Friday, October 24, 2014

After Somalia and Eritrea Monitor Resigns, UK Lyall Grant Says "Disciplined," Let SEMG Visit Asmara


By Matthew Russell Lee, Follow Up to Exclusive
UNITED NATIONS, October 24 -- On October 7 Inner City Press exclusively reported that a member of the UN's Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group Dinesh Mahtani used UN SEMG time and letterhead for unrelated advocacy regarding Eritrea. Mahtani's letter wasexclusively put online here by Inner City Press.
  On October 15, the Somalia and Eritrea sanctions committee chairman Ambassador Oh Joon of South Korea, when Inner City Press asked of Mahtani, said no, “we didn’t have a discussion on him. It’s been taken care of, I think.” 
 Now on October 24, after the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the SEMG with two abstentions, Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant about Mahtani, and the level of proof at this point of Eritrean support to Al Shabaab. Video here.
  Lyall Grant said that Mahtani was disciplined and resigned, that he "exceeded his authority in issuing that particularly letter." But as set forth below, major Western wire services in reporting on the SEMG have yet to mention the "regime change" letter.

  Lyall Grant said this time there is "much less evidence" of Eritrean support for Al Shabaab, but that Eritrea should allow the SEMG to visit Asmara. Again, how is this different from "guilty until proven innocent"? 

The UK Mission transcribed the Q&A on this:
Inner City Press: I wanted to about the Eritrea Sanctions and also about the Monitoring Group.  On the sanctions, is there from your point of view evidence of Eritrea still supporting Al Shabaab because what they seem to say is if there is no evidence, why should they let them in? It’s kind of like guilty until proven innocent.  And the other thing I wanted to ask you about was the Monitoring Group.  There was a letter that emerged from one of the experts Dinesh Mahtani in which he basically sort of tried to pick a new leader for the country.  He basically said he’d be a good leader for the country.  He’s now resigned and I wonder what are the implications of that given that he worked on the report.  What have you learned in terms of training for experts in the future.  Is there any follow-up I guess on this resignation from what some people call a regime-change letter?

Ambasssador Lyall Grant: I don’t have any comment to make on this particular expert. As you say he has been disciplined by the UN system and he’s resigned his position.  He clearly exceeded his authority in issuing that particular letter.

On the wider point, there has been very clear evidence in successive Monitoring Group reports on support for Al Shabaab from Eritrea.  In the latest report there is much less evidence and that is encouraging but because the Monitoring Group has not been allowed to visit Asmara, they have said very clearly that they have not been able to investigate various strands of evidence that comes their way.  So if Eritrea is no longer supporting Al Shabaab then why do they not allow the Monitoring Group to visit and talk to whoever they want to talk to and then no doubt the Monitoring Group will report that there is no further evidence of Eritrea supporting Al Shabaab.  In that case, the United Kingdom would be one of the first countries to suggest that sanctions be lifted.  So I think the solution to this problem lies in the hands of the government of Eritrea.

  Since October 8 not only Reuters but also Agence France Presse have retyped copies of the SEMG report given to them -- with no mention of the SEMG scandal and resignation acknowledged right in the UN Press Briefing Room on October 8.
   Isn't this like "reporting" on a panel of judges' ruling without mentioning that one of the judges just resigned after being confronted with a letter he wrote about the subject matter of the case?
 On October 15, when the UN Security Council met behind closed doors about SEMG and the report, the bylined scribe of Reuters Mahtani-less story about the report stood briefly in front of the Council, then left.
  After an hour and a half when the meeting ended, Inner City Press asked the sanctions committee chairman Oh Joon if Mahtani and his resignation has been raised in the meeting. No, Oh Joon replied, “we didn’t have a discussion on him. It’s been taken care of, I think.”

