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At UN after Haiti Quake, Delivering Death News, Delayed Dispatch of Deputy, Live Blogging UN Responses

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 13, updates below -- As news as UN casualties from Haiti trickles out -- four Brazilian, eight Chinese and three Jordanian peacekeepers killed, head of mission Hedi Annabi missing -- at UN Headquarters Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his chiefs of Peacekeeping and humanitarian affairs prepared to speak to the Press.

In the lobby of the nearly empty UN building, lights and microphones were set up. Journalists milled around, asking for the dates of U.S. invasions of Haiti. Mr. Ban had trailed not only U.S. President Barack Obama, but even Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, in responding to the earthquake Tuesday night. But now the UN was springing into action.

Questions remain unanswered about whether the UN's headquarters in Haiti, for which it has paid $94,000 a month, was MOSS (Minimum Operational Safety Standard) compliant. Updates below

UN in Haiti, earthquake and safeguards not shown

Update of 8:49 a.m. -- after Mr. Ban spoke, saying among other things he will send Peacekeeping Deputy Edmond Mulet to Haiti "as early as Friday," a half dozen of his top officials took to the microphone. One, however, stood off to the side: Under Secretary General for Safety and Security Gregory Starr, in charge of inspecting UN facilities for safety.
   Inner City Press asked the group if the Hotel Christopher was MOSS compliant, the way the UN assesses buildings' safety. The question was never answered. Rather, Mr. Mulet said that other buildings also collapsed, as if that meant that the question of UN self-inspection, highlighted at least since the bombing and partial collapse of the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, didn't have to be answered.

Update of 9:10 a.m. -- While UNDP says that 38 staff, both national and international, are so far unaccounted for, no numbers were given for UNICEF or the World Food Program. Inner City Press asked humanitarian chief John Holmes about these two agencies. He said the staff were all fine, or mostly all fine. Later, off camera, Edmond Mulet told Inner City Press that WFP has a warehouse, which did not collapse, and is now secured by UN Peacekeepers, presumably to prevent looting.

  Inner City Press asked DPKO Alain Le Roy what role the UN Peacekeepers will play in keeping public order. Le Roy referred to first helping at Hotel Christopher, then securing other UN buildings, then patrolling the streets.

  In late 2009, UN Peacekeepers fired live ammunition when they thought a crowd was approaching a downed UN helicopter. It was explained to Inner City Press that UN Police use rubber bullets, while the Peacekeepers use live rounds. Le Roy said the UN has 3000 "Peacekeepers" on Port au Prince.

  Before Mulet left the UN lobby, Inner City Press asked him directly what the terms of engagement would be for UN Peacekeepers, referencing rubber bullets or live ammo. We haven't discussed that, Mulet said. And then he was gone.

  By the UN's schedule, there is a "debate" -- in reality, a series of speeches -- in the Security Council starting at 9:30 about "regional organizations." Click here for Inner City Press' story yesterday about the EU's power play. It is anticipated that the Council's stakeout microphone will be a venue for Haiti quake statements if not news Watch this space.

Update of 9:32 a.m. -- in front of the Security Council, a Chinese diplomat is asked about reports on state media that eight Chinese peacekeepers have been killed in Haiti. The diplomat doesn't appear to know, saying first that they are okay, then that China has only a "small delegation" in Haiti. One reporter groans.

Alain Le Roy, on his way in, declined to confirm the figure of eight Chinese dead, but says that Peacekeeper deaths may be around twenty. In the UN headquarters in Hotel Christopher, he says, were some 100 people. Still no work from Mr. Annabi or his deputy.

Update of 10:26 a.m. -- on a Doctors Without Borders / MSF press conference call, Inner City Press asks for any information about the UN headquarters in the Christopher Hotel. MSF says the UN has been badly damaged, MSF does not expect much help from the UN as they will have to face their internal challenges. MSF says, unprompted, that it cannot confirm how the top leadership of the UN in Haiti has been impacted. But Inner City Press may have news on that, from a delegation.  This is now a separate article, here.

Update of 1:36 p.m. -- UN Spokesman Martin Nesirky ran a noon briefing whose only topic was Haiti. Top humanitarian John Holmes announced that a Chinese search and rescue team had already arrived in Haiti. This timing seemed extraordinary, so Inner City Press when called on near the end of the briefing asked how the Chinese search and rescue team got there so quickly, if they had perhaps been in the Caribbean when the earthquake happened.

They came from Beijing, Holmes answered, adding that their speed is in part explained by Chinese interest in the "high level police delegation" that he confirmed had been meeting with Mr. Annabi. But China's Ambassador said they are only "on their way" -- through Vancouver, Inner City Press is told. Inner City Press asked him to confirm the Chinese delegation's meeting with Annabi and he did, but said "I have no more information." Afterwards, one wag snarked, "Google it."

