Wednesday, February 22, 2017

UNcensored 12: After UN Evicted Press, Jeff Sachs Two-Step, Burundi Tweets, O'Brien in the Lobby

By Matthew Russell Lee, Part of SeriesVideo

UNITED NATIONS, February 21 – Even evicted and restricted by the UN I tried to keep covering in, for example on Burundi. Before being thrown out of my office I had one morning seen a group of four protesters with a Burundian flag and I ran down there. I broadcast the protest on Periscope, interviewed the organizer, up from Louisiana as it happened, Manisha Lievin, and put the whole thing online.
  Burundi's Ambassador Albert Shingiro who blocked me on Twitter mocked my video of the protest, saying if only four people are upset, it's not much of a moment. Hey, it's a small country, with even fewer in New York. I blasted away at Shingiro, and Burundians from Toronto and Kigali replied and sent me photos of soldiers who'd killed protesters and were now being deployed on Ladsous' peacekeeping missions.

   I was covering a meeting on Burundi of the Peacebuildling Configuration, in person because I no longer had access through my office ot the UN's in-house EZTV. There was no outlet and I was live tweeting, Switzerland's Ambassador and the omnipresent Shingiro thanking everyone, thug-like -- when my phone rang.

  It was Jeffrey Sachs, all around UN guy, to whom like nearly all other Under Secretaries General I'd send an email about my plight. I went out into the Vienna Cafe, still loud. Sachs said he was traveling but wanted more information, he would try to talk with Cristina Gallach.

  It was ironic, because I'd attacked Sachs in the past, including for claiming he was a dollar a year UN official when UNDP paid for his travel, I'd gotten a copy of the check. “Be careful,” he'd told me at the time and I'd reported that too. And here he was trying to intervene for me. I was impressed. “This is not good for the UN,” he said. It struck me this could be the silver bullet, one of the UN's name-brand outside supporters. Wake up and smell Sachs' Rwandan shade-grown coffee, Gallach, I thought. I sent him more information then went to the noon briefing.

  I asked my usual mix of questions - two Africa, one Sri Lanka, two corruption - then went and sat on one of the two benches in the lobby to type them up. I tweeted people I saw passing by, and got up to chase UN Relief Chief Stephen O'Brien to the elevators.

  I asked him, “The Saudi ambassador said you don't want a humanitarian resolution in the Security Council, like the one you asked for on Syria - is it true?”

  O'Brien stopped and said “I hadn't heard that.”

  “It was on camera,” I told him. “It's on the webcast.”

  “I'll have to see it then,” he said. The elevator doors closed behind him. I went back to my bench - my laptop was still there - and tweeted out his answer. I could still report this way, I decided. It was different but I could do it.

   Still when it hit six o'clock I went to the front of the lobby, facing the traffic circle they had marched me around. There was a black sedan parked there with UN Security. I would wait for Ban Ki-moon to come off the elevator and ask him why this was happening. I paced up and down.

  Guards came and stared at me, but none came over to talk. Though almost no one did this any more, this was or had been an accepted stakeout. A British journalist named James Bone had used it, to lie in wait for UNHCR's Ruud Lubbers about his sexual harassment -- alleged, alleged -- of Cynthia Byrzac. Bone had asked Lubbers to touch him as he had Ms Byrzak and Lubbers insanely complied, patting Bone on the ass. “I would do it to Mrs Annan,” Lubbers said, captured on UN TV. Kofi Annan, watching upstairs, fired him. Those were the days.

    I waited and waited but there was no Ban Ki-moon. Finally the official who emerged was Jan Eliasson, Ban's Sweden deputy.  “Yes, Matthew?” he asked me, as if he didn't know what had been done to me.

  “They threw me out,” I said, as Security stepped between us. “Call Jeff Sachs!” I said, hearing my own self as desperate.

 “Jeff Sachs, eh?” Eliasson said, by now at the doors to his car. He was gone.  I retreated to the far end of the lobby and started to write it up. My laptop was running out of power so I plugged it and my smart phone in. This could be the break.

   Just then I saw two UN Security guards approaching me. The older one, in a white shirt, said “You know you shouldn't be here.”

  “I don't know that,” I told him. “The rules say if I'm in the building by 7 pm I can stay working.”

  The white guard shook his head. “You're going to have to leave.”

  “But my stuff is up in the bullpen,” I told him.

  “You have to leave now,” he said.

 “What's your name?” I asked. I fumbled to turn on my phone filming, to try to Periscopethe encounter.

  “Clyde,” he said. “And we're going to move you out.”

  They escorted me through the lobby, like on February 19. But this time I had my phone in my hand. “You know why they're having you do this, right?” I asked him. “I wrote about Ban Ki-moon's connection to the corruption scandal.”

 He didn't answer. I said a few swear words, and the next thing I knew I was out on First Avenue. Again.

  This time I went straight to the park and its metal statue. I knew where to plug in my equipment; Adrian had shown me. I uploaded video and sound, I wrote an article. The UN is hitting new lows, I tweeted. A few people responded. Like a little Burundi.