At the UN, Kosovo Questions Glean Abkhaz Visa
Answers, Arria-Style Then and Now
Byline: Matthew Russell
Lee of Inner City Press at the UN
UNITED NATIONS, April 3 -- After a full
day of positioning in the Security Council on resolving Kosovo's status, the
question of what precedent independence for Kosovo would set inevitably arose.
Inner City Press asked U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff how, for example, Kosovo
and Serbia could be distinguished from Abkhazia and Georgia, and secondarily,
why the U.S. had denied a visa
to the (self-styled) Foreign Minister of
the (breakaway) Republic of Abkhazia. Amb. Wolff on-camera responded to the
precedent question, while not explaining the visa denial.
Amb. Wolff pointed out that Kosovo has
been administered by the U.N. for seven to eight years. In response to a
question of whether the U.S. believes that international law permits the
Security Council to grant independence to a part of a previously sovereign
country, Amb. Wolff said that the Security Council is international law.
This is a statement that will need some follow-up.
A skirmish earlier in the day concerned
whether Kosovo's president could sit at the Council table. Russia objected --
resolution 1244 says that only the UN Special Representative can speak for
Kosovo during this period -- and so a so-called Arria style proceeding was
convened, not in the Council chamber, and not officially a Council meeting. (Pay
attention, because this distinction will return.)
Next up was Martti Ahtisaari, who joked
that he hoped there were no questions left for him. There were, of course,
questions, including from Inner City Press whether he deems productive Russia's
two suggestions, that the Council members visit the region, and get a report on
implementation of Resolution 1244. Mr. Ahtisaari answered diplomatically that it
is entirely up to the Council.
UK Ambassador Emyr Jones
Parry, the Council's president this month, patiently took questions. He said the
day had been productive. On the question, from Inner City Press, of Kosovo as
precedent, Amb. Jones Parry went back to 1389, then said that in 1989 Milosevic
"threw a bomb," leading to "twenty years" -- he corrected himself, "eighteen
years." But what of
Boys with bread
After Amb. Wolff had ceded the stakeout
microphone to Mr. Ahtissari himself, a U.S. official who asked to be identified
as such explained that the visa had been denied to the so-called Foreign
Minister of Abkhazia without violation the U.S.'s obligations as UN host
country. Abkhazia is not a country, he said, and the (non-) foreign minister
wasn't seeking to travel to an official Security Council or UN meeting, but
rather an Arria style meeting. (Yes, see above.) "For bilateral reasons, the
visa was denied," he said.
in October 2006, Russian
Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that the U.S. had offered to grant the visa if
Russia would agree to certain U.S.-favored changes in the then-draft resolution
to extend the U.N. mission in Georgia for another six months. That day, Inner
City Press asked Amb. Churkin if he would file a complaint with the UN's Host
Country Committee. Amb. Churkin said yes, but there's no evidence that he did,
and now the U.S. argues that its duties as host country were not implicated, due
in part because it was an Arria style meeting that he sought to attend. As
another blast from the past -- though not all the way back to 1389 -- click
for the video as Inner City Press asked then-Ambassador John Bolton about the
U.S.'s denial of visa. From the U.S. prepared transcript:
Press: On Georgia, Ambassador Churkin said that the Abkhaz foreign ministry
called him, a person from Abkhazia. Was the U.S. embassy in Moscow didn't give
him a visa in exchange for somehow changing the language of the resolution on
Georgia -- is that your understanding of what happened? He said it right here.
Bolton: I have -- yeah, you know, I have no idea what that's about.
Sources told Inner City Press, however,
that not only had Amb. Churkin made his statement about the visa in a televised
interview which the U.S. State Department presumably monitors, but also that the
visa issue had been discussed in the Security Council consultations prior to Amb.
