By Matthew Russell Lee
WASHINGTON, March 28 – When the US House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing about “The Budget, Diplomacy, and Development” on March 27, even the defenders of the United Nations acknowledged it must be reformed. But beyond generalities, how? Why doesn't the UN have a Freedom of Information Act? How did it keep a head of Peacekeeping for more than five years that linked sexual abuse to “R&R” - and then France keep the top job there for the fifth time in a row? Why was the head of the UN Department of Public Information Cristina Gallach allowed to evict and restrict the investigative Press without any hearing or appeal - and apparently reapply for the job, or be replaced by another censor? Rep. Kinzinger of Illinois spoke positively of a visit to the UN Mission in Liberia, but said reform is needed. Panelist Nicholas Burns echoed the need for reform, and praised the work of US Ambassador Nikki Haley so far (see below). Another panelist Danielle Pletka pushed back against the scope of proposed budget cuts, but said not all UN missions are successful, and a cut from 28% back to the statutory 25% US contribution could be accomplished. Much more too. Watch this Inner City Press Periscope video (including UN, Cameroon, Burundi and US ExIm Bank) - and watch this site.
The day before on March 27 as a UN conference to end nuclear weapons, without the participation of nuclear states, stated in the General Assembly, US Ambassador Nikki Haley spoke just outside the GA Hall with two other Ambassadors, the UK's Matthew Rycroft and French Deputy Alexis Lamek. It was said in advance that there would be no questions. Inner City Press Periscope video here. Fast transcribed, here is what Haley said: "Thank you for being here. We wanted to stand here to have our voices heard.You know me as the US ambassador to UN. But I’m a mom. I’m a wife. I’m a daughter. I always think of my family first. Then we look at our positions. Our job is to protect people in our country, keep them safe, keep the peace, and do it in a way that brings no harm. That’s our number one goal. That’s the goal of our countries. As a mom, as a daughter, there’s nothing I want more than a world with no nukes. But we have o be realistic Is there anyone that believes NK would agree to a ban? The GA would go through, trying to do something, but NK would be cheering and the people we represent would be at risk. The US thinks it’s important to defend our citizens, our friends, our allies, and the rest of the countries that want peace in the world. Is it any surprise that Iran is in favor of this? It is not. 40 countries are not in this meeting. We cannot allow the bad actors to have them, and those of us who are trying to keep peace and safety not to have them. The US has reduced by 85 percent since the non proliferation went into place. But today, when you see those , you have to ask yourself are they looking out for their people? Do they understand the threats that we have? Our job is to keep people safe, and that’s what we are going to do."
Now that the coming budget cuts to the UN are brought into focus by the US budget proposal, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has said that "in many areas, the UN spends more money than it should, and in many ways it places a much larger financial burden on the United States than on other countries." That today's UN is wasteful is exemplified by its Department of Public Information, whose director Cristina Gallach has used public funds to repeatedly travel to her native Barcelona to get personal awards, and even used US funds to pay a trainer to tell non-governmental organizations that Detroit, Michigan is a "third rate city" in "flyover country." Despite claims that the UN is capable of, or even engaged in, reform nothing has been done about Gallach's waste and even targeted censorship and restriction of the Press which reports on corruption. UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said, "US already has a good deal when it comes to the UN. The US is the only country whose total contribution is artificially reduced in order for it not to pay too much." This "good deal" is debatable - and will be debated.
Facing budget cuts, now of up to 50%, how does today's UN react? Well, its Department of Public Information (DPI) under Cristina Gallach plans an event with lobbyist UN Foundation and the Smurfs, and invites only UN-friendly media. DPI is a Department that could be substantially cut or disbanded. It used public money to pay a trainer to call Detroit, Michigan a "third rate city" in "flyover country;" it did no due diligence as a Macau based businessman bought the UN, left his bribery conduit in and evicted and restricts the Press which reports on it. Making Inner City Press a "non resident correspondent" without hearing or appeal, the UN now does not inform Inner City Press of Security Council trips or Saturday's Smurf fest. From a February 15 press release: "The popular Smurfs characters are encouraging children, young people and adults to make the world happier, more peaceful, equitable and healthy with a campaign launched today by the United Nations, UNICEF, and the United Nations Foundation...Team Smurfs will rally behind the 17 Goals through to the International Day of Happiness on 20 March 2017 when the campaign will culminate in a celebration at United Nations Headquarters in New York to mark the occasion." We'll have more on this.
