Americans Targeted in South Sudan, a Country That Gets $1.5B in American Humanitarian Aid

Posted: 3:36 am ET

 

The AP report says that “the attack on the Terrain hotel compound in Juba last month shows the hostility toward foreigners and aid workers by troops under the command of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, who has been fighting supporters of rebel leader Riek Machar since civil war erupted in December 2013.”  (See How the World’s Youngest Nation Descended Into Bloody Civil War).  The State Department’s official spox declined to say whether Americans were targeted but the Daily Beast piece includes the beating of an American “with belts and rifle butts for about an hour, accusing him of hiding rebels. “You tell your embassy how we treated you,” one soldier told him as he fled to a nearby UN compound.”  During the attack on the Terrain, several survivors also told the AP that soldiers specifically asked if they were Americans.

The attack on the Terrain compound occurred on July 11.  On July 17, the Special Envoy to South Sudan tweeted that the U.S. is not going to take “offensive action” against South Sudan.

On August 15, over a month after this horrific incident, USUN Ambassador Samantha Power released a statement that the United States is “outraged of the assaults and rapes of civilians … last month.” The US Embassy in Juba received distressed calls, so officials knew this happened before it became  front page news. Still, it took the US over a month to publicly acknowledge this outrage.

A brief backgrounder here — South Sudan gained independence on July 9, 2011, after being at war with Sudan for nearly 40 of the past 57 years. USCG Juba became the US Embassy at the same time.  In early 2013, State/OIG conducted an inspection of the USG’s newest embassy in the world.  One of the OIG’s key findings at that time is the Department inability to staff Embassy Juba adequately, “preventing the embassy from functioning as effectively as it should.”  The embassy operates out of a small chancery deemed too small to accommodate additional staff and the new embassy is not scheduled for construction until 2018. The report warns that the current facility puts embassy employees at risk. The inability to add more staff also leaves assistance programs vulnerable to failure or misuse of funds. The report indicates that the Department has decided to keep the mission with its current footprint until construction of a new embassy, which won’t happen until 2018. It will be a number of years, however, until the new embassy is ready. The OIG concludes that personnel and the integrity of our programs will remain at risk.  (see US Embassy Juba: Dear Congress, This Facility Puts Employees “At Risk” But Hey, Waivers) and US Embassy Juba: An All-in-One Consular Officer on First Rodeo Works Out of a Storage Closet.

The US Embassy in Juba has a small U.S. force guarding it but its ability to function as an embassy is only possible with the protection of the host country.  With South Sudan government troops targeting Americans, how is it that the US Embassy in Juba is still open?

Below is an excerpt from the Daily Press Briefing with the spox addressing what Embassy Juba did during and following the attack. It also show the limits of what the US Government can do despite being the largest donor in South Sudan.

Via DPB on August 15, 2016:

MS TRUDEAU: Yes. And I’m glad for this. Please.

QUESTION: There was a fairly disturbing account put out today of the July 11th attack on the Terrain hotel compound. And as part of it, survivors are saying that they waited for hours after calling for help from the U.S. embassy as well as other embassies in the area, with no one responding. Do you dispute that, and do you have any timeline that you can share with us about what occurred during the time of the assault?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So I think we’ve all seen those horrific reports. I want to say at the top that privacy considerations will prevent me from talking about any specific part of this in detail. But as I go through this, I do not in any way want to minimize in any way, shape, or form what people might have gone through during that crisis in South Sudan.

So in terms of the timeline: In the midst of the ongoing fighting throughout the city between government and opposition forces, Embassy Juba actively responded to the July 11 assault on a private compound hosting U.S. citizens, among others. Upon learning about the attacks at Terrain camp, Ambassador Phee immediately – herself – immediately contacted South Sudanese government officials, including officials in the presidential guard and National Security Service. National Security Service sent a response force to the site and put a stop to the attack. Presidential guard forces also went to the scene, but they arrived after the National Security Service.

Following the attack and in the midst of ongoing fighting and violence throughout Juba, including in the immediate vicinity of the embassy, the U.S. embassy ensured that U.S. citizens and foreign nationals affected by the attack were moved to safety and provided emergency medical assistance. The U.S. embassy also facilitated the rapid departure of those involved from South Sudan by air ambulance.

As part of its response to the crisis in South Sudan, the U.S. embassy provided emergency services for those in need and assisted in the departure of more than 80 U.S. citizens during last month’s crisis.

We’ve stated we condemn these attacks. We have called for accountability for those who are involved in the violence.

Anything more on South Sudan?

QUESTION: So you can’t confirm that Americans were singled out and were specifically assaulted due to the fact that they were American in the course of the assault?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not in a position to say that any particular nationality was singled out.