Bolton's above-quoted answer. Can what is said outside the chamber be
Back in October 2006,
the U.N. Mission in Georgia was extended for six months, which now run out
mid-April. In the interim, there are allegations of Russian helicopter gunship
firing in the area, and
Georgia has filed suit in the European Court of Human Rights for Russia's
round-up and deportation of Georgia. In the Council, and not only on Kosovo,
UN Office: S-453A,
UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439
(and weekends): 718-716-3540
UN Keeps Peacekeepers from Post-Coup Fiji, Has No
Comment On Role in Bangladesh Coup
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
UNITED NATIONS, April 3 -- One of Kofi Annan's final
acts as Secretary General was to say the UN would not use troops from post-coup
Fiji as peacekeepers. Tuesday Inner City Press asked the spokesperson for
Annan's successor Ban Ki-moon to confirm or deny that Mr. Ban has changed this
policy, and has told the head of the Commonwealth that "we need these troops."
"I cannot confirm this at this
point," the spokesperson said. Video
from Minute 10:05. From the
Inner City Press: There was a
the head of the Commonwealth, Don McKinnon, saying he spoke with Ban Ki-moon
about the Fijian peacekeepers, and again asked him to either enforce or
implement the idea that peacekeepers, following the coup, wouldn’t be used by
DPKO. He said, and I'm not sure if it's true or not, "Don, we need the
peacekeepers," Mr. Ban said. Did Mr. Ban say that?
I cannot confirm this at this point. I cannot confirm this at this point. I
think we have to stop here because Mr. Guehenno is with us right now.
In the same briefing,
Inner City Press asked Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie
Guehenno to describe his Department's policy on employing Fijian soldiers. Mr.
Guehenno rolled his eyes -- video
Minute 30:15 -- and then said that he would not comment on the matter.
It would appear that the policy announced
by Kofi Annan has changed. Beyond the post-coup issues in Fiji, there are
unanswered questions about Bangladesh' coup. On February 22, Inner City Press
asked both DPKO spokesmen
"about the peacekeepers from Fiji headed
to Sinai and Sudan (Q: was this in the works before the coup? What if anything
is being done on the Dec. 2006 statement that the coup could impact Fiji's
status as troop contributor?) and, more pertinent to this message, about the
Economist's recent article about a Jan. 10 communication from the UN to the
military in Bangladesh, which
the Economist concludes
may have helped lead to a coup. Does DPKO have no idea what communication the
Economist was referring to? If DPKO wasn't the origin of the 'UN' communication,
which agency or individual might have been? Please comment."
Neither DPKO spokesman, however, provided
as respect, vs. silence on Fiji and Bangladesh
is currently recruiting for a "small" (50 to 100 people) permanent "standing"
police force, to send to global hot-spots on very little notice. It's a
miniature or pilot version of an idea pitched by Sir Brian Urqhart, who called
it a standing rapid deployment force. Unlike the apparent backsliding on Fiji,
the standing force is a story which might make DPKO look good. But secrecy now
seems to rule the day. The Bangladesh story has been
against this backdrop that the United Nations, worried about the possibility of
a sham election, sent an uncharacteristic letter to the Bangladesh military
chief, Lieutenant General Moeen U Ahmed, warning him that he would seriously
risk his forces’ peacekeeping contracts with the UN if he agreed to provide
security for the elections. The Bangladesh Army contributes over 10,000
peacekeepers to the UN – more than any other country in the world -- and rakes
in a massive USD 300 million a year in peacekeeping contracts. It was no
surprise, then, that by the evening of 11 January, Lt Gen Ahmed had ordered
President Iajuddin Ahmed to cancel the election and place Bangladesh under a
state of emergency -- and to put in place a military-backed regime, which
subsequently promised a massive cleanup of the country’s politics before any new
of cleanups, we will have more in coming days about what brought Mr. Guehenno to
the UN's briefing room on Tuesday: landmines and unexploded remnants of war.
UN's Africa Report Sidesteps Zimbabwe's Fall,
Embraces Privatization of Banks
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
UNITED NATIONS, April 3 -- Africa's economic future
is painted, in nuanced but generally upbeat tones, in the 2007 report of the
UN's Economic Commission on Africa. The report was presented Monday at UN
Headquarters by Ejeviome Eloho Otobo, something of an in-house UN intellectual,
who repeatedly pitched two of his publications, one in the New School Economic
Review, the other a letter to the editor of the Financial Times.
Inner City Press asked Mr.
