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Amid Legionnaire's Disease, UN Says It Is Exempt From NY Laws, Drains Fountain

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 13 -- Amid the spread of  Legionnaire's Disease in New York, beginning from the South Bronx, Inner City Press on August 12 asked seven questions on how the United Nations, which refused to accept responsibility or to reform after bringing cholera to Haiti, is responding.

  On August 13, Pressed, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric asserted that the UN is "exempt" from all local rules concerning cooling towers and legionella. Transcript below. It is reminiscent of the UN bringing cholera into Haiti.

  Inner City Press, which has covered the UN's role in cholera in Haiti, impunity and South Bronx, had the following questions for the UN on August 12 - but UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric did not allow them to be asked at the August 12 briefing, cutting the questions off and promises a "responsive" statement, see below. First, here are the questions Inner City Press submitted in writing to the UN:

1.  Has the Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, directed that his staff be accountable for monitoring & testing UN facilities for the bacteria that causes legionnaires disease?

2.  Does the UN have cooling towers in any of its NYC facilities (to include rented properties outside the HQ complex)?

3.  In the past month, has any testing been done of UN cooling towers, and if so, on what dates, by whom?

4.  Has any host government authority asked the UN if it can enter UNHQ to test the UN's cooling towers for legionella?

5.  Does the UN consider itself exempt (or immune) from the new joint NY State/NYC regulations?

6.  If requested, would the UN allow host government authorities to enter the UNHQ to test for legionella?

7.  If the UN has tested its facilities for legionella bacteria, will it (yes or no) make test reports public by posting them online?

  Here is the full text of the UN's (first) response, from its spokesman:

"Matthew,  As per your question

Cooling Towers.

The cooling towers have biocide chemical supplies. We circulate the water twice weekly to keep it moving and to let the water draw more biocides as necessary from the system. We have HVAC technicians on staff who are certified on these systems and with these chemicals.

Main Fountain and Staff Memorial Pool

Normally we drain and clean these monthly. But we have increased the frequency because of the legionnaires outbreak. Last weekend we drained and refilled the main fountain. It will be drained again this coming weekend to allow CMP to perform work which is scheduled to take a week. That work will include the installation of UV lights that will treat the water. We will maintain increased frequency of draining cleaning and replacing during this period of heightened concern.

Slavery Memorial

The water feature in this is out of service since the faulty installation failed and leaked some months back causing damage to office space below. It is still drained and not in service.

We have no other standing water features or systems."

  But is the UN claiming immunity from local health regulations?

On August 13 Inner City Press asked Dujarric again:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about Legionnaire’s disease, which is obviously becoming, at least in New York City treating it quite seriously, and they’ve required all buildings with cooling towers to register and to be tested.  Now, I got your response yesterday, but I wrote back to you to ask, is — one, is the UN registering with the city pursuant to this order?  Two, have the towers… you said something about bio something.  How…

Spokesman:  Let me…

Question:  Please.

Spokesman:  Let me tell you and, I think, those, after all, we’re all residents of New York City, so I think everybody has an interest in this.  The cooling towers that the UN has have biocide chemical supplies, which is a chemical substance which can deter, render harmless, or exert a controlling effect on any harmful organism by chemical or biological means.  We circulate the water twice a week to keep it moving and let the water draw more biocides as necessary from the system.  We have technicians on staff.  We’re certified for these systems and with these chemicals.  So that’s one way we keep the cooling towers safe.  I am aware that there are regulations, I think, in front of the New York City Council requiring registration and inspection.  As you all know, we do not fall under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Buildings or the municipal jurisdiction, and we’re not required to register our cooling towers.  However, we do have an arrangement in place with both the Department of Buildings and the FDNY, and we invite them… we invite them into the building, as well as other inspectors, as appropriate.  They give us opinions and make recommendations, but we’re not subject to their jurisdiction.  I think the important thing is that we do reach out to them.  We make every effort to abide by the high standards to keep the staff safe, the delegates safe, even the press safe, and all the visitors that come through the building.

Question:  Right.  But I guess… I understand that.  This commissioner’s order, whether you view yourself as subject to it or not, it requires… it requires all buildings in New York to be, to be consistent with industry standards and it lists the American Society of—

Spokesman:  What I’m—


Spokesman:  What I’m saying to you is that the technicians we have on staff are certified to the highest standards.  Obviously, we want to keep everybody safe, and we will invite the Department of Buildings and the FDNY as the FDNY sometimes come into our building at our invitation to make sure everybody is safe.

Question:  But are they going to comply with the standards…

Spokesman:  I think — I’ve used a lot of words.  We are… We will go to the highest possible standards, and we will work at our invitation with the Department of Buildings and the FDNY.  And I will continue to take deep breath and breathe the air in this building.

 So, by the end of August 13, among the UNanswered questions:

Has the UN tested for legionella already? (seems not)

Will they test by August 20th?

If they do finally test, will they release the results, to NYC and to the public?

 We'll see.

  After bringing cholera to Haiti, the UN has refused to help the families of those killed by the cholera. Now the UN belatedly has a rule to get reimbursed by Troop Contributing Countries if it vaccinates their soldiers (here at Para 61) - but still no compensation for the victims.

