At UN, Dodging
Questions on End-Game Sri Lanka, Somalia's Pirates of the Pen, Fowler
and Nairobi UN Intrigue
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: Media Analysis
April 26 -- As in Sri Lanka's “No Fire Zone” the dangers for
civilians grew throughout the week up to the government's rejection
of calls and offers for cease-fire [Inner City Press debate video here],
in New York the UN's
Spokesperson's Office tried to answer even
fewer and fewer questions. For the first time, the Office repeatedly
implied that was or is some limit on the questions that can be asked.
began on Monday, when the Office
canceled its normal question and
answer session to put all focus on Ban Ki-moon denouncing Iranian
President Ahmadinejad. Tuesday
Inner City Press asked Deputy
Spokesperson Marie Okabe:
Question: I have several
questions, in part because the noon briefing was
canceled yesterday. First, on Sri Lanka -- on the
Secretary-General’s statement yesterday, where he says he deplores
the continued use of heavy weapons in the vicinity of civilians and
the use of force by the LTTE -– who, is he saying, is using the
heavy weapons? And if he is saying it is the Government, why doesn’t
he put it in the statement?
Spokesperson: I think the Secretary-General’s statement was very
clear and very strong yesterday. And as I mentioned to you in a note
that I was reading to you while you
came in and were setting up shop,
the highest priority for the United Nations right now is access to
the victims, which is precisely why the Secretary-General has done
what he can and is doing what he can in order to get the assistance
and access to the people who are in desperate need of urgent
to your comment on the cancellation of the noon briefing yesterday;
the reason for that was that, at precisely the same time that the
noon briefing was scheduled, the Secretary-General was having an
important press conference together with the High Commissioner for
Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on a subject that was at the top of the
news. Even though we could not get yesterday a two-way Q and A
session -– which we hope to do in the future –- because of the
importance that item took yesterday morning, we decided to try to get
it to reporters here in real time. So that is the explanation for
Question: Just on that,
it would have been helpful to take questions after his
Spokesperson: We took your questions. I took your questions in our
Office and we responded to your questions like we normally do, okay?
Question: Fine. On this
access in Sri Lanka, can you explain how... It has
been said from this podium that the UN staff members who have been
detained in the IDP camps, that the UN – although they had not
announced it publicly – had repeatedly complained and tried to get
them released. The Sri Lanka Government had said the first they
heard from the UN had been 15 April, two days after it was raised
here. Can you explain the discrepancy, or does the UN say Sri Lanka
is mis-speaking as the UN’s complains?
Spokesperson: I don’t know exactly about the timeline that you are
speaking of, so I am going to have to refer to OCHA to provide
answers to that. All I can tell you right now is that today our
imperative is for UN staff to be allowed to have access to these
Question: There is one
question I asked yesterday, so I will ask it again, and
there is something new today. What I asked yesterday was what is the
UN’s response to more than 100 Sudanese killed in South Sudan and a
report that UNMIS had been recommended to do further patrols in
Jonglei State and did not done so.
Spokesperson: My understanding was that Yves had gotten back to you
on that, but if he has not, I will ask him to send you the answer on
correspondent was told that the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) is
currently assessing security and humanitarian needs in the wake of
last weekend's violence. In the five weeks since the violence of 5-13
March, which rocked Pibor County in Jonglei State, UNMIS has
conducted enhanced patrolling activities in various locations in the
State, engaged in pre-emptive deployment of UNMIS troops in order to
better protect civilians in Bor County, and worked closely with the
Jonglei State Government to support its efforts to stabilize the
security situation on the ground.]
Question: There is a UN
staff member, José Antonio Ortega of the Department
of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), who has been arrested in
Halifax, Canada, for procuring child pornography. Does the UN have
knowledge of this, and what will the UN do about this?
Spokesperson: The only thing I have on that story that you refer to
is that Mr. Ortega is a staff member of the Department of Economic
and Social Affairs. Mr. Ortega was on a personal trip and left on
Thursday, 9 April, for Canada. He was expected to be back in the
office on 13 April but did not show up. His office could not get in
touch with him. We were still trying to find out about his status
until late last week, when news of the court case was announced in
the Canadian press. The matter is taken very seriously by the United
Nations and it has already been referred to UN Security and the
Office of Human Resources Management for action. That is all I have
Question: In terms of
seriousness, there is a report that the Head of
Operations of the UN Centre in Nairobi, Alexander Barabanov, who was
found by Kenya to have an illegal weapon, is still serving the UN. A
series of letters has been sent to Angela Kane and OLA trying to get
authority to discontinue his service to the UN, due to the illegal
gun. Is he still in service, and if so, why?
Spokesperson: I don’t have any information on that. I have to look
into that for you.
that note, have a good afternoon and see you tomorrow.
But no further
information was provided. Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, was in Malta.
UN's Ban arrives in Malta, "bloodbath on the beach"
in Sri Lanka not shown
things grew even worse:
City Press: Two things: There is a report of the FDLR killing 14
civilians in Kivu Province. Is that something that MONUC can
confirm, and what steps are they taking? Also, I have
to ask you about this thing of Ahmedou Ould Abdallah in Somalia,
where it has emerged that he raised funds from Norway and, I believe,
Kenya, to submit a report to Somalia under the Law of the Sea about
drilling rights off shore. Did he check with the Secretary-General
before he did that? How does he decide to use a drilling or
oil-producing country’s funds to do a filing for Somalia?
Spokesperson: I am not aware of the report on Mr. Ould Abdallah, so
I have to look into that for you. The other one on MONUC, we have
not seen anything from MONUC today, but we can follow up.
