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Strong Arm on Small Arms: Rift Within UN About Uganda's Involuntary Disarmament of Karamojong Villages

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, June 21 -- As the United Nations prepares for a two-week conference on small arms, questions about a UN-funded disarmament program in Uganda have gone unanswered, including at a press conference mid-Wednesday. Amid happy talk about member states reducing weapons, and side-questions about the 100,000 protest letters the National Rifle Association has submitted, the reported abuse of the Karamojong pastoralists has thus far not been on-the-record comment by the UN Development Programme, which funds the involuntary disarmament being carried out by the Ugandan People's Defense Force (UPDF) in conjunction with local militias called Local Defense Units (LDUs).

            That some of the most detailed reports come from well-placed sources inside the UN may reflect an intra-UN rift in how to engage with the Ugandan government's strong-arm tactics. This is what Inner City Press has been told, by knowledgeable sources including within the UN, and what it has for three days asked for UNDP comment on:

--on May 19, 2006 in Jimos village in Kotido sub-county in northern Uganda, the UPDF and LDUs encircled a village and attacked to force the residents to turn over their weapons.  Reportedly, four people were killed by the UPDF / LDUs,  including a 15-year old girl.  Over 100 homes were burned and the village's protective fence was destroyed.  Many residents were taken and detained in the UPDF barracks in Kotido.

--Also on May 19, in Moroto district at Loputiput and Longoleki village, in Nadunget sub county, the Ugandan army encircled the village at 4 a.m.. People were ordered out of their huts and beaten while the army searched the village. Although reportedly the army found no weapons or ammunition, ten men from the village were taken and detained at the Moroto army barracks.

--on May 26, 2006, in Loperot parish similar disarmament attacks killed an old woman. Reportedly four women were raped.

--On June 3, 2006 in Moroto District, newly-disarmed villages began being attacked; since then a dozen other attacks have occurred.  Some background: on June 1, 2006, a local Karamajong who had previously worked on a voluntary disarmament program saw what was occurring in forced disarmament and so in order to save his village brought in a dozen guns that were in his village. He then asked the UPDF / LDUs for protection against other armed raiders. He was told they would not protect the village.  On June 3 his village was attacked by armed raiders and he and some of his sons were killed and 120 head of cattle were stolen. In Kotido district, over two dozen such raids have occurred.

N. Uganda per UNHCR

            While this inquiry at present is about what if anything did the UN and its agencies know, and when did they know it, experts consulted about the context of the narrative above point out that the treatment of the Karamojong has been un- or under-reported due to their characterization as cattle rustlers rather than pastoralists, like the Masai. The Karamojong are portrayed lagging behind the wider narrative, popular at the World Bank and elsewhere, of Uganda as a UN- and U.S.-supported success story albeit one with a one (or no) party state, the single leader of which some Karamojong recently shot at. A question raised is whether women and children should suffer this impacts, from a UN-funded program. Military and human rights analysts note that the Ugandan army has had "slippage in discipline" at least since its profitable incursions in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is much more to be reported, from Kampala and the villages named above.

            But at UN Headquarters in New York, because the UN Development Programme funds this disarmament program, Inner City Press emailed UNDP for comment, as well as for a description of UNDP's procedures for overseeing the disarmament and other programs that it funds. After allowing time for UNDP staff in New York to contact their colleagues in Uganda, and specifying a Tuesday 5 p.m. deadline, Inner City Press telephoned and spoke with a UNDP official who insisted on anonymity, and used the words "on background" even for the generalities offered, which included phrases such as "we are aware of violence" and "there are challenges on the ground" and "we know that there are problems."

            When asked what UNDP is doing about these problems, the official said that UNDP "maintains dialogue with its partners" and keeps this behind closed doors.  But now Inner City Press has been told that the UPDF disarmament program is slated to be expanded, including with the use of helicopter gun ships.  And so ill-timed these voices are compelled to be raised. If the UN is providing guidance, no one is hearing it.

