Monday, August 10, 2009

Concern over allegations of UN Security ill-treatment


A UNDP “frustrated jobseeker” is due in Criminal Court on charges of third degree assault: is it fair?

UNJustice expresses deep concern over the course of events which recently led to the arrest of a UNDP staff member, Mr. Nicola Baroncini, an assistant to Ms. Ligia Elizondo, Deputy Director of UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific (RBAP).

Before of his arrest Mr. Baroncini was reportedly fired and forcibly removed with pepper spray from the UN Headquarters by officers of the UN-Department of Safety and Security (UN-DSS).
Media reports by Inner City Press and The Times indicate that Mr. Baroncini was suspected of knowing about the nepotism by Mr. Alain Doss, Special Representative of the Secretary-General United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in favor of his daughter, Ms. Rebecca Doss, whose father was recommending to Ms. Elizondo to take Mr. Baroncini’s job position at RBAP.

After Mr. Baroncini made it clear to Mr.Ajay Chhibber, Director of the RBAP, that he would have challenged this imbroglio: “Within a couple of minutes a man arrived. He asked for my UN badge and requested that I leave the building. I began collecting my personal belongings. The whole process took several minutes. Three UN Department of Safety and Security Guards approached me. Immediately, Peter Kolonias, one of the guards, ordered me to enter office 2312 of DC-1. I complied immediately. I entered the office and sat down escorted by two UN DSS Security Guards. The door was shut. Shortly, my wife joined me (she works elsewhere in UNDP). After waiting for some time, I asked the guards about the procedures in place and why we had been waiting for so long. In several instances I was told that Ms. Elizondo was giving a written statement and that once she had completed it would be my turn. I began asking for access to a lawyer and my consulate. I repeated this request frequently (I would say every 15 minutes) both to the guard inside office 2312 and to other officials that entered the office. I asked my wife to leave office 2312 and look for Mr. Chhibber and ask him to speak with me. I wanted to understand if he had any control concerning what was happening, and I wanted to share my concerns about this absurd escalation of events. My wife left the office, but the guards outside invited her to join Ms. Elizondo and Ms. Jovita Domingo, a UNDP human resources advisor, inside Ms. Elizondo’s office. There, they questioned my wife about our private life until a UN official wearing a white uniform came in and my wife was invited to leave by Ms. Elizondo. Once my wife left Ms. Elizondo’s office, they shut the door and had a meeting. My wife returned to office 2312. The UN official wearing a white uniform along with the third UN DSS guard, Peter Kolonias, joined the two other UN DSS guards inside office 2312. They asked my wife to leave and shut the door. The UN official wearing a white uniform swiftly informed me that I had two options: leave the building with them or be handcuffed. I felt that something very wrong was happening and again I requested access to a lawyer, the Italian consulate and to give a statement. The second or third time I repeated my requested I was assaulted. First, Peter Kolonias put me to the floor. The two other guards followed immediately. They tried to immobilize me using every sort of technique. I was kicked repeatedly on the leg, stomach and neck. I was punched repeatedly on the neck, head and face. Twice, at close range, I was sprayed with a pepper spray on the face. Immediately, and for about two hours thereafter, I was blinded and suffered tremendous pain on the face and eyes. Other than limited access to water, I was denied proper medical treatment despite my repeated requests. Eventually I was handcuffed. UN DSS guards brought me outside office 2312 and I waited there for about 1½ hours, handcuffed, sitting in a chair in RBAP Directorate area. At 2:35 pm, NYPD officers arrived and I was officially arrested. Eventually I was escorted outside DC1 building where an ambulance was waiting. I waited handcuffed until approximately 7:40 pm in a waiting room of Bellevue Hospital. After meeting with a Dr. Falck, I was immediately discharged. I was brought to a police facility where NYPD took my fingerprints, and I awaited transportation to 100 Centre Street. After routine procedures, I was jailed until 9:30 am of the following day”, according to Mr. Nicola Baroncini’s complaint.

Tomorrow, August 10, Mr. Baroncini is due in New York Criminal Court on charges of third degree assault.

Regarding the incident, Mr. Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, said: “The basic point is, yes, I can confirm that that did happen. It had to do with a frustrated jobseeker. The only thing I can say is the information I got from UNDP on this is that the hiring process regarding that particular vacancy at UNDP was filled in accordance with their rules”.

UNJustice notes the increasing trend of personnel of the Organization who are the victims of or witnesses to a series of failures by bodies and servants who bore a responsibility to safeguard their welfare. In order to secure the accountability in practice as well as theory of the officials implicated in events, UNJustice calls the UNDP and the UN Secretariat to conduct urgently an impartial, thorough and effective investigation into Mr. Baroncini’s discrimination and ill-treatment allegations. This is also essential in order to uphold the reputation of the majority of law enforcement officials of the UN who fulfill their duties professionally and lawfully.

All staff members of the Organization, even at the highest level, should be held fully accountable for their actions and failures within the framework of the Staff Rules. UNJustice recalls that nepotism is an illegal form of discrimination and “the right to just and favourable conditions of work” is recognized in Article 23 of the UN-UDHR.

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