Otobo for his views on the economic downturn in Zimbabwe, which the ECA puts at
negative 4.4% growth last year, and which the UN's humanitarian affairs office
last week put at a 40% decline since 2000. Mr. Otobo ascribed the drop to
"political tensions," but did not explain why political tensions in other
African states, from Cote D'Ivoire to Somalia to Uganda, did not result in
anywhere near Zimbabwe's decline. Video
from Minute 36:22 to 39:32. In fact, tension-wracked Sudan was one of the eight
fastest-growing African countries in 2006.
On Monday, Ban Ki-moon
returned to UN Headquarters from a lengthy Middle Eastern trip. Inner City Press
asked Mr. Ban two Africa questions, about Somalia -- click
for that story -- and about Zimbabwe. The Harare Q and A, from the transcript:
Press: ... while you were away, on Zimbabwe, the Secretariat’s briefer to the
Council said that the situation in Zimbabwe is not a threat to international
peace and security. I am wondering if that’s the Secretariat’s view, or what is
your view on that?
SG: We are also very much concerned about
the situation in there. It is necessary for the leaders of the Zimbabwean
Government to strictly abide by all democratic rules, to firmly establish
democratic rules again. Click
ECA "Economic Report on Africa 2007" states, at page 32, that "only one country
-- Zimbabwe -- recorded a negative growth rate in 2006." On page 39, this
decline is diplomatically ascribed to "political difficulties." Inflation makes
its appears on page 41: "In Zimbabwe, inflation increased to 1216 per
cent in 2006 compared to 237.8 per cent in 2005, owing to inflationary financing
of the budget deficit." Still, Zimbabwe scored high in tourism.
Otobo, Ms. Montas, UN hand-signals
The ECA report, formally
entitled "Accelerating Africa's Growth and Development to Meet the Millennium
Development Goals - Emerging Challenges and the Way Forward," purports to deal
with the financial services sector in less than one of its 182 pages. The
report's approach is surprising: "financial sector reforms have resulted in a
gradual move towards market-based interest rate determination and curtailment of
the government’s presence in the financial sector through privatization of
government-owned banks. While these are welcome developments" -- that is, ECA
unequivocally portrays bank-privatization as welcome, regardless of buying.
In Mr. Ban's native
South Korea, banks sold by the government were snapped up by predatory investors
like Lone Star, subsequently sued for fraud. Would ECA really like to lure Lone
Star to Africa? There is no discussion of the so-far seminal African
bank-acquisition deal, Barclays return to South Africa by purchasing Absa. Given
the report's 189 pages, this deal merited discussion.
Inner City Press, in the
course of reporting on another of the UN's regional economic commissions,
ESCWA in Lebanon,
received detailed reports from Addis Ababa regarding abuses under the 1995-2005
head of UNECA, K.Y. Amoako of Ghana, including that he unceremoniously had
ejected from Ethiopia any dissenters among his ranks, family first. How these
far-flung UN commissions can remain accountable and credible is a question for
reform, and a question of the objectivity of their reports. We'll see.
As Somali Mortars Fly, Ban Ki-moon Waits for April 16
Summit, While Some Clans Are Excluded
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
UNITED NATIONS, April 2 -- As mortars fly
in Somalia, now with the
involvement of mercenaries,
the UN continues to point toward an April 16 summit which most predict will not
be inclusive. Alongside the fighting in and flight from Mogadishu, doubts have
increased about the Transitional Federal Government's commitment to involvement
any of its perceived opponents, or now-disfavored clans.
at UN headquarters, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon about Somalia:
Press: On Somalia, it was
reported that Egyptian Foreign Minister has written to the UN, AU and Arab
League, asking for immediate intervention to stop the conflict in Mogadishu. I
wanted to know if you have received that, what your thinking is?
Ban Ki-moon: On Somalia, during the
Riyadh Summit meeting, we had a mini-summit to discuss this issue, which was
convened by the Saudi Foreign Minister. It was very useful. We hope that the
Somali government will be able to convene the national reconciliation congress,
which is scheduled for April 16th. The international community should continue
to encourage the Transitional Federal Government’s efforts. (Click
While sidestepping the request for
response to today's fighting in Somalia, it is also unclear what efforts by the
TFG are being supported. For more than a month, the UN has been asked, what is
being done to encourage the TFG to reach out to its opponents?
