Sunday, January 31, 2010

As Sri Lanka Expels Journalists and Raids Opposition, UN's Ban Is Still "Relieved," like Rajapaksas

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 29 -- As Sri Lankan soldiers surrounded opposition candidate Sarath Fonseca on January 27, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Press he was "relieved" by results in Sri Lanka. Inner City Press had asked about irregularities in the voting results asserted from many quarters. Mr. Ban did not comment on these.

In the two days since, the incumbent Rajapaksa administration has moved forward to expel and deny visas to journalists asking about election irregularities, and has raised Fonseca's office while making threats of arrest.

On January 29, Inner City Press asked the UN's Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq if Ban is still relieved, in the face of the expulsion of journalists and raiding of political opponents. Video here, from Minute 12:03.

"He still is relieved," Haq said, that election day went relatively peacefully. Haq then read out the same canned "appeal to abide by rules" which Ban delivered in person in response to Inner City Press' question on January 27.

Obviously, that "appeal" had no effect, as the administration of Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom Ban calls a friend, has since then further cracked down on opponents and independent media.

To the contrary, it would appear that Ban's January 27 statement that he was "relieved," the same word used by Rajapaksa, served as a green light to move from relief to further repression.

Ban has set sail to London, Cyprus and Ethiopia. It is unclear if he will take questions on, or unprompted speak about, Rajapaksa's crackdown in Sri Lanka. Watch this site.

And see,

As UN Tells Yonhap of Kim's and Pascoe's Trip to S. Korea, New(s) Strategy of UN's "Comparative Advantage" Emerges

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 31 -- With North Korea firing over its maritime border with South Korea, on January 28 with UN and its Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had nothing to say, except "we are following up on that." From the UN's transcript of its January 28 media briefing:

Inner City Press: Has the Secretariat taken note of, and does he have any comment on this firing, this reported firing from the North Korean-South Korean maritime border? Do they have concerns about what it reflects?

Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq: Yes, we have taken note of that incident. Bear with me just a second -- let me see if I have something to tell you on that. I don’t have anything specific to say, but yes, we have taken note of yesterday’s incident, and we’re certainly following up on that. [Video here, fro m Minute 9:45.]

Then at 2 a.m. on January 31, Yonhap news agency published a scoop from an unnamed UN official that

"Lynn Pascoe, U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs, and Kim Won-soo, an advisor to Ban, will make a four-day visit to the communist country, starting on Feb. 9, said the official, requesting anonymity."

Following this UN exclusive disclosure to a South Korean outlet, Ban Ki-moon issued a confirming statement, which did not mention his main advisor Kim Won-soo. Ban's official statement did not specify which topics will be discussed with the Kim Jong-Il regime.

But Yonhap reported, again citing its Ban administration source, that "the special envoys will discuss issues related to North Korea's nuclear program and humanitarian aid, said the official."

Five months into Ban's tenure atop the UN, in May 2007, he was angered by the leak to Inner City Press of a internal memo (""Korea Peninsula UN Policy and Strategy Submission to the Policy Committee") proposing that the UN use its "comparative advantage" to make itself relevant on the North Korea issue.

Now, with the sending of his South Korea chief advisor as a co-special envoy, the competitive advance is being used, and promoted as such to Yonhap (but not in the subsequent official announcement).

Back in 2007, Ban had been forced to order an audit of the UN Development Program's North Korea practices, including funding project which it could neither visit nor oversee. UNDP's program had been suspended.

The UN memo stated that "Unless [the suspension] is reversed, the UNDP program risks being terminated. Rather than being able to support the six-party talks process and international engagement with North Korea at this critical juncture, the UN will lose its unique comparative advantage in that area altogether."

Recently, despite the continuing nuclear standoff and renewed firing across the border, as well as lack of movement on human rights, UNDP re-started its North Korea program. And now the Ban administration's "comparative advantage" is back.

Usually in the UN system there is a rule against officials working on their own country's issues. Kim Won-soo, despite his position of power in the UN, has never given a press conference there, and insists on never -- or nearly never -- being quoted. Now would seem to be the time to speak. Watch this site.

