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At the UN, Misdirection on Somalia and Myanmar, No Answers from UNDP's Kemal Dervis

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, November 27 -- With Ethiopian and Ugandan troops already inside Somalia, and the U.S. reportedly preparing a Security Council resolution to grant them UN powers to expanding fighting against the Council of Somali Islamic Courts, on Monday both Kofi Annan and U.S. Ambassador John Bolton dodged the issue.

            As Kofi Annan left the General Assembly's meeting on development, Inner City Press asked Mr. Annan what the UN was doing about war in Somalia. As transcribed by UN staff:

Inner City Press:  On Somalia.  The monitoring group’s report about ten countries violating the arms embargo -- what do you think the UN can or should do to try to hold off a war that seems to be brewing between the Islamic Courts and the Ethiopians and others?

Secretary-General:  I think we have encouraged both parties to resume their talks in Khartoum.  They’ve made various attempts to talk together and find a way of working together.  It is important that they do find a way of coming together, not escalate the situation, which may draw neighboring countries into the conflict in Somalia, and make matters much worse.  So we will continue our efforts.  My own Special Representative on the ground is working quite actively with both parties.

            In real time, Mr. Annan first called the work of SRSG Francois Lonseny Fall "fairly" active. Video here, from Minute 2:40. In reality, the UN's Office on Somalia is not even based in the country, but rather in Nairobi. And Mr. Annan's statement that event "may" draw neighboring countries into the conflict in Somalia is months late. Ethiopian troops are all around Baidoa, and now Uganda has acknowledged having sent troops.

Breakdown in Chad

            U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, emerging for a Security Council meeting about Myanmar, was asked by Inner City Press for the U.S. position on Somalia. Last week Amb. Bolton told Inner City Press he had nothing to say on the topic, while at the State Department's briefing in Washington it was said that the U.S. was working hard at the UN on the issue. Monday Amb. Bolton repeated that he had nothing to say, but added that he might have something to say in "a couple of days." Video here, from Minute 11:30.

            Inner City Press asked Amb. Bolton to respond to Somali denials of the authenticity of a letter from the Islamic Counts' Sheik Aweys, which was reportedly the trigger for the U.S.'s recent terrorism alert in East Africa. "I have nothing to add to that point," Amb. Bolton said.

            On Myanmar, Amb. Bolton unceremoniously dropped from his litany of Myanmar's sins the allegation, which he previously made, that Myanmar is a threat to international peace and security because it is engaged in money laundering. Weeks ago at a stakeout outside the General Assembly, Inner City Press asked Amb. Bolton to comment on the G-8's FATF having dropped Myanmar from its money laundering blacklist. At the time, Amb. Bolton said he hadn't heard of it. Inner City Press provided the information to Amb. Bolton's staff for a comment, which never came. Now the issue is dropped -- although the spread of refugees and "diseases such as HIV / AIDS" is cited by Amb. Bolton in support of a resolution said to be coming in the next "days or weeks."

            Inner City Press asked the UN's head of political affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, if his briefing to the Council had addressed money laundering or drug trafficking. Video here, from Minute 4:10. Mr. Gambari mentioned "progress" on stopping drug trafficking, and did not mention money laundering. As one of the top five issues he listed humanitarian access. Earlier in the day, Myanmar's government reportedly threw the Red Cross out of the country.

            Inner City Press asked Council President Voto-Bernales if either money laundering or drug trafficking was discussed in the Council meeting. There was "no general discussion on the matter," Amb. Voto-Bernales said. Video here, from Minute 3:20. He added that Somalia will be on the Council's agenda for Wednesday. Click here for further analysis.

            Finally, for this report, we are compelled to note that outside the very General Assembly meeting following which Secretary-General Kofi Annan stopped and took questions from reporters, both in the hall and before the stakeout camera (video here), Inner City Press sought to ask UN Development Program Administrator Kemal Dervis about UNDP's role in funding and / or monitoring involuntary disarmament in northeast Uganda.

            Mr. Dervis said, "I don't just answer questions like this, walking out of a room."

            Inner City Press suggested that Mr. Dervis come to a press conference in UN Headquarters Room 226 to take questions.

            Mr. Dervis allowed, "Perhaps that can be arranged."

            Inner City Press pointed out that the request has been made, for months, to UNDP Communications staff, and that Mr. Dervis has not held such a press conference for 14 months.

            "It would have to be something special," Mr. Dervis said. Why not hold a press conference to take questions, as do the heads of other UN agencies and even Kofi Annan, who, it must be noted, did on Monday "answer questions like this, walking out of a room."