Question: The UN radio,
Radio Okapi, reported the number of 14, so it seems
strange... Can we say that it is a UN report that the FDLR is back
Spokesperson: I am not aware of the report, so we will have to check
that, or you will have to check with MONUC.
a good afternoon.
Again, there was
no follow up, including after a Wednesday email to Ould Abdallah's
City Press: Yesterday, Mr. Nambiar did brief the Council, but he did
not speak to the press. Is there some reason... Even Mr. Gambari,
when he goes on similar ventures, speaks to the press and answers
questions. First, can you say why he did not? Also, some parts of
his meetings were described as involving this humanitarian team. But
did he have political discussions, and if so, what was the message he
carried to the President of Sri Lanka?
Spokesperson: The message he carried was the message that the
Secretary-General has stated publicly many times over. We have been
reporting to you about that. The Secretary-General himself has
commented now on the situation a short while ago. Those remarks are
available to you. News stories have already been picked up on what
the Secretary-General said, which is why we asked Catherine Bragg to
come here today to brief you on the humanitarian situation, which is
the most acute problem that we are trying to address at the moment.
Question: Is it possible
to get either a stakeout or a press conference by Mr.
Nambiar, because he was the main envoy that went there?
Spokesperson: I think the Security Council heard his briefing, has
commented on that, and has issued a press statement by the Security
Council President on which the Secretary-General himself already
commented and I would like to draw your attention to that. So the
answer: I don’t think so, okay?
Question: Did he stop in
India on his way back from Sri Lanka, and if so, did
he have any meetings?
Spokesperson: I am not aware of any meetings that he had in India.
Question: A question
about Mr. Fowler. Repeatedly, questions arose while he
was detained, and you said that not to jeopardize his safety you
would not answer. Now that he has been released, I want to know
several things. First of all, is it the case, as reported that he
that day visited a Canadian-owned goldmine in Niger? If so, is that
a trip he had informed the Government of and was it related to his UN
mandate? Why was there no security along? Did he have UN issued
travel orders? Was the DSS told of his trip in advance?
Spokesperson: Security issues are not something that we discuss in
public. At the moment, the Secretary-General just recently released
the statement welcoming his release. He has just been released. I
am sure that after he receives immediate attention, medical
attention, other attention that he needs, he will have a debriefing.
But, at the moment, I have nothing beyond the fact that we are very
relieved that he has been released. The Secretary-General’s
statement, I think, reflects that.
Question: Is the UN going
to conduct any kind of inquiry into the seeming
Spokesperson: Nothing beyond that. Thank you very much.
Given the UN's
silence, we are preparing a follow-up report on the case of Mr.
Fowler and his colleagues. On Friday,
Sri Lanka was again the initial focus:
City Press; In Sri Lanka, there is an Excel document that was
distributed by the UN in Colombo, called “verified data” 6,432
killed. So it is now on the UN relief website. Many people are
curious why the UN is distributing what it calls “verified
casualties figures” to diplomats. Can we say this is the UN
Spokesperson: I asked the Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs that question. You asked the senior official of
that Department yesterday. They tell us that the numbers are
unverified, but while unverified, this might be a reasonable
estimate. That is what I have for you.
Question: Okay. I guess
we will hear from UNHCR about the humanitarian
assessment mission to the north. My questions is: the diplomats of
Sri Lanka have been quoted as saying, there is no longer a need for
this trip, both the Foreign Secretary and others. Is the trip to
Jaffna by Mr. Buhne, that is what Ban Ki-moon was talking about as
the “emergency mission”?
Spokesperson: That is correct. I refer you to what I read at the
beginning of the briefing.
Question: My other
question has to do with the Medical Service. I just wanted
to know a simple thing: the doctors and nurses in the UN Medical
Service on the fifth floor -- is it the UN’s position that they
have to have licenses, and do they distribute controlled substances
like Valium and others. And have recently prescription pads of a
number of them been taken away and the DEA...
Spokesperson: I have no information on what you are referring to.
correspondent was later given the following answer:
Medical Services Division (MSD) provides a comprehensive occupational
health service to UN staff system-wide, including health promotion,
clinical care, and travel health services, as well as advice to the
administration of the UN, its funds and programmes, and the
Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field
Support on clinical and medico-administrative issues. In addition,
MSD provides medical advice to UN medical facilities across the
globe, coordinating implementation of UN policies on medical and
health care. The overall goal is to improve staff health, lower
risk, and ensure that job demands are met.
Medical Services Division in New York does not provide a primary care
service to staff, referring staff instead to the local health system
for definitive management of any medical conditions detected. A
requirement for recruitment of doctors and nurses employed by the
United Nations is that they are registered to practice their
professions in their country of origin. A limited quantity of
medications is maintained on site, and stock control is rigorously
performed, and is verifiable, according to standard pharmaceutical
recent allegations regarding pharmaceutical control measures at the
United Nations are not new and are in fact being investigated by the
Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). The Medical Services
Division has provided its full cooperation to OIOS in that regard.]
Click here for
Inner City Press' exclusive story. We will have
more on all this.
for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters
footage, about civilian
in Sri Lanka.
Click here for Inner City
Press' March 27 UN debate
Click here for Inner City
Press March 12 UN (and AIG
Click here for Inner City
Press' Feb 26 UN debate
12 debate on Sri Lanka http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/17772?in=11:33&out=32:56
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.
* * *
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for a Reuters
AlertNet piece by this correspondent
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Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an
undefined trust fund. Video
Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017
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