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On Haiti, UN's Council and Ban Focus, Abuse and Mandate Questions Unanswered

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 7 -- Haiti, so often a second thought in the UN system, is for this week its focus. Accompanied by US ex-President Clinton and hand-selected press, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will travel there on March 9 and 10. Then the Security Council, including nine members at the highest UN level, will arrive in Haiti on March 11, in the run-up to considering the renewal of the ever-changing Peacekeeping mission there. On March 6 Inner City Press asked Costa Rican Ambassador Jorge Urbina, who is leading the Council’s trip, who or what is being fought in Haiti, and whether the mission will seek answers on the UN’s own misdeeds, including a follow-up on the 107 Sri Lanka soldiers sent home in late 2007 charged with sexual abuse.

  Ambassador Urbina said that while the issue of exploitation by peacekeepers is not formally in the terms of reference of the mission, other Ambassadors or if not he himself “may ask about this difficult issues” when they meet with the UN Special Representative Hedi Annabi or the mission’s Force Commander. He acknowledged that the mission has become one of “peacebuilding,” aiming at sustainable development, which is “not the focus” of the Security Council.

   With much fanfare, the UN set up a Peacebuilding Commission to work in post-conflict countries. So far it has focused on Burundi and Sierra Leone, and now Central African Republic and Guinea-Bissau. This last is hardly post-conflict: last week the president and prime minister were killed. In Haiti on the other hand, the military component of the ostensible Peacekeeping mission has devolved to law enforcement, and not very effective at that.

   Haiti has been plagued by a spate of kidnappings, and sources alleged darkly that some UN peacekeepers stand by or even participate. (To be clear, those making these allegation are speaking of particular peacekeepers from relatively low-wealth countries, and call it a “crime of opportunity”). One wonders if this issue will come up in the Council’s trip or, less like, Bill Clinton’s and Ban’s.

  On this last, Inner City Press inquired with Ban’s Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe on March 3, and later sent a reminder, without receiving any response. When one is received, it will be reported on this site.

Alain Le Roy in Haiti, UN's exclusions not shown

  As Inner City Press noted on March 2, that day UN Peacekeeping chief Alain “Le Roy mentioned ‘good news’ from Haiti. That's not what a long-time Haitian journalist, standing Monday morning in the snow across First Avenue from the UN, told Inner City Press. In fact, some are alleging some UN complicity in the very crimes in Haiti being denounced. The snowy Haitian journalist has urged further investigations.” The next day, Inner City Press sent a timely request to Ms. Okabe, followed by a reminder, but has not heard back.

  Back on February 3, Inner City Press asked Ms. Le Roy’s colleague “Ms. Malcorra about reports of staff unrest in the UN Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, about which a question has been pending with the UN for five days. Malcorra shook her head, yes there is tension there, that she thinks can be resolved. Sources tell Inner City Press that international UN staff face a reduction in benefits.”

   Later, Ban’s Spokesperson told Inner City Press that the unrest was not limited to Haiti. A Peacekeeping spokesperson tried to limit the complaints to higher-level staff. But the issue arose at a UN Department of Management Town Hall meeting, and it emerges that compensation was in fact being cut, and is now being phrased in, 100% for two years, then tapering off after that.

   This Spokesperson responded back in November 2008 to questions about the deadly school collapse in Petionville, telling Inner City Press, which asked whether the UN given its central role in Haiti might be trying to encourage improvements in building codes, that "there is a government in Haiti... those codes have existed for two hundreds years." That might be the problem. Reportedly

"anger boiled over as thousands of Haitians looked on in the blazing sun, with the stench of rotting bodies beginning to rise from the rubble. Rumors have circulated that the international rescuers were working slowly to inflate their wages. About 100 men rushed the unstable pile... Thousands cheered them on, chanting, 'We don't need money to do the work!' Baton-swinging Haitian police and United Nations peacekeepers in riot gear drove the men away, only for them to return and throw rocks."