           Also Monday outside the (GA) room, Mr. Dervis rebuffed another reporter from his home country. Earlier, his staff had declined to provide an advance copy of his speech to the General Assembly, claiming that it would be extemporaneous. Why play hide the ball about a public speech to be delivered? Lack of transparency and lack of accountability apparently start at the top.

            At Monday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric what are the minimum standards of accessibility and transparency for the heads of UN agencies like Mr. Dervis.

            "I am not the boss of him," Mr. Dujarric answered, adding that that from emails he has seen, UNDP is answering questions. We note that a question about Bangladesh asked two weeks ago has still not been answered.

            Inner City Press was told, by a representative of the Islamic Development Bank, that a Memorandum of Understanding would be signed at 3:30 Monday afternoon at UNDP Headquarters. (This concerns an IDB initiative to fight poverty, one that will not use the types of "conditionalities" employed by the World Bank, Inner City Press was told by the IDB's Dr. Amadou Boubacar Cisse, formerly a minister of Niger, click here for more). Inner City Press asked to attend but was told that it was an internal UNDP event. Inner City Press has asked for a copy of the agreement. "There is nothing sensitive in it," an IDB official replied. "But I don't know about UNDP's information disclosure policies." Developing.

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UNDP Dodges Questions of Disarmament Abuse in Uganda and of Loss of Togo AIDS Grant, Dhaka Snafu

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, November 24 -- In eastern Uganda, villages this month have been burned and residents shot and killed by government soldiers. The Uganda military has been asked by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour to halt a cordon-and-search disarmament program which has killed 55 civilians in the Karamoja region. Uganda's deputy defense minister Ruth Nankabirwa has said the program will continue, telling reporters that "It is true that some people were killed, but in an operation where both sides are armed, you should expect such things to happen."

            Missing from both stories, and from Louise Arbour's report,  is that the UN Development Programme funded and encouraged the wave of cordon-and-search disarmament earlier this year, until UNDP begrudgingly suspected its funding. Uganda's New Vision newspaper of June 28, 2006, under the headline " UNDP suspends Karamoja projects" recounted that

"Inner City Press reported that the UPDF were committing abuses in the process of the cordon and search exercise, including killing of people and burning of homes and shelters. But both the UPDF spokesman, Maj. Felix Kulayigye and the eastern and northeastern spokesman, Capt. Paddy Ankunda, dismissed the reports yesterday. 'That is absolutely ridiculous,' Ankunda said."

            Since then, UNDP dodged answering whether it has resumed funding the program, and UNDP has most recently reverted to claiming that it never funded or encouraged the program.  A month ago, around Karamojo, UNDP's spokesman wrote Inner City Press: "As we conveyed to the Spokesman's office when you first raised this question there, neither UNDP nor the UN is the appropriate source for comment on a member-state government inquiry; we would suggest perhaps the UN mission from Uganda may help."

            UNDP has not always been adverse to commenting on Uganda's disarmament programs. UNDP's spokesman had previously informed Inner City Press that

"In 2006 UNDP began work on an independent community development and human security project in the Karamoja region, one component of which was the encouragement of voluntary disarmament. The project was budgeted initially for $1 million, to be financed from UNDP's Uganda country office [Due to a misunderstanding on my part I erroneously identified to you in our conversation Tuesday the government of Denmark as a funder of this project.] Only $293,000 has been spent to date and all UNDP activities in the region are now halted, given that they are unworkable at this time, for the reasons noted."

   On May 25, 2006, then UNDP Country Director Cornelis Klein gave a speech praising Uganda's disarmament programs -- during a time that, as reported by Inner City Press, Karamojong villages were being torched and civilians tortured and killed. Mr. Klein's speech, still online as of this writing, said:

"Uganda -- and the state institutions involved here today -- is fast becoming a leading light in Africa and beyond in how it is seizing the opportunity to address small and light weapons concerns. While UNDP currently provides modest support to the nation, it is Uganda that can support and lead other countries in doing the same. Let me take this opportunity, therefore, to applaud the Government for its strong leadership and commitment."

            The Ugandan government's in-house investigation of that round of violent disarmament, for which the Kampala newspaper the Daily Monitor credited Inner City Press, is still pending, even as more burning and killing by government soldiers takes place. Most close observers opine that at least the May phase of the cordon-and-search operation was intended to meet UNDP's aggressive goals for disarmament, for a photo-op for a UNDP country representative who has since dropped out of sight, refusing to take questions.

