Wednesday, June 1, 2016

As UN's Ban Waffles on Haiti Elections, UN Impunity for Cholera UNchanged

By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, June 1 --  On May 31, Inner City Press asked the UN for its position on elections there, UN transcript here
Inner City Press:  I wanted to ask you, in Haiti, I’m sure you’ve seen the… the commission that came out and said basically it should all be redone, that the election was so fraud-ridden.  So I’m wondering given… you know, MINUSTAH’s (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) there.  What is the position of the UN on that?

Spokesman:  We’ve obviously seen the report.  We’re taking a look at it; hope to have more to say a bit later.
 It was 34 hours later, 10 pm on June 1, that the UN put out this: "The Secretary-General takes note of the release of the report on the verification of the electoral process in Haiti. The Secretary-General underlines that Haiti can ill afford a prolonged period of transitional governance. 
He is concerned that this situation has the potential to adversely affect international support to Haiti. He reiterates the need for a democratically elected leadership to take on the growing socio-economic and humanitarian challenges the country faces. 
The Secretary-General recalls the responsibility of the Provisional Presidency, the Government and the Provisional Electoral Council to identify a way forward that guarantees the peaceful completion of the 2015 elections. He exhorts all stakeholders to ensure a return to constitutional order as an urgent priority. 
The Secretary-General reaffirms the unwavering commitment of the United Nations to support the democratic aspirations of the Haitian people. He calls on all parties to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in the country and actively discourage violence during this challenging period.""
Hmm. When the UN of Ban Ki-moon is asked about bringing cholera to Haiti, the answer is usually, “Our position remains unchanged” -- that is, immunity.  Now it's reported that may change. But when Inner City Press asked on June 1, Ban's spokesman again said, our position has not changed. Video here, UN transcript here: 
Inner City Press: I'm sure you've seen The Guardian piece about Mr.… Deputy Secretary-General [Jan] Eliasson's letter about cholera in Haiti.  And it's being portrayed as a possible breakthrough or change in position.  I wanted to know if, in fact, it is, as the letter apparently says that the prom… that the promise of resources could be fine-tuned or expanded as needed.  And I wanted to know whether this involves any consideration of paying compensation to the families who had a breadwinner or other family member killed by the cholera.

Spokesman:  What is… the UN's position on the legal claims has not changed.  What has also… always been the case is the UN's determination to help the people of Haiti with the cholera outbreak and with the impact of the cholera outbreak.  I think the Secretary-General, if you look back to the statements that he made when he was in Haiti, expressed clearly the will and his commitment to help the people of Haiti.  That also involves donors stepping up and funding the necessary projects that are needed to deal with the outbreak.  The UN on the ground has already made… has already worked clearly in that… to that effect, providing assistance to national sanitation campaigns, ensuring that certain villages are free of open defecation, and also bring whatever support they can.

Question:  The piece is saying this represents a change in position.  Are you saying that it's not… there's no change in position?

Spokesman:  Well, I think… I'm telling you our position.  Obviously, journalists are free to interpret it one way or another.

Inner City Press:  What was the impact of five Special Rapporteurs writing to the Secretary-General and saying that the UN's reputation is being injured by not offering compensation?

Spokesman:  I think we clearly hear what the Special Rapporteurs are [saying].  The respect for human rights remains at the centre of what we do and how we try to act every day.

Inner City Press:  And just one related question, maybe you'll have it or you can get it.  What's happening with the Kosovo… it was said that it was recommended that the mission pay for lead-poisoned children?

Spokesman:  I have no update on that.  
The UN in Kosovo left Roma children lead poisoned by putting there in a refugee camp by an old mine. In that horrendous case - video here - the UN is now said to be considering compensation. Why not in Haiti? On May 16, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq, UN transcript here
Inner City Press: On Kosovo, since it's in the Council today, I wanted to ask whether it was said in April that Zahir Tanin had raised to the UN Headquarters this idea of paying compensation for the Roma children that were living in a camp over… and got lead poisoning.  Now that it's mid-May, what… what… one, can you confirm how this was raised?  And what is the process at the UN to decide whether to pay this compensation or not?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that process is still under way.  I don't have anything to add to what Stéphane said about this several weeks back.  But, as you know, that there was a panel that made its recommendations, which are being evaluated, and we're trying to follow up.

Question:  And how is that… I guess… many people don't understand it.  How is this process different than the one on Haiti?  Like, was a panel set up by the UN to decide whether to even consider compensation or what's the difference?

Deputy Spokesman:  They're completely different circumstances.  They have had different bodies looking into them.  They have had different ways of looking at it.  You'll have seen what we've had to say about Haiti.  It's a separate matter. 

We'll have more on this. For now, NYT of May 14 here.