By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, April 13 -- With Burundi troops accused of raping children as part of UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous' MINUSCA mission in the Central African Republic, as well as accused of abuses in Burundi itself, a new funding question has arisen. And the UN of Ban Ki-moon has moved to evict Inner City Press, which is asking the question.
On April 12, Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq, video here, UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: I'd asked yesterday about this switch of payments from the Burundian Central Bank to a bank in Paris, and I guess that's okay with the UN. But, there are various reports that, at least since last fall, some Burundian peacekeepers have not actually been paid. And I'm wondering, what steps are taken by DFS [Department of Field Support] to make sure that does happen?
Deputy Spokesman Haq: The UN… the UN contacts troop-contributing countries to make sure that there's follow-up so that there is payment. If there's any problems, we'd have to deal with the necessary troop-contributing country on that.
Question: And on press freedom, I wanted to ask you, there's a radio station Isanganiro, which is now in exile from Burundi, but the sister of the director of the radio station was arrested yesterday in Bujumbura. It's viewed as basically a kind of retaliation against freedom of expression. And I wanted to know, is that something that the UN is aware of? Are they monitoring cases where people either directly journalists or close family members of journalists are being detained, and what does the UN do about it?
Deputy Spokesman Haq: Well, we'd be concerned about any reports of harassment of the media. You'll have seen what the High Commissioner for Human Rights, for example, has said in recent weeks about such reports on the ground in Burundi. And we continue to have concern, to make sure that all of those who are exercising freedom of speech and freedom of expression can do so without any hindrance.
Hours after these claims, and in retaliation, the UN sent Inner City Press this:
To:matthew.lee [at] innercitypress.com
Date: Tue, Apr 12, 2016 at 6:47 PM
Dear Mr. Lee,
Further to the letter to you from Cristina Gallach, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, on 30 March 2016, we note that you did not remove your belongings from the office by the 6 April deadline as required.
As you have still not removed your belongings, we wish to inform you that your belongings will be packaged on Saturday 16 April 2016 at 10:00 a.m.
After carefully packaging them up, your belongings will be forwarded to Bronx NY headquarters address for Inner City Press that you had listed in your media accreditation application. If you wish us to forward your packaged belongings to another address instead, please let us know as soon as possible.
We request your presence during the packing. Please contact the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit (MALU) to make the necessary arrangements. If you are not present, the packing and forwarding will still take place at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday 16 April 2016.
Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit
United Nations - S-250
New York, NY 10017Tel: 1-212-963-1504
Even as the European Union considers changes to it payments for Burundi peacekeepers in AMISOM in Somalia, so that less of the money is taken by the Nkurunziza government for repression, UN Peacekeeping under Ladsous and Maria Costa have made their pay-out to Nkurunziza's government - no longer through the Burundi National Bank but through a bank account in Paris, at Commerzbank.
On April 11, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about this: why is the money not being paid to the Burundi Central Bank? Would Ladsous pay to an offshore bank, in Antigua and Barbuda or Panama for example, without looking into it?
Dujarric said he does not have details on member states banking relations; he did not answer on offshore banks. Here are some photos,here.
Meanwhile some also say that those repatriated from CAR under allegations of abuse, for example First Major Srgt Zepherin, are just re-sent by the Nkurunziza government for “service” with AMISOM in Somalia. We'll have more on this, too.
On Burundi Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric on March 31 about the death in prison of Jacques Bihozagara.
Unlike several member states, but not the Security Council's penholder France, the UN had only this: "We obviously would hope that his death will be investigated in as much of a public manner as possible."
Now the inadequacy of the UN's response is even more clear in light of this report: "During his detention, Bihozagara was visited by several diplomats who were assured he was in safe custody. On Saturday night, reports indicated that Burundi official demanded that the deceased’s family sign documents indicating that he died of natural causes or forget asking for the body."
On April 5, Inner City Press asked UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq about it, UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: on Burundi, there was this pretty high-profile death in prison of Jacques Bihozagara. And I'd asked Stéphane, and he'd said, "We obviously would hope that his death would be investigated as much in a public manner as possible." Today, a report has come out from Rwanda saying that Burundi officials demanded that the deceased's family sign documents indicating he died of natural causes or forget asking about for his body, essentially conditioning the receipt of the deceased's body on signing the form. What is the UN… which does have a presence on the ground. What is it… beyond just commenting, which wasn't much of a comment, what is it doing to look into this case, which has the potential of triggering cross-border violence?
Deputy Spokesman: Certainly, we'll need to see what the further details of this case are as it progresses. As you know, we have human rights people on the ground who are working to look into any potential human rights violations, and they report back periodically on their findings.
Inner City Press: Would it be appropriate for any governmental authority to condition the receipt by the family of a body with the signing of a… of a… of such a form absolving the Government of liability?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think even asking the question is essentially answering it. Obviously, everyone knows that that sort of practice is not an appropriate one. Whether that's happened in this case or not would need to be determined, however.
We'll have more on the UN's actual position on that sort of practice, or these type of offers.
In a smaller but similar way, the UN on February 19 told Inner City Press that if it did not move eight years of investigative files out of its UN office, even the offer of a reduced non-Resident Correspondent accreditation would be withdrawn.
