Monday, April 24, 2017

Cameroon Ambassador Told ICP If More "Hate Speech," Cut Net Again, UN Stonewalls ICP

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive Series
UNITED NATIONS, April 21 – As Cameroon's Paul Biya government belatedly restored the Internet he cut in two regions of the country, on April 20 Inner City Press asked long time Cameroonian Ambassador to the UN Tommo Monthe about it. Monthe, set to chair the UN's Fifth (Budget) Committee next year,first told Inner City Press that if "they" use the Internet again for hate speech (he used Rwanda's Radio Milles Collines as the analogy), "we will cut it off again." He made a cutting gesture, in the hallways outside the UN Security Council stakeout. He spoke at greater length with Inner City Press on April 21, on which we'll have more. Earlier at the April 21 noon briefing, Inner City Press asked the UN's holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric about it. UN transcript here. Inner City Press: On Cameroon the… after 94 days, the internet was turned on in the regions but the Government has said if there is any further use of the Internet for they say is hate speech, other people say it’s in opposition to the Government, so I wanted to know what is the UN’s comment on how, going forward, the right to Internet in those areas?  You also asked me to ask UNICEF who the resident acting, resident coordinator is and I have and they confirmed receipt but have not stated it.  So I’m wondering shouldn’t there be an online site saying who is in charge of the UN system?

Spokesman:  I’m sure they will get back to you.  You can check with UNDP (United Nations Development Program) as well, but I just don’t have the name in front of me.

Inner City Press:  My other question, there are many people who were arrested during these 94 days who are still in jail in Yaoundé, and I’m wondering who in the UN system is going to follow-up on ensuring that…

Spokesman:  I would refer you back to Mr. [François] Louncény Fall and he said he would be back in Cameroon 
   This is UNacceptable and shows why the UN's shameful silence, from Resident Coordinator Najat Rochdi to the UN 38th floor which promoted her and won't answer simple questions from Inner City Press but prefers to keep it restricted to minders, may portend badly, and empower or embolden Biya to do it again. So too with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: Prince Zeid and his spokesman Rupert Colville never answered the Press on the topic, choosing late in the process to send Ahowanou Agbessi and his deputy, quietly - so as not to upset Paul Biya? We'll have more on this.
The UN's shameful role in Cameroon and censorship should not be forgotten. UN Resident Coordinator to Cameroon Najat Rochdi never raised the issues, and on Twitter blocked Inner City Press which did raise it. Then UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric called Inner City Press' criticism of the UN's performance "harassment," and banned Inner City Press from asking Guterres about the issue at a rare Guterres question and answer stakeout on April 19. Still the question was asked and asked again. Now more questions must be asked. On April 19 when UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had a rare Q&A session, with the African Union's Moussa Faki Mahamat, Inner City Press went early, with a UN minder, to stand in the front and ask about Cameroon. But Guterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric had pre-arranged questions, several not on Africa at all. Inner City Press waited and then three times audibly asked, "Cameroon Internet cut?" Video here. Guterres looked, twice, but did not answer. His Deputy has been asked in writing about it. She has headed, for what it's worth, to the IMF and World Bank meetings in Washington, with Guterres to follow on April 20. Meanwhile on April 19 at the UN noon briefing, their holdover spokesman Dujarric dissembled. From the UN transcript: Inner City Press: My next question has to do with Cameroon.  In Cameroon, there’s a doctors’ strike, which has left many, many people without any health-care at all.  So I wanted to know if the UN has any response and also, again, back to this question, where does it stand in choosing a new Resident Coordinator, who might address these type of issues?

Spokesman:  Replacement for Resident Coordinators is an ongoing process.  When one is… has been chosen and agreed to by the Government, we’ll announce it, as we do with every country.  In the meantime, the country team is headed by, I believe, the UNICEF representative.