 The Spokesperson was asked who decided on this use of force. Initially and cordially, she said that a "serious problem of crowd control" had existed as parents tried to get to the school, which "two teams, French and American, were working with MINUSTAH" to clear the rubble. Video here, from Minute 13:20.

   One wondered, given the insistence that the UN system which includes the UN Development Program can do nothing about the building codes and practices that led to the collapse, why MINISTAH was described as being in charge of the rescue effort.

  In fact, the Council mission if not that of Ban and Clinton might want to inquire into how MINUSTAN spends money, and who decided on it. As Inner City Press exclusively reported in October 2008, "there are other extensive overhead costs of the UN system in Haiti, not least the rental of a former hotel in Port au Prince. After weeks of waiting, DPKO finalize provided the following:

"the main MINUSTAH headquarters complex (The Christopher Hotel) is rented directly from a private individual (Dr. Gerard Desir) at the rate of $3.86 per square meter. The total complex is 24,383 square meters which includes parking, office space, pre-fab office space, canteen and conference space. The total monthly rent is thus $94,000. Please note that this does not include the MINUSTAH logbase, which is located on a plot of land provided at no cost by the Haitian Government. The decision to select the Hotel Christopher was based on a locally-completed analytical process which determined that this facility was one of the few premises in Port au Prince which would meet the Mission's requirements with regards to space, water and power . It is also in a neighbourhood that was judged in 2004 to be among the safest in Port au Prince."

   Beyond all these hard-won numbers, we are left with the question of the transition from a peacekeeping mission, not to peacebuilding, but emergency humanitarian. As Annabi said, such aid is needed. But is DPKO the right agency to be coordinating it?

  The Council may also wish to follow-up on a UN shooting incident in April 2008 which Inner City Press asked Deputy Spokesperson Okabe about

Inner City Press: There are reports from Haiti that a protest has been filed with MINUSTAH (the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) after the death of the peacekeeper and the shooting up of street vendors and the destruction of their property and some deaths.  Has MINUSTAH received a protest in that regard and is there an investigation?

Deputy Spokesperson Okabe:  I'll look into that for you.

Added later to the transcript:

"The Deputy Spokesperson later told the correspondent that, according to MINUSTAH, the mission says it has not been sent any complaint or protest directly, but it has received a copy of a letter from two local commercial associations (Association of the Defense of Haitian Merchants & Consumers and The Association for Small Businesses) addressed to the Government prosecutor, in which it is alleged that the two persons named were killed by MINUSTAH troops on 12 April 2008 following the public murder of a Nigerian United Nations Police, who was shot dead in the market in Belair.

 MINUSTAH is, of course, investigating these allegations, but has not found any facts to substantiate them.  Consequently the allegations that any MINUSTAH personnel killed these individuals or subsequently removed their bodies from the scene remain unsupported by any evidence."

            The individual named in Inner City Press follow-up written question were Amonese Pierre and Anna Ainsi Connu. While the UN has said it is investigating itself -- we have heard this before -- this particular case should continue to be followed, as a matter of the UN's own "Responsibility to Protect" and otherwise.

  In March 2008, exactly a year ago and where we’ll leave this retrospective off, Inner City Press asked about "an AP story today about Haiti -- the headline is 'Millions Starve as Food Rots in Haiti's Ports' -- talking about blockages in the ports.  It talks about WFP somehow getting its food in, but that other charities can't get its food in.  Does MINUSTAH, or the UN system, can it confirm that millions are starving while food rots in Haiti's ports?

     Ban's Spokesperson Michele Montas said, "I don't know whether I can say that or not.  There have been a number of measures against corruption in the ports, which might have created this situation.  I have nothing from MINUSTAH giving me information about people dying of hunger because the food is not getting in.  Okay, thank you very much."

            No, thank you – while we await the delayed response to our timely March 3 inquiry. Watch this site.

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

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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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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