When new - well, 74 day - Secretary General Antonio Guterres went on a trip to Kenya, in New York the Press was not informed of any chance to go. But there Guterres appeared with Al Jazeera, and now in a profile in the Washington Post from a usually hard-hittingreporter, this time quoting the UN's Herve Ladsous, who has mismanaged UN Peacekeeping and the Press for five years. The article describes the UN Foundation as "advocating for UN causes." But shouldn't issues like accountability for victims of UN cholera in Haiti, and opposing censorship in the UN and for example in Western Cameroon, with no Internet for 53 days, be "UN causes"? In fact, UN Foundation lobbies against US budget cuts to the UN, even if targeted and designed to bring about reform. The UN's cause, it seems, is to perpetuate itself.
(One of Guterres' team is quoted that Guterres' goal is to say out of Trump's Twitter feed. Is telling a newspaper that the best way to make it come about? And if Trump or Rex Tillerson eschewed a traveling press corps for hand-picked coverage, there would be and is outcry. The Free UN Coalition for Access asks, Is it acceptable by the UN?)
Recently in the UN basement as Inner City Press came in late through a long line of tourists and students at the metal detectors Inner City Press must now use everyday since the UN evicted it for covering corruption, a meeting in a windowless side conference room was ending. Outside in the hall it was labeled, Congressional Group. But inside on a TV screen it said, “UN Foundation: Congressional Learning Trip.” UN Foundation was set up, with Ted Turner's money, to help and now defend the UN. The UN's point person on sexual abuse, long a topic of interest for such Republicans as Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), is Jane Holl Lute, who before that was a high official of the UN Foundation and of the Obama Administration. She was notably absent this week when a “new” sexual abuse strategy, immediately critiqued by Code Blue and others, was announced. We'll have more on that.
Down in Washington, Democratic sources on the Hill tell Inner City Press of a visit by the Obama administration's appointee to the UN, Jeffrey Feltman. Strangely, perhaps, they list the topic not as involving only Feltman's specific UN job, the Department of Political Affairs he has been held over to head until April Fools Day in 2018, but “budget cuts to peacekeeping.” The head of that Department, held by France for more than 20 years, should be the one lobbying. But Herve Ladsous is unappealing in the best of times; now he is a lame duck leaving on March 31, to be replaced by his fellow Frenchman Jean-Pierre Lacroix. Will Lacroix be able to stave off cuts? Will he continue to use public funds, more than a quarter of it from US taxpayers, to pay peacekeepers accused of rape such as in the contingents from Burundi and Cameroon?
Inner City Press exclusively reported and followed up on the extension of Jeffrey Feltman's UN contract with regard to his UN (largely US taxpayer) pension vesting after the five years which Feltman recently pointed out has not yet been reached, but not until now how those close to Feltman say it was accomplished. They exclusively tell Inner City Press that among the lobbyists to keep Feltman on was none other than Bill Clinton, whom they say said it on behalf of his spouse, behind whom Feltman was famously photographedwhile she worked her Blackberry.
Speaking of photographs, Inner City Press on March 10, still under censorship restrictions imposed without any hearing or appeal after it sought to cover the fallout from the UN bribery indictment of Macau-based businessman and former Clinton funder Ng Lap Seng, was Banned from a simple photo opportunity on the UN's 38th floor. The Ban's by the Department of Public Information under ostensibly outgoing Cristina Gallach, who did no due diligence on Ng Lap Seng. When asked the basis, the UN's holdover Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq gave no reason or definition being used; he barely looked up from his computer, from which he never did answer Inner City Press' questions on Cameroon abuses and the UN's Cameroon Resident Coordinator Najat Rochdi blocking it on Twitter, nor how much "extra-budgetary" funds the UN proposes to use on Louise Arbour's D1 head of office.
The moves are stealth, like much in the UN these days - and have the potential of backfiring. Watch this site.