  But some question what the chairman of the SEMG knew, and how the involvement of the now-resigned Mahtani in the report under review impacted it. We’ll have more on this.
On October 8, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric about Mahtani's letter and if it was appropriate behavior for a sanctions monitor.  No, Dujarric said, adding that the letter was “shown” to Dinesh Mahtani, who has resigned. Video here.
 On October 10, Reuters two UN correspondents dutifully regurgitatedthe SEMG's most recent report, even called it "exclusive" -- a basis on which Reuters pays -- with no mention that one of the SEMG's members had resigned after being exposed for pushing regime change.
   This puts Reuters' non-mention of SEMG member Mahtani's resignation is a different light.
  On October 13, AFP in English retyped its copy of the SEMG report, no mention of regime-change scandal. This too is how the UN works, ordoesn't.
 Sources had told Inner City Press that Mahtani, the finance expert on SEMG and previously on the DR Congo Sanctions group, was found requesting favors from a member state, to which the SEMG reports.Here is a document:
a letter from Dinesh Mahtani, ostensibly in his SEMG role, saying that former Eritrean official Ali Abdu "has great potential to play a stabilizing role in Eritrea with the country possibly headed to an uncertain period in its history." 

This is hardly the first controversy in the SEMG -- but usually the members wait until they are off or on their way off the Monitor Group to “let it all hang out,” as one source put it of previous SEMG chair Matt Bryden. 
  The current chair, Jarat Chopra, has faced complaints from Somalia, also exclusively reported by Inner City Press.
  Bryden's departure was telegraphed in remarks to, and a report by, Inner City Press on July 24, 2012 when Security Council members from three countries gave Inner City Press exclusive and negative reviews of Bryden's performance. 
  "He's leaving," one of them said dismissively and definitely of Bryden. There was snarky speculation Bryden may have been angling for a book deal, or a post with a group like HRW.

  With Bryden the questions were largely of leaking, and for example of micro-managing the Eritrean air force. Apparently that's disputed: but consider Paragraphs 60 to 75 of the 2012 report S/2012/545, down to the "flow of spare parts and lubricants." Those about Mahtani, the sources tell Inner City Press, are "bigger... regime change on UN letterhead." Now Mahtani has resigned. We'll have more on this.

On Haiti Cholera, UN Merely "Confirms" Court Hearing, Briefing About It Privatized, UN "Messenger of Peace" Lang Lang Not Updated


By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, October 24, with a song -- On the UN having brought cholera to Haiti, the UN Secretariat of Ban Ki-moon didn't even "appear" at the October 23 court hearing. Inner City Press asked UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq again on October 24. Haq replied, "I can confirm there was a hearing yesterday. In light of its immunity, the UN did not appear in court. The US asserted the position that [the UN] officials are immune." Video here (October 24) and here (October 23).
  Inner City Press asked Haq about U.S. Attorney Ellen Blain arguing to U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken that the case could unleash a huge set of claim against the UN. Why, Inner City Press asked, doesn't Ban Ki-moon just waive immunity in this case, while maintaining it in others? No answer.
  Twenty minutes later when pianist Lang Lang appeared in the UN Press Briefing Room as a UN Messenger of Peace promoting the evening's UN Day concert, Inner City Press on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access thanked him and asked what he thought of the UN's impunity for bringing cholera to Haiti, and if he would think of any other ways the UN should improve.
  Lang Lang apologized, saying he hadn't heard of the case.

  That the UN Secretariat tries to downplay it, with UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous refusing Press questions about it is one thing. But earlier on October 24 the so-called UN Correspondents Association took a briefing that would and should have been in the same webcast UN Press Briefing Room as Lang Lang appeared it and put it, without webcast, into the clubhouse the UN give to what has become its UN Censorship Alliance. 

   UNCA, this UN Censorship Alliance, angled to privatize this event after itself promoting, protecting and having provided photo ops to Ban Ki-moon, and seeking to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN.
  One continues to wonders why those involved in this event and broadcasters' film didn't go to the UN's Press Briefing Room, sponsored by a member state like St. Vincents which spoke on the issue, as covered here by Inner City Press. That way it would have been promoted to and have included all journalists at the UN, not just that subset which pays money to UNCA. Also, that way it would have been in UNTV webcast, viewable around the world including in Haiti. As noted, an important documentary and panel, but the means are the end: today's UNCA gives Ban Ki-moon's UN more impunity. We'll have more on this.


