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UN Dodges Sex Abuse Follow-Up, Myanmar Crackdown, Terrorist Trade

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: Media Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, May 2 -- As the UN was accused of working with a war criminal in the Congo, exchanging the freedom of its stealth envoy to Niger for the release of terrorism suspects and not following up on allegations of sexual abuse by its staff UN peacekeepers from Sri Lanka in Haiti, and from Morocco in Cote d'Ivoire, while closing UN offices in Bangladesh and turning a blind eye in Myanmar, the Office of the Spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week dodged most questions on these topics. [Sri Lanka dodges here.]

  At the UN's noon media briefing on Monday, April 27, Inner City Press asked lead spokesperson Michele Montas:

Inner City Press: There is a report that Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has put a statement saying that Mr. [Robert] Fowler and his colleagues were released in exchange for the release of Muhajadin, they put it. I’m wondering whether the UN has seen that report and when Ban Ki-moon put out a statement he praised Mali, Burkina Faso -- what did he praise them for? And is the UN aware of the prisoner exchange for Mr. Fowler?

Spokesperson Montas: No, we’re not. And what I can say is that we can check for you on what was done. But all the information that we had, you got.

On Tuesday, April 28, Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas about the UN's continued use of peacekeepers from post-coup Fiji:

Inner City Press: A follow-up on that. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had been quoted as saying that there’s some new decision by the UN not to recruit any further Fijian peacekeepers.

Spokesperson: I’m not aware of this. I think this is something you should ask the Australians.

Inner City Press: In terms of asking the UN, since the argument by Australia and New Zealand is that the money paid by the UN to Fiji for the peacekeepers buttressed the unelected regime’s power, can we get a number from DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] on how much Fiji has been paid, either so far this year or in 2008?

Spokesperson: You should address that question to DPKO. Please address the question to DPKO.

    Inner City Press did email this and other questions to DPKO, including requesting follow-up information on peacekeepers repatriated for sexual abuse, and again for the budget of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo. Only the Fiji question was answered by week's end, and only part of it: the number of Fijian troops serving: 223 in Iraq, 12 in Darfur, 15 in the rest of Sudan, 31 in Liberia and one in Timor Leste.

  It was said, “We're checking for information on reimbursements and will get back to you shortly,” but by the end of the week that had not happened. Rather, DPKO later clarified that the 223 in Iraq actually serve under the UN's Department of Political Affairs. So why didn't the Spokesperson refer Inner City Press there, or better yet, simply get and provide the UN information requested?

  Also on April 28, Inner City Press asked about developments in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand:

Inner City Press: There are reports that various UN agencies have shut down their operations in southern Bangladesh due to threats by militants. Is that -– I know you don’t speak on -– but is it a fact that the UN has pulled its staff out of that area and closed its operations?

Spokesperson: I’m not aware of it, but I can check for you.

Inner City Press: Okay. And the other one is, there are also these reports of cross-border action between Myanmar and Thailand. Of a Myanmar attack on the Karen National Union that injured or seriously injured two Thai soldiers. Since it’s a cross-border incident, is it something that either DPA [Department of Political Affairs] and Mr. Gambari or is the UN tracking that? What’s the response to it?

Spokesperson: No, we don’t react at every cross-border problem that exists. We don’t have anything to say about that.

Inner City Press: But given that it’s a Government offensive against a long-standing rebel group, this Karen National Union, is it something that like Gambari -– what’s the status, I guess, of his good offices mandate in Myanmar?

Spokesperson: His good offices mandate did not include this type of situation. We don’t have anything to say about this.

Inner City Press: I appreciate it.

  So the UN's envoy to Myanmar does not cover this armed conflict, according to the UN spokespeople in a statement not amplified or corrected by the end of the week, when Inner City Press asked another question about Myanmar, see below.

UN's Ban, Nambiar and Gambari, bloody battles, no comments

On Wednesday, April 29, Inner City Press asked Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq

Inner City Press: On Satyam, can you say whether, explain whether, this prohibition or decision not to give them any new contracts also applies to the International Computing Centre, and whether this ICC unit in fact does computing work for DPKO and other entities?  Some have described it as sort of a loophole in the barring of Satyam.

