Saturday, April 1, 2017

On Nagorno Karabakh, UN Deputy Spox Notes OSCE Statements, Leaves Questions UNanswered

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 31-- How and when do UN statements come out? On March 31, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq issues this: "We have noted the recent statements by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and by the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and express full support for the call to the sides to refrain from any actions that would undermine the ceasefire agreement. We welcome all efforts to reduce the level of tensions and call on all sides to demonstrate the necessary political will to resume substantive negotiations leading to a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict." But on other issues, not only no statements - no answers, or even confirmation of receipt of Press questions. We'll have more on this.
Back on February 27, back to back, came Secretary General Antonio Guterres statements on Nagorno Karabagh and Georgia, below.
 On February 28, Inner City Press asked the UN's holdover spokesman Stephane Duajrric how these statements came about. UN transcript
Inner City Press: you put out these two kind of packaged-together responses to questions received, one on Nagorno-Karabakh and the other one on Georgia.  Some diplomats were curious about it.  I'm sure the journalists who contacted you wanted the answer directly.  Were they provided them at the time, or how does it work? Some diplomats — that's why I'm asking you — surmised that this was sort of a way maybe to say something without saying it as a statement…

Spokesman:  Well, if we're asked, we share the answers.

Inner City Press:  Right.  But  I have a number of questions pending with you that I haven't seen any answers to, so how do you decide what to answer?

Spokesman:  No, some questions, we're able to answer.  Some take longer and… you know… 
"In response to questions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Spokesman has the following to say:

We are concerned about recent reports of clashes along the Line of Contact in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. The Secretary-General underlines his full support for the ongoing efforts of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs and the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office to reduce the current dangerous level of tensions and to prevent further escalation. He calls on all sides to refrain from any actions that would undermine the ceasefire agreement and urges the resumption of substantive negotiations leading to a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict without delay. 

In response to questions on the announced closure of crossing points along the Inguri River, the Spokesman has the following to say:

We regret the recently announced plans to close two additional crossing points along the Inguri River, Georgia, which will be detrimental to the freedom of movement and overall well-being of the population, including school children, on both sides of the administrative boundary line, especially those living in the Gali District. We join other international partners in calling for the continued functioning of the existing crossing points to ensure the freedom of movement, including humanitarian crossings. We underline previous calls for all the participants in the Geneva International Discussions to engage constructively in making tangible progress and to refrain from any unilateral actions that may adversely impact regional peace and security and undermine the work of those Discussions."
Inner City Press:  it seems like he made this decision to make extensions on peace and security, you know, pillars for a year. In terms of OCHA and DESA — these are two other big USG posts — is… are… are… is the intention to put these out to bid publicly?  Are they also being extended a year?  What track are they on?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don’t have anything to announce on that.  As you know, I did announce a few days ago that there was the initiation of recruitment for the Department of Management.  When others come up, we’ll let you know.
  On the positive side - we are trying to be constructive - this openness is welcome, after the corrupt tenure of Ban Ki-moon, ending with two separate bribery prosecutions in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. But this also stands at odds with the handing of the top post in UN Peacekeeping, for the fifth time in a row, to France, in the person of Jean-Pierre Lacroix. 
  Despite or parallel to that, at the Munich  Security Conference (first Inner City Press story here), this was the UN's transcription of Guterres:
Q: [On the proposal for Salam Fayyad to serve as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Libya]

SG: As I said several times, I think it was a serious mistake. I think that Mr. Fayyad was the right person in the right place at the right time, and I think that those who will lose will be the Libyan people and the Libyan peace process. And I believe that it is essential for everybody to understand that people serving the UN are serving in their personal capacities. They don’t represent a country or a government – they are citizens of the world representing the UN Charter and abiding by the UN Charter.
  With all due respect, if they don't represent a country, why has France controlled UN Peacekeeping five times in a row? And Inner City Press surmises the reference to not representing a government is to extending Obama-nominee Feltman without taking a nominee, or three competitors, from the new US administration. But France was given that "right." We'll have more on this.
Inner City Press notes the failure so far to advertise the top posts in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and DESA. 
  Exactly a month and a half into the tenure of Antonio Guterres as UN Secretary General, he has opened up to the whole world the Under Secretary General positions atop the Department of Management and the UN Development Program, and an Assistant SG position in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
  Inner City Press asked Guterres' deputy spokesman Farhan Haq, after getting no answer on if Guterres consulted with the new US Administration about retaining USG Jeffrey Feltman through April 2018, what about the USG of Management, Yukio Takasu?
  Haq, who the day before called Inner City Press "obsessive," replied that recruitment has been opened for the DM post. 
 Inner City Press asked, Open to the whole world? Haq nodded. And the deadline, we've found, is March 20. But what will Japan get? And what about the USG of Counter-Terrorism position, about which Inner City Press also asked Haq of February 15? Watch this site.
  Guterres has submitted a proposal for a new migration envoy, it was confirmed to Inner City Press on February 13.
  Back on February 1 when Guterres held a stakeout Inner City Press at the end asked him if he was hiring Louise Arbour as migration adviser. Video here.
  Guterres stopped and replied that he must first take the proposal before the UN Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions or ACABQ.  
  Inner City Press is informed that on Friday, February 10, he submitted the proposal to ACABQ. Meanwhile on February 13 Inner city Press asked his (holdover) deputy spokesman Farhan Haq, UN transcript here: 
Inner City Press: There's criticism of the UN system for not calling the return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan refoulement, and in fact, sort of standing by as people are forced back into a dangerous situation.  So, I wanted to know, since the Secretary-General… this is his issue, does he believe that the… the return of these Afghans from Pakistan is refoulement or not?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, we're… we do appreciate the hospitality that Pakistan has given to over a million undocumented Afghans for decades.  That's been crucial.  At the same time, the ongoing negative rhetoric, stigmatism, and labelling of the Afghan population in Pakistan and how this is adversely increasing their vulnerability, safety, and security in Pakistan is of concern.  We believe that Pakistan and Afghanistan should work together to finalize a mechanism for documenting undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan.  Returnees should be provided with detailed information on the situation in their place of origin to allow them to take into account their current situation in regards to security, governance, and livelihoods and to make a fully informed choice.  And we believe that Pakistan must uphold their obligations under international laws, including the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which was signed in 2016.

