By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, March 24 – UN Peacekeeping faces budget cuts, and it is not unrelated to its descent into sexual abuse and failure to protect civilians under outgoing boss Herve Ladsous. So when Ladsous held his "farewell" press conference on March 24, one would expect the questions of sexual abuse by peacekeepers, their spread of cholera in Haiti and recent failure to protect even Panel of Experts member Michael Sharp and his colleagues would be asked about. But this is the UN - those called on by UN spokesman Farhan Haq didn't ask anything about those topics, and when Inner City Press late in the press conference did so, Ladsous refused to answer. Haq tried to play it off, one last question in French, so Inner City Press asked in French. But that wasn't the point. Ladsous-friendly scribes urged a softball question to be asked over Inner City Press, after which Ladsous thanked them for their "professionalism." If this happened in today's Washington, these same media like Reuters led by hypocrite in chief Stephen J. Adler would scream bloody murder. But at the UN they are part and parcel with the censorship. Ladsous has presided over the decay of UN Peacekeeping. Will the successor "picked" by Antonio Guterres (really, by Francois Hollande) Jean-Pierre Lacroix do any better? Watch this site.
More generally when facing budget cuts, even on a delay, how does today's UN react? Stealthly, is the answer. And with a limited and carefully picked media. When new - well, 80-plus day - Secretary General Antonio Guterres went on a trip to Kenya, in New York the Press was not informed of any chance to go. Then a glowing profile in the Washington Post from ausually hard-hitting reporter, this time quoting the UN's 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.