Friday, April 23, 2010

On Kabul Staff Death, "External" Prober Had Conflict of Interest, UN's Unilateral Spin

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 22, updated -- The UN's supposedly "external" Board of Inquiry into the murder of Louis Maxwell and other UN staff in Kabul last October was revealed Thursday to have been under the decidedly "internal" leadership of Andrew Hughes, who served as the UN's Police chief from 2007 until, it seems, March 8, 2010. The Board of Inquiry began, without any public notice, in January 2010.

The Board of Inquiry was triggered by cell phone video footage showing Louis Maxwell, long after fighting around the guesthouse was over, being shot and killed, and not by Taliban. The UN knew this since December, but only belatedly and begrudgingly discussed the issue publicly when asked, repeatedly, in April.

At the noon briefing of April 20 in response to Inner City Press' questions, UN Spokesman Martin Nesirky stated "this particular board... was composed of external and internal senior personnel with relevant backgrounds and Afghanistan expertise -- including in security; investigations; and agencies, funds and programmes. It was led by a former senior Australian Federal Police Officer."

While Nesirky emphasized "former Australian Federal Police Officer" -- that is, external to the UN -- since then, Mr. Hughes was named to a UN post by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. In fact, during his service with UN Police, the unit's publication "UN Police Magazine of July 2009"described the unit's work in Afghanistan as "forging trust in uniformed police, establishing faith in national justice systems."

One wonders: isn't a bit of a conflict of interest to have Mr Hughes be responsible for evaluating the actions of the Afghanistan National Police, an entity that Mr Hughes was responsible "forging trust" and "establishing faith" in?

On April 22, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Nesirky basic factual questions about the overlap of Mr. Hughes service as UN Police chief and as "external" leader of the Board of Inquiry, and whether once he left his Police chief post, he was paid by the UN for this "external" work.

Nesirky refused to answer these or other questions, saying that all he would say was a prepared statement that the Board of Inquiry -- disclosed belatedly and only after questions -- was now complete but that Afghanistan and "other relevant stakeholders" must have time to respond before the UN speaks about it. Video here, from Minute 44:26.

But while the UN's Spokesman deflects all questions by saying nothing can be said until later, the Number Two official in the UN Department of Field Support, Tony Banbury, served up the UN's position on the report and on charges they have covered up to Foreign Policy's new blog, "Turtle Bay" [for praise of which, on other stories, see below.]

Inner City Press asked Nesirky when Banbury would come to answer questions, since he had spoken on the record to Turtle Bay. Nesirky responded that Inner City Press had send written questions to Banbury "on deadline" - which have remained unanswered six hours later, including these:

Will the UN identify the probe's other members?

Were other UN departments informed of the composition of the board prior to its commencement of work, and invited to participate, or was the Board just selected and appointed by DPKO/DFS?

Can the UN confirm Ban Ki Moon's prior statement that Afghan police failed to respond to the guesthouse for 90 minutes?

Was Louis Maxwell's weapon retrieved by the UN, and does the UN have it in its possession?

Was the killer of Louis Maxwell ever identified or apprehended? Where is he now?

Thursday at the UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked "where is Mr. Banbury today," since he did not respond to these written questions about his on the record claims. Neskiry would not answer.

UN's Tony "I'm Elated" Banbury, spinning but not answering questions

In fact, in what a number of reporters viewed as retaliation, Nesirky tried to deny Inner City Press to right to ask any other questions, cutting off any follow up and saying "one more question," about a movie. As Inner City Press put forward a question, Nesirky closed his binder and stood. Video here, from Minute 59:25. The question was about Thailand and requests made to the UN by the protesters. Nesirky relented and read out another statement, dodged a question on Sri Lanka and was gone. And so it goes at the UN.

Footnote: Inner City Press does not like to disparage other media, particularly one which like the writer of Turtle Bay has done good work at and on the UN, on OIOS and many other topics. While Turtle Bay says it was offered the Banbury briefing and had no choice but to take it, it is noteworthy that Banbury and UN thought this "blog" was the best venue to unilaterally put out their side of the story.

We put "blog" in quotes, including to follow UN Spokesman Martin Nesirky's statements April 21 against what Inner City Press "put on [its] blog" about the UN covering up. Is this 2010, the UN, using one blog against another?

One might for example note in blog-style that Banbury is most famous of late for saying that news of three rapes in camps in Haiti "almost elated me," and then issuing a convoluted clarification later. Now he speaks unilaterally and takes no questions. "Like Tiger Woods' first press conference," as one reporter put it. Watch this site.

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