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On Violence from Zimbabwe to East Timor, UNDP Says One Thing But Does Another

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 16 -- One assumes that the UN system is adverse to violence and those who commit it, but the UN Development Program this week evinced an attitude more nuanced or conflicted. In Timor Leste, following the mass violence in 2006 which left 37 dead and 100,000 people displaced, the UN's own Commission of Inquiry named former Defense official Roque Rodriguez as a person who should be prosecuted for distributing weapons to those who did the killing. Two years later, UNDP has hired Mr. Rodrigues as a security consultant, which even the UN's Office of Legal Affairs has criticized. On May 13 at the UN's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked the Spokesperson

"In East Timor, there is this controversy where Roque Rodrigues, who is recommended by the UN Commission to be prosecuted, has now been hired by the UN as a Presidential Security Adviser.  Supposedly, there is an OLA memo to ASG Mulet saying this is a bad thing for impunity.  Can you confirm that such a memo exists and can you explain why the UN would hire a person that the UN itself says should be prosecuted?"

Spokesperson:  Well, I think that, [according to] the last contact I had with them, the situation was being investigated and they were trying to find out what happened and what are the charges against this gentleman.  At this point we don’t have the results of that investigation and we should find out very soon.

Inner City Press: Just to be, I felt that he was actually named in this UN Commission of Inquiry as someone who should be prosecuted.

Spokesperson:  Yes, he was and how he got hired and how it happened, that is what is being investigated.

[She later added that Mr. Rodrigues was not a United Nations staff member.  He was on a special service contract for UNDP.]

            This bracketed addition to the UN's transcript was amplified to Inner City Press by UNDP's new spokesman Stephane Dujarric: "Mr. Rodrigues was contracted on an individual basis under a project in support of the office of the Timor-Leste President. He does not have any UN status, and indeed the question of his contracting is currently under discussion between the mission in Timor (UNMIT) and UN headquarters. "

            But Inner City Press later on May 13 asked UNDP's spokesman some simple follow-up questions:

"Is UNDP paying Rodrigues' salary? You say that Rodrigues "does not have any UN status."  What do you mean, he  is a contractor, right?  Isn't this his status -- he holds a SSA contract with UNDP?  Or are you referring to privileges and immunities; that he has no such status, given that he is a contractor? Did the Govt of Timor Leste specifically request that UNDP hire Mr. Rodrigues as a consultant? If so, which official made this request?"

            Dujarric notified Inner City Press on the afternoon of May 14 that he would not be able to answer the questions that night, presumably due to a need to seek information in Timor Leste. But more than two days later, there still is no response to these questions about why UNDP has as a contractor a person the UN itself has said should be prosecuted for participating in illegal violence.

Timor violence - guns courtesy of Roque Rodrigues, now of UNDP?

  Even when it is quoted in support of "anti-violence," UNDP's approach is open to question. In Harare, the Herald newspaper controlled by the Robert Mugabe government this week quoted UNDP's "Resident Representative Dr Agostinho Zacharias that 'We welcome reports that the authorities are intensifying the anti-violence campaign, we encourage them to continue to do so and ensure that violence is totally removed in all parts of the country... there are also reports indicating that MDC supporters are also resorting to violence and intimidation. This state of affairs is unacceptable to the UNCT.'"

            For the UNDP's resident coordinator to be, on behalf the rest of the UN, "welcoming" the Mugabe government's "anti-violence campaign" seems more than a little strange. The UN Spokesperson said that Zacharias' written statement is available, but did not answer if the UN or UNDP has sought any correction of Mugabe's newspaper's use of Zacharias' comments.  The Spokesperson called Zacharias' comments "balanced." But in some cases, particularly of violence, balance is not what's called for.

            Rather than address these issues, UNDP's Ad Melkert on Friday presented himself to the press as a major opponent of cluster bombs. But why has UNDP hired as a security consultant a person the UN itself should be prosecuted for passing out weapons for mass violence? 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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