Friday, 6 April 2018

In Cameroon, After Tourists Deny Being Hostages, VOA and BBC Stick With Biya, UN Silent

The deference of the UN system's and many of its member states to Cameroon's corrupt 36-year president Paul Biya, and their complicity in his recent crackdown, continues. This extends to media like Voice of America and the BBC, among others. 

 Just as the UN through its envoy Francois Lounceny Fall has tried to equate separatists with extremists, so too the Biya government has tried to say that Swiss and Italian eco-tourists were kidnapped and taken hostage in South-West Cameroon. But this was contradicted by the tour operator itself, whichsaid its clients were stopped on April 2 by a group of armed individuals who checked their documents and vehicles. "Our negotiation carried out with this group resulted in their granting our permission to leave. Shortly before our departure, Cameroon army force special forces arrived on the scene and a brief engagement followed." So who's fault was it? And who's trying to use it? Tellingly, even on the morning of April 5 the Biya story of hostages taken and frees remained online on Voice of America and BBC, among others. So on April 5, Inner City Press asked the UN to say what it knew about the Biya government's claims. From the UN transcript: Inner City Press: In Cameroon, there was a pretty widely publicized event in which it was alleged by the Government that European tourists had been taken hostage from… both from Switzerland and Italy, and it was reported that they were taken hostage until the tour guide said that they were not taken hostage.

So, what I'm wondering is that, since this is a… the kind of incident that has the potential if misreported to justify characterizing people as extremists and terrorists akin to Boko Haram, what is the UN, which has a country team there… what is its understanding of… of… of what took place? Was it a hostage-taking or not a hostage-taking given the hostages said they weren't taken?…

Spokesman: I don't have any information. I can check with them. I'm not sure they were involved in this in any way but…

Inner City Press: But it seems like the country team should have some view…

Spokesman: I'm just saying I… I have nothing in here… and if I have something…" Six hours later, nothing. We'll have more on this. On April 2, UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric literally walked out of the briefing room as Inner City Press asked about a protest (here) of the UN's deference to Biya, Vine video here. On March 29 Inner City Press asked the UN's Political Affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman (now being succeeded by another American Rosemary DiCarlo) about the UN's failure in Cameroon, where UN envoy Francois Fall equated Ambazonia secessionists to extremists. Video here and see below. The next day March 30, a hardy band of Ambazonians, some up from Maryland, gathered on 47th Street across from the UN. Periscope video here. But UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who accepted Paul Biay's golden statue in October 2017, was nowhere to be found. Inner City Press' question to three UN spokespeople, "Where is the Secretary General," was still unanswered as of 3 pm on March 30 even as Guterres was cranking out canned words for example on Liberia. 
In Cameroon, After Tourists Deny Being Hostages, VOA and BBC Stick With Biya, UN Silent
To this has the UN sunk. Later they admitted Guterres was in Lisbon - but on April 2, Guterres' spokesman walked off the briefing room podium as Inner City Press asked about the protest. Vide video here. On March 29, Feltman replied that the UN can't go in and tell people what to do. But note, Secretary General Antonio Guterres did "just go in" and take Paul Biya's golden statue. And his Deputy Amina J. Mohammed "just went in" to Nigeria, twice, the second time to issue an absurd joint statement with her President Buhari covering over his role in refoulement. And note that Feltman never even got a closed door "Any Other Business" briefing about Cameroon in the UN Security Council. Feltman said the issues in Cameroon's Anglophone areas could get worse; he did not answer Inner City Press' question about the influence of former or current colonial powers in the UN and his Department. We'll have more on this. As noted, UN Deputy Secretary General Amina J. Mohammed was in Abuja as 47 people were illegally refouled to Cameroon; she has been silent on that, as on continuing restrictions on the Press in her UN. She was back in Abuja. But when Inner City Press asked once again at the March 26 noon briefing, there was nothing on the refoulement. Here's what was said: Inner City Press: went to… to Abuja for the two days before she went to the Czech Republic, did the issue… I saw that she actually tweeted how she's concerned about UN staff being detained and that's… without reason. The 47 individuals that were refouled from Nigeria to Cameroon and haven't been seen since, was this issue raised? Did she have any headway on it?

