Wednesday, April 19, 2017

At UN, As Guterres Meets African Union, UN's Mistreatment of Press Arises, Cameroon to Come

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 19 – When UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres did a photo op at 9:25 am with the African Union's Moussa Faki Mahamat, the conference room was full of name tags. Inner City Press took the (first) photo and was told to wait on the 37th floor until 10 am for a "photo spray." At that time, the room was full with AU officials including Early Warning and Conflict Prevention specialist Frederic Ngaga Gateretse, who to his credit took note of the UN's bad treatment of the Press. Video here and embedded below.

 Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed, made aware, came to the end of the table and spoke with ASGs Taye Brook Zerihoun and Gettu, who joked that "The Horn" (or part of it) was represented. New UN Peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix came in; Jeffrey Feltman was in the meeting, but not apparently Stephen O'Brien. 
UNFPA's Babatunde Osotimehin came up late on the elevator. Minutes afterward, the UN announced that Guterres' 5 pm meeting with Egypt's Minister Badr would no longer be open to the media, as his UN is giving Inner City Press' longtime space work space to Egyptian state media Akhbar al Yom, whose long absent correspondent rarely comes in, never asks questions. This is today's UN: and it must improve. So too must Guterres' and Mohammed's UN's performance on Cameroon and other AU topics. Watch this site.