QUESTION: And as part of the report, it suggests that it was South Sudanese soldiers who were in fact committing this assault. So how was the U.S. embassy – how could they be assured that the people that they were calling were the ones who were actually going to help rather than contributing to the ongoing —

MS TRUDEAU: So what I can say is that the attackers in this incident wore uniforms and they were armed. There were both opposition and government troops in Juba at that time. Armed clashes were occurring throughout the city. The area where Terrain is located was controlled by the SPLA on July 10th and 11th.

Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted – you said that the – in the midst of the ongoing attack at Terrain, you said Embassy Juba actively responded.

MS TRUDEAU: We did.

QUESTION: So the active response, though, as far as I can tell from what you said, was that the ambassador made a phone call. Is that —

MS TRUDEAU: The ambassador made several phone calls.

QUESTION: Several phone calls?

MS TRUDEAU: When we were assured that people would go out and bring people in, then we actively ensured that those people were safe. So yeah.

QUESTION: But in the midst of – while it was going – I understand what —

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: — you’re saying after it was over what you did, but during it, was there —

MS TRUDEAU: When we received reports, we called the people who are best poised to go out and make it stop, which was the National Security Services as well as the presidential guard.

QUESTION: But – yeah, I understand that, but I mean – but was it just the ambassador or did other people – did other staffers do anything? I mean, I’m just trying to get an idea of what the active response was.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, in terms of sequence, it was – it was reaching out to the government officials who were in a position at that place to intervene.

QUESTION: So I think that the point that at least the survivors of this or some of the survivors of the attack is, is there wasn’t any kind – any attempt to intervene. Is that not appropriate or —

MS TRUDEAU: I – it’s – again, there was an immediate response from the U.S. embassy to identify and dispatch the people who could intervene immediately in the attack.

QUESTION: Right. But the embassy itself was not in a position to do anything?

MS TRUDEAU: Was not in a position to do that.

 

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US Mission Russia Issues Alert on Confirmed Anthrax Cases in Siberia

Posted:1:23 am ET

Last week, the US Embassy in Moscow issued a message alerting U.S. citizens of confirmed anthrax cases in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District:

U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District should be aware of reported cases of anthrax affecting humans and animals in the region.

As of August 3, local media sources report 20 confirmed cases of anthrax in humans, resulting in the death of one child.  In total, more than 70 people have been hospitalized.  Between 1,500 and 2,300 animals have died or been killed in conjunction with efforts to combat spread of the disease.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anthrax is spread by ingesting spores in the air, food, and drink, and is not transmitted by direct human-to-human contact.

Local media outlets report that the governor has declared a quarantine in the district, and the area immediately surrounding the site of the outbreak has been evacuated.  Authorities have also banned the export of animals, furs, antlers, or meat, as well as mushrooms and berries, from the affected area.  At this time, there have been no reports of the disease in neighboring regions.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to avoid travel to affected areas.  U.S. citizens in or transiting through the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District should exercise caution, comply with local authorities’ instructions on quarantined areas, and follow local media for the latest information.  Any U.S. citizens who believe they may have been exposed to infected animals or animal products should seek medical attention.

The Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District is under the consular district of USCG Yekaterinburg.

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US Embassy Addis Ababa Restricts Personal Travel of USG Personnel in Ethiopia

Posted:12:09 am ET

On August 9, the US Embassy in Ethiopia issued an emergency message informing U.S. citizens in the country of the restrictions on personal travel by USG personnel:

The U.S. Embassy wishes to inform U.S. citizens that protests in Ethiopia have resulted in violent clashes between demonstrators and government security forces.  As such, Embassy personnel have been restricted from personal travel to areas in the Amhara and Oromia region states.  Restrictions of future travel by Embassy personnel are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

While U.S. citizens have not been specifically targeted in the demonstrations, the unpredictability of protests presents significant risks for travelers to the affected regions.  Everyone should increase their level of situational awareness, continuously assess their surroundings, and evaluate their personal level of safety and avoid demonstrations or large gatherings.

Also on Addis Ababa:

 

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@StateDept Restricts Travel of USG Personnel/Family Members in Saudi Arabia, Issues New Travel Warning

Posted: 3:29 am ET

The State Department issued a new Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia on July 27. It cites continuing security threats in the country including a “high potential” for spill over violence from Yemen. The new warning also notes the travel restrictions for USG personnel and family members in the country. Excerpt:

The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens carefully consider the risks of travel to Saudi Arabia due to continuing ISIL (Da’esh) directed or inspired attacks across the Kingdom. Furthermore, continuing violence in neighboring countries such as Yemen has a high potential to spill over into Saudi Arabia. This replaces the Travel Warning issued April 11, 2016.

