NY Times: Some scandals more important than others
March 16, 2005, 04:00 AM
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You have to admire the N.Y. Times for its investigative zeal. The paper`s online archive lists 12 Postings devoted to a single alleged sexual harassment incident involving U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) head Ruud Lubbers.

The complainant, a 51-year old  American woman, subsequently withdrew the charge and—what must be hardest for the Times to reconcile with its position on the allegation—Kofi Annan said the charges had no merit. Though Lubbers was set to retire at the end of this year, the paper called for his immediate removal because of the harassment charge.

After all, principles are principles.

Apparently the Lubbers affair had become one political liability too many for the U.N. which is dealing with the oil for food scandal and sexual misconduct by U.N. peacekeepers in Congo. On Feb 20 Lubbers was gone.

But, how does the Times respond to real corruption at the UNHCR when it actually affects the American public, which is the agency`s largest financial supporter, and furthermore takes the largest share of the refugees the agency ships to the developed world?

In January 2002, the UNHCR admitted that about 70 of its people were involved in a long-running bribery and extortion scheme involving the selection of refugees bound for western countries. Basically, aspiring emigrants were buying their way on to the refugee program which, for most, equated to passage to America and instant access to all U.S. welfare programs. Many of the African "refugees" were not refugees at all, but members of local elites or the local criminal class.

The U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services said the corruption had been "common knowledge" among UNHCR staff and "management of the Nairobi branch office should have seen that corruption was seeping into the core operations of their office".

When U.S. immigration officials and the American ambassador to Kenya began investigating the affair, the conspirators planned to issue death threats to them in the name of Osama bin Laden, according to a UN report. [Investigation into allegations of refugee smuggling at the Nairobi Branch Office of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees]

At the time, UNHCR director Ruud Lubbers stated "we in UNHCR must accept institutional responsibility for allowing an environment in which these activities could take place." In fairness to Mr. Lubbers it must be pointed out that the ring had been operating long before he became director in Jan 2001. But, given the frenzy of the berserkers at the Times over what may have been an arm around the waist of an unnamed accuser and an invitation for after hours drinks to another unnamed accuser, was there not even the slightest curiosity over this incident? Did the Times demand the removal of Mr. Lubbers or demand a search for guilty higher-ups?

No. The paper could not see fit to produce even one line of reportage on the incident. In fact the story did not make it into any national media outlets.

Naturally, corruption has continued to plague the African refugee program complete with fraudulent family relationship schemes calculated to supercharge chain migration to the U.S. and U.S. taxpayer supported letter head NGO`s that seem to exist only to enrich NGO employees.

Of course one would never learn from the Times that UNHCR officials meddle in the creation of U.S. law. "UNHCR officials worked with private organizations and Congress to promote specific legislation such as the Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act" according to U.N. documents. (Refugees, num 133, vol 4, 2003,page 14).

And you thought U.S. legislation was promoted by Americans for Americans? (Perhaps the UNHCR should be limited to writing and promoting law only in those countries which produce refugees.)

Those "private organizations" UNHCR works with to promote its legislative agenda are not really private at all. They are overwhelmingly U.S. based refugee resettlement contractors which receive the vast majority of their income from the U.S. taxpayer. There are clear questions around their use of public funds to promote laws, policy and regulations from which they profit.

But these questions will never be raised by the Times.

Obviously the Times is too busy reporting on the important stuff.

Thomas Allen (email him) is a recovering refugee worker.