Monday, March 7, 2016

In Burundi, Torture in Mutakura, Poisoning Even VP of Tax, Waiting for Mkapa

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 6 -- After UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on New Year's Eve issued a statement surreally praising the Burundi “talks” held in Entebbe, Uganda, multiple sources told Inner City Press these not really talks but rather a photo op. The January 6 session announced for Arusha did not happen.  Inner City Press requested to cover the UNSC's trip to Burundi, but was UNtransparently rejected.

Ban Ki-moon took no press with him to Burundi - and then praised Pierre Nkurunziza's decision on the media, after having decided, through his Under Secretary General Cristina Gallach and Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, to throw Inner City Press out of the UN. Petition here. Video of 1st protest here (in Tamil).

In Burundi the killings continue, including it seems by poison. An Inner City Press source provides this update:

"Lt. colonel Darius IKURAKURE head of Muzinda and some of his followers in his regiment are on the top list of people who torture and kill anyone believed to be part of opposition in Mutakura. A private house occupied by his soldiers on 3rd avenue no:20 Mutakura zone to be a place of torture and execution of anyone who protested against Pierre Nkurunziza."

  Meanwhile others say that Burundi's Kiki Ndimaso and Edmomd Bizabigomba, Vice President of the Tax Authority died of poisoning and that their families are afraid to talk. In that context, we publish these dispatches; we will have more.

On March 4, Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq, UN transcript here:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you, it's been announced that the EAC (East African Community) has replaced a… the mediator on the Burundi talks and put Mr. [Benjamin] Mkapa, former Tanzanian president, in charge.  And I wanted to know, one, will Mr. [Jamal] Benomar be working with him?  Presumably, yes.  But do you have any comment on this change of mediator, and is there any renewed hope for more than took place under the Ugandan mediation?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we certainly hope that the mediator will work to help resolve the problems that Burundi has been facing.  We have our utmost faith in President Mkapa that he can help in his capacity as mediator.  And, yes, Mr. Benomar will work with him.

Inner City Press asks, if this just deck chairs on the Titanic?

On March 2, Inner City Press asked Ban's Haq, UN transcript here:

Inner City Press: In Burundi, the Government itself has acknowledged and is putting on display what it says is a mass grave in Mutakura with 30 bodies in it, recent… you know, recently and hurriedly buried.  And I wanted to know, given the discussion… I know that Mr. [Ivan] Šimonovic had said that he wanted to have people present.  I know that the experts are there.  I'm not sure if they're going to go to this site.  What is the UN. what is the response to the finding of this mass grave?  And what is the UN team being assembled by Mr. [Jamal] Benomar going to do as it's looked into?

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  Well, we're concerned about any allegations of mass graves.  There is a team there, and they are going about their work, and they will report back on their findings.  But, right now, what we're looking for is for them to be able to go about their work, to meet officials in the Government of Burundi, and follow up on whatever information they think is important.

  Three experts, for all these corpses? 

  On the other end of the human rights spectrum, Ban made much of Nkurunziza's ostensible commitment to release political prisoners and meet with "the opposition." But which opposition? And which prisoner? Inner City Press while ousted from the UN published what Nkurunziza signed, here and here, and on February 25, filing a lawyer's letter directing the UN to not touch its office or files, entered and asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric these questions, UN transcript:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about Burundi first.  I saw the statement by the Secretary-General praising the reopening of some radio stations and the release of prisoners.  And I wanted to ask you two questions about that.  One is, is he aware, and what do you say that two… two of five radio stations have opened and they've been forced to sign pledges to not undermine the country's security?  Is that… does he think that that type of pledge is legitimate?  And on the prisoners, most people are saying that the… this document signed by President [Pierre] Nkurunziza doesn't involve the release of any political opponents, FNL [National Liberation Front] members or anything else.  It's sort of a… it's one of those fake releases where these are people that have nothing to do with the unrest.

