By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, March 19 -- Why can't UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon go to El Aaiun in Western Sahara, even to visit the headquarters of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara?
On March 16, Inner City Press asked the US State Department about Western Sahara and then (from the State Department briefing room) published this, emailed to Inner City Press from Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner:
"The United States continues to support the UN-led process designed to bring about a peaceful, sustainable, and mutually-agreed solution to the conflict in the Western Sahara, one in which the human rights of all individuals are respected.
We support the work of the UN Secretary General’s Personal Envoy for the Western Sahara and the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum on Western Sahara (MINURSO).
We encourage all of the parties to remain fully and actively engaged in pushing the process toward an effective resolution."
But on March 19, a strongly rumored UN Security Council meeting about Western Sahara did not happen, at least by 3 pm. And two tweets from the account of the acting spokesperson for the US Mission to the UN got a lot of play, on both sides of the issue, click here to view.
On March 18, lead State Department spokesperson John Kirby said:
"We’re aware of those reports that they’ve asked the UN mission for the referendum in Western Sahara to reduce the size of its mission – to leave, as you put it. We reiterate our support to that UN mission and to its important mission – to the important job that it’s there to do. Yesterday the United States participated in a closed session of the UN Security Council, where members expressed concern about the situation. The United States encourages all of the parties to remain fully and actively engaged in seeking an effective resolution."
On March 18 Inner City Press asked Kirby, again, about theGovernment Accountability Project's letter to the US Mission to the UN about UN retaliation against the Press. Kirby said, "I’m also happy to refer you to our mission up in New York City." Later his office put in writing, "On the question on the Government Accountability Project letter, we’d refer you to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations."
But Inner City Press has already asked three at the US Mission about the GAP letter.
After the Security Council met on March 18 about Western Sahara, the Council's President for March, Ambassador Gaspar Martins of Angola, said the members had agreed to work both bilaterally and as Council. Which is it? Left solo, France reflexively defends Morocco. French Ambassador Delattre on his way in said:
"With respect to Western Sahara, we, as France, but also as member of the Security Council, are having one clear objective, which is to appease the tensions. And that is why we believe that, at this stage, an important thing in order to appease the tensions, is for Morocco and the UN to have a serene, respectful, and in-depth dialogue. We believe this is absolutely important in order to, again, appease the tensions. This is our number one priority, and we will continue on this path."
Sounds bilateral... Watch this site.
On March 17 Inner City Press reported there would be an "emergency" meeting, under "Any Other Business," about MINURSO and Morocco's decisions. Since Ban's Secretariat, through USG of DPI Cristina Gallach, threw Inner City Press out of the UN on two hours notice on February 19, covering UN events has been significantly more difficult.
Nevertheless, even for now at this remove we can report: Ban's Secretariat says MINURSO has 85 international staff and 157 national staff; it is considering a "family" duty station, which family members in El Aaiun and Las Palmas -- for now. The Security Council did not offer up the support Ban wanted. Then again, what has Ban done on injustice perpetrated by his Administration?
On March 13, there was a protest of Ban Ki-moon in Rabat, Morocco that we predict will trigger a canned response (a protest in Jaffna, Sri Lanka drew no response at all, despite repeated questions).
It was, it now seems clear, in a ham-handed attempt to forestall such protest that the UN on March 7 published UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric's Q&A on Western Sahara only in its English transcript of the day's noon briefing, not in the French version. Ham-handed and UNtransparent.
On March 14, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric about an upcoming meeting it had heard from other sources about. From the UN transcript:
Inner City Press: Has there been a request by Morocco's Foreign Minister to meet with the Secretary-General this week?
Spokesman Dujarric: Yes.
Inner City Press: And will that be an open photo op?
Spokesman Dujarric: The meeting is still… we're still working on the scheduling of the meeting. Obviously, it will be a photo op, as it is usually with every Foreign Minister that comes to town. Vine here.
And then, despite Inner City Press' question, Dujarric's office waited until four minutes before the deadline to go up to photograph the meeting to announce it. Some photo op.
Hours afterward, Ban's / Dujarric's Office issued this, in English only:
"Readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting with H.E. Mr. Salaheddine Mezouar, Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Morocco
The Secretary-General met today with H.E. Mr. Salaheddine Mezouar, the Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Morocco, to exchange views on the state of efforts to settle the Western Sahara dispute, as well as his recent visit to the region to explore ways to intensify the negotiating process.
