By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, May 18 -- Hours after two senior US Administration officials bragged about what they Atrocities Prevention Board claims to have done in Burundi, President Obama nominated a new Ambassador to the country, Anne S. Casper.
Here's what the Senior Administration Officials (SAO) 1 and 2 said on may 18:
SAO 1: "Burundi would be our case in point, where years before the international community was seized of Burundi, we were concerned about the early warning signs of atrocity risk. We sent a team to go and examine the drivers and the potential for mitigation, doing their risk assessment. We put together a resource plan with some 7 million of programming – and this was three years ago – doing community leader training on conflict resolution, helping civil society with tools to monitor hate speech, to amplify messages of peace – those types of interventions. We also sent a prevention advisor to the embassy there to do more intensive analysis and we supported civil society assessments. And then we worked on the sticks piece as the situation evolved, eventually making it clear that we would be denying visas to those who ordered, planned, or perpetrated violence, and we coordinated with our European allies to reinforce this message.
"Obviously, the situation in Burundi has evolved to a place where it remains at significant risk for mass atrocities, but I think that we feel confident that we were working on this case earlier and in ways that have contributed to the relative – let me put this a different way – we have helped to mitigate the risks that civilians have been killed as the crisis has continued to unfold."
SAO 2: "It’s given us the capacity to surge civilians into situations like Burundi to help develop action plans that have made us, I think, more effective at preventing mass violence there... the Democratic Republic of Congo would be a country where we want to make sure that as they approach this sort of big moment with upcoming elections, that that transition goes smoothly and doesn’t descend into a – into the kind of problems that they’ve had there in the past."
One would have liked to ask about South Sudan. In full disclosure, Inner City Press has a Freedom of Information Act request long pending with the State Department about its Atrocities Prevention Board. See also,GAP, Vine and Vine.
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, involving Commerbank.
And the UN of Ban Ki-moon moved to evict Inner City Press, which is asking the question. It happened on April 16, video here and here (Periscope). The New York Times covered it on May 14, here.
On May 17, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric this question about Audace Nduwumusi -- a name conveniently left out of the UN transcript here.
On May 18, Inner City Press asked again, UN transcript here:
Spokesman: I'll be honest with you. I failed to get… I failed… I probably asked and I didn't have the answer. So, I will try to get you something tomorrow.
We'll see. Inner City Press previously published the leaked cable naiming Nduwumusi, here - and has been evicted by the UN, NYT here.
On May 11, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Dujarric, Vine here,UN transcript here.
Waiting for the Security Council, in which Ban Ki-moon's Herve Ladsous undermined proposal with a statement of delay the UN won't even confirm?
On May 4, Inner City Press at noon asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric to confirm or deny that Herve Ladsous told the Security Council it would take 18 months to deploy 3,000 to Burundi.
Inner City Press sources on this say it is troubling it would take the UN that long. Others surmise the Ladsous is trying to undermine the proposal by making it take so long, or saying it would take so long.
On May 3, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: on Burundi, various countries have spoken about the postponement of the talks that were supposed to begin in Arusha under ex-President [Benjamin] Mkapa. Does the UN have no involvement in them or no view of whether it's a good or bad thing that they were postponed?
Spokesman Dujarric: I don't have anything on Burundi.
That's an understatement.
On May 2, the US issued this:
"While the United States strongly supports the regionally mediated Burundi dialogue, led by former President Mkapa under the auspices of the East African Community, we are disappointed the scheduled dialogue did not resume today.
Postponement of this dialogue only serves to worsen a crisis that has already resulted in hundreds of lives lost, thousands injured, more than 260,000 Burundian refugees displaced, and a worsening economic situation.
We call upon all stakeholders to ensure the dialogue resumes immediately and to commit to participating without preconditions or redlines.
Burundi’s political leaders owe it to their citizens to take concrete steps to resolve this crisis as soon as possible within the framework of the Arusha Accords, the foundation for peace and stability in Burundi. Now is the time for all parties to cease all violence and exercise restraint and engage in an inclusive and peaceful dialogue."