Footnote: the choice to semi-official leak the news to South Korea's Yonhap follows a challenged decision by Ban's new spokesman Martin Nesirky -- formerly Reuters' Seoul bureau chief -- to include South Korean television as one of only eight media organization he initially invited to accompany Ban to Haiti after the earthquake, over CNN, Bloomberg, EFE and Associated Press.

(After protests, CNN, AP and two others were included -- Nesirky has since disputed that he "caved," insisting that more seats on the plane were found but granting conciliatory one on one interviews with Ban, which did not include the news given days afterwards to Yonhap.)

Now the leak of this news to Yonhap, with Kim Won-soo's name in it, quickly followed by Nesirky's office issuing a Ban confirmation sans Kim, will raise other questions. To be continued.

And see,

In Haiti, UN of Two Minds on China, No Guidance on Bullets, Florida Football Games Blocking Medical Flights

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 29 -- Two days after the UN's spokesman in Haiti David Wimhurst denied knowing about UN Peacekeepers shooting even rubber bullets to control crowds of aid seekers, detailed reports emerged of "UN troops" shooting 50 caliber guns over crowds.

Inner City Press asked the UN's humanitarian coordinator John Holmes about these reports, and what the UN considers the best practice in crowd control while aid is distributed. "There is no set standard in the humanitarian lexicon," Holmes said, adding that the main focus is that nobody gets hurt. Video here, from Minute 26:03.

So are tasers okay? Tear gas? Electrified fences? Are these decision left up to each country's contingent adopting the UN's blue helmets in Haiti, including a battalion from Sri Lanka, accused of war crimes?

A stark different in the statements of David Wimhurst and Holmes was also raised but not resolved. On January 27, Wimhurst confirmed to the press that the Chinese search and rescue team, once it dug out the Chinese diplomats from the wreckage of the UN's rented Hotel Christopher, left the country.

But on January 28, Chinese diplomats told Inner City Press to check with John Holmes, who they cited as on record about additional Chinese work in Haiti -- a country with whose government China has no diplomatic relations, since Haiti recognized Taiwan.

Inner City Press asked Holmes to square this with what Mr. Wimhurt said. "I don't know what to add," Holmes said. "That's my understanding, the Chinese information as well." But was he a witness? Video here, from Minute 15:34.

Media in Florida reports that the flights evacuated injured Haitians to Florida have stopped, due to the upcoming Super Bowl and Pro Bowl of the National Football League. Inner City Press asked Holmes about this. "I have no idea," he said. "Ask the Americans."

A reporter whispered, "Touchdown!" -- referring also to Holmes "touchdown" space in the UN compound, now that others in his office have been moved full time to Madison Avenue. Football is only simulated war. But the UN in Haiti is shooting with real bullets. Watch this site.

And see,

At UN, China Says It's Slandered, No Haiti Relations Due to Taiwan

UNITED NATIONS, January 28 -- "China does not have diplomatic relations with Haiti," a senior Chinese diplomat confirmed to Inner City Press over spicy shredded chicken Thursday night at the Chinese Mission to the UN. The reason is that Haiti still recognizes Taiwan.

"But we search our search and rescue," the diplomat continued. Inner City Press informed him that the UN, earlier this week, told the Press that the Chinese search and rescue team, after digging out Chinese casualties under the Christopher Hotel, "returned to Beijing."

"That's just a rumor," the diplomat protested, adding the UN humanitarian chief "John Holmes denied that." But UN Haiti spokesman David Winhurst said that it was true, the Chinese "returned to Beijing."

"We don't care that they think," another Chinese diplomat told Inner City Press.

Inner City Press had suggested that whoever becomes the next Chinese Ambassador to the UN make more of an effort of stating the country's position at the stakeout, as for example both the French and American Ambassadors have done in recent days. The diplomat shrugged. "If you want clarifications or facts, you can call us. But we don't care what they think."

About the International Monetary Fund requiring a reduction in size of the "Chinese" deal with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Chinese diplomat scoffed that it was a deal not by the Chinese government, but "companies." He said of the Joseph Kabila government, "They are sitting on riches but don't have the money to dig them out. We provide that, and the give us minerals, like copper."

He added that the Chinese deal with Guinea, right after the 2009 massacre, was by a Hong Kong based company.