Security threats continue. Terrorist groups, some affiliated with ISIL or Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have targeted both Saudi and Western interests, including the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, mosques and significant religious sites (both Sunni and Shia), and places where members of the Shia-Muslim minority gather. Possible targets include mosques, pilgrimage locations, and Saudi government facilities, as well as housing compounds, hotels, restaurants, shopping areas, international schools, Western consulates and embassies, and other facilities where Westerners congregate.

sa-map

Over the past year, there have been multiple attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia, some resulting in significant loss of life. On July 4, 2016 suicide bombers launched attacks near:

  • U.S. Consulate General Jeddah
  • the Prophet’s Mosque (also known as Al-Masjid an-Nabawi) in Medina
  • a mosque in Qatif

On February 8, 2016, ISIL claimed responsibility for an explosion targeting a Saudi citizen in the Al-Azizia district of Riyadh. Media reports indicate that Saudi authorities thwarted plans to attack the Al-Janadriah festival in Riyadh, which took place in February 2016. In January 2016 a Shia mosque in Al-Ahsa in Eastern Province was attacked, as was a Shia mosque in Najran in October 2015. On October 16, 2015, a mass shooting took place at a gathering in Saihat. On August 6, 2015, a mosque in the city of Abha was bombed.  Most of the victims in that attack were members of the Saudi security forces.

U.S. government personnel and their families are restricted from travel in the following areas:

  • within 50 miles of the Yemeni border
  • the city of Jizan
  • the city of Najran
  • Qatif in the Eastern Province and its suburbs, including Awamiyah
  • Hofuf and its suburbs in the Al Hasa Governorate

Read in full here.

 

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Yemen Non-Evacuation: Court Refuses to Second-Guess Discretionary Foreign Policy Decisions

Posted: 4:38 am ET

The State Department’s Yemen Crisis page notes that due to deteriorating situation, it suspended embassy operations on February 11, 2015, and U.S. Embassy Sana’a American staff were relocated out of the country.  “All consular services, routine and emergency, continue to be suspended until further notice. The Department notified the public of this move, and its impact on consular services, and urged U.S. citizens in Yemen to depart while commercial transportation was available.”

The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa went on mandatory evacuation in May 2011 (see US Embassy Yemen Now on Ordered Departure), and again in August 2013 (see US Embassy Yemen Now on Ordered Departure) and November 2014 (see US Embassy Yemen on Ordered Departure Once Again). In July 2014, the State Department issued a Travel Warning, see New Travel Warning for Yemen — Don’t Come; If In Country, Leave! But Some Can’t Leave).

See our other posts:

The case below was filed on April 9, 2015 by a Nora Ali Mobarez, a United States citizen residing in Yemen.  She was joined by “25 other people, all of whom are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with Yemeni connections” in filing a cases against the Secretaries of State and Defense and seeking a court order to “compel Defendants to comply with an alleged duty of the Executive Branch to provide a means of evacuation from Yemen for them or their relatives.”

Excerpt from the Memorandum of Opinion dated May 17, 2016 by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia:

Plaintiff Nora Ali Mobarez, a United States citizen, is currently residing in the war-torn and conflict-ridden Republic of Yemen. (See Compl., ECF No. 2, ¶¶ 4, 55– 59.) Mobarez has joined with 25 other people, all of whom are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with Yemeni connections, to file the instant official-capacity complaint against the Secretary of the Department of State (“State”) and the Secretary of the Department of Defense (“DOD” and, collectively, “Defendants”). These plaintiffs seek a court order to compel Defendants to comply with an alleged duty of the Executive Branch to provide a means of evacuation from Yemen for them or their relatives. (See id. ¶¶ 3–24, 29–77.) Specifically, their complaint asserts that the United States has closed its embassy in Sana’a, Yemen, has evacuated embassy staff, and has removed Marines from the country, but that the U.S. government has yet to execute any plan to secure the safe removal of private American citizens. (See id. ¶¶ 34–36, 77.) According to Plaintiffs, Defendants’ forbearance violates the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701–06, insofar as Defendants “have failed to provide through direct military assistance or contracting with commercial entities the necessary equipment, ships, airplanes, and other items that are available to Defendants to [e]nsure the security, safety, and well-being of United States citizens[,]” and have therefore “unlawfully withheld and/or unreasonably delayed agency action to which the Plaintiffs are entitled” and/or “have taken action that is arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with law[.]” (Id. ¶ 81.)

