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At UNICEF, Quarter Million Dollar Photo-Ops Opaque For a Week, Even a Child Could Answer

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 21, updated -- That public money should be accounted for is a principle often ignored in the UN, not only in Ban Ki-moon's Secretariat but also UNICEF run by Ann Veneman. Last week a UNICEF whistleblower complained to Inner City Press that Ms. Veneman in recent months convened all of the child agency's country representatives to New York for a "photo-op with each of them," calling this a waste of money directed at trying to get Ms. Veneman a second term as Executive Director.

  Inner City Press on August 13 asked UNICEF how much the event cost, and to respond to the complaint. And then Inner City Press waited.

    Eight days later, even after repeatedly reminding UNICEF of the request, still the requested information had not arrived. In the interim, a representative of UNICEF's Staff Association came forward to account for and defend a similar event, in which 155 staff representatives flew to Istanbul for a meeting, including the requisite photo-op with Ms. Veneman. The meeting had initially been planned for Mexico, but was moved in response to the outbreak of so-called swine flu.

   The staff representatives' event cost, in Daily Sustenance Allowance, $222 per day for six days for 155 representatives, plus seven or eight management types: that is, before airfare, $216,000. But what of the management-side country representatives' meeting in New York, with its higher DSA?

   A UNICEF spokesperson argued that the DSA levels are public, somewhere, and resisted provided the figure of how much it cost. On August 21, Inner City Press reiterated:

Eight days ago I asked UNICEF some simple questions. For some reason, and as shouldn't need to be reiterated, these remain unanswered:

how much was spend flying all the country office chiefs to New York three months ago?

what is your comment on charges by some (including within UNICEF) that these  were (1) inappropriate uses of funds during the global financial crisis and (2) related to a campaign for re-appointment as Executive Director?

please describe and quantify UNICEF's work in the IDP camps, described as without freedom of movement for IDPs, in Northern Sri Lanka, including what if anything UNICEF is doing to ensure that its assistance is not supporting a violation of international law and human rights, the involuntary confinement of IDPs.

From right, UN's Ban and Ms. Veneman, answers on costs & 2d terms not shown

Ironically, last night I spoke with Ms. Veneman at a farewell reception in the Delegates' Dining Room. She said she thought Inner City Press had already been given answers. But to the above, no answers have been provided. Extended deadline is now 5 p.m. today.

Regarding the quantitative question, while it seems UNICEF should be able to provide a total cost (use of publicly-raised funds), be sure to provide the number of people who attended,airfare and DSA and all other applicable costs. Thank you in advance.

  Nevertheless, UNICEF still did not provide the answers by deadline, eight days after the question was asked. When the answers are provided, they will be published on this site.

Footnote: as mentioned in the reiteration above, Ms. Veneman was at the farewell for French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert on Thursday night. She spoke with Inner City Press, not ungraceously, but insisted that everything was off the record and not for use. Meanwhile a well placed NGO chief, also there, told Inner City Press not for attribution that the U.S. is prepared to trade away Veneman's post in order to have more input imput on the next Secretary General. That doesn't bode well for Ms. Veneman.

Update 1 -- an answer has arrived about Sri Lanka, published in full herebelow:

"UNICEF has continued to respond to the most immediate needs of more than 280,000 IDPs in camps in Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee districts. A concrete example of our work in the camps would be the vaccination of some 27,000 IDP children against measles, polio and rubella between 3 and 7 August in the Vavuniya IDP camps."

   But what about the question that was asked, to describe "what if anything UNICEF is doing to ensure that its assistance is not supporting a violation of international law and human rights, the involuntary confinement of IDPs"?  Particularly eight days after the question was asked, shouldn't there be some answer?

   And what about the simple, eight day old question about money?

Update 2 -- later, the following arrived, still without any figure for how much the event cost:

The purpose of the “Leadership for Children in a Changing World” meeting you refer to, held in New York in late April, was to give the organization a valuable chance to discuss issues of strategic importance, in what has become a rapidly changing development landscape. Issues like; climate change, the economic crisis, the ‘youth bulge’ and innovations in technology.

