Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tale of Two UNs, Peace Mural Versus Haiti Cholera, Rapes Covered Up, Mines


By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, April 1 -- It was a tale of two UNs, with a peace mural and Peter Yarrow in the Conference Building hallway, amid talk against colonialism, compared to Herve Ladsous and self-serving talk of UN work in the Central African Republic and Haiti in the General Assembly lobby on April 1.
   In the GA Lobby, a "virtual mine field" was presented, first to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who was told he was the first SG to face this danger - on an iPad. 
  A French photogrraph spoke movingly about CAR, said what an honor it was to work for the UN. It was unclear if she's heard UN Peacekeeping brought cholera to Haiti, killed more than 8000 people then refused to accept any responsibility.
 But this is not to (entirely) be a nay-sayer. The ideals of the UN still draw people to it, like around the corner at the Peace Mural. Those attending that event could ignore today's UN, not speaking out against airstrikes on Yemen,helping cover up rapes in Darfur and the DR Congo.
 It was Ladsous who did those and refused to answer questions, video hereVine here. Ironically it was Ladsous who, leaving the virtual reality of the GA Lobby, passed by the Peace Mural event barely looking at it. Colonialism indeed.
  Earlier on April 1 when the UN Mine Action Service held its annual press conference, Inner City Press wanted to ask UNMAS Director Agnes Marcaillou about landmines in South Sudan and UNMAS' promotion of multiply-accused deminer David Bax from Somalia to Gaza.
  But also at the press conference were Japan's Deputy Permanent Representative and the Dutch Permanent Representative Karel van Oosterom, who it was said had to leave early, to meet with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. 
  So Inner City Press first asked van Oosterom if Dutch Queen Maxine, in Myanmar, would be raising the landmine issues in that country.
   No,  van Oosterom said, the Queen is in Myanmar in her capacity as UN Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development. But he (and UNMAS' Marcaillou) assured that she and other Dutch official raise the landmine issue wherever they go.
  Later, Inner City Press asked Marcaillou about the reported use of landmines in South Sudan and about the disposition of the investigation(s) into David Bax, who whistleblowers in Somalia alleged shared DNA information about Somalia bombers with US intelligence, as well as engaging in conflicts of interest. (Video and background here.)
   Marcaillou spoke passionately about South Sudan, where UNMAS found cluster bombs were used but could not find by whom. She said UNMAS coordinated a statement on the landline allegation, by IGAD with the UN Mission UNMISS. Later she said that UNMAS dogs were used to check if explosives were being brought into UNMISS protection of civilians site.


  On Bax, the answer was less convincing.  Marcaillou as she did last year pointed to an investigation by the UN Office of Project Services - but this time acknowledged that she had not seen the whole UNOPS report. 
This is the case even though Bax is a UNMAS employee - it's that UNMAS outsources its human resources activities to UNOPS. But shouldn't Marcaillou as UNMAS director have access to investigative reports about UNMAS staffers? We'll have more on this.
Footnote: After the briefing, Inner City Press mused whether the Netherlands, running for one of two Western European and Other Group seats on the UN Security Council against Italy and Sweden, would be upping its contributions to UNMAS.
    Karel van Oosterom replied that “currently, tender process under way for for years 2016-20. Share UNMAS will depend on quality its proposals.”
  This level of detail is appreciated. And wouldn't one think that assessment would include UNMAS' transparency, including whether it demands and gets access to investigative reports about UNMAS staff like Bax and the issues raised? We'll have more on this.

 
  

Egypt Sentenced 509 to Death in 2014, Obama Releases Jets, Amnesty International Releases Report


By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, April 1 with video -- In Egypt in 2014, 509 people were sentenced to death. 
  On March 31, 2015, on the very day the UN belatedly criticized airstrikes in an IDP camp in Yemen, and Doctors without Borders and the Red Cross complained of the blockades that prevent medical supplies from getting in, US President Barack Obama said he is releasing tanks, jets and rockets to Egypt, which is part of the military offensive and blockade.
 On April 1, Inner City Press asked Amnesty International's representative at the UN Renzo Pomi about the death sentences, and the Obama administration's decision. Video here.
  While Pomi had no direct comment linking the two issues, Amnesty International was fast in reporting civilian casualties from the Saudi-led, Egypt-involved offensive on Yemen. 
 (And, Amnesty notes, in 2014 "the USA continued to use the death penalty in contravention of international law and standards," citing the cases of Edgar Tamayo, Askari Adullah Muhammad, Paul Goodwin and Ramiro Hernandez Llanas.)
 In Amnesty's study of executions in 2014, Pomi told Inner City Press, only "judicial" executions were considered. This apparently means, by a state or recognized entity such as in Gaza. ISIS is not counted, though its executions have led to others. Are all states judicial? We hope to have more on this.