  In the legal appeal pending in the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the UN on July 14 was informed of its "Notice of Appearance Default," and told if it doesn't respond in 14 days it will not be heard at oral arguments except by the permission of the Court.

 Inner City Press on July 14 asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric:

Inner City Press: on Haiti, there's been a notice of them staring at now, sent to the Office of the Secretary-General about the Second Circuit appeal of the cholera case and it basically says… it's called a notice of appearance default notice, that if there's no response by the UN within 14 days, they can't be heard at the oral argument.  Are you aware of this?  And is it your intention to…?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware… I'm not aware of it.

  Last week, Dujarric told Inner City Press that the UN would respond to a letter urging it to take responsibility for bringing cholera to Haiti. But Dujarric did not say what the UN's response will be. We'll have more on this.

 Back on July 7 Inner City Press asked  Dujarric:

Inner City Press: Two very quick questions.  One has to do with contingent on equipment and this new guidance that's put out by the Secretariat about vaccinations noted by PassBlue.  They've noted that, and I'm looking at it now, that the UN now tells countries to vaccinate their peacekeepers if they come from a high-risk area, and if they don't vaccinate, the UN will do it and charge them.  Can you say, this seems to be a response to what occurred in Haiti?  And what would you say to those who say, if you're going to get into the UN receiving compensation for vaccinating peacekeepers, what about compensation for people that were made sick by the previous failure to have this policy?

Spokesman Dujarric:  Well, I don't think we're getting compensation for vaccinating peacekeepers.  I think what's important is that we keep improving our policies to keep people safe.

Inner City Press:  Right, but the sentence says, "The UN will deduct any expenses for vaccinations"…

Spokesman Dujarric:  That's not compensation.  That's just covering of costs.

Inner City Press:  Right.  It seems like a small amount of money, so…

Spokesman Dujarric:  Right, but… I… I… we agree to disagree.

  Meanwhile outgoing UN envoy on cholera Medrano did an "interview" with the UN's own UN News Centre without mentioning that the UN brought the disease to Haiti; the UN on July 6 "reported" about cholera without mentioning Haiti, here.

When UN Peacekeepers are determined, by the UN itself, to have killed three civilians in Mali by using excessive force, what accountability is there?  None - and UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous on April 2 refused to answer questions about his own responsibility. Video here. Vine here. 

 On June 23, Inner City Press asked Mali's foreign minister to confirm that the UN is going to pay compensation to the families of those its peacekeepers killed in Gao. He told Inner City Press to "ask the UN."

  And so Inner City Press did ask, at the June 23 noon briefing:

Inner City Press: This is something that the Malian Foreign Minister said to ask you.  So, I want to say that in advance before asking you.  And it has to do with whether… I asked him whether the UN is in fact going to pay monetary compensation to civilians that were killed by peacekeepers in Gao in that report that was issued some time ago.  And he said:  You should ask the UN.  So, I'm asking you.  Is the…

Spokesman:  Okay.  I will… let me check on what we'd announced at the time, and I'll get back to you.  [He later added that a compensation fund had been set up by the Department of Field Support.]

 The bracketed material, Dujarric's Office added to the transcript, after emailing Inner City Press this:

"Regarding your question on compensation for casualties in Gao, Mali, we would like to recall that a compensation fund has been set up by the Department of Field Support."

  Inner City Press has been told - NOT by the Spokesperson's Office -- that the UN is calculating how much to pay each family in Mali. But why has the UN paid NOTHING to the families of those killed by the cholera the UN brought to Haiti? Inner City Press asked the UN's Mali envoy Mongi Hamdi, who gamely tried to distinguish the two cases, focusing on the UN exonerating itself in Haiti. We'll have more on this.

  On June 11, the day after an attack against Malian military posts in the south of the country that killed one soldier and injured two, MINUSMA issued a statement which the Free UN Coalition for Access translates here:

  “MINUSMA firmly condemns the cowardly terrorist attack  against posts of the Malian military and security forces in Misseni / Kadiolo, in the south of Mali. The attack early on the morning of June 10 killed one soldier and injured two, as well as causing physical damage. MINUSMA offers its condolence to the Government and Armed Forces of Mali as well as to the soldier's family. The Mission wishes a fast recovery for the two wounded soldiers. MINUSMA again underlines the urgency of advancing the peace process to ensure that the Government and the stakeholders can combine their efforts and act in unity to put an end to the terrorism which threatens Mali and its people.”

  That the attack happened in southern and not northern Mali may be a bad omen.

After his May 16 press conference in Bamako, Ladsous said the UN's report about its killings in Gao will never be released; follow up question here. During the press conference, tellingly, Ladsous berated Malians for not sufficiently thanking... France and its Force Serval. Audio here, Minute 27:52. 

  Ladsous said, referring to criticism of him and his mission by Mali's president and others at the signing ceremony the day before, "Did I hear a single word of thanks for France and its Operation Serval? No." (Translation by Free UN Coalition for Access.)