The goal of the meeting was to provide a platform of discussion with key leaders and thinkers outside the organization, to help UNICEF better position and more sharply define our work for children, with the ultimate aim of generating the best possible results.

This meeting replaced a regular set of regional consultations that would otherwise have taken place, thereby offsetting the funding for this one. UNICEF conducts most of its business through phone or video conferences. However, bringing the leadership of the organization together at critical times is an important and valuable exercise that contributes to the overall improvement of UNICEF’s work for children. Most global organizations pause for this kind of reflection annually or every other year. In the case of UNICEF, the first such meeting was organized in 2004, in Dubai. Five years later, especially because of the financial crisis and its impact on children, it was essential to examine ways to continuously improve our work.

There were about 135 UNICEF staff brought in for this meeting.

  Inner City Press is informed the Daily Sustenance Allowance paid for this event in New York was higher than in Istanbul, at $378 a day -- that is, over $50,000 a day. But how many days did the event last? And what about the air fare? That is, what about the actual questions asked eight days ago:

how much was spend flying all the country office chiefs to New York three months ago?

what is your comment on charges by some (including within UNICEF) that these  were (1) inappropriate uses of funds during the global financial crisis and (2) related to a campaign for re-appointment as Executive Director?

  We will continue to dig into this. Watch this site.

* * *

With UN Silent on Flooding of Sri Lankan Camps, Aid Groups Plead for Release of IDPs

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 18 -- While the UN refuses to address the flooding of the Manik Farms detention camps it built and is funding in Sri Lanka, the aid groups which offer services there have petitioned not only the government but also the UN to at least release those imprisoned before the September monsoon season. The UN has said nothing. At the UN's noon briefing in New York on August 17, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: Over the weekend there was this flooding of the UN-funded camps, quite bad, and the Government has actually blamed the UN for it, has said the UN was responsible for building the camps and for sewage and which is now backed up and has now filled up the tents. Does the UN have any response either to what it’s going to do to solve this problem and also to being blamed by the Government for the problem?

Deputy Spokesperson Montas: We’ll try to get you something from OCHA. I don’t have anything from them this morning.

  More the 30 hours later, the UN has provided no statement and no response, even to the appeal from aid groups, that

We fear that once the monsoon rains set in after September there is significant likelihood of a major humanitarian catastrophe. Increasingly there is an overwhelming consensus amongst health, shelter and water experts that significant adverse monsoon conditions will develop in IDP sites that are well beyond the present capacity of aid agencies and the government response.

Shelter and Drainage Monsoon flooding and wind will expose structural limitations, destroying or damaging the majority of shelters. Additionally inadequate drainage will increase the risk of disease, whilst the resultant water logging will severely restrict vehicle access and hamper interventions to maintain and repair shelters in many areas.

Food Flooding will contaminate food supplies and render communal cooking areas unusable, whilst wet firewood will mean that people are unable to cook for themselves. This could lead to serious food shortages and malnutrition among an already vulnerable population.

Water and Sanitation Effluent and excreta will flood many areas of the camps contaminating drinking and bathing water and intensifying the risk of epidemics of life-threatening water-borne diseases, such as cholera, typhoid and diahorrea. Many sanitation and water purification facilities will have to be disconnected as a health and safety measure, threatening the viability of other essential facilities such as shelter.

Transport Flooding will make access roads impassable preventing food, dry clothes, life-saving medicines, and essential machine parts for restoring water and other essential aid services from reaching the affected IDP population.

The breakdown of services in these four vital areas, we believe, will create an unparalleled health risk threatening many thousands of lives.

Flooding in the internment camps: what is floating in the water?

...We increasingly believe that from a technical and logistical perspective, the present high concentration of people in such a vulnerable site as Menik Farm is unworkable, unsustainable and beyond the collective capacity of Humanitarian Agencies, the UN and the Government to manage in a way that would guarantee the safety and security of the IDP population.