At the Chinese end of Security Council presidency reception on Thursday night, the Permanent Representatives of such Council members as Russia, the UK, Brazil, Mexico and Austria milled around with the Sudanese counterpart. The US was represented by Deputy Alejandro Wolff.

General Assembly President Ali Treki, with bodyguard, put in an appearance. There was Moutai -- cut off when one reporter got too boisterous -- and blackened pepper steak. "We don't care what they think," the diplomat had said -- but this did not appear to apply to, or undermine, the Mission's hospitality. But African resource deals? Watch this site.

And see,

At UN, Norway Brags of Work in Somalia, Whose Minneapolis Rep Mocks AK-47 Teens

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 28 -- At the UN on Thursday, Europeans bragged what they're going for Somalia, while a representative from Minneapolis of the Transitional Federal Government, in control of all of ten square blocks in Mogadishu praised Norway for its help. Video here.

Afterwards, off camera, he agreed with Inner City Press' critique of Norway's role in a Kenyan - Somali Law of the Sea filing about Somalis' mineral and other rights.

First Inner City Press asked the Chief of Staff of EU NAVFOR Somalia (Operation Atalanta) Paul Chivers which UN system ships EU NAVFOR provides protection for. Chivers spoke mostly about the World Food Program, which he said spends its money on food and not on good ships.

Later in the day, Inner City Press asked Carl P. Salicath, Senior Advisor at Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Chairman of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS), if this meant that the UN ships don't comply with the "best practices" he was describing.

Mr. Salicath said he can't speak about particular ships, just as he said he can't speak for the Chinese, why and how they will participate in the EU NAVFOR.

So, Inner City Press asked Mr. Salicath about Norway's controversial funding of a joint Kenyan - TFG filing with the UN under the law of the sea, which the Somali Parliament later voted to reject. Mr. Salicath said he knew about the deal, but didn't understand the criticism. I better leave it there, he said.

Afterwards in the hall, Omar Jamal of the Somali mission agreed that the Parliament had voted it down. But he issued an email to the Press praising Norway, which we public exactly as received:

"Omar Jamal, First Secretary of the Somali mission spoke today at the Fifth Plenary meeting of Contact group chaired by Norway. "Somali feel sometimes being diagnosed with their input." said Omar Jamal. The piracy issue is prodcut of the lawlesness of the country, and to tackle it, international communtiy must empower the Somali security force so they can patrol thier own waters. There is NO short cut here, and the only way out is long term plan by empowering the Somali goveremnt to restore law and order and patrol Somali coastline." Omar Jamal continued. The Mission expresses thanks to the leadership of Norway in this particular problem. The Somali people are at complete loss that the fact the international community rendered helpless by bunch of Somali teenagers riding speedboats, armed with AK47 and PRGs. Somali goverment will collaborate with the international community to come up with ever lasting resolution to the piracy issue."

He still uses a cell phone with a Minneapolis area code. Watch this site.

And see,

At UN, France's Araud Refuses Question on Mistral Ship Sale to Russia, "Not UN"

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 28 -- When one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council seeks to sell high tech warships to another of the P-5, against the interests of a smaller country which is on the Council's agenda, isn't it a UN relevant matter, even if the seller's Ambassador says "no" as he walks away from a question about it?

France has moved to sell Mistral class warships to Russia, whose war with Georgia over South Ossetia was debated in the Council, and mediated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

On January 28, as France's Permanent Representative Gerard Araud was talking questions from reporters at the Council stakeout on topics ranging from Cote d'Ivoire to Iran and Chad, Inner City Press asked "about the Mistral." Video here, at Minute 6:25.

Araud immediately walked away from the microphone and UN Television camera. "That's not the UN," he said. But isn't it?

France and Araud take over the presidency of the Security Council in February. As such, to read out press statements and provide summaries of Council consultations, Araud will be at the stakeout more frequently. Whether he will stick to this narrow definition of "the UN" remains to be seen.

And see,

As Obama's Speech Omits Sudan, Susan Rice Says Jobs Come First, Gration on Case

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 28 -- Just as the motorcade of U.S. President Barack Obama left Capitol Hill on Wednesday night after his State of the Union speech, a coalition of Darfur activists issued a press release expressing "disappointment that President Obama did not highlight Darfur, Sudan or genocide prevention during his State of the Union address.... 'We are very far from the unstinting resolve on Sudan that President Obama promised in the campaign.'"

