Friday, November 25, 2016

Burundi's Letter To Ban, With Background in Rape & Repatriations, Was Covered Up by UN

By Matthew Russell Lee, Follow up to Exclusives

UNITES NATIONS, November 15 -- The UN of Ban Ki-moon can't even handle attacks on Ban's own envoys correctly, or keep its story straight.

Burundi's Pierre Nkurunziza government, faced with documented allegations of sexual abuse and the impending repatriation of peacekeepers, saw the US election results of November 8 as providing, they thought, a glimmer of hope or at least respite.

 They wrote a letter to Ban Ki-moon, trying to paralyze the UN process. And a wire service was found to write only about the letter, not about the rapes or repatriations, no context. What does Ban care? He wants to run for office in South Korea - and maybe to get term limits extended.

Inner City Press on November 10 reported from Burundian sources of attempts by the Pierre Nkurunziza government to “PNG” or persona non-grata Ban's Special Adviser on Conflict Prevention Jamal Benomar, who covers Burundi among other countries.

On November 15, for the third time, Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesman Farhan Haq to confirm the letter. This time he claimed he had confirmed the exchange, last week. Video here form 19:30.  But here's the November 11 UN transcript:

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have anything to say in particular about diplomatic correspondence.  What I do have to say is that Jamal Benomar continues to go about his work as a Special Advisor, including his work on Burundi.

Inner City Press:  Did the Secretary-General write farewell letters to Heads of State such as Mr. Nkurunziza?  Does that -- seems like a pretty --
Deputy Spokesman:  I believe he will be in the process.  I don't know whether that's all written, but I believe that as he ends his term, he will be writing letters to the various Heads of State.

 That's confirmation? Or cover up? We'll have more on this.

  On November 11, Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesman Farhan Haq to confirm the “PNG” was in fact a letter replying to Ban Ki-moon's canned farewell letter as Ban leaves December 31 (seemingly to run for President of South Korea and get term limits there extended, though both dreams may be dying).

   But Haq refused to confirm, which would have in context supported Ban's envoy. From the November 11 transcript:

Inner City Press:  I wanted to ask you on Burundi and I don't know if you addressed this, but there are a lot of reports floating around that Pierre Nkurunziza has written to Ban Ki-moon asking that Jamal Benomar be either -- I guess he couldn't be replaced as Special Advisor on Conflict Prevention but no longer be the interlocutor from the UN system.  And I will also, that's what is reported there, that he has been PNGed.  I've also heard it may have just been a letter back from Mr. Nkurunziza to Ban Ki-moon responding to a farewell letter saying:  and also your Envoy is leaving.  Can you clarify this?  Because this is wide -- has he been asked to replace him or is it just an off-handed comment in a letter?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have anything to say in particular about diplomatic correspondence.  What I do have to say is that Jamal Benomar continues to go about his work as a Special Advisor, including his work on Burundi.

Inner City Press:  Did the Secretary-General write farewell letters to Heads of State such as Mr. Nkurunziza?  Does that -- seems like a pretty --
Deputy Spokesman:  I believe he will be in the process.  I don't know whether that's all written, but I believe that as he ends his term, he will be writing letters to the various Heads of State.

   On November 14, Haq called on first on AFP, which asked about possible PNG, with no reference to any letter. Inner City Press when finally called on asked again about the letter and Haq said some farewell letter have begun.
Later on November 14 APF wrote about the letter, quoting none other than Burundi's often absent Ambassador Albert Shingiro, not mentioning that Benomar's mandate goes beyond Burundi and calling him British, not mention that he is a former Moroccan political prisoner. We'll have more on this.

Amid warnings in Burundi of the risk of genocide, when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on September 24 met with the country's foreign minister Alain Aime Nyamitwe, Inner City Press went to cover it as closely as possible.

   The meeting went less than twenty minutes, but took nearly three hours for Ban's office to summarize. Inner City Press live-streamed the handshake and book signing on Periscopeas it did Alain Aime Nyamitwe's speech in the General Assembly hall. But when Ban's office issued a read-out, seemingly negotiated with Burundi, it did not mention the deployment of 228 UN Police, much less the UN's risk of genocide report.