UNDP's Cornelis Klein amid smoldering Uganda

            UNDP's lack of forthrightness and follow-up about abuses in Eastern Uganda is echoed in more recent agency responses regarding its administration of AIDS programs in Togo, and non-responses regarding Bangladesh.

            In Togo, grants of millions of dollars were stopped earlier this year due, the donor said, to the UN Development Programme filing incorrect data. While the health of thousands of HIV-positive Togolese continues to decline, questions to UNDP result, days later, in finger-pointing at the donor, and a full two-week delay in any UNDP response to a critique by Bangladesh officials. A Ugandan cordon-and-search disarmament program which UNDP previously acknowledges having supported has killed dozens of civilians in the past months. Now UNDP denies ever having funded the program. UNDP's Administrator Kemal Dervis has not made himself available for press questions in the UN's Headquarters for more than 14 months. And so the questions continue to back up.

            On November 13, Inner City Press sent UNDP's main Communications Office in New York a request for comment on UNDP snafus in Togo and Bangladesh. Two days later, UNDP acknowledged receipt of the request and promised response by November 15.

            After deadline on November 15, one of UNDP's spokespeople sent this:

Subject: RE: UNDP questions, re Togo and Bangladesh


To: Inner City Press

Sent: Fri, 17 Nov 2006 6:12 PM

Kindly find below our response to your question on Togo. We will get back to you on your Bangladesh query shortly.

Question: Please explain UNDP's actions on HIV/AIDS in Togo, including addressing the report (below) that funding has been lost. ("The Global Fund, the main donor of  antiretroviral (ARV) treatment in Togo, halted one of two three-year HIV grants amounting to US$15.5 million in January 2006, citing "irregularities" in the  information provided by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on managing the money.")

Answer:  With regards to the Global Fund, the Togolese HIV/AIDS grant proposal, developed by a multidisciplinary coordination committee, was approved in 2003. In light of its previous experience in neighboring countries, UNDP was appointed as the grant's principal recipient....A June 2006 evaluation by Price Waterhouse of data provided by UNDP and the concerned NGOs concluded that UNDP had not put in place systems to ensure effective reporting from the field, making it difficult to verify the actual number of people or communities serviced. As part of its normal project operations, UNDP had advanced funds for selected activities. Prior to reimbursing UNDP for these expenses, the Global Fund called for a financial review. In response, UNDP launched a bidding process in the sub-region and the firm CGIC won the bid and was contracted to carry out this independent financial review. As CGIC has confirmed in a declaration to the media and in its discussions with Togo's President, Prime Minister and Minister of Health, that study, undertaken in September and October 2006, found that, while there may have been errors in the data reported, there was no mismanagement or fraud... The Country Coordination Mechanism -- a body consisting of national partners, such as the concerned ministries, NGOs and the private sector, as well as international partners, which manages Global Fund matters in Togo -- could make a special request for the purchase of the ARVs in order to ensure that treatment of the 3,000 patients continues."

            But it is uncontested that due to the improper data, no new patients have been accepted. On Saturday, November 18, UNDP sent a further clarification:

In a message dated 11/18/2006 12:02:17 PM, writes: 

I'd like to clarify something regarding the Togo information I provided you yesterday evening: In its financial review report, CGIC found that no fraud or mismanagement existed. It was the Global Fund 's Manager for Togo, M. Mabingue Ngom, who informed the country's President, Prime Minister and the Minister of Health that there was no fraud or mismanagement."

            Subsequently, Inner City Press has asked for a copy of the CGIS audit. No response has been received. Nor has any response been received regarding Bangladesh, despite the passage of 11 days. It has been reported from Bangladesh that:

"The Ministry of Commerce has rejected a Preparatory Assistance (PA)  project proposal of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as  it finds the UN organization jobs unplanned, lack of coordination and integrated mechanism. 'The UNDP only suggest preparatory assistance projects rather to take  further full projects to address the identified problems," one of the commerce ministry officials' said."

            How can it take 11 days to provide a comment on this? The spin machine is at work.

            It has been 14 months since UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis appeared to take questions in UN Headquarters. On November 27, Mr. Dervis will be in UN Headquarters to attend a meeting on the Millennium Development Goals. While two of the other participants will, that afternoon, take questions at a UN press conference, Mr. Dervis is notably not listed as available for questions. While, after repeated requests, Inner City Press has been told he will take questions sometime in December, the need for answers is now.

At the UN, The Swan Song of Jan Egeland and the Third Committee Loop, Somalia Echoes Congo

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, November 22 -- While in Somalia, Ethiopian troops now openly patrol the roads to Baidoa, and U.S. Special Forces are reported on the Somali border with Kenya, Inner City Press on Wednesday asked American Ambassador John Bolton for the U.S. position on the unfolding war in the Horn of Africa.