  On April 18 when Guterres did a photo op and meeting with Ukraine's deputy Foreign Minister Sergiy Kyslytsya, his close adviser Katrin Hett came to tell the assembled staffers they would not be needed, the meeting would be held with only four on each side in Guterres' office overlooking the East River and Queens. Things are getting more and more private: Guterres' spokesman Stephane Duajrric for example has twice refused to answer Inner City Press if as reported Guterres tried to reach Cameroon's president of decades Paul Biya, about the cut off of the Internet there. Others have noticed the rash of German officials getting jobs: Achim Steiner at UNDP and prospectively Horst Kohler on Western Sahara. But some office on 38 now have blank signs. Kyslytsya had just given a right of reply in the Security Council, about Crimea. The mystery and payback for Guterres getting all of the Permanent Five members of the Council on his side to get elected has still not be revealed. But earlier on April 18, Inner City Press which remains evicted from its UN office and confined the UN minders was told, by the minders, that it cannot even work at a table in the UN lobbyThis has been raised, yes, to the 38th floor. So they know. There are no rules - a topic, in another context, that Kyslytsya raised in the Security Council.
Back on April 10 when Guterres did a photo op with the Club de Madrid - World Leadership Alliance including another candidate for Secretary General, Danilo Turk, it was impossible not to wonder what might have been. How might other of the candidates fared? What reforms, and reversal of Ban Ki-moon mistakes from Yemen and children and armed conflict to censorship might they have accomplished or at least begun? The ex heads of state barely fit into the photo, Periscope video here, and very little banter was heard before the press was ushered out. On the way in, Guterres came amiably through the hall, turning into the office of Miguel Graca. But where is the requested list of who works on the 38th floor, and who pays them? Is it true, as Inner City Press has heard, that Guterres has interviewed Achim Steiner for UNDP? At the lower profile Department of Public Information, why hasn't the Officer in Charge given any substantive response to simple requests before him, and would any successor at least have to commit to free press due process rules? Why is the holdover spokesman allowed to refuse to answer the Press' questions on Burundi, while engaging others about Sex and the City? We'll have more on this. After 100 days of Antonio Guterres as UN Secretary General, what has been accomplished? Guterres focused early on South Sudan, but as Inner City Press reports today on his 100th day, the Salva Kiir forces are using tanks near Wau while UN Peacekeeping, still under French control, says nothing publicly. The Cyprus talks are set to continue, but we've heard that before. Yemen is as bloody as ever, and Guterres extended Ban Ki-moon's (or Saudi Arabia's) envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed without even getting him to make any public financial disclosureDiscrepancies in Guterres own disclosure filings between 2013 and 2016 have yet to be explainedby Guterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric. What has changed? Not the Department of Public Information's targeted restrictions on Inner City Press, able to cover meeting on the UN's second floor only with a minder, and sometimes (as on the Rwanda genocide on April 7) not at all. Inner City Press has filed a request for reversal with DPI's Officer in Charge, nine days ago, with no substantive response. New Inner City Press song here. We remain constructive, eager to see reforms occur and succeed. But what has changed?
  When Guterres held a brief photo opportunity and meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, it was Guterres' first in a while, after several rounds of travel. And it was over quickly: the media was told to leave before a single word was said. There were complaints about that, and more substantive complaints about a lack of transparency. There are no read-outs of meetings. On April 5 Inner City Press reported on inconsistencies even in Guterres' own public financial disclosures from 2016 and 2013 (his Yemen envoy makes NO public disclosures). On April 6 Guterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric declined to offer any explanation of the differences. As noted, under Ban Ki-moon he had Inner City Press thrown out of the UN Press Briefing Room and UN, where it is still restricted even as the Ng Lap Seng / John Ashe UN bribery case it was covering is coming to trial. Is the UN reforming? Watch this site.
  Back on March 23 when Guterres met UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, unlike in other recent meetings with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tajikistan, there were women on Guterres' side of the table (Periscope video here): Katrin Hett and the Chief of Staff, who had just met with Alain Leroy, former head of Peacekeeping now with the EU. Also on Guterres' side of the table was OCHA's Stephen O'Brien, who greeted and was greeted by Boris Johnson. Will the UK, and separately O'Brien, hold onto the OCHA post? The emergence reported by Inner City Press of outgoing Dutch Labor Party foreign minister Burt Koenders as a candidate for UNDP, over David Miliband, may help O'Brien. But with budget cuts looming, the increasing lack of transparency in the UN Secretariat's business is a problem. And this: according to at least one senior official on the 38th floor on March 23, Guterres "has no interlocutor" in Washington, to which we'll soon turn. Watch this site.
  As to Boris Johnson, after four pre-selected questions all on the London attacks, Inner City Press audibly asked about Cameroon's Anglophone's Internet cut, what the UK is doing. We'll have more on this too.
Back on March 15 when Guterres met with Bahrain's foreign minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa and a delegation that appeared to include that country's former president of the General Assembly, Guterres began by apologizing for keeping them waiting. Periscope video here. His previous appointment had been with a delegation called "United Cities and Local Governments." Guterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric has met to answer Inner City Press clearly on why some meeting and calls are not disclosed, such as a call with the King of Morocco and a working lunch with Michael Bloomberg, nor how some media were handpicked to memorialize Guterres' most recent trip to Kenya and Somalia. Video here. If these happened, as it has, in Washington there would be an outcry. And perhaps one is growing in Turtle Bay.
  Earlier on March 15 in the UN's basement, Bahrain human rights defender Maryam Alkhawaja spoke. She was not on the 38th floor; Guterres' interlocutors at Human Right Watch, after they met with him, refused to give any read-out of what issues they raised. It seems clear these did not include, from the UN spokesman's non-answers, that the cut-off of the Internet by the government in Cameroon's Anglophone areas, now 57 days and counting, nor the UN's censorship and restriction of the Press. We'll have more on this.
  On March 13, before the snow day in New York, Guterres met another Gulf foreign minister, United Arab Emirates' Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. UAE Ambassador Lana Zaki Nusseibeh asked of Guterres' recent cultural moves in New York City. After a pause, Guterres cited art shows in Chelsea and at the Frick. Not mentioned at least at that time was former UN official Bernardino Leon, who negotiated a job at the UAE Diplomatic Academy while at the same time representing the UN in Libya, much less any mention of Yemen. Will there be a read out? There was no read out of Guterres meeting with Tanzania's foreign minster Mahiga, about which Inner City Press asked Guterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric on March 13; he also had no answer on Cameroon, where the Anglophone areas have had their Internet cut off by the government for 56 days, almost contemporaneous with Guterres' tenure of 72 days. We'll have more on this.
  On March 10, Inner City Press was blocked from covering a 38th floor photo op others were allowed to. No reasoning was given, just as no rule was cited when Inner City Press was evicted from the UN by the Department of Public Information's Cristina Gallach, and still remainsrestricted to minders more than a year later. Some thought the era of a lawless and censoring UN would be over by now. When?
  Back on March 3, when Guterres met with Gabon's FM Pacôme Moubelet Boubeya on March 3, it came before when the UN called a two day trip by Guterres to Kenya, from Sunday to Thursday. Last Friday when Inner City Press e-mailed Guterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric with the simple question of where Guterres was, Dujarric never answered the e-mail. When on Monday Inner City Press asked in person in the noon briefing, Dujarric said, Portugal. And this time? Why be murky?
  That is becoming a theme. Who is working on the 38th floor? How are they being paid? Inner City Press asked and was promised a chart, including a list of who is "seconded" from countries' mission. It has not been provided. On March 3, Dujarric who previously played a role in Inner City Press' eviction and continuing restriction for covering the Ng Lap Seng UN bribery case refused to answer its last question, saying "Tomorrow" (which is Saturday) and "I'm lazy." Video here.  And so it goes.
  Dujarric told Inner City Press there was no read-out of Guterres' telephone call with Morocco's King in the name of quiet diplomacy. But why wasn't Guterres' working lunch with Michael Bloomberg put on his schedule, as a meeting days later with Gordon Brown was? Both, Dujarric answered, are still UN special advisers, as apparently is Han Seoug-soo despite being on the boards of directors of UN bank Standard Chartered and Doosan Infracore, which sells equipment to countries where Han gives speeches as a UN official.
  Also this week, Guterres' Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed arrived and within two hours of being sworn in did a four question stakeout. Inner City Press asked about the Green Bond of Nigeria, and if she and Guterres will work to make the Security Council more representative. UN reforms are sorely needed. Is the pace fast enough? Watch this site.
  (Gabon was at the UN on World Wildlife Day. Inner City Press, still restricted, was one of only three media to ask questions of CITES and Interpol, about the illegal trade of primates from Guinea. The UN needs more coverage, more access, not less. This too much change.)

