Andy Smith
MIne-action specialist
 

The UN snatches the IMAS - emails


Andy Smith, November 2011

The exchange with Justin Brady, Acting Head of UNMAS.

----- Original Message -----
From: Andy Smith
To: Paktian Faiz ; Paul Heslop ; dbowen@roncowash.com ; hcr@hcr.hr ; 'Mohammad Sediq Rashid' ; 'Fredrik Pålsson' ; halodirector@halotrust.org ; ses@npaid.org ; sara.sekkenes@undp.org ; Sharif Baaser ; 'Bengtsson Magnus'
Cc: Hemi Morete ; Justin Brady ; timothy.horner@undp.org
Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 1:35 PM
Subject: Re: Letter of censure from the IMAS Steering Group

Dear Faiz,

As you know, I was sent a letter of censure by Justin Bailey as head of the newly formed IMAS Steering Group more than a month ago (8th September). The body of the text reads:
It has come to the attention of the IMAS Steering Group that you have posted a number of messages in an online email server group criticising the development of IMAS. While such groups are not open beyond those who have registered, there cannot be any expectation of privacy and must be treated as publicly available information. In your postings you use language that is openly offensive on religious grounds. As a member of the IMAS Review Board, there is an expectation that views and opinions will be expressed in a constructive manner that is sensitive to the international environment in which we work and does not prejudice any group on racial, ethnic, gender religious or other grounds. Your posts do not meet that standard.
 
Because these are serious, if somewhat obscure, accusations, I replied on the same day:
 
You write saying that I have posted a number of messages in “an online email server group criticising the development of IMAS” and that “As a member of the IMAS Review Board, there is an expectation that views and opinions will be expressed in a constructive manner that is sensitive to the international environment in which we work and does not prejudice any group on racial, ethnic, gender, religious or other grounds.”
I would remind you that I am the longest serving member of the IMAS Review Board and the individual who has contributed most to revisions over the years. I am also (as far as I know) the only unpaid member. So my commitment to the IMAS and their improvement has been demonstrated over more than ten years – and I am outspoken in support of the need for IMAS because I believe that there is an ongoing need for them. I was invited to remain a Review Board member a year ago, so at that point I presume that I had failed to “offend”.
 
You do not mention the online email server group in question. If it is not the “Googlegroup” Humanitarian Demining forum (which I established) that is affectionately known as IGEOD – the posts in question were not sent by me. I have not posted to any other online groups for some time. If it is the humanitarian demining forum IGEOD, I do not know which posts you mean. I have looked over past posts and can find none that did not have a constructive intent – and none that are insensitive “to the international environment in which we work” or which “prejudice any group on racial, ethnic, gender, religious or other grounds”. I have certainly never posted any message that is “openly offensive on religious grounds”.
 
As an “independent”, it has sometimes fallen to me to say things on behalf of those who cannot speak freely. Acting responsibly, I have always declined to post the messages of others unless they have a clear positive objective. That positive aim may not have always been obvious in some of my own messages – but the outcome has generally been positive (depending on your perspective, of course). I have also posted messages from the press (with sources clearly indicated) that may be of interest to the group’s membership. I have not censored these, of course.
 
Please indicate which IGEOD posts have offended and I will review them. If I find that you are in any way correct, or there is an ambiguity that could lead to anyone taking religious offence with anything written by me, I will send an apology to the Steering Group and also post a public apology.
Five weeks have gone by and I have received no response.
 
Having been formally accused of serious professional misconduct by the Steering Group, I now face the added insult of having received no explanation of the nature of my offence, and no retraction. If this was meant to be a joke - it should not have been sent on UNMAS paper and with Justin's signature block. Even then, I might still have asked what was intended to be funny about it?
 
If I do not receive either a detailed explanation of my offence, or a formal retraction of the letter of censure within the next few days, I am afraid that I can have no confidence in the professionalism of the leadership of the IMAS Steering Group. That being so I would be unwilling to attend the meeting chaired by the Steering Group in Copenhagen (end of October). I am aware that my attendance is not critical, and am grateful for the assistance with costs you have offered. Hopefully this message will allow you to speak with the Steering Group and cancel reservations made for me if that is thought appropriate. Please let me know as soon as possible so that I can adjust my diary.
 
