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UN's Alston Critiques MONUC's Doss As Lax on Rights, Nepotism Biter Case Continues

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 27 -- The UN Mission in the Congo under its chief Alan Doss is "mistakenly" dismissive of reports of massacres by the Congolese army units it works with, the UN's Special Rapporteur on executions Philip Alston told the Press on Tuesday.

  After Alan Doss delivered a self congratulatory briefing to the Security Council on October 16, Inner City Press asked him about Alston's report about the Congo, and the other nepotism and misuse of UN resources scandals surrounding Mr. Doss. He was dismissive of both, saying that he wasn't convinced by Alston's report, and that the scandals were being investigated so he would not comment.

  When Inner City Press asked Alston about Doss' response, Alston noted that even the Congolese minister for communications essentially admitted the massacres took place. "Where does that leave MONUC, saying we don't have evidence," Alston asked. Video here, from Minute 12:54.

  Speaking specifically about Doss, Alston said while he understands the reluctance of a Special Representative of the Secretary General not wanting to derail his mission with what seem "minor human rights" violations, Doss' is a "mistaken way of looking at it." In fact, Alston said this approach makes MONUC unsustainable.

  Doss claims to get assurances from the Congolese government of Joseph Kabila, but Alston said that such behind the scenes talks do not "leave the UN looking very good." He mocked the responses of MONUC "at a high level," saying, "rest assured, we speak to the Congolese Army." "Assurances are not the answer," Alston said, until there is "something on paper," for example MONUC actually stopping working with specific units of the Congolese Army. Don't hold your breath, at least not under Alan Doss.

UN's Alan Doss in North Kivu, scandals and critique not shown

Footnote: the case of the UN versus Nicola Baroncini, the UN Development Program worker whose job was give to Alan Doss' daughter Rebecca after Doss wrote to UNDP asking for "leeway, is scheduled to continue in criminal court in New York on October 28.

  According to the defendant, the UN says it can't or won't drop the charges -- against a man who was pepper sprayed before he reportedly bit Security Officer Peter Kolonias -- because he had tried to contact Officer Kolonias. But if the UN can press charges in court, why can't charges be pressed against it? Watch this site.

On Somalia, UN's Pascoe Blames Shabaab for Marketplace Shelling, Hiring Hush Up

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 27 -- Having been turned back from Somali airspace during a mortar attack on the Mogadishu airport, the UN's political chief Lynn Pascoe on Tuesday presented to the Press a rosy picture of successful peacekeeping by Burundi and Uganda. Inner City Press asked about reports that these African Union peacekeepers fired into a marketplace and residential neighborhoods, killing at least twenty civilians.

  "It depends on what kind of story you're trying to write," Pascoe answered, repeating the claim that Al Shabaab has been shelling the neighborhoods it controls in order to blame the AU peacekeepers. Video here, from Minute 12:15.

  Al Shabaab has threatened to target Burundi and Uganda for the incident. Inner City Press asked Pascoe if that might impact his upbeat story of a growing AU force in Somalia. "Threats and statements are just threats and statements," Pascoe said. Video here, from Minute 20:08. He said that the two countries are there because they perceive a threat from Somalia to their own peace and security.

  The threat Somalia poses to Burundi is not entirely clear. Nor is the legality of Uganda's new screening of all Somalis in its territory, as an anti-terrorism measure. On that, Inner City Press asked Charles Petrie, now the deputy to Ould Abdallah at the UN's mission to Somalia, based in Nairobi, if it is true that the U.S. is withholding $50 million in food aid in connection with an internal investigation by the UN World Food Program of alleged diversions.

  Petrie said to "ask the State Department," and claimed it is not really about WFP. But WFP has admitted it it investigating itself. So which is it? Petrie dismissed claims by Somalis that food is being used as a political weapon, saying that there are spoilers in Somalia who are "on lists." Video here, from Minute 21:59.

  Later on Tuesday, Inner City Press asked Richard Barrett of the UN's Al Queda / Taliban Sanctions committee about this withholding of aid, and if there is any proof linking Al Shabaab to Al Qaeda. Barrett repeated what he had said in July, that Al Shabaab praises Al Qaeda. Video here. But is that the standard of proof? Recently, his committee de-listed that Barakaat financial institution, which had many remittances to Somalia frozen without any due process.

UN's Pascoe, answers on hiring flap not shown

  The Chairman of this Resolution 1267 Committee, Austria's Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting, said that those sanctions are not punitive but preventive, and some are taken off once they no longer pose a threat. Video here. But did they ever? And how are they made whole? As in the Congo, the UN has taken sides in a conflict, and now suffers the consequences, including to the dwindling perception of its impartiality.

Footnote: Inner City Press, which first reported on what many in and out of Pascoe's Department of Political Affairs view as a hiring scandal in which Pascoe laterally moved into a Sanctions Branch position an Irish woman -- said to have long been pushed within DPA, back to two directorships ago under British management -- after a full recruitment process had been done, asked Pascoe about it.

