Thursday, February 18, 2010

U.N. aid chief 'disappointed' with Haiti earthquake relief efforts

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2010; A08

UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations' top humanitarian relief coordinator has scolded his lieutenants for failing to adequately manage the relief effort in Haiti, saying that an uneven response in the month after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake has undercut confidence in the world body's ability to deliver vital assistance, according to a confidential e-mail.

The e-mail, which provides a rare and highly critical internal assessment of the massive U.N.-led relief effort, portrays an organization that is straining to set up enough shelters, latrines and other vital services for Haiti's displaced population. It also warns that a failure of the U.N. system to improve relief assistance could result in political unrest and mass demonstrations.

The criticism from John Holmes, the head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, focuses on the United Nations' sluggish implementation of its humanitarian "cluster strategy," which assigns key U.N. relief agencies responsibility for coordinating the delivery of basic needs in 12 sectors, including water and shelter.

The cluster strategy has been developed in recent years to head off traditional conflicts between competing aid agencies that provided overlapping services. But it has been showing signs of strain.

A "lack of capacity has meant that several clusters have yet to establish a concise overview of needs and develop coherent response plans, strategies and gap analyses," Holmes, who described himself as "disappointed," wrote in the e-mail. "This is beginning to show and is leading others to doubt our ability to deliver."

U.N. relief officials confirmed the authenticity of the e-mail, but Holmes's office declined to comment on it.

Officials said that the U.N. World Food Program has fed 3.4 million Haitians and that more than 850,000 people get daily five-liter rations of water. More than 66,000 people have been employed under a U.N. cash-for-work program.

Holmes acknowledged that the relief community has "achieved a great deal in Haiti."

Still, Chris de Bono, a spokesman for UNICEF, said the logistics of procuring material have been difficult. "It's now in the pipeline, and it's certainly a priority for us," he added.

Holmes noted that Haiti will face heavy storms in the upcoming hurricane season. "This is a major test for all of us," he wrote, "and we cannot afford to fail."

“Anyone Can Whistle”

An Event Honoring Whistleblowers: Live & Online Tonight


Contact: Dylan Blaylock, GAP Communications Dir.

Phone: 202.457.0034, ext. 137


An Evening Honoring Whistleblowers

Live & Online Tonight

“Anyone Can Whistle” Streams Live Starting at 7 p.m. Wednesday Night

Presented by GAP, Participant Media, & Paley Center for Media

(Washington, D.C.) – GAP is proud to announce a major event honoring and showcasing whistleblowers tonight, February 17, in New York City. This entertaining evening will feature celebrities and legendary whistleblowers whose heroism has put criminals behind bars and saved countless lives. The message of the evening is clear: Whistleblowers are important, and they need the public’s protection. The event serves as a kickoff for GAP’s campaign to strengthen corporate whistleblower rights.

All are welcome to watch the event, Anyone Can Whistle: The Essential Role of the Whistleblower in American Society, live online at 7 p.m. EST at:


This event is slated to be available on satellite to over 120 colleges across the country. Noted guests for the event include:

  • Daniel Ellsberg – The patriarch of modern whistleblowing, his disclosures (the Pentagon Papers) as a Rand Corporation/DoD analyst exposed deceit and concealment involving the government’s handling of the Vietnam War.
  • Kit Foshee – Meat safety whistleblower who exposed serious problems with ammoniated beef product from a major supplier.
  • Mike German – Former uncover FBI agent who infiltrated terrorist groups before blowing the whistle on his field office’s illegal wiretaps on suspects.
  • Cathy Harris – U.S. Customs official who blew the whistle on African-Americans being unfairly targeted as potential drug smugglers.
  • Dr. David Kessler – Former FDA Commissioner who worked with “The Insider” Dr. Jeff Wigand to challenge tobacco companies.
  • Babak Pasdar – Computer security expert who exposed that a major telecommunication company provided the federal government unfettered access to its customers’ private communications.
  • Coleen Rowley – FBI whistleblower who detailed intelligence breakdowns in relation to the 9/11 attacks, and Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 2002.
  • Frank Serpico – NYPD whistleblower whose story is memorialized by the film Serpico.