  The White House read-out began, "President Obama spoke with Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi today regarding the U.S.-Egyptian military assistance relationship and regional developments, including in Libya and Yemen.  President Obama informed President al-Sisi that he will lift executive holds that have been in place since October 2013 on the delivery of F-16 aircraft, Harpoon missiles, and M1A1 tank kits."
 The NSC specified that "President Obama has directed the release of 12 F-16 aircraft, 20 Harpoon missiles, and up to 125 M1A1 Abrams tank kits that have been held from delivery."
   The timing is strange. Or perhaps not.
 Amid continued airstrikes in Yemen, on March 30 came reports of an airstrike on an internally displaced persons camp in Haradh. Inner City Press immediately sought confirmation (and comment) from the UN.
 On March 31, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid issued a statement on Yemen including this:
'I am shocked by Monday’s airstrike against the Al-Mazraq camp for internally displaced people in Harad, in the north of Yemen,' Zeid said. There are different accounts as to how many people were killed in the airstrike, but UN human rights staff in Yemen have verified at least 19 fatalities, with at least 35 others injured including 11 children. This camp, home to some 4,000 people, was established by the UN in 2009 and recently received at least 300 new families displaced from Sa'da."
  Meanwhile UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was in Kuwait, talking about "a deeply moving video entitled 'Clouds over Sidra.'  It is an amazing virtual reality production of the starkness of life in the Za’atari Refugee Camp through the eyes of a beautiful young girl by the name of Sidra."
  Ban speaks on this virtual reality - but remains silent on the inconvenient reality of the airstrike on the real IDP camp in Haradh in Yemen.

 
  

Inner City Press Probes UN Pension Fund, Asks if Pictet Has Quit, JPMC Conflict, Boykin Will Answer Press Questions?


By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, April 1 -- Irregularities at the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund, which Inner City Press has previously exclusively coveredfor example here, have grown worse, according to whistleblower communications received by Inner City Press from multiple sources, and published on March 29.
  On March 30, Inner City Press asked UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq:
Inner City Press..  about alleged irregularities in the Pension Fund and a desire by the current Chief of the Pension Fund to change the rules so there's less outside review. Is the Secretariat aware of these concerns and how does the Secretariat think they should be resolved, and how would staff in New York be represented as to this $53 billion fund?