Ki-moon on April 2, hoping Mogadishu can hold for a fortnight
On March 7, Inner City Press
submitted questions, including a request for response to a detail critique of
the TFG's inclusiveness, to the spokesman of the UN Political Office on Somalia,
Ian Steele, and to the address OCHA Online provides for its Somalia coordinator,
The latter bounced back, and Mr. Steele has yet to respond. The
web site, at least its front
page, has not been updated since January.
In the midst of all this is the affable
Francois Lonseny Fall. He at least took questions from the rostrum, at the UN on
March 14. He said, "4.5 is very important," but only defined it out in the hall.
Posts in the Transitional Federal Institutions should be given out equally to
the four main clans in Somalia, with an additional "point five" to the
remaining, smaller minorities.
But Inner City Press has received, and
provided to UNPOS and then DPA for comment, the following message and list of
appointments, which is decidedly top-heavy with one particular clan:
creates a dictator in Somalia while condemning others elsewhere
withheld in this format]
11:32:04 PM Eastern Standard Time
reports on Somalia and the incompetent role of the UN. A good question to ask
the UN is if they have monitored the basis of the TFG charter i.e. 4.5 power
sharing. This power sharing is the result of the UN sponsored meeting that
culminated in the formation of the TFG. The TFG's claim to legitimacy is derived
solely from the UN's endorsement of that agreement. Did the UN compare the
diversity in clans of the current president's staff, appointments to the
military, police, secret service, ambassadorships etc. and that of his immediate
predecessor Abdiqasim Salad Hassan. The government forces are over 90% Puntland
militia members. An op-ed article on one of the Somali websites noted that the
appointments to high military, police, security positions etc are almost all
from the President's clan. Below is an excerpt from the article...
Police Appointments: Position, Name, Clan Affiliation
1. Chief of
Staff of Military Axmed Mahdi Cabdisalaan Ogaadeen- Darood
2. Chief of
Police Ali Madoobe - Mareehaan - Darood
3. Chief of
Staff of Military Abdullaahi Ali Omar (Ina libaaxsankataabte) Majeerteen / Carab
Saalax - Darood
4. Head of
National Security Service Col Maxamed Darwiish Majeerteen- Darood
6. Head of
First Division Abdirisaaq Afguduud - Majeerteen - Darood
7. Head of
Second Division Abdullaahi Fartaag Mareehaan
8. Head of
Third Division Hiif Ali Taar Majeerteen- Darood
9. Head of
Fourth Division Col Abdullaahi Arays Majeerteen- Darood
10. Head of Sea
Port and Airport Mogadishu Joocaar - Majeerteen -Darood
On March 14, Inner City Press re-posed
these questions and demographics to the spokesman for the UN's Department of
Political Affairs. Five days later, this response arrived:
Subj: Qs, & the
follow-up on Jan Egeland, thanks
Spokesman at] un.org
11:35:03 AM Eastern Standard Time
regarding your question as to the UN's position regarding a statement issued on
6 March by a group in Somalia, I've consulted with UNPOS and can give you the
"We have no
specific reaction to the statement you refer to, which was dated several weeks
ago, but SRSG Fall and other members of the international community have
repeatedly expressed the view that an all-inclusive dialogue is essential to
peace and stability in Somalia. They continue to encourage the TFG to include
all national stakeholders who have renounced violence in the National
Reconciliation Congress planned for 16 April in Mogadishu."
Maybe, just maybe, the April
16 Congress will cure all previous missteps. Meanwhile, the UN has stood by
while Ethiopian troops took over, at least temporarily, Mogadishu, while the
U.S. bombed in the south and now sends
and while even the UN-annointed Transitional Federal Government excludes major
clans contrary to the "4.5" system that the UN calls important, without really
defining. It means that the four major clans each were supposed to get equal
numbers of government posts, with the remaining minorities in Somalia getting a
"point five" share. It has fallen out of whack, as now helicopters are shot out
of the sky. Questions will continue to be asked.
At the UN, Six Hours for Two Paragraph on Iran, Spin
Over Kosovo and Zimbabwe
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
UNITED NATIONS, March 29 -- After Zimbabwe was
discussed Thursday in the UN Security Council, the Council's president for
March, South African Ambassador Dumisani S. Kumalo, said the briefing should not
have taken place. Inner City Press asked him about a statement, just made, by UK
Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, that the situation in Zimbabwe represents "a
potential problem for regional stability."