  This afternoon there is another press conference, by UN Peacekeeping, and a stakeout by Ban Ki-moon. There is another, less publicized event that Inner City Press is looking into. Watch this space.

Update of 2:33 p.m., North Lawn Conference Building entrance, fruitless Bill Clinton stakeout -- Ban's schedule was amended, to include a photo op with Bill Clinton at 2:45. But apparently the shots will be only by the UN's inhouse media. Several independents mill about in the back entrance of the UN's new building. "You can't put your laptop there," Inner City Press is told.

  Back in the (old) Conference Building, Mulet and Dmitry Titov are briefing Troop Contributing Countries. Ban will brief member states at 4, and do another stakeout for the Press at 5. It's all Haiti, all the time. But what is the UN accomplishing?

Update of 2:52 p.m. -- twenty stray reporters, many with cameras, mill about on the raw cement floor of the UN's new building. Not a wisp of Bill Clinton who, it is assumed, will enter via the loading dock on 3B, elevator straight up to the Ban cave on the third. Still it's not without interest, seeing who comes in and out of the UN-KIA. One well placed source, headed upstairs, gives Inner City Press a heads up for a high profile attendee at the General Assembly's 4 p.m. meeting. More on this to follow.

Update of 3:03 p.m. -- as Haiti's Ambassador to the UN walks into UN-KIA with his Canadian counterpart, Inner City Press and another journalist fall in behind him. The journalist begins, "Mister Ambassador, condolences, can you tell us--"
  "I have no time," the Haitian Ambassador says. "I am going to a meeting."

   Inner City Press nods and followed, to (new) Conference Room 1. In the front, the Haitian Ambassador stops to kiss Anne Veneman on both cheeks. It's the UNICEF executive board meeting, not a meeting about Haiti. The work of the UN goes on. Still, one wonders if this is the best use of Haiti's top UN diplomat's time.

Update of 3:08 p.m. -- "Thank you for being with us today, Mister Ambassador," Anne Veneman says. She will talk about Haiti and what UNICEF is doing. She's checked with the warehouse in Copenhagen. Water tanks are on the way, for 10,000 families. A DHL charter is being loaded in Panama, for 20,000 additional families. UNICEF will focus on children who have been separated from their families.  The Ambassador of Zimbabwe arrives for the meeting.

Update of 3:14 p.m. -- Haiti's Ambassador is now speaking, in French. In this new UN conference room, the seats on the side for the media do not have headphones to hear translation. Great planning.

Update of 3:23 p.m. -- after Haiti's Ambassador, the floor is thrown open for any other member state. And who takes the floor? Luxembourg. Then, the item closed, UNICEF turns to resource generation.

Update of 3:50 p.m. -- out in the hall of UN-KIA, Haiti's Ambassador greets Inner City Press. He recalls questions asked about abuse by and repatriation of Sri Lankan peacekeepers with MINUSTAH. Of Michele Montas, he didn't know she was in Haiti but will check. And we believe him.

Update of 3:57 p.m. -- and now the news, such as it is, that Inner City Press held back upon request. Bill Clinton will speak to the General Assembly at 4 p.m. in Conference Room 4. All staff members, as well as the press, are sent up to the first floor gallery. In the hallway, DSG Migiro stops. Sad day. Her chief of staff Parfait says the same. Still there are many "Happy New Years" being exchanged in the hall. It's one last day, at least, of the old UN. But where is Bill Clinton?

Update of 4:01 p.m. -- Israel's Ambassador Shalev walks in. Inner City Press does not ask her about Dori Gold. (We will have more on this.)

Update of 5:02 p.m. -- Top peacekeepers Alain Le Roy and Susana Malcorra put confirmed deaths -- of which families have been notified, they say -- at 14: 10 Brazilians (7 of them at Checkpoint 22, not in Hotel Christopher), three Jordanians and one Haitian staff member.

   When Inner City Press asks a spokesperson how many national staff the UN has in Haiti, there is no clear answer. On camera, Inner City Press repeats its noon question still unanswered, whether Port au Prince was a "family duty station."

  No, Ms. Malcorra says, UN international staff were not supposed to bring their families. But some did. (Inner City Press has reported on this phenomenon before.)  On whether the Christopher Hotel was MOSS compliant, she says it's "a process," and aknowledges that improvement were in the budget. We'll have more on this.

  Bill Clinton and Ban were scheduled to appear for a stakeout at 5 p.m.. But down in Conference Room 1, the U.S. is speaking, through its Number Three Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo.

Update of 5:23 p.m. -- now Georgia's Ambassador is speaking, Ban on the podium looking pained. And, minutes later, Russia is speaking.

Update of 5:44 p.m. -- and now, back to back, Venezuela and Colombia.

