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On Syria Study OHCHR Explains Selection, No Contract, Knows Anonymous Funder?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 13 -- For the Syria death toll study released today, how did the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights select the San Francisco-based Human Rights Data Analysis Group, which receives its grants through a fiscal conduit, does not list a phone number on its website and is funded by an "anonymous US-based private foundation"?

  Inner City Press asked OHCHR, including in light of its answers in January about the first study by Benetech which listed the US National Endowment for Democracy among its funders. Quickly quickly, OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville has responded, comparing HRDAG to Benetech:

From: Rupert Colville [at]
Date: Thu, Jun 13, 2013 at 9:31 AM
Subject: Re: Hi, Press Q on HRDAG, how selected, etc,
To: Matthew Russell Lee [at]

They are now a separate non-profit organization, and they very kindly agreed to do it pro bono this time round. Why we chose them is very simple and very obvious: they are one of the leading groups of experts in a very small, highly specialized, field. Some of their key people have more than 20 years' experience in doing this type of analysis of casualties in conflicts, and other human rights related data. They are also well known to the UN, having worked on several important projects in the past. They have also done work for truth and reconciliation commissions, and international and domestic criminal tribunals, among others.

When it comes to Syria, they now have very specialized capabilities indeed, given the large amount of input from a Syrian language expert into the technical efforts and computer programming designed to ensure there is no double counting, mistaking of names etc.

So the criteria for choosing HRDAG were experience, expertise and credibility -- and, of course, availability. The individuals working with HRDAG have considerable experience and expertise in this type of work. Re funding: we do not have concerns about the fact that HRDAG has other sources of funding -- as you must be aware by now, that is totally normal for most non-profit organizations and NGOs with whom we, and many other UN organizations, work on a regular basis.

  But what about the anonymous US-based private foundation? And how does OHCHR memorialize any of this selection process if there is "no contract"? Is there at least a letter of some kind and can it be disclosed?

  Since without a contract or documented selection process etc the HRDAG report was put on the OHCHR's web site and is being described as a UN report, would you put up a study submitted by another (non-US-based) NGO? What would the process be? Does OHCHR know who the anonymous US-based donor paying for this work is? If so, will OHCHR disclose the identity? If not, why not? OHCHR has been asked. Watch this site.

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