And now it seems the UN aware of, but is saying little publicly about, humanitarian problems in the country. Whistleblowers leaked the email below to Inner City Press; Inner City Press has asked the listed author for comment and has still received none. The email is below. On November 8 at noon, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about it. And on November 10, Dujarric came back with a denial of famine, on which Inner City Press followed up. From the UN's transcript: 

Ban's Dujarric: Matthew, you were asking about famine being reported in Burundi.  According to the latest information we have here at Headquarters, there are no people in famine in Burundi at present.  However, humanitarian needs in Burundi have increased sharply this year.  There are an estimated 606,000 people in phase 4 (or emergency phase) and between 1.3 million and 1.4 million people in phase 3 (crisis phase) on the integrated food security phase classification.  The World Food Programme (WFP) is conducting evaluations and food distribution in affected provinces.

Inner City Press:  You just distinguished famine as --

Spokesman Dujarric: the issue of famine or not famine for WFP and the UN food agencies is one that's a… that is placed on a scale.  The fact that we may not be using the word "famine" doesn't mean there aren't terrible, terrible humanitarian conditions with people going hungry every day in different parts of the country, whether that's in Yemen or whether that's in Burundi.

The UN internal email says famine. Having asked, the author and Dujarric, we re-publish the email in full, below. We have also asked about what sources tell us is the Pierre Nkurunziza government declaring Ban's Special Adviser persona non grata.

From the UN's November 8 transcript:

 Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you something about Burundi.  It is on the Council’s agenda this afternoon.  And Inner City Press has an email from OCHA in Burundi using the word “famine” in connection with four of the prefectures there, including Kirundu and Ruyigi.  And what I wondered is whether, this seems pretty serious, and it’s not something that we’re hearing either from this podium or actually in other places.  Is there some… [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Obviously, whoever… it’s always best when people send emails to Matthew Russell Lee that they copy me so you and I are on the same playing field.  I don’t know.  We get…

ICP Question:  Sure.  Does the UN believe that…

Spokesman:  We get regular updates from OCHA and WFP (World Food Programme).  This is not an issue that has… it’s not a word that we’ve used in conjunction with Burundi, but if we have updates from our humanitarian colleagues who are in the know, we will share that with you.

ICP Question:  Although we redacted the name of the recipient to have them be safe, it was sent to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).  So it seems like this is an intra--

Spokesman:  I… as I said, if… I will ask our humanitarian colleagues, and if there’s an update, we will share one with you.  Masoodji?

Here is the email:

From: Nazzarena Ferraro /OCHA
To: Micaela Malena at
Date: 07/11/2016 10:40
Subject: Mouvements of populations from Kirundu Muyinga, Cankuzo et Ruyigi.

Dear Micaela,                                        

We are trying to follow up at the inter sector level, on the movements of populations across the borders with Tanzania, during the past two weeks.
Such movements would be in connection with the latest phenomena of droughts, insufficient harvest and famine in Kirundu Muyinga, Cankuzo et Ruyigi.

According to governmental and UN agencies, populations are attempting to cross into Tanzania from various border points.

Do you have any information that you can share with the inter-sector on these movements of populations?

Are you aware of any incidents relating to Tanzanian custom authorities refusing entry permission to Burundian individuals or groups? (an incident would have occurred at the entry point in Kasange, pls see the attached Map for easy of reference).

Do you have any information on incidents occurring at the border with Rwanda, involving Burundian Citizens?

What are the legal provisions governing the relationships between Tanzania and Burundi – regarding movements of persons within the territory of the two country?

Aren’t Tanzania and Burundi part of the same regional Treaties or Accords – East African Community and others?  Then in this case, shouldn't Burundian citizens  allowed entry into Tanzania, regardless of whether or not they are seeking humanitarian protection or asylum ?

Grateful if you could share any information during the inter-sector meeting today

Nazzarena Ferraro, Humanitarian Affairs Officer, OCHA Burundi office |Bujumbura, Burundi |UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

 We'll have more on this.