Spokesman:  I think what the Secretary-General did yesterday was to welcome these as initial steps and said that it was not enough and he would want to see more.  I don't have any particular reports on pledges that were signed.  Obviously, as a matter of the principle, radio stations in Burundi should be able to broadcast freely and fairly any news that they want.  And, as for the detainees, I don't have the details of who they were.  Obviously, there are different reports.  But as I said, we would want to see more people released.

Inner City Press:  Well, the document that the President signed, it's been published and it's clear that it doesn't cover the people that are part of the opposition.

Spokesman:  I think it's… as I said, we welcome this as an initial step, and we'd like to see more.

Inner City Press:  And will there be follow-up?  What follow-up is the UN going to give having…?

Spokesman:  Mr. [Jamal] Benomar has an expanded team there.  They are in constant contact with the Government.

  Compare Dujarric's canned answers to this critique from ICP's sources on the ground:

Article 1 mentioned categories of those who are supposed to be realized. The common fact is that those mentioned in the article do not have any relation with the Ongoing political unrest. Actually, we were excepting the realise of FNL, MSD, and all political prisoners such as insurgents, and the above mentioned opponents to the regime. But none of them would fall under the categories evoked by the article.

 On Ban Ki-moon's meeting with Nkurunziza: Is the dialogue going inclusive. We shall be able to see it if Nkurunziza says that is going to meet key opposition figures and the civil society leaders, including Nyangoma (CNARED), Sinduhije (Red Tabara), Nininahazwe Pacifique, etc. When? And where? Remember Nkurunziza said that he'll never seat on same table with co-plotters, protest and insurgent leaders as well. So, what is the guarantee that he changed is mind? We'll have more on this.

In Bujumbura on February 23, Ban said:

"I welcome the decision by His Excellency President Nkurunziza to withdrawal some media bans, cancel the arrest warrants and release detainees as good will gestures. President Nkurunziza told me this morning that he will release a list of twelve hundred detainees and take other measures. I have asked him, while I welcome these generous support and measures but I would expect that additional measures should be taken. This is an encouraging step. I hope again additional measures will be taken."

  On February 19, Ban's guards and DPI threw Inner City Press out of the UN, physically, and have yet to restore its Resident Correspondents pass.

But even from the park in front of the UN on 43rd Street in Manhattan, Inner City Press interviewed Security Council ambassadors about Ban's trip, which despite his typical lack of transparency has in fact begun on February 22.

Inner City Press tweeted a photo, here, and reports from sources that already, five men have been killed in Bujumbura and Gisozi while Ban was in the country.

Echoing again  Ban's "victory tour" of Sri Lanka in 200. That one, Inner City Press covered - and things have proceeded.

At the February 5 UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq about Burundi, video heretranscript here.  

  Handpicked to go and memorialize the trip was Reuters, which barely reported what happened. There is a history, of Reuters UN bureau hereand here; on February 3, Reuters correspondent Michelle Nichols went so far as to cut off Inner City Press' questions to the UN, Vine here.

  On February 3 Reuters' UN bureau chief Lou Charbonneau, a censor,  channeled a UN (DRC) report -- note not only the former Reuters official turned Eritrea sanctions “experts” exposed by Inner City Presshere, but also that this same now discredited Reuters / UN individual was previously ON the DR Congo panel. Typically, Reuters did not actually put the report online.

  Inner City Press in the spirit of transparency is publishing the (update) report, dated January 15, 2016, signed by Coordinator Gaston Gramajo, and its two paragraphs about 18 Burundian combatants, here

Readers can draw their own conclusions, including about the mandate and motivation, and if these 18 is really the way it would go.

 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.

On January 29, Inner City Press asked Dujarric again, transcript here.

  So it's all on Zeid, nothing from Ban Ki-moon, who appears to be playing this like he did Sri Lanka...

 At the UN Security Council stakeout, Inner City Press waited -- including through two North Korea questions, and softballs -- then asked if this UN use of Burundian troops makes sense. There has yet to be an answer, although there are indications one might be forthcoming. (More than 24 hours later, no).  Here for now is about the US training Burundian troops. Watch this site.