NPR and FOX News’ Juan Williams is set to moderate this entertaining evening.

GAP is co-producing this event in conjunction with Participant Media – the production company behind such popular films as Charlie Wilson’s War, An Inconvenient Truth, Syriana, and Good Night and Good Luck – and the magnificent Paley Center for Media in Manhattan, where the event will take place.

Government Accountability Project

The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

At UN, Buzz of Holmes Leaving, Tibaijuka's Absence, Accountability on Intranet

UNITED NATIONS, February 12 -- At UN's annual signing of "compacts" on Friday morning, the buzz from one Under Secretary General to another was that top UN Humanitarian John Holmes "is leaving to go back to the UK." Later another senior UN official, not present at the Compact signing ceremony, told Inner City Press this same thing.

Holmes was not present to sign his Compact, being in Haiti. Anna Tibaijuka, removed by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon inexplicably from running the UN's Nairobi office, was equally inexplicably not present, even by video conference. Her Nairobi chief successor Achim Steiner, handpicked by Mr. Ban, was present, with the image of a tree behind him.

Steiner signed two Compacts, as did Cheick Sidi Diarra, still moonlighting between Least Developed Countries, Landlocked and Small Island Developing States and the Special Adviser on Africa position, which some in the General Assembly say has become moribund under Mr. Ban. The Assembly has voted that the post must be filled, but it has yet to happen.

As in February 2009, Inner City Press was the only media organization there. Even for the photo op, only UN Television and UN Photo were there. Nevertheless, Mr. Ban in his prepared remarked said the UN was making these signings "as public as possible."

The documents, and reports on performance, will go only on the UN's intranet, not available to the public, to "we the peoples."

Many of the Under Secretaries General at the ceremony rarely if ever speak to the press. Chief UN lawyer Patricia O'Brien, in her few appearances, has stuck narrowing to issues of the Hariri Tribunal, refusing questions even on the UN's involvement in Cambodia's tribunal.

Inga-Britt Ahlenius, recently in the media for OIOS' alleged policy of not pursuing former UN employees or third party contractors, has not held a press conference in the Compact annual cycle.

New Safety and Security chief Gregory Starr has not spoken with the press, other than a single interview with the correspondent of the Washington Times (which recently closed its UN bureau by means of massive layoffs).

Starr is the only new UN senior office since last year. Now, a needed shakeup may be near.

Last year's group photo by UN, only DSS' Starr is new since then

Mr. Shabaab Shabaan, while affable, has yet to hold a press conference, despite being in the news for a damning UN Dispute Tribunal decision about his management. Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky, who sat in the corner during the signing ceremony, announced only that Ban will appeal the UNDT decision, but refused Inner City Press' question for a statement of the basis of the appeal.

Some absences were more than understandable. Lynn Pascoe, along with Ban's closest advisor Kim Won-soo, was still on his North Korea trip. Mr. Ban told the Press that he spoke with Pascoe, who had not met with Kim Jong-Il to whom Ban sent a leather bound copy of the UN Charter in six languages.

Neither top peacekeepers, Alain Le Roy nor Susana Malcorra, was present. Inner City Press saw both of them less than an hour later going into the Security Council.

In the Council, another USG spoke: Alan Doss, whose six line e-mail urging UNDP to show him "leeway" and give his daughter a job is still being investigated by the UN some eight months later. Why does USGs like Doss sign Compacts, and abide by them? As with everything in this UN, it is a work in process, not necessarily in progress. Watch this site.