            Inner City Press also raised this narrative to the spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, by email, to the director and spokespersons for the children's agency UNICEF, who stated they will "revert" by week's end, to the spokeswoman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA and to the World Food Programme. At the noon briefing on Wednesday, Inner City Press asked the president-designate of the Small Arms Conference, Sri Lanka's permanent representative to the UN Prasad Kariyawasam, what safeguards are in place for such involuntary disarmament. His response was indirect, that while there is no one entity overseeing the UN's disarmament efforts and no ombudsman, at the upcoming conference "no government is prohibited from critically assessing implementation" of disarmament. He added that "when we adopt a final document we will perhaps address" the issues and "have remedies for alleviation of any mishandling." (The questions and answers are in this footage of the briefing, from minutes 30 through 33 and 47 onwards.)

            Inner City Press asked how many countries the UN funds involuntary disarmament in. Amb. Kariyawasam's co-briefer, who afterwards stated she has no business card from the UN's Department of Disarmament Affairs, said the questions should be directed to UNDP.  When told that no on-the-record response had been forthcoming, another staffer, Francois Coutu, said that since he used to work for UNDP, he would try to get an answer. So too did the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary General. But this should not be like pulling teeth.  And the question, who is overseeing UNDP-funded involuntary disarmament programs, has yet to be answered.

   Mid-afternoon Wednesday, UNDP indirected asked for yet more time. Kofi Annan's spokeswoman said, orally and in writing, that violence against civilians, particularly women and children, is to be condemned. But by who? At 6 p.m. press time, the Secretary General's spokesman's office provided an update, that "UNDP is aware of these allegations and is looking into them," including by attempt to contact an Eastern Uganda staff members. Inner City Press had previously emailed this staff member, and received in return this response:  "This is an automatic reply. I am away from the office and unable to read my email. I will read your message when I return on 23 June." And we will read UNDP's on-the-record response on these issues, it is hoped. Developing...

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UN's Annan Concerned About Use of Terror's T-Word to Repress, Wants Freedom of Information

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, June 15 -- The UN's Kofi Annan, with six months left in his term, answered twenty media questions on Thursday. Most dealt with the issues of UN reform, and the triple B's of Bolton, budget and Mark Malloch Brown. As question 19 out of 20, from Minute 51:15 through 55:50, Inner City Press asked about the Secretary-General's recent praise of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's members' initiatives against separatism, in light for example of Uzbekistan's imprisonment and torture of opponents. The full Q & A is below.

Uzbek refugees Mr. Annan

   Mr. Annan responded that he has been speaking with the High Commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres, about Uzbekistan and both the bulk of those fleeing and specifically the four Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan; he used the terms of art enforced refoulement, "particularly if they may be at risk if they are sent back against their will." The Secretary-General said he has in the past spoken with the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov; perhaps that is needed again. Mr. Annan said he's increasingly concerned with the "excesses" he's seen in the fight against terrorism. "It's been too easy for some governments to put the T word on someone and then move against them and expect that nobody asks questions," he said, an apt description of China's use of the "E.T." word, East Turkestan, as well as the usual lack of questions about Xinjiang and places like it at the UN.

            On Inner City Press's second question, which Mr. Annan called the third, whether he support and will implement a Freedom of Information Act during his final six months, Mr. Annan asked for clarification, which was given by reference to the UN Staff Union's report on internal justice and even the calls for transparency from US Ambassador Bolton.  "Yes," the Secretary-General said, "I think we should be more forthcoming." 

   He mentioned that some documents would have to be withheld, concerning confidential communications with heads of state.  That should be no obstacle or excuse: all FOI laws have exemptions, for pre-decisional and other information, within an overarching presumption of a fight to information, such as that contained, too vaguely, in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

            Minutes later, Inner City Press asked Ambassador Bolton if he might work with Kofi Annan on a Freedom of Information mechanism. The response was not yes, but neither was it no. Amb. Bolton referenced his meeting Wednesday with the Staff Council, and said he'd follow up.