The next morning at the UN in New York, when U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, a "long time friend" of Mr. Obama, stepped to the Security Council stakeout microphone to speak about Somalia and Ivory Coast, Inner City Press asked her about the activists' disappointment.

Were they misreading the omission of Sudan and genocide from the lengthy speech as reflecting a lessing of commitment on these issues by the Obama administration?

Yes, Ambassador Rice said, this is a misinterpretation. She said the speech has correctly focused on jobs and the American economy, not every foreign policy issue could be mentioned. She said the Administration remains "deeply committed," and mentioned for the second time this week the work of U.S. envoy on Sudan Scott Gration. Video here, transcript below.

That Ambassador Rice has spoken to the press at the UN twice this week is "something of a record," one reporter noted. The Mission is known to have bristled at recent negative coverage. Inner City Press has previously documented the fall off in media access and U.S. advocacy since Ms. Rice arrived at the Mission, and has been told 2010 may be different. We'll see.

Footnotes: on Ivory Coast, when Inner City Press asked if the U.S. agrees with holdover President Laurent Gbagbo about the over 400,000 names on the voter list that he is contesting, Ambassador Rice said there was an incident of a "false list." The UN has not acknowledged that the list is false, and France has only said that it, like all other complaints, should be investigated.

So is it the U.S. position that the list is false? If so, cynics might say that the U.S. backs up Gbagbo more and more, to gain even more influence in Abidjan assuming Gbagbo remains in power.

On the anti-corruption front, Inner City Press recently exposed and got confirmed that the nephew of the UN's top envoy in Ivory Coast then got employed by the UN system in the country, which even UN investigators have described to Inner City Press as highly problematic. But has the U.S. Mission said anything about this? Or about the even longer standing nepotism problem surrounded the UN's Congo envoy Alan Doss? We will follow this.

And see,

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On Sri Lanka, UN's Ban Expresses Canned Relie, like Rajapaksa,f as Opposition Candidate Fonseca Is Surrounded

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 27 -- As in Colombo, Sri Lankan security forces surrounded opposition candidate Sareth Fonseka, in New York UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appeared to speak to the Press before heading on a trip to London, perhaps Cyprus, and Ethiopia.

He spoke of Afghanistan -- confirming his nomination of Staffan de Mistura as his envoy -- Sudan and Haiti. Inner City Press asked, "do you have any comment on the Sri Lankan election of yesterday in which the main opponent, Mr. [Sarath] Fonseka, has been essentially detained by the armed forces and is challenging the result?" Video here, from Minute 13:18.

While Mr. Ban had chosen not to include it in his remarks, he had a prepared statement on Sri Lanka, which largely dodged the question that was asked.
He said

"On the Sri Lanka issue, I realize that the election has been quite a hard fought one, as stated by my Spokesperson a week ago. I had been concerned at the level of violence during the campaign. I am relieved that the vote yesterday appears to have [been] relatively peaceful, despite some violence incidents. The Election Commission of Sri Lanka has declared the results, and I once again appeal for parties to abide by the decision and rules and regulations, including addressing any electoral grievances. I truly hope that all sides will see the wisdom of acting with restraint and responsibility in the interest of the nation. This would bode well for future elections and national harmony."

Although this canned statement was only deployed in response to the question from the Press, the UN's state media UN News put out a story headlined, "Ban voices relief at relatively peaceful conclusion to Sri Lankan presidential poll." One awaits Ban's letter of congratulation to Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom he has described as a friend. Notably, Rajapaksa used the same work as Ban Ki-moon: "relieved." Watch this site.

And see,

In Haiti, Chinese Team Dug Up Its Own and Left, UN Confirms, $94,000 Monthly Rent

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 27 -- UN peacekeepers have been firing tear gas and, according to eye witnesses, rubber bullets at Haitian aid seekers. Meanwhile, the UN confirmed on Wednesday that the Chinese search and rescue team which appeared so quickly in Haiti left just as quickly, as soon as it recovered the bodies of its own national who had been visiting the UN Mission, MINUSTAH.

Inner City Press asked MINUSTAH's David Wimhurst about the use of rubber bullets and tear gas, which Wimhurst previously said he had not witnessed in Cite Soleil on January 24.