"We held the briefing just to hear that?"
asked Ambassador Kumalo. He said no one in Zimbabwe was helped by the briefing
or the politicization. Sources tell Inner City Press that inside the closed-door
meeting, Amb. Kumalo apologized to the UN Secretariat's briefer, Rashid
Khalikov of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, for having
him in the Council instead of some other, purely humanitarian venue.
asked for the Zimbabwe briefing, which was scheduled for last Thursday, March 22
but got bumped by the Iran nuclear sanctions resolution. The rescheduled time
ended up not working, Amb. Jones Parry said, because the requested briefer was
"away on mission." Therefore Rashid Khalikov on March 29 was the choice, under
the rubric "Other matters."
his briefing, Mr. Khalikov took questions from reporters. Surprisingly, he said
that he does not view the situation in Zimbabwe as a threat to international
peace and security. Most briefers decline to opine on such political questions,
since the jurisdiction of the Security Council turns on precisely this test.
Khalikov's (new) boss is John Holmes, previously a UK diplomat, it is foreseen
that Mr. Holmes, upon his return from his visit to Sudan, Chad and elsewhere,
will be asked for his views on the briefing, and on Zimbabwe more generally.
Speaking of Chad, Mr. Holmes on Thursday was quoted both that the international
community is underestimating the problem, and that no UN force can be sent in
absent a political solution and a "peace to keep."
not Zimbabwe (or Chad)
discussion of Zimbabwe in the Council is viewed as controversial, so too is
review of Myanmar, on which Russia and China most recently cast vetoes. Inner
City Press asked, at
UN noon briefing:
Inner City Press: I saw that the Deputy
Secretary-General is slated to meet with the Permanent Representative of Myanmar
later this afternoon. And I'm wondering what's on the agenda, and whether, in
Special Rapporteur [Paulo Sergio]
Pinheiro's call for the release of political prisoners,
whether Ms. Migiro will be raising that or other human rights issues?
Associate Spokesperson: We don't often
get readouts of meetings that are held with the Permanent Representatives here,
of which there are many. But I'll see whether we can get some information once
[He later told the correspondent that it
had been a courtesy visit.]
Inner City Press: I know there's been a
request for some time to have Ms. Migiro either do a briefing here or maybe they
were going to do it at the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA)
Club. Where does it stand, to actually hear from Ms. Migiro?
Associate Spokesperson: She's certainly
willing to meet with you in a number of venues. I don't know what the
arrangements are, whether it's here or in UNCA for the next one.
Inner City Press: I guess I would like to
reiterate that invitation, on behalf of UNCA. I just think it's time. The other
question I have is: there were these announcements about what they call the
mobility posts. There's about a dozen, maybe, that were announced with some
fanfare. Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar said there were 1,200 applications. What is the
status of those? Some people are saying that some of the posts have been given
out. Is that the case?
Associate Spokesperson: I'm not aware
that any of them have been given out. Certainly none of them have been
announced. I know that I've been looking with interest, to see whether those
posts have been filled. But as far as I know, they're not.
Inner City Press: Will they be announced
when they are filled?
Associate Spokesperson: I imagine so,
yes. I don't think all of them will be announced, because many of them are
fairly low-level. I imagine the higher-level ones would be announced, as we
normally do with high-level posts.
Secretariat can issues statements and calls on human rights and suffering in
member states, but not bring the issue up or talk about it when these states'
Ambassadors come in for meet and greet. Earlier this week, DSG Migiro told Inner
City Press she wants to do a briefing. This would be the time.
Security Council action, most of Thursday was spent negotiating a mere
on the 15 UK soldiers in custody in Iran. In the late afternoon, the U.S.
mission's Rick Grenell said, on the record, "we are irritated," that if anyone
questioned the need for Security Council reform they should consider this
example, and to expect the U.S. Ambassador to come out and call the whole thing
Jackie Sanders emerged and predicted that nothing would be accomplished or
resolved any time soon. Minutes later, the press statement was agreed to. To one
reporter, Jackie Sanders subsequently explained that things got easier once she
left. After six hours on two paragraphs, some said they could understand this
apparently breakdown in communications.
was also discussed, specifically Russian Ambassador Churkin's proposal for a
Council members' visit to Pristina and Belgrade. Inner City Press asked Amb.