Back on February 21 when Guterres met with Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, Guterres joked that having two UN flags and none from Ukraine was "UN chauvinism." Klimkin replied, "It's the kind of chauvinism we can tolerate. Otherwise..." Periscope video here.
  Earlier in the day Guterres in the Security Council expressed his condolences at the death of Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, saying he had been flying back from Lisbon (and Munich before that) when the commander of the plane passed a note that Churkin was dead. Klimkin on the other hand blocked draft a Presidential Statement, and confirmed it at a stakeout in which Inner City Press asked if he would urge Guterres to invoke Article 99 of the UN Charter more, to raise issues.
  While Guterres has rightly scheduled a press conference for February 23 on South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria, those are on the Security Council's agenda, the latter in connection with Boko Haram. The plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh, on the other hand, is barely mentioned by Council members. Is this a test for Guterres?
  On transparency, too, Guterres has opened the process for finding new Under Secretaries General of Management and Public Information - the departing one Cristina Gallach evicted Inner City Press from its office which sits unused and restricts it still, with no hearing or appeal, for covering the UN. That has yet to be reversed, and it is unclear if the USG position for Humanitarian Affairs will be opened to applications, as UNDP has. Watch this site.
  Back on February 8 when Guterres held a photo opportunity and meeting with Cote d'Ivoire Foreign Minister Marcel Amon-Tanoh, on the UN side of the table was Tanguy Stehelin, until quite recently the French Mission's legal adviser.
  That's how it is in the UN, at least as to Peacekeeping and former French colonies. As Inner City Press has exclusively reported, now "competing" to replace Herve Ladsous, the fourth Frenchman in a row atop UN Peacekeeping, are Jean-Maurice Ripert, Jean Pierre Lacroix and likely winner Sylvie Bermann, now Ambassador in London, previous like Ladsous in Beijing. It's the French Connection.
  At this photo op, after Amon-Tanoh's long vistors' book signing, no works were spoken until Guterres' "merci." His spokesman Stephane Dujarric, a holdover from Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan before that, has stopped giving read-outs of such meetings. His Office called the end of day "lid" with no reference to a balance, and without answering Inner City Press' question from noon about Burundi. Yes, it's the French Connection.
  Still even working from a small booth, still evicted and restricted by UN censor Cristina Gallach after one year, for seeking to cover an event in the UN Press Briefing Room, Inner City Press is hoping a more transparent UN