Associate Spokesperson:  I think...Didn’t you get an answer on this a few weeks ago?

Inner City Press: I did get an answer, then I’ve heard contradictory things that DPKO was using ICC, even at the Valencia Computer Centre, and that some individuals may have even been sort of “rehatted” under the ICC.  So, I guess...

Associate Spokesperson:  I’ll see if there is any change, but I believe you’ve received some information on this a few weeks ago.  I am not aware of any change since we gave you that.

Inner City Press: And also, do you have a response to these reports that Bosco, the ICC indictee for war crimes, was described as a deputy coordinator in the Congolese Army action against the FDLR, and also, therefore, calling into question the UN statement that it doesn’t work with indicted war criminals.

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, we’re aware of those reports.  At the same time, the UN Mission in the DRC, MONUC, has not seen the documents that were referred to in the media reports that allegedly showed that Jean Bosco Ntaganda was part of the joint operation.  Actually, on the contrary, the DRC authorities have shown MONUC relevant documents defining the operation’s command structure, which does not make any mention of Mr. Ntaganda.  MONUC has clearly stated that it will not conduct or support joint operations in which Jean Bosco Ntaganda plays a part.

This has been communicated directly to the DRC Minister of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff, who in turn have assured MONUC that Mr. Ntanganda is not a part of any joint operation’s command structure.  MONUC leadership continues to engage with our Congolese interlocutors on this matter.

Inner City Press: Even when you actually see this document, what will the UN do if it turns out he was the deputy commander of that operation?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, as I just said, we continue to engage with our Congolese interlocutors.  But I’ve told you exactly the precise assurances that we’ve been given by the Government of the DRC on this.  And as for the hypothetical question, we’ll cross that bridge if that is a reality. 

   The UN was proud of this answer; a well placed UN staffer told Inner City Press, that's the only question of yours that they answered this week, and only because DPKO had given them an if-asked to read out when, as they predicted, you asked it. But the UN internally says it no longer cares what the underlying document shows: it has cleaned its hands by getting a second statement from the DRC Army that Bosco was not "directly” involved.

Also on April 29, Inner City Press asked Haq regarding the since WHO renamed swine flu:

Inner City Press: Can you confirm that the UN has raised the threat assessment level in Mexico to 1 and to 2 for [inaudible]...? [that was, Ciudad Juarez]

Associate Spokesperson: I cannot confirm that. We tend not to give out security phase levels. I’ve already told you what WHO’s phase level is for the outbreak; where it’s at level 4. But in terms of country level security things, that is not information that we give out.

Inner City Press: Forgetting the threat level for a moment, in terms of UN staff in Mexico, have there been any specific precautions taken?

Associate Spokesperson: I am not aware what specific precautions in Mexico would be. Certainly, the staff continue to go about their regular work.

Inner City Press: I’ll ask one more thing. Yesterday, Mr. Choi, the SRSG for Côte d’Ivoire, was asked about the status of the Moroccan peacekeepers that were repatriated from Côte d’Ivoire on charges of sexual abuse or exploitation. And he said that everything somehow went well, the Government committed to training. But he was unable to say whether anyone was actually disciplined. So, I mean I e-mailed DPKO, [inaudible],...but I haven’t heard back. So I wanted to know, both on this case and also on the Sri Lankan peacekeepers from Haiti, can the UN state whether any of these peacekeepers charged with sexual abuse and exploitation were in fact disciplined by the [inaudible]...?

Associate Spokesperson: If you’ve already asked DPKO, I suggest that they would be the ones that would have any further information. For now, we’d stand behind what Mr. Choi has said...

Inner City Press: [How about] a one-page memo updating the various publicly reported repatriations and what actually happened in each case. Because the reason I am asking here is that I am feeling that this information -- I asked the same thing on Haiti, the ones repatriated from Haiti -- I never got it. So I don’t know if there is a policy on the UN’s part despite saying zero tolerance, to not release any actual information about what happens to the peacekeepers.

Associate Spokesperson: We mention what happens when peacekeepers are repatriated. After that, it’s up to their home Governments to pursue any further action, and we follow up with those Governments to see whether action has been taken. But it is not our ability or our authority to do that.

