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On Zimbabwe, UN Tells ICP It Stopped Work on Voter Registration Once Mugabe Gov Said To

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 31 – When Inner City Press asked the UN about its role in Zimbabwe's elections on March 30, it was a chance for the UN to clarify, including in the context of US Ambassador Nikki Haley's strong statement that today's UN supports corrupt governments, for example in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Inner City Press asked, "In light of recent criticism that the UN supports corrupt governments, please explain / amplify the UN's RC in Zimbabwe's statement that “'Our role is to support development in Zimbabwe in partnership with the government. We are behind government' ... He said all its efforts were done in agreement with President Robert Mugabe and his government.” But more than 22 hours after the question was posed by Inner City Press, in writing to the UN's top three spokespeople, it remained unanswered. While acting / holdover lead spokesman Farhan Haq didn't even acknowledge receipt of the questions, a voice mail was left by another UN official for Inner City Press. It was unclear if that UN official, whom we respect, wanted or wants to be on- or off-the-record so they remain UNnamed even as we now publish in full, minutes after receipt, the UN response provided after 10 am March 31: "Regarding your question from yesterday, we can say that UNDP is the major provider of technical electoral assistance on behalf of the UN system. Its mandate includes assisting Member States, upon their request, in their efforts to strengthen their institutional capacities to organize credible elections. The UN only undertakes electoral assistance after a specific request has been received from the host government. In March 2015, the Government of Zimbabwe requested the UN to provide capacity building support to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) in preparation for the 2018 elections. On the basis of a Needs Assessment Mission, which met with a large variety of electoral stakeholders including political parties, media, CSOs, a project document was developed jointly with ZEC for the UN to provide support in the areas of voter registration, voter education, stakeholder engagement and institutional capacity strengthening.  All UNDP projects are part of the overall Zimbabwe United Nations Development Assistance Framework (ZUNDAF) , as agreed with the Government of Zimbabwe, and are aligned with national development priorities stated in the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset).   In line with the project document and with the support of donor funding, UNDP commenced the process of procuring biometric voter registration (BVR) kits. However, on 21 February, the Government informed the UN Resident Coordinator in Zimbabwe of its intention to finance and procure the BVR kits. In light of the circumstances and given UNDP’s rules and procedures, UNDP informed the Government on 28 February its decision to cancel the procurement process. However, UNDP intends to continue to support the other elements of the project and provide capacity building to the ZEC and other stakeholders as originally identified in the project." We'll have more on this.

After the UN's noon briefing with only three questioners (and without still-restricted Inner City Press) on March 30, the question again arose: what is the bare minimum a spokesperson should be expected to do, for an organization like the UN? Should it include at least providing some response to Press questions submitted? Despite only have to response to the three questioner, two hours after submission not one of these, or outstanding questions on Cameroon and Western Sahara, was answered: "These are four questions in advance of the noon briefing, to be answered at that time, thanks in advance:
1) In Cambodia, opposition leader Sam Rainsy has just been sentenced to one year and eight months in prison along paying a fine to Hun Sen on charges of “defamation.” This coincides with the 20th anniversary of the grenade attack on a rally led by Rainsy. What is the UN's comment, and separately what is it doing about this in Cambodia? 2) On the DRC Congo: 1. Who found the bodies of Sharp & Catalan? The UN or the DRC authorities? 2. How many bodies were found? Just 2, or 3? 3. Is the UN aware of the status of Betu Tshintela? Can the UN confirm that Betu's body was found along with Michael & Zaida? 4. How to explain this discrepancy? 5. Has the UN been to the site where the bodies were found, yes or no? 3) Also, please describe the vetting done in connection with Sri Lanka military deployments with UN Peacekeeping missions in Mali and elsewhere, given the UN's own reports on military abuses in Sri Lanka." We'll have more on this.