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  As you know, the Secretariat in the form of the Secretary-General does not have control over the Pension Fund.  It's not something that I can comment on.  You'd have to take that up directly with the Pension Fund. 
  It seemed a strange or telling answer, given that there is a Representative of the Secretary General to the pension fund, Caro Boykin, on whom Inner City Press has previously reported, here.
  More recently, as first reported here by Inner City Press, Boykin's management has been questioned by the UN Dispute Tribunal on March 30, 2015, here, in Singh vs UNSG (Ban Ki-moon):
"the Applicant’s request for management evaluation was deem
ed premature, and thus not receivable. However, the MEU made the following observations:
"Following communications with the UNJSPF, the MEU noted that the job opening for the Post was exceptionally approved by [OHRM] and later reviewed and approved by the Central Review Board. The MEU learned that the CFA exception was granted because the future incumbent will be in charge of managing all investments of the [IMD], which are valued at USD 53 billion."
  So after learning more about the growing scandal in the UN Pension Fund, including through a staff meeting on March 31 that was itself controversial, Inner City Press on April 1 asked Haq again.
 Haq now said he had spoken with Boykin who might -- might -- speak to the press. Inner City Press asked, yes or no, if Investment Committee chairman Ivan Pictet has quit.  Haq did not answer.
 There are $53 billion at stake here, and the Secretary General appoints the members of the Investment Committee. We'll have more on this.
 And on this, the allegations of (some) staff:
-Attempts by the fund CEO, Sergio Arvizú, to recruit a new CFO, subsequent  found to be unsuitable for the post.
- A consultancy services contract worth $520,000, divided into two, so as to avoid scrutiny by the Headquarters Committee on Contracts, a committee that only reviews procurement requests above $500,000.
- Attempts by the CEO to approve return air tickets from Mexico to New York for four individuals with no relationship, contractual or otherwise, to the fund.
- Irregular modification of a vacancy announcement in order to favor a particular candidate to the post of D-1 Chief of Legal Services.
- Attempts by the CEO to give a short-term contract to a 90 year-old referee on his CV -- this person was said, on March 31, to be closer to 100 years old.
  A failure to disclose a conflict of interest involving JP Morgan Chase was also alleged.
  The UN Pension Fund, which has resisted not only Press coverage but also accountability to its own pensioneers, is said to be poised to implement a major reduction in staff rights, according to a communication a whistleblower directed to Inner City Press on April 2, 2014 and which Inner City Press published on April 3, here.
   Inner City Press immediately began investigating the complaint, including a draft Secretary General's Bulletin said to be pushed by Pension Fund CEO Sergio Arvizu Trevino. From April 3 through the UN noon briefing on April 14, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokespeople three times for a response, including to staff unions' letters of protest. 
  Finally on April 14 came this response from Ban's spokesman:
Subject: Your question on the Joint Staff Pension Fund
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply [at] org
Date: Mon, Apr 14, 2014 at 4:21 PM
To: Matthew.Lee [at] innercitypress.com
Cc: Stephane Dujarric [at] org
The UN Joint Staff Pension Fund (UNJSPF) is not a Secretariat entity but composed of many member organizations. The matter of formalizing delegation of certain authorities in human resources matters to the CEO of the UNJSPF follows discussions at the Board and the General Assembly. The General Assembly requested a review of the policies governing the recruitment, promotion and retention of the staff of the Fund and measures to find suitable candidates for certain Fund positions that were difficult to fill. The review found that the currently applicable memorandum of understanding between the Office of Human Resources Management and the UNJSPF no longer fully meets the needs of the Fund as a inter-agency entity with a unique mandate.
  This despite extensive protest from impacted staff, for example this received by Inner City Press:
"There is no way they accept 'No" for an answer to this mandate even though they say we are here to listen to your concerns, unless you stand united and firm with details clearly expressed and drafted sitting with the staff and their representatives. This divide and rule must stop and an inclusive conversation guaranteeing staff rights for grievances and eliminating this mess until the IPAS goes live and works as necessary. Sending you the complete documents we have received so far, thanks to those who contributed some documents attached here that are taken from the various communications and found at printers (special thanks to those high level people). Will send more as they become available.
 And so there will be more - watch this site. Tellingly, UN Management has engaged in what many view ascensorship, click here for that.
   In the interim the old Staff Union has gotten involved, stating that it is "confident that the draft is real and is currently under consideration" --
In case this draft is approved the CEO of the fund will be able to:
remove the UN contracts of over 230 pension fund staff;
appoint, promote and terminate pension board staff at will;
make exceptions to the staff rules; and much more.
Worryingly, it was the Pension Board that was supposed to formulate proposals on HR issues and present them to the General Assembly. We understand that the CEO is now pressuring the Secretary-General to sign this off before the Pension Board even meets, thus making it a fait accompli. This would contradict the wishes of the General Assembly.
The staff of the fund manage $45 billion - your $45 billion. They rightly work in a diligent and independent manner, which is essential - it's your retirement income at stake.
We are aware of strange management practices at the Pension Fund for a while. Staff members there work under one of two types of contracts: a regular UN contract or a contract limited to service in the Pension Fund. If this draft goes forward, the Fund's CEO will have absolute power over his staff and we will have very little oversight on the way our pension fund is managed.
  The whistleblower's summary points at CEO Sergio Arvizu Trevino and his deputy Paul Dooley. Back in July 2013 when the UN Pension Fund was poised to designate a new deputy director, sources told Inner City Press that first among the three finalists was an individual previously recommended for discipline by the Office of Internal Oversight Service, Paul Dooley.
   Inner City Press, contacted by whistleblowers inside the Pension Fund, previously dug into a lack of accountability there. It obtained and reported on OIOS' "Investigation of conflict of interest, favoritism and mismanagement at the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund" describing how through the Pension Fund's Paul Dooley, millions of dollars in contacts were given to a company called Sprig, Ltd, run by Gerald Bodell, who was previously Dooley's supervisor at Guardian Mortgage Corporation. 
  Recommendations 1 and 2 of the OIOS investigative report directed that "appropriate action be taken” regarding Dooley as well as Dulcie Bull.
Previous chief Bernard G. Cocheme refused to implement the recommendation for discipline. Farhan Haq, then as now a UN spokesperson, confirmed to Inner City PressCocheme's decision not to discipline:
Subj: Your question on OIOS and the Pension Fund
From: Farhan Haq [at] un.org
To: Inner City Press

