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UN's Syria Report By HRDAG, Spun Out of Benetech, Anonymous Funder

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 13 -- Amid the slaughter in Syria, how does the UN count the dead?

  Today's announcement of at least 93,000 dead, ascribed to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva but compiled by an California-based outside contractor (re) named the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, is worth looking at in terms of authorship.

  The last report issued in January 2013 by the OHCHR used San Francisco based Benetech. Inner City Press looked into it and found Benetech was funded in part by the US National Endowment for Democracy.

  A Patrick Ball of Benetech told Inner City Press there had been a Request for Proposals: that is, competition. But soon it emerged that there was no RFP "as such." Two other organizations were approached, but OHCHR would not name them. A strange procurement, to say the least.

  Now, the day before the vote at the Human Rights Council on a Syria resolution sponsored by the US, UK, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey, OHCHR released a new report -- this time, not "formally" by Benetech.

  But even a cursory check based off the first page of the new report finds that the same Patrick Ball who replied to Inner City Press in January for Benetech is the executive director of the "new" contractor Human Rights Data Analysis Group or HRDAG. He is one of the four authors of the new report, along with Megan Price, Jeff Klingner and Anas Qtiesh.

  At the bottom of the report is the new disclosure: "Formally, HRDAG is a fiscally sponsored project of Community Partners."

  It's a generic name, Community Partners -- but a quick visits finds it to be a sort of conduit which lends its non-profit status to start up. HRDAG is not so much a start up as a spin off -- it is being spun off from Benetech.

  The report says "In February 2013, HRDAG became an independent organization." Is that because of the exposure of Benetech's funding by the US National Endowment for Democracy? But what has changed?

  HRDAG has as one of three advisers an official from Human Rights Watch. Under Funding it portrays Western government's funding to Benetech as a thing of the past. But even in its present re-incarnation, HRDAG lists as a funder an "anonymous U.S.-based private foundation."

   On Community Partners' board of directors are people from Ameriprise Financial, Mattel and NBC, among others. So did the renamed HRDAG, spun out of US-funded Benetech, get another essentially sole source contract? Why is the UN so sloppy? Why can it not issue its own reports, given its budget? Watch this site.

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