By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, March 23 -- On February 19, Inner City Press was thrown out of the UN, on two hours notice, after having put critical questions to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
On March 3 Dujarric's Deputy Farhan Haq refused for a second day to comment on a protest of the ouster, held at the UN Compound in Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka. English; English II; Tamil; UN Q&A Video. That is today's UN: UNaccountable.
Now it gets worse. On March 1 in Sri Lanka from an elected representative of the Northern Provincial Council came a letter to Ban Ki-moon expressing "serious concern" at UN official Cristina Gallach's "unjust" seizure of Inner City Press' office and downgrading of accreditation. Online here.
Ban Ki-moon never answered this letter from elected representatives in Northern Sri Lanka, despite his record there. Ban's spokespeople Dujarric and Haq openly refused Inner City Press' questions about this and other letters.
Now we published an untruthful and Kafka-esque response that was provided, by the UN's "Resident Coordinator a.i." for Sri Lanka, UNICEF's Una McCauley, photo of letter here and embedded below:
"I am pleased to inform you that after careful consideration by the Under Secretary General for Communication and Public Information the status of Mr Matthew Russell Lee's accreditation has been changed. He now has the status as a non-Resident Correspondent and continues to attend UN Media briefings. This status will be reviewed in four month period."
It is precisely this downgrade that the Northern Provincial Council and others have been protesting - so it is disingenuous at best to begin "I am pleased to inform you."
Second, the decision USG Gallach took was taken without once speaking to Inner City Press - it cannot be considered "after careful consideration." In fact, it is USG Gallach who should be reviewed and disciplined for totally ignoring due process and censoring the Press.
Third, the UN / UNICEF letter ignores that Inner City Press under Gallach's order is being Banned from covering the Security Council, for example this week on Western Sahara. Video here. Just because the Security Council failed as tens of thousands were killed in Sri Lanka does not mean that Banning Inner City Press from covering it can itself be covered up.
This disingenuous response is a new low for the UN in Sri Lanka, for DPA in New York -- whose USg Jeffrey Feltman is aware of the ouster of the Press and the letter -- for Ban Ki-moon and perhaps for USG Gallach (there are more and more low points for her - watch this site.)
The underlying incident, which Gallach never describes in her February 19 letter, involves Inner City Press principled stand that the Press has a right to be in the UN Press Briefing Room, particularly to cover an event by an organization which has taken money from several of those who indicted (and some pleading guilty) to bribery in the UN and which gave one of the indicted, Ng Lap Seng, a photo op with Ban Ki-moon.
Collusion with genocide - from Sri Lanka to Burundi to beyond - and escalating corruption: this is today's UN. We'll have more on this.
On the Tamil diaspora, Sri Lanka's Sunday Times reports - and as set forth below, Ban's spokesperson refuses to answer:
"Eelam groups make plea for Lee: Sri Lanka is in the middle of a raging controversy at the UN over the world body’s suspension of the media credentials of a US journalist, Matthew Lee of Inner City Press (ICP). He has been advocating the rights of the Tamils in his daily blog. V. Rudrakumar, described as the prime minister of the transnational government of Tamil Eelam, has signed a letter, along with six Tamil expatriate organisations asking the UN to restore Lee’s credentials.
Following an incident where he tried to record a closed-door meeting of the UN Correspondents’ Association, Lee’s credentials as a resident correspondent were withdrawn and he was told to vacate his office in the UN building. But he has been issued a restricted non-resident media pass.
The letter, which is also signed by the US Tamil Political Action Council, the Ilankai Tamil Sangam USA, the Tamil Forum, New Jersey, the National Council of Canadian Tamils, People for Equality and Relief in Lanka and the World Thamil Organisation, has asked the UN to reconsider the decision to revoke Lee’s credentials.
'The coming months will be crucial for Sri Lanka at the UN as the government of Sri Lanka must take steps to implement the UNHRC resolution HRC/30/1 for truth, reconciliation and transitional justice. We are concerned that ICP’s inability to report on UN’s support for this process will be significantly limited with a temporary non-resident pass granted to Mr. Lee,' the letter says.
The letter also describes ICP as a 'key source of information for the victims in Sri Lanka in understanding how their affairs figure at the United Nations.' The letter has been addressed to the Under-Secretary-General for Public Information Cristina Gallach, with a copy to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon."