But will the US propose anything in the UN Security Council, or encourage the "penholder," France, to? On April 29, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman, video here, UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: I've asked you several times about the reported non-payment of Burundian peacekeepers. I have now seen a document that more than $4 million has been transferred by DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) to the Commerce Bank account in Paris that I'd also asked you about. Have they gotten back to you about the multiple reports that this money, in fact, doesn't go to the peacekeepers?
Spokesman Stephane Dujarric: You know, we pay the Governments, and we expect the Governments to ensure that the peacekeepers are given the money that is owed to them.
Inner City Press: And if you hear that they don't or find that they don't, what would you do?
Spokesman Dujarric: We would expect that they do, and I'm sure the issue would then be raised.
Since the UN and Ban Ki-moon are embroiled in their own bribery and corruption scandal, the issue was raised to Commerzbank, which replied:
"Please report potentially fraudulent activities to [Link]"
But Commerzbank's link to report fraud returns, "The document you requested does not exist on this server."
For a bank with legal duties, this is a problem, as is opening an account to receive the UN's Herve Ladsous' payments to Pierre Nkurunziza for troops accused of rape in the Central African Republic. We'll have more on this.
Update: after this Inner City Press story and complaint, Commerzbank belatedly fixed it s "Fraud" link. But what about the substantive behavior?
On April 22, after three separate screenings by UN security, Inner City Press was allowed to the photo op of Ban with Alain Aime Nyamitwe. Albert Shingiro was there too, taking his own smart phone photo. There was Jamal Benomar, and David Nabarro. Tweeted photo here. Periscope video here.
Outside there was Edmond Mulet, Ban's chief of staff who has received correspondence about the eviction of Inner City Press.
What would they discuss? Mugamba? (Since Ban's meeting, General Athanase Kararuza who spoke against the killing in Mugamba had been assassinated). Even more UNlikely, press freedom?
From the read-out below, it seems they did not discuss crimes against humanity, much less genocide. But here's what the International Criminal Court's Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said on April 25, opening a preliminary examination -- note that the FIFA post offer to Pierre Nkurunziza, which Inner City Press exclusively reported in May 2015, here, well before Sepp Blatter's book, may be looking better and better to him)
On April 21, amid published reports of up to 150 people detained in Mugamba, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric about it. He said he hadn't heard of it but would check.
An hour after the briefing, this was sent to Inner City Press:
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply un.org
Date: Thu, Apr 21, 2016 at 1:46 PM
Subject: Your question on Burundi
To: Matthew.Lee [at] innercitypress.com
Cc: Stephane Dujarric [at] un.org
"Regarding your question at the noon briefing: Our human rights office was informed that on 20 April 2016, following a security incident that occurred in Mugamba commune, Bururi province (an exchange of gunfire between unidentified armed men and military elements, during which two people including a military lost their lives), three persons, including a teacher, were arrested by the police and detained in Mugamba police station. No charges were retained against them and they were finally released on 21 April 2016 following an intervention by the Regional police commissioner."
Is that all that happened?
Dujarric also at the April 21 briefing, when Inner City Press asked why its office has been seized - to be resold, it seems - while that of South South News, named in October 2015 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York as Ng Lan Seng's vehicle to bribe the UN, still has its office, said “You have been afforded quite a lot of courtesies.” Like ouster by eight UN DSS guards? Five boxes of files dumped out onto First Avenue?
On April 20, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about hate speech, UN transcript here.
Inner City Press' sources say many opposition leaders are worried about Ban Ki-moon's typically waffling three-option report because "the report is a proposition to a dictator rather than being a decision against him... The corpse of Jean De Dieu Ndayikungurukiye who was stabbed and killed by Imbonerakure four months ago in Nairobi, is still in detention. According to family members and other Burundian Refugees in Nairobi, Burundian Embassy in Nairobi recommended this detention."
On April 12, Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq, video here, UN transcript here.
Hours after these claims, and in retaliation, the UN sent Inner City Press an eviction notice for April 16, which despite push back they implemented.
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.
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.
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 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.