Tuesday, July 1, 2008

UN's Concern About Investors Kept Algeria Threat Level Low Before the Bombing, Some Counter-Terrorism Reforms

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, June 30 -- Belated describing to the Press his report on the bombing of the UN in Algiers back in December, Lakhdar Brahimi on Monday acknowledged that the UN takes into consideration governments' desire to downplay security threats. "It's a sensitive issue," he said, because when the UN raises threat levels, "investors stop going there... The UN takes that into consideration." Video here, from Minute 9:39.

Since the UN, particularly through its UN Development Program, operates on the premise that the only road to development is by building the capacity and strengths of governments, this runs counter to prioritizing the safety of staff. In this case, there were other conflicts of interest. UK Ambassador to the UN John Sawers told the Press on Monday morning that he is "not sure if the choice of an Algerian" like Brahimi "to investigate a bombing in Algeria was the right way to go. Inner City Press asked Brahimi about the comment. Brahimi replied that he didn't think he was assigned the investigation because he is Algerian, and that Algeria didn't feel it controlled the investigation. Judge me on my work, Brahimi said.

But his report dodged the obvious question, of holding anyone accountable. That task has been assigned to yet another panel, this one headed by Ralph Zacklin, who the UN Staff Union on Monday called "an insider who has served as legal counsel... with repsonsible for some sensitive political issues including the Oil for Food program, where he assisted in some procurement decision criticized by [Paul] Volcker." They question if this is a person who will objectively mete out responsibility.

Lakhdar Brahimi at UN on June 30, concern about investors and accountability not shown

So far, only David Veness has resigned. Ambassador Sawers sung Veness' praises on Monday, saying he will be hard to replace. Inner City Press is told that Jack Straw sold Veness on the job by saying it could take him to retirement. Who now will wants this hot potato? While word on the street is Russian, it may be Poland's time, we'll see.

Counter-Terrorism Changes Still Fall Short: Following a string of court decisions criticizing the UN's Al Qaeda and Taliban sanctions as violating the due process rights of those put on the lists, the UN Security Council on Monday extended the sanctions with some changes, including committing to review all names on the lists within the next two years. Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador to the UN John Sawers if the reforms in Resolution 1822 are retroactive, and thus might be used to try for better outcomes in the court decisions questioning the sanction. They are not retroactive, Sawers answered, but they will help going forward. Video here, from Minute 2:10. Costa Rica later said that it is not strong enough in providing due process in the listing and delisting of those subject to sanctions. But Costa Rica voted for the resolution, and as Sawers has noted, few reporters cover the sanctions anyway. UN Counter-Terrorism czar Michael Smith has yet to brief the press. Ah, accountability....

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