Ban's spokespeople refused to response on a letter from Jaffna. And now this? On March 21, Inner City Press asked UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq, UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you on Sri Lanka, the President is quoted on Friday, this is a direct quote at a legal conference in Sri Lanka, that even if there proves to be a need for a judicial process after investigating human rights, I will not agree to invite foreign judges to come to Sri Lanka to be part of it, end quote, and given what the Secretary-General has said about transitional justice and the need for the international component, now that President has outright said he will not, what is the Secretary-General's response as the Human Rights Council meetings on Sri Lanka are set to begin?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Human Rights Council can evaluate for themselves how it's going, but we want to make sure there is a credible investigation into this. And we have made clear what our guidelines are for what a credible investigation will entail and so we will continue to be in dialog to make sure it happens.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask, and do this very fast, there is a newspaper in Sri Lanka called the Sunday Times that has written an article over I guess on Sunday about various letters from Tamil groups that were addressed to Cristina Gallach of DPI and cc'd to Ban Ki-moon, as well as to Mr. Dujarric, asking why for covering an event in this room… will there be a response?
Deputy Spokesman: Nothing new on your case. Vine here.
Question: Here is a related question.
Deputy Spokesman: Which is about you.
Question: No, about this room and your office. Today I noticed as I covered the Security Council when they finally opened the door that in this room there were a number of people came in, the door was closed, one of your colleagues came in and so I would like to know was this an open briefing or a closed meeting, what was it?
Deputy Spokesman: It was a briefing to high school students.
Question: So it closed? Would a journalist be thrown out of the UN for seeking to cover it? I just want to know since that happened to me on January 29th. Was it open or not? What would be the ramifications for coming into the room, I'm asking you?
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew.
And then Haq just walked off, with the Reuters scribe smiling, Vine here.
Note: The Tamils' letter was copied to US Ambassador Samantha Power and Secretary of State John Kerry, on which we'll have more as well.
Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, last week said the UN Human Rights Council's work on "Sri Lanka has helped the international community to respond to human rights emergencies and work towards accountability." How exactly is that? Relatedly, Ban hasn't responded to letter acknowledged by his office, including from Jaffna.
The UN won't even allow the question to be asked - and speaks for USg Jeffrey Feltman, that he will have no comment on how this thuggish behavior by the UN in New York plays in Sri Lanka, which the UN purports to care about. March 2 video here and embedded below.
On March 10, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: a Sri Lanka and a related question. One has to do with Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe has said openly that there will be no foreign judges involved in the accountability mechanism, which is, I know, something that the Secretary-General has returned to again and again. Now this is a Government minister saying it. What is the Secretary-General's position?
Spokesman: I have no guidance on Sri Lanka. If I find something, I will share it.
Hour later, nothing.
Meanwhile Inner City Press has received more evidence of how UNprotected the UN left Sri Lankans, including its own UN staff in Sri Lanka. Inner City Press is exclusively publishing here a Witness Statement for the OISL, in which a staff member of UN OCHA describes being kidnapped in one of the notorious white vans and tortured by burning.
The witness also describes the horrendous conditions at the camps that Ban Ki-moon himself visited in May 2009. Inner City Press on March 7 asked Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq about it, video here, Vine here, UN transcript here
Triggered by UN Under Secretary General Cristina Gallach's no due process order, and use of UN Security to oust Inner City Press, Inner City Press has as when the UN Correspondents Association under Giampaolo Pioli did in 2012 begun to receive threats. Many, even most, of the same UNCA board members aware of the 2012 threats remain in place now.
The Northern Provincial Council letter to Ban Ki-moon on which Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq refused to answer Inner City Press on March 4 also noted that Inner City Press has "exposed the dealing between certain UN Press Corps officials and the Sri Lankan diplomats" - we'll have more on this too.
Ironically, one of the UN Security officials who in 2012 was providing assurances to Innr City Press - was among those who Banned Inner City Press from UN premises now in 2016. In which direction is the UN moving?
On March 4, Inner City Press changed tacks and asked Ban's spokesperson Haq about a letter, video here.
UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: I want to ask about Sri Lanka, and I'm asking about a letter, physical letter, that was addressed to the Secretary-General from the Northern Provincial Council, which is a body that Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman, for example, has met with in the north. The letter says that Inner City Press has been critical of UN-affiliated personalities who are alleged of sidelining or siding with genocidal commanders involved in war crimes against the Tamil people. And finally, it says, we are shocked to learn that, on 19 February, the Under-Secretary-General of DPI (Department of Public Information), Cristina Gallach, signed a letter giving two hours to Mr. Lee, summarily expelling him from the premises, revoking his press pass…
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew, Matthew, you're not expelled from the premises. We are in the premises right now. [cross talk]
Inner City Press: Right. Right. [What about office and Resident Correspondent pass?]
Deputy Spokesman: I see you in front of me. [cross talk]
Inner City Press: I know that you like that point. The end of the sentence is revoking his UN resident correspondent pass and access to his office. And so I am asking you, as a response to a letter from the Northern Provincial Council of Sri Lanka, what is your response to the letter? They also say there was no due process... the combination of the two, the lack of coverage of, for example, Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar's dealings in the white flag killings, Mr. Shavendra Silva being a senior peacekeeping adviser to Ban Ki-moon, followed by this act without due process, unprecedented and totally disproportionate penalty... So I'm asking you, what's the response to the letter?
Deputy Spokesman: I have no response to the letter, and I have no comment on this. As you're well aware, the concerns that we have about the peace process in Sri Lanka, the… and the end of the fighting are a separate matter from your particular issues with the Department of Public Information, on which I would have no comment.
Inner City Press: And what's your concern of a journalist being in this room… That's what I'd like to know. What is so extreme about a journalist being in this room and saying, when DSS (Department of Safety and Security) asked me to leave, I'll leave that justifies the things that are described in this letter? Can you explain?
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew, I am not going to get into why you have a problem with your accreditation with the Department of Public information. You have an issue… [cross talk]
Inner City Press: Well, they've asked Ban Ki-moon. You speak for Ban Ki-moon. Is Ban Ki-moon going to answer the letter? [cross talk]
Deputy Spokesman: The decision on your accreditation is a decision taken by the Department of Public Information. [cross talk] It's based on actions, having to do with actions that you took, indeed, in this very room, that were hindering… [cross talk]
Inner City Press: In a meeting that wasn't listed as closed, not in the UN Journal of anywhere else as closed. I'm just asking. Should they write to Cristina Gallach? They've written to the wrong person… [cross talk]
Deputy Spokesman: You can say whatever you want, but it's not my place to argue with you about the decision…
Inner City Press: It's a letter to Ban Ki-moon. You speak for Ban Ki-moon. So I'm asking you for a response to the letter.
Sri Lanka NPC Letter to Ban Ki-moon Protesting USG Gallach Stripping ICP Of Resident Correspondent Accredit... by Matthew Russell Lee
Deputy Spokesman: This is a decision taken… you can talk over me as much as you want but it doesn't preclude the reality of it.
Question: No, I see you trying to move… if you'll just stay stationary, I'll be quiet.
Deputy Spokesman: Okay. Yes. Nabil?
On March 3 Inner City Press again endeavored to ask Sri Lanka questions, including about the UN's role in killings there. Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Farhan Haq tried to PRE cut off the questions. Video here,from the UN transcript:
Inner City Press: I want to ask about Yemen, DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and Sri Lanka. On…
Deputy Spokesman Haq: Sri Lanka or you? Is it really about Sri Lanka?
Inner City Press: Well, why don't we just wait and see, you know? Because I thought actually people can ask questions in here.
Deputy Spokesman Haq: You're perfectly entitled to. It's just that you have this adorable way of saying what your subject titles are for your questions, and they seem to not match what the actual questions are.
Question: There was a protest in Jaffna. That's actually not what I was going to ask about. You could easily take a look at it. And I think it's outrageous that you didn't answer it. But, I have another question on Sri Lanka. ...
Inner City Press: Here's a Sri Lanka question you seem to have tried to stop in advance, but…
Deputy Spokesman: I wasn't stopping in advance. I just don't like false advertising.
Inner City Press: If the UN is protested in Sri Lanka, I think it is a Sri Lanka question. And I actually think you do answer about protests of the UN elsewhere.
Deputy Spokesman: Sure.
Inner City Press: And, in fact, if VICE News…
Deputy Spokesman: Is this a protest having to do with Sri Lanka, or is it about you?