  Pascoe refused to comment. At first he said his answer would be boring. Then he said he would not comment on "my internal relations with my staff." But it is a UN reform issue. The UN preaches transparency and accountability but refuses to practice either.

* * *

On Sri Lanka, UN's Alston Probes Execution Video, Kaelin Says His Praise Was Misquoted

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 27 -- As Sri Lanka announces another internal investigation of the war crimes charges against it, at the UN on Tuesday the Special Rapporteur on executions Philip Alston told the Press he has "begun to commission some analyses of that video tape" depicting Sri Lankan soldiers shooting bound and naked prisoners. Video here, from Minute 6:56.

  Inner City Press asked Alston about the reports that people seeking to surrender in May, waving white flags after in some cases speaking with UN officials, were shot and killed, reportedly on orders from the highest ranks of the Sri Lanka military. Video here, from Minute 11:13.

   "Let's have an independent inquiry," Alston said, noting that past "investigations" by the government were not independent. He used as his example that two Sri Lankan military figures were charged with investigating the execution video. The government of Sri Lanka cannot be proud of its track record, Alston said.

  Before commissioning his own analysis of the video, Alston said he "would have liked the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights" Navi Pillay to have undertaken an investigation, as was done for example by Justice Richard Goldstone of the conflict in Gaza this year.

  Inner City Press asked Alston about the countries on the Human Rights Council which have rebuffed his requests to visit, including both China and Russia, which blocked Security Council consideration of the conflict in Sri Lanka this Spring. Alston said "there has to be a limit," presumably to what members of the Human Rights Council can do. But for now, there are no limits. Alston's mandate expires in August 2010 and will no be renewed.

UN Rapporteur Alston at UN before, OHCHR investigation of Sri Lanka not shown

  Two other Rapporteurs, on Internally Displaced People and freedom of religion, also took questions about Sri Lanka on Tuesday. Inner City Press asked IDP expert Walter Kaelin about a headline in Sri Lanka, "UN envoy pleased with progress," in the Sunday Observer of September 27.

  Kaelin said he'd never spoken with that newspaper, and went on to criticize the conditions in the Manik Farms camps. He said people were being moved out. Inner City Press asked if the so called transit camps also restrict movement. He said that they did, and that this did not comply with international humanitarian law. Video here. But the UN keeps funding it, apparently.

  Inner City Press asked about IDPs' right to return to their homes, and not be displaced, as some say is planned in northern Sri Lanka east of A9, by members of other ethnic grounds. While Kaelin said there is a right to return which the government of Sri Lanka has not disputed, he acknowledged that he is not able to closely monitor what happens on the ground. And therein lies the problem.

  Inner City Press asked the Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Asma Jahangir about this same issue, Sinhalese versus Tamils, the Buddhist triumphalism some see in Sri Lanka. She acknowledged she'd heard of it, ascribing it to political fights "long ago." Video here. But these fights continue. The UN system, even its special rapporteurs, may appear out of touch. Watch this site.

* * *

On Sri Lanka, UN Inaction on Torture, Refugees, Peacekeepers' War Crimes and Sexual Abuse

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 24 -- While the UN claims to be much concerned about civilians in and from Sri Lanka, a week of questioning five separate officials at UN headquarters tells a different story. When Inner City Press asked the UN's special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak if he'd looked into the case of the two UN system staff members disappeared and they say tortured by the Sri Lankan government, he said no. Video here.

  Inner City Press has asked two of the spokespeople for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon what is the UN system doing about the Sri Lankan asylum seekers on hunger strike in Indonesia, blocked from Australia, and now off Canada. Each time an answer has been promised, but none has been provided.

  With UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on a panel about human trafficking, Inner City Press asked what the UN made of claims that these Tamil asylum seekers were somehow engaged in traffic. Ms. Pillay did not answer, leaving another panelist to answer, in essence, not necessarily. Video here.

  Meanwhile, despite most recently the US State Department report detailing what elsewhere are called war crimes, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations is contracting for 198 more Sri Lankan soldiers to patrol in Haiti. Inner City Press asked what safeguards are in place to determine if any of the supposed peacekeepers were themselves engaged in crimes of war. UN associate spokesman Farhan Haq replied, "DPKO relies upon the troop-contributing countries to vet all of their soldiers to make sure that their records are clean regarding any sort of involvement in violations." This position was repeated by a representative of UN Police. Video here.

Sri Lankan troops in Haiti, war crimes not shown

  At a Friday press conference promoting a concert for Peacekeeping, sponsored by Chinese businessmen who contracted for photographs with Ban Ki-moon, a pro-UN director spoke glowingly of the Sri Lankan troops in Haiti. Inner City Press noted that a full contingent was sent home amid charges of sexual abuse and exploitation. They talked about that, the director answered, they said there were some bad apples. Video here.

  Meanwhile in Toronto, Tamils have protested in front of UNICEF. Is it any wonder?