With regards as ever,
Andy


 
----- Original Message -----
From: Justin Brady
To: Andy Smith
Cc: Paktian Faiz ; Paul Heslop ; " timothy.horner@undp.org, jgrayson@unicef.org, Husy Stephan <s.husy"@node004-ptc.un.org
Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 2:57 PM
Subject: Re: Letter of censure from the IMAS Steering Group

Dear Andy,

The message my letter referred to contained the following header information:

From: demining@googlegroups.com [mailto:demining@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of Andy Smith
Sent:
10. mai 2011 11:16
To:
demining@googlegroups.com
Subject:
IGEOD: Mafia Assisted Demining - a MAD state of affairs

As you established the group, I'm sure you can retrieve the message.  That message, as well as another shortly thereafter, contained language that was offensive to people of the Islamic faith and one could read that it was personally offensive to Faiz.  

I trust this clarifies the issue.

Regards,
Justin
_._._._._._._._._._._._._._._
Justin Brady
Acting Director
UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS)

----- Original Message -----
From: Andy Smith
To: Justin Brady ; Paktian Faiz ; Judy Grayson ; s.husy@node004-ptc.un.org ; timothy.horner@undp.org
Cc: Paul Heslop
Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 5:12 PM
Subject: Re: Letter of censure from the IMAS Steering Group

Dear Justin,
 
Thank you for the belated explanation. If anyone else needs it, I have reproduced the message [beneath these exchanges]. The Humanitarian Demining forum (IGEOD) is a googlegroup with a couple of hundred members - all vetted - but yes, the messages could be forwarded to others, just as this could be. The message was posted on May 11 - several months before the Steering Committee letter was written, so I hope that I can be forgiven if a connection was not obvious.
 
The problem is clearly the use of "GiHAD" and "Mullahs".
 
First, if Faiz was genuinely offended by that - then I am deeply sorry and very surprised that he did not tell me himself. We have known each other since long before his involvement with the IMAS and I count Faiz as a friend - but at a distance because he works for GICHD and GICHD have an apparent problem with my independent honesty. Faiz and I have worked together on many IMAS revisions and I truly believed that he would feel free to point out any offence himself. I shall talk to him and apologise if I have offended at the first opportunity.
 
Now let's see whether a religious offence was reasonable for you to presume....
 
The use of GiHAD for GICHD was started by Hendrik Ehlers in 2003 (on the old MgM demining forum). The choice of an acronym with five consonants that cannot be pronounced as a word is part of the reason. The nickname can be said in two syllables and so is "easier". The word is not JIHAD, but clearly is a pun relating to it. It referred to "Self appointed wisemen", I was told, and that seemed to fit when GICHD staff became specialists simply by being appointed as specialists. Whatever, I have habitually referred to GICHD as the GiHAD since 2003 and this has never offended before - and was not mentioned when I was invited to remain on the IMAS RB last year.
 
My understanding from the Islamic dictionary is that in Arabic, the word JIHAD literally means "An effort, or a striving."

The Oxford dictionary adds "spiritual struggle within oneself against sin" and gives the origin as "from Arabic jihad, literally 'effort', expressing, in Muslim thought, struggle on behalf of God and Islam".

So - the word means "people striving to make the world a better place". Hardly an insult. And GiHAD has a very different spelling.
 
GICHD will always be the GiHAD to me - even if I were working with them (and I have in the past - conducting the field parts of the Manual Demining Study for cost, for example). It is an affectionate nickname, with no offensive religious over- or under-tones intended.
 
The use of the word "Mullah" may be potentially more offensive. Look at the dictionaries and a "mullah" is one learned in theology and law (OED full version). I will accept that common use in the West would mean "religious leader" - but would not apply to a particular branch of the "Moslem" faith. The word is a little like "priest", and so not linked to a single creed. I wonder, if the word "mullah" were replaced with the word "priest" would it have offended anyone on religious grounds? In any case, "learned men, learned in religion and law": - that may not be a very accurate way to describe those at GICHD, but it is not offensive.
 
I suspect that the offence was actually to criticise GICHD. This was deliberate. GICHD not only opposed a necessary revision to the IMAS, it also conspired with UNMAS to devalue the work I have been doing for years on the Database of Demining Accidents.
 