  In the second case against Ban Ki-moon and the UN, filed in Federal Court in Brooklyn, more than 1,100 more plaintiffs have just been added, bringing the total in that case to 2,600. The lawyers in the second case affirm that Ban Ki-moon was served the court papers as he entered the Asia Society on Park Avenue in Manhattan -- the UN, which long evaded service by the lawyers in the first case, denies service in the second -- and now the UN has taken to publicly contradicting itself, then trying to censor.
 After Edmond Mulet was quoted -- told France 24 in an on-the-record interview -- that the Nepali peacekeepers were screened for cholera before the UN sent them to Haiti, Inner City Press on October 10 first asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq, who had previously made this claimif it is in fact trueOctober 10 video here.
  Haq on October 10 didn't directly deny it - but MINUSTAH spokesman Vincenzo Pugliese when asked about it by Jonathan Katzdirectly denied Mulet's claim of screening. 
  Then on October 13 Inner City Press asked Haq about this direct divergence in UN statements, between Mulet and MINUSTAH's Pugliese. To this, Haq said that given pending litigation he did not want to "prejudice" the case by saying anything. Video here and embedded below. 
  The France 24 report noted that "shortly after the interview, Mulet’s press officer asked FRANCE 24 not to air the recording." On October 14 France 24's Jessica Le Masurier read out the specifics of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations' spokesman's email asking France 24 to confirm that the Haiti portion of the interview would not be aired. Video here and embedded below.
  Inner City Press asked Haq if this attempt at censorship is appropriate, if it is now UN practice. Haq said that his Peacekeeping colleagues thought Mulet about "be more secure" if he re-did the interview at some later date after being prepared. Haq encouraged France 24 to give Mulet this do-over.
  On behalf of the new Free UN Coalition for Access which has opposed this type of selective or privatized UN communication, particularly by UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous, Inner City Press asked that Mulet now do a real press conference for all correspondents, to answer questions.
  Haq laughed and said all France 24 was asking for was an interview. But that's not the only request.
  In fact, it was the big-wigs of the UN's Censorship Alliance who sought to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UNinitially at the behalf of UN Peacekeeping's Ladsous and the Sri Lankan government, and have not reformed since. Here is current UNCA president's on the record "presentation" to Inner City Press and FUNCA, audio here, andhere, and here. They market themselves as a cheap way to get into the UN -- as they marketed or sold themselves to the Sri Lankan government. Why aren't those trying to achieve change at the UN more circumspect? Apparently the UN causes this (bad) reaction.

  The Free UN Coalition for Access has identified and is opposing a range of censorship at and by the UN. Sample Vine here.
  Haq on October 13 insisted this was not censorship, only that UN Peacekeeping (who's communications chief under Herve Ladsous is Nick Birnback) has understood the interview with Mulet to be about Mali and the Central African Republic and then offered Mulet on Haiti after he had been "prepared."
  But, Inner City Press pointed out, Mulet was the head of MINUSTAH when cholera entered Haiti - isn't that preparation enough?
  Haq said Inner City Press since it has been in journalist should understand what being prepared for an interview is. Video here.
  Frankly, it sounds perilously close to being coached. 
  Haq went on to claim that the France 24 reporter afterward indicated awareness or even agreement that the interview was supposed to be limited to Mali and CAR. We'll await some correction of this: peacekeeping, as a topic, obviously includes the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti which Mulet headed. We'll have more on this.

  The UN still has not answered Inner City Press' repeated question whether the UN will be sending any representative to the October 23 oral argument in Federal court on the topic. This is impunity.