In North Korea, UN Did Not Raise Press Freedom, Hires Staff from Gov't Lists, UN's "Comparative Advantage"?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 16 -- How badly does the UN under Secretary General Ban Ki-moon want to be relevant in North Korea? His senior advisor Kim Won-soo and his Political Affairs chief Lynn Pascoe traveled to Pyongyang and did not even raise the issue of press freedom.

In response to questions from Inner City Press upon their return, Mr. Kim said that "things are moving forward," while Mr. Pascoe claimed that the UN Development Program "hires its own employees now rather then take them through the government." Video here, from Minute 12:52.

But Mr. Kim later clarified that UNDP staff will still be chosen from lists forwarded by the Kim Jong-Il government, only there will be "multiple" candidates. He acknowledged that the UN still has problems with "access and visas" but said there are at the "local level." In the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, it all comes from the top: Kim Jong-Il, with whom the two did not even meet.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists has named North Korea as the most censored country on earth, and had called on Ban Ki-moon to speak out more forcefully on press freedom. Inner City Press asked Pascoe and Kim Won-soo about this. Pascoe said they hadn't raised press freedom "per se." Kim Won-soo, who was asked twice about press freedom, did not answer the question.

Most questions were about whether North Korea will rejoin the Six Party talks about its nuclear programs. That is up to the Six Parties, Pascoe and Kim Won-soo repeatedly said. The UN is a go between. For example, Pascoe said that his staffer Aleksandr Ilitchev is "going to Moscow tomorrow," after along with Ban staff Lee Sang-Hwa being on the trip, presumably to brief on the Six Party talks.

On UNDP, Mr. Kim told Inner City Press, "You are right, UNDP's program has been suspended for two and a half years. The Resident Coordinator [moved back] three months ago." According to Mr. Kim, he's had to focus on renovating the UN office and residence. "The building was empty, so we couldn't see any safe there," he said, referring to the safe in which counterfeit dollars were found, which UNDP never reported until a whistleblower raised it.

That whistleblower was something of an elephant in the briefing room on Tuesday, with Mr. Kim Won-soo assuring that all UN programs in North Korea will now be scrutinized. Ironically he mentioned a "geo-spacial" mapping project which was one of those that got the UNDP program into trouble two and a half years ago.

Background: Five months into Ban's tenure atop the UN, in May 2007, he was angered by the leak to Inner City Press of ainternal memo ("Korea Peninsula UN Policy and Strategy Submission to the Policy Committee") proposing that the UN use its "comparative advantage" to make itself relevant on the North Korea issue.
Now, the competitive advantage is being used.

Back in 2007, Ban had been forced to order an audit of the UN Development Program's North Korea practices, including funding project which it could neither visit nor oversee. UNDP's program had been suspended.

The UN memo stated that "Unless [the suspension] is reversed, the UNDP program risks being terminated. Rather than being able to support the six-party talks process and international engagement with North Korea at this critical juncture, the UN will lose its unique comparative advantage in that area altogether."

Recently, despite the continuing nuclear standoff and renewed firing across the border, as well as lack of movement on human rights, UNDP re-started its North Korea program. And now the Ban administration's "comparative advantage" is back.

UN's Ban, Mr. Kim and Lynn Pascoe, press freedom not shown or raised

After the February 16 briefing, Mr. Kim Won-soo stayed and answered further questions. He said there are 39 international staff from six UN agencies currently in North Korea. He said the programs there spend approximately $45 million a year; he pointed out that's $2 a person. UNDP will come up with a five year plan by "sometime in March," then seek approval from the UNDP board. Things are, he said, moving in the right direction. And on those who seek to leave the country? And on press freedom? Watch this site.

Footnote: this was Kim Won-soo's first on the record briefing at the UN, following requests made based on the JoongAng Ilbo's on the record quote about the trip attributed to Mr. Kim. Later, also on the record, Ban's Associate Spokesperson Choi Soung-ah told Inner City Press that Mr. Kim "did not give an exclusive to JoongAng Ilbo." But the UN never sought a retraction. Mr. Kim appeared on Tuesday, and Inner City Press asked him to return for another briefing about the Ban administration's wider work. We'll see.

