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As Morocco Expels Western Sahara Activist, Silence at the UN

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 17 -- Given the UN's role in Western Sahara, one might expect the Organization to have at least some comment when Morocco expels a noted human rights activist like Aminatou Haidar. But on November 17, Inner City Press asked both the Associate Spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon and this month's Security Council president about the expulsion, and neither had anything to say.

  The UN's Farhan Haq said only, "we'll check with MINURSO," the UN Mission there. Video here, from Minute 13:05. But what of Christopher Ross, Ban Ki-moon's envoy on the issue? What of the Secretary General himself?

  Austrian Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting, as Council president, said that "the issue has not been raised by anyone in the Council." Video here, from Minute 5:01.

Children and tire in Tindouf camp

  Some have noted in the Obama Administration a praising of Morocco's human rights record that may have emboldened and enable the expulsion. France, of course, is a major supporter of Morocco. With South Africa off the Council, no one is raising it. One wonders what incoming Council member Nigeria's position will be.

  Mayr-Harting went out to refer to "an informal meeting in Austria some time ago." But what about the imprisonment of Polisario leaders, and the expulsion of Aminatou Haidar? Watch this site.

* * *

In UN, Africa Poised to Be Denied Deputy Post at UNDP, Ambassadors Complain

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 17 -- A continental battle is underway in the UN system, with Africa poised to once again lose out. When New Zealand's Helen Clark was named Administrator of the UN Development Program, several African ambassadors tell Inner City Press, their understanding was that the number two job in UNDP would go to the developing world, specifically to Africa.

Now, Ms. Clark and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon are said to be near naming a Costa Rican, Rebecca Grynspan, as the UNDP Associate Administrator. "Africa is being humiliated again," a well placed source told Inner City Press on Tuesday, hearkening back to Mr. Ban's merger of the Office of the Special Advisor on Africa with an unrelated small island and landlocked states position.

Despite repeated protests from the African Group and the General Assembly, Mr. Ban has yet to reinstitute a stand alone Office of the Special Advisor on Africa. Now, in what's seen as a further insult to the continent which makes up over half of the agenda of the Security Council and most UN agencies, word is he is choosing a Latin American over, for example, a candidate from Cameroon.

Several African Ambassador were scornful of Ms. Clark's accomplishments to date at UNDP. "Name one thing that she has changed," a well placed North African source asked, adding "she is seeking advancement, even to be Secretary General if the change presents itself." Ms. Clark appears to use her UNDP post to promote herself in New Zealand. Inner City Press has repeatedly asked that Ms. Clark hold a question and answer session with the Press, but instead Ms. Clark and her long time chief of staff Heather Simpson try to micro manage media relations, even choosing which reporters they want from those wire services granted interview rights.

UNDP has still failed to rule in its investigation of nepotism in the hiring of the daughter of the UN's top Congo envoy, Alan Doss. UNDP has refused to answer questions about irregularities in its China office, and about other hirings that internal UNDP whistleblowers call nepotism.

UN's Ban and Helen Clark, UNDP #2 post and Africa not shown

 UNDP's highest profile whistleblower, who the UN Ethics Office said should be awarded back pay for due process violations, is still in limbo, without compensation and with UNDP -- and the UN Office of Legal Affairs -- arguing that the Ethics Office's recommendation is irrelevant.

UNDP preaches about the rule of law, but several African ambassadors who approached Inner City Press say they are being cheated. Watch this site.

* * *

As Blair Lobbies for Wataniya, Do Kuwait and JPM Chase's Arranger Role Spell UN Conflict of Interest?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 13 -- When Tony Blair does business, who does he work for? He represents the Quartet, and thus the UN, on development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He has been paid by JPMorgan Chase as a consultant, and presumably works for them. When he acts in the West Bank for the Wataniya cell phone company, who is he working for?

  The UN has repeatedly claimed that there would and could be no conflict of interest between Blair's paid position for JPMorgan Chase and his work in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. When Inner City Press asked Blair, after a meeting of the Quarter in the Conference Room 4 in UN Headquarters, about any safeguards in place for his UN and JPMorgan Chase roles, he scoffed. A Blair staffer confirmed that he continued in JPM Chase's employ.

  This week, Tony Blair attended a press conference announcing the finalization of Wataniya's deal, which Blair "negotiated." At the UN noon briefing on November 11, Inner City Press asked about this last:

Inner City Press: yesterday, Tony Blair was in Ramallah, and he’s described as having negotiated on behalf of a cell phone company with the Israeli Government. There’s a whole press conference also that noted his role for the Quartet and for the UN. So I’m wondering, did he do this on behalf of the Quartet and the UN and what is the UN’s knowledge, do they have any knowledge on this business negotiating activity?

Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe: I have no knowledge of that.

  Even forty six hours later, no answer has been provided. But even cursory research reveals that Blair's employer JPMorgan Chase served as a "mandated lead arranger" for the acquisition of Wataniya. Click here for the document.

  So again, what safeguards are in place? Who is Tony Blair working for?

  Tony Blair Associates has as a client Kuwait, and by implication its royal family, while Blair has met with the finance minister of Kuwait while representing JPMorgan Chase. Wataniya Palestine is substantially (57%) owned by investors from Qatar and... Kuwait. For the former, it's Qatar Telecom. But for the later, it's the Kuwait Investment Authority, which operates on behalf of the State of Kuwait -- Tony Blair Associates' client.  So when Blair lobbies for Wataniya, who is he representing?

Tony Blair and UN's Ban, JPM Chase safeguards not shown

  While awaiting the UN's answers, we note that in June 2009, "Wataniya Palestine CEO Alan Richardson recently called on Middle East envoy and former British prime minister Tony Blair to intervene on behalf of Wataniya to get the frequency released. Richardson previously has been involved in controversial cell phone projects in Iraq, with Orascom and Iraqna, contracts which the U.S. Pentagon urged the Coalition Provisional Authority to cancel.

  So to the degree Tony Blair is working for Richardson, this too is problematic. But beyond the UN and Quarter, is Blair working for Kuwait? With JPMorgan Chase's documented mandate lead arranger role for the acquisition of Wataniya, there is a conflict which, it would seem, will require action. Blair is dismissive, and the UN appears cowed. Watch this site.

* * *

Were Galbraith's Oil Interests As Undisclosed at UN as at Opinion Pages He Wrote For?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 12, updated Nov. 13 -- Following reports that former UN Deputy Special Representative to Afghanistan Peter Galbraith's oil investments are worth up to $100 million, Inner City Press on November 12 asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe if Galbraith disclosed this interest in his financial disclosure form.

  Ms. Okabe stated that such forms are filled out when a person joins the UN at the level Mr. Galbraith did, and are "vetted by a professional firm," namely PriceWaterhouseCoopers. But did Galbraith make the disclosure which it's now clear was required?

   Ms. Okabe refused to answer, instead referring the question to UN Ethics Officer Robert Benson, who oversees the financial disclosure regime. Inner City Press asked Mr. Benson by both e-mail and telephone, early and late on the afternoon of November 12, but received no answer by the evening.

 Update: on November 13, UN Ethics Officer Robert Benson wrote to Inner City Press that "The Ethics Office can confirm that although Mr. Galbraith is no longer with the United Nations, he was a participant in the United Nations Financial Disclosure program following his appointment; however, as provided for in GA Resolution A/RES/60/238, the information disclosed remains confidential."

   Inner City Press is informed that Galbraith is now being barred from the op-ed pages of major American media based on his failure to accurate disclose his financial interests. The New York Times confirmed this on November 13. Galbraith is arguing that he didn't read the form, a strange argument for a diplomat who argued that the U.S. didn't have to comply with UN Security Council resolutions regarding the Balkans as long as they were under Chapter VI and not VII of the UN Charter.

   Earlier, just after Galbraith was fired by Ban Ki-moon, Ban's deputy chief of peacekeeping Edmond Mulet told the Press that Galbraith had some ulterior motive which would soon become clear. On November 12, Inner City Press asked an involved UN official if Mulet had meant the oil investments, or that he might want to run for lieutenant government of Vermont. "The latter," the official said. Only at the UN.

Galbraith and Scott Ritter, disclosure of $100 million oil investment not shown

   From the November 12 transcript:

Inner City Press: ...about Peter Galbraith, former Deputy UNAMA representative and his interest in oil contracts in northern Iraq. I wanted to know when he became a Deputy Special Representative, did he fill out the financial disclosure forms, and I’d also like to know whether this investment was disclosed in those forms.

Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe: As you know, the financial disclosure forms are something that the Secretary-General has instituted, it’s part of his UN reform, and all staff, once they’ve joined the Organization as senior staff and those in positions that require financial disclosure, are required to fill that form out upon entry into the Organization. So it’s a requirement.

Inner City Press: [inaudible] It seems, this article would make it important to know whether this, they say the investment is worth up to $100 million, whether that was disclosed in the form and if it wasn’t, what were the reasons…?

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: As you know, these forms are vetted by a professional firm and if they see fit that they need to follow up on any questions that they have, that is done. I think Robert Benson, when he was here last time, gave you a briefing on how that procedure works. And just because they are not made public, it does not mean that they have not been vetted, and the firm that goes through it does the vetting and if they have any questions, they do get back to the staff member and do the follow-up on that.