Deputy Spokesman: She did raise the issue of the situation of the… in Anglophone Cameroon more generally with her interlocutors. So she has raised that while she was in Nigeria." Later Haq's office issued a Note to Correspondents, which Inner City Press published in full here. On March 27, Inner City Press asked Haq to explain it and he said to ask Nigeria. From the UN's transcript: Inner City Press: yesterday, I'd asked you whether the Deputy Secretary-General had raised these refouled or sent-back Cameroonians. And you'd said that she raised it generally. Then I saw the Note to Correspondents that came out afterwards, and I have to ask you something about it. When she met with President Buhari, the line says: "They also called for respect of the guarantees of fair and humane treatment of those recently arrested and deported to Cameroon." And I guess it's strange to some, because even UNHCR has said that this refoulement was illegal. So, does the "they"… it means that President Buhari sent them back, including UNHCR refugees, but is now calling for them to be treated fairly where he sent them back?

Spokesman: To… to read the entire passage, the basic point is, as we said about the situation in Cameroon and the status of Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari and the Deputy Secretary-General agreed on the need to respect international obligations on the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. They also called for the respect of the rights of those recently arrested and deported to Cameroon.

Inner City Press: So, I guess I… I just… I'm sorry, because it's… it's… it's… many people don't understand this. If you're saying that they agreed on international obligations, the international obligation is not to have sent them back, but that's exactly what he did. So, is he saying… is the President of Nigeria saying that this was wrong, and going forward, he won't do it? What's he saying?

Spokesman: I don't speak for the President of Nigeria…

Inner City Press: I know, but you said "they". It's kind of a joint statement.

Spokesman: I did point out that they agreed on the need, like I said, to respect international obligations on the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.

Inner City Press: But, you say you don't speak for him, but the statement… the UN statement says "they called for the respect of the guarantee of fair and humane treatment", with the "they" referring to President Buhari. Is he calling for Cameroon to treat fairly those he sent back in violation of international law?

Spokesman: Beyond this note that was agreed upon, I would not have anything to say about the President of Nigeria's statements or his actions. You'd have to ask the Government of Nigeria." But the UN put the statement out. As Cameroon purported to hold Senatorial elections amid the crackdown in the North-West and South-West Regions, it state media regulator, through the state TV, instructs all media on “The need for media reports to favor social cohesion, peace, national unity integration... The need for media content to reflect the present administrative and political disposition.” So, censorship. Meanwhile, Inner City Press hs appealed the UK Foreign Office's denial in full of Inner City Press' Freedom of Information request about Cameroon, as well as Yemen. We'll have more on this. On March 22, Inner City Press asked Nigeria's Permanent Representative to the UN Tijjani Muhammad Bande about the 47 people. Video here. He replied that he cannot answer, he doesn't know all the facts. "I would need information" about it, he said, "I am looking for verification."

Really? Isn't it his government, even more than (still) the government of Amija J. Mohammed. Still Tijjani Muhammad Bande UNlike Amina . Mohammed at least took the question, along with Niger's affable Ambassador Abdallah Wafy and offered some response. Amina J. Mohammed hasn't responded on that, on the CITES issues, or on this. On March 23 Inner City Press asked the Spokesman for Antonio "Golden Statue" Guterres and Amina J. "Rosewood" Mohammed, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: at the stakeout yesterday, the ambassador… the Permanent Representative of Nigeria, Tijjani Muhammad Bande, I asked him about these 47 people that were sent back to Cameroon, that… that UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] has said were sent back, and criticized. He said he doesn't have any information on it. I'm wondering, given that the Deputy Secretary-General is going to be in Abuja, is this one of the issues that she's going to try to get an answer to?

Spokesman: She had raised it with various officials in the past.

Inner City Press: But now, the Government is taking they don't know?

Spokesman: I'm not aware that she plans to raise it. If anything changes, I will let you know." What, to SABC? On March 19, while constrained with a minder and a roped in cage, Inner City Press asked UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid if he had any updated death count, since he stopped at 10. Video here. He replied he needs to look at the statistics, I can't recall, the important issue is to have access. Inner City Press pointed to the visit or access of UN envoy Francois Lounseny Fall (who equated secessionists with extremists, justifying the crackdown). 