As you know, I have not been consulted over the new database of accidents that you have asked GICHD to produce - and I oppose any database that does not include the accidents investigations so that the activity at the time of the accident is on record. GICHD going ahead with its RAPID IMSMA tick-box summary database is just the kind of shallow record that I oppose - and as the one who has devoted more than 12 years to keeping the HMA accident record (and used it to inform several IMAS revisions) I do have the right to express that opinion.
 
....In the rest of the message I tell friends who know how long I have been trying to get the IMAS on machines revised - with no success- that the revision has finally happened.... GICHD drafted the original mechanical IMAS and it was a joke to many in the field - that is a criticism of GICHD, not of UNMAS or IMAS. At GICHD, Havard always opposed change and Erik Tolefsen became quite heated about keeping the old wording on more than one occasion - they were the two "mullahs". This made the ex-RB chair feel that it was too hot a potato to put to the RB, so I suggested redraft after redraft. Asking for field input has previously been required as part of the RB members' responsibilities - and to me, asking for input means exchanging views (which is what IGEOD is for).
 
Telling friends that the IMAS are improved is not criticising it - it is showing that the RB is doing its job - so I make no apology for that. It was necessary to make people look at the revision and realise that change had occurred.
 
The IMAS Review Board has done a slow but very worthwhile job in making the IMAS useful and accepted in the field. It has done this without the advantages of a Steering Committee, although it should technically have had one from the start. For the Steering Committee to start by formally censuring active Review Board members (with no prior contact to informally discuss a perceived "problem") is poor person-management and is simply wrong. If I were employed by UNMAS or GICHD, I would be constrained by contractual limits in expressing my views, but as an independent I have no such constraints and cannot accept that the Steering Committee has any right to impose them. I am a responsible professional with many years experience - and have amassed a huge amount of information about our industry. I do not criticise without having a clear advantage to HMA in mind. Alerting GICHD to its failings is valid, and may have a positive outcome.
 
While I will do all that is in my power to ensure that Faiz accepts an apology if he was offended, I can offer no public apology for my "offence". Members of the forum responded, most privately - including Tim (UNMAS in Sudan) - which is what was wanted. So I offer my resignation from the IMAS Review Board instead. Please accept my resignation or formally retract the letter of censure.
 
With regards,
Andy
 
 
 
----- Original Message -----
From: Justin Brady
To: Andy Smith
Cc: Paktian Faiz ; Paul Heslop ; Judy Grayson ; timothy.horner@undp.org ; Husy Stephan
Sent: Thursday, October 20, 2011 6:12 PM
Subject: Re: Letter of censure from the IMAS Steering Group

Dear Andy,

Your resignation is accepted.

We would like to thank you for the positive contributions you have made to the work of the Review Board over the years.

Regards,
Justin


Justin Brady | Acting Director | United Nations Mine Action Service | Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions | Department of Peacekeeping Operations | 380 Madison Avenue, New York, USA | Tel: +1 212 963 3344 | Fax: 1 212 963 2498 | Skype: jessebrady | www.mineaction.org
 
----- Original Message -----
From: Andy Smith
To: Justin Brady
Cc: Paktian Faiz ; Paul Heslop ; Judy Grayson ; timothy.horner@undp.org ; Husy Stephan
Sent: Thursday, October 20, 2011 7:44 PM
Subject: Re: Letter of censure from the IMAS Steering Group

Dear Justin,
 
As you may know, I have had an exchange with Faiz in which I find that he was not offended by my IGEOD posting and that his respect and friendship remain intact.
 
You inferred an offence that had not occurred and issued a letter of censure that was not justified. This was an abuse of your power as "acting director of UNMAS" and of your role in the IMAS Steering Committee. Ironically, if I were a UN employee I could make a formal complaint about your actions, but as an outsider I cannot. Rather than admit error and retract your letter you have chosen to accept my resignation from the Review Board. To me, this indicates that you lack the mature judgment required for either post and so I can have no confidence in your leadership.
 
I signed up to work for "International" Mine Action Action Standards - not the UNMAS Mine Action Standards (which you may remember failed so comprehensively when issued in March 1997). I will continue to support a need for practical International Mine Action Standards, but not UNMAS and GICHD dominated standards that do not reflect the industry's genuinely international needs.
 