In March 2006, the OIOS completed an investigation into allegations of possible conflict of interest, favoritism and mismanagement at the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund. Based upon the evidence adduced, OIOS concluded that several staff members - including two Senior UNJSPF staff - have acted improperly in connection to contracts for information technology services awarded to a consultant retained by UNJSPF. 
OIOS issued several recommendations in this case, including that UNJSPF management take appropriate action against its two staff. The Chief Executive Officer of UNJSPF informed OIOS that he disagrees with the findings and recommendations of the report of investigation - as regards the actions of his staff - and advised that he "intends to take no action" with regard to them. OIOS advised him that pursuant to its mandate, it will report his response to the General Assembly.
That was one thing. But to now promote the individual to deputy chief? As one Pension Fund source put it to Inner City Press, there is less and less accountability in the UN, the more and more they talk about it elsewhere.
  Back then, the UN fought back against Inner City Press' reports by a spurious Security complaint how Inner City Press went to the Pension Fund to cover a meeting. This was repeated last year when Inner City Press covered meetings of Herve Ladsous' Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations including a Sri Lankan military figure depicted in the UN's own reports as engaged in war crimes.
In 2013, the UN threatened to suspend or withdraw Inner City Press' accreditation for merely hanging a sign of the new Free UN Coalition for Access, which it co-founded to oppose the earlier type of attacks, against any journalist.Labor rights, free press without favoritism or censorship - what is Ban's UN coming to? Watch this site. 
   

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

In Sudan, UN Quietly Replaced Resident Coordinator Za'atari After Vowing to Fight, Now Silent on Myanmar Criminal Charges


By Matthew Russell Lee, Follow up on Exclusives
UNITED NATIONS, March 31, more here -- Amid charges that the UN in Sudan, including Herve Ladsous' UN Peacekeeping in Darfur, has colluded with the authorities in Khartoum to cover up rapes and killing, the UN in December said it would fight to keep its Resident Coordinator Ali Al Za'tari in the country.
  That was the UN's response to Za'tari being ordered to leave Sudan by January 2, Inner City Press first reported. Inner City Press similarly exclusively reported, and asked the UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric about, Sudan's ouster of UNDP Country Director Yvonne Heller on December 24. 
  But did the UN follow through on its vow to push-back? No, the UN remained quiet when it ended up replacing Za'atari, as Inner City Press noticed and asked about on March 31, video here, transcript below
Inner City Press: I wanted to go back to Sudan, because remember there was that standoff about the Resident Coordinator Ali Za’atari, who has said that the UN is standing behind him and he won’t be PNG’d, and I saw an announcement that on March 21st, a new Resident Humanitarian Coordinator began work in Khartoum, Mr. Mustafa Bin Al Malih.  And so what happened?  And why didn’t the UN announce that they removed Mr. Za’atari as Resident Coordinator?

Deputy Spokesman:  We pressed for them to continue with Mr. Ali Za’atari and they continued with their objections.  Ultimately we do need to have somebody on the ground to do the work, although we do not accept that our impartial, neutral experts did not get permission to be on the ground to do their work.

Inner City Press: And has Yvonne Helle also been replaced as the representative of UNDP in the country?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe Ms. Helle left some time ago.  She was already out of the country when they took the decision so I believe there’s a process in place to make sure that the work is done.
 Back on December 25 after another inquiry by Inner City Press to Dujarric and UNDP, Dujarric sent this:
From: Stephane Dujarric [at] un.org
Date: Thu, Dec 25, 2014 at 1:31 PM
Subject: Re: Press request on Sudan PNG-ing Yvonne Helle (asked Dec 24) & now Dec 25 Ali Al-Za'tari
To: Matthew Lee [at] InnerCityPress.org
Cc: UNDP, funca [at] FUNCA.info

Matthew, The UN has filed a protest with the government of Sudan following their decision to request the departure of two senior UN officials from the country.