Kumalo if Russia's request for a report on the implementation of previous Kosovo
resolution 1244 was also in the mix. The answer is yes, but it is not clear who
will write the report or when. Slovakian Ambassador Peter Burian confirmed to
Inner City Press that his country's position, as adopted by its legislature, is
that independence for Kosovo could destabilize the region. So Russia is not
alone. Game on, as they say....
UN's Man in Somalia Says To Embrace and Not Question
the Baidoa Government
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
UNITED NATIONS, March 2 -- Jump in and take a side.
That was the message of Eric Laroche, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia,
speaking to reporters on March 1. Mr. Laroche chided most "international NGOs"
for not being where the humanitarian problems are. He urged the media to stop
referring to the Transitional Federal Institutions, restored to power by the
Ethiopian Army, as a weak government. "Call it the to-be-strong government," he
said, adding that "today there is no other alternative to chaos than to support
Inner City Press asked about a
letter from French NGO Action Contre La Faim which decried the UN's blurring of
humanitarian needs and "other political agendas." Video
from Minute 52:24 to 55:20.
"Are you the one who asked the
Secretary-General?" Yes. "I am happy to answer to you." Mr. Laroche said that
humanitarianism and politics are very difficult to separate.
"If I want to have more
victims today, I just drop the [Transitional Federal] Institutions and we go
back to chaos," he said. He added that even the 8,000 peacekeepers called for in
the Security Council resolution would be barely enough. The four thousand
actually slated to deploy will not be enough, he said. "Forget about it. It is
not enough." Video
food or gunship?
Mr. Laroche told the media to "stop
saying that the government is weak, because I don't think that it helps."
Several reporters pointed out that they aim, or should aim, to report how things
are, not how they might be in the future. Mr. Laroche countered that "as weak at
the Institutions may appear to the Somali people or to you, there is no other
He acknowledged that this government
remains based in Baidoa, and that Somalis are fleeing Mogadishu as it has
re-descended into chaos. He spoke of a TFI-sponsored conference in April and
said that elements of the Islamic Courts Union might or might not attend. Mr.
Laroche appeared to take no position on whether the ICU should be included. One
wondered, if the UN so unequivocally embraces the Transitional Federal
Government, why should it speak to its perceived enemies?
Even Francois Lonseny Fall, the UN's other
man in, or about, Somalia, says that there should be a process including the
moderate elements of the Islamic Courts. Ban Ki-moon has given the same answer.
And so while freelancing Indiana Joneses are always appreciated, this may be a
sidebar version of Jan Egeland meeting with the Lord's Resistance Army. And it
may be a one-off.
Laroche doubles as the UN's humanitarian coordinator and, it is said, UNDP's
resident representative in Somalia. He long worked with, and reportedly remains
connected to, UNICEF. He is the UN in Somalia, and he is taking sides.
This is described as the desired future of the UN "on the ground" -- a single
decision maker who fuses (and perhaps misuses) all humanitarian and development
programs of the UN.
To some, Mr. Laroche appears to have
conflated a location -- Mogadishu -- with a casting of political lots with a
Transitional Federal Government which has still not reached out to important
segments of Somali society, and which still has to gain trust and credibility,
given that it is only in Mogadishu due to the Ethiopian Army. It is one thing
for Mr. Laroche to urge international NGOs to come back to Mogadishu. But why
should they accept his admonition to not speak ill of the government?
Rift Over UN's Call to Train Police for Somali
Government Is Downplayed by UN Headquarters
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
the UN: News Analysis
UNITED NATIONS, February 7 -- Should the UN in
Somalia now help train the police force of a government carried from Baidoa to
Mogadishu behind a phalanx of Ethiopian troops?