            In more marginal news, just before the Kofi Annan briefing, journalists were cleared from Room 226 so that a bomb-sniffing dog could go through.  Later by the 46th Street entrance, the dog and his handler were interviewed. The former's name is Storm.  Meanwhile Sandy Berger floated off the UN grounds with a big name tag on, and no documents in sight. In the basement, the plasma TV sign for a meeting of the Friends of the International Criminal Court said, "Closed meeting." Some friends...
Later at the Security Council stakeout, the Palestinian Permanent Observed answered Inner City Press' request for an update on whether a funding mechanism for the Palestinian Authority, previously discussed at the UN, has been found.  No, was the answered, talks remain ongoing in Brussels.

            Pakistan's UN envoy Munir Akram played diplomat upstairs before the UN Correspondent's Association. When Pakistan come forward with its candidate for Secretary-General, now that India has? It is complicated, he said, while stating that no country with eyes on a (permanent) Security Council seat should also field a candidate for Secretary General. Inner City Press asked Ambassador Akram about Baluchistan, the few English language articles regarding which invariably use the adjective restive, as well as about mass evictions of the poor in Karachi

  On the former, Amb. Akram spoke dismissively of "three Sardars" who used to work with the government, but who then wanted more money. Amb. Akram said that their Baluchistan Liberation Army has funding and arms from "outside sources." When Inner City Press pointedly asked if that means India, Amb. Akram declined to answer. The evictions, he said, probably relate to attempts to give the poor more rather than fewer property rights -- a position not shared by close observers.

   Finally, Inner City Press asked Amb. Akram if Pakistan would consider as its S-G candidate the human rights lawyer, previously UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Asma Jahangir. "I suppose not," Amb. Akram answered dryly. Later over a Pakistani lunch he spoke of Somalia, calling it "Taliban Two." Given the links between Pakistan's ISI and Taliban One, the irony was as pungent as the spinach, yoghurt and rice. Let the Games continue.

June 15, 2006 Question and Answer

Inner City Press question: This is a question about Asia and human rights. The media in China and Central Asia reported your remark earlier this week that you praised the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in its meeting for its work against terrorism, extremism and separatism. And it said that you praised this, as I am sure you know, UNHCR has criticized Uzbekistan for requiring that people be deported and locking them up. China has cracked down on its Uighur minority. So I wonder if you have any guidance for the balance between human rights and fighting terrorism and, totally separately, whether you would consider supporting a freedom of information act at the United Nations in the six months that remain to you, maybe even imposing it in the Secretariat, as an experiment? Those are two different questions.

      The Secretary-General: May I ask for clarification on your third question? What do you mean by ďfreedom of information act at the UNĒ?

      Inner City Press clarification: Okay, Iím sorry. The Staff Union report that just came out suggested that documents be made available not just on a whim, but as a right, to the media or to the public, as many Member States have such a law. I think Mr. Bolton has said, and a variety of people have said Ė and I think you even said in your reform proposal that you would favour something like that. So I just wanted to hear whether you would actually implement it.

      The Secretary-General: I think, on the question of effective action against terrorism and civil liberties and human rights, my position is very clear: that there can really be no tradeoff between effective action against terrorism and civil liberties and human rights of the individual, and that if we undermine human rights, if we undermine the rule of law in our fight against terrorism, then we are giving the terrorists a victory they could never have won alone. And this is why Iíve been quite concerned about some of the excesses Iíve seen around the world when it comes to the fight against terrorism. Itís been very easy for many Governments to just put the T-word on someone and then move against them, and expect that nobody asks questions. So we have to be very, very careful not to undermine the basic rule of law in the fight against terrorism.