  On October 9, Ban Ki-moon gave a speech at the World Bank about water and cholera in Haiti, without mentioning the question of how cholera was brought to Haiti, much less the litigation against himself.
  So at the October 9 UN noon briefing Inner City Press asked Ban's Associate Spokesperson Vannina Maestracci if Ban's statement that his "heart ached at the losses that so many thousands of people have had to suffer and die" was a reference to the UN bringing cholera to Haiti.Video here.
  Maestracci responded about the UN trying to raise money for sanitation in Haiti. Inner City Press waited to re-phrase what it had asked, about accountability. Maestracci said "I can see that you really don't care about my answer, you just want to ask another question."

  But it was the same question, about accountability and the rule of law. And neither it nor the factual question of whether the UN will sent anyone to the October 23 court hearing has been answered. 

 On October 8, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric if the UN, which has dodged service of the legal papers, will at least appear in court. Video here. Dujarric said the UN's legal position remains unchanged. Maestracci repeated this on October 9. One might assume it means the UN will ignore the court hearing. But that would be an assumption.
  Also on October 8, and also on UN impunity, Inner City Press asked spokesman Dujarric about a detailed report of rapes in Haiti by UN peacekeepers, for which the UN also refused to waive immunity. Dujarric said he hadn't heard of it, but would be happy to look for it -- it is here. We'll see. 
  Back on August 28, the plaintiffs in the Haiti cholera case against the UN, Ban and Mulet filed their sur-reply, which Inner City Press put online here.
 On September 17, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti held a conference call about the status and background of the case. IJDH's executive director Brian Concannon said that cholera was introduced to Haiti in October 2010 by UN peacekeepers.
   Concannon said the UN waited 15 months then called the claims "not receivable" -- the same phrase the UN used as to whistleblowers in a belated answer it sent to Inner City Press during the IJDH call, click here for that.
  He described serving the legal papers on Ban Ki-moon and Edmond Mulet, the head of the MINUSTAH mission (and, also on September 17, briefing the Security Council about peacekeepers giving over their weapons, vehicles and even uniforms to the Jabhat al Nusra rebels in the Golan Heights).
  IJDH Legal Fellow Shannon Jonsson described how the UN failed to provide any out of court process to consider claims, in violation of two treaties (and the UN's Status of Forces Agreement.)
  Finally, IJDH Staff Attorney Beatrice Lindstrom described broader advocacy , in Congress and among UN member states, to get justice for those harmed by the UN's introduction of cholera to Haiti. She quoted Martin Luther King that the arc of history is long but bends toward justice. There will be an upcoming demonstration at the UN's logistics base in Haiti. We'll have more on this. 
   The US' 15-page letter cited in support of UN immunity the case of Cynthia Brzak, regarding sexual harassment by UNHCR's Ruud Lubber, and a letter to US Ambassador Samantha Power from the UN's counsel Miguel de Serpa Soares, which Inner City Press is putting online, here.  The US letter to the court is here.
  Beyond supporting Secretary General Ban Ki-moon dodging the service of legal papers -- on which Ban's spokespeople have themselves dodged and more -- the US letter cited the UN - Haiti program on cholera on which the UN's Pedro Medrano has still to take Press questions.
  The US letter says, "The General Convention and the SOFA provide that any dispute between a state party and the UN shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice, see General Convention, art. VIII, § 30; SOFA art. VIII, § 58; and the SOFA provides that any dispute between MINUTSAH [sic] and the Government of Haiti shall be submitted to arbitration, see SOFA art. VIII, § 57."
  So much for "we the peoples."
  The sur-reply filed August 28 states that "under the doctrine of unclean hands, the request for immunity should be refused.  The Government fails to present any response to this argument."
   Back on May 15, opposition to the US' first iteration of its position was filed, with amicus support from a bevy of law professors, an ex judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and former UN human rights rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak.
  Nowak said, "the UN needs to understand that immunity cannot mean impunity. If it refuses to provide people alleging harm with a path to justice, courts will refuse to uphold its immunity.”
   But then as now, the UN under  Ban Ki-moon wouldn't even bring its envoy on cholera Pedro Medrano forward for questioning. Inner City Press has asked, for example on April 21:
Inner City Press: … seemed to quote Mr. Medrano as predicting in advance that this panel he would be on with the Government may provide assistance, but he said, like, the word “compensation” won’t be used. So I wanted to know, is that a UN position? Is it his prediction of that the Government doesn’t want the word “compensation” used? And is there some way that we can have by video or otherwise, a kind of, some kind of presentation by Mr. Medrano?
