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As UN Marks Baghdad Bombing, Of Mercenaries and Silence on Internment

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 19 -- As the bombing of the UN in Baghdad, and the first World Humanitarian Day, are marked at the UN in New York, many unanswered questions remain. Has the UN really improved and depoliticized its security? The subsequent deadly bombing of the UN in Algeria tends to show that no, the UN still puts its staff in harm's way in order not to offend host countries like Algeria. Meanwhile, the UN's ham-handed approach to security reportedly involves private military contractors. Last week Inner City Press asked

Inner 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?

Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe: I have nothing on either one of those, so we’d have to look into that for you.

Question: But, I mean, does the UN in Iraq use private military contractors –- that’s my…?

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: I have to look into that for you.

But when the UN finally answered, the wider question of its use of private military contracts was ignored; only Aegis was denied.

UN's Ban and bombing victims

Subj: your question on Iraq
From: unspokesperson-donotreply at
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 8/17/2009 11:37:03 A.M. Eastern Standard Time

We checked with UNAMI and the Mission have had no contractual arrangements with Aegis nor it currently plans to enter in any contractual arrangement with Aegis.

Sources tell Inner City Press that "a few days before David Venness was replaced the UN country team for Iraq had a closed meeting at the Movenpick Dead Sea (a favorite venue for UN conferences) to discuss new security arrangements, and definitely at that time they were in advanced negotiations with a major security contractor, probably Aegis. UNAMI has employed other security companies in Iraq - e.g., Triple Canopy, I believe -- during the 2006 elections to provide armed security for UN poll observers who, of course, were prevented by their armed escorts from observing anything too closely."

Meanwhile, one World Humanitarian Day, the UN is for example funding internment camps in Sri Lanka which are now flooded. Inner City Press asked for the UN's response, including to the government's accusation that the sewage backup is the UN's fault, but so far still no answer from the UN. World Humanitarian Day? Watch this space.

Update of 10:41 am -- several minutes after the promised 10:29 am memorial, it happened, in a rush. Ad Melkert was there, and French Ambassador Ripert. Ban rushed across the lobby to the World Humanitarian Day event, complete with the screening of a public service announcement by OCHA. But still no statement or action on the internment camps it funds in Sri Lanka being flooded, the IDPs trapped amid sewage...

Update of 10:59 a.m. -- after the screening of the PSA, Ban went to sign the reception book for the photo exhibition. Tourists who'd come for a UN tour milled about. One journalist snarked, "How lame Ban doesn't take questions," and reported asking a tourist what they thought of their luck to be here on this morning and see the S-G. The tourist shrugged. Still, it seemed that the humanitarian questions, for example the flooded internmetn camps, should be addressed by one of these UN officials. Present in the lobby, in Ban's entourage, were Vijay Nambiar, Bob Orr, Kim Won-soo, and Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe. Watch this site.

UN's Ban Slammed by Norway's Juul, on Burma and Sri Lanka Trips, Should Oslo Be Canceled?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 19 -- As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon returned to New York after ten days in South Korea, soon to turn around and visit Norway by the end of the month, he was confronted by an embarrassing leak in the Norwegian foreign ministry of Deputy Permanent Representative Mona Juul's unflattering assessment of his "failed" trips to Myanmar and Sri Lanka, his flying into rages and ineffective leadership.

  That Ms. Juul is also the spouse of Ban's Under Secretary General Terje Roed Larsen makes the criticism all the more telling. What will Ban Ki-moon do?

   While Ban was in South Korea, a month after Myanmar's Senior General Than Shwe refused to allow him a meeting or photo op with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, precisely such a visit was allowed to U.S. Senator Jim Webb. When Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe was asked by Inner City Press and others if Ban had any comment on Webb's more successful visit -- he also left the country with another Suu Kyi visitor, John Yettaw, freeing him from seven years of hard labor -- Ms. Okabe tersely said no, no comment. Later her Office issued a "response to questions at the noon briefing" begrudgingly acknowledging the Webb visit.

At UN, Mona Juul (at left), Ban and trips not shown

  Ban's record on Sri Lanka has gotten even worse. During his visit in late May, he smiled as Tamil children imprisoned by the government in UN funded camps at Manik Farms were forced to sing his name. Now, those camps have become flooded, including with raw sewage. The government blames the UN, and Ban's UN has said nothing.

  What is the purpose of Ban's planned August 31 visit to Norway? Should it not now be called off, and Team Ban get back to their actual mending work -- including addressing the proliferating nepotism and corrupt hiring scandals -- at the UN?

* * *

With UN Silent on Flooding of Sri Lankan Camps, Aid Groups Plead for Release of IDPs

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 18 -- While the UN refuses to address the flooding of the Manik Farms detention camps it built and is funding in Sri Lanka, the aid groups while offer serves there have petitioned not only the government but also the UN to at least release those imprisoned there before the September monsoon season. The UN has said nothing. At the UN's noon briefing in New York on August 17, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: Over the weekend there was this flooding of the UN-funded camps, quite bad, and the Government has actually blamed the UN for it, has said the UN was responsible for building the camps and for sewage and which is now backed up and has now filled up the tents. Does the UN have any response either to what it’s going to do to solve this problem and also to being blamed by the Government for the problem?

Deputy Spokesperson Montas: We’ll try to get you something from OCHA. I don’t have anything from them this morning.