      As to my message to the others, I think it was a gathering that was going to talk about security and the fight against terrorism, and it was to encourage them in that direction. Iím very much aware of the High Commissionerís difficulties with the Government you mentioned. Iíve had the opportunity to speak to the President myself at the time when the bulk of them were allowed to leave. And we are working on the four, and in fact the High Commissioner, Mr. Guterres, spoke to me about it, that we should make sure that thereís no enforced refoulement, particularly when they may be at risk if they are sent back against their will. And not only that: he has made arrangements with other Government that are willing to accept these four. So, itís not that they will be stateless; we have homes for them. So we are asking the Government to hand them over to the High Commissioner for Refugees; and Mr. Guterres has worked very hard and has homes for them, and I urge the Government to let them go.

      On your freedom of information act Ė or, freedom of information in the sense of making information available Ė I think, as an Organization, we are pretty open. In fact, sometimes I say this is one of those buildings, [if] you have two copies, consider it published. And itís all over. But I think we should be more forthcoming. We should release as much information as we can. Of course, there are certain informations that you cannot release, because it does cause problems. Sometimes, some of you have asked

me what is the nature of your conversations with this President or that Prime Minister or others, and Iíve had lots of confidential discussions and others that I cannot release till much later. And so, we do have rules where certain things are embargoed for a certain period. But beyond that, we should be open and forthcoming. [Q19 of 20 in]

UN  Waffles on Human Rights in Central Asia and China; ICC on Kony and a Hero from Algiers

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, June 14 -- What is the place of human rights among the UN's other goals? If Central Asia is the test, the results are decidedly mixed. Wednesday at the noon briefing, Kofi Annan's spokesman read out a statement from the UN's refugee agency UNHCR, urging the Kyrgyz government not to deport four Uzbeks who "arrived in Kyrgyzstan in the immediate aftermath of the violent events in Andijan in May 2005." Uzbekistan's Karimov regime has pursued all opponents, getting a dozen returned for example from Ukraine.

  Inner City Press has repeatedly asked UNHCR headquarters in Geneva for some update on those deported from Ukraine. "There is no update," has been the response. Another refugee from the region, imam Hseyincan Celil who was pursued for raising his voice for China's Uighur minority, was disappeared in Uzbekistan in April and has not been heard from since. (CBC radio report here; Uzbek response here.) His relatives fear he will be deported or "refouled" to China, for more permanent disappearance. Nevertheless, UNDP has said that Uzbekistan is making much progress toward the Millennium Development Goals.

Karimov & Hu Jintao

            If UNHCR is the left hand and UNDP is the right, Kofi Annan's Secretariat is supposed to be the heart or head or both. But on Monday, the Secretary-General sent an unequivocal message of congratulations to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a entity through which China has gotten deportation and "refoulement" commitments from the Central Asian states and Russia, and soon perhaps others. As reported, Mr. Annan praised the SCO's efforts against "terrorism, separatism and extremism." Of course, Uzbekistan's Karimov would say his pursuit of opponents is just that, part of the war on terror. That's what China says of the Uighurs, using the loaded term East Turkestan. 

            At Wednesday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked the spokesman about this, and about Undersecretary General Gambari's current trip to Tajikistan. "Is the issue of human rights being raised?" Perhaps Kofi will be addressing these issues this week, mid-way through his last year as S-G.

            Ambassador Bolton's meeting with the UN Staff Union, which Inner City Press Tuesday night predicted, from hallways sources, would take place in the Indonesia lounge on Wednesday, did in fact take place. It was after 3 p.m., however, and not at 10 a.m. (parallel universe reported on below). At 3:45, the president of the Staff Union and the ubiquitous Judge Geoffrey Robertson emerged, saying it was a good first meeting. Judge Robertson added, in response to Inner City Press' question about what other member states they'd meet with, that there would be several.

   Then John Bolton stepped up to the impromptu Fox News camera and graded Mr. Annan incomplete. At a stakeout on the Hariri investigation earlier on Wednesday, Professor Bolton said that Mr. Brammertz' characterization of Syria's cooperation as "generally satisfactory" was only praise in a pass - fail grading system. He was also asked by AP about his previously-highlighted remark that Malloch Brown's speech was the worse mistake by a senior UN official since 1989; AP asked him to contrast to Rwanda. Bolton called that "incompetence and a lack of political will," versus the speechmaker's "flat out mistake."