  So the UN filed a protest. But what about the UNFPA case in April, and aother one, in Darfur, which Inner City Press exclusively reported on in December?
On March 31, Inner City Press also asked on Myanmar:
Inner City Press: I heard your statement on behalf of or by Mr. Nambiar praising the country.  I just wanted to know:  has he or anyone else in the UN system have anything to say about the filing of criminal charges against the students who protested the national education law?  A number of… even some countries have [inaudible] this standoff in March where the peaceful demonstrators have been arrested.  Now the charges have been filed, they haven’t been released.  Is there any follow-up by the UN on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ll check with Mr. Nambiar what he has to say on that.
  Six hours later and counting, nothing.
  On Sudan back on December 24, Inner City Press similarly exclusively reported and then asked the UN Spokesman about UNDP Country Director Yvonne Helle being ordered out of Sudan, citing her and Al-Za'tari's e-mails. Video here.
  A full day after that, Reuters reported on Helle's ouster -- typically, for Reuters, with no credit to the Press' prior exclusive story. (Reuters' UN bureau chief has said he has a policy of not crediting Inner City Press' exclusive, and has gone to far as to censor, Sudan-style, his "for the record" anti-Press complains to the UN, click here for that, via EFF's ChillingEffect.org).
   On December 24, Inner City Press asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric about Sudan having just similarly "PNG-ed" or declared persona non-grata the Sudan Country Director of the UN Development Program Yvonne Helle, with Za'tari barely pushing back against the government.
  Dujarric said that host countries' ordered to PNG a UN staff member are treated seriously and should be sent to, and considered and acted on by, Ban's Secretariat in New York. But Dujarric in the 18 hours after Inner City Press asked about Helle has not returned with any information or answer. Then Reuters published its story, with no credit.
Watch this site.

 
  

On Yemen, UN's Ban Ki-moon on IDP Airstrikes & Hospital Shelling, Silent on Aid Blockade


By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, March 31, with video -- Amid complaints by Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross that they can't get medical aid into Yemen, Inner City Press on March 31 asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq who in the UN is raising the issue to the Saudi-led coalition. The answer was UNclear. Video here.
  Later on March 31, the UN issued a belated statement by Ban Ki-moon about the airstrikes on an IDP camp in northern Yemen, "balanced" by criticism of shelling of hospitals in the south, with no mention of the aid blockade:
"The Secretary-General is deeply concerned over reports of numerous civilian casualties resulting from ongoing military operations in Yemen, including an airstrike on 30 March on the Al-Mazraq camp for internally displaced persons in Harad, in the north of Yemen, and attacks against several hospitals in Dhale, in the south of the country.  These attacks left dozens dead and injured, among them children.

"The Secretary-General reminds all parties involved in military operations in Yemen of their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians. This includes the strict adherence to the principles of proportionality, distinction, and precaution. He also stresses that hospitals and other medical installations have a special protected status under international law.

"The Secretary-General reiterates his firm belief in the necessity to resolve the conflict through peaceful means."
  So what is Ban Ki-moon saying to the Saudis? Watch this site.
  On March 31, Doctors Without Borders / MSF said "the closure of all the international airports in Sana'a, Aden, and Hodeida, and heavy restrictions on the seaports, are hampering the delivery of humanitarian assistance."
 On March 30 came reports of an airstrike on an internally displaced persons camp in Haradh. Inner City Press immediately sought confirmation (and comment) from the UN, and then from the US State Department.
 From the State Department transcript:
Inner City Press: about Yemen.  There’s this report of an IDP camp in northern Yemen called Haradh that was hit, and MSF said that several dozen people were killed by an airstrike.  And I wanted – last week, Jeff Rathke said that the U.S. couldn’t corroborate casualties.  But does the U.S. have anything to say about the way in which the campaign is being waged and safeguards that should be in place?  And do you – is there any – do you see the situation moving closer toward resuming dialogue between Houthis and Hadi, or further away?