At UN, CPJ on Pariah States N. Korea and on Sri Lanka, Buying Tickets, Iran's Eye

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 16 -- The Committee to Protect Journalists on February 16 called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to be more forceful about the importance of press freedom. Inner City Press asked CPJ's Asia expert Bob Deitz about what Mr. Ban and CPJ have done as the Sri Lankan government of Mahinda Rajapaksa has closed down opposition newspapers, reporters have been killed and websites blocked. Video here, from Minute 40:08.

Deitz said that "no one knows how to handle the direction in which the [Sri Lankan] government is going, which is not friendly to the media." He said it might join the "pariah states" of Myanmar, "Burma, North Korea and Zimbabwe," but for feisty journalists who put themselves at risk.

But as to what CPJ does, Weitz said "right now we are hanging back with a lot of people," trying to figure out whether to "come down hard or engage in quiet advocacy."

Afterwards, Inner City Press asked Deitz for more specifics about this "quiet" approach, which the UN seems to share, in the most benign interpretation of Ban's visit in May 2009 after what even the UN called the "bloodbath on the beach" and since.

Even the UN's Children and Armed Conflict mandate, which belatedly sent Patrick Cammaert to Sri Lanka in December, never had him brief the Press afterwards. Radhika Coomaraswamy, when Inner City Press asked her about this silence last week, said that Cammaert went to Europe to get married after his trip, then it was "too late" to brief the press about his visit.

Deitz said that the opposition press in Sri Lanka asks that particular journalists' cases "not be publicized," as it would only make things worse. "Just get us out of here," Deitz said such journalists ask, adding the CPJ helps with plane tickets.

Another correspondent remarked afterwards is that "quiet advocacy is what diplomats do, not journalists or their organizations."

Masked rally for press freedom in Sri Lanka, Jan 2009, UN and CPJ's tickets out not shown

Inner City Press asked CPJ's deputy director Robert Mahoney about the UN's own envoy to Somalia Ahmedou Ould Abdallah having called on a "moratorium" on Somali journalists reporting on the killing of civilians by the African Union peacekeepers of AMISOM.

Mahoney said it is up to journalists to make their own editorial decisions. Ironically, Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky has, at least in his first month on the job, said such things as "that's not a story."

Also on the podium was Newsweek journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari, about whom CNN's Fareed Zakaria devoted the foreword to CPJ's study. As Bahari spoke, a representative from Iran's Mission to the UN sat in the UN press hall's front row, taking notes.

The Iranian mission has invited UN correspondents -- including this one -- to a celebration of Iran's national day on February 18. Inner City Press told Bahari about the event, encouraging him to come and cover it. Watch this space.

Footnote: three hours after the CPJ press conference on its report, "Attacks on the Press in 2009," which names North Korea as the world's most censored country, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's senior advisor Kim Won-soo and political advisor Lynn Pascoe if they had even raised press freedom during their recent trip to Pyongyang. Video here.

No, Mr. Pascoe said. Inner City Press asked Mr. Kim to respond for Mr. Ban on CPJ's wider call to be more forceful on press freedom. While he answered about UNDP in North Korea, he did not answer on press freedom. Inner City Press has at UN noon briefings asked for Mr. Kim to come and answer questions more often. We'll see.

In another UN footnote, CPJ's genial Mr. Deitz granted an interview to a student reporter, Melissa Best, whose piece should air as part of WNYC's Radio Rookies program. Ms. Best, who aspired to be a US diplomat, told Inner City Press that North Korea's nuclear ambitions might call for more stick and less carrots. The show should air -- and Internet -- in June...

* * *

Denying Corruption of Citigroup and BofA, Obiangs Cite Obama, ExxonMobil's Investment

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 15 -- Ten days after the release by the U.S. Senate of a reporting on evasion by the son of Equatorial Guinea's President for Life Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue of anti-money laundering controls by and at Citigroup, Bank of America, Wachovia / Wells Fargo and others, the Obiang regime fired back, calling the report racist and citing in its defense the election of Barack Obama.