Inner City Press:  I know, and I’ve never… I’ve gone to their website, and it doesn’t list who the person is.  So you say reach them, but it’s not as easy as you seem to say.  I wanted to know whether you think that between the internet still being turned off and this doctor strike and the President having been in power for 35 years and being out of the country, does the UN see this as as these issues as somewhat related, as sort of a prevention of conflict issue given…

Spokesman:  I think the… the… as Mr. [François] Louncény Fall said, he would encourage both the Government and the other communities to engage in a constructive manner.
  The Ban Ki-moon era of the UN, culminating in two separate corruption indictments in the US District Court for the South District of NY, seems to be continuing, along with the restrictions imposed on Inner City Press for covering the corruption cases and their links to the UN Department of Public Information and Dujarric's office and friends. Most recently, on Cameroon, the UN's Dujarric characterized Press criticism of its officials' cover ups to be "harassment" after the Department of Public Information evicted and continues to restrictInner City Press, petition here, update here. On April 18 when the US Mission convened a rare UN Security Council meeting about human rights, Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft if the UK views the cut off of the Internet to millions of people in Cameroon as a human rights issues. Video here. Rycroft said he had nothing to add to what he'd previously told Inner City Press: that the situation in the Anglophone areas is not a threat to peace and security (although the UN keeps it under review). So what would be required, to make the UK and UNSC take note of it? And what about France, whose Francois Delattre also spoke in front of the Council, but didn't mention Cameroon? We'll have more on this- watch this platform.
On April 17, Inner City Press asked UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' Spokesman Stephane Dujarric about threats against clergy in Cameroon, the Internet cut and of any attempt by Guterres to reach Paul Biya, who has been president of Cameroon for decades. UN transcript here: Inner City Press: on Cameroon and Louncény Fall, I found his full quote where he said that he trusts that the internet will be gradually or progressively introduced to the rest of the country.  I guess I, many people that were left wondering, is it acceptable to only have it be in institutions?  What’s the expectation of the UN in terms of the timing? And also, since then, the Catholic clergy have received these, these threats of massive fines.  They’ve distributed on Easter to their congregants, basically for taking part in a nonviolent protest of the treatment of Anglophones, they face closure.

Spokesman:  I would refer you to what Mr Louncény Fall said.  I echoed what he said.  Obviously, we would like to see a return of the internet as soon as possible, and that’s the discussions he’s been having with the Government.

Inner City Press:  Did he attempt to talk to Paul Biya?  This is a… because as you… as you may know, Jeune Afrique and other publications have said that António Guterres sought to Paul, to speak to Paul Biya and was unable to, and I’m just wondering [inaudible]…

Spokesman:  I’m not aware, I’m not aware of the level of, whether or not Mr. Louncény Fall attempted to speak to Paul Biya.  He spoke to the highest authorities he was able to speak to.  You’re free to contact his office for more details.

Inner City Press:  I’m asking you about the 38th floor.  Did anyone on the 38th floor, whether Secretary-General or Deputy Secretary-General… [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I’m not going to get into details of people attempting to call one person or another.
   In early April the Office of the Spokesperson run by Dujarric told Inner City Press, we've heard you questions, if we have anything to add we'll let you know. Video here. Even that was a lie: UN envoy Lonseny Fall went again to the country, with this purporting to be his statement, and read-out here. But what has it come to? Consider this court prosecution of clergy, to try to put an end to legitimate protest. The UN so far has issued a weak, late statement then tried to move on, calling any criticism harassment and continuing to hinder coverage of the UN's deeds and misdeeds. We'll have more on this.
 On April 13, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Dujarric, video here, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: can you confirm that the Secretary-General sought to speak with Paul Biya while he was on an extended stay in Geneva, as has been reported? 