Inner City Press: No, I understand that. But once the Government tells you something was done or wasn’t done, do you then release the information under the rubric of zero tolerance to see whether anything actually happened to the people? See what I mean? I think the credibility of the whole referral to the country comes down to what happens in the country. So do you release that information when you get it?

Associate Spokesperson: It’s not our place to comment on what is happening at the national level. That’s for the national Government to do. But we do try to accumulate this information and then report that in to the respective bodies who deal with that here. And with that I will bring Enrique Yeves, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly [PGA]

   So the UN claims “zero tolerance” for sexual abuse, but claims it is not its ability or authority to provide basic information to show what tolerance of abuse it does, in fact, have.

    Inner City Press asked PGA spokesman Enrique Yeves if the PGA d'Escoto Brockmann wrote a letter to US President Barack Obama to invite him to the General Assembly's June 1-3 session on the global financial crisis. Yeves said yes, and Inner City Press asked if the letter could be released. By week's end, it hadn't been. Rather, the PGA's Special Advisor for the global financial crisis event, Michael T. Clark, gave a briefing about the event. Inner City Press asked if Clark is the same Clark who led the U.S. - India Business Council. Yes, was the answer. Are you a UN staff member? No. He said he is paid from the PGA's budget, said to stand at $280,000.

On Thursday, April 30, Inner City Press asked Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe

Inner City Press: there was in December a UN staff member who was either suspended or terminated for pornography –- for viewing and forwarding pornography, including bestiality pornography, if you remember this case. And the UN said he’d been suspended. But the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] report said that there were other –- that the investigation continued and that 13 of these had been forwarded and involved DSS [Department of Safety and Security]. I wanted to ask you, what has been the follow-up by OIOS and the UN system on that case?

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: I’m not familiar with the case that you’re referring to, so I’d have to look into that for you.

Inner City Press: How about the DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs] staff member that was recently arrested in Kenya?

Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing beyond what I told you on that. Okay? Thank you very much.

   In the child porn case, the arrest was made in Canada, not Kenya. [The Kenya case is the failure to act on a senior UN official's waving of an unlicenced gun.] And Inner City Press is preparing an update report on this, and certain pornography related demotions said to be slated for June 1. Also on April 30, as she tried to cut off the noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ms. Okabe

Inner City Press: saying that the army of the Central African Republic killed 30 civilians on its border with Chad, which seems to be right in the zone of this MINURCAT [United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad] Mission. Was the UN Mission at all aware of this? Did it catch them by surprise? And how’s it going to change their engagement?

Deputy Spokesperson: We’re looking into that to see if there’s a response from the field.

On Friday, May 1 Ms. Okabe read out an answer:

I was asked yesterday about reported attacks by Government troops on civilians in the Central African Republic. In a response, I can say the following:

The Secretary-General is concerned about any developments that could undermine the ongoing peace consolidation process in the Central African Republic. He views respect for human rights as a critical element for sustainable peace in that country. He, therefore, remains concerned about reports of alleged human rights violations in the country. And as he has consistently done on several occasions in his reports and meetings with the authorities of the CAR, he once again calls for the respect of human rights and the rule of law.”

Inner City Press also on Friday asked

Inner City Press: Can I ask you one more question? There’s a -- Human Rights Watch and other groups have said there are 20 aid workers that were arrested in the wake of Cyclone Nargis for things such as “public mischief” and sentenced for up to 35 years in jail. They’re calling on the UN to use what leverage it has to try to get these aid workers released. Has the UN been doing anything?

Deputy Spokesperson: Let me check with OCHA on that for you. Okay?

Inner City Press: And one last thing. I’ve heard that the National Competitive Exam through which people work for the UN on a competitive basis from underrepresented countries is slated to be eliminated in 2010 according to OHRM [Office of Human Resources Management]. Are you aware of that? And, if so, what would replace it in terms of an open and non-transparent way--

Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t know anything about that subject.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later told the reporter that the United Nations is not scrapping the National Competitive Examinations. They have been temporarily suspended for revamping to make them more efficient.]

   And so the week of noon briefings ended with this too-rare answer, and Inner City Press wrote a story, here. The trend is the UN trying to answer fewer and fewer questions -- a trend that should be combated. 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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