By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, March 27 -- After Burundi's Minister of External Relations Alain Aime Nyamitwe and the country's Permanent Representative to the UN Albert Singiro met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on March 22, the Burundian delegation emerged onto the UN's second floor with Ban's Special Adviser on Conflict Prevention, Jamal Benomar, video here.
This is an area where diplomats are routinely filmed and taped. But due to censorship and threats by the UN Department of Public Information under Cristina Gallach -- stripping Inner City Press' resident correspondent's accreditation on February 19 on pretextual grounds and threatening total expulsion for any "violation" -- Inner City Press has published the video without its sound, adding instead a voice-over. Readers and viewers can draw their own conclusion.
On this, too: on March 24 Inner City Press asked UN Spokesperson Farhan Haq about moves toward surveillance in Burundi and Haq had no comment at all, not even the generic blather of concern the UN so often serves up. From the UN transcript:
Inner City Press: on Burundi, I wanted to know if you have a comment or 'if asked' on this new law in the country that people cannot have more than one SIM card for their phone and that the SIM card has to be registered to them. Many people see this as an attempt to cut down on civilian peaceful protests of the third term.
Deputy Spokesman Haq: No, we don't have a comment.
Correspondent: Okay. Also --
Deputy Spokesman Haq: Hold on.
Inner City Press had other questions, but Haq cut in, after no commenting on the first one (and engaging in long colloquies with other scribes, on topics Haq and the UN like better). Meanwhile in Burundi, Police / UN "Peacekeepers" used live fire. Composite video here.
From Inner City Press' sources: "heavy armed police surrounded the main Jail Mpimba in Musaga, Bujumbura while forcibly trying to search for arms among inmates according to local media. The forced searching action was followed by inmates protests who claimed the return of some of their inmates friends who were transferred in Rumonge jail. Inmates protested while asking the return of their friends, but the police reported that they were searching for arms in order to cover this protest."
On March 25, Inner City Press' sources reported to it that "Around 4 am today, heavily armed police surrounded the zone of Musaga, searched homes without warrants, arrested around five young men and killed an old man by shooting him purposeful on First Avenue Musaga. Among the arrested young men, two are related as a sister and a brother -- the shocking story behind these two is that the old brother Arnaud was shot and killed by the police during the demonstration."
Meanwhile to cut off further protests, the government is regulating SIM cards - and, some say, the French firm SG2 may be engaged in wire tapping in Burundi: "several technicians of local companies have confided that: 'We were obliged to provide SG2 with some 200 free numbers and to authorize their technicians to access our networks. They connected their own systems. We are sure that they have the technology to carry out phone-tapping.' Since the introduction of this system, international calls to Burundi have become very expensive, and Burundians in the diaspora now choose to use Skype or other calling systems (Viber, WhatsApp, etc). Soon people will do this for local calls as well, to avoid being tapped."
Again, no UN comment on surveillance? Well, this is from an Organization which got its favored correspondents to give it their cell phone footage to try to eject the Press on a pretext.
On March 22 Inner City Press asked Haq:
Inner City Press: In Burundi, there was a meeting, obviously, this morning between the Foreign Minister and the Secretary-General and Mr. [Jamal] Benomar and Mr. Mulet. I don't know if they had yet known, but I wanted to know if there was any response, you know, from the UN. A general that's a supporter of Pierre Nkurunziza has been killed in the… in military headquarters, Darius Ikurakure. And people are saying now that much of Bujumbura is under lockdown. There's an attempt to result in crackdown on people. Was this discussed in the meeting? When we will get a readout of the meeting? And even if it wasn't discussed, what is the UN's response to both the killing and the response by the Government in Bujumbura today?
Deputy Spokesman: What I can say on this is the Secretary-General condemns the reported assassination of Lieutenant Colonel Darius Ikurakure. Such acts of violence risk exacerbating the current crisis in Burundi. The Secretary-General reiterates his appeal for Burundians to resolve their differences peacefully and to engage immediately in an inclusive and transparent political dialogue.
Inner City Press: I'm wondering if that was a prepared statement, why was it done in this format? If the question had never been asked, would the statement be issued? Was it to be issued later? I'm just wondering.