Spokesman Stephane Dujarric: Sure, on Haiti, over the weekend, the terms of reference on this high level committee on cholera, which would be a UN and Government of Haiti committee, have been officially agreed on. And the aim is really for the joint effort of to fight cholera between the UN and the Government of Haiti. The Committee aims at further improving the coordination response to the epidemic and obviously we expect to have an official announcement in the next couple of days. But this is a very important… the establishment of this committee is a very important one in terms of our efforts, and most importantly the Government of Haiti’s efforts, to address not only cholera but also the associated water and sanitation issues....
Inner City Press: Just on Medrano, I will like to say again if you could do a briefing in this room it would help.
Spokesman Dujarric: I hear you.
  But did he? There has still been no briefing. Members of the US Congress have written to State Department diplomats about this case in the past. Based on this letter, will they do so again?
   As the first US answer was released, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was partying with in-house scribes, most of whom never pursued this most outrageous case of UN impunity, or even asked if Ban Ki-moon like a scoff law was hiding from the process server.
 Now on July 8, these same scribes are offering symbiosis, bread andcircuses, or pretzels and beer, in the large room Ban's UN gives them, usually sitting empty even as the News Agency of Nigeria was evicted due to lack of space. This is today's UN.
  Inner City Press, having twice asked asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokespeople to confirm Ban has been served with legal papers,on February 28 asked about Gallon's report:
Inner City Press: on Haiti, there is a recent report just out by Gustavo Gallón, who is the UN independent expert on human rights in Haiti, and he says, as a direct quote, that full compensation for the damage suffered by the Haitian people by the introduction of cholera to the island should be paid as quickly as possible. So, I understand that he is an independent expert and doesn’t work for the Secretariat; at the same time, it’s a respected position and a mandate formed by the Human Rights Council, so I wanted to know what in the face of this sort of either intra-UN or intra-UN system critique, what is the response of the United Nations?
Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: Well, simply, that you answered the question yourself. The Human Rights Council-appointed special rapporteurs and other special advisers of various kinds are independent and they are not appointed by the Secretary-General and I don’t have anything further to say on that.
Inner City Press: But does the UN system expect, for example, countries when when they are subject to these type recommendations or criticism by an independent experts of the Human Rights Council to respond in some way to them to say: we agree or disagree, or that is why we disagree?
Spokesperson Nesirky: That’s for each individual Member State to decide.
Ah, leadership. Meanwhile, while the UN has refused to answer if Ban was served the court papers, beyond this song, Inner City Press will now publish the sad litany of attempts to serve what could be described as a scoff law:
On December 19, 2013, at approximately 3:11 PM, a paralegal for Plaintiffs’ counsel contacted OLA by telephone and spoke to a woman who identified herself as “Mae” (who, upon information and belief, is Mae Arkoncel, Assistant to the UN Legal Counsel). Mae confirmed that OLA had received the faxed documents from Plaintiffs’ counsel and stated that the UN was currently 'reviewing the documents'...
Service of process by delivery to Defendant Ban personally through the use of a private process server... was attempted again on January 20, 2014, at approximately 10:05 AM, at Defendant Ban’s residence located at [redacted by ICP]. A security guard informed the server that Defendant Ban was not present, and refused to open the door or accept service.
8. Service of process by delivery to Defendant Ban personally through the use of a private process server... was perfected on January 20, 2014, at approximately 2:00 PM, at Defendant’s Ban residence located at [redacted by ICP]. A male who identified himself as 'security' answered the door and informed the server that he would not accept service and that Defendant Ban was not present. The server affixed the process to the front door with masking tape and informed the security guard that he was doing so with the intention that the documents would be forwarded to Defendant Ban. The server then mailed another copy of the process to Defendant Ban at the same address.
That's called "nail-and-mail," and it's what's used with a fugitive or scoff law. Is that what this UN has become? It's the basis of this lyric, can't serve the papers up in the townhouse, song here. Watch this site.