Before this Court at present is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the instant complaint. (See Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs.’ Mot.”), ECF No. 8.) Defendants contend that Plaintiffs are wrong about the existence of any duty to evacuate them. (See Defs.’ Reply in Supp. of Defs.’ Mot. (“Reply”), ECF No. 12, at 6–8.)1 Furthermore, as a threshold matter, Defendants insist that legal claims such as the ones Plaintiffs bring here require the judiciary to second-guess the discretionary foreign- policy decisions of the Executive Branch, and thus, are nonjusticiable under the political-question doctrine. (See Defs.’ Mem. in Supp. of Defs.’ Mot. (“Defs.’ Mem.”), ECF No. 8-1, at 12–14.)

On March 31, 2016, this Court issued an order GRANTING Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ complaint. (See Order, ECF No. 13.) The instant Memorandum Opinion explains the Court’s reasons for that order. In short, the Court agrees with Defendants’ justiciability argument, and has therefore concluded that it lacks jurisdiction to entertain Plaintiffs’ complaint.
[…]
Plaintiffs have asked this Court, in no uncertain terms, to issue an order that compels the Executive Branch to conduct an evacuation of American citizens in Yemen. Not surprisingly, Defendants insist that any such order would impermissibly encroach upon the discretion that the Constitution affords to the political branches to conduct foreign affairs; therefore, prior to considering Defendants’ contention that Plaintiffs’ complaint fails to state a claim under the APA, this Court must first determine whether or not it has the authority to traverse the thicket of thorny foreign-policy issues that encompasses Plaintiffs’ allegations. Precedent in this area makes it crystal clear that federal courts cannot answer “political questions” that are presented to them in the guise of legal issues, see infra Part III.A., but identifying which claims qualify as nonjusticiable political questions—and which do not—can sometimes be a substantially less lucid endeavor. Not so here: as explained below, after considering the parties’ arguments and the applicable law regarding the boundaries of the political-question doctrine, this Court is confident that Plaintiffs’ claims fit well within the scope of the nonjusticiability principles that the Supreme Court and D.C. Circuit have long articulated. Accordingly, in its Order of March 31, 2016, the Court granted Defendants’ motion and dismissed Plaintiffs’ case.
[…]
It cannot be seriously disputed that “decision-making in the fields of foreign policy and national security is textually committed to the political branches of government.” Schneider, 412 F.3d at 194; see also id. at 194–95 (collecting the various explicit “[d]irect allocation[s]” in the Constitution of those responsibilities to the legislative and executive branches). And, indeed, Plaintiffs seek to have this Court question the Executive Branch’s discretionary decision to refrain from using military force to implement an evacuation under the circumstances described in the complaint, despite the fact that, per the Constitution, it is the President who, as head of the Executive Branch and “Commander in Chief[,]” U.S. Const. Art. II, § 2, decides whether and when to deploy military forces, not this Court. See El-Shifa, 607 F.3d at 842 (explaining that a claim “requiring [the court] to decide whether taking military action was wise” is a nonjusticiable “policy choice[] and value determination[]” (second and third alterations in original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).

Plaintiffs’ suggestion that the court-ordered remedy they seek could very well stop short of a direct mandate for military intervention (see Pls.’ Opp’n at 15 (asserting that “[t]his Court can order Defendants to [effectuate the evacuation] by simply directing the evacuation to happen and leaving it to Defendants to determine the means”)) makes no difference, as far as the political-question doctrine is concerned. Regardless, the clear basis for the complaint’s assertion that Plaintiffs are entitled to any relief at all is the contention that the Executive Branch has abused its discretion— in APA terms—in refusing to evacuate U.S. citizens from Yemen thus far (see, e.g., Compl. ¶ 81), and the Court’s evaluation of that contention would necessarily involve second-guessing the “wisdom” of these agencies’ discretionary determinations.
[…]
[T]he “strategic choices directing the nation’s foreign affairs are constitutionally committed to the political branches[,]” and once it becomes clear that a plaintiff wishes the courts to “reconsider the wisdom of discretionary foreign policy decisions[,]” the judicial inquiry must end.

Read the Memorandum of Opinion here (PDF) or read below:

 

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U.S. Embassy Juba: 47 Troops Ordered to South Sudan, 130 Pre-Positioned in Djibouti

Posted: 2:19 am PT

 

On July 13, President Obama informed Congress of the deployment of U.S. Armed Forces personnel to the U.S. Embassy in Juba, South Sudan.

In response to the deteriorating security situation in South Sudan, I have ordered the deployment of additional U.S. Armed Forces personnel to South Sudan to support the security of U.S. personnel, and our Embassy in Juba. The first of these additional personnel, approximately 47 individuals, arrived in South Sudan on July 12, 2016, supported by military aircraft. Although equipped for combat, these additional personnel are deployed for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property. These deployed personnel will remain in South Sudan until the security situation becomes such that their presence is no longer needed. Additional U.S. Armed Forces, including approximately 130 military personnel currently pre-positioned in Djibouti, are prepared to provide support, as necessary, for the security of U.S. citizens and property, including our Embassy, in South Sudan.