MS. HARF:  Well, that’s certainly the goal, right, to get on a path back to political dialogue.  So even through the military action that we’re supporting, that is the goal.  I think it’s a challenge at the moment given the Houthis’ actions, quite frankly, but we’re trying.

I just saw the report before I got on the phone about the IDP camp, so let me look into that and see if there’s more we can share.  I just don’t know the facts on it.  But in every conflict, we’ve always been clear that all sides should avoid civilian casualties.  That’s certainly – I mean, it’s important for us.  We’ve called on all sides in conflicts, including here, to take feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians, so that’s obviously important to us.  But let me check on the specifics and see if we can anything back to you after the briefing.
  Later on March 30, a US State Department official made this response to Inner City Press, on background:
"We have seen the media reports regarding the attack on the Mazraq camp for internally displaced Yemenis, which reportedly left over 20 individuals dead. We cannot confirm details of the attack. We offer our condolences to the families of the victims. The loss of civilian life in any conflict is tragic.
"We call upon all sides in Yemen to comply with international humanitarian law, including the obligation to take all feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians."
  Inner City Press also asked the March president of the UN Security Council, Francois Delattre of France, about the Haradh IDP camp; he said it had not come up in the UN Security Council. Yet? Video here.
 

 
  

Obama Hands Egypt's Sisi F-16 Jets, Tanks & Harpoon Rockets Amid Blockade of Yemen


By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, March 31, with video -- On the very day the UN belatedly criticized airstrikes in an IDP camp in Yemen, and Doctors without Borders and the Red Cross complained of the blockades that prevent medical supplies from getting in, US President Barack Obama is releasing tanks, jets and rockets to Egypt, which is part of the military offensive and blockade.
  The White House read-out began, "President Obama spoke with Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi today regarding the U.S.-Egyptian military assistance relationship and regional developments, including in Libya and Yemen.  President Obama informed President al-Sisi that he will lift executive holds that have been in place since October 2013 on the delivery of F-16 aircraft, Harpoon missiles, and M1A1 tank kits."
 The NSC specified that "President Obama has directed the release of 12 F-16 aircraft, 20 Harpoon missiles, and up to 125 M1A1 Abrams tank kits that have been held from delivery."
   The timing is strange. Or perhaps not.
 Amid continued airstrikes in Yemen, on March 30 came reports of an airstrike on an internally displaced persons camp in Haradh. Inner City Press immediately sought confirmation (and comment) from the UN.
 On March 31, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid issued a statement on Yemen including this:
'I am shocked by Monday’s airstrike against the Al-Mazraq camp for internally displaced people in Harad, in the north of Yemen,' Zeid said. There are different accounts as to how many people were killed in the airstrike, but UN human rights staff in Yemen have verified at least 19 fatalities, with at least 35 others injured including 11 children. This camp, home to some 4,000 people, was established by the UN in 2009 and recently received at least 300 new families displaced from Sa'da."
  Meanwhile UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was in Kuwait, talking about "a deeply moving video entitled 'Clouds over Sidra.'  It is an amazing virtual reality production of the starkness of life in the Za’atari Refugee Camp through the eyes of a beautiful young girl by the name of Sidra."
  Ban speaks on this virtual reality - but remains silent on the inconvenient reality of the airstrike on the real IDP camp in Haradh in Yemen.

 
  

In Yemen, US State Department Tells Inner City Press It Has No Current Plans to Evacuate Americans, As Some Others Do


By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, March 31, with video -- Amid complaints by Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross that they can't get medical aid into Yemen, Inner City Press asked the US State Department if any steps are being taken to evacuated Yemeni Americans.
  On March 31 a State Department official provided Inner City Press on background with this answer:
"We have no current plans to evacuate private U.S. citizens from Yemen. We continue to watch the situation closely. The protection and safety of U.S. citizens overseas are among our top priorities."
  Some of those impacted, including Yemeni Americans, have pointed out to Inner City Press that other countries, as simply one example Pakistan which is part of the Saudi-led coalition, have done evacuations.
  On March 31, Doctors Without Borders / MSF said "the closure of all the international airports in Sana'a, Aden, and Hodeida, and heavy restrictions on the seaports, are hampering the delivery of humanitarian assistance."
 On March 30 came reports of an airstrike on an internally displaced persons camp in Haradh. Inner City Press immediately sought confirmation (and comment) from the UN, and then from the US State Department.
 From the State Department transcript:
Inner City Press: about Yemen.  There’s this report of an IDP camp in northern Yemen called Haradh that was hit, and MSF said that several dozen people were killed by an airstrike.  And I wanted – last week, Jeff Rathke said that the U.S. couldn’t corroborate casualties.  But does the U.S. have anything to say about the way in which the campaign is being waged and safeguards that should be in place?  And do you – is there any – do you see the situation moving closer toward resuming dialogue between Houthis and Hadi, or further away?