Inner City Press asked Ban's spokespeople about the trip on January 20, 21 and 22 - including asking why the UN was not providing a video or at least audio stream of the January 22 press encounters, says it has a  "UN Information Center" in Bujumbura, which produced a smiling photo of the French deputy ambassador Alexis Lamek on the tarmac. The UN said it couldn't.

  Local media in Burundi put online a video in which Lamek spoke at length; afterward a pro-government Burundian media quoted Lamek that "we" take seriously the question of interference by Rwanda to destabilize Burundi and will be working on it.

  But the four scribes handpicked to accompany the Security Council trip, including Agence France Presse, it seems, for some reasons didn't cover it. Why? We'll have more on this. Instead, AFP, Reuters andVoice of America (which saw "Liberians" then cited auto-correct) filed near-identical stories with no quotes from opposition figures or attacked journalists. None of the three even tweeted on January 23, other than Reuters as a robot: talk about Old Media.

  How could "Agence France Presse," handpicked to publicize the UNSC trip co-led by France, not even cover the controversy?

  We note that the French Mission to the UN said that Lamek was being misrepresented (the same French Mission has tried to shield Lamek from critical Press questions, which here on Vine Lamek has refused to answer even when entirely audible). Later an AFP quote emerged of Lamek saying that any AU force, even the 100 human rights observers, should significantly focus on the Rwandan border.

  On the evening of January 23 the UN has put up select clips including a mere 16 seconds of French deputy ambassador Lamek, much less than the local Burundian media present at the same press encountered had.  If the UN filmed the press encounters, why did it so selectively edit them?

  More specifically, now, who decided on the edits?

Inner City Press, which is the media which on January 22 asked for the live-stream, has asked the UN, publicly on Twitter, here, and in more detail by e-mail to three top UN spokespeople:

"having just seen that your Office put online edited video from Burundi, must ask: why did UN edit the footage it has, with no Burundi government speaker, and only 16 seconds of France, penholder in the UNSC on Burundi? Please provide the full footage, in response to this request and, separately, online. Would also still like answers to questions below" on Burundi.

 And still no answers at all, the next day. Watch this site.

  The UN spokespeople refused to say, but beyond the pro-government "religious leaders" that they cited, the Council also met with at least some of the concerned members of civil society, and some journalists who inevitably raised the issue of attacks and censorship. This was not mentioned by the UN.

  We're told that Ambassador Albert Shingiro, who blocks the Press on Twitter, told the scribes that US Power said she would send “a strong message to the government of Rwanda." Again, Shingiro blocks the Press on Twitter: some diplomat.

   On January 22, Inner City Press asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq for the UN's response to Pierre Nkurunziza denying the existence of his party's youth militia, and why there was no video or even audio stream of the Security Council's - and Nkurunziza's -- press statements. Video here.

  Haq replied that "the facilities are difficult," that the UN Spokesperson's Office had reached out to the traveling party for information but hadn't gotten any. The Free UN Coalition for Accesscalls this a failure.

 On January 21 Inner City Press in New York learned both of Pierre Nkurunziza plans to parade "community work" for the Security Council members on January 22 and has been provided with a letter promoting same, here.

  On January 21, Inner City Press and the Free UN Coalition for Accessasked UK Permanent Representative Matthew Rycroft about his stop-over on Addis Ababa, "will you as UK meet with AU before heading to Burundi? About AU's proposed deployment?"

   Rycroft replied, "Yes! Looking forward to meeting @AU_Chergui today. Will also return to Addis with whole UNSC after Burundi."

  In Addis, Chergui had filed the Concept of Operation for the MAPROBU peacekeeping mission. We'll have more on this.

  Burundian civil society has written to Ban seeking the repatriation of the country's peacekeepers. Inner City Press has put the letter from Vital Nshimirimana to Ban online here, and will be asking the UN about it. Watch this site.

  On December 30 Nkurunziza threatened to have his forces attack peacekeepers proposed for the country.

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.