The Secretary-General took note of the misunderstanding related to his use of the word “occupation” as his personal reaction to the deplorable humanitarian conditions in which the Sahrawi refugees have lived in for far too long.
The Secretary-General also conveyed his astonishment at the recent statement of the Government of Morocco and expressed his deep disappointment and anger regarding the demonstration that was mobilized on Sunday, which targeted him in person. He stressed that such attacks are disrespectful to him and to the United Nations.
He also requested a clarification regarding the reported presence of several members of the Moroccan Government among the demonstrators. The Secretary-General asked the Foreign Minister to ensure that the United Nations enjoys respect in Morocco.
In choosing to misrepresent the purpose and progression of the Secretary-General’s trip to the region, the demonstrators, and their sponsors, deliberately chose to ignore that at every stop on his trip he underlined his personal commitment to encouraging genuine negotiations between the parties to achieve “a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara”, as the Security Council has repeatedly requested.
The Secretary-General underscored to the Foreign Minister that he has adhered closely to the Security Council’s mandate.
The Secretary-General reiterated his 4 November 2015 call for genuine and serious negotiations without preconditions to make progress soonest."
On February 29, Inner City Press directly asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric, who replied that Ban's trip will be in two parts -- it's just that when the El Aaiun portion will happen is not known.
On March 7, Dujarric called in to the UN Noon Briefing from - where else -- Paris and made much of Ban's visit to part of the MINURSO mission but not its headquarters. Dujarric said there would be a second stage of the trip - to Rabat.
Inner City Press now asks: why did the English language UN transcription of the March 7 briefing include Dujarric Q&A on Western Sahara, here -- while the UN's French language transcription, here, pointed did not?
Is this to please France? On March 10 Inner City Press asked Dujarric,Vine here, UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: when you called in from Paris about Western Sahara, I've looked at the transcriptions, the UN transcriptions of the noon briefing that day in English and French. And in English, there's your whole Q&A about Western Sahara, and in French, it's just not there. And I'm wondering, is there some reasons? They're both working languages, et cetera. What's the reason for that?
Spokesman Dujarric: I don't… I'm not sure we put out a transcript in French of my…
Inner City Press: No, in English… in the English noon brief…
Spokesman Dujarric: I'm not sure we put out a transcript; I'll check.
Twenty five hours later, nothing. So on March 11, even as Dujarric tried to deny Inner City Press any more questions, Inner City Press asked, UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: on Western Sahara, do you have an answer on the two press statements, English and French?
Spokesman Dujarric: No. But I… we're working on it.
Vine here. Then Dujarric abruptly walked out of the UN Press Briefing Room, from which he ousted Inner City Press directly on January 29, and indirectly through another on February 19.
Working on it? How hard can it be? At 6 pm on March 11 Dujarric's office called "lid," end of day, still without answering; Dujarric said something about "two weeks." Watch this site.
On March 7, Inner City Press asked Dujarric if Ban had even tried to get to MINURSO's headquarters in El Aaiun -- Dujarric didn't answer that -- and if Ban hadn't in his comment distributed on March 6 given Morocco a veto over the referendum promises even in the name of the MINURSO mission.
On March 6, Ban Ki-moon (provided by the UN in French only)
"j’ai aussi rencontré les membres du personnel de la MINURSO, qui font preuve d’un grand dévouement. Ils sont prêts à aider à organiser un référendum s’il y a un accord entre les parties. Je me suis rendu dans plusieurs sites, et je compte aller prochainement au quartier général de la mission, à Laayoune, au Sahara occidental."
Ban met staff of MINURSO - but not at its headquarters in El Aaiun - and said they are ready, after decades, to help organize a referendum IF there is an agreement between the parties. So Morocco has a veto?
Dujarric dodged this too, saying that Envoy Christopher Ross should visit Rabat in late March. Inner City Press asked if Ban, now in his final year as SG, will at least ask the "Group of Friends" on Western Sahara, including France with its implicit or secret veto, to allow the promised referendum.
Dujarric said he does not agree France wields a secret veto -- again, no surprise there - but to watch Ban's report to the Security Council in April. We will.
Still, many long suffering Saharawis say even this half-visit by Ban Ki-moon is better than nothing. We'll see.
On March 5, Ban Ki-moon said he was in the regin "to visit the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). I will visit the team site in Bir Lahlou, as well as personnel performing vital demining activities. I saw the remarkable and demanding work the Mission is doing in harsh conditions of the Hammada. I also expect to visit the headquarters of MINURSO in Laayoune, Western Sahara, soon."