We therefore urge the government and the UN to consider additional response strategies to ensure the health and well-being of the IDPs, particularly:

--An accelerated resettlement programme for Menik Farm IDPs under the government’s present 180–day program.

--Instigating a host family programme for thousands of IDPs who have access family in nearby areas. We believe as many as 50% of camp residents have relatives they can stay with during the monsoon.

We hope that you will give serious consideration to these proposals and we wish to reaffirm to you our common humanitarian concern and continuing cooperation.

    But there has as of yet been no response. It appears that top UN humanitarian John Holmes is out of the loop -- his deputy Catherine Bragg is representing OCHA on the first humanitarian day event at the UN on August 19 -- while UNHCR's country representative Amin Awad has appeared to excuse the government's detention and torture of UN staff. WFP has reportedly used Sri Lanka as the dumping place for employees it should have disciplined -- click here for Inner City Press' story.

   Conditions in the camps have gotten so bad that there is talk of an attempt to break out to survive -- or to be killed by the government. This is a low point for human rights, for the UN and humanitarian law. And it just keeps getting worse....

* * *

On Sri Lanka, UN Funds Now Flooded Internment Camps, Still Silent on ACF Killings

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 16 -- As the Sri Lankan government conducts extraordinary renditions and declares itself the winner of elections in Jaffna, weeks after it cleared itself and declared over an investigation into killings including of 17 Action Contre La Faim aid workers, the UN in New York still has nothing to say.

   Inner City Press on August 10 asked Deputy UN Humanitarian chief Catherine Bragg about the ending of the investigation into the slaughter of the 17 ACF workers. Ms. Bragg said that "we have only seen bits and pieces of the report... we would like to ask the government for the whole report." One wag asked, you'd like to ask the government -- but have you? another week has passed, and still the UN has said nothing.

   But as the internment camps that it funds are flooded, and the government blames the UN, one expects the UN to belatedly speak out this week. Back on August 10, Ms. Bragg was more decisive is answering that from the government's detention camps, the "rate of return is very low" and that the government should "allow freedom of movement." But the UN keep raising money for the internment camps. So why should the government change what it is doing? In fact, the government now blames the UN for the flooding.

Flooded camps in Sri Lanka, government blames UN

   Inner City Press asked UNICEF to "describe and quantify UNICEF's work in the IDP camps, described as without freedom of movement for IDPs, in Northern Sri Lanka, including what if anything UNICEF is doing to ensure that its assistance is not supporting a violation of international law and human rights, the involuntary confinement of IDPs." After two days, UNICEF replied that "we have contacted our country office for information on those questions. We will get back to you as soon as possible."

   We will report the response upon receipt. So too the upcoming return to the UN of Sri Lanka's new Ambassador, Palitha Kohona. Despite his hard to understand statement this year that the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay somehow did not represent the UN system in her criticism of his government, Kohona previously served as the head of UN's Treaty Section. At that time, sources tell Inner City Press, Kohona was not Sri Lankan, but rather a citizen of Australia. Expect ever greater contentiousness. Outgoing Ambassador H.M.S Paliakara stopped to say goodbye to Inner City Press, saying he is off to write his memoirs. We'll wait to fact check them.

On August 12, Inner asked about extraordinary rendition, a topic on which the UN system has spoke in other circumstances:

Inner City Press: Sri Lanka has arrested, either in Malaysia or in Thailand, it’s unclear, an opposition leader Mr. (Patmen?), also known as KP. [inaudible] may extraordinary rendition, i.e., he was arrested, there was no extradition trial and now he is back in the country. Has the UN said, some people say he’s been tortured but, does the UN have anything to say about that?

Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t think we’ve received ay reports on that, but we’ll look into that for you.

   No response has been provided, even though a senior Ban advisor from the 38th floor unprompted told Inner City Press that they had been expecting the question about Pathmanathan and extraordinary rendition. And so it goes with the UN.

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

 Channel 4 in the UK with allegations of rape and disappearance

  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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