Monday, September 8, 2008

Charges of Secrecy and "Hanky Panky" Haunt UN Terrorism Event, Ban Panned by UNISERV

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 7 -- As the UN prepares for its victims of terrorism symposium on September 9, controversy continues to grow about which victims were invited, how they were selected, who is funding the event and how these last two may be related. On September 5, Inner City Press asked Assistant Secretary General Robert Orr the funding question, and Orr said that all member states had been solicited, and only four had responded: the UK, Spain, Colombia and then, later, Italy. Mr. Orr said that was "no process anyone could call non transparent." Video here, first question.

But the Permanent Observe of Palestine Riyad Mansour told Inner City Press that after he and the Arab Group protested the way outreach had been done, they were told that as far back as May, the UN had asked for funding and suggestions of victim. Was that in writing? No, they were told. Mansour told Inner City Press, "We had a big fight with the organizers. Initially they played hanky panky business with us to extend an invitation to Palestine. We did not receive an invitation. With the Arab Group, we composed a delegation to meet with Mr. Orr. On the eve of meeting with him, we received an invitation."

Inner City Press has for weeks been asking questions about the symposium: how funding was sought, and how this relates to which victims are being invited. On September 4 in the General Assembly, the Permanent Representative of Egypt explicitly called the process non-transparent, and said it should have been funded by the General Assembly as a whole, and not four select countries.

Orr and the President of the General Assembly Srgjan Kerim tried at the September 5 press conference to take no questions about the upcoming victim of terrorism symposium. The reporter from Al Jazeera asked, how can you say it is not secretive if you refuse to give us the names of invitees? We are on deadline. Orr, like Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson, declined to provide any list.

UN's Bob Orr, with PGA Kerim: list of invited victims not shown

At the September 5 noon briefing, the following was asked:

Question: On the terrorism symposium, a few countries, OIC members, yesterday during the GA debate, raised some complaints about how the symposium was organized, saying that it wasn’t transparent or inclusive. Is the SG aware of their comments and does he have any comments?

Spokesperson Michele Montas: Well, he is certainly aware, but you are going to have a full briefing on it on Monday. So why don’t you reserve your questions for Robert Orr, who is going to talk about that?

Question: But isn’t the charge making sense that it’s not transparent that we’re being kept in the dark until one day before the symposium opens? I’ve been here two years, and we’ve never had anything like this before.

Spokesperson: Well, I have already answered that question. It seems to me that we have discussed this...

Question: ...symposium of this importance; the first of its kind and you’re keeping us in the dark until the last minute and nothing will happen Friday, Saturday that you cannot tell us; or Saturday, Sunday rather; ...

Spokesperson: Oh, yes, a lot of things can happen; the people traveling, getting their papers, their visas...A lot of this can happen.

Inner City Press then asked:

Inner City Press: this is a Ban Ki-moon question, there is a report from Indonesia that a victim of the Bali bombing, (inaudible) is flying to New York to address the UN invited by Ban Ki-moon. Can you confirm, has Ban Ki-moon--

Spokesperson: Can you say that again?

Inner City Press: I'll say that again: There is a person described as a victim of the Bali bombing that it’s reported; that he is coming to the victims of terrorism symposium on Tuesday and the press reports it as 'invited by Ban Ki-moon.'

Spokesperson: All of them are invited by Ban Ki-moon, of course. All the victims are invited by the Secretary-General.

Question: have all the invitations gone out, you just don’t know who is actually going to--

Spokesperson: Yes, all the invitations have gone out. I have said it the other day, I’ve said it two days ago, all the invitations have gone out. All the people coming are identified. As far as we know, most of the answers are in, except for maybe two or three. So we’re waiting to have a full list to give you as soon as it is available.

Question: This list does not include victims of state terrorism; they are not defined?

Question: So, it does not include Palestinians, for example?

Spokesperson: I think you should wait and find out.

Question: But in principle--

Spokesperson: In principle, State terrorism is not including in the existing conventions.

Question: Which means State terrorism is not considered as terrorism?

Spokesperson: This is something to address to the Member States who are addressing the issue. The conventions are adopted; they're a Member State-driven process.

Question: Since Member States have not been able to define what is terrorism, so they will obviously not be able to define State terrorism. Am I right in assuming that?

Spokesperson: This is a question to ask to the General Assembly; to the 192 members.

Question: I thought I understood it, but now I am confused. You said that all the invitations to the symposium on Tuesday have gone out?

Spokesperson: Yes.

Question: Can you confirm whether or not any Palestinians have been invited to attend?

Spokesperson: I am asking you to wait until Monday. You’ll get that because we're waiting for confirmations. Whether Palestinians have been invited, I can say now, yes, but not as victims of State terrorism.

Question: In what capacity have they been invited?

Spokesperson: You will ask that question to Mr. Orr.

Correspondent: As observers (laughter).

While not in the UN transcript, the name of the traveler from Indonesia is Haji Agus Bambang Priyanto. Orr will re-appear for a press conference on September 8, and perhaps again on September 9 itself. For some (more) debate on the victims of terrorism symposium, click here. Overall, it is precisely because this is an important topic that it is important to do it right. The questions raised to date are appropriate, and have not been answered. Perahps they will be.

Footnote: in further bad news for the UN Secretariat, on September 5 the coalition of UN system staff unions, UNISERV, issued a statement condemning Ban Ki-moon's comments in Turin, first put on the publicly-available Internet by Inner City Press, that UN managers should "by fiat" order those they supervise to change jobs. The Staff Union is pointing to a UN University study of UN reform which criticizes just such arbitrary moves; there is talk that one of Ban's Under Secretaries-General criticized him openly for undermining this authority within his Department (thereby giving rise to Ban's criticism in Turin of turf warfare and egotism). The line from Ban's speech now most quoted in the hallways of the UN is his "I tried to lead by example but no one followed." Follow through on the logic, more than one staffer has said. There are questions to be answered, more analysis here. We'll see.

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