Wednesday, Wimhurst counted the Cite Soleil "incident" as one of two uses of tear gas. He said the use by the UN is under "strict rules and regulations" that are "well established." Video here, from Minute 32:31.

Wimhurst said he is "not aware of rubber bullets" being used, despite numerous eye witness accounts of both Uruguayan and Brazilian UN peacekeepers firing into the air. Inner City Press asked about similar reports of peacekeepers leaving behind food and in one case a pile of radios, which were then fought over.

Wimhust said he was "not aware of [these] being left behind," adding that battalions take their equipment with them. But these are transistor radios. Inner City Press asked him to confirm that the UN was paying $94,000 a month for the Christopher Hotel, now collapsed. "The number you mention is probably close to the amount," Wimhurst replied, saying that Security informs him the Hotel was MOSS compliant. Video here, from Minute 12:15. We'll see.

Wimhurst remained silent when asked to explicitly confirm that the Chinese search and rescue team left immediately after digging out its own national. But when asked twice to name a single other place in Haiti where the Chinese team had dug, he could not. "They went back to China," he said. Video here, from Minute 10:02.

China is this month's UN Security Council President. We will be pursuing this. Watch this site.

Footnote: The UN's noon briefing on Wednesday, 15 days after the Haiti earthquake, was limited to a video link to MINUSTAH, with no other UN questions taken on any other topic. Some said that Spokesman Martin Nesirky was still busy from having accompanied Ban Ki-moon into the Security Council earlier on Wednesday. But his Office has other staffers.

While Ban Ki-moon is slated for a stakeout on Wednesday afternoon, it is doubtful that many questions can be asked. To some, this appears to be an attempt by the UN to manipulate the press, to remain "on message," on Haiti and Ban's Wednesday announcement, about Afghanistan. What about Sudan? Somalia? Sri Lanka? Corruption? Watch this site.

And see,

As UN Fires Tear Gas in Haiti, Sri Lanka Gives Tea, UNICEF Info Awaited

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 27 -- With both Brazilian and Uruguayan UN peacekeepers shooting rubber bullets and pepper spray at Haitians seeking food, in New York on Tuesday the UN's John Holmes and UNDP's Jordan Ryan were asked by Inner City Press about donations by Ghana and Sri Lanka of cocoa and tea, respectively.

The UN's humanitarian coordinator John Holmes said such donations are likely to "clog up distribution," and that cash is better. Video here, from Minute 35:05. Neither he nor UN spokesman Martin Nesirky, to whom Inner City Press directed the question the day previous, responded to the complaint by a Canadian who flew two helicopters down which have sat unused in the Dominican Republic for more than a week.

Inner City Press asked when schooling will recommence, and what the UN is doing about it. UNDP's Ryan said there had been a 15 day vacation, and to "get details from UNICEF." But although asked last week during a UN briefing, UNICEF has yet to provide basic information about how many staff it had in Haiti before the earthquake and since. We continue to wait for these requested disclosures.

Holmes referred to the January 25 statement by WFP's Josette Sheeran, that food aid for now is only for women, saying that this might change "in a few weeks." Many at the UN in the wake of that statement said maybe that explains some of the rioting: men are legally barred from WFP food distributions. What does UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay have to say about this?

Footnote: numerous readers have written to remind Inner City Press that over 100 Sri Lanka UN peacekeepers were thrown out of the country following allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation. This is not to say there are not hard working UN peacekeepers, only to say that even before the current tear gas and rubber bullets, there have been incidents.

Meanwhile, the UN has yet to provide information requested in televised briefings, about whether it is still paying $94,000 a month for the Christopher Hotel, whether the Hotel was MOSS compliant or cracked, and whether its benefits for international and national staff are the same. Watch this space.

And see,

UN Silent on Sudan Vote Boycott Call, US' Rice on Chad and DC, But Not Corruption

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 26 -- In the run up to elections in Sudan, the SPLM rebels have called for a boycott of voting in South Kordofan state. Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Martin Nesirky on January 25 for the UN's response.

Mr. Neskirky replied, "I’m sure my colleagues on the ground are aware of it, and we’ll need to get full guidance from them on that." But 24 hours later, no UN "guidance" had been provided.