The question is raised by a recent exchange of
letters between the UN's Eric Laroche and the Paris-based NGO Action Contre la
Faim, ACF, obtained Wednesday by Inner City Press. ACF states that it currently
has "a team of 90 Somali employees and five to seven expatriates
permanently based in the field... implementing humanitarian projects in Wajid
supporting more than 20,000 people [and] 2000 other Somali employees running
health and nutrition activities in Mogadishu for more than 5,000 people per
month, with the support of expatriates who visit them as regularly as possible."
trigger for ACF's January 21 letter was Laroche's exhortation, as now
stated on the Internet, that "there is now a window of opportunity in
Somalia to establish some degree of governance, law and order."
Xavier Dubos put it in the letter,
"the press release states a range of
various activities prioritized by the UN which mix for example the 'training of
police', 'the demobilization and reintegration of militias' and the 'provision
of urgently needed basic social services.' ACF is fully aware of a general trend
by governments and the United Nations to develop integrated, coherent policy
approaches to international conflict and instability, combining political (and
sometimes military) and aid instruments. But we wish to alert OCHA about the
real risks created in the field by mixing the need for humanitarian aid and
other political priorities. Besides inherent challenges, in this complex
context, quick intervention in inadequate conditions or misperception by local
actors of the impartiality and political independence of humanitarian workers
may simply put the latter in danger and hamper humanitarian access and
assistance to the populations in the short term and in a durable manner.
These precautions are even more
relevant given the current tense security context in Mogadishu. Humanitarian aid
must be solely based on the needs of the population and strictly guided by
humanitarian principles, especially impartiality and independence. One could
expect that, given its specific mandate, OCHA and the Humanitarian Coordinator
could strengthen the necessary distinction between humanitarian activities and
any political agenda."
February 5, having heard about this letter but not yet having a copy of it,
Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesman, as
by the UN:
Inner City Press: Thanks, and also,
referring to a letter by the NGO "Action Contre la Faim" to Eric Laroche, the
Somali representative of the UN, basically criticizing Mr. Laroche for siding
too clearly with the Ethiopian incursion and sort of taking almost a US side. I
want to know if there’s any response to that analysis and if it can be confirmed
that the letter was received, and what response is being sent?
Spokesperson: I cannot confirm this at
this point. I don’t have any information on that.
Inner City Press: Can you get
confirmation on that?
The following morning, the Spokesman's
Office told Inner City Press that
"Yes, there was
a letter from Action Contre la Faim to the Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia
(Eric Laroche). ACF was discussing its views on priorities for humanitarian
action in Somalia and their take on the current security situation. There was
nothing in the letter that remotely suggested Eric was 'siding with the
Ethiopians.' Eric has now responded, reaffirming the UN position that there now
exists a window of opportunity to reengage in Somalia on a humanitarian level."
The UN did not provide a copy of Mr.
Laroche's letter, much less of ACF's. But on February 7, Inner City Press
obtained both. The ACF letter does, at least "remotely," suggest that by
"training the police" in Somalia -- which has in the past two months faced an
incursion by Ethiopian troops with American support, and American gunship
attacks on southern Somalia -- the UN is "mixing the need for
humanitarian aid and other political priorities" raising questions about
"impartiality and political independence." The ACF letter cannot legitimately be
characterized as a discussion of "priorities for humanitarian action," because
it characterizes some of the UN's stated priorities as not only not a
priority, but as inconsistent with humanitarian action. It's a debate that needs
to be had, but one that the UN appears to want to prevent or to sweep under the
Laroche's response does not fully address the issue. Laroche argues that
training the forces of the Transitional Federal Government might increase
security and humanitarian access. Time alone will tell if this argument is true.
But it is an argument, being made by the UN in the field. After Wednesday's
noon briefing, Inner City Press sought an answer to these questions from the
Office of the Spokesman staff who had written that
"there was nothing in the [ACF] letter that remotely suggested Eric was 'siding
with the Ethiopians.'" This staffer said, "I can't give you the letters," and
then seeing that Inner City Press had them, added "I've said all that I can
While it may not be necessary to say, this spokesman is otherwise helpful and
civil and more, even on Wednesday, for example, on a question about Abkazhia.
Mr. Laroche's previous work, in Congo-Brazzaville and elsewhere, has been widely
praised. But why would UN
headquarters want to muffle its field workers' arguments and the debates with
civil society of which they are a part? Developing.
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