   In this use of his UN post to serve France, for which he was a (most undiplomatic) diplomat for decades, this is similar to Ladsous' much worse intervention into the process of the UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights in trying to get fired OHCHR whistleblower Anders Kompass, who exposed reports of French Sangaris Force soldiers raping children.

  This appears in the UN Dispute Tribunal ruling reinstating Kompass, at Paragraph 9. It was not contested by OHCHR.  Ladsous, breaking with his striking refusal to answer Press questions, told Inner City Press, "I deny that." Video here.

 But Ladsous has not explained or answered what he is denying: getting involved in l'affaire Kompass at all, or just the wording? Ladsous was not asked this question in Bamako.

 On May 18, Inner City Press asked the UN's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq who Ladsous was speaking for:

Inner City Press: Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous of DPKO held a press conference in Bamako over the weekend.  There was some criticism, by actually the President of Mali, of the mission.  But, I wanted to ask specifically, in his press conference, he said that he sort of chided, he said:  Was there even a word of thanks for its operation in Sangaris?  No.  Isn't that curious?  And I wanted to know, in what capacity was he saying that?  Is the UN?  Does the UN have a position on Malians not being sufficiently grateful to France or was he speaking in some other capacity?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have any real comment.  I would just refer you to the text of his statements.  And if you have anything further, you can ask our colleagues in peacekeeping.

  Later on May 18, a well placed African Permanent Representative said "Ladsous should resign."

 On May 10, two UN Peacekeepers were wounded in Mopti in Mali, see below.

 Now Ladsous is under fire for appearing in a UN Dispute Tribunal ruling as urging the firing of the whistleblower who exposed rapes by French soldiers in the Central African Republic. Ladsous denied it - to Inner City Press - but the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights did not dispute it. Accountability?

 On May 10 "around 1 pm, the forces of MINUSMA on patrols hit a mine or an improvised explosive device 25 kilometers from Tenenkou, in the region of Mopti,” MISUMSA said in a statement.

  “Two blue helmets were seriously injured by the explosion and their evacuation to the MINUSMA hospital in Timbuktu was underway, MINUSMA said.

   “The head of MINUSMA Mongi Hamdi strongly the attack against the peacekeepers and emphasized that MINUSMA remains more determined than ever to implement its mandate in support of Mali and its people.”

 On May 8, the UN announced what the Press already knew, that Mbaranga Gasarabwe, a Rwandan national, is moving from the Department of Safety and Security in New York to become Hamdi's deputy in Mali. We wish her well.

Tellingly, Ladsous refused an invitation to attend a "protection of civilians" high level event in Rwanda in May, click here for that scoop.

 Back on April 27 the MINUSMA mission issued a statement that the Platforme group attacked the town of Manaka, loosely translated by Inner City Press below. But how does UN Peacekeeping killing civilians, then its boss refusing to answer or even take questions about it, impact the UN's credibility?

 Here is our loose translation of the MINUSMA press release of April 27:

SRSG Mongi Hamdi called for the armed groups to immediately cease hostilities and return to their positions. “This resurgence of tension puts in jeopardy all efforts to restore durable peace in Mali,” Hamdi said. MINUSMA said that on Monday near noon the mission learned of an attack launched by the MAA-Platform and GATIA groups on the town of Menaka, held by elements of the Coordination of Movement of Azawad (CMA). MINUSMA said it deployed helicopters to evaluate the situation.

Hamdi went to Nouakchott on April 26 to meet the representatives of the CMA, who reaffirmed their adherence to the peace process under way, and confirmed their intention to initial the agreement.

Two months of intense negotiations involving all of the parties with a view to put an end to the Malian crisis could be threatened. These actions are a grave violation of the ceasefire accords reiterated in the declaration of February 19, 2105,” Hamdi said in his statement.

Hamdi also cited the UN Security Council's statement of February 6 which threatened the imposition of targeted sanctions on anyone who returned to hostilities and violated the ceasefire.

I therefore appeal for calm and reason for the benefit of all Malians. The only solution to this crisis is through the route of dialogue. I remain convinced that all the parties will show wisdom and reason and sign this historic peace agreement,” Hamdi said.

  Here's what Inner City Press asked the UN about Darfur on April 27:

Inner City Press: on Darfur, I saw the clarification put out by UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur], but the Government of Sudan is saying that the UNAMID peacekeepers killed seven civilians, and I wonder, what… beyond just UNAMID putting out a press release, some of which in the past have been press releases that the UN has ultimately walked away from, is there an intention to do the type of report that was done in Mali when people were killed or in Haiti when people… when people were shot at?

Deputy Spokesman Frahan haq:  On that, I actually expect that we will have a statement from the Spokesman for the Secretary-General responding to the latest events in Darfur.  So, I'll wait until… until we get that.

Inner City Press:  But, is the protocol if a Member State alleges that UN peacekeepers have killed civilians to do such a report, or is there no such protocol?

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said… first of all, I… as you know, you're aware of the press release from UNAMID, which is their clarification of the situation, and then beyond that, we do expect to have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson.

  But when the statement came it did not even mention the government's allegations. Khartoum's credibility may be low - but what about Ladsous'? We'll have more on this.


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