On January 26 following UN Security Council consultations on the subject, Inner City Press asked U.S. Permanent Representative Susan Rice what the she makes of the SPLM call for a boycott, due they say to problems with the census. Video here, from Minute 4:05.

Ambassador Rice replied that there are unresolved or unimplemented parts of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, including how to deal with the census. She said it "merits the close attention of the parties." If the lack of UN response or guidance for more than 24 hours is any guide, perhaps it merits more "close attention" from the UN.

Inner City Press also asked Ambassador Rice about Chad's statement that it does not want the UN's MINURCAT peacekeeping force extended when it expires in March. She replied that there have been such "reservation" about the continuation of UN peacekeeping presence in Chad "and elsewhere."

This seemed to refer to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where President Joseph Kabila pushed to limit the mandate extension of MONUC to a mere five months. Some say Chad's interest is more monetary. We'll see.

Ambassador Rice was asked about a recent piece by the spokesman for her predecessors John Bolton and Zalmay Khalilzad, Richard Grenell. She said she hadn't read it, but rattled off Security Council votes taken in 2009.

She explained her three days a week in Washington DC as a product of being in the Cabinet and National Security Council. More recent family health issues, cited to many writers by the US Mission, were not mentioned.

But while one of the critiques is a failure of achievement on UN reform, even as the number in investigations by the UN's OIOS had radically declined, Ambassador Rice did not address this. More recently, a U.S. indictment in Florida raises issues of corruption in UN Procurement. On January 25, Inner City Press asked Mr. Nesirky:

Inner City Press: There is a New York Times article that took place either Friday or Saturday with a headline “Contractor charged with trying to get corruption from UN procurement” but the actual indictment, USA Vs. Bistrong, seems to indicate that the contractor actually got what he was looking for, that is he was able to influence the bidding practice within the UN. I just wondered whether, in response to these allegations, the UN is going to conduct its own investigations, whether through that OIOS unit or otherwise?

Spokesperson: Well, the Office of Internal Oversight Services has completed an investigation into a matter where many of the facts at issue here were with respect to Mr. Bistrong. And I think you can expect a report from OIOS. It’s forthcoming.

And while the criminal information refers to a UN agent, the United Nations considers this person to be an individual already investigated by the United Nations, who has been separated from service and convicted by the United States authorities. And the United Nations will, however, confirm with United States authorities to ensure that there are no other UN personnel implicated.

Inenr City Press: Are you referring to Mr. Jacob Loeb [Yakoblev], just to be clear who we’re talking about?

Spokesperson: I’m telling you what I have here. I can also give you a couple of other details. The events reported in the press refer to actions which occurred in 2001 to 2006. And since 2006 procurement processes have been tightened to ensure the bid-rigging and bribery described in the criminal information are no longer possible. The UN Procurement Division (UNPD) believes that the allegations refer to persons who are no longer employed by the United Nations.

And the Procurement Division is aware of the issues referred to in the criminal information filed on 22 January 2010 against Richard T. Bistrong. And in consultation with the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and Office of Legal Affairs, the Procurement Division is reviewing the matter to identify what actions are warranted. And also, following a review, existing or prospective procurement vendors will be referred to the Senior Vendor Review Committee for appropriate action.

But where is the US Mission to the UN on these issues? Watch this site.

And see,

On Eve of Sri Lankan Election, UN's Ban Is Silent on Abductions, Grenades and Forced Pro-Rajapaksa Text Messages

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 25 -- On Sri Lanka, the UN simply will not follow through. Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's statement last week about pre-election violence, grenades have been thrown at opposition supporters, cell phone companies have been forced to send out messages supporting incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa, and media members have been disappeared. But Ban Ki-moon has said nothing.

On January 25, on the eve of the election, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky about these of these abuses: grenades, abductions and manipulation of the airwaves with forced messages. Video here, from Minute 47:04.

Mr. Nesirky has no specific comment on any of these, but rather reiterated two previous Ban Ki-moon positions -- elections should be free and fair and violence is to be condemned. He noted that "we don't have a presence on the ground for the election as such and therefore we are not able to assess how the election will be conducted."

