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From UNDP, Half an Answer on Diamonds, No Denial of Policy of Non-Response

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 30 -- The UN Development Program, which has failed for more than a month to respond to questions ranging from the amount of its funding to security forces in Somalia through the specifics of the "biodiversity" program it ran in North Korea to any follow-up on its promise to investigate charges that its involvement with diamond mining in Zimbabwe included gem smuggling, on Monday declined to confirm or deny if its silence has become a matter of policy.

   That is, is UNDP's failure to answer press questions a matter of intention, or of inattention and mismanagement?

            At the UN Communication Group meeting on June 21-22 in Madrid, sources fearing retaliation say, UNDP adopted a policy of not responding to Inner City Press' questions. Since UNDP had not even responded to questions asked on June 18 -- a day on which UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis said pointedly, I am not going to answer any of your questions -- Inner City Press on Monday asked Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson "what the Secretariat's position would be if a fund or program of the UN adopted a policy of not answering questions by a particular media organization."

            Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe responded that "the UN can only speak for the Secretariat, so we cannot speak for UNDP and WHO.  You might want to refer the questions to them... you'd really have to ask them the questions about their decisions."

            While disagreeing about the lack of responsibility of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who spoke to the UNCG meeting by video conference and who sits atop the UN System, Inner City Press nevertheless on Monday afternoon directed questions including these to UNDP:

Subj: Press questions for UNDP, on deadline, reminder of months-old unanswered questions 

From: Inner City Press

To: [Spokesperson at], [Administrator at]

Date: 7/30/2007 2:26:26 PM Eastern Standard Time

  Hello. Having received no response to questions sent June 18 and before, this is a request for answers to those and some of the non-North Korea UNDP questions which have since arisen:

Please comment on the criticism of and allegations against UNDP made in this article about Liberia;

please describe the current status of UNDP's previous statements about making copies of audits, including "internal" audits, available to Executive Board members, members states more generally, and to the press and public;

Please confirm or deny that pays for ads on Google (and anywhere else) and if so, state the source of funds and amounts;

with regard to "temps" or personnel hired from PRO-FIT and affiliates, please state how many people this involves, their length of service, whether they have S / "staff" I.d. cards, the extent of their access to UNDP's computer system, and the source of funds for paying them;

please describe UNDP's role with regard to "Bling: A Planet Rock," and the source of funding and amounts, and confirm that correspondents at the UN can, if they choose, attend and cover the unveiling tomorrow;

Please provide an update on the investigation(s) said to be being conducted on allegations of UNDP involvement in diamond smuggling in Zimbabwe, and on UNDP's current activities with regard to any National Human Rights Commission in Zimbabwe;

Finally, on deadline, please describe your / UNDP's participation in the UN Communications Group meeting in Madrid on June 21-22, 2007, particularly on Item 6 / "new media." What position did or will you / UNDP take on these issues, did you / UNDP urge any other agencies or spokespeople to adopt UNDP's position (if any), and please provide updates to the June 21-22 discussion at the UNCG meeting in Madrid.

Given the lack of any response to questions sent June 18 and before, please confirm receipt of these questions. Thank you in advance.

            Of the questions posed, four hours later, UNDP's David Morrison replied with a mention of two, answering neither:

Subj: RE: Press questions for UNDP, on deadline, reminder of months-old unanswered questions 

From: David Morrison [at]

To: Inner City Press

Date: 7/30/2007 6:28:04 PM Eastern Standard Time

This is to acknowledge receipt of your questions.  We will try to answer them as we are able.  On "Bling", you should know that the film was shown months ago on VH1 and has been shown elsewhere since... On the UNCG in Madrid: My understanding is that UNCG meetings are supposed to be private, so other than confirming that I was there and participated for part of the time (I had to leave early), and that a colleague from UNDP led one of the workshops, I do not think it would be appropriate to offer further comment.

Diamond search in Sierra Leone

            For now, we will report what we can of UNDP's foray into movie-making, despite the failure to disclose even the basic information regarding how much money UNDP spent.

            The first media mention of "Bling: A Planet Rock" was in the New York Post of August 10, 2005, that " Raquel Cepeda, formerly of One World magazine, is working on her first documentary film, 'Bling: A Planet Rock.'"

            On April 26, 2006, the WENN Entertainment News Wire reported that "Bling is being co-produced with US network VH1 and part of the film's budget is being funded by the United Nations." Still no mention of UNDP.

            The New York Times of December 3, 2006 reported that "the documentary, which was made in partnership with the United Nations Development Project, does not dwell on the past. Instead, according to its director, Raquel Cepeda, the goal is to help countries like Sierra Leone realize more profits from their natural resources."

            A week later, presumably at UNDP's request, a short correction was run: "An article last Sunday about Hollywood productions centered on so-called conflict diamonds, including the forthcoming VH1 documentary ''Bling: A Planet Rock,'' misstated part of the name of a partner in the film. It is the United Nations Development Program, not Project."

            Given UNDP's new fixation on having "recourse... to respond to factual inaccuracies, misrepresentations, etc." (as phrased in the UNCG minutes Inner City Press previously reported on, click here), it will be worth remembering that the New York Times made this error, and took a week to correct it.

            UNDP's producer of the film, Irena Mihova, also doubles as a spokesperson, for example during UNDP's replacement of its representative to The Gambia, after president Yahya Jammeh demanded that there be no criticism of his claim to cure AIDS with the laying on of hands. While UNDP's Fadzai Gwaradzimba was correct to speak out, UNDP refused to make Ms. Gwaradzimba available for any questions, and compliantly sent another representative, who has not to date publicly spoken on Jammeh's AIDS mystification. Perhaps UNDP's Ms. Mihova will provide a documentary on this topic.

            In terms of the Bling film itself, we'll wait for the DVD (slated to be available in September), leaving a slot stated by be coveted for others on Tuesday night in lower Manhattan. For those not nearby and not on the "A" list, Trailer: View | download (10.2 MB).

    That a film funded by UNDP -- in what amount, UNDP has yet to say -- aims to "help countries like Sierra Leone realize more profits from" diamond perhaps explains UNDP's involvement in diamond mining in Zimbabwe, with an associate of Robert Mugabe. On this, we have now posed a more specific question:

Several weeks ago, the UN spokesman announced that UNDP was undertaking its own investigation of claims that a UNDP-created entity (AMSCO) had engaged in improper activities in Zimbabwe, relating to the diamond trade.  What is the status of the AMSCO investigation, and what is the status of UNDP's own review of the AMSCO investigation? Is UNDP taking any further action?  Has UNDP received the report of the AMSCO investigation?

and, please provide an update on UNDP's support for the Uganda disarmament activities which UNDP claims were "suspended" in 2006 following reports of abuses against civilians by UNDP's counterparts in the UPDF.

   These question have now been posed to UNDP. But the still-unresolved charge from Zimbabwe, sent from there to UN legal official Larry Johnson, that UNDP has been involved in diamond smuggling? That seems inconsistent with the stated message of the film UNDP has funded. That wouldn't be the first inconsistency at UNDP. To be continued.

* * *

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from a still-undefined trust fund.

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