  More the 30 hours later, the UN has provided no statement and no response, even to the appeal from aid groups, that

We fear that once the monsoon rains set in after September there is significant likelihood of a major humanitarian catastrophe. Increasingly there is an overwhelming consensus amongst health, shelter and water experts that significant adverse monsoon conditions will develop in IDP sites that are well beyond the present capacity of aid agencies and the government response.

Shelter and Drainage Monsoon flooding and wind will expose structural limitations, destroying or damaging the majority of shelters. Additionally inadequate drainage will increase the risk of disease, whilst the resultant water logging will severely restrict vehicle access and hamper interventions to maintain and repair shelters in many areas.

Food Flooding will contaminate food supplies and render communal cooking areas unusable, whilst wet firewood will mean that people are unable to cook for themselves. This could lead to serious food shortages and malnutrition among an already vulnerable population.

Water and Sanitation Effluent and excreta will flood many areas of the camps contaminating drinking and bathing water and intensifying the risk of epidemics of life-threatening water-borne diseases, such as cholera, typhoid and diahorrea. Many sanitation and water purification facilities will have to be disconnected as a health and safety measure, threatening the viability of other essential facilities such as shelter.

Transport Flooding will make access roads impassable preventing food, dry clothes, life-saving medicines, and essential machine parts for restoring water and other essential aid services from reaching the affected IDP population.

The breakdown of services in these four vital areas, we believe, will create an unparalleled health risk threatening many thousands of lives.

Flooding in the internment camps: what is floating in the water?

...We increasingly believe that from a technical and logistical perspective, the present high concentration of people in such a vulnerable site as Menik Farm is unworkable, unsustainable and beyond the collective capacity of Humanitarian Agencies, the UN and the Government to manage in a way that would guarantee the safety and security of the IDP population.

We therefore urge the government and the UN to consider additional response strategies to ensure the health and well-being of the IDPs, particularly:

--An accelerated resettlement programme for Menik Farm IDPs under the government’s present 180–day program.

--Instigating a host family programme for thousands of IDPs who have access family in nearby areas. We believe as many as 50% of camp residents have relatives they can stay with during the monsoon.

We hope that you will give serious consideration to these proposals and we wish to reaffirm to you our common humanitarian concern and continuing cooperation.

    But there has as of yet been no response. It appears that top UN humanitarian John Holmes is out of the loop -- his deputy Catherine Bragg is representing OCHA on the first humanitarian day event at the UN on August 19 -- while UNHCR's country representative Amin Awad has appeared to excuse the government's detention and torture of UN staff. WFP has reportedly used Sri Lanka as the dumping place for employees it should have disciplined -- click here for Inner City Press' story.

   Conditions in the camps have gotten so bad that there is talk of an attempt to break out to survive -- or to be killed by the government. This is a low point for human rights, for the UN and humanitarian law. And it just keeps getting worse....

* * *

On Sri Lanka, UN Funds Now Flooded Internment Camps, Still Silent on ACF Killings

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 16 -- As the Sri Lankan government conducts extraordinary renditions and declares itself the winner of elections in Jaffna, weeks after it cleared itself and declared over an investigation into killings including of 17 Action Contre La Faim aid workers, the UN in New York still has nothing to say.

   Inner City Press on August 10 asked Deputy UN Humanitarian chief Catherine Bragg about the ending of the investigation into the slaughter of the 17 ACF workers. Ms. Bragg said that "we have only seen bits and pieces of the report... we would like to ask the government for the whole report." One wag asked, you'd like to ask the government -- but have you? another week has passed, and still the UN has said nothing.

   But as the internment camps that it funds are flooded, and the government blames the UN, one expects the UN to belatedly speak out this week. Back on August 10, Ms. Bragg was more decisive is answering that from the government's detention camps, the "rate of return is very low" and that the government should "allow freedom of movement." But the UN keep raising money for the internment camps. So why should the government change what it is doing? In fact, the government now blames the UN for the flooding.

Flooded camps in Sri Lanka, government blames UN

   Inner City Press asked UNICEF to "describe and quantify UNICEF's work in the IDP camps, described as without freedom of movement for IDPs, in Northern Sri Lanka, including what if anything UNICEF is doing to ensure that its assistance is not supporting a violation of international law and human rights, the involuntary confinement of IDPs." After two days, UNICEF replied that "we have contacted our country office for information on those questions. We will get back to you as soon as possible."

   We will report the response upon receipt. So too the upcoming return to the UN of Sri Lanka's new Ambassador, Palitha Kohona. Despite his hard to understand statement this year that the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay somehow did not represent the UN system in her criticism of his government, Kohona previously served as the head of UN's Treaty Section. At that time, sources tell Inner City Press, Kohona was not Sri Lankan, but rather a citizen of Australia. Expect ever greater contentiousness. Outgoing Ambassador H.M.S Paliakara stopped to say goodbye to Inner City Press, saying he is off to write his memoirs. We'll wait to fact check them.

On August 12, Inner asked about extraordinary rendition, a topic on which the UN system has spoke in other circumstances:

Inner 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?

Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t think we’ve received ay reports on that, but we’ll look into that for you.

   No response has 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 Pathmanathan and extraordinary rendition. And so it goes with the UN.

Inner City Press' June 18 debate on Sri Lanka, click here

 Channel 4 in the UK with allegations of rape and disappearance

  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.

* * *

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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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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