Deputy Spokesman: You know how "if asked" guidance works; right? All of the things that are "if asked" guidance are read once they're asked.
Inner City Press: Right. But who decides what goes under "if asked" and what gets announced? Like, you didn't do Brussels as an "if asked".
Deputy Spokesman: There are people who, in fact, do decide these things, yes.
When Burundi was belatedly discussed at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 22, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns urged the government of Pierre Nkurunziza against reprisals on those who talk with the UN Panel of Experts. But how will that be enforced?
Heyns said he hopes the African Union observers will be deployed in March. It is, of course, already March 22.
The United States for its part said Burundi should "lift all undue restrictions on the media." It's a fine sentiment - but the US Mission to the UN has been asked, by the DC-based Government Accountability Project, to ensure that the UN lifts restrictions on Inner City Press which covers, along with UN corruption, Western Sahara and Burundi. GAP Letter here.
On March 22, Inner City Press was entirely unnecessarily restricted from reaching the UN Security Council stakeout to cover a meeting on Western Sahara, Periscope on YouTube here. What will the US Mission do?
In Geneva, Heyns had to leave; Rwanda and South Africa were added to the speakers' list, but only for the afternoon session. Watch this site.
A week ago Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, about UN (in) action in Burundi. UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: On Burundi, there are these IDP [internally displaced person] camps inside the country, one of which is called Mutaho, there are published reports, Radio Republique Africaine and elsewhere, that people in the camps are being accused of being supporters of the anti-Pierre Nkurunziza movement. They're being searched for weapons. Some have now fled these camps. I wanted to know, does the UN have any role, does the UN system, IOM [International Organization for Migration] or UNHCR have any role?
Spokesman Dujarric: I will check with UNHCR.
A week later from Dujarric, who threw Inner City Press out of the UN Press Briefing Room, here has been no answer, as on so many Press questions to Ban Ki-moon's UN on Burundi. So on March 21, Inner City Press asked Dujarric's deputy Farhan Haq, UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: On Burundi, I asked Staffan ten days ago about the IDP camp called Mutaho and people were saying that people who have been living there since '93 have now been getting harassed by the police and told they are part of the anti-third-term movement. I'm still waiting for an answer, but now there is a report over the weekend from Burundi that there are two others camps that are facing the same thing. One is [inaudible], one is [inaudible], and he said he was going to check with UNHCR, but what is the UN's role with these camps which now Burundian civil society are saying are essentially being targeted by the Government for usually unjustly for having been part of the opposition?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we would be concerned at any efforts to target civilians who are in camps, so that would be a matter of concern regardless of which of the camps that is. Regarding details, you would need to check with UN refugee agency what role it has in any of these camps, yes.
As Burundi's Pierre Nkurunziza government stepped up the killing and censorship of opponents, its lobbyists in the U.S. capital, Scribe Strategies, were paid $60,000 to among other things set up interviews with US-government broadcaster Voice of America and the French government's France 24.
Nkurunziza's party the CNDD-FDD paid Scribe Strategies $59,980 on November 10, 2015. Scribes has this month disclosed, for the six month period ending January 31, 2016, that in exchange for this money it arranged for example for Nkurunziza's adviser to be "interviewed" on Voice of America and France 24.
Scribe Strategies also, during the reporting period, was paid to arrange for Sam Kutesa, a former President of the General Assembly who was involved with many of the same donors named in the corruption case against his predecessor John Ashe, to be "interviewed" by Voice of America about his tenure as PGA, during which he was as now foreign minister of Uganda.
Inner City Press has covered not only the John Ashe / Ng Lap Seng / Frank Lorenzo / Sheri Yan corruption case, but also Kutesa's dealings with the highest reaches of Ban Ki-moon's UN Secretariat, for example here and here.
On February 19, Inner City Press was thrown out of the UN on two hours notice. Audio and petition here. On February 22 Inner City Press was told it was Banned from all UN premises. After three days reporting on the UN from the park in front of it, and stories in BuzzFeed andBusiness Insider, Inner City Press re-entered the UN on a more limited "non-resident correspondent" pass, under which on March 10 UN Security ordered it to leave the UN as it worked in the UN lobby at 8 pm. Video here; UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric's March 11 justification here.
