Sunday, March 20, 2016

Inner City Press Asks UN of Burundi Abuse of IDPs, No Answer In 6 Days, But Ruhororo, Ousted

By Matthew Russell Lee

WASHINGTON, March 18 -- 
Six days 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.

 Six days 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.

 On March 20, this was reported:

"From the beginning of March 2016 police harassment increased in the principal Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps of Ruhororo (North of Burundi) and Bukirasazi (Centre of Burundi) and Mutaho (Centre of Burundi) and Bugendana (Centre of Burundi). Each IDP camp is populated by at least 3000 persons that fled the 1993 ethnic massacres. Residents suggest that dozens of youths were arrested and detained at different police stations before being transferred to Ngozi (North of Burundi) and Gitega (Centre of Burundi). Hate speech is often utilized to threaten IDPs whose majority are Tutsi. Mr. Vincent Gahungu, former member of the parliament who fled the country in January, told Radio Humura Burundi (March 9, 2016) IDPs are subjected to police, administration harassment and death threats as they are frequently accused of supporting rebels and insurgents." h/t Vital Nshimirimana

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 hereUN transcript here:

Inner City Press: About Burundi.  You'd said that the Secretary-General discussed it with the [German] Foreign Minister.  Just came from a meeting down in Conference Room 8 of the Burundi configuration peacebuilding, and there Mr. [Ivan] Šimonovic said that the two radio stations that were reopened were forced to sign commitments about their future coverage.  And Mr. [Jamal] Benomar said that the two stations were not critical of the Government.  I'm asking you because the Secretary-General praised this as a move toward freedom of the press, the reopening of two stations in Burundi.  And now two people that work for him said that they were never critical of the Government and they were forced to sign commitments about their future coverage.  So, I wonder, what did he mean by that?  Was this really a positive step, or was there some difference of opinion between the 38th Floor and these other two floors that these gentlemen are on?

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  No, no, the Secretary-General's comments were regarding the general principle of allowing media to go about their tasks.  Obviously, we would be concerned about any restrictions imposed upon the media, but at the same time, we appreciate any efforts to open up space for freedom of expression and freedom of the press
Inner City Press:  But, what about telling a media, as a condition of reopening, it has to commit to a certain kind of coverage?  That's what they're discussing down in Conference Room 8.

Deputy Spokesman:  Ultimately, what we want is for the media to be free to do their work unconditionally.

  This is ironic: audio herepetition 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.

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.

  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.

  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.