Zeid replied "like in West Papua, I am asking for access." But not asking as loudly as elsewhere. On March 19 Inner City Press asked Antonio Guterres' spokesman Staphane Dujarric, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: since you're going to look into the Deputy Secretary-General's trip to Nigeria, I'd wanted to know, previously, when she was there, the issue of the 47 Cameroonian — many of them UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], you know, accredited or whatever — designated refugees being refouled to Cameroon, [will she ask, [oes the UN know any more about where those 47 people are… Spokesman: Nothing more than what we've said at the time." Can you head the golden statue Guterres accepted from Biya in October, and Amina J. Mohammed calling Buhari "my president"? The UN has enabled Biya in equating Boko Haram with the restorationist forces, as he did in his cabinet meeting on March 15 with this line: "Thanks to the firm action of our defense and security forces, we have been able to drastically curb the atrocities perpetrated by criminal groups in the Far North, North-West and South-West Regions." The violence in the Far North is entirely different from that in North-West and South-West Regions. But it was the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' envoy Francois Lounceny Fall who equated separatists with extremists; it was Guterres who stopped by Yaounde and took Biya's golden statue back in October. On March 16, Inner City Press asked Guterres' deputy spokesman Farhan Haq, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: since it's so rare, I got asked today. 

The President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, held his a Cabinet meeting for the first time since 2015, second one in the last six years, and one of the quotes coming out of it is to congratulate his defence and security forces for their… to drastically curb the atrocities perpetrated by criminal groups in the far north, north-west, and south-west regions. And "the far north" seems to be a reference to Boko Haram, but "north-west" and "south-west" are the Anglophone regions, where there's a dispute about whether that part of the country is… actually is part of Cameroon. So I wanted to know, given what's been said by François Fall and others about dialogue, if they took note of the speech, if they have any thought on it. And I had also… and also on the issue that you had been talking about, about investigating leaks, I wanted to ask a very specific question. If an internal UN memo concerning Cameroon, not submitted by the Government of Cameroon, but simply the UN's own analysis on why it might make sense to not speak out or to speak out, were to be leaked, is that the type of leak that would be investigated, since you said that it's done at the behest of or in order to protect Member States' ability to give information to the UN, if I understood you correctly?

Deputy Spokesman: And part of what I said is that those are decisions to be taken ultimately by the managers who deal with the various files. I wouldn't answer on any particular hypothetical circumstance.

Inner City Press: But is there any guidance… I know… Is there any guidance from the top of… are there cases where, from the top, the UN would say this is not an appropriate thing to investigate because it chills whistle-blowers?

Deputy Spokesman: Obviously, you're aware of what the whistle-blower protections are, and all managers are aware of those. Regarding your question on Cameroon and the behaviour of the security forces, we've also made clear our concerns about any excessive use of force, and we want to make sure both that security forces, wherever they're deployed, avoid excessive use of force, abide by international human rights norms, and in this particular case, of course, we want to make sure that nothing is done to forestall any efforts at dialogue. Have a good weekend, everyone." Guterres is in Lisbon, again, for the weekend. Cameroon's UN ambassador Tommo Monthe is back - he said he was in Kingston for "the Seabed" - ready to chair the UN budget committee which plays host to Guterres' "reform" proposals. The Biya government is destroying historic places like Boa Bakundu, alongside the illegal refoulement to Yaounde from Nigeria, and other ongoing crackdowns. 

The UN's Central Africa representative Francois Lounceny Fall, who on UN Radio equated secessionists and extremists then ran from Press questions in UN Headquarters, deigned to visit Buea, along with the UN's resident coordinator Allegra Maria Del Pilar Baiocchi, more focused on promoting the UN than trying to prevent conflict and the killing of civilians. She has tweeted photos about the visit, nothing on the burned motor bikes and people, much less the illegal refoulement. The same was true of the visit of Guterres' Assistant Secretary General Ursula Mueller of Germany. She didn't got to the Anglophone areas, her trip was quickly follow by a German government KFW contribution to other parts of the country and now it emerges that the website of the Germany embassy in Cameroon, while purportedly in both French and English, has virtually no information to apply for a visa in English. In fact, the site says "This Website is currently under construction. 