            Inner City Press asked Ambassador Bolton if the United States supports a Freedom of Information Act at the United Nations, and John Bolton appeared to say yes. A flamboyant colleague points out that the Deputy Secretary-General began speaking of a UN FOIA six months ago. Another, of pragmatic stock, says that it's not who speaks first, but who gets the job done. We'll see.

            From the Department of Parallel Universes, in the Indonesia Lounge mid-morning Wednesday, at least three candidates for election to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women were campaigning by meeting with representatives of the voting member states. The candidate from Slovenia had a staffer from the Slovene mission working the phones.  "Myanmar can't make it? We have a lunch at one. Vietnam? Excellent." To those she met with, she made the identical small talk. "I lobbied you on the Human Rights Council, and now I'm back asking for this. But my candidate -- I mean, our candidate -- has a long history of advocating for women."

            In opposition to these smooth campaigns, on a couch with a phone was a slight woman of proud bearing, alternately speaking Arab, French and English. She met with a staffer from Ireland's mission, and asked him about the status of woman in his country. In response later to a reporter's questions, she explained that in her previous service as vice-chairperson of CEDAW, she noticed that while predominantly Muslim countries were invariably questioned about women's rights to abortion and in marriage, such questions were rarely put to the representatives of "Christian countries." And so she asked the questions, even to countries whose vote she seeks for re-election.

            Her name is Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani, a lawyer in Algiers who had been in New York since mid-May. Of her service on CEDAW she says that the problems of women in the developed and the developing worlds are not the same.  "They asked Eritria for employment statistics, when the average woman has six or seven children and lives only into her 40s, often dying of AIDS." As she spoke on this topic, on a bench in the basement outside Conference Room 2, there were tears in her eyes. "The world can get along," she said. And hearing her, one believes it.

            Near press time, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court emerged from the Security Council to take the press' questions. Inner City Press asked his position on arresting Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti and the three -- or two -- other Lord's Resistance Army indictees. Mr. Moreno-Ocampo repeated that Sudan has agreed to make such arrests. A colleague just back from Juba pointed out that "it is not Sudan, it is not the central government there." The colleague's reporting was detailed, and raised during her absence in perhaps garbled form, to move the story forward.

    Inner City Press asked directly what the Chief Prosecutor thought of the photograph of South Sudan's vice president handing Joseph Kony money, variously described as five or twenty thousand dollars. Trailing down the second floor hallway Mr. Moreno-Ocampo and his former spokesman, Inner City Press asked about Peter Karim, who according to DPKO holds the seven Nepali peacekeepers. What will happen next remains to be seen. Meanwhile in DR Congo, not only do the seven UN peacekeepers remain in captivity -- now there is plague. A colleague reporter just back from Kinshasa recounts that the plight of the peacekeepers was not mentioned after the meetings with President Kabila, nor with this "ex-warlord" vice presidents..

Other Inner City Press reports are archived on

UN in Denial on Sudan, While Boldly Predicting the Future of Kosovo/a

UN's Selective Vision on Somalia and Wishful Thinking on Uighurs

UN Habitat Predicts The World Is a Ghetto, But Will Finance Be Addressed at Vancouver World Urban Forum?

At the UN, a Commando Unit to Quickly Stop Genocide is Proposed, by Diplomatic Sir Brian Urquhart

UN's Annan Concerned About Use of Terror's T-Word to Repress, Wants Freedom of Information

UN  Waffles on Human Rights in Central Asia and China; ICC on Kony and a Hero from Algiers

At the UN, Internal Justice Needs Reform, While in Timor Leste, Has Evidence Gone Missing?