Inner City Press: [inaudible] is it possible to just, and I don’t expect you to do it right this moment, but to get a yes or no answer, whether that investment was disclosed in the forms. Is that going to be possible?

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: You know, you can ask that to Robert Benson, but that’s his call.

  But Benson has yet to return a call, nor an e-mail asking the above and the following questions, below.

Update of November 13, 2009 -- the following was received:

Subj: Re: Press questions,Galbraith, whisteblowers etc, thanks in advance
From: Robert Benson [at]
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 11/13/2009 9:23:56 A.M. Eastern Standard Time

Dear Mr Lee:

Responses provided:

Hi. At today's noon press briefing, I asked if Peter Galbraith (until recently Deputy SRSG in Afghanistan) had filled out a UN financial disclosure form, and separately if he had disclosed the oil interests in Iraq reported in today's NY Times.

Marie Okabe referred me to you on both questions.

A1 -- "The Ethics Office can confirm that although Mr. Galbraith is no longer with the United Nations, he was a participant in the United Nations Financial Disclosure program following his appointment; however, as provided for in GA Resolution A/RES/60/238, the information disclosed remains confidential."

Q2 -- I have also been told that in a recent UN Dispute Tribunal hearing, about the UNDP - North Korea whistleblower case, that OLA said they would not "allow" you to testify in the case. Are you aware of this? What do you think of UNDP's failure to follow your recommendation?

A2 -- "Since this is a matter that is before the UN Dispute Tribunal, I prefer not to make any comment regarding the matter."

Q3 - How many whistleblowers deserving protection have you certified / found in the past two years? Based on how many applications / approaches?

A3 - "The detailed information regarding the number of requests for protection against retaliation received by the Ethics Office and their disposition can be found in the Office’s Annual Reports for the previous two (2) years; that is, paragraphs 59-66 of A/64/316 and paragraphs 47-53 of A/63/301."

Q4 - Finally, does your Office cover local staff of UN Peacekeeping Missions? There is a recent case of a former MONUC local staffer, alleging MONUC involvement in / knowledge of diversion of jet fuel among other things, who has told me he feels retaliated against. Would your Office have jurisdiction?

A4 - "Yes, our Office would cover a request for protection against retaliation by local staff member from a UN Peacekeeping Mission. May I suggest that you have the individual contact our Office, in that way we would be able to advise the him/her directly."

Q5 - How long more do you remain in Office?

A5- "My three (3) year appointment as the Director of the Ethics Office will end on 30 April 2010, following which I will retire. During my tenure as the United Nations first Director of Ethics, I have indicated on numerous occasions that I considered it important, particularly in relation to the independence of the Office, that I serve for a fixed term and that I leave at the conclusion of that term. The Secretary-General has been informed and has accepted my plans to retire."

  While the answers, even the next day, are appreciated, one wonders in light of Q&A 2, above, who would want this job after the retirement announced in A5 takes place. Watch this site.

* * *

In Kabul Chaos, UN Pull Out Doesn't Add Up, Transcript Held Back, Budget Delayed

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 9 -- While Afghans and aid agencies criticize the UN for a lack of clarity in its partial pull out announcement after the Taliban killed five UN staff, in New York the UN insists its messages have been clear.

  Inner City Press asked, for example, if the UN's figure of 200 people leaving the country included the reported 14 UNICEF staffers who are leaving. "We have answered that "we have already answered," that the 200 include "all agency and UNAMA" personnel. Video here, from Minute 14:40.

  Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on November 6 gave a rambling answer in response to what "red lines in your head" would have to be cross for the UN to pull out completely, as it did from Iraq after the bombing of its Canal Hotel headquarters there. He said, in part, that "no UNAMA election officials will be moved out... No UNAMA field staff will be moved out."

  More than seventy hours after Mr. Ban's comments, the UN had not put the transcript online on its "Off the Cuff" comments web site, nor emailed it to the Press, as usually happens one or two hours after a public statement by Ban.

   Inner City Press, which questioned Ban on November 6 and published quotes that day about it, here, on November 9 asked Ban's spokeswoman Michele Montas why the transcript had not been put online. Video here, from Minute 30:27.

  "Mostly technical reasons," Ms. Montas replied. But Inner City Press has seen a copy of the transcript which her Office prepared before six p.m. on November 6. Notably, as Ban was answering the "red lines" question, his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar arrived at the stakeout and gestured to end it, telling Inner City Press, we cannot tell them how to attack us. Then the transcript was not put on line, and still has not been.

  But the streaming video is online, Inner City Press' questions here (from Minute 6:42) and Ban's "red lines" answer here (from Minute 12:40). The transcript which the Spokesperson's Office prepared but then did not put online has Ban saying "There will be around 200 staff in a phased way - I would like to tell you -- 120 administrative staff will be relocated in six to eight weeks, and 30 development staff in six to eight weeks and 50 administrative officers will be rotated between Kabul, Dubai and Kuwait..".