Inner City Press is putting the Obiangs' memo online, here.

The Senate report exhaustively shows how Teodorin and his lawyers moved tens of millions of dollars through Citibank and Wachovia (owned by Wells Fargo since the financial meltdown), and used accounts at Bank of America, City National and other banks. The report described how Teodorin

"brought over $100 million into the United States using wire transfer systems at just two U.S. financial institutions, Wachovia Bank and Citibank. Neither system had been programmed to detect or block wire transfers bearing his name. In 2009... Citibank declined to take the same action due to projections that identifying, freezing, and investigating these wire transfers would generate too much work for its anti-money laundering staff...From 2004 to 2007, Mr. Obiang used accounts at three U.S. banks, Union Bank of California, Bank of America, and Citibank, often with Mr. Berger’s assistance, to deposit, transfer and spend nearly $10 million. Most of these funds were wire transferred from accounts in Equatorial Guinea held in the name of Mr. Obiang or two EG companies he controlled, Somagui Forestal and Socage."

To this, the Government of Equatorial Guinea in a communique sent to the Press on February 15, the President's Day holiday in the U.S., argues that

"According to Equatoguinean legislation, as occurs exactly in the most of the world, the natural and legal persons, as occurs in this case with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, are perfectly authorized to do business and maintain other types of jobs at the margin of their Ministerial obligations."

Teodorin's "marginal" business includes a $30 million mansion in Malibu, a jet and recording studio, among other things. Previously he and his president for life father Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo moved their money, like Pinochet, into the U.S. through Riggs Bank.

Inner City Press and its Fair Finance Watch dug into these connections, including to Spain's Santander Bank and HSBC, when the Obiang disgraced Riggs was being sold to PNC Bank. Click here for coverage in Le Monde, in French.

The U.S. Federal Reserve did little at that time. With the major banks it regulates now implicated again in corrupt money laundering, what will the supposedly chastened Federal Reserve do?

President for life Obiang, speaking at the UN, Citi and BofA not shown

The "Equatoguinean" response complains at the Senate report deals only with African corruption -- Angola with HSBC, Gabon's Omar Bongo with Citigroup, Nigeria's Abubakar with Suntrust and the ubiquitous Citibank -- and not any other continent. In this, it echoes the defenders of Sudan's Omar al Bashir, that the International Criminal Court and its prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo have so far indicted only African defendants.

But Equatorial Guinea goes further. Its cover email to Inner City Press argues that "it can be considered as an authentic insult to Africa, and more so after the people of the United States have voted in the majority for a President of African origin."

Then, in capital letters, Equatorial Guinea screams that

"In Africa and in Equatorial Guinea we are tired of BEING TREATED FOR CENTURIES LIKE INHUMAN BEASTS, ON WHICH ALL THE BRUTAL AND EVIL BEHAVIOURS POSSIBLE ARE BLAMED. This is again so verifiable in this case that even different media of the United States have written these days, in regards to this case, THAT THE FAMILY OBIANG PRACTICES CANNIBALISM."

Another of the ICC's and Ocampo's indictees, Jean Pierre Bemba the previous Vice President of the Congo, argued during his campaign against Joseph Kabila that, "I am not a cannibal!"

The Equatoguinean defense that's closest to the mark is that

"We also wish to put on the record that the United States is the country from which comes the highest foreign investment in Equatorial Guinea, which exceeds 12 billion USA dollars, and that no American corporation has complained of fraudulent behaviour of the Government. We also expect the Senate Subcommittee to be consistent with the criteria of the North American companies."

Or should it be the other way around? Major U.S. investors with the Obiangs include ExxonMobil, Marathon Oil, Hess Corporation, and Noble Energy. We will have more on all this.

Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.