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In Congo, Kung Fu and Dragon Will Be Re-Interviewed by OIOS, Pre-Screening Allegations

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 12 -- With over 100,000 military personnel deployed on UN peacekeeping missions, the UN has decided that it is the Troop Contributing Countries which should have the responsibility to investigate, and the sole jurisdiction to punish, their soldiers accused of such crimes as rape and even the trading of guns for gold with rebels accused of genocide. 

  As demonstrated in a response on May 9 to Inner City Press from UN chief overseer Inga-Britt Ahlenius concerning her Office's controversial exonerations of Indian and Pakistan troops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the result is that TCCs like India were not even asked to look into charges that their soldiers "could easily deny." Even when charges are admitted to by the TCC leading to "repatriation" of the accused, no prosecutions are forthcoming. Investigation of 319 personnel across 16 peacekeeping missions between 2004 and 2006 resulted in 179 repatriations but no prosecutions.

            Still, Ms. Ahlenius' response states that her Office is moving to re-interview two witnesses, Kung Fu and Dragon, and that a further response will be provided thereafter.

            For now we will focus on the reasoning of Ms. Ahlenius' answer to questions Inner City Press submitted to her on May 5. Inner City Press began by asking for an explanation of two documents from the Office of Internal Oversight Services' investigation of charges against a battalion of Indian peacekeepers with the UN Mission in the Congo, MONUC. Inner City Press asked, can you explain how the extensive questions of facts outlined in this OIOS Feb. 7,  2008 memo were, except for one, dismissed of 13 days later by Mr. Guerassev in this shorter memo? Please describe the steps taken in those 13 days.

Weighing gold in the Congo, OIOS not shown

            Four days later, via the UN Spokesperson's Office, OIOS chief Inga-Britt Ahlenius replied that the first document

was prepared in order to decide whether OIOS have adduced sufficient evidence for proceeding with joint investigation with Indian authorities as per modalities defined by the revised MOU with TCCs (A/61/19 part III, attched below for your ease of reference) approved by the General Assembly resolution A/61/267B.  While it is not clear what is meant by 'the extensive questions of facts' in the question, it should be noted that:

paragraphs 7-13 of the report provide the political background in North Kivu;

paragraphs 14-15 of the report a brief summary of methodology, pointing, inter alia, the reasons why the examination of all allegations was not possible;

paragraphs 16-22 of the report describe impediments to investigation as such as provision of false or misleading allegation by interviewees (paras. 16 - 17, unwillingness of witnesses to cooperate with OIOS (para. 18 and 20-21), difficulties in accessing witnesses and adverse security situation (paras. 19, 22;

paragraphs 21-23 of the report outline five categories that allegations could be grouped under;

paragraphs 25-52 of the report describe six allegations that are- in the view of the investigators that drafted the report - corroborated; and

the rest provides suggestions on the way ahead.

Thus 27 paragraphs of 67 paragraphs of the report (or 40% of its content) address the evidence in regard to six allegations.

The two weeks in question were spent on the normal quality control procedures, namely on examining and testing each and every allegation as to whether it was credibly supported by witness statements, corroborated by other witness(es), whether there is enough evidence to confront subject with, etc. - the common quality control practice of OIOS as of any investigative outfit. The outcome was that:

(i) allegation (a) passed this test and was included into the memorandum dated 21 February 2008;

(ii) allegation (b) was found to lack any credible evidence (quantities of rations, quantities of gold, amounts of transaction and their dates, discrepancies between the supply and consumption of the record) and therefore was impossible to confront the potential subject with as it would amount to the situation of "your word against my word";

(iii) allegation (c), while misleadingly entitled as if related to the whole battalion, amounted only to the allegation that one junior NCO purchased two joints of marijuana from a local; this could easily be denied by the subject and therefore impossible to confront the potential subject with;

(iv) allegation (d) was found lacking any credible evidence such as time, names, other witnesses (note the language in paras. 43 and 44: "witness heard reports"; however was either unable to inform whom he heard the reports from or when pointed to a witness such witness in turn heard these reports from someone else; conclusion is lack of any promising leads with potential investigatory value;

(v) allegation (d) was found lacking any credible evidence such as time, names, location, quantity of arms and munitions, quantity of ivory, other witnesses, etc.; an attempt to corroborate it through the inspection of flight manifest failed; again lack of any promising leads with potential investigatory value; and

(vi) it was not clear (note penultimate sentence of paragraph 62) whether allegation (d) amounted to any misconduct whatsoever.