Had I attended the Steering Group and IMAS Review Board meeting in Copenhagen later this month, I would have argued against the suggestion that we rebrand and rewrite IMAS to cover all ERW rather than just mines. While I recognise that it would keep desk-people busy for a long time, I have no confidence that the outcome would be of any value in the field because there is no evidence of a need in the detailed accident record that I keep. I do hope that someone else will make that argument on my behalf.
 
With regards,
Andy
  
ORIGINAL MESSAGE TO HUMANITARIAN DEMINING FORUM
 
----- Original Message -----
From: Andy Smith
To: demining@googlegroups.com
Sent: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 10:15 AM
Subject: IGEOD: Mafia Assisted Demining - a MAD state of affairs

 

Dear Hendrik,
 
I remember, some 15 years ago, how you pioneered the Mechanically Assisted Mine-Clearance concept - MAM. You knew that machines alone could not clear the ground, but recognised that they could still enhance manual work significantly. HALO had also recognised this obvious fact and were converting machinery to assist demining, but the UN were slow to catch on.
 
Then the GiHAD was formed in the mountains and they could see the use of machines. They decided that the Ehlers acronym MAM was undesirable because machines should be able to do the entire job. Inviting an "interest-group" to draft the mechanical IMAS, they used the term Mechanical Demining. They also introduced the unacceptable term "Mechanical clearance" - a term that contradicted the definition of clearance in IMAS 09.10 Clearance requirements. My objections to that were ignored at the time, and were a lone voice - this because you had already left the IMAS board on a point of principle.
 
IMAS 09.10 defines clearance as:

Land shall be accepted as 'cleared' when the demining organisation has ensured the removal and/or destruction of all mine and ERW hazards, including unexploded sub-munitions, from the specified area to the specified depth.
I argued that, because no existing machine on its own can do this, the use of the term “Clearance machine” is inappropriate and potentially misleading. Machines can detonate some devices and some (especially detectors and sifters) may locate all devices, but in that case the "clearance" follows detection and is manual. It was suggested by two GiHAD mullahs that this difference is “semantic” and it is – but only in so far as all language based communication is semantic. The IMAS should try to be precise and internally consistent.
 
Their "interest group" of people who had invested in machines was deaf, but we all know that without a man (or woman) in the loop, no machine can clear any ground to IMAS. They all leave pin-pull mines and common ordnance behind, and in my experience, always leave some damaged pressure-operated mines behind as well (sometimes pushed deep; sometimes thrown outside the original mined area). I have many photographs of mines found behind the MineWolf, ArmTrak, etc.
 
It took more than four years of persuading but IMAS 09:50 Mechanical Demining has finally been revised. See http://www.mineactionstandards.org/fileadmin/user_upload/MAS/documents/imas-international-standards/english/series-09/IMAS-09-50-Ed1-Am1.pdf. The eventual revisions have been made quickly under the new IMAS RB chairman, but it may be no surprise that GICHD opposed the revision. 
 
The new IMAS 09:50 no longer makes reference to "clearance machines". On the follow-up needed behind machines, it now states:
When demining machines are used in clearance operations to detonate devices and the machine may leave hazards within the agreed clearance depth, follow-up demining operations shall be carried out before the area is released as cleared.
When demining machines are used for ground preparation in a Defined Hazardous Area (DHA) that will be released as cleared, they shall always be followed-up by other demining operations.
Unfortunately, it is not only the GiHAD that has interpreted the IMAS in favour of machine manufacturers. Some UN programmes have also failed to understand how central the definition of "clearance" is to Humanitarian Mine Action. For example, the Asset Decision Making Tool released by UNMAO Sudan allows for a single pass of a MineWolf 370 with tiller attachment to be classed as "clearance" in an area where there were believed to be AP mines. This represents a gross reduction in standards that has been led by a UN office. It can be argued that risk-reduction rather than risk elimination is the aim and if the NMAA are happy with this, we should not complain. I would agree, as long as they did not call the result "clearance" in a UN programme. In a competitive environment, those engaged in genuine "clearance" cannot bid for tasks on a level playing field when competing with a result that is allowed not to equal "clearance" as defined in IMAS.
 