On July 13, Embassy Juba also announced two charter flights that will depart Juba for Entebbe, Uganda on Thursday, July 14. Passengers are expected to make onward travel plans themselves. A security message issued previously notes that “seating is very limited”  and that the mission “cannot guarantee availability.”  Passengers are limited to one piece of luggage (20 kg/45 lbs) each.  Pets are not included in the charter flights.  Passengers who are not documented with a valid U.S. passport “will likely not be considered for boarding.”

 

Germany and the EU have completed the evacuation of its citizens on July 13.  The UK and India are in the process of also evacuating their citizens from South Sudan.

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US Embassy Juba: Two Charter Flights For U.S. Citizens to Depart on July 14

Posted: 1:11 pm ET

The U.S. Embassy in Juba sent an emergency message to U.S. citizens in South Sudan informing them on two charter flights departing from Juba to Entebbe (Uganda) on Thursday, July 14.

Evacuation Flights from Juba Beginning | July 13, 2016

The U.S. Embassy in Juba informs resident American citizens that two charter flights will be departing Juba to Entebbe on July 14. U.S. citizens wishing to depart on the first flight should arrive to the airport at 8:30 a.m. to be processed. U.S citizens wishing to depart on the second flight should arrive no later than 12:30 p.m. to be processed.

The U.S. Embassy will not collect money for this flight; however, all passengers will be required to complete and sign a DS-5528 promissory letter for the fare. The amount of the loan will be the cost of a full fare ticket from Juba to Entebbe (approximately USD250). You must arrange your own transportation to the airport and onward from Juba. Due to ongoing security concerns, please remain vigilant when moving about the city.

Notice to all passengers: (1) Bring a valid travel document (passport); (2) you are restricted to one small carryon; and (3) no pets will be allowed. The Embassy continues to monitor the situation and will update you as appropriate.

Read What the Department of State Can and Can’t Do in a Crisis.

 

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Is there consideration for possible impacts of US travel #security advisories? No? It depends?

Posted: 3:04 am ET

The State Department did a Background Briefing on State Department Communications With U.S. Citizens Overseas on July 7 with a senior agency official.

Below is an excerpt:

OPERATOR: Yes. Next we’ll go to the line of Jackie Northam with NPR. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks very much for doing this. I also have a couple of questions. And one is, is there any sort of consideration – I assume there is – about the economic impact of any of these Travel Warnings or advisories? I mean, tourism, surely, but also any sort of business deals that might be in the works, what sort of impact it’ll have on the host country.

And the other thing is I’m just trying to – I’m curious about why you’re doing this background call. Is – was something precipitated it? Was there just sort of a general, gosh, we should let everybody know, or did something happen that sort of pushed you to make this background call?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, Jackie, great questions. No, we do not consider the economic impact, because again, as I said, just as when we go into a host government and explain that the purpose of our Consular Information Program is to help U.S. citizens living and traveling abroad make good decisions about their activities and their travel plans, we do not take economic considerations into that mix. It’s purely about the security of American citizens. That said, we also work very closely with the Overseas Security Advisory Council – OSAC – which is a public-private partnership headed by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. And so we are able to use OSAC and all of its thousands of members – U.S. companies, academic organizations, NGOs – to help disseminate our Consular Information Program documents and our Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings, our Security and Emergency Messages. And obviously, those companies will take all of that into account; they will work with OSAC on doing risk assessments for their own purposes to help develop security plans and so forth for both their U.S. employees as well as other nationalities who work for the companies.

Why are we doing this now? I think because recently we’ve had so many questions from the press about the differences between Travel Alerts, Travel Warnings. We just felt that it was a good time to try to explain what this is all about.

*

Actually, the policy says it is undertaken without regard to  — not just economic but also political consideration. Per 7 FAM 051.2:

Information provided is based on our best objective assessment of conditions in a given country, as reported by posts as well as other Department bureaus, media, and other foreign and U.S. Government sources. The decision to issue a Travel Alert, Travel Warning, or a Security or Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens for an individual country is based on the overall assessment of the safety/security situation there. By necessity, this analysis must be undertaken without regard to bilateral political or economic considerations. Accordingly, posts must not allow extraneous concerns to color the decision of whether to issue information regarding safety or security conditions in a country, or how that information is to be presented.

The Foreign Affairs Manual also notes what happens when there are disagreements among bureaus:

Disagreements among bureaus over Cou..ntry Specific Information, Travel WarningsTravel Alerts, or Messages are generally resolved by either the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P) or the Under Secretary for Management (M).