MS. HARF:  Well, that’s certainly the goal, right, to get on a path back to political dialogue.  So even through the military action that we’re supporting, that is the goal.  I think it’s a challenge at the moment given the Houthis’ actions, quite frankly, but we’re trying.

I just saw the report before I got on the phone about the IDP camp, so let me look into that and see if there’s more we can share.  I just don’t know the facts on it.  But in every conflict, we’ve always been clear that all sides should avoid civilian casualties.  That’s certainly – I mean, it’s important for us.  We’ve called on all sides in conflicts, including here, to take feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians, so that’s obviously important to us.  But let me check on the specifics and see if we can anything back to you after the briefing.
  Later on March 30, a US State Department official made this response to Inner City Press, on background:
"We have seen the media reports regarding the attack on the Mazraq camp for internally displaced Yemenis, which reportedly left over 20 individuals dead. We cannot confirm details of the attack. We offer our condolences to the families of the victims. The loss of civilian life in any conflict is tragic.
"We call upon all sides in Yemen to comply with international humanitarian law, including the obligation to take all feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians."
  Inner City Press also asked the March president of the UN Security Council, Francois Delattre of France, about the Haradh IDP camp; he said it had not come up in the UN Security Council. Yet? Video here.
  At the March 30 UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq if the UN had any comment on civilian casualties in the Saudi-led offensive on Yemen, and if Ban Ki-moon raised the issue at the Arab League summit. 
  Haq said Ban had raised it. But what has been said publicly by the UN? Haq said the UN pulled 100 international staffers out of the country on Saturday but still has 13 internationals and 700 local staff and partners there.
 Inner City Press asked Haq if any of these 713 were in the Haradh camp. This, Haq did not answer.
  It was UNHCR which answered first, via its Spokesperson for Asia, Babar Baloch:
"Dear Matthew: Sadly, the reports are correct. Our team on the ground confirms the attack on Al Mazraq area in Hajjah that took place around 11.30am local time with unconfirmed reports of 15 to 20 deaths and as many injured. There are two IDP camps in the area that host some 1100 displaced families. We are not able to confirm how the attack happened, but remain concerned for the safety and security of the displaced."
  In front of the UN Security Council on the morning of March 30, questions were asked of entering Ambassadors - nearly all about Boko Haram. Inner City Press asked a spokesperson about the airstrike on IDPs in Yemen but news seemed not to have reached the Security Council.  Later, a Council member's spokesperson said they've heard of it but do not for now anticipate any meeting. Why not?
An hour later, still silence from Ban Ki-moon and the UN Office of the Spokesperson.  Finally, four minutes before the day's noon briefing, this from UN Spokesperson's Office:
"OCHA in Yemen says that its local partners report that airstrikes hit one of the IDP camps and the surrounding area in Hajjah and that there are reports of civilian casualties.  The United Nations and partners are working to verify this information."
  At the highest levels, the UN system is in a sense "all - in" with the Saudi military coalition, quiet on the fact that it includes Sudan and on civilian casualties.
Back on March 27 in Washington Inner City Press asked State Department spokesperson Jeff Rathke if the US has been in contact with the UN's Jamal Benomar:
"On Yemen, has the U.S. had any contact with Jamal Benomar, the special advisor who’s supposed to be mediating?  And how do you think that the – what’s the process from bombing to getting the Houthis back to the table?  Is anyone actually reaching out to them?" 
  Rathke said he didn't have such information in front of him. But later a State Department official told Inner City Press on background:
"We remain in regular contact with UN Special Advisor Jamal Benomar.  We understand that Benomar remains engaged with political representatives from all parties, including the Houthis.  While we have not had direct contact with the Houthis, we have passed messages to them.