When? And why not say when he's not doing in now? And why he canceled in November (on the off chance he could go to North Korea. Priorities.)
Ban also said, "I have been heartened by the faith Sahrawis people put in the UN, its principles, and international law." If true, has the faith paid off?
Back on March 2, Inner City Press asked Dujarric's deputy Farhan Haq why Ban is not going, while wanly claiming he has the right to do. UN transcript here.
Ban was supposed to go in November 2015 but he canceled it, thinking he could get more political - read, South Korea electoral -- play by going to North Korea. But then North Korea turned him down.
On February 25, Inner City Press asked Dujarric about issues including Western Sahara, after three days reporting on the UN from outside after Ban's head of Communications Cristina Gallach threw Inner City Press out without due process: petition here; weird pro Morocco spin on the ouster, here.
Now ahead of Ban's March 1 stop in Spain - will Gallach be there? - there is pick up of the fact that Gallach is Spain's highest UN official, and that she ousted the Press from the UN.
Highest Spanish #UN official @cristinagallach removes accreditation of the most critical journalist@innercitypresshttps://t.co/4Tj8Ud4UrD— Ignacio Cembrero (@icembrero) February 27, 2016
Will it be resolved by, or come to head on, March 1? In defense of Ban and Gallach, anonymous troll account has taken to tweeting, now at Spanish journalists, that Gallach is fine and didn't throw Inner City Press out of the UN on two hours notice without once speaking to it. But those are the fact. Among the new troll account's followers are Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric and four UNCA board members, plus Reuters bureau chief Louis Charbonneau, who has a history with this,see here.
On February 26, Dujarric said, "the Secretary-General's right to visit any peacekeeping mission, but there is the de facto authorities in that area would need to provide the clearance for the plane to land."
So, he really DOESN'T have the right, and isn't really pushing for it. Inner City Press on February 26 asked Dujarric, UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: I wanted to ask what the Secretary-General's goals are for this Western Sahara trip. What is he seeking to come out of it? Does he… would he like to see a referendum with independence as a goal? What's he go into it looking at? Thanks.
Spokesman Dujarric: Obviously, the… you know, a lot… a large focus will be on the humanitarian situation. He'll be visiting the camps near Tindouf, and it is also part of his preparation, obviously… he will report on the trip in his upcoming report, which is scheduled for April.
Humanitarian,? We'll have more on this.
We'll see. UN President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft announced a trip to Europe and Morocco; particularly as the bribery case against former PGA John Ashe proceeds, with two guilty pleas and also indicted former Dominican Republic Deputy Permanent Representative (and South South News executive) Francis Lorenzo found to NOT have immunity, taking Moroccon government funding for a trip to Morocco with a Morocco-provided staffer, particularly (but not only) if not addressing the obvious issue of Western Sahara, seems ill-advised. We'll have more on this.
Why is this not covered more? Well, Lorenzo's (and also indicted Ng Lap Seng's) South South News gave tens of thousands of dollars to the UN Correspondents Association - where Lykketoft at least early in his term held his “press” events, and which more recently got the Office of the UN Spokesperson to throw the Press out of the UN Press Briefing Room, amid these corruption questions. We'll have more on this, too.
Since the criminal complaint, Inner City Press has asked Ban's spokespeople for basic information, and has been rebuffed. Most recently, both the UN Development Program and Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric (previously of UNDP) have refused to provide even a copy of the agreement signed by Ng, UNDP's Teresa Liu and Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.
Inner City Press reported that UNDP was asking corporations for $100,000 to be seated next to heads of state by UNDP. Closer to Ban, literally, the UN Correspondents Association (which previously took money from Ng's media vehicle, then gave it an UNCA Award and Ng a photo op with Ban) now offers seats at the VIP table, next to Ban, for $6,000 (half table) or $12,000 (full table). By most definitions, this is corruption.
Mogen Lykketoft, meanwhile, couldn't bring himself to say Ashe's name, only referring to the President of the 68th General Assembly session. Lykketoft, who allowed his Office to be used for fellow Dane Helle Thorning-Schmidt to campaign for the top spot in the UN's refugee agency UNHCR, said he will be making reform proposals. We will be there - with questions for Lykketoft.
Ban again mentioned what he told Inner City Press at his last stakeout, a task force under his chef of staff Susana Malcorra. But as Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Dujarric, with all due respect, Malcorra accepted one of Ng's South South Awards, for Ban. And as note, Gallach went. We'll have more on this.