The Land Release IMAS formalise what intelligent NGO operators have always done - narrow down the search area and only clear where there are mines. Contrary to what some say, it was not the GiHAD that produced those IMAS - it was HALO and others on the IMAS Board who gave their time to make them realistic and relatively coherent. Land without evidence of contamination SHOULD be released without clearance. And perhaps the passage of a machine can give confidence that there is no need to clear? Where it does, that's fine, as long as that land is not released as "cleared". If it is released as "cleared", it puts the demining group at risk of legal liability, misleads the end-users and puts deminers at risk.
 
Who cares what I think? UNMAO Sudan currently has five Requests For Proposals (RFPs) out. They require those bidding to have access to multi-million dollar mechanical assets made in Europe and RSA. That looks to me like a rigged RFP written so that only a few players could respond. Responsible NGOs who could deliver real clearance cannot bid. The players who can respond belong to the same Mechanical Mafia that I have encountered wherever demining is seen as a route to fat profits. And the worst part is not that the UN have reduced standards to give these mercenaries their profits, which they clearly have. It is that most of the donor money that is meant to go into HMA to support the peace-building process by providing security and stimulating the economy is going out of Sudan as fast as it goes in. No security results, little money enters the national economy, no effort is made to use methods that may be transferred to national control, and the IMAS definition of clearance - which UNMAS are responsible for - is ignored. How can it be that UNMAS and UNOPS are running the Sudan programme?
 
I do not believe that UNMAO Sudan's obsession with machines is necessarily corrupt or evil. I believe it has occurred because of gross ignorance and an obsession with producing meaningless square metre statistics. Whatever the cause, it undermines all that we have worked for in HMA for the past 15 years, undermines the foundation of the IMAS (which was to present a level playing field for all those operating in HMA) and shows a shameful ignorance of the integrated security and peace-building aims of Humanitarian Mine Action as known to most operators with field experience and half a brain. In the early days of IMAS the commercials were on board when we dropped the unworkable 99.6% clearance requirement. They wanted everyone to have to clear all mines and ERW to an agreed depth. But now the commercials are multi-nationals and seem prepared to compromise integrity for an easy profit - especially when the idea has the sanction of the UN. I have reliable reports from Sudan of the UNMAO sanctioning the use of flails without hammers (to save on hammers) and of mechanical follow-up with large-loop detectors in areas with minimum-metal mines, etc. They do seem to be entirely incompetent, at best.
 
It seems to me that the mafia dominated by the GiHAD is growing because UNMAS is stuck for cash and is increasingly obliged to rely on the mullahs in the mountains to take its role. But the GiHAD have always appointed "safe-buddy" "specialists" with limited knowledge of their specialist area - and they become the expert in that field overnight, usually without any clear overview of HMA, its goals and history. HMA has always been simple. We do not need "specialists" that do not have an overview in which to place their specialism. But the GiHAD has successfully specialised in creating jobs for itself and friends, complicating a demining process that must be kept simple if it is really going to be given into the hands of those affected in national programmes. Thanks to them (and to ignorant people drafting UN contracts) you now have to pay their mates for unnecessary EOD training even if you have been practicing for years, and you have to buy their mates' machines that you know will not clear land in order to bid for UN contracts in Sudan. (The EOD training by Westerners really is not proven necessary - just look at the accident record to see how many Western trained EOD ex-pats die doing daft EOD things: a much higher proportion than among the cautious nationals.)     
 
The original mechanical IMAS expressed optimism about the clearance capacity of machines - and the current revision has maintained this. Recognising that the mechanical lobby is strong, I can go along with that (all revisions are compromises when you need a consensus). However, I want to stress that we do not need to give the demining machine manufacturers any other advantage to encourage their best efforts. In the past ten years of "product refinement" they have got no closer to achieving "clearance" than they were at the start. They have NOT done well enough to justify a global reduction in standards to fit their inability to deliver.
 
What say you Hendrik? You were the first to champion Mechanically Assisted Demining and vocal in resisting the use of expensive "Clearance" machines that could not clear the ground. Have you got the energy to fight the fight publicly again? Or is it time for us all - especially donors - to abandon the hope of UNMAS leadership in HMA? Give the funding direct to the NGOs you trust, perhaps? Much as it was before the self appointed mullahs in the mountains started passing down edicts designed to give them jobs. If their cash went to clearance, how much more work could be done?
 
With regards,
Andy