By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, May 25 -- The recurrent complicity through silence and inaction of the UN under Ban Ki-moon with the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar has echoed what Ban's UN did and didn't do in Sri Lanka in 2008 and 2009. But through Ban's representative in Myanmar, Renata Lok-Dessalien, it has other antecedents, including inBangladesh.
On May 23, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric about Lok-Desslien and documents leaked to VICE News,video here, UN transcript below.
On May 25, Inner City Press asked Dujarric's deputy Farhan Haq again, this time about retaliation, video here, transcript here:
Inner City Press: You'd said there's some contacts between the Executive Office of the Secretary-General and Myanmar, and I'm assuming that's in response to the recent VICE story about seemingly the resident representative working around human rights concerns. Some people there are saying that there's a danger of retaliation of staff that cooperated with the story. I just wanted to ask more since you said that these people here from headquarters are in touch with them in Myanmar. Is it about finding out if the story has truth to it, or is it looking into protecting those who spoke to VICE?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I would just characterize the work that we do on this as making sure that the UN system as a whole is supportive of high human rights standards in Myanmar. And it's really about the substance of the issue.
Question: And is Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar at all involved in this process? He still has the position, right, of good offices on Myanmar?
Deputy Spokesman: Of course he does. He continues to do that work.
In fact, Nambiar was in Myanmar, pursuant to a photograph from Switzerland's affable former Ambassador to the UN Peter Seger.
From May 23:
Inner City Press: I thought you'd be asked about this VICE News exposéabout the UN's reaction to the killing of the Rohingya in Myanmar. There are a number of leaked documents they've obtained showing some of the... proceedings of this senior action group of the Rights Up Front, including Mr. [Jan] Eliasson, and basically they conclude that the UN has learned and improved little since the Sri Lanka incidents that gave rise to that. They're taking about the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] Renata Lok-Dessallien basically having meetings when the human rights staff couldn't attend so she wouldn't have to hear their views. Have you seen all this? And what's your response to basically...
Spokesman Dujarric: I think... as you know we don't...
Inner City Press: ...what's gone wrong?
Spokesman: ...really comment on leaked documents. I think the UN, for quite some time now, has made... done its best to shine a light on the human rights issues we have seen in Rakhine State. There are also... there are also development... development needs, but this is an issue that the Human Rights Office has been focused on. This is an issue that the office as a whole has been focused on and one that we've talked about quite a bit from here.
Inner City Press: Right, but totally outside the leaked documents, do you deny the resident representative, Renata Lok-Dessallien, essentially tried to work around the human rights warnings. You're saying that the Human Rights Office is giving warnings. This says that she tried to specifically set up meetings...
Spokesman: That I've no way of knowing what her personal time agenda is. I'm talking about what the views of the UN are from here.
Well, here's a sample article from Bangladesh in 2010 about Lok-Dessalien there:
"News analysis: UN Coordinator creates new questions rather than answering old ones
UN Resident Coordinator Renata Lok-Dessallien, who created debates for her reported role in the 1/11 episode in 2007, said in a belated statement on Sunday that the UN did not send to then Bangladesh government any "special letter" that led to the postponement of the elections and declaration of the state of emergency. She claimed that the international community including the UN did not interfere in any way. "Our only concern was to create conditions conducive to holding free and fair elections," she has been quoted to have told the UNB news agency. Her disclosure has created more questions than answering the ones that were already in the minds of the people of Bangladesh about the UN's role."
On May 23, Inner City Press continued it questioning, cut off by the UN:
Inner City Press: Is the UN comfortable with its response?
Spokesman: I'm telling what you the views are from here.
And then he cut, as usual, to other unrelated questions. But the Press' questioning will continue, despite Ban's and his Under Secretary General Cristina Gallach's related move to oust and evict Inner City Press, give its long time shared office to Egyptian state media Akhbar Elyom and confine Inner City Press, for now, to minders and the edict to not ask diplomats questions. This is today's UN.
Back on March 1 when UN aid official John Ging held a press conference about Myanmar on March 1, Inner City Press asked him about the fighting in Shan State, and land grabs in Kachin. Video here.
On both issues, Ging said that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Special Adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, is on the case.
Inner City Press has covered Vijay Nambiar's role in the UN's response, such as it was, to the killing in Sri Lanka in 2009; more recently, his attendance, along with others (very) close to Ban, at the founding of the Global Sustainability Foundation of now-indicted Sheri Yan. We'll have more on this.
Back on October 29, 2015, human rights and freedom of expression in Myanmar were the topics of UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee's UN press conference. Inner City Press asked her of reports of possible genocide against Rohingya, of Aung San Suu Kyi's relative silence on the issue, and if she works with UN “Good Office” envoy Vijay Nambiar, also relatively quiet about rights.
Yanghee Lee answers were highly diplomatic -- too much so, some might say, if it is a genocide that's coming. She said that word is too strong; she praised Aung San Suu Kyi's statements about the rule of law. She said she works closely with Nambiar. Video here.
Her approach can be contrasted with that of Marzuki Darusman, for example, on North Korea. Does the difference spring from different personalities, or from the positions of major member states, many of whom have been claiming a human rights win in Myanmar as in Sri Lanka, what ever the facts on the ground? We'll have more on this.
On October 22 when UN Rapporteur of Freedom of Expression David Kaye held a press conference before his appearance before the UN's Third Committee, his topic was whistleblower protection, on which the UN itself is particularly weak.
When called on, Inner City Press asked Kaye about retaliation against UN official Anders Kompass for blowing the whistle on alleged child rapes by French troops in the Central African Republic. Video here and embedded below.
Kaye said he would avoid speaking about individuals cases, but said that the UN suffers from a lack of transparency. He should know that while UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous is listed in the Kompass ruling(s) of the UN Dispute Tribunal as trying to get Kompass fired, Ladsous has refused to answer on his role, other than a terse “I deny that.”
Likewise, Ladsous has claimed the right to refuse to respond to ANY Press questions, in which the UN Spokesperson's Office has taken to backing him up. (When Ladsous did speak, he linked the peacekeepers' rapes to “R&R,” here.)
Earlier this month, Inner City Press for the Free UN Coalition for Access asked if UN Peacekeeping's MONUSCU mission had any comment or action on Burundian journalist Egide Mwemero being silenced then arrested in Eastern Congo. So far, none. These are cases Kaye could work on. And this one - we'll have more on this.
Free speech ironies at the UN were on display right in Kaye's press conference. The representative of the UN Correspondents Association, which among other things took funds from now-indicted David Ng's South South News and then give it an award, and gave Ng a photo op with Ban Ki-moon at Cipriani, demanded to ask the first question, even claiming that the UN Department of Public Information has granted this “right” in writing. Where?
In fact, UNCA leaders tried to get the Press thrown out of the UN, with missives to DPI, one of which (from Voice of America) was released under the US Freedom of Information Act, another of which Reuters' bureau chief has gotten Banned from Google on the claim that his anti-Press complaint was copyrighted. Is this is whistleblower? UNCA has become the UN's Censorship Alliance. We and the new Free UN Coalition for Access will have more on this, and on free speech issues through the UN system.