan, it is unclear why the UN -- or mission chiefs Gambari and Haile Menkerios -- accept the restrictions.

   Both went to the inauguration of Omar Al Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide. Menkerios, the UN has admitted to Inner City Press, simply wants to return to New York in a year's time. He rarely speaks to the press in Sudan. He doesn't want to rock the boat.

Here is the UN's transcript of Inner City Press' questions and Mr. Ban's responses, video here --

Inner City Press: It turns out that, despite the protection of civilians mandate of UNAMID, that in several recent instances, peacekeepers have been telling relatives of victims that they need to get approval before they can leave their bases to go out. Most recently it was at the Tabarat market in Jebel Marra. They told them that they had to get approval before they could go. By the time they went, some people who had been injured were in fact dead. So what I am wondering is, what is the policy of the UN in terms of seeking approval from the Government? There is also a case in Khartoum in which a dead Darfuri student that was allegedly tortured, UNMIS (UN Mission in Sudan) was unable to get access to his body until it was too late. So, what is the policy of the UN in terms of its freedom of movement to protect civilians in Sudan?

SG Ban Ki-moon: In some cases it is true that there was some difficulty in getting smooth administrative support from the Government of Sudan. That has been the subject of continuous consultation with the Sudanese Government. During my visit to Austria last week I called in Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari to Vienna, and I got a briefing on the situation and how we can ensure a smoother and more effective coordination and support from the Sudanese Government. We are aware of such problems and we will continue to improve the situation.

Inner City Press: Does it violate the Status of Forces Agreement, that the UN hasn’t been to parts of Jebel Marra since February? That is what John Holmes said before he left, that there are whole regions of Darfur they haven’t been able to reach.

SG Ban Ki-moon: There is a Status of [Forces] Agreement, of course. They should be faithful to provide the necessary support and cooperation. In reality, when we are not able to get such support, it really constrains the movement of our people and peacekeepers. We will do our best to improve this situation.

Watch this site.

UN's Ban and Bashir shake hands, protection of civilians not shown

Here is the UNAMID document obtained by Inner City Press:

At about 1800hrs on 02 Sep 2010, UNAMID Police Advisors received unconfirmed information from locals in Tawilla IDP camp that unidentified armed men attacked Tabarat Market near Maral village about 28kms southwest of Tawilla, where about 30 people were killed and more than 70 others were injured.

The information was received by the PF Force Commander Major Aimable Rukondo from relatives of victims in Tawilla IDP camp. At about 2030hrs, people from the Tawilla IDP camp gathered near the gate of Tawilla UNAMID Base requesting for assistance to evacuate their relatives who were in Tabarat market. The PF Commander together with the Acting Team Site Commander advised the relatives that prior approval from El Fasher Headquarters is needed before proceeding to the place and with that they were advised to be back to Tawilla Base tomorrow morning for possible medical evacuation movement to Tabarat market once it has been approved by the higher Headquarters.”

Here's from the UN transcript of its September 7 noon briefing; the September 8 is online here.

Inner City Press: There’s also, and I’m sure African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) is aware of this, reports that UNAMID said they confirmed some of, of up to 37 people killed in a village, in a market — Tabarat Market near the town of Tawilla — that said that the United Nations peacekeepers were told of the attack and said that they could not go to pick up even the wounded until they got approval from Al-Fasher. What I want to know is whether, how long it took them to respond and whether this approval included approval from the Government in Khartoum and if so, whether if any of the people expired there of their injuries might have been saved had the United Nations actually gone to protect civilians?

Spokesperson Haq: Well, first of all, this process of approval is a standard procedural process. But in terms of the details, on 4 September a UNAMID patrol gained access to the Tabarat area. It observed that Tabarat was practically deserted and reported the presence of Government police in the area. Today, 7 September, a UNAMID mission travelled to Tawilla to further assess the impact of the violence. UNAMID has made efforts to assist in evacuating some of the injured victims by air to Al-Fasher. In terms of our estimated casualties, the Tabarat incident left more that 50 people dead and a large number injured.

Inner City Press: Tawilla, to my understanding there’s a Peacekeeping unit there… that there are peacekeepers stationed there. Is that true? So did UNAMID sort of buttress its presence there and why weren’t those people able to go after they were told by relatives of those injured that this attack had taken place in the market?

Spokesperson: I think I have some further details for you for afterwards, but basically in terms of the ability to gain access, as soon as we gained access, that was on the 4 September, a UNAMID patrol did go into the area. The difficulty is in dealing with access to areas on the ground.

Inner City Press: Just one last… that means that… somebody there gave me a copy of a United Nations document showing that the relatives of the deceased or the injured had approached the UN peacekeepers of Tawilla and were told “we can’t go there tonight. We have to come back tomorrow because we need approval from Al-Fasher.” And I’m just wondering, how does the approval process work? Is it as simple as calling UNAMID in Al-Fashir and they say yes you can go out, or does it involve reaching the Government if their offices are closed or not and how does it…

Spokesperson: It varies from case to case, but ultimately it depends on dealing with authority on the ground to make sure that approval is in place for our deployment.

 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.

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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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