Monday, February 27, 2017

UNRWA Said No Evidence of Gaza Election of Suhail al Hindi, Suspends Him, ICP Asks Spox

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 27 – On February 23, the spokesman for UNRWA Chris Gunness issued a statement that "allegations have been circulating in conventional and social media networks about an UNRWA staff member being elected to political office in Gaza... Sohail Al-Hindi has rejected the news about his name appearing amongst the winning list of the Hamas political bureau in Gaza, saying: 'I have no relation whatsoever with the issue.'"

  On February 27, the day after UNRWA suspended Al-Hindi, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about it, after Dujarric didn't bring it up in his briefing, and no one else asked. Video here. From theUN transcript:
 Inner City Press: Do you have anything on UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency), just a statement?

Spokesman:  On what?

Inner City Press:  UNRWA.  There was a statement and then a quote by Mr. [Chris] Gunness about the suspension of an employee.  I'm just wondering, do you have…

Spokesman:  Yes.  Well, I think, on UNRWA, I would just echo what Mr. Gunness — I can't read anymore — what Mr. Gunness said.  They have conducted an internal investigation, and they have now suspended… to make a decision to suspend Suhail al-Hindi, pending the outcome of the investigation.  And I think it bears importance to reiterate that the UN has clear rules and regulations to ensure the integrity, independence, and impartiality of its staff as international civil servants.  Our Standards of Conduct make clear that we do not have the freedom of private persons to take sides or express our beliefs publicly on sensitive political matters, either individually or as members of a group.  And on that, I will walk away from the podium.
  On February 26, Gunness issues not as a statement but a quote the following: "We have seen the latest communication from the Israeli authorities. Before that communication, and in light of our ongoing independent internal investigation, we had been presented with substantial information from a number of sources which led us to take the decision this afternoon to suspend Suhail al Hindi, pending the outcome of our  investigation. As with all UN Agencies, we will ensure that a staff member’s due process rights are followed."
  Of course, the UN has no due process rules at all for journalists: the Press was thrown out with no hearing, no appeal, no answers or reforms. We'll have more on this.
  Based on retaliation against three separate whistleblowers, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid should be suspended, it has been requested of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in a lettercopied to US Senators Bob Corker and Ben Cardin, and UN Special Rapporteur David Kayehere.
 On February 14 in the morning (New York time) Inner City Press posed three questions to Zeid's spokesperson Rupert Colville, including:
"Hi. Inner City Press has a few questions it'd like answers to as soon as possible:

1) whistleblower Emma Reilly tells us that “OHCHR now claims I can't speak because of the staff rule that 'in no circumstances should [staff members] use the media to further their own interests, to air their own grievances, to reveal unauthorized information or to attempt to influence their organizations’ policy decisions.' No response to my email on how this squares with OHCHR airing grievances against me by falsely stating my claims had been found to be unsubstantiated.”

Is that in fact OHCHR's position?

2) In terms of OHCHR calling things unsubstantiated, on social media and in a press release, is OHCHR denying that the Ambassador of Morocco financial supported the sale of Mr Eric Tistounet's book?

3) ....Please state what happened at the HRC organizational meeting yesterday. Please answer these asap."
  Hours later, and after a UN noon briefing in which UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq called Inner City Press obsessive and an "asshole," still not answer. We'll stay on this.
 Back on February 10, Inner City Press asked Guterres' deputy spokesman Farhan Haq about the request, and about OHCHR essentially gagging whistleblower Emma Reilly. Video here, transcript here and below.
  Haq declined to respond on the gag order Inner City Press quoted (below), and said that the UN Ethics Office is handling it. But Inner City Press understands that the Ethics Office - whose director Elia Armstrong has refused Press requests to answer questions - has recused itself, leaving an official from UNFPA to start from scratch.
  While whistleblower Emma Reilly has been prohibited by Zeid's Office from providing the Press with her substantive defense to OHCHR's attempt to trash her, she has authorized Inner City Press to use this quote:
"OHCHR now claims I can't speak because of the staff rule that 'in no circumstances should [staff members] use the media to further their own interests, to air their own grievances, to reveal unauthorized information or to attempt to influence their organizations’ policy decisions.'