            "I don't have anything for you on that," Amb. Bolton said. Video here.

            But it's reported that the U.S. State Department has commissioned a report which warns that up to a dozen countries could be drawn into war in Somalia, echoing the Congo. And at the U.S. State Department's Wednesday briefing, Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey deflected DC-based reporters' questions by referring to a process at the UN -- "this is something that's under discussions and in consultation at the UN" -- a process on which the U.S. Ambassador to the UN was unwilling to comment. Passing the buck?

            Meanwhile at the UN, the Somalia Monitoring Group's four members, called experts, are apparently in hiding. Their recently-leaked report names violators of the sanctions, and says that 720 Somalis were in South Lebanon. Despite the spokesman saying they would briefing the press this week, they have not been seen. It is reported that the Security Council Sanctions Committee is arranging for the countries named in the report to be able to question the experts, at some unspecified time and place next week. Inner City Press asked the spokesman if Uganda has protested the report. The spokesman said this has happened in a meeting, verbally. When and where this meeting took place was not specified.

            The UN Development Fund for Women, UNIFEM, on Wednesday announced 28 grants in 17 countries to counter domestic violence against women. Four are in Somalia, with one each in Somaliland and Puntland. Inner City Press asked UNIFEM director Noeleen Heyzer if her agency has had dealings with the Union of Islamic Courts. Mr. Heyzer said yes, and that details would be provided. We'll see. Inner City Press asked for UNIFEM comment on the trial in Utah for rape and polygamy. Ms. Heyzer said the case shows that there is domestic violence "without regard to income." Dog bites man -- or should.

            Tuesday John Bolton has been slated to speak at Syracuse University. Inner City Press asked a staff if it was being cancelled and was told no, Amb. Bolton would do it by video-conference. Subsequently it was reported that Amb. Bolton was canceling, because he was "unable to travel to Syracuse because of pressing negotiations over Iran in the U-N Security Council." But Tuesday's meetings were entirely about Lebanon.

            After Amb. Bolton bolted Wednesday morning, Jackie Sanders took over. She said that she "too want to thank Under Secretary-General Jan Egeland for his briefing on some of the continuing critical humanitarian challenges in Africa.  We're grateful for his first-hand report on the initiative mediated by the Government of Southern Sudan to bring an end to the mayhem perpetrated by the Lord's Resistance Army."

            Back in October, judge Richard Goldstone told Inner City Press that no one in the UN should be meeting with International Criminal Court indictees Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti of the LRA, unless and until the Security Council formally suspends the indictments.

            Wednesday Inner City Press asked Jan Egeland to explain how a UN Under Secretary General meeting with LRA leaders Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti while International Criminal Court arrest warrants for Kony and Otti are outstanding doesn't create at least the appearance of impunity. Egeland responded that there is no impunity, but that justice might be done in a national or "local" way.

            Bitter root ceremonies for war criminals?

            Egeland & Otti, LRA LLC

   Inner City Press also asked Egeland to comment on rumors that he may remain in the UN system, while living in Norway, working for a new UN micro-agency charged with mediation support. Video here. Egeland shrugged and said he plans to write a book, and to sleep in his own bed after having lived like a guerrilla fighter. A reporter laughed, then asked what the lede should be, for Egeland's briefing. If he's going to write a book, he'll make his own ledes from now on.

            Wednesday morning, asked by Inner City Press about human rights resolutions pending in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, Amb. Bolton said that his colleague "Ambassador Miller" would be in the Third Committee meetings down in Conference Room 1 in the basement. That would be Richard Terrence Miller, described by the mission as an "accomplished singer himself." 

            Inner City Press found Amb. Miller in Conference Room 1, his entourage sprawled out on a nearby table. While in the Security Council each country-representative has four seats behind him or her, in Conference Room 1 is only one assister's seat. So while Cameroon had a lone attendee, the U.S.'s team spread out.  Six countries voted to censure the U.S. on human rights: Belarus, Cuba, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Iran, Myanmar, and Syria. Several more said they would have voted against the U.S., invoking Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and Fallujah, but they were principled in opposing all country-specific human rights resolutions. There was groaning in the audience, particularly when the chairman said that proceedings would continue on Friday. After a beat, he corrected himself and said Tuesday. The crowd broke into the cheer, and the meeting broke up. A journalist from the crux between Europe and Asia was heard to say, Turkey can't have a turkey. And again the groaning started...

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