"The path for political dialogue will come when the Houthis and former regime elements halt their destabilizing military actions and realize that the only viable path forward is through peaceful negotiations."
  On civilian casualties in Sana'a, Rathke said "we’ve always been clear that in every conflict, all sides should avoid civilian casualties.  I don’t – I’m not able to corroborate those reports that you’ve mentioned, but clearly, we think it’s important to act in a targeted way in any kind of military conflict." Here is Amnesty International's report.  This will be updated.
 Inner City Press also asked Rathke about the Maldives government threatening migrant workers with deportation for demonstrating about abusive conditions, and the 11 year sentence imposed on former defense minister Nazid. Rathke said he may revert with some comments. Here is the State Department's March 13 comment on the Maldives, here.
  And later the State Department issued a "Question Taken" about the Maldives, including press freedom, here.
 On March 26 Inner City Press asked Rathke if the US thinks former President Saleh could play any role going forward, and for its position on Sudan participating in the "Saudi coalition" the US supports.
  Rathke replied about the US Treasury Department sanctions imposed on Saleh on November 10, 2014, and reiterated previous US criticism. From the State Department transcript (video here from Minute 26:49)
QUESTION:  Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press.  I wanted to know what the U.S. thinks of the role of former President Saleh, and do you think that he has any role to play in the negotiations that are trying to be had?  And also, you said repeatedly that the U.S. supports Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, and it’s said that Sudan is one of the partners and that they’ve offered three air force planes.  And I wanted to know, would the U.S. support Sudanese participation in bombing Yemen?

MR. RATHKE:  So I’ll take the second one first.  We are aware that the Government of Sudan has announced that it is taking part in the actions organized by the Saudis.  We’re not in a position to confirm the details of or the nature of their participation.  Again, this is a Saudi-organized and Saudi-led coalition, so I don’t have more to say on that aspect.

You asked about former President Saleh.  And so we have long made clear our concerns about the obstructive role that former President Saleh plays in Yemen.  He has consistently sought to undermine Yemen’s political transition.  This is widely recognized by the international community, which, in fact, sanctioned former President Saleh under UN Security Council Resolution 2140 just a few months ago.  That was in November 2014.  And the reason was for his obstruction of the political transition and undermining the government.

The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned former President Saleh on November 10th, 2014 for engaging in acts that directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security, and stability of Yemen.  So our position on him and his role, I think, is quite clear. 
  On Inner City Press' question on Sudan, note this is the same Sudanese air force bombing civilians in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
   Inner City Press also asked Rathke about the US restricting Cuban diplomats to within 25 miles of Columbus Circle in New York -- Rathke said this is being negotiated, along with the US' desire for free movement in Cuba -- and if the US will be replacing Russ Feingold as Special Envoy on the Great Lakes.
  I have no personnel announcements, Rathke said, twice.
  Earlier in the day reporters complained about the lack of answers from the International Monetary Fund. Rathke at least kept fielding questions, and had a surprising number of if-asked statements in his binder.
   Inner City Press at the International Monetary Fund briefing on March 26 asked again about the status of the IMF program in Yemen.  From the IMF transcript:
Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about Yemen. I asked online actually a couple of times ago, and you had said it wasn’t helpful but there would be a review in the spring. Now, with these air strikes by Saudi Arabia and Houthi’s moving on Aden, what is the status of the IMF’s program, and what is the thinking, how are you going to review it?
MR. MURRAY: Thanks for that question. Well, obviously, we are watching the rapidly evolving situation in Yemen carefully and closely at the moment. Given a host of uncertainties surrounding Yemen at this moment, the first review under the Fund supported program is postponed until the situation clarifies.
When it will clarify? Can’t say. Certainly, the review mission is postponed. One of our biggest concerns about Yemen is the impact on the poorest there, and the economic reverberations of events. Way too soon to say what those will be, but we are just going to have to keep an eye on the situation.
Inner City Press: Has the IMF had any kind contact with the Houthi’s since they have been in contact --
MR. MURRAY: I’m not aware of any recent contact with the Houthi’s, certainly not in recent days. I really don’t have any recent guidance on that.
   Back on January 22, Murray had answered Inner City Press that while events in Yemen were not helpful, the review was not until Spring. Now it is postponed indefinitely.