By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, August 19 -- This year the commemoration of the death of 22 UN staff in Iraq on August 19, 2003, morphed into a promotion of outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's ineffective World Humanitarian Summit, ignoring of even covering up his UN's recent abandonment of aid workers in the TerrainApartment in Juba, South Sudan, to rapes and beatings.
The UN's speech for 2016, delivered by Ban's deputywhile he is "on leave" or vacation, mentioned South Sudan but not Terrain. Aid workers launched a petition to try to get the UN back on track but it is too late, it seems clear, with Ban Ki-moon. Who will be Next SG? 2012's World Humanitarian Day at the UN had Beyonce. 2016's list, in the UN's robo-response to Inner City Press after Ban Ki-moon and his Under Secretary General for Communications Cristina Gallach ousted and evicted Inner City Press, NY Times here, Petition here, first-draft film here:
Congratulations! We are delighted to inform you that your entry has been selected in the random lottery to attend a Special Event “WORLD HUMANITARIAN DAY: ONE HUMANITY” featuring performances by Mohammed Assaf, Leslie Odom, Jr., and Alisan Porter, as well as speeches by Natalie Dormer and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Yasmine Al Masri and Hala Kamil, a Syrian refugee whose family was featured in Marcel Mettelseifen’s documentary Children of Syria, will address the audience.
Then for the event itself, Inner City Press was escorted by one of Ban Ki-moon's minders -- required since Ban and Gallach evicted it, covering UN corruption -- to the “Blue Carpet” and set up. Some of it was troublingly vacuous: the click-click-click of cameras, no substance. In fact, Alisan Porter, who sang well, was selling her album at the stakeout. Yasmine Al Masri was brought by a handler over and said Hillary Clinton, hopefully she's going to be President. (Vine here). Full Periscope (for now) here.
Inside, Chimamanda Adichie spoke movingly of her parents during the Biafra war in 1967, and closed with a quote from Samuel Coleridge. Natalie Dormer didn't mention Game of Thrones, staying focused on gender equality. The clip from “Children of Syria” was moving. There was, however, a decided lack of references to Yemen. Was Saudi Arabia's funding to OCHA used for the event?
In 2012 the anniversary was marked by the filming of a Beyonce video in the General Assembly Hall, and a ceremony with new Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson in the GA lobby.
Then outside the UN, on the other side of First Avenue in the Church Center, survivors held their own quiet service. They spoke of being excluded by the UN, of the investigation of the killings being called off or covered up.
One speaker recounted asking Kofi Annan why he hadn't acted on warning prior to the bombing of the Canal Hotel: the killing of an Iraq driver and a Filipino staffer, a sermon on Mosul calling for attacks on the IOM and UN.
It was said that Annan's successor as Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had said he would do better but hasn't. Ironies were inescapable: Ban named Annan as envoy to Syria.
After Annan quit, Ban today named Lakhdar Brahimi, who was assigned to report on, or some say cover up, the bombing of UN staff in his native Algeria.
The survivors in the Church Center praised Hedi Annabi, for having come to previous remembrances before he himself was killed in rubble during the Haiti earthquake.
To their credit they cited subsequent UN staff victims, in not only in Haiti and Algiers but also Afghanistan. One wanted to ask what they thought of the UN's failure to follow up on the murder of UN staff member Louis Maxwell, defending his colleagues in Afghanistan, but held off due to decorum. Click here for Inner City Presscoverage of Louis Maxwell.
On Friday a speaker about the Canal Hotel bombing was dismissive of the 16 page report by Martti Ahtisaari -- another candidate for the Syria envoy post -- and of one delivered in 2008 as a "UN" report but written entirely by the US.
More than one speaker questioned why the "one witness" to how the bombing was done was turned over to Iraqi authorities by the US and killed by hanging before anyone in the UN interviewed him.
Inner City Press has previously questioned the lack of finality in the UN's investigation of the Canal Hotel bombing. Click here for that and see below.
Update of August 21: at the next noon briefing after the Church Center ceremony, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's lead spokesman Martin Nesirky if any response to the criticism of Ban and treatment of survivors and loved ones. He said UN would only respond to complaints through "official channels, not through you."
Inner City Press asked, but is your office aware of the criticism?
Nesirky said, that's not what you asked, and turned to another questioner.
At the Church Center, August 19, 2012, (c) MRLee
In a March 2004 report by the UN's Security in Iraq Accountability Panel, the still-withheld threat assessment report by Bruno Henn and Leo Powell is referenced:
130. A UNSSS assessment mission, led by the Deputy Chief UNSSS, visited Baghdad in late June-early July to ascertain whether the CPT, as then constituted and equipped, was able to assist the SRSG in the discharge of his mission... The Panel felt that there had been no determined or focused effort to address the principal recommendations, especially as some envisaged actions fell to people outside UNSSS. Failure in following up these recommendations is not surprising, as the report remained an internal one and was not shared, including with UNSECOORD, until after the attack on 19 August, at which time an unsigned and undated copy was passed to UNSECOORD by UNSSS.
That the threat assessment was reportedly turned in only after the bombing, and then only "unsigned and undated," makes it release all the more important. Inner City Press directly asked Ban Ki-moon's then-spokesperson for the report:
Inner City Press: There was the threat assessment report that was done before the bombing took place. But I think it has never been re[leased], and I'm not sure why, given that it's been outdated. Even some Member States complained that they haven't seen it. So I guess I'm requesting if that document can be released. It was called the threat assessment. It was done in 2003 prior to the bombing.
Spokesperson: Well, I think if it contains information that can jeopardize the lives of our own people right now in Iraq -- no, it will not be released.
Inner City Press: But I think it was all about --
Spokesperson: If it was about what happened at the building, I would be surprised if it hasn't been released. I know a number of things were released in 2004. I can check for you what was released but a threat assessment, I don't think will be released as such.
Inner City Press: But it was an assessment done before the bombing, you see what I mean? It's all about the building. Some people have said that the problem was that it had assessed the threat as low. I don’t know if that's true or not. That's why I'm asking. That's why I would like to see the report.
Spokesperson: I'll try to find out for you.
But nothing was provided.
As it turns out, there is another buried report, a post-bombing audit carried out by Francois Pascal, then of the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services.
Reportedly, then-OIOS chief Dileep Nair ordered Pascal to remove from his audit the names of those responsible for various acts. Then the audit was concealed.
One of the copies of the Bruno Henn threat assessment in Iraq report was held by a UN security staffer, as raised in the May 26, 2006 noon briefing:
Question: When the Hotel was struck in August, either the Secretary-General or the Deputy Secretary-General asked for those reports to be returned. Nothing has been heard of the report since then. The Mission didn't see it nor the Security Council. About a month ago, a security officer told me he had a copy he picked up in the wreckage when he went on a search-and-rescue team in August of 2003. A commanding officer verified that this officer had the report as personal property for two years.
Stephane Dujarric: Let me stop you here and answer... the issue of security in the Canal Hotel was examined by two reports, the Ahtisaari report and the Volcker report, and I have nothing to add. I will just say the security of the staff in Baghdad is at the forefront of the Secretary-General's mind when considering deployment or increase of UN presence.
Question: But this guy had the UN report as personal property. People have been making inquiries.
Mr. Dujarric: I’m glad they have and you can keep bringing this up