"No response to my email on how this squares with OHCHR airing grievances against me by falsely stating my claims had been found to be unsubstantiated, revealing unauthorized information by referring to a confidential investigation (for harassment, against Mokhiber and Darrow - panel found the facts I claimed were true, Zeid magically declared the motive not to be harassment), or attempting to influence the Ethics Office decision by stating I had never been subjected to reprisals. Still no news on what the alleged second investigation was...

Feel free to use the above - it's legitimate for me to quote the reason I can't talk to you, and it's clear from a glance at the press release that they broke the very rule they are using to keep me quiet."
  Here's from the UN's February 10 transcript:
Inner City Press: there's a letter directed to António Guterres by the Government Accountability Project specifically concerning this whistle-blower issue and saying [Anders] Kompass, Miranda Brown, and Emma Reilly in asking that he be suspended and investigated.  So I wanted to know, did he receive this letter before he set off on his trip?  And can you respond, Ms. Reilly has told Inner City Press that she's been ordered not to speak, which is contrary to what Stéphane had said, they've quoted to her some rule... She said she's been told the following:  that staff members should not use the media to further their own interests, to air their grievance, or to reveal unauthorized information.  She feels it's unfair because they put out a press release saying that her charges are unsubstantiated.  So, in sum, has he received the letter?  And what's the process to consider the request by this group?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, I don't have a confirmation about a receipt of a letter.  What I can say is we're aware of these issues.  A lot of these are processes that are being handled by different bodies.  The question regarding Ms. Reilly is being… is something that has been looked at and is being looked at by the Ethics Office.  Regarding what she may have said to you or not, I think that that's something you'll need to take up with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  They are dealing with that issue.  I believe that they were simply responding not to her but to reporting that came out in media.  So they… so that is something… they were not trying to take up anything involving a dispute with her so much as responding to reports that had come out in different published accounts.

Inner City Press: My understanding is that the Ethics Office is actually not handling this.  They've recused themselves because they say that she… one of her charges is against them, so it's been assigned to somebody from UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), and basically, the process has started all over.  Is that… can you confirm that at least that it's back to square one?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm aware that… well, not back to square one.  I believe that the process is continuing.  I don't have any further details to engage on that.  Have a good weekend.
  A leaked UN Ethics Office memo that raises questions not only about that Office but also the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was published by Inner City Press on February 1, here. 
  On February 2, OHCHR responded with press release and tweet against the now petitioning Government Accountability Project and Inner City Press, claiming that Inner City Press' report - based on the UN memo - was unfounded, and trashing the whistleblower, Emma Reilly.
  On February 7, Inner City Press asked the spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres what Guterres meant when he said he had formed a committee about - but without - whistleblowers. From the UN transcript:
Inner City Press: I've seen the Secretary-General quoted that he's formed, quote, committees to deal with thorny issues, such as the protection of whistle-blowers and sexual exploitation and abuse.  Can you say who's on those committees, particularly in the case of whistle-blowers?  Are there whistle-blowers on the…

Spokesman:  On the whistle-blower, I think he was referring to the fact that, I think, just two weeks after or three weeks after he took office, there was an agreement between the staff and the management, and a new whistle-blower policy was issued.  And he was also referring to the task force being led by Jane Holl Lute on sexual exploitation and abuse.

Inner City Press: The other one is, I saw in his schedule yesterday, he met with the ACT group, Accountability Coherence and Transparency, and particularly given the third noun in their name, can you give a readout?

