Monday, March 1, 2010

UN Official, "Elated" by Rapes, Says Corruption Watching is Up to Haiti's Preval

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 24, updated -- "Three rapes? That almost elates me," the UN's second in command in Haiti Tony Banbury told the Press on Wednesday. "There are rapes in New York, in any refugee camp in the world." Video here, from Minute 34:17.

Some were surprised at this UN official's statement. While he may say that the quote -- caught on film -- is out of context, Inner City Press would counter that the quote was created by, and reflects, the context.

Banbury's presentation, billed as a description of the situation in Haiti, was in fact a defense of the UN's performance. Banbury said the earthquake in Haiti was harder to deal with than the tsunami or Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, in which he was involved.

Inner City Press asked Banbury how the UN, which has made appeals for over $1 billion, will ensure that rubble removal contractors are transparently selected based on merit, and that the landowning elite in Haiti doesn't gain super-profits from the move to acquire land for new housing.

Banbury said that both of these are up to the sovereign Haitian government. He derided procurement rules as causing delay. But US-based companies like Ashbritt, under fire for post-Hurricane Katrina profiteering, have already held private meetings with President Rene Preval.

UN's Banbury on Feb. 24, 2010: elated?

To be fair, Inner City Press reiterated the question: was Banbury saying the UN would do nothing to try to ensure that money donated to help poor Haitians wasn't grabbed by profiteers? Yes, Banbury said, we have an interest in that, and the UN will pursue it "on a political level... with the World Bank." But by leading with the UN's deference to sovereign Haitian decisions, a message is sent.

In fact, Banbury's involvement in the UN's and World Food Program's response to Cyclone Nargis involved knowing, but keeping quiet, about currency exchange losses of up to 25% to the Than Shwe military government of Myanmar.

What correspondents were and are looking for is facts, not UN spin. And if one is the UN's spinmeister, it might be better not to say, "Three rapes? That almost elates me." What happens next? Watch this site.

Update: two days after Banbury's comments and the article above, and one day after the UN was asked about the comments, and promised an update, the following came in:

On Fri, Feb 26, 2010 at 2:40 PM, UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply wrote:

At the noon press briefing on February 24, Assistant Secretary-General Banbury was asked about a report by Human Rights Watch on security and protection conditions in IDP camps in Haiti, including a report that there had been three cases of women being raped.

ASG Banbury adds the following comment: “My remarks make clear my strong commitment to human rights protection issues, and my conviction that three rapes is "far too many". I said that reports of only three rapes "almost elates me" because of deep concern--by myself and human rights protection experts--that the large numbers of people who are living in cramped and onerous conditions in displaced persons camps could lead to serious protection issues, especially with regard to sexual violence against women and children. If the total number of rape cases is indeed three, while "far too many", it would show that efforts by the UN and our partners to enhance protection measures for women and children in the camps were working to a large extent, and our worst fears were not materializing. This would be a source of encouragement. I have dedicated many years to protecting the human rights of vulnerable populations, and my career to public service. Far from belittling the crime of rape, my clear intention was to convey a sense of UN commitment and concern about human rights protection.”

Media outlets which heard but never wrote about Banbury's comment about being "almost elated" at three rapes were quickly to publish his subsequent statement.

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