  Alain Aime has tweeted celebration of leaving the ICC, as on October 31 Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric about mass graves. From the UN transcript:

 Inner City Press: In Burundi, there's a report by FIDH, the human rights group, of additional mass graves found.  So I wanted to know whether the UN team… you said remains on the ground.  Are they aware of this?  Do they accompany them?  And do you have any readout on Jamal Benomar's trip to the region?

Spokesman:  I… the readout I had is what I just shared with you that, you know, I think he had constructive meetings with his counterparts in Bujumbura, whether it was the Government, opposition.  Obviously, I think he met with civil society, as well.  He's now in Tanzania to meet with Mr. Mkapa.  It's a process that will take some time.  I think Mr. Benomar's very much focussed on the task at hand. On your…

ICP Question:  Mass graves.

Spokesman:  Oh, the mass graves.  Sorry.  I will check with my colleagues in the Office of Human Rights, because as far as I'm… as far as I know, they're still operating in the country.

ICP Question:  Because my question is this continued use of the word "constructive".  I’m not assuming… Maybe you don't want to condemn, but any of the NGO's [non-governmental organizations] that were disaccredited been reaccredited?  There's been… was there any, I guess, movement by the Government on the various issues? 

Spokesman:  I think… you know, if we'd had the possibility for immediate movement and success in Burundi, we've had it a while ago.  It's a very complicated situation.  I think it's a good sign that the Government met with Mr. Benomar.  The issue of the NGOs was raised with his counterparts and the people he met.  And I think we expressed our concern at the delisting of NGOs, as well as the harassment being faced by the media, and we will continue to do so.

In Burundi, with Ban Ki-moon silent except for his planned run for South Korea president, the government arrested journalists Julia Steers, an American, and Gildas Yihundimpundu, a Burundian journalist (CPJ deems his a fixer) whose station Radio Bonesha was burned down and closed by the government -- while Ban praised Nkurunziza for “re-opening” two pro-government stations.

On October 25, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric,  Video here

UN transcript here:

Inner City Press: on Burundi, there've been… there's been a widely publicized, at least in Burundi, order banning and removing the permits of a number of NGOs [non-governmental organizations], including a human rights group run by Pierre Claver Mbonimpa and a number of other ones that are basically part of what's called the moderate opposition.  So I'm wondering, you said yesterday that the Special Adviser's meetings with the Foreign Minister were constructive.  Did they address the… the… the disaccrediting of… of… of a large proportion of civil society?

Spokesman:  We're very disappointed by the Government's decision to withdraw the permits of a number of NGOs, including the ones you mentioned.  And our message to the Government is to reconsider it.

ICP Question:  But what was constructive about the talks then?  Because I asked you about the journalists, and then I asked you about this one.  So is there some secret kernel of constructivity that took place?

Spokesman:  The constructivity is, I think, in diplomatic terms, can be interpreted in many different ways.  The fact that the talks took place in a constructive atmosphere, I think, says it all.

On October 24, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here: 

Inner City Press:  some journalists were arrested, reportedly while investigating mass graves.  It was an American journalist, J.C. [Julia] Steers, and a Burundian journalist, Gildas, and their driver.  This has gone out all over the world.  There's a list that's emerged of enemies of the State put out by the CNDD-FDD. 

So what I wonder is, what… if he's there and these things are taking place, how… do these constructive meetings involve talking about journalists being arrested for trying to document [inaudible]…

Spokesman:  We're very much aware of the arrests of the journalists, something that's very regrettable to say the least.  We understand that both the journalists and the driver, who was also arrested, have now been released.  We are in touch with our colleagues at the Human Rights Office in Bujumbura and trying to look into the exact circumstances of what has happened.

It is clear that there is a need for the media and the press to be able to operate freely in Burundi and every other… every other place for that matter.

ICP Question:  And what about the lists that emerged?  Are there any steps being taken by the UN to make sure the UN itself doesn't target media that are listed on the list?

Spokesman:  The UN is not in the business of targeting media.

  Really? See this, and today's Swiss Radio and TVtranslated into English here.