Thursday, October 9, 2008

UN Report on Algiers Bombing Is Withheld, Role of UNDP In Lower Defenses Too

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

UNITED NATIONS, October 8 -- The UN inquiry that was supposed put to rest issues surrounding the deadly bombing of UN premises in Algiers in December 2007 has in fact only raised more questions. The head of the so-called Accountability Panel, Ralph Zacklin, told Inner City Press on October 8 that he could not say if any settlements have been paid out, and would not confirm who was being recommended for discipline. 

  Inner City Press asked about UN Development Program official Marc de Bernis, who sources say failed to act on requests by UN staffer Babacar Ndiaye to install waist-high metal barricades that can be raised and retracted, and did not raise the security phase above "One," the lowest of five numeric ratings. Zacklin on Wednesday confirmed that the level had been lowered to "One" in June 2006 at the urging of Algeria's government; he said that both Algeria and the UN had engaged in "politicization" in reducing the security phase to One.

  This word, Politicized, appeared in the mere four page summary that, instead of the report, was provided. When Inner City Press asked Zacklin about the word and summary, he said, that is not my summary, it was written by the Secretary-General's Office. One wag wondered if that's not the case for the Report as a whole.

   So who is responsible?  First Zacklin said that as a matter of due process, he would not name names. Then he said there is a paragraph in his 88-page report, which is being withheld, on outgoing Security Chief David Veness.  But when Inner City Press asked if there is a paragraph on UNDP or Marc de Bernis, Zacklin declined to answer, saying only that de Bernis was reviewed.  Video here, from Minute 55:57.

Zacklin, on right, long-time UN consigliere didn't even write his own summary

 So where's the accountability? And if the UN is so committed to due process, why were the 54 staff members subject to compulsory interview by Zacklin's panel not allowed counsel or even Staff Union representation? "Because it was a fact finding inquiry," Zacklin said, adding that denying representation was "in accordance with previous practice" at the UN. Video here, from Minute 27:18. But why not have the right to counsel?

   Since the Report is being withheld, along with the names, it is difficult to see what has changed or been fixed since the bombing. In fact, not enough was changed after the Baghdad bombing of UN premises. Just before that, a long-time staffer tells Inner City Press, UN Security refuses to consider providing a more security plane to fly the 15 Ambassadors on the Security Council. Eventually, these Ambassadors flew in a German and not UN plane. After the Baghdad bombing, UN Security apologized. Too little, too late.

  For the families of the victims, what has been paid? Zacklin told Inner City Press that Ban Ki-moon spokesperson could say. She in turn merely referred Inner City Press to UNDP. But they have declined a question on October 7 for Marc de Bernis' present location and status. And UNDP has not provided the detail of payments to families of victims of a recent helicopter crash in the Congo. The UN refuses to answer questions, then claims to be holding itself accountable.

Footnote: In fairness to Zacklin, other sources of Inner City Press describe him fighting against the expulsion of UN staff from such countries as Eritrea. But to not even write or stand behind the summary of its report is telling.

Footnote: Catch this reporter today on Icelandic television,

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs.

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