The underlying UN rule only says that non-resident correspondents can only come into the UN up until 7 pm. But the UN's goal, it seems, is to prevent or hinder coverage of UN corruption, which usually doesn't take place in the UN Press Briefing Room. (January 29, 2016 and September 8, 2011 -- Frank Lorenzo, UNdisclosed -- are notably exceptions.)
Lobbying the deciding UN official, Under Secretary General for Public Information Cristina Gallach, were the honchos of the UN Correspondents Association, including France 24 and, as in 2012, Voice of America.
Scribes Strategies' disclosures do not (have to) mention the Nkurunziza government's lobbying in and around the UN. We'll have more on this.
Back on March 9 when the Burundi configuration of the UN Peacebuilding Commission met, the conference room was too small and the meeting was not televised, at least not to the outside world (see below). There was talk of Burundi's Pierre Nkurunziza have allowed two of four closed radio stations to re-open.
But Special Adviser Jamal Benomar said these two stations were not critical of the government; beyond that, it has emerged that the stations' directors had to sign a commitment about their future coverage. Some in the UN, it is clear, would like to do just this - in fact, that's why Inner City Press could not watch the meeting on UN in-house TV in its shared office the UN has seized, and so came to the meeting.
In Conference Room 8, the Permanent Representatives of Tanzania, Belgium, Burundi, Norway, The Netherlands, and others, and Deputies from France, Rwanda and others. France was given the floor first in the debate; its Deputy Alex Lamek after a bland speech left the meeting, his seat taken by another French mission staffer. Belgium called for a re-opening of all media without restriction.
There were other speeches, but Inner City Press had to go upstairs, with its its currently reduced access pass, and ask the UN's Deputy Spokesperson why Ban had praised the re-opening, with restrictions, of only two of the four radio stations closed. Vine here; UN transcript here
Deputy Spokesman Haq: Ultimately, what we want is for the media to be free to do their work unconditionally.
This is ironic: audio here, petition here. We'll have more on this.
On January 28, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about a meeting held but not televised on January 27, at which it was urged that mass grave sites in Burundi be preserved as evidence,video here, transcript here.
Obtained by Inner City Press
Ladsous' lack of vetting was criticized in the recently released report into the cover up of peacekeepers' rapes in the Central African Republic. Earlier, Inner City Press exclusive reported on Ladsous in his October 1, 2015 meeting with Burundi's vice president saying that he is "pragmatic" on human rights.
On December 16 Inner City Press was banned from questions to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, but learned from the mission MINUSCA that Baratuza was already in Entebbe. Inner City Press asked several Security Council members, then Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric on December17.
Dujarric told Inner City Press Baratuza's deployment is suspended and he is being repatriated: "based on the information we've received regarding the Lieutenant Colonel, his deployment has been suspended, and he will be repatriated back to Burundi." Video here. Dujarric told Inner City Press this shows the UN system working - on a day when a report on rapes was issued showing UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous not sufficiently vetting for human rights. We'll have more on this.
Amid the escalating killings in Burundi, summary executions in neighborhoods opposed to Pierre Nkurunziza's third term stand out. But Burundi Army spokesman Gaspard Baratuza was quoted on December 12 blaming all of the deaths on attempts to steal weapons to free prisoners.
Inner City Press heard that Mr. Baratuza was already in the process of being deployed to the UN Peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) even when he was giving these quotes, issuing statements and speaking to state-owned radio, and so asked MINUSCA's acting spokesperson, “Is Gaspard Baratuza of Burundi's army getting a MINUSCA job?” Ultimately, after the questioning, he didn't.
But the UN should have to say more. Inner City Press has repeatedly asked the UN how its Department of Peacekeeping Operations under Herve Ladsous vets those who deploy to UN missions; Inner City Pressexclusively reported on an October 1, 2015 meeting in which Ladsous told Burundi's Vice President Joseph Butare that he is “pragmatic” on human rights.
Ban Ki-moon and his spokesman declined to take Inner City Press' questions on December 16, as they did on December 14. Vine here. Watch this site.