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UN Has No Comment on Ethiopia Jailings, Congo Crackdown, Sheltered Bissau Putschist

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 27 -- With the UN's need and one would think desire for information from war zones, when a country arrests and imprisons journalists trying to shine light on otherwise under-reported conflicts, one would expect the UN to say something.

  But in the case of the two Swedish journalists charged, convicted and now sentenced to 11 years in Ethiopia for covering the Ogaden conflict, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye, the UN's Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has had nothing to say.

  On December 21, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky about the case, but was told that it "is not necessarily something that the Secretary-General himself would comment on. But, it may be that there is a comment from somewhere else within the UN system. Let me find out."

  Six days later, having gotten back no comment or response, Inner City Press raised the case again, along with two other questions submitted at noon on December 27:

"In Ethiopia, now the EU has joined others in denouncing the 11 year sentences for two journalists who were covering the war in Ogaden. Now does the UN have any comment, despite or more appropriately because the Secretary General put Ethiopia's leader atop one of his Sustainable Development panels? When did the S-G last speak with Meles Zenawi? Did the S-G raise this issue?"

  At 5:15 pm on December 27, Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson's office told Inner City Press, "On the Swedish journalists, we don't have any comment at the moment but if that changes we'll let you know."

  A nearly identical response was given to Inner City Press' question on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the looting of the headquarters of opposition figure Etienne Tshisekedi: "we've asked and should we receive an update we'll let you know."

(c) UN Photo
Ban Ki-moon & Meles Zenawi, jailed journalists not seen or commented on

  Silence by the UN about the dubious election in the DRC has been a pattern. Inner City Press also asked about it on December 21:

Inner City Press: MONUSCO had said that there should be some, you know, inquiry into the way the elections were held. At least my understanding is that they said that there were things that should be looked at. Now, the Supreme Court has, without any changes, upheld the results and Joseph Kabila has been re-inaugurated, and I wonder if MONUSCO thinks that things were sufficiently looked at before those two events took place.

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, as we have said on a number of occasions, it is important that election disputes should be settled through peaceful means, and through established institutions. And in addition, the Mission has also strongly urged the independent national electoral commission to undertake a really rigorous review of those issues that were identified by observer missions. And that review should be with the full participation of witnesses and observers, including foreign observer groups. So, I think that’s where we are with that. As you well know, I have already said — and the Mission has said — that it noted with deep concern the findings of these various observer missions relating to the irregularities in the management of the results process. So, if I have anything further, then I would let you know. And in the meantime — just to reiterate that it is really important for those parties, or all parties and political actors, to desist from incitement to violence and confrontation and to essentially exercise restraint in what is obviously a complex situation at the moment.

Inner City Press: it’s kind of an obvious follow-up, but I just mean, even if the electoral commission looks into it, he has already been inaugurated and the Supreme Court already signed off on it. So, I mean, I understand the UN can’t really stop either of the two things, but did these seem inconsistent with the call to look into these things, or is it just to look into them after those two events have…? Do you see what I mean?

Spokesperson: Yeah, I understand what you are saying Matthew, and the Mission is obviously following what is going on in the country. And if I have anything further, I will let you know. The bottom line here, at the moment, is that it is still incumbent on the authorities to ensure — and by the authorities here I mean the electoral commission — to look into and review the findings of the observer missions from different quarters. And that is important not just for the here and now, but for the future.

  So in the face of an election widely reported as polluted by fraud, the UN says that an investigation of it can be "for the future." Some note that they did not say that in Cote d'Ivoire....

  The only one of Inner City Press' three December 27 questions that the UN did answer, at least indirectly, concerned Guinea-Bissau. Inner City Press asked:

"On Guinea-Bissau and the coup d'etat attempt there, please provide not only Mr. Mutaboba's but also the Secretariat's comments on events, including the actions and arrest of navy chief Rear Adm Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto - particularly because the UN Mission there sheltered him, a declared drug kingpin."

  Three hours after this question was submitted, Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson's office issued a statement on Guinea-Bissau, stating in part that

"The Secretary-General condemns the use of force to settle differences in Guinea-Bissau. The primacy of the lawful civilian authorities according to the constitution must be respected. The Secretary-General also encourages the authorities of Guinea-Bissau to respect due process in the investigation of the reported events. The Secretary-General is following the situation in Guinea-Bissau and reaffirms the support of the United Nations to the peacebuilding process in the country."

  This of course does not address the UN's special role with regard to Rear Adm Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, a declared drug kingpin sheltered by the UN Mission there. At 5:15 pm on December 27, Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson's office told Inner City Press, "On Guinea-Bissau, you will have seen the statement we issued. We don't have anything further." And so it goes at this UN. Watch this site.

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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

Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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