Update of 5:55 p.m. -- now in the gallery / cheap seats of Conference Room 1. Bill Clinton nowhere in sight. On the podium: Mr. Ban, Ms. Migiro, Cameroon's Ambassador, Alain Le Roy and USG Shaaban Shaaban. In the second row, Kim Won-soo and Vijay Nambiar. That's the top UN officials, listening to repetitive speeches. Does this show their commitment? Is this the best way to be spending time?

Update of 5:58 p.m. -- perhaps on this very topic, Mr. Ban whispers to Kim,Won-soo, who descends from the podium to speak to Spokesman Nesirky. Are they concerned about the ramifications -- in coverage -- of leaving the press waiting for more than a hour for the second time this week? Why continue to express surprise that things go slowly with the General Assembly, when everyone can speechify at length?

Update of 6:02 p.m. -- Ban is wrapping up, saying he is humbled. Sad update, he says: FIFTEEN UN staff are now confirmed dead. Three Jordanians, 11 Brazilians, 1 Argentinian and 1 Chadian police officer. But that's sixteen! And what about the Haitian national staff member mentioned by Le Roy? And the other national staff members?

Update of 6:46 p.m. -- Ban Ki-moon came upstairs and did a stakeout, sans Bill Clinton. Now he used the number 16, but again did not mention the Haitian national staff member listed as dead by Alain Le Roy and Ms. Malcorra. Afterwards, Inner City Press waited to asked Spokesman Nesirky. Nesirky read out loud portions of an email from Michele Montas, that 80% of the city is destroyed. He said he assumes she would want this information made public.  About the Haitian national staff member dropped between presentations by DPKO and Mr. Ban, he said he too had noticed the discrepancy and would look into it. We'll see.


* * *

In Haiti, UN Paid $94,000 a Month for Now Collapsed Hotel, Called It Safe

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 13 -- With the UN's main compound in Haiti in the former Hotel Christoper having collapsed, along with humanitarian concern, questions have arisen about the appropriateness of the facility.

  Back in 2008, Inner City Press repeatedly asked the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations how it had been selected and how much the UN paid for it. Finally, DPKO provided this response which Inner City Press exclusively reported:

"the main MINUSTAH headquarters complex (The Christopher Hotel) is rented directly from a private individual (Dr. Gerard Desir) at the rate of $3.86 per square meter. The total complex is 24,383 square meters which includes parking, office space, pre-fab office space, canteen and conference space. The total monthly rent is thus $94,000. Please note that this does not include the MINUSTAH logbase, which is located on a plot of land provided at no cost by the Haitian Government. The decision to select the Hotel Christopher was based on a locally-completed analytical process which determined that this facility was one of the few premises in Port au Prince which would meet the Mission's requirements with regards to space, water and power . It is also in a neighbourhood that was judged in 2004 to be among the safest in Port au Prince."

  On the evening of January 12, DPKO chief Alain Le Roy briefed select journalists while Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, initially silent on a Long Island retreat while officials from U.S. President Obama to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer issued statements, later said he had spoken with Bill Clinton and U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice.

UN patrols Haiti's Martissant, earthquake not yet shown

  Inner City Press asked DPKO if the Christopher Hotel had been judged MOSS (Minimum Operations Safety Standard) compliant by UN Security. There has been no answer yet.

The UN announced that Mr. Ban, along with Peacekeeping and Humanitarian officials, will take questions from the press on Wednesday morning at 8:20 a.m.. Watch this site.

* * *

In Hours After Haiti's Earthquake, Silence from UN, Building Codes Flashback

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 12, updates below -- In the hours after a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti, prepared statements were issued by U.S. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and even  Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer in New York. At the headquarters of the UN, which has 7000 peacekeepers in Haiti, there was silence.

  After 7 p.m on January 12, Inner City Press and another journalist covering the Americas ventured down to the new UN Spokesperson's office in the basement. Any communications from the UN Peacekeeping Mission, MINUSTAH? No. Anything from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon? No.

   Mr. Ban is on Long Island on retreat, with the heads of regional organizations.

Update of 8:12 p.m. -- after 8 p.m., the UN Spokesperson's Office issued an e-mail to correspondents that Mr. Ban "will meet with press on Wednesday morning at 8:20 am, at UN Headquarters." We'll be there.

Update of 8:40 p.m. -- and at 8:28 p.m., after even Scott Stringer, the UN put this out:

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the earthquake in Haiti:

My heart goes out to the people of Haiti after this devastating earthquake. At this time of tragedy, I am very concerned for the people of Haiti and also for the many United Nations staff who serve there. I am receiving initial reports and following developments closely.

  First, given that the UN told not only Inner City Press but also AFP they could not reach MINUSTAH, how Ban is "receiving initial reports," other than CNN, is unclear. But the point, we emphasize, is that the UN has more presence on the ground in Haiti than anyone else. Why hasn't it been the go-to organization for information on the earthquake?

