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UN Silent on Rohingyas Shot, Dismissive on Haiti Cholera, Defers to Tony Blair

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 15 -- How low have things sunk in the UN: you ask for seven questions, they tell you to ask four, and answer hardly any.

  One answer is that Tony Blair, reportedly now taking $11 million a year from a member states, is not really a UN staff member: so ask HIM about any conflicts of interest.

On the UN's dismissal of Haiti cholera claims being called “disgusting” by Jamaica's former prime minister? The UN doesn't comment on media reports. Nothing on the shooting to death of Rohingyas fleeing from Myanmar. And that's just the questions that were allowed to be asked: forget Somalia and western Cote d'Ivoire -- apparently, the UN has already.

Here's from the UN's transcript of the back and forth at its March 14 noon briefing:

Inner City Press: Hi, Eduardo. I have several questions, I want to make sure, can I ask them? Yesterday, things ended kind of abruptly, so I have some from yesterday and some from…

Deputy Spokesperson Del Buey: Well, I am a very abrupt person.

Inner City Press: Okay. So, I have actually seven questions, I’ll put you on notice, okay?

Deputy Spokesperson: No, give me four.

Inner City Press: Give you four?

Deputy Spokesperson: Give me four.

Inner City Press: All right, how many answers?

Deputy Spokesperson: As many as I can give you.

Inner City Press: Okay, all right. So, the first one: you’ve probably heard of this incident in which Thailand apparently shot Rohingya migrants from Myanmar. There is a lot of controversy about it, there was an incident at sea, I wanted to know if the UN has any view of this, particularly given its role in Myanmar.

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I’ll have to get back to you a bit later on, I don’t have anything with me right now, but I’ll check and see if we have something for you.

But eighteen hours after Thursday's noon briefing, there was nothing. Nothing at all.

Inner City Press: Okay, I also wanted to ask, there is a report saying that Tony Blair, who I understand has a role in the Quartet and for the UN in the occupied territories, is receiving a salary of $11.7 million a year from Kazakhstan. And I wanted to know whether this could be viewed as any kind of a conflict of interest, whether apparently he doesn’t file, at least a public, financial disclosure, I wanted to know -- maybe you can get this answer, whether he does, given his UN role, do a financial disclosure to the UN and whether direct payment by a Government could be viewed as a conflict of interest given his role, his UN service.

Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll have to check on that, Matthew, I don’t have anything on that.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that Mr. Blair is not a staff member of the United Nations, and that any questions on this issue should be referred to his office.]

So the UN of Ban Ki-moon allows Tony Blair to police his own conflicts of interest?

Inner City Press: Okay. Reload [inaudible]...

Inner City Press: Sure, about UNDOF [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force]. I know that earlier I had asked you about Croatia saying it was going to withdraw. Now the Parliament there has voted to withdraw 100 peacekeepers, there are other reports that other countries have pulled out, what’s the status of troop-contributing countries to UNDOF and how does it impact the work that’s able to be done on the ground?

Deputy Spokesperson: Okay, right now we have three countries that are current troop contributors — the Philippines, India and Austria. Croatia has also been contributing troops, but on 20 February, the Permanent Mission informed the Department of Peacekeeping Operations the Government had decided to withdraw all Croatian military personnel from UNDOF due to the deteriorating security situation. From 27 February, all operations of the Croatian contingent within UNDOF were restricted to static activities and the timeline for their withdrawal has not yet been set.

Inner City Press: What per cent of capacity could we say that UNDOF is?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have that. I can tell you that UNDOF currently has 1,008 troops as of 12 March. So, I imagine that is the Philippines, India and Austria.

Inner City Press: Okay.

On this one, we'll have more.

Deputy Spokesperson: One more question, Matthew?

Inner City Press: Okay, I am wasting this one, I feel that you are not going to answer it, but I feel compelled to ask it.

Deputy Spokesperson: Good.

Inner City Press: The former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Mr. Patterson has spoken on the UN’s finding that the Haiti cholera claims were not receivable, and he called it disgusting, and he used some very strong language and he’s not an NGO [non-governmental organization], he is not one of the victims, he is a former Head of State, and I really wonder whether the UN with real passage of time doesn’t think that for its own ongoing credibility that offering some of its legal reasoning for finding non-receivability of claims of the death of 5,000, at least, people is is acceptable.

Deputy Spokesperson: Matthew, first of all, we don’t comment on comments by people in the media, and secondly, whatever we have said in the past on the situation in Haiti, on cholera in Haiti, stands. The committee that was struck by the Secretary-General said that it was due to a confluence of events, that no one person or group could be blamed. From the beginning, the Secretary-General has taken actions with the UN family of organizations to address the situation of cholera in Haiti and they have come a long way; we are looking at the plan for the next 10 years to eradicate cholera from Haiti, and that’s where we stand. Thank you very much, have a good afternoon.

  Not that good an afternoon. Particularly not for those in, or who used to be alive in, Haiti. Watch this site.

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