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Disarmament Abuse in Uganda Blamed on UNDP, Still Silent on Finance

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee, Senior Reporter

June 26, 2006 -- Three days after Secretary General Kofi Annan said that budget information should be immediately available, and six days after such information was requested, the UN Development Programme has still not disclosed how much it has spent in Uganda, including on controversial programs in the northeast where Karamojong villages and women and children have been attacked in the name of disarmament.

            On June 20, Inner City Press asked UNDP for financial information about its involvement in and awareness of disarmament programs in Uganda. On June 23, Inner City Press asked the Secretary General about UNDP's failure to provide information. The Secretary General replied that such data is or should be public information, for the public. Later on Friday, among with much invective, UNDP's spokesman William Orme stated that he had to contact Kampala for the data, to be expected Monday.

            As of press time on Monday, despite communications to UNDP by telephone and email, the data has not been provided. In the interim this has arrived, from the office of the Prime Minister in Uganda, noting a rumor that the program may end, and blaming UNDP for the abuse:

Subject: Uganda's Involuntary Disarmament

To: editorial [at] innercitypress.com

From: [Name withheld in this format]

Sent: Mon, 26 Jun 2006

Thanks for highlighting this issue of great concern to our community. I write with grave concern about the recent rumours that the Karamoja UNDP supported project might be closed down following concerns raised in NY regarding forceful disarmament activities by the UPDF.

 Before such a decision is taken it would only be fair to review why the $1million UNDP support to the Karamoja Integrated Disarmament and Development Programme (KIDDP) "Creating Conditions for Promoting Human Security and Recovery in Karamoja" has failed to take off. We at the office of the Prime Minister have serious concerns about UNDP management of this and other related projects. The continued deployment of incompetent "technical advisors" in the name of national capacity building continues to frustrate otherwise well intended programmes.

 Karamoja needs this support, let's address the source of the problem. I believe UPDF and Government of Uganda have their cases to answer but so does UNDP in getting inexperienced advisors...

            Whether these issues explain UNDP's failure to provide information requested six days ago, information that the Secretary General has said should be available to the public, presumably immediately, is not yet known. Nor despite six days has UNDP provided a figure such as above, $1 million. Inner City Press has asked the correspondent above to name the "incompetent 'technical advisors.'" On UNDP's web site, there is a May 25, 2006, speech by UNDP's Cornelis Klein, acknowledging UNDP's support to the Government of Uganda and praising the Ugandan People's Defense Force.

UNDP's Klein in Uganda

  Here is UNDP's spokesman's most recent communication to Inner City Press, on Friday after deadline:

Subject: RE: Message to UNDP spokesman from Inner City Press

"To clarify: You asked us this afternoon, for the first time, for a copy of a project document describing the small UNDP-managed community development project in the region of Eastern Uganda populated by the Karamajong, of which, as I explained, voluntary disarmament is one relatively minor though important component. You also asked today about the overall cost of the UNDP project. I said I would request the information from our country office in Kampala and that given the time difference and weekend the earliest we could provide a response would be Monday, and we would try to do so... you have additionally asked whether our project is active in a several specific villages that you identify; again, we will seek confirming information from the project manager in Uganda, and will provide it as soon as we have it...You have reiterated your original request for information on / confirmation of reported abuses committed by Ugandan troops under the Ugandanís militaryís own disarmament program. More on this below. As I said, I was surprised by the tone and content of your question at today's and yesterday's noon briefing, implying that UNDP has somehow failed to respond to your initial query regarding the allegations of abuses by Ugandan troops in Eastern Uganda (per your email below), and had also failed to provide requested financial information about the UNDP-managed developed project in eastern Uganda (information which you never once requested when we spoke or in your subsequent email). Neither is true. I was further surprised to hear that you had apparently repeated this accusation in a question to the Secretary-General today. It seems necessary to state for the record what has actually transpired in your interaction with the UNDP Communications Office in the course of this week.

Your first inquiry was devoted solely to the issue of reported human rights abuses by Ugandan military troops against the Karamajoa community, several of which you detailed. You asked UNDP for information and comment on this issue and this issue alone for the one and only time in the late afternoon of this past Monday, 12 June, first by phone and then by follow-up e-mail...

The information you provided would appear to indicate that these reported abuses were carried out by Ugandan troops involved in the governmentís military-run disarmament program. I stressed in our conversation Monday that UNDP, as the UNís development agency, does not have the mandate to independently investigate accusations of human rights abuses by a national military against citizens of that country, in whatever country, so could not be an on-record UN source to either confirm or comment on the allegations of abuses as described in your email. Others in the UN system have that capacity and authority. I did say we would try to find out what we could about the basic facts of the matter from our Uganda-based colleagues and then share them, on background, to aid your reporting. Which we did. We also said we would learn more in the next day or two from those directly involved in the project (at that point beyond phone contact in eastern Uganda), should you wish to pursue it further.

When we heard back from you this afternoon, I reiterated that UNDP Uganda was aware of these reports, and had conveyed its concern about these reported abuses to Ugandan authorities. The follow-up questions you cite below that you said I 'declined to answer' I did not answer as I do not know the answers and do not want to mislead or misinform. Having now been asked, I will try to obtain this information, and will share it with you when I do."

   While the above is filled with misstatements -- as simply two examples, the financial information was requested on Tuesday, June 20, from the UNDP staffer to whom the agency's spokesman referred Inner City Press, after she declared that everything she'd said was "on background" and could not be used, not to assist in reporting or in any other way -- as of close of business Monday the information had still not been provided. And the beat goes on...

            In fairness, this post-deadline update, a message received after publication from UNDP's spokesman:

"I remain concerned that there is some misunderstanding that there is some UNDP support of or involvement in the Ugandan military's disarmament drive in the region, which there is not.  Hence we have no information financial or otherwise to give you about that. We do, however, as I noted, have a small community development project in the area, about which I do have information for you, though I am unsure if that is your real interest here."

            After what's now a week, no financial information? Or, no financial information provided, due to assumptions about the interest in the data, or the possibility of misunderstanding? This is a reason that something like a Freedom of Information Act at the UN is needed: the financial data should be provided as a matter of right, without a week's delay and nor attempts to spin. Inner City Press will have more on this later in the week.

Feedback: editorial [at] innercitypress.com

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