But the UN was asked to come and have a role in the election, to at least discourage the worst violence and intimidation. Nesirky explained that Mr. Ban had said "no," arguing that such an elections role would require a General Assembly vote and would take too long.

But also on January 25, Inner City Press asked about an upcoming election in Sudan, and Nesirky's response was entirely different: that Ban thinks the Sudanese elections are "crucial to the future of Sudan," and his "colleagues on the ground" will give "guidance."

In Sri Lanka, apparently, there are no "colleagues on the ground," and the election are less crucial. Watch this site.

Footnote: Also on January 25, when the UN Mission in Haiti's principal deputy Tony Banbury appeared by video link, Inner City Press asked him for comparisons of the earthquake response in that country. Video here, from Minute 32:28.

Banbury dodged the analogy of Myanmar, but instead listed as UN successes the response to the tsunami in Aceh and in Sri Lanka. But in the latter, much aid disappeared....

And see,

In Haiti, UN Limits Aid to Women, Fires Tear Gas, Dismisses NGOs and Bilateral Aid

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 25 -- Amid the suffering of the Haitian people, the UN's accelerating spin of its own centrality in the aid effort was on display on January 25. In Cite Soleil on January 24, a distribution of food and radios ended with UN Peacekeepers' deployment of tear gas and shooting into the air. Inner City Press asked the UN's principal deputy in Haiti, Tony Banbury, about it. Video here, from Minute 27:34.

Banbury said he was aware of the incident, that "distribution [had] not gone according to plan." But then the UN's director of communication in Haiti David Wimhurst passed Banbury a note and cut in. He said he had been there and that the distribution "went extremely well."

He clarified that at the end, when they had run out of food to distribute, people "got upset." But when Inner City Press asked him about the AFP reported tear gas, shooting in the air and leaving piles of radio behind for people to fight over, Wimhurst said he hadn't seen any of it. Video here, from Minute 29:50.

Previously, Wimhurst chided the Press for reporting on Haitian dissatisfaction with and protest of snafus in aid distribution. It's one thing to advocate for the media to cover your organization differently, quiet another to describe a distribution that ends in tear gas as having "gone well."

Later on Monday, Inner City Press asked World Food Program director Josette Sheeran dissatisfaction, including by the government of Thailand at the cost WFP would charge to transport rice it wants to donate to Haiti. Ms. Sheeran said that because of violence at food distributions, a way had to be found to be sure to reach women.

Inner City Press asked, do you do distributions by gender? Ms. Sheeran said yes. In fact, the distributions are limited to women. She was asked, what about households headed by men, including where the mother died in the earthquake. We'll deal with that later, Ms. Sheeran in essence said. Video here.

She impliedly chided, while appearing to praise, donors like Thailand who go bilateral, saying they better be sure their donations can be overloaded and stored. Banbury, who previously competed with Sheeran for the top WFP post, derided small NGOs who send a single plane with a few tents but "want a seat at the table." Video here, from Minute 32:28. Oh, civil society.

Inner City Press had asked Banbury to compare the reaction of government in Haiti and in Myanmar, where he worked on Cyclone Nargis while at WFP.

Banbury sidestepped Nargis, in which the UN system allowed the Than Shwe military government to siphon off up to 25% of aid in forced foreign exchange transactions, and focused rather on the UN's response to the tsunami, in Ache and Sri Lanka. Of the latter, he neglected to mention the widespread diversion of aid by the Rajapaksa government, which later used resources to bomb Tamil civilians in the north.

Monday's noon briefing ended with Inner City Press asking UN Spokesman Martin Nesirky two simple questions about Haiti, the first about a Canadian helicopter owner who shipped two copters to a UN base in the Dominican Republic, where he says they have laid unused for a week. Nesirky said he would look into it, but told Inner City Press it could have asked Banbury, but chose to ask another questions.

Inner City Press asked, since the UN was paying $94,000 a month rent for the Hotel Christopher which collapsed (and seemingly was not MOSS compliant), is the UN still paying rent? You could have asked that earlier, Nesirky said. "Let's see." Video here, from Minute 56:25.

Footnote: Ms. Sheeran of WFP and her spokeswoman demonstrated and then gave out a so called high energy biscuit, which Ms. Sheeran said came from El Salvador. The label says Ecuador. We will have more on the this.

And see,