Spokesman:  No, I have no confirmation of a call having taken place.
Inner City Press:   I mean, I'm not asking [inaudible]…

Spokesman:  I have no information.
Inner City Press:  Okay.  And I wanted to know, people there saying, even in the wake of the visit of Louncény Fall, that, for example, a Supreme Court Justice, Paul Ayah remains, was only today, you know, remanded to remain in prison.  So they're not seeing much changes.  And I'm wondering, is this something that… that Mr. Louncény Fall looked into while he was there, the continued detention of barristers and those who have advocated for fair treatment of [inaudible]?

Spokesman:  What I just said is, in fact, that, in his contacts with the Government, Mr Louncény Fall advocated for the release of a number of Anglophone leaders and others.  So I think that's clear that's one of the things he was advocating for.
Inner City Press:  And, finally, I wanted to ask you about the Resident Coordinator position.  Given that the previous Resident Coordinator didn't raise any of the issues that you've just mentioned while she was there, is there any progress on naming a new one…

Spokesman:  I don't know that, and I don't know if you know that, but okay.  Anyway, next… what's your question?
Inner City Press:  The people that are there say it, and she also blocked the press…

Spokesman:  I think she blocks you, but…

Question:  Yeah, she does.

Spokesman:  …that's her right.
Inner City Press:   In what capacity does she block it?

Spokesman:  Well, I think anyone who has seen your tweets, I think, sometimes they do cross the line, I think, into harassment, and people block you from time to time.

Inner City Press:  Interesting.

Spokesman:  Indeed.
 How trustworthy is today's UN if they stonewall then withhold information, while continuing to block - a la Najat Rochdi - and restrict the Press which asks about Cameroon and denial of the right to information? On April 12 when there was a press conference at the UN about the death penalty, Inner City Press asked the panelist from Amnesty International about the Paul Biya government's threat of the death penalty against Anglophone advocates, including the UN's own former legal adviser Felix Agbar-Balla. The AI speaker said Inner City Press knew more about Cameroon, but that AI is concerned. We hope so - about the outrageous ongoing Internet cut as well. Watch this site.
On April 5, Inner City Press asked the UN Spokesperson's Office, Associate Spokesperson Eri Kaneko, what if anything the UN has done about the Internet cut. Video here.  From the UN's transcript: 
Inner City Press: there are issues in Cameroon.  There are a number of issues of the Anglophone areas, but there's one in particular, which is now an 80-day cut-off of the internet to two regions of the country.  So, in the answers that have been provided about what [Francois] Loncény Fall has done, there's no reference to this pretty open-and-shut issue.  Is there some way you can either ask DPA [Department of Political Affairs] or his office, like, what's being done on this?  Does the UN… has the UN in any way conveyed to the Government of Cameroon that whatever the other issues are that turning off the internet to whole regions of the country is not a good idea?

Associate Spokesperson:  We heard your question, and if we have anything to add further, we'll let you know.   
   Further? Nothing has been done.
 The day before on April 4, Agnes Marcaillou, Director of the United Nations Mine Action Service, mentioned work in Cameroon so Inner City Press asked about it and the Internet cut. Video here. She replied that "we all read Inner City Press" and for that reason know about the Internet cut, but her answer was about Boko Haram. We'll have more on this. 
On March 31, Inner City Press put a question about the outrage of Cameroon saying it will accede to the UN "electronic communications" treaty while denying such communications to millions of people to  UN Spokesman Farhan Haq, video here, UN transcript here
Inner City Press: Given that the internet has been turned off to millions of people for 76 days, I noticed that the Government says that it’s going to be depositing a ratification of something called a UN convention on the use of electronic communications in international contracts.  And I wanted to know, will the Secretariat… do they have any role in… in… in reviewing the sort of legitimacy of ratifications or… or… what would you say about a country that’s turned off the internet to its own population depositing a ratification to an electronic communications convention at that time?