In the meantime, please check our french or german Website version for more Information regarding the visa procedure." Photo here. This in a country that is purportedly bilingual. We'll have more on this. From the UN's February 28 transcript: Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about Cameroon. I've seen that François Fall has… or at least his office is tweeting that he's in the south-west region in Buea, saying he's having some great meetings. Given that the Government side there has asked for a… for a… an alert and that young people's motorcycles are being burned, destroying their livelihood, I'm just wondering, are we going to get a readout? Was that said in advance…? Spokesman: Let me see what I can get. Inner City Press: It seems like Mr. Feltman didn't actually know it was taking place. I tried-- Spokesman: Well, he may not be the only one. I was not aware of the visit." A full 24 hours later, without sending Inner City Press any update or response to its question, Dujarric at the noon briefing read this out: "Turning to Cameroon, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Africa, François Louncény Fall, is indeed in Cameroon to consult on and assess recent developments in the south-west and north-west regions of the country and encourage a peaceful resolution of the crisis through dialogue and in accordance with international standards of human rights and humanitarian law. Mr. Fall held consultations in Yaoundé, in Douala and in the two concerned regions, including with Government officials, political stakeholders, the diplomatic corps and civil society, among others. His visit to Cameroon will end on 4 March." Inner City Press asked, vide here, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: on Cameroon, on the thing you read out? What I wanted to know is that… you know, it all sounds great and thanks for coming back with the statement. 

 It seems like at the same time that he's there with this statement, the Government is actually deploying its special forces to… to increasingly militarize the conflict. So I wanted to know, did… did he witness that while he was there? Spokesman: I'm not aware that [he witnessed it]… Inner City Press: Did he raise the issue of the… what he had called separatists, what they call restorationist leaders, that are… have been detained and not seen for months? Spokesman: I think the situation in the Anglophone area was raised, as we said it was. Thank you." So what DID Fall witness? Guterres' humanitarian deputy official Ursula Mueller offered "congratulations" to Biya's foreign minister Mbella Mbella. Photo and UNanswered Press question here. Now on February 26 after four day Mueller has issued a funding plea for Biya's Cameroon, with a perfunctory reference to the western regions at the end: "Concluding a four-day visit to Cameroon, the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, called on the international community and the Government to step up support to humanitarian actions in the country. During the visit, she met with the Minister of External Relations and the Governor of the Far North.... Ms. Mueller’s visit was also an opportunity to discuss other crises that Cameroon is facing, with an increased influx of refugees from the Central African Republic and sociopolitical tensions in the north-west and south-west regions." Yeah. 

This comes after Inner City Press asked Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric if Mueller would stop in the Anglophone zones, and since not, why not? He replied that the overall humanitarian situation would be discussed. So on February 23, Inner City Press asked Dujarric again, video here, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: I had asked you before Ursula Mueller's trip, whether the… the situation in the anglophone zones of Cameroon would come up, and I just want to say I saw… I guess she tweeted a picture of herself with the Foreign Minister of Cameroon yesterday, saying… congratulating the Cameroon Government, entirely positive. And I just wanted to know… you seemed… you seemed to indicate that the overall humanitarian situation would arise. Given even… even on the issue of refugees, given that there were 47 people sent back seemingly illegally, refouled from Nigeria, is this… is she unaware of that in giving these congratulations? Spokesman: Her mission focused on the Lake Chad Basin, on the situation in the Lake Chad Basin which, as you know, has led to mass… to a humanitarian situation that's impacted at least 10 million people. She discussed a wide range of humanitarian concerns with the government of Cameroon, including the Boko Haram crisis in the far north, the situation of refugees from the CAR [Central African Republic] in the east, and the growing food insecurity across the country, as well as the situation in the Anglophone regions." Really? With congratulations, echoes of the golden statue that Guterres took in October? Meanwhile in Nigeria people are being prosecuted for sheltering refugees from Cameroon, and Guterres and the UN are silent. 