Inner City Press: If VICE News asks you about Turkey locking up VICE News journalists in Turkey, do you say, don't ask about VICE News? I'm just asking you. So, if the UN does something that people protest, you don't answer? But, here's my question. There's a letter from a group called the Tamil Relief Fund, and it is saying the following… it is saying that not 40,000, as reported in Mr. Ban's report, but 70,000 civilians were killed in 2009. And it says that the UN has not conducted any credible investigation in it and that, therefore, a number of parties, including the UN, should not invest in… with the Government who had just committed, they say, a genocide. And I'd like to know the UN side of this letter, how do you respond? Does the UN feel that it conducted an inquiry, a sufficient inquiry, into the number of people killed and that there's been accountability, and how does the UN justify its now more accommodative stance given the facts alleged in this letter?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you'll have seen what we've been saying about the [Maithripala] Sirisena Government and its efforts to investigate. We're trying to encourage an effort to get to the bottom of what happened in the end of the conflict with the Tamils. And we want to make sure that there's an actual good-faith effort by the Government of Sri Lanka to do that, and we'll keep pressing on that.
Inner City Press: According to the UN, how many people were killed?
Deputy Spokesman: Hold on. Yeah, yes?
UNCA / ex-Reuters: Just a housekeeping question. Are there transcripts available of press conferences in… oh, sorry.
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, please use that.
UNCA / ex-Reuters: Thanks. Just a housekeeping question: Are there transcripts available of press conferences in Geneva like Jan Egeland this morning, and do I have to listen to it live again?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, the press conferences that they have, the UN Office in Geneva transcribes those. So, hopefully, they'll be out on the website later.
Inner City Press: According to the UN, after all this time and all this interest, according to the UN, what, approximately, as close as you can make it, was… was the approximate number of civilians killed in 2008 and 2009? And also, has the matter of Mr. Vijay Nambiar, close senior adviser of Mr. Ban Ki-moon, and his role in communicating with surrendering individuals at end of the conflict who ended up being killed with a white flag in their hand, has this matter been resolved within the UN system to the satisfaction of Ban Ki-moon? Because it's not to the satisfaction of people in Jaffna.
Deputy Spokesman: We have already said where we stand on the question of how Mr. Nambiar handled that. I'd refer you back to what we said several years back. Regarding the death tolls, ultimately, that's… the figures had been developed and… and have… are in the hands of, I believe, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, so you should ask them. All right. Have a good afternoon.
This is a new low for the UN. From the March 2 UN transcript:
Inner City Press: Yesterday, I'd asked you about a protest that took place at the UN compound in Jaffna. And you'd said you had no comment on it. There's video of it. Many people have said it seems strange, and they've looked at other comments your office has made on other protests. The question is…
Deputy Spokesman: And I… I continue… Matthew, I continue… You called…
Inner City Press: Right, what I'm asking is, when do you respond to a protest…?
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew, Matthew, Matthew. You called this a question about Sri Lanka. This is actually a question about yourself. I have nothing to say about you and your particular thing.
Inner City Press: It took place in Jaffna. Have you seen it? Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman has seen it. How does it relate to the work of the UN in Sri Lanka?
Deputy Spokesman: It's a question for which neither I nor Mr. Feltman, by the way, have any comment. Have a good day.
This is a new low - including for Feltman. There is a video of the protest - of which senior UN officials have been made aware. Now what?
In a letter that gave Inner City Press only two hours, Ban's Under Secretary General for Public Information Cristina Gallach told Inner City Press to surrender the key to its long-time shared office.
That evening eight UN Security guards under Deputy Chief Michael McNulty physically threw Inner City Press and its laptop out onto First Avenue in below freezing weather, without a coat. Audio here; video as UN Security turns off Inner City Press' Periscope livestream, here.
On February 22, UN Security official Matthew Sullivan told Inner City Press it could not even be signed into UN headquarters as a guest, it was Banned from all UN premises. Audio here.
Since then Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jose Ramos-Horta urged Gallachto reverse her decision, taken without one speaking to Inner City Press concerning its January 29 attempt to cover, to pursue its series on UN corruption under Ban, an event the UN Correspondents Association held in the UN Press Brief Room. Video of that event - used against Inner City Press with no opportunity to be heard.