Deputy Spokesman:  Those are separate issues.  Regarding treaties, all treaties are looked at to see whether the instruments… whether the treaties are properly filed as they’re being deposited. 
  How could this one be "properly filed"? But the UN's strategy has been to use Cristina "The Evicter" Gallach to restrict Inner City Press' access to cover the UN on such issues, even now that she has ostensibly left. We'll have more on this. Inner City Press also asked who represents the UN in Cameroon:
Inner City Press: I’d sent you a number of questions about Cameroon.  Now I have those and something else.  First of all, I wanted to know, what’s the… what is the status of having a resident coordinator in the country, given that the internet has been turned off to two regions in the country for 76 days?

Deputy Spokesman:  Right now, there is an officer-in-charge.  There’s no new full-time resident coordinator, but there’s an officer-in-charge there.

Question:  Can you say who that is or which agency it is?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe it’s the officer for UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) right now.
  But when Inner City Press later on March 31 visited UNICEF's Cameroon website to follow up, the most recent report was from 2012, and the top two press releases were about Nigeria, here. We'll have more on this, and on the UN's failing "Resident Coordinator system." On the afternoon of Friday, March 31 the UN sent Inner City Press this, stating that its UNOCA envoy Francois Lonseny Fall intends to visit Cameroon in early April, and other responses which we immediately publish in full: "Your questions on Cameroon: The United Nations Secretariat continues to follow closely the situation in the Republic of Cameroon through the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA). The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has been monitoring the court proceedings and allegations of human rights violations. We are concerned about the trial of civilians by a military court. The High Commissioner for Human Rights has raised these concerns with the Government of Cameroon in a letter dated 24 February 2017.  In our various contacts, we have called on the authorities to address the situation in a measured and peaceful manner, while abiding by their international human rights commitments. SRSG Fall has visited Cameroon several times to address these issues and plans to visit Cameroon in early April, subject to confirmation of meetings, to engage with the Government and reiterate the availability of the United Nations to support national efforts to promote an inclusive dialogue in order to address the root causes of the crisis, while respecting the territorial integrity and unity of the Republic of Cameroon.  With regard to the two specific cases cited, we have confirmed that Robert Fon was indeed released on bail on 27 March. We understand that Mr. Felix Agbor Nkongho, as his two co-accused (Fontem Afoteka Neba and Mancho Bibixy), is facing trial for various alleged offences in connection with the situation in the Anglophone regions. Their lawyers requested they be freed on bail. The court is reportedly set to examine the request when the case is taken up again on 7 April.  Concerning reports of the closure by the Government of a TV station in Western region of Cameroon, we are continuing our efforts to verify the allegation."
  As reported on March 30 by Inner City Press, Cameroon says it is poised to ratify the UN's Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts, adopted on November 23, 2005 in New York. How could the UN accept and deposit such a ratification? Cameroonian Minister of Trade, Lucile Magloire Mbarga Atangana cited the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law or UNCITRAL, one of the entities routinely meeting in UN conference rooms with little notice by the UN-facilitated media. This must change. When Cameroon forced refugees back into Nigeria, the UN rightly complained. Why not, then, of Cameroon's now more than 70-day Internet cut-off in its Anglophone areas, leading to the creation of an "Internet refugee camp" in Bonako? Meanwhile French firms continue pursuing money under Paul Biya, including Sofema selling a patrol boat to Biya's navy, and Tessi ironically moving in the "digitization" market in Francophone Cameroon. The UN on March 28 answered others of Inner City Press' questions, but not the one about former UN legal adviser Felix Agbor Balla. The UN is being asked today again about Agbor Balla, and about the arrested lawyer Robert Fon, former President of Northwest Common Law Lawyers’ Association, arrested and transferred to Yaounde. On March 29 Inner City Press asked the UN: "Because UNanswered, asking again: In Cameroon, former UN legal adviser (in UNAMA and elsewhere) Felix Agbor Balla now, according to a UK-based barristers' organization, faces a military trial with the death penalty on the table for speaking out about conditions in the country's Anglophone areas, where the Internet has been cut for 71 days and counting. Particularly given Agbor-Balla's former position as a UN legal expert, what is not only the UN's comment, but what is the UN doing to attempt to ensure he receives due process? Also, what about the arrest of human rights lawyer Robert Fon and his transfer to Yaounde?" But while the UN responded to other questions from Inner City Press, nothing on this one. Nothing.
