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Bashir Visits DRC, After UN's Ladsous Then Eliasson Met Him, Sans ICC

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 25, updated -- Sudan's Omar al Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court, is today in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the summit of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.

  When Bashir went to Nigeria, Human Rights Watch and others which had said nothing when UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous met with Bashir in July 2013 suddenly leaped into action, saying Nigeria should arrest Bashir. When Bashir left, they said they'd chased him out.

   But other than, so far, a single non-specific reference in an AP story, there's less outcry about Bashir's visit to DRC -- whose Joseph Kabila government has used the ICC to go after its challengers, for example Bemba. Unlike Nigeria, there is a large, longstanding UN Peacekeeping (DPKO) mission in the DRC. So why the relative silence?

  When HRW chief Ken Roth met with Ban Ki-moon, Inner City Press repeatedly asked HRW for a read-out of what topics Roth raised. Eventually HRW responded that "to preserve our ability to have frank discussions with UN officials and advance our advocacy goals, we don't typically communicate on the content of discussions we have with them."

    Where is the transparency? And why the relative lack of noise when Bashir visits a UN-top heavy country like the DRC?

  Why the lack of explanations, for example from the UN about its rules for meeting ICC indictees, and why Ladsous' meeting with Bashir was considered essential or necessary. On February 20 Inner City Press after for a briefing by the UN's head lawyer Manuel de Serpa; on February 25, Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Martin Nesirky said there will be no such briefing.

Update: after publication of this article, and after Bashir was already in the DRC, a press release went out calling on DRC to arrest him. This should be compared to the advocacy around Bashir's visit to Nigeria. We'll see.

   After DPKO's Ladsous met with Bashir last year and Inner City Press repeatedly asked about it, a diplomat supportive of ICC told Inner City Press the new standard was or would be for the UN to check with the ICC before such contacts.

  On December 11, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told Inner City Press that the ICC had not been told before Ladsous' meeting with Bashir.

   After the Financial Times reported on February 2 from the African Union summit in Addis Ababa that Bashir "met UN deputy secretary-general Jan Eliasson for an hour or so in private," UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq was breathlessly asked and said, " I was informed that he followed all the appropriate procedures in terms of having the meeting."

  But what did that mean? There was at first no follow up. So Inner City Press, after asking about US official Victoria Nuland's leaked audio about UN political chief Jeffrey Feltman, asked:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask on this question on the International Criminal Court and the procedures for UN contacts with indictees. Back in July there was a meeting between Under Secretary-General [Hervé] Ladsous and Omer al-Bashir. And I’ve spoken to Fatou Bensouda, and she said that they were not contacted in that case. I wanted to know, just sort of yes or no, is that… In the answer you gave on the Deputy Secretary-General, are you saying that before meeting someone indicted, like Omar al-Bashir, the UN is supposed to check with the ICC or inform them in advance?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: No, what I said is that any such meetings have to be on the basis of operational necessity. And that was the case for both the meeting that was held by the Deputy Secretary-General and also with regard to the meeting by Under-Secretary-General Ladsous.

Inner City Press: Who makes that determination? They ask OLA? Or each individual makes his own-

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The Office for Legal Affairs is routinely consulted on any of these particular meetings, yes.

   So under the new chief of OLA, the UN is saying it does NOT have to check with the ICC. Is this backsliding? What will those ICC proponents do? Seems like it's time for a briefing by OLA, or by DSG Eliasson, since Ladsous has been allowed to refuse to answer questions. We'll have more on this.

  December background: When on Sudan the International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda briefed the UN Security Council on Wednesday, about the need to arrest Sudanese president Omar al Bashir, there was an elephant in the room: UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, who met with Bashir in July.

  Actually, Ladsous had been in the Security Council in the morning, but unlike the other two briefers did not speak to or take any questions from the press when he left.

  Bensouda said that either Sudan could come contest the indictment of Bashir (and others including Ahmad Haroon, to whom Ladsous' UN Peacekeeping has given free flights to and from Abyei) -- or, arrests should be made. Ladsous made no arrests in July.

  After Wednesday's meeting, Inner City Press waited and asked Bensouda what she as prosecutor thought of UN official Ladsous having met with Bashir.

  Bensouda said, "we are consistently saying that these non essential meetings should be avoided.... I do not know what was the purpose of that meeting."

  She cited a UN policy -- put out by the Office of Legal Affairs but apparently not respected by Ladsous' Department of Peacekeeping Operations -- of only essential meetings being held with indictees.

  Inner City Press asked her if, as a major / vocal state party to the Rome Statute told it, the UN is now going to give the Court or Association of State Parties prior notice before contacts like Ladsous' with Bashir.

  Bensouda replied that she wouldn't call it notice, but "we have discussed some visits before, why it was essential."

  So, Inner City Press asked, what about Ladsous' July 2013 meeting with Bashir?

  Bensouda said, "the one in July, we have not had any information about it."

  Ladsous has a history, of not answering Press questions. Video here, UK coverage here. But this is one he should still answer. But will he?

  Sudanese previous Permanent Representative Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, after harshly criticizing Bensouda in his speech in the Council, agreed to answer a few Inner City Press questions afterward in the so called Turkish Lounge next to the Security Council.

 While this used to be the media's space, during the UN renovation the UN took money from Turkey for the space. Now, it is said, reporters can only go there if invited by a diplomat. This is challenged by the new Free UN Coalition for Access as a decline in working conditions and access under this UN.

  While disfavored NGOs are told they cannot be at the stakeout, Human Rights Watch's UN lobbyist, a former France 24 and Le Monde journalist, was then at the stakeout spinning Central African Republic, with no mention of its problems' French colonial roots.  Is this part of the access? As Inner City Press says: Ladsous is the elephant in the room. Watch this site.


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