Business Insider was told, by an unnamed Gallach spokesperson, that it was fine to throw out a 10-year journalist at the UN without any opportunity to be heard, article here, and on Yahoo Finance.
A petition to restore Inner City Press to access to the UN, and to its office under its long-time but stripped Resident Correspondent accreditation, is here, with 675 signatures as February 29 and comments.
The DC-based Government Accountability Project, which defends UN and other whistleblowers, has written that the ouster of Inner City Press is “retaliatory in response to independent, critical journalism.” (Dujarric, who previously “lent” the UN Press Briefing Room to his native France's President Francois Hollande, said he disagrees with GAP.)
Ban Ki-moon, whose “victory tour” of blood-soaked northern Sri Lanka Inner City Press covered and was never forgiven for by Ban's UN, was the target of a demonstration in Jaffa for the ouster of Inner City Press.
Handwritten signs at the Jaffna protest cited back to questions about Ban accepting a Sri Lanka war crimes suspect Shavendra Silva as one of his Senior Advisers on Peacekeeping, and another suspect Palitha Kohona's involvements with the UN including the White Flag Killings with Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar.
Inner City Press reported how Kohona got UNCA under current president Giampaoli Pioli to screen a war crimes denial film in the UN; Pioli has been Kohona's landlord but did not recuse himself or consult other UNCA member members including, at that time, Inner City Press (which quit and co-founded the Free UN Coalition for Access.)
See photo here from the demonstration outside the UN compound in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. There's video. An anonymous troll Twitter account which counts among its few followers Cristina Gallach, Stephane Dujarric, UNCA board members and Reuters' Lou Charbonneau says darkly this was not a spontaneous protest - whatever that means. The UN's Censorship Alliance. Haq on March 2:
On March 1 Inner City Press asked Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq, video here, UN transcript here:
Inner City Press: on Sri Lanka, I wanted to ask you, there was a protest overnight, whatever the time difference is, at the UN compound in Jaffna by Tamils. And I have to say, the protest was to restore full credentials to Inner City Press and open press. You can find it, it was reported in Uthayan, which is a publication that was burned down repeatedly by the Government that's been spoken of from this podium. So, I know that Stéphane [Dujarric] yesterday said he doesn't agree with the Government Accountability Project. What is the UN's response to a protest at its compound in Jaffna on this topic of free press?
Spokesman Haq: Matthew, I'm not going to comment on your personal case.
Inner City Press: I'm asking about a protest of the UN.
Spokesman Haq: I know that you're dealing with DPI [Department of Public Information]. While you’re…
Inner City Press: I'm not dealing with the DPI. They never spoke to me before they did it, and I'm asking you about a protest. Do you have a comment?
Spokesman Haq: I would have no comment on this, no. Thanks. And let's get to our guest.
But what does Ban care? He is, as usual, out of New York, on a trip in Spain where neither the King nor President is meeting with him. Ban will not even visit the headquarters of "his" MINURSO mission in El Aaiun since Morocco's King won't be there or let him.
Beyond Ban's troubling ambivalence about war crimes, most recently for example in Yemen (which he has a pro-Saudi envoy) and Burundi (where his Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous is embroiled with the military, as it commits child rape as part of the UN mission in Central African Republic), a corruption scandal which Inner City Press is pursuing threatened to undermine Ban's plan to run for President of South Korea.
Macao-based business man Ng Lap Seng, now under house arrest, bought a photo op with Ban, giving tens of thousands of dollars to the UN Correspondents Association, though South South News. (This is why Inner City Press sought to cover the January 29 event in the UN Press Briefing Room, openly Periscoping an event that was nowhere listed as Closed.)
Indicted Frank Lorenzo got South South News into the UNTV archives. Spokesman Dujarric has twice refused to explain this, despite being in charge of UNTV at the time.
The UN's response has been to order an audit by its own Office of Internal Oversight Services into all UN deals with Ng's Sun Kian Ip Foundation and also-indicted Sheri Yan's Global Sustainability Foundation.
Inner City Press has shown: Ban's wife and his adviser Vijay Nambiar, of Sri Lanka “fame,” were at the FOUNDING of this corrupt Global Sustainability Foundation. And Inner City Press after reporting this is thrown out of the UN?