By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, December 6 -- When Mayor Bill de Blasio's Commissioner for International Affairs Penny Abeywardena took questions about the United Nations' impact on New York City on December 6, there was an initial joke about parking tickets, as if that would be the extent of issues New Yorkers might care about.
But while the City's study enumerates people directly employed by the UN Community, their lack of labor and other rights due to immunity was not acknowledged in the study.
Inner City Press covers both the UN and its headquarters city, New York, and routinely receives complaints from diplomats' domestic workers and drivers about work place abuse and lack of benefits, and the lack of any recourse. Due to immunity, not only defrauded workers but those subject to physical abuse are left without rights.
Inner City Press asked Abeywardena what the de Blasio administration proposes to do about that - for example, diplomat Joachim Haubrichs punched his wife Henna Johnson, 35, in the face and was not subject to arrest at all. Abeywardena said, in essence, that Johnson could get counseling. UN Video.
What about the UN having brought cholera to Haiti and killed 10,000 people, leaving sorrow and economic harm in many New York City communities - does the de Blasio administration have a position on that? Abeywardena did not answer, leaving the question for the UN moderator Cristina Gallach.
But Gallach, as mentioned even in the New York Times, is responsible for the ouster and eviction of the investigative Press from the UN, and its confinement to minders to cover events on the UN's second floor for the past nine months and for the foreseeable future.
Gallach is giving Inner City Press' longtime shared UN office to an Egyptian state media, Akhbar al Yom, which rarely comes into the UN and never asks any questions.
Abeywardena answered Inner City Press' second round of questions by saying the City works with the UN on such issues as testing for Legionnaires Disease - something legally required for (other) buildings in New York.
We question whether the City administration is doing or should do anything to ensure that the UN lives up to the basic principles, applicable right outside the UN's gates, of press freedom and due process.
Gallach's pretext for throwing Inner City Press out and restricting it since was Inner City Press' attempt to cover an event in the same UN Press Briefing Room on January 29, as part of its coverage of the ongoing Ng Lap Seng UN bribery case set for trial in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in January 2017.
Inner City Press left the briefing room - which had no “closed” sign on it - as soon as a single UN Security officer said to, at the request of UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric. But three weeks later, without once speaking with Inner City Press, Gallach ordered it out on two hours notice.
When Inner City Press was physically thrown out onto First Avenue on Gallach's orders on February 19, 2016 (audio here) and its laptop thrown onto the sidewalk, it called the New York Police Department, which said it had no recourse at all, the UN controls even the sidewalk in front of it.
While the UN certain does some good work, is this censorship and impunity something New Yorkers should be represented as supporting? We'll have more on this.