In summary, not a single piece of evidence was arbitrarily suppressed by the management, as the question implies. In fact, the above is a short description of the quality assurance process in HQ of ID. it should be stressed that OIOS conclusions follow from our fact-finding investigation requiring corroboration of evidence and substantiation of allegations put forward. As part of of the investigation function we often review media reports for information that may reveal possible wrongdoing. But never will we jump to conclusions based on rumors or uncorroborated allegations.

Now, you may wish take a note of the legislative framework of this investigation as defined by the new Memorandum of Understanding (A/61/19 part III, Annex) copy of which is attached above. Its Article 7 provides that

"It is understood that the Government has the primary responsibility for investigating any acts of misconduct or serious misconduct committed by a member of its national contingent.".

Paragraph 1 of Article 7 defines that United Nations (OIOS in this case) is entrusted with initiating "a preliminary fact-finding inquiry of the matter, until the Government starts its own investigation". In turn, in paragraph 33 of amendments to Annex F, a preliminary fact-finding inquiry is defined as follows:

"Preliminary fact-finding inquiry means the preservation of evidence necessary to ensure that a national or United Nations investigation can be successfully carried out at a later stage. While this inquiry may involve the collection of written statements, it will not normally include the interviewing of witnesses or other involved persons."

Given that by 28 February 208, OIOS has already interviewed more than 50 witnesses and that the active OIOS investigation lasted over 7 months, OIOS has clearly outsized the boundaries of "preliminary fact-finding inquiry". This is why the memorandum of 21 February 2008 requested, in its paragraphs 20 and 21, that Indian authorities be informed of the corroborated allegation and that OIOS is available to brief them on all other aspects of this investigation.

            Inner City Press also asked, "you say that you may reopen the Congo case, if presented with evidence by BBC. But you say that BBC has made no attempt to contact  you to provide you with this evidence. Did you read the letter to S-G BAN from Human Rights Watch, that was critical of OIOS' behavior? Do you have any comment or response?" Ms. Ahlenius replied: 

"BBC still has made no effort to provide any evidence to OIOS on the allegations that BBC has put forward. Nevertheless, given the fact that the persons known as "Dragon" and "Kung FU" respectively have changed their statements from denying obtaining any armaments from UN peacekeepers in their interviews with OIOS on 19 and 20 of July 2007, OIOS investigators in Kinshasa currently are making efforts to obtain access to them. As they are detainees, the DRC Minister of Justice has been approached for the permission/facilitation to interview them. I will respond to HRW once the two interviews described above have been performed.... I am committed to using the authority of my office and the power of investigations in a responsible manner that neither ignores possible impropriety nor impugns potential subjects through unwarranted OIOS intervention."

            First, the BBC story was about cover-up by OIOS -- they showed what evidence OIOS had, but ignored or whitewashed. While the second part of Ms. Ahlenius' above-quoted response is certainly a laudable goal, Ms. Ahlenius still leaves much to be desired in terms of transparency. Inner City Press asked, "Was Mark Gough, and the Vienna office of OIOS/ID, responsible for  conducting the Congo investigation?" Ms. Ahlenius answered, "Yes he was a senior manager that supervised it along with a line manager who reported to him." But when Inner City Press asked, "Did Mark Gough resign, , or was his contract not renewed?" Ms. Ahlenius moved one step back, replying, "Please ask Mr. Gough to respond himself."  There followed three "no comments" in a row:

Inner City Press: Did Mark Gough's departure have anything to do with the handling of the Congo report?

Ms. Ahlenius: No comment

Inner City Press: If Mark Gough was responsible for the Congo cover-up, was his removal from office your way of assessing accountability?

Ms. Ahlenius:  No comment

 Inner City Press: Have you ever been made aware of any other cases where Mark Gough been accused by whistleblowers of failing to follow-up on leads, with the  objective of reaching pre-determined conclusions? If you were made aware of a pattern of such cases, would you seek to investigate Mr. Gough?

Ms. Ahlenius:  No comment. Please note that OIOS jurisdiction in any case is limited to serving staff members.

            So there is no accountability within OIOS, just as there is no accountability for UN peacekeepers. To be continued.

* * *

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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