We'll have more on this. A new report details Biya's long stays outside of the country in Geneva, while his military kills Anglophones and the country declines. Biya has spent four and a half years in Geneva, at a cost of $65 million in hotel fees and $117 million for chartered private plane, sometimes left "on stand-by" for weeks at a time. The report goes one level down: "One of Biya’s closest confidants, Joseph Fouda, a military officer and special advisor, has accompanied him on at least 86 trips, amounting to more than three years of travel since 1993. He prefers a room on a top floor of the Intercontinental. Another close confidant, Martin Belinga Eboutou, 78, has spent nearly three years travelling with the president starting in 1987, when he was Cameroon’s ambassador to Morocco. 

The president attempted to buy a brand new private jet in 2004, but his staff reportedly cut corners on the deal, buying a defective plane covered by a fresh coat of paint that nearly crashed on its first flight. Since then, the president has chartered at least several private aircraft, including a luxury jet formerly owned by the government of Kazakhstan." Still UN Secretary General, himself a murky first class flyer, smilingly took Biya's golden statue and has done nothing; his advisers Khassim Diagne and the outgoing head of Political Affairs have assured him of Biya's bona fides or the wisdom of doing... nothing. The UN has failed. The UN refugee agency UNHCR in Abuja early on January 30 told Inner City Press that it has as yet no comment on the blatant forced repatriation or refoulement to Cameroon of Sisiku Ayuk Tabe and 46 others while it seeks "explanations through official channels." (Later UNHCR issued a short statement.) On January 31, Inner City Press again asked UN SecretaryGeneral Antonio Guterres' Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here and below. When Inner City Press on February 8 put the refoulement question to Francois Delattre, the UN Ambassador of France which has supported Paul Biya's 36-year rule, Delattre replied that "We always have views but no comment from me at this stage." Video here

That is irresponsible - or another sign of France's responsibility for what is happening in the region. We'll have more on this - and now on Germany. Angela Merkel's "personal representative for Africa" Gunter Nooke showed up in Yaounde on February 15 trying as he does elsewhere to drum up business. With him was Ambassador Hans Dieter Stell; there was according to CRTV "the exchange of gifts symbolic of Cameroon's legendary hospitality." Another golden statue like UNSG Guterres took? At UN headquarters, as Inner City Press alone asked, Germany's Ambassador procured a publicly funded post for his wife by merely emailing Guterres' chief of staff. Inner City Press asked Dujarric and his deputy Haq - no real answer - while the only other question asked about it was how the information about the job had leaked. The media asking that is given full access to the UN by the UN Department of Public Information of British Alison Smale, a major Germanophile who continues to have Inner City Press restricted, its long time work space given to a no-show no-question Egyptian state media. We'll have more on this.

The United Kingdom's silence about the plight of Anglophone residents of the former British Southern Cameroons persists even in the face of a Freedom of Information Act request from Inner City Press.

More than five months ago on 15 August 2017 Inner City Press asked the UK government for records concerning Cameroon. After repeatedly extending the time to response, now the UK has denied access to all responsive records, letter here, saying that "the release of information relating to the UK’s discussion on UN business could harm our relations and other member states of the United Nations (UN)."

Here on Patreon is the full denial letter, from which Inner City Press is preparing an appeal, on Yemen as well - it has 40 working days.

This is shameful - the UK is also exiting transparency.

On February 6 in front of the UN Security Council, Inner City Press asked the United Kingdom's Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Allen for the UK's comment on Nigeria's forced repatriation of 47 to Cameroon. From the UK transcript: Inner City Press: Nigeria did a forced repatriation of 47 Cameroonian leaders. The UNHCR said it was illegal. The US has commented on it. Does the UK have any view? Amb Allen: I’m afraid I wasn’t aware of that before. I’ll have to get back to you on the details." Video here. At day's end, a UK Mission spokesperson sent Inner City Press a short comment, here.


As Inner City Press pursues these questions at the UN, again it remains restricted to minders by the head of the UN Department of Public Information Alison Smale, who it is noted is British - and functionally a censor. A retaliator, too? As noted, Smale has not explained why Inner City Press' long time work space is assigned to no-show, no-question Egyptian state media Akhbar al Youm.
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