 
  

On the UN Having Brought Cholera to Haiti, Inner City Press asks UN Messenger of Peace Lang Lang of Lawsuits, He's Not Heard Of, Has Been Been "Updated" by UN


By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, October 24 -- The day after the UN refused to appear in court for one of the lawsuits against it for bringing cholera to Haiti, pianist Lang Lang as a UN Messenger of Peace held a press concert for his UN Day concert in the General Assembly Hall.
  Inner City Press asked Lang Lang if he thinks the UN should answer on the issue of more than 8000 deaths caused by it bringing cholera to Haiti. Video here.
  Lang Lang politely answered that he had not heard of the case or the issue. I have not been updated, he said.

  The fault, the Free UN Coalition for Access says, lies not with the star but with the UN itself. If it recruits and uses celebrities to promote its brand, it should give them background information, positive and in this case, negative.
  But there are efforts and decisions inside the UN to keep quiet and off-line the issue of UN Peacekeeping, run by Herve Ladsous, having brought cholera to Haiti. Inner City Press and FUNCA have repeatedly asked for Ladsous or his deputy Edmond Mulet, previous head of the UN mission in Haiti, to hold a question and answer press conference on the topic; these have been rebuffed. (Ladsous, in fact, blocked the Press' camera, Vine here.)
Earlier on October 24, a session about Haiti cholera that could and should have been in the same UN Press Briefing Room as the UN put Lang Lang in was instead held, without webcast, in the private clubhouse that the UN gives to what has become its UN' Censorship Alliance, formerly the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA). This group has tried to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN for reporting on conflicts of interest and war crimes, in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. We'll have more on this.

 
  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Post-Snowden, UN's Ben Emmerson Tells Inner City Press of “Conceptual Censorship" in US Debate, Foreign Fighters Question UNanswered


By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, October 23 -- When UN human rights rapporteur Ben Emmerson held a press conference on his report on mass surveillance on October 23, Inner City Press asked him to review the Obama administration's and its Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board's response to the spying revelations by Edward Snowden and others, and if any dangers are posed by the “foreign fighters” resolution adopted by the UN Security Council in September. (The latter question was not answered.)
  Emmerson began diplomatically, calling the PCLOB's reports “worth reading,” but then said that the debate and proposal legislation is confined to the “detailed fringes.” He said the key question is whether the right to privacy simply will not apply to the means of communications most in use today, given government's appetite for surveillance.Video here and embedded below.
  He said as long as governments -- like that of the United States -- won't disclose their surveillance programs, the debate is subject to “conceptual censorship.”
  The UN set aside the first question for the old UN Correspondents Association, which asked a softball question leading Emmerson to reply, “read the report.” (It has been online for some time, here.) 