With former UN legal adviser Felix Agbor-Balla in Cameroon facing a military trial with the death penalty on the table, a UK-based legal group has written to Cameroonian president Paul Biya (here) while his former employer the UN has done... nothing.  Inner City Press will be asking the UN yet again, while also seeking action and responses from others. With the UN's response to weeks of questions about repression and Internet cut off in Cameroon from Inner City Press being two ambiguous statements about the work of its Francois Lonseny Fall, on the morning of March 27 Inner City Press asked the UN's three top spokespeople: "In Cameroon, on which you've said the UN's Lonseny Fall is working, now the government has acted against TV station CRTV reporting on unrest in Western Cameroon. What is your comment, and what is Lonseny Fall or anyone else in the UN system doing about it? As asked before, what is the status of naming the next Resident Coordinator, and confirm if Najat Rochdi has begun at Deputy SRSG post in CAR." At the day's UN noon briefing, sans UN-restricted Inner City Press, spokesperson Farhan Haq faced only two questions. Afterward his Office sent Inner City Press this, which we publish in full: "Regarding the question you asked about Cameroon, the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), and the UN Country Team in Cameroon continue to follow events in the country. Concerning reports of the closure by the Government of a TV station in Western region of Cameroon, our colleagues are looking into the allegations.  We remain concerned about reports of pressure being placed on press organs in Cameroon that are working on the situation in the Anglophone Regions, including reports of arrests and even alleged disappearance of journalists."
Cameroon Anglophone human rights defenders set for show trials on March 23 ran into a new trick: the government trying to join the cases of 25 more defendants with theirs. From collective punishment to collective trials. The ruling on that will now be on April 7. Tellingly, Voice of America's story didn't even mention the Internet cut-off for more than 60 days in Anglophone Cameroon, not that defendant Felix Agbor Balla was a UN legal adviser, for whom today's UN does nothing. VOA and the UN: birds of a feather.
   While the UN first stonewalled then issued misleading statements about Cameroon, where the Internet has been cut off by the government in the Northwest and Southwest (Anglophone) regions for more than 60 days and counting, Inner City Press March 21, Inner City Press asked the UN's deputy spokesman Farhan Haq about the summons against Akere Muna, the lawyer for a former UN legal adviser, Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla. UN's March 21 Transcript here and below. On March 22, Inner City Press asked the UN about the underlying detention of Agbor-Balla. Video hereUN transcript here
Inner City Press:  I wanted to ask you a Cameroon question.  I'd asked you yesterday about this lawyer that's been summoned in, and there's growing outrage about that.  But, actually, he's the lawyer for a person that used to be a UN legal adviser in UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] named Felix Agbor Balla.  He's a lawyer that worked for the UN and now has been detained for months.  Several US Congresspeople have, in fact, raised the issue.  And I'm just wondering, one, particularly in the case of a former UN staff locked up seemingly without any type of due process, locked up only for advocacy, is there any UN role in these cases in actually looking into this individual case of a… of a former UN legal adviser now under detention in Yaoundé?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we would certainly expect that due process is followed.  We want to make sure that… especially that human rights defenders are not being prosecuted unfairly and those would be key concerns.

   Agbor-Balla's continued detention has triggered protest from, as it happens, the US state of Indiana, where Congress members of both parties have spoken out: Democrat André Carson and Republican Jackie Walorski. But the UN, after two weeks of Press questions, offered only a statement by its Francois Lonseny Fall, largely covering up for the government of Paul Biya, in power for 32 years. What good is the UN? The question is becoming louder: watch this site.