Spokesman:  No, I don't have anything to share on the transparency… meeting with the transparency group.
  OHCHR's press release also trashed the whistleblower, while keeping in place rules prohibiting her from speaking to the press. OHCHR claims, while censoring rebuttal:
"the staff member has never faced reprisals. The staff member has had her contracts renewed and remains employed by the organization on full pay. She has made allegations against various managers. These have been taken seriously, leading to two separate independent investigations that have been carried out to determine whether or not there is any substance to her allegations. In both instances, the claims made by the staff member were found to be unsubstantiated."
Inner City Press replied, asking OHCHR or @UNHumanRights to explain how the finding for example about Morocco improperly paying for OHCHR official Eric Tistounet's book-selling event was "not substantiated." There has been no response. If a response to that, or to today's GAP request, is received Inner City Press will publish it.
  On February 3, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about Morocco's payments - he refused to answer - and if the reclusive head of the UN Ethics Office Elia Armstrong will come and answer questions, as for example her predecessor Robert Benson did. There has been no answer.
   Now we can report from a range of sources that not only did Eric Tistounet take Morocco's financial support to promote his book - he tried to recruit Moroccan faux NGOs - GONGOs -- to try to make the complaint go away, seeing if they would complain about the whistleblower. This is how the OHCHR, and wider UN, have been operating. We'll have more on this.
  Inner City Press supports the replies of the Government Accountability Project, here, and of the annotator, which we are putting online here, along with this new Kafka-esque game chart. 
  Eric Tistounet of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, without Ethics approval, published a book and had a member state promote it. Document at Page 11. One pitch mentions the state of Morocco.
  Prince Zeid's OHCHR responded with a press release denying everything, concluding "the claims made by the staff member were found to be unsubstantiated."  Inner City Press has asked OHCHR this.
 But the Ethics Office memo - on which UN holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric refused to answer Inner City Press, video here - admits Reilly's exposing of Morocco paying to promote OHCHR's Tistounet's book created a right to protection. And the event's website makes clear Morocco was paying, against the rules. That's not "unsubstantiated" - that's a cover up of corruption. On this and the rest, we'll have more.
  For now we only note that Zeid's OHCHR's self-serving total denial, seemingly a product of fear of loss of US funding, has been welcomed by Pierre Nkurunziza supporters in Burundi.
And this, from the annotator:
"They are clearly panicked, and the OHCHR Press Release is not saving the Ethics Office.   This would, of course, be the same OHCHR that still insists they did nothing wrong in the Kompass / CAR sexual abuse case…...

The question is not whether there was a casual connection between Eric Tistounet’s decision and Cao Shunli’s death.  Eric Tistounet’s decision gave Emma Reilly cause to be concerned for the safety of the human rights activists in China, and in the specific case of Cao Shunli, that concern turned out to be justified.

The question is whether Emma Reilly had reasonable grounds to believe that Eric Tistounet’s decision might be misconduct ….. and the Ethics Office bent over backwards to say ‘no’!

This would, of course, be the same Ethics Office as was involved in “facilitating” Zeid's misconduct complaint against Kompass - and didn’t know that child sex abuse generally gets a bad rap in the Press."
  Yes, that's them.
  The UN spokespeople who defended Ban Ki-moon's corruption to Inner City Press until the day he left, and stonewall now, often say the Ethics Office as approved this or that. For example, Ban's mentor and UN official Han Seung-soo being on the boards of directors of Doosan Infracore and Standard Chartered Bank, which has UN contracts.
  Or Jane Holl Lute, being on the board of a railroad, and also a "senior US administration official" while being a UN official. The list goes on.

   But it gets worse, much worse. As stated by the memo's annotator to Inner City Press:
"this is a whistleblower protection case. The staff member reported that OHCHR gave names of Chinese human rights activists to the Chinese government. This was when China was trying to get on the Human Rights Council. They prevented a number of activists from traveling to Geneva to attend the meetings, and we know that one of them subsequently died in police custody.
OHCHR tried very hard to keep this quiet, but one Human Rights Officer, Emma Reilly, complained about it. They then retaliated against her.
Of all the insanity in this, possibly the best bit of all is the Ethics Office arguing that even after OHCHR deviated from their usual policy and shared information with the Chinese government about which Chinese human rights activists were being accredited to attend the Human Rights meeting, and even though a human rights activist DIED after being detained to stop her traveling to a UN human rights meeting..........a UN Human Rights Officer still does not have reasonable grounds to believe that misconduct has taken place....... so nothing she said or did is 'protected.' The new whistleblower policy is a POS because nothing in it will give the s/m any comfort when the Ethics Office bends over backwards not to recognize retaliation. There is still nothing the staff member can do about this.
Can you make these documents available on your site?"
 But of course. See more of his summary here, and response to Ethics Office, here.
 And see this, from the Government Accountability Project which also requested a reversal of UN USG Cristina Gallach's retaliatory eviction of Inner City Press, without response from the old UNSG and old USUN / Isobel Coleman - still UNacted on by the new SG. We'll have more on this.