Update of 9:20 p.m. -- and at 9:12 p.m., in greater detail than Ban Ki-moon (why? Because of Francophonie? Lss skeptically, because peacekeeping and civilian personnel are missing? but where else is this done?) DPKO chief Alain Le Roy chimed in:

Statement from the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy:


The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations expresses his deep concern following this afternoon’s catastrophic earthquake. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations is still in the process of gathering information on the extent of the damage and the status of UN personnel. Contacts with the UN on the ground have been severely hampered as communications networks in Haiti have been disabled by the earth quake. For the moment, a large number of personnel remain unaccounted for. The United Nations can confirm that the Headquarters of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in Port au Prince has sustained serious damage along with other UN installations. Further information will be provided as it becomes available.

We hope so.

  To Gonaives in 2008, it took the UN and others three days to reach those in need. Will response this time be more timely?

  When the head of MINUSTAH, Hedi Annabi, came to brief the Security Council in September, Inner City Press asked him what if anything had been done to improve building codes and practices following the deadly school collapse in Petionville. Video here, from Minute 1:50. Inner City Press asked asked what discipline had been imposed on the over 100 peacerkeepers repatriated to Sri Lanka on charges of sex abuse or exploitation in Haiti.

Mr. Annabi, as to building codes, said that the government of Michel Pierre Louis has been "very mindful" and made "special effort to improve the relevant rules and regulations" to make buildings, particularly of institutions, safe. One of the first reports on January 12 was of a collapsed hospital.

Previous UN Spokesperson Michele Montas in November 2008 told Inner City Press, which asked whether the UN given its central role in Haiti might be trying to encourage improvements in building codes, that "there is a government in Haiti... those codes have existed for two hundreds years." That might be the problem.

UN's Ban waves to UN staff in Haiti, quake and response not yet shown

  From our November 10, 2008 report:

After Haitian Collapse, UN Uses Batons But No Building Codes, School Chief Said Arrested

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

UNITED NATIONS, November 10, 2008 -- In the wake of a deadly school collapse in Petionville in Haiti, the UN's strange role in the country was exemplified by its peacekeepers beating back parents who surged on the ruins to determine the fate of their children, while the UN said it had no role in improving the construction practices that even President Rene Preval says led to the collapse.

   UN Spokesperson Michele Montas told Inner City Press, which asked whether the UN given its central role in Haiti might be trying to encourage improvements in building codes, that "there is a government in Haiti... those codes have existed for two hundreds years." That might be the problem.

   Following the collapse, not only concerned parents but neighborhood residents converged on the school. Some of the latter tried to get in and remove debris, reportedly accusing "the internationals" of moving slowing in order to make more money off Haiti. Reportedly

"anger boiled over as thousands of Haitians looked on in the blazing sun, with the stench of rotting bodies beginning to rise from the rubble. Rumours have circulated that the international rescuers were working slowly to inflate their wages. About 100 men rushed the unstable pile... Thousands cheered them on, chanting, 'We don't need money to do the work!' Baton-swinging Haitian police and United Nations peacekeepers in riot gear drove the men away, only for them to return and throw rocks."

  In New York on Monday, Ms. Montas was asked who decided on this use of force. Initially and cordially, she said that a "serious problem of crowd control" had existed as parents tried to get to the school, which "two teams, French and American, were working with MINUSTAH" to clear the rubble. Video here, from Minute 13:20.

   One wonders, given the insistence that the UN system which includes the UN Development Program can do nothing about the building codes and practices that led to the collapse, why MINISTAH is described as being in charge of the rescue effort. Also, if the UN's Hedi Annabi can call for a delay in using construction equipment on the site, why cannot he not call for better building codes or enforcement?

UN Peacekeepers outside a school in Haiti, kids in tank's shadow

  Inner City Press asked again, who controls MINUSTAH's use of force against civilians in Haiti? Ms. Montas answered that the Haitian National Police were working with MINUSTAH at the site. So did MINUSTAH need and get consent?

  In response to Inner City Press' question about Haitian President Rene Preval's statement that "what occurred was the result of instability and disorder on a state level in Haiti," Ms. Montas countered diplomatically that the collapse did not reflect on "the state as a whole." Video here, from Minute 21:02.

   Inner City Press was later informed by a UN official who stress they were not speaking as an international civil servant, and is therefore granted anonymity even without explicitly requesting it, that "the person in charge of the school was arrested on Saturday."

  To come full circle, the UN in the past month has twice spoken about its work on the prisons in Haiti.

 News analysis: So in Haiti as in the Congo, the UN is everywhere when there is success, and tried to be nowhere, at least in terms of accountability and transparency, when things go wrong.

  That Haiti and Haitians need help is clear. Whether the UN, Minustah or UNDP are the right ones to deliver it is another question.

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

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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