    On March 29, the UN was providing two responses to five Inner City Press question, simply ignoring questions on Cameroon, corruption and Western Sahara? Inner City Press on the morning of March 29 asked the UN's top three spokespeople "questions in advance of the noon briefing, to be answered at that time: 1) What is the Secretary General's comment on Jordan rolling out the red carpet for Sudan's Omar al Bashir, subject to an ICC arrest warrant for genocide? 2) Given that the UN Economic Commission for Africa has had to delay its meeting with African finance ministers at the Dakar meeting the 38th floor is tracking due to Morocco seeking to exclude the Polisario, does the SG / DPA think these developments move the situation in Western Sahara closer to a peaceful solution and referendum? 3) In one of two UN-related bribery prosecutions in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Ng Lap Seng's co-defendant Jeff C. Yin is now engaged in plea negotiations, as Ng Lap Seng's trial draws near. Will the UN be monitoring the trial as to what it shows of UN involvement, and what was done regarding the DGACM official who provided a falsified / amended for “technical” reasons document regarding the proposed Macau convention center? 4) Because UNanswered, asking again: In Cameroon, former UN legal adviser (in UNAMA and elsewhere) Felix Agbor Balla now, according to a UK-based barristers' organization, faces a military trial with the death penalty on the table for speaking out about conditions in the country's Anglophone areas, where the Internet has been cut for 71 days and counting. Particularly given Agbor-Balla's former position as a UN legal expert, what is not only the UN's comment, but what is the UN doing to attempt to ensure he receives due process? Also, what about the arrest of human rights lawyer Robert Fon and his transfer to Yaounde? Also, yesterday your Office replied, regarding the USG of DPI, “We will announce arrivals and departures as they occur.” Now that your partner has arranged a farewell for this USG for March 30, what is the rationale for your Office refusing to confirm her departure and the status of recruiting a replacement? And the unanswered questions below."

  To those Inner City Press questions, the UN Spokesman provided, past 2:30 pm, only this -- "Regarding your question about Omar al-Bashir, our position on him remains unchanged.  We urge all States, including the States Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC, to abide by their obligations. Regarding the naming of senior officials, we have announced two appointments today (for the Executive Director of WFP and the High Commissioner for Disarmament Affairs).  Other announcements will be made in due course.  Regarding Under-Secretary-General Cristina Gallach, her position will be filled by an Officer-in-Charge upon her departure while the process to find a new Under-Secretary-General for Public Information continues." So, nothing on Cameroon or Morocco / Western Sahara / ECA, nor other questions on UN costs and corruption. We'll have more on this.

Again, what is the bare minimum a spokesperson should be expected to do, for an organization like the UN? Should it include, if a spokesperson has no answer to a journalist's questions at an in-person briefing, e-mailing an answer when it becomes available? Not in today's UN Spokesperson's office, at least not for Inner City Press which that Office evicted from the UN Press Briefing Room and then the UN, and still restricts. On March 7, holdover Deputy Spokesperson Haq wouldn't even explain why he had not provided available UN information, video here. On March 6, Inner City Press asked Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq about Nepal. From the UN transcript:

Inner City Press:  I know that the UN used to have a mission in Nepal, but there's been kind of increasing problems in the Madhesi and Tharu communities there, including now today people killed by security forces.  And it seems to be politically there are groups trying to mobilize.  So, I just wondered, since the Secretary-General talks about preventative diplomacy, is the UN actually looking at this growing problem in Nepal?  And does it have any idea of trying to somehow get involved as well as commenting on the killing of unarmed individuals by the security forces?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, of course, we want to make sure that any excessive use of force will be investigated.  Beyond that, we're monitoring the situation.  If there's anything further down the line, we'll let you know at that point.

   "We'll let you know." Well, the UN Office in Nepal put out a statement that it is "seriously concerned by the escalation of tensions in the lead-up to the local elections announced for May," which others (not in the UN) then sent to Inner City Press. From the UN's two holdover spokesmen, nothing. On March 7, Inner City Press asked Haq why he hadn't followed through on his "if there's anything further down the line, we'll let you know" line. From the March 7 transcript:

Inner City Press:  yesterday I’d asked you about Nepal, and you said, you know, “I’ll get back to you if something comes out”.  Something actually did come out from the office of Nepal.  So I… maybe you’ll read it from here, but, like… wasn’t that… when you say “I’m gonna get back to you”, does it mean I’m going to send you something if the UN system provides the information?  Like, what happened?

Deputy Spokesman:  It means exactly what it means.  We’ve been dealing with each other for years.  You’ll get answers down the line once we get them.

Inner City Press:  So do you have… you’re unaware that the office of Nepal has actually put out a statement about the incident I asked you about yesterday, or do you have that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m aware that they’ve put out a statement.  That was after I was at the briefing.  If it was before the briefing, we could have mentioned it then.

Inner City Press:  Right, but since… between the two briefings, like, once they put it out.

  Beckett. Or Pinter. This is similar to lead spokesman Stephane Dujarric, when Inner City Press asked last week about the abuse of Anglophones in Cameroon, not even asking or providing a response from the Department of Political Affairs, whose Jeffrey Feltman in a rare Q&A session on March 6 said that ONUCA's Francois Lonseny Fall had visited the region. Lazy spox, indeed. UNacceptable. We'll have more on this.

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