So economic or political consideration was not/not the reason why it took a geographic bureau “months” to get the front office in a high threat post to agree to that new travel warning.  It was the typewriter’s fault?  Thank heavens that’s cleared up 😳!

 

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US Embassy Tashkent: OIG Report Plus What’s This About “Fun Community Policing”?

Posted: 3:13 am ET

 

The U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan is a medium size post with a complement of 408 authorized staff which includes foreign national employees, locally hired Americans and 64 direct-hire Americans.  State/OIG released its inspection report of  US Embassy Tashkent last April. Given that the inspection in 2008 was a limited scope review– with focus on major areas of interest rather than examining all the items covered in a traditional inspection — it is surprising that the 2016 report, a traditional inspection conducted after 7 years  is only 4 pages longer than the 2008 report.  There are no discussion about morale (excerpt that bit about nepotism as being bad for morale), or spouse employment (no spouses looking for jobs?), or schools (no dependents go to school there?). What about the embassy Health Unit? Is it good, bad, non-existent?

Summary of Findings:

  • The Ambassador steers the United States-Uzbekistan engagement in constructive ways, including the signing of agreements on counter-narcotics and the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.
  •   Washington end-users uniformly expressed satisfaction with Political/Economic Section reporting that provides the information needed to understand the United States- Uzbekistan relationship.
  •   American and locally employed staff members in Tashkent described the Ambassador’s collaborative style, interest in a variety of views, and openness to suggestions, in keeping with the Department’s leadership principles.
  •   The Consular Section did not comply with non-immigrant visa adjudication review standards, visa referral management and referral procedures, and consular management control requirements.
  •   The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations has not addressed the seismic risk by identifying suitable housing with the lowest possible risk to life safety as required by 15 Foreign Affairs Manual 252.6. The embassy has taken steps to prepare its staff for the aftermath of a major earthquake.
  •   The embassy’s social media outreach is limited by its reliance on English, rather than Russian- and Uzbek- language material.
  •   The reporting and supervisory relationships among the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regional office, its locally employed staff, the Political/Economic Section, and the Front Office are unresolved and contentious.
  •   Innovative Practice: The embassy produced a no-cost and reliable short message service for employees.

The IG report also includes a section labeled “Tashkent Initiative Worthy of Emulation” which is rather underwhelming. Like  —  we have totally not/not seen this set of activities done elsewhere before! Dear OIG inspection team, c’mon folks — really? Where have you been all this time?

Screen Shot 2016-07-06

 

Excerpts:

American and locally employed staff members in Tashkent described the Ambassador’s collaborative style, interest in a variety of views, and openness to suggestions, in keeping with the Department’s leadership principles.
[…]
The Ambassador is aware of her chief of mission responsibilities in accordance with 2 FAM 022.7. She expressed support for internal controls, reminding the staff that fraud and misconduct cannot be tolerated, and reissuing management notices concerning illegal currency exchange and gift acceptance. The embassy has made it clear that action will be taken in accordance with regulations against those who cannot meet ethical standards. In the 14 months prior to the inspection, seven locally employed staff members were dismissed for misconduct or unethical behavior.

Tone at the Top and Standards of Conduct | American and locally employed embassy staff members told OIG of the Ambassador’s collaborative style, interest in diverse views, and openness to suggestions, in keeping with the Department’s leadership principles in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (l) 1214. In mission-wide town hall meetings and other fora, the Ambassador has stressed the five values she wants the Mission to exemplify: gratitude, teamwork, partnership, opportunity, and balance.

Lack of a Representation Plan and Uneven Spending | Embassy Tashkent expended approximately $13,000 of its $21,418 in FY 2015 representational funding in the last 2 weeks of the fiscal year.

Interagency Working Groups Not Active | Embassy interagency working groups met infrequently, if at all, reducing their effectiveness in coordinating U.S. Government programs and policies across agencies. Embassy officers told OIG that informal exchanges of information within the mission were sufficient. Chiefs of Mission are charged under 18 FAM 005.1-6b and 18 FAM 005.1-7f with promoting a culture of interagency problem solving and leveraging a wide range of U.S. Government specialized expertise and assets under common objectives. The Law Enforcement Working Group did not meet during FY 2015. Implementation of end-use monitoring for $49.6 million in armored vehicles was not coordinated among embassy offices that could benefit through their participation.

Relationship between Embassy and CDC Office Needs Improvement | The reporting and supervisory relationships among the CDC regional office at U.S. Consulate General Almaty and Embassy Tashkent’s CDC locally employed staff, Political/Economic Section, and Front Office are unresolved and contentious.