From the October 23 trancript:

Inner City Press: I’ve seen that Sri Lanka is sending a contingent of 198 peacekeepers to Haiti on 8 November, and I’m wondering, in light of the Office of the Human Rights finding, this United States State Department finding, looking into war crimes, and a European Union thing on [inaudible], there’s a lot of findings -- what is DPKO [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations] going to do in terms of making sure that the soldiers sent didn’t participate in what now a number of people say credibly may be war crimes? What safeguards are in place?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: As you know, as a standard rule, DPKO relies upon the troop-contributing countries to vet all of their soldiers to make sure that their records are clean regarding any sort of involvement in violations.

* * *

Is Sri Lanka Postponing Visit of UN's Caemmart Retaliation? UN Claims Photo-Op Was Disclosure

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 20 -- The Sri Lankan government is already delaying the visit of the UN's Patrick Cammaert, announced a mere week ago as starting in early November. In response to questions from Inner City Press last week, UN Children and Armed Conflict expert Radhika Coomaraswamy disclosed for the first time that the government had agreed to an early November visit by Mr. Cammaert, formerly with the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Congo.

Yesterday, Inner City Press reported that sources told it the visit would be delayed. Tuesday it was authoritatively and multiply confirmed to Inner City Press, that the government has pushed the date back to November 23 -- a time which currently doesn't work for Mr. Cammaert.

The government's pretext for the delay is that it is moving some of the youths from one camp to another. These moves are of course within the control of the government, and it is not at all clear that the government didn't know about its move last week.

Childen in Sri Lankan IDP camp in May, November visit on children and armed conflict not yet shown

  To some, the postponement seems a heavy handed reaction to Ms. Coomaraswamy having said anything publicly about Cammaert's trip. Then again, Inner City Press' sources for yesterday's item now say that the government is dangling the possibility of reinstating Cammaert. It is called trying to control the UN's speech: quite successfully, of late.

Footnote: following yesterday's piece which questioned why Ban Ki-moon's Spokesperson did not last week in lengthy noon briefing read-outs mention anything about Ban's meeting with the Sri Lankan minister, the Spokesperson points to the listing of a photo-op between the two. Inner City Press, which had seen that before publishing yesterday's not inconsistent piece, has asked for a copy of Ban's Daily Schedule for October 12, for an on the record answer as to why the Spokesperson's Office does not archive Ban's daily schedule and an explanation of how it is decided which of the S-G's meetings and calls are presented in the initial parts of noon briefings or in writing, and which are only summarized if someone knows to ask. Watch this site.

* * *

As Sri Lankan IDPs Shot, UN's Pascoe Says Camps To Be "Thinned Out," Council Should Meet

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 28 -- Just after the Sri Lankan Army shot people leaving the Manik Farms camps in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka's Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Secretary of Defense met in New York with the UN's highest officials.

 Afterwards, Inner City Press asked the head of the UN's Department of Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe about the shooting incidents, whether the Sri Lankan Army's web site had misquoted him, and why the UN had not convened a meeting about Sri Lankan during the last week's General Debate. Video here, from Minute 55:49.

Of the shooting, Pascoe attributed it to overcrowding in the Manik Farms camps, saying "they need to be thinning it out." He acknowledged that the Sri Lankan Army had put a "different spin" on what he said during his visit this month. Inner City Press asked about the headline "You have better story than is getting out today - Pascoe to President." Inner City Press asked this question ten days ago, without getting any answer.

  Pascoe said he was only been referring to de-mining, that he was "surprised" he was quoted "for saying things quite in the way that [he] had said them." But why didn't the UN seek a correction then, as it has when for example Sudan characterized what the UN told them in a bilateral conversation?

  Pascoe said that the meeting with Defense Secretary (and Presidential brother) Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka and Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama was attended not only by Ban Ki-moon, but also by John Holmes and Vijay Nambiar.

  As Pascoe sought to turn to another questioner, Inner City Press reminded him of the unanswered question of why the UN had not set up a meeting during the General Debate, as it did on Myanmar, Somalia and other countries.

UN's Pascoe on Sept. 28, Sri Lanka's "different spin" not shown
  Pascoe said there had been some thought "early on" of convening such a meeting about Sri Lanka, but it didn't happen. He added that "it is important for the Security Council to discuss... in their rooms or in the basement." Well, the UN Charter provides for the Secretary General to convene a Security Council meeting, under Article 99. Watch this site.

Footnotes: in continued reporting on the delayed U.S. State Department report on war crimes in Sri Lanka, which was due before Congress on September 21 but was then deferred, Inner City Press has been told that staff for Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont found deficiencies with the report, having nothing to do with the stealth visit of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Meanwhile, in Europe the possible termination of Sri Lanka's GSP Plus tariff benefit is set to be discussed on October 1, and voted on by October 15. We'll see.

Inner City Press' June 18 debate on Sri Lanka, click here

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

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

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

* * *

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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