Wednesday, March 23, 2016

On Burundi at HRC, US Wants Media Restrictions Lifted, As Imposed in UN on Press

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 22 -- 
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.

 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.