 The new Free UN Coalition for Access objects to set-asides, and to UNCA's function as the UN's Censorship Alliance, having tried to order Inner City Press to remove factual articles from the Internet, and thengetting Google to block from its search leaked copies of anti-Press complaints filed with the UN, here. We'll have more on this.
First Look's "The Intercept" has revealed that the US National Security Agency and FBI spied on at least five Americans, all Muslims, and used place-holder code names like "Raghead," click here for that. 
   Those spied on included a Republican candidate for the Virginia legislature, Faisal Gill; Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor; lawyer Asim Ghafoor; Nihad Awad of CAIR; and "Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights."
 It's shameful, but who can stand up to the United States?
  The United Nations' Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has already said he thinks Snowden "misused" information, as Inner City Press reported here.
  Back on March 14 when the US delegation to the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva took the floor, it was a full court pressOf the elephant in the room, NSA spying, the speaker from the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice used a single line: DOJ is "monitoring" a number of private actions. You don't say.
  The head of the US delegation, Mary McLeod, said but did not explain why the US Administration has "no current expectation to become a party to the optional protocol" to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights -- which the US says does not apply to its actions outside of its borders. 
The session closed with a slew of questions: Walter Kalin asked why the US deports people to Haiti even amid the cholera epidemic -- for which, Inner City Press notes, the US has said the UN should be immune. 
  The US repeated that argument on July 7, which Inner City Press has covered here. Watch this site. 

 
  

At UN, Censorship Alliance Wants Less News, Exclusion of Outside Journalists, Even A Booklet Co-Signed with Ban Ki-moon


By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, October 23 -- Press access at the UN has continued to decline under Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. 
  During the General Assembly debate week in late September, Ban's chief of peacekeeping blocked a Press camera (Vine here), and the French mission ordered all non-French journalists to leave a briefing by President Francois Hollande in the UN Press Briefing Room.
   The new Free UN Coalition for Access actively opposed both of these, as well as restrictions on getting to the General Assembly stakeout and on taking photographs from the General Assembly photographers booth. After making the latter complaint to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on October 17, Dujarric's office two hours later promoted a meeting ostensibly to discuss "access problems," by the UN Correspondents Association a/k/a UN's Censorship Alliance.
  Now the UNCA "minutes" and partial list of grievances have been provided to FUNCA. They are laughable. The ejection of non-French journalists from the UN Briefing Room is not mentioned, nor the physical blocking of filming.

  Instead, UNCA under figurehead Pamela Falk and sidekick complains that there is too much news during the General Assembly -- they want fewer side events -- and apparently too many journalists at the UN: they want a private wi-fi password leaving the current open wi-fi only for "guests and others."

  Tellingly, one of the UNCA proposals is for a booklet co-signed by Ban Ki-moon and UNCA.