Embassy Does Not Use Record Emails | Embassy Tashkent and the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs exchange daily official- informal emails but never use record emails,as required in 5 FAM 443.2, even when the exchanges contain information that facilitates decision making and document policy formulation and execution. The embassy Front Office and the Political/Economic Section report that the State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset (SMART), which is meant to record and retain record emails, is too cumbersome to use. Only the Consular Section uses record emails when sending reports on child abductions. Failure to use the SMART system hinders the Department’s ability to retain and retrieve records, as required by the Federal Records Act.

Political/Economic File Management Not in Accordance with Department and Federal Regulations | Embassy Tashkent does not enforce Department and Federal regulations on records management. The Political/Economic Section does not maintain centralized files. Officers have individual files based on their own filing systems that are maintained in personal folders. As a result, these files are not accessible to others and are not archived, retired, or readily retrievable if the action officer is absent or transfers.

Social Media Outreach in English, Not in the Languages of the Host Country | The embassy’s social media outreach is hampered by its lack of Russian- and Uzbek-language material and its reliance on English. Russian media is understandably pervasive in Uzbekistan. A 2010 survey conducted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe found that 90 percent of the population spoke Uzbek and 57–70 percent spoke Russian. English is the main compulsory foreign language taught in schools, but only 1 percent of respondents to a survey of students, teachers, professors, and bureaucrats use and read English. However, as of October, 92 percent of embassy tweets and 100 percent of ambassadorial tweets sent in 2015 were in English, as were the majority of Facebook entries. Embassy officials said that a strategic decision had been made in the past to offer the embassy’s Facebook and other social media in English.

Non-Compliance with Consular Management Controls | In five areas, the embassy does not comply with management control requirements for overseas posts, as delineated in 7 FAH-1 H-630-660, “Consular Management Controls.” The FAH requires an Accountable Consular Officer (ACO), a Consular Systems Administrator (CSA), and a back-up for each.

Visa Referral Program Not Compliant with Visa Referral Systems Policy | The embassy did not comply with the visa referral management and referral procedures in the Worldwide Non-Immigrant Visa Referral Policy as described in 9 FAM Appendix K “Visa Referral Systems.” OIG found referral form or data entry errors in 39 (45 percent) of the 86 visa referral cases adjudicated in FY 2015. In 58 cases (67 percent), the case notes did not document properly the validity of the referral or the adjudicating officer’s decision. FAST officers adjudicated a total of 41 referral cases, including 33 cases that should have been adjudicated by the Consular Section Chief. The section’s annual validation study on 2014 referrals was 4 months overdue. These errors occurred because the embassy did not comply with the visa referral management and referral procedures. A non-compliant referral program inhibits the ability to identify individual instances or patterns of fraud or abuse.

Visa Adjudication Reviews are Not Compliant with Standards | The embassy does not comply with the non-immigrant visa adjudication review standards in 9 FAM 41.113 PN17 (Review of Visa Issuances) and 9 FAM 41.121 N2.3-7 (Internal Review of Refusals), which require that reviews be performed on the day of issuance or refusal, or as soon as possible thereafter. OIG examined FY 2015 adjudications through September 20, 2015. The adjudication reviews of visa issuances did not meet the review standards for 73 percent of the 219 work days on which visas were issued and for 76 percent of the 184 work days on which visas were refused. The Regional Consular Officer based in Frankfurt reported to the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the embassy that the Consular Section Chief had not conducted any reviews between December 12, 2014, and May 26, 2015. OIG found that the Consular Section Chief had not conducted any reviews between July 2, 2015, and September 20, 2015. Systematic, regular reviews of non-immigrant visa adjudications are an important management and instructional tool to maintain the highest professional standards of adjudications. Such reviews also ensure uniform and correct application of law and regulations and enhance U.S. border security. Absent such reviews, adjudicator training and uniformity of adjudications can be irregular and border security compromised.

Seismic Studies of Embassy Housing | Embassy personnel occupy eight residences that received seismic hazard rating of “Very Poor” and eight residences that received seismic ratings of “Poor” in a 2012 Bureau of Overseas Operations (OBO) study. Embassy personnel occupy 38 (of a total of 54) residences that have not been evaluated for seismic adequacy, as required by 15 FAM 252.6. Tashkent is located in an active seismic zone. An earthquake almost completely destroyed the city in 1966. The OBO Natural Hazard program categorizes Tashkent as has having a “very high” seismic risk. In accordance with 15 FAM 252.6d, embassies in high-risk seismic areas must address the seismic adequacy of residential units and seek housing that is the best suited for high-risk seismic areas. OBO has not addressed the findings of the 2012 study to reduce the seismic risk of the housing pool.

Read the whole report here: Inspection of Embassy Tashkent, Uzbekistan, March 2016 (PDF).