  What is the difference between "administrative staff" (120) and "administrative officers" (50)? Mr. Ban went on, "UNDP level officers -- they have ended their assignment - 30 out of 125 are now remaining in Kabul." Are the 95 who left included in the UN's evacuation count? Are the 30 who, it seems, will leave included?

  Mr. Ban on November 6 said, "there was unfortunately a misunderstanding of our positions." Neglecting to put online the transcript of the Secretary General's answers on Afghanistan for more than 70 hours doesn't help.

UN's Ban and his Spokesperson on Nov. 6, as of Nov. 9, transcript not shown

  The UN claims this is all clear, but it is not. In fact, Kabul is full of rumors of UN pull out of more than 200 system staff. The price of food has shot up. As one international aid NGO was quoted, "the UN should have offered the option for its staff to relocate, rather than issue a blanket relocation. 'That's a bad signal to everyone: The perpetrators are getting what they want and are encouraged to continue, and the population feels more and more abandoned, realizing how little it takes to frighten us away, and to leave them alone to fend for themselves, in every possible field.'"

  On behalf of the UN, Ms. Montas refused to comment on or reply to this on November 9, saying that it is all clear. But is it?

Footnote: even the budget is not clear. After announcing he was seeking money after the five staff were killed, now the spokesman for the chair of the UN Budget committee tells Inner City Press that no proposals have yet been submitted to the committee, they are anticipated as "an add on to the budget fascicle" of DSS at the end of November. The ACABQ is said to have a folder, but got the DSS management review on a much delayed basis. Fast to pull out, slow to follow through, some say. Watch this site.

* * *

UN's Security Phase Confusion in Af-Pak Shown at Stakeout, Ban and Nambiar

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 6 -- In a press encounter that ended in disarray, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday called the UN security threat level in Afghanistan confidential, despite it being public in Pakistan, and then described the reclassification, renovation and vacating of various guest houses in Kabul.

  His chief of staff Vijay Nambiar rushed to the stakeout and gestured to spokesperson Michele Montas to end it. Mr. Nambiar then told Inner City Press, we can't tell them how to attack us.

  Mr. Ban had emphasized the UN is not abandoning Afghanistan, that it cannot curtail its development efforts there. Inner City Press asked about northwest Pakistan, where the UN country office issued a press release putting the threat level at Phase IV and suspending UN development activities, and asked what the Phase is in Afghanistan. Video here, from Minute 6:42.

  Mr. Ban said that security phases are "determined by DSS" [the Department of Safety and Security] "after evaluating all situations." He said it "needs not to be known publicly."

  Inner City Press asked if there isn't a conflict of interest, like in Algeria before the UN was bombed there, in which host countries doesn't want the UN Security Phase raised, even if it's needed. Mr. Ban acknowledged that this is "very sensitive," that host countries don't like the level raised because it could effect "national prestige" and "socio economic activities." He said, however, that the UN sets its levels objectively.

  Another reporter asked, in light of the UN's pulling out of Iraq after the bombing of its Canal Hotel headquarters, what are the "red lines" that would trigger a pull out from Afghanistan. Mr. Ban began to answer. Inner City Press remarked to a diplomat at the stakeout, yeah, tell the Taliban what it would take for the UN to leave.

  Then, as Mr. Ban was describing the categorization of the UN's 93 guest houses into those to be closed and those to be brought to "MOSS" standards, Mr. Nambiar rushed back to the stakeout and gestured that this should stop. Some thought this was because of Ban's next appointment, with his advisory group of businesses on the environment. But Mr. Nambiar explained, we cannot tell them how to attack us.

UN's Ban and Nambiar leave Council, divergence on disclosure not yet shown

  While this statement was at the stakeout, with no mention of being off the record or on background, some have since tried to say this was implicit. For this reason, Inner City Press is not using the direct quote. But in fact, it is not surprising that even the UN's 38th floor would have divergent views on how much to disclose. Both positions in this case could be defended. And reporting these facts is to show how the UN actually functions.

  Inner City Press asked this month's Security Council president, Austria's Thomas Mayr-Harting, if Mr. Ban had told the Council in its consultations what the UN Security Phase is in Afghanistan. He said he would rather not "get into the details." Video here.

  Another reporter remarked to Inner City Press that "it is easy enough to learn the UN Security Phase." But why then be so secretive? In fact, Inner City Press is informed that the Phase in Afghanistan, even after the killing of five UN staff in a commando style raid by the Taliban, was kept at Phase III, while it was raised to Phase IV in Pakistan. Is this objective? Watch this site.

 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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