  With this bogus list and presumably seeking that booklet, they say that the UN's Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit proposes to meet only with their Executive Committee. This is akin to a fake wrestling match, in which the two sides pretend to fight, for an audience.
  The Free UN Coalition for Access has told MALU, but repeats: if they even aspire to legitimacy, the UN must reach out to all journalists, at the UN and ideally beyond, and not that subset which pay UNCA money. That is a decidedly partial subset: a fake wrestling match. 
  During the October 16 UN General Assembly session to elect five new members to the UN Security Council, the UN's Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit came into the GA photographers' booth and said that only "wire service" photographers could remain.
  But MALU has not offered any definition of "wire service," in this new media age. The new Free UN Coalition for Access has demanded such a definition, most recently of Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric at the October 17 UN noon briefing. Video here
 Dujarric, saying he was quoting a Supreme Court justice on another topic, said, What is a wire service? I know one when I see one. 
   This is, as it were, the definition of arbitrary.
 The UN while throwing out media from workspace gives its UN Censorship Alliance a large room, which it then limits to those that pay it money in dues. Here's how it works: a new media at the UN is told, from the pinnacle of the UN's Censorship Alliance, to pay UNCA $90 and UNCA will get the UN to give the media UN office space. 
     Today's UN Censorship Alliance is unlikely to get any meaningful media access problem addressed -- members its Executive Committee have, in fact, caused or colluded in many of the decreases in access. They drafted a rule with MALU to eliminate journalist workspace at the Security Council stakeout; they withheld audio tapes and transcripts of a Ban "interview" with them, even from their own members.
   During last month's General Debate, journalists weren't even been able to go to the General Assembly stakeout without an escort from MALU -- an escort that often did not come on time, or come at all.
  There was, as well, substantive censorship. Most recently of October 16, media photographing the UN General Assembly vote for new Security Council members were ordered NOT to photograph the tables of the voters. Inner City Press for FUNCA resisted, and discussed this issue along with the elections (and Cambodia) on Huffington Post Live's "World Brief" on October 17, here.
On September 27 while Inner City Press filmed from within the GA stakeout area, UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous came over and blocked -- or Banned -- the filming, demanding to know what it was for. Vine here. Then Ladsous canceled the scheduled public Q&A stakeout on Mali.
  While the new Free UN Coalition for Access challenged this censorship, on September 27 at the stakeout and following up the next week, the old UNCA has done nothing about it. In fact, UNCA big wigs have been happy to takeprivate briefings from Ladsous and others, as access at the UN for less "insider" correspondents has continued to decline.
  The Free UN Coalition for Access targeted these censorship practices in aSeptember 29 flier, online, in the UN including on the "open" bulletin board it got the UN to install (the flier was torn down, one can only imagine by whom, but has gone back up.)
   Now, in a typical UN charade, the very UNCA which oversaw this decrease in access belatedly says it is concerned and conducts UN-promoted meetings that are akin to faux, scripted wrestling matches with fake punches. This is the UNCA that played softball soccer with Ban, promoting and allowing him a photo op.
  Many of these promotions are signed by UNCA figurehead Pamela Falk of CBS, nowhere seen during noon briefing fights about media access. Meanwhile the UN Spokesperson's office is promoting a for-pay event for UNCA, by taping a flier for it on its counter. This is the UN's Censorship Alliance.
  The Free UN Coalition for Access has told the UN, again on October 16, that it must address and reverse its blocking of press access, and that if it needs input it must hold a meeting open to all journalists who cover the UN, not just its chosen UNCA -- the UN's Censorship Alliance -- which has become akin to a company-created and supported union. 

   Ban's spokesperson's office declined to criticize the September 27 censorship, nor Ladsous' spokesman subsequently asking another media to confirm that it would not air an on the record interview with Ladsous' deputy Edmond Mulet about the UN bringing cholera to Haiti. Video here.
  In fact Ban's Spokesman played a part in, at least defending, a French-only briefing in the UN Press Briefing Room.
On September 23, the entourage of French President Francois Hollanderepeatedly but unsuccessfully ordered the UN accredited Press to leave theUN's Press Briefing Room.  Video here.
  On September 25 when the Free UN Coalition for Access asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, who peaked out from the VIP / Green Room behind the Press Briefing Room, about the incident, he said sometimes countries try to reserve the Room.
   Asked if other countries had done so during this General Assembly, Dujarric said yes.
   Inner City Press then asked Dujarric which other countries, beyond his native France:
based on your answer at today's noon briefing, please state which countries during this UNGA have used the UN Press Briefing Room for briefing not open to all UN correspondents, other than France at 11 am on September 23. Also, what was your role on September 23 around 11 am in the room behind the Press Briefing Room podium?”
 This has been Dujarric's response:
Subject: please state which countries..
From: Stephane Dujarric [at] un.org
Date: Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 1:06 PM
To: Inner City Press
Cc: funca
I don't have the information on the first point for you. On the second, I'm not sure that I understand it except that I was just looking into the room. I tend to be a curious person.
Stephane Dujarric (Mr.)
Spokesman for the Secretary-General
United Nations Headquarters
   FUNCA is left wondering: ARE there any other countries? The question has been asked again by FUNCA, elsewhere. And it has been on HuffPost Live, here. Watch this site.
Footnote: as noted the old UN Correspondents Association, which is given privileged status and set-aside first questions nearly always used for softballs, has done nothing in recent years to improve or even defend press access. In fact, members of UNCA's Executive Committee have tried to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN, and there have been no reforms since. It's become the UN's Censorship Alliance. They provide Ban Ki-moon with photo ops playing soccer with them. This is today's UN - and FUNCA is fighting to hold the UN to its stated principles.