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A separate but related note, we received the following email in our inbox:

Uzbekistan not only has a politically repressive government but a one with a poor understanding of market economics. Uzbekistan pegs its currency, the soum, to the dollar resulting in a currency black market. While the official exchange rate is 3000 soum to a dollar, in reality it’s closer to 6500 and the gap keeps growing. Local prices of course reflect the black market rate.

The Embassy has decided to not allow American staff to use the exchange rate citing some sort of regulation. Not only that, but after a letter from the host government urging diplomats to use the official exchange rate, the ambassador asked the FMO [financial management officer] to monitor cashier withdrawals of employees to ensure they are not using the black market rate.

Fun community policing! Very Uzbek in style!

Well, there is indeed “some sort of regulation” on this.

According to the FAH, the Chief of Mission has the authority to require all U.S. Government employees to obtain their foreign currency through U.S. Government facilities when the Chief of Mission deems it necessary. Here’s the cite:

4 FAH-3 H-361.3-2  Compliance With Laws and Regulations
(CT:FMP-82;   09-04-2013)

Whenever accommodation exchange services are established, the Chief of Mission or designee takes actions necessary to assure that all accommodation exchange is performed in full compliance with U.S. Government and host government laws and regulations; and that all American Government personnel are familiar with the provisions in 3 FAM 4123 and 22 CFR 1203.735-206, Economic and Financial Activities of Employees Abroad.  The Chief of Mission has the authority to require all U.S. Government employees to obtain their foreign currency through U.S. Government facilities when the Chief of Mission deems it necessary in order to assure full compliance.

See more here.

Note that 3 FAM 4123.1 specifically prohibits a U.S. citizen employee, spouse, or family member from engaging in “transactions at exchange rates differing from local legally available rates, unless such transactions are duly authorized in advance by the Chief of Mission.”

3 FAM 4123.1  Prohibitions in Any Foreign Country
(TL:PER-491;   12-23-2003)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service, Foreign Service National, and Civil Service)

A U.S. citizen employee, spouse, or family member is prohibited from engaging in the following activities while present in any foreign country:

(1)  Speculation in currency exchange;

(2)  Transactions at exchange rates differing from local legally available rates, unless such transactions are duly authorized in advance by the Chief of Mission;

(3)  Sales to unauthorized persons (whether at cost or for profit) of currency acquired at preferential rates through diplomatic or other restricted arrangements;

(4)  Transactions which entail the use of the diplomatic pouch or other official mail without official authorization;

(5)  Transfers of blocked funds in violation of U.S. foreign funds and assets control;

(6)  Independent and unsanctioned private transactions which involve an employee as an individual in violation of applicable currency control regulations of the foreign government; and

(7)  Except as part of official duties, acting as an intermediary in the transfer of private funds from persons in one country to persons in another country, including the United States.

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Related items:

OIG Limited Scope Review – US Embassy Uzbekistan 2008 (PDF)

Inspection of Embassy Tashkent, Uzbekistan, March 2016 (PDF)

 

US Embassy Venezuela: Appointment Wait Time For Visas Now at 999 Days

Posted: 1:41 am ET

Last month, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas announced that it is no longer able to provide new appointments for first-time business or tourist (B-1/B-2) visa applicants due to staff shortages. Apparently, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry has refused for many months to issue visas for Embassy personnel.  So, there you go.  Limited numbers of appointments are available for other temporary visas, and immigrant visas will continue to be processed but Venezuelans interested in visiting or conducting business in the United States will have to review their plans given the length of the wait time to get a visa appointment. Below is an excerpt from the embassy announcement:

If you are applying for a renewal of your valid U.S. visa or are a first-time applicant for any of the petition-based, student, or investor visas (E, F, J, M, H, I, L, O, P, Q, R, T, U), limited numbers of appointments for those visa types will be made available.  Unfortunately, due to limited staff, wait times for these appointments will be much longer than in the past. During this time, we continue to offer appointments for immigrant visa applicants as these cases become ready for interview.

The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry has refused for many months to issue visas for U.S. Embassy personnel, resulting in staff shortages throughout the Embassy and also preventing visits by technicians to maintain, upgrade and repair our consular computer systems.  For many months, we have not had sufficient embassy personnel to handle the existing workload in Venezuela and, despite our best efforts, large backlogs of visa applications have accumulated.  Once the Foreign Ministry resumes issuing visas for U.S. diplomatic personnel, and those staff members are able to start working, we will begin to restore full visa services to the Venezuelan public.  We deeply regret that it is impossible for us to maintain our previous high standard of service to the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan citizens who visit the U.S. Embassy in Caracas each year.  We ask for your understanding and cooperation as we all work to overcome the many challenges during the current difficult times.

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