Now while threatening to throw or move everything out, the UN is making even more troubling "offers." Perhaps this is why the UN Secretariat cannot criticize Pierre Nkurunziza's Burundi; instead Ban Ki-moon praised Nkurunziza for half re-opening a mere two of four radio stations he closed. New low for the UN.
Ban Ki-moon, his deputy and chief of staff have received this sample letter to reverse Gallach's outrageous decisions, concluding, "Your decision to restore ICP's full accreditation and office will be highly appreciated by many Burundians crying out for peace and protection while promoting the freedom of press in Burundi." As of this writing, still no response from Ban.
On April 1 at the 5 pm press conference by Ambassador Liu of China, April's Council president, Inner City Press asked about the timing of the Burundi draft. It's happening this evening, Liu replied.
But as of 6 pm the glass doors for the Press to access the Council stakeout were locked. The question Dujarric had run away from - why should the Press be Banned from interviews by the ramp, when others do them - could come up again, UNresolved. Like Dujarric said, he's done. Watch this site.
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 published the video without its sound, adding instead a voice-over.
On March 31, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric,UN Transcript here:
Inner City Press: I want to ask you about Burundi. There was a death… high-profile death of a Rwandan ambassador in jail yesterday that's given rise to major tensions. Jacques Bihozagara is dead and some people say he was poisoned. Any case it's a big event in the country. And I'm curious that there's been no statement. What does the UN or Mr. [Jamal] Benomar… what's the response to what clearly has the potential to be…?
Spokesman Dujarric: We obviously would hope that his death will be investigated in as much of a public manner as possible.
This is a vague answer, never followed up on by the UN.
On March 24, things got worse: Inner City Press was told by Gallach's DPI staff that it could only remain at the UN Security Council stakeout if accompanied by a UN Secretariat minder, who would hear everything told to Inner City Press. This is UNacceptable. Readers and viewers can draw their own conclusion.
On March 29, simultaneously in connection with an eviction threat from Ban Ki-moon's top lawyer Miguel de Serpa Soares, here, Inner City Press inquired into these reports from sources, of the type of arming the UN has historically ignored and only later studied:
"Sunday night 03/27, a shipment of arms came in via Lake Tanganyika... The off loading of the arms was done in Kagongo and supervised by General G Ndirakobuca, Brigadier General A Nduwumusi aka Goliath, Brig Gnl M Ngendabanka... The arms weren't officially registered, they took them to Nkurunziza stadium at Mbuga-Rumunge before moving them on Monday in two trucks... Suspected: these unregistered arms are being distributed to militiamen (Imbonerakure & FDLR) under Nkurunziza control."
This takes place after Inner City Press' exclusive report of UN / French Ladsous lobbying for Burundi to get weapons - and the UN's resulting ouster and now evicting threat. It's like a certain past fax, only worse: not only over up, but open retaliation. We'll have more on this.
Also on March 29, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric how much the Burundi government keeps from what Herve Ladsous' UN Peacekeeping pays in CAR:
Inner City Press: the Reuters story that was quoted about the Burundians and Somalia, it didn't mention that the UN is paying the Burundian troops in the CAR [Central African Republic]. And I wanted to know, because the article says, in the case of Somalia, $800 a month goes to the troops, and $200 a month goes to the Government, and there have been allegations that, in fact, the ratio is more pro-Government in MINUSCA that the UN allows the Government to take a higher percentage of the salaries, what is the percentage? If M… if the AU knows what percentage of money goes to the Government of Bujumbura, what is the UN's…
Spokesman: The way the troops are paid is outlined in various reports. I can get you the… I can try to get you the information.
Inner City Press: Don't you think the UN should have as much control…?
Spokesman: I'm… I'm just saying… I don't have that information at my fingertips.
Inner City Press: I'm asking as a matter of UN…
Spokesman: I think the… the rules to which contingents are paid are… exist and they're clear.
Inner City Press: And also on… okay. On Burundi, there's a communiqué that was put out by the ruling party, the CNDD-FDD, and it says that they will never sit with putchists. It says the journalists are connected to the putch. Many people see it as a genocidal communiqué. It's online. It's widely available. And I'm wondering, since it's the ruling party of the President in a country where Prince Zeid has expressed concern about a possible genocide, what is the response to the UN to this ruling party communiqué that has come out?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General remains very concerned about the volatile political situation in the country, and I think we always encourage any of the parties to avoid any sort of inflammatory statements. Erol?
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 and update on the spread to Ruyigi, below.
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."
Now it has spread: "The central jail in Ruyigi Province is protesting from early 5:00 this morning, inmates are complaining that they have not been eating for days. Police forces are surrounding the jail while that inmates are protesting and marching on top of the jail's roof, much similar to what happened previously in Musaga jail. The Cankuzo-Ruyigi road is blocked due to the protest... After the death of captain Darius Ikurakure, a mistrust is evident between ex- FAB ( Force Armee Burundaise) members and those who served the rebellion CNDD-FDD before joining FDN ( Force de Defense National). Major Ntamagara Hermenegilde was tortured and arrested without a warrant of accusation March 23, 2016 at 18:30 and he was taken to an unknown place up to now."
Update from other sources: "Le corps du Mj Helmenegilde Ntamagara retrouvé près du camp Base, il avait été arrêté par la police le soir du 26/03 à Musaga." Corpse has been found...
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.
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?
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.
A week later from Dujarric, who threw Inner City Press out of the UN Press Briefing Room, there 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.
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.