UN & US, Transparency for Finance But Not Foreign Affairs: Somalia, Sovereignty and Senator Tom Coburn

In Bolton's Wake, Silence and Speech at the UN, Congo and Kony, Let the Games Begin

Pro-Poor Talk and a Critique of the World Trade Organization from a WTO Founder: In UN Lull, Ugandan Fog and Montenegrin Mufti

Human Rights Forgotten in UN's War of Words, Bolton versus Mark Malloch Brown: News Analysis

In Praise of Migration, UN Misses the Net and Bangalore While Going Soft on Financial Exclusion

UN Sees Somalia Through a Glass, Darkly, While Chomsky Speaks on Corporations and Everything But Congo

AIDS Ends at the UN? Side Deals on Patents, Side Notes on Japanese Corporations, Salvadoran and Violence in Burundi

On AIDS at the UN, Who Speaks and Who Remains Unseen

Corporate Spin on AIDS, Holbrooke's Kudos to Montenegro and its Independence (May 31, 2006)

Kinshasa Election Nightmares, from Ituri to Kasai. Au Revoir Allan Rock; the UN's Belly-Dancing

Working with Warlords, Insulated by Latrines: Somalia and Pakistan Addressed at the UN

The Silence of the Congo and Naomi Watts; Between Bolivia and the World Bank

Human Rights Council Has Its Own Hanging Chads; Cocky U.S. State Department Spins from SUVs

Child Labor and Cargill and Nestle; Iran, Darfur and WHO's on First with Bird Flu

Press Freedom? Editor Arrested by Congo-Brazzaville, As It Presides Over Security Council

The Place of the Cost-Cut UN in Europe's Torn-Up Heart;
Deafness to Consumers, Even by the Greens

Background Checks at the UN, But Not the Global Compact; Teaching Statistics from Turkmenbashi's Single Book

Ripped Off Worse in the Big Apple, by Citigroup and Chase: High Cost Mortgages Spread in Outer Boroughs in 2005, Study Finds

Burundi: Chaos at Camp for Congolese Refugees, Silence from UNHCR, While Reform's Debated by Forty Until 4 AM

In Liberia, From Nightmare to Challenge; Lack of Generosity to Egeland's CERF, Which China's Asked About

The Chadian Mirage: Beyond French Bombs, Is Exxon In the Cast? Asylum and the Uzbeks, Shadows of Stories to Come

Through the UN's One-Way Mirror, Sustainable Development To Be Discussed by Corporations, Even Nuclear Areva

Racial Disparities Grew Worse in 2005 at Citigroup, HSBC and Other Large Banks

Mine Your Own Business: Explosive Remnants of War and the Great Powers, Amid the Paparazzi

Human Rights Are Lost in the Mail: DR Congo Got the Letter, But the Process is Still Murky

Iraq's Oil to be Metered by Shell, While Basrah Project Remains Less than Clear

At the UN, Dues Threats and Presidents-Elect, Unanswered Greek Mission Questions

Kofi, Kony, Kagame and Coltan: This Moment in the Congo and Kampala

As Operation Swarmer Begins, UN's Qazi Denies It's Civil War and Has No Answers if Iraq's Oil is Being Metered

Cash Crop: In Nepal, Bhutanese Refugees Prohibited from Income Generation Even in their Camps

The Shorted and Shorting in Humanitarian Aid: From Davos to Darfur, the Numbers Don't Add Up

UN Reform: Transparency Later, Not Now -- At Least Not for AXA - WFP Insurance Contract

In Congolese Chaos, Shots Fired at U.N. Helicopter Gunship

In the Sudanese Crisis, Oil Revenue Goes Missing, UN Says

Empty Words on Money Laundering and Narcotics, from the UN and Georgia

What is the Sound of Eleven Uzbeks Disappearing? A Lack of Seats in Tashkent, a Turf War at UN

Kosovo: Of Collective Punishment and Electricity; Lights Out on Privatization of Ferronikeli Mines

Abkhazia: Cleansing and (Money) Laundering, Says Georgia

Post-Tsunami Human Rights Abuses, including by UNDP in the Maldives

Who Pays for the Global Bird Flu Fight? Not the Corporations, So Far - UN

Citigroup Dissembles at United Nations Environmental Conference

Other Inner City Press reports are archived on

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