Inner City Press:  Okay.  I won't ask about the "R" word, but I wanted to ask… this is about Kenya.
  Then Guterres' holdover Deputy Spokesman told Inner City Press to "get over it." Video here.
From the February 1 UN transcript:
Inner City Press: Louise Arbour, are you going to make Louise Arbour as migration adviser, Louise Arbour?
Secretary-General:  [Off mic] "Before I can announce the name, there is a procedure.  That procedure is to submit to ACABQ (Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions) for the post to be created.  And the worst thing I can do is to announce someone before the post is created, because that will be against the rules.  And so you will wait a little bit more." 
  After that interchange and before this publication, Inner City Press put follow up questions to UN holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric, which did not call on Inner City Press for any question to Guterres (the question had to be shouted out at the end), including
"On SG Guterres' answer to Inner City Press' question, please explain whether and how the position he is proposing to ACABQ is related to the position held until December 31 by Karen AbuZayd (and who hold that now) and to the position held by Peter Sutherland."
  To this, Dujarric answered "Nothing to add until announcement is made."
  Not even about that the position is? On January 31, Inner City Press asked Dujarric what its terms of reference are, and this was not answered.
Back on January 16, Inner City Press exclusively published Guterres' four page memo of his vision for his Office, with - what else - an organogram at the back. Scribd here,pdf here.
 On January 16, Inner City Press asked Guterres' (and before that Ban Ki-moon's) deputy spokesman Farhan Haq about the memo and more. Video here, UN transcript here.
  One senior UN official who gave the memo to Inner City Press said that more substantial reforms, and personnel changes, are needed.
This comes after the UN Department of "Public" Information ordered Inner City Press to stop Periscope live-broadcasting Guterres' Town Hall meeting from the UN's own UN Webcast site, after DPI evicted and still restricts Inner City Press after it asked about the actions or lack of due diligence on corruption including by the head of DPI, Cristina Gallach. OIOS audit at Paragraphs 37-40, 20b.

While new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is behind the scenes planning a number of other structural changes, also reported on exclusively by Inner City Press, officials from the discredited Ban Ki-moon era are trying and in some cases succeeding in staying on.
  First, some proposed changes: the UN Department of Political Affairs, which had essentially been promised to Russia (in the person of Dmitry Titov) will be no more. 
  It will become "DPAP" (or as we call it, D-Papa), the Department of Political Affairs and Prevention Activities. And, contrary to the understanding reached just before Guterres got the SG position, it will NOT be Russian.
  Instead, Titov is slated to either become head of Counter-Terrorism, or of a combined Rule of Law and Elections unit. Some say, elections? And others say the electoral unit needs more "oomph," to stand up, say , to UNDP.
  Nor will the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, where Herve Ladsous is now ghoulishly trying to stay on until June, remain the same. It is to become DPO, Peace Operations, and Atul Khare's unit folded back in under it.
  On January 12, Inner City Press asked holdover UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here: 
Inner City Press:  I wanted to ask you about… about… I guess some proposals of… of António Guterres.  Is it the… this idea of a DPAP, instead of being a DPA, being a Department of Political Affairs, and you know, prevented… prevention activities.  Is this… is this a done deal in his mind?  Is that what he's going?  And is the rule of law office going to be combined with the elections office currently headed by Craig Jenness?

Spokesman:  I think you're asking questions at a level of granularity which I'm not able to answer.  What I know, what the Secretary-General has asked for and what both departments, DPA… well, DPA, DFS [Department of Field Support] and DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], are working on is co-locating physically offices in units that deal with the same countries and the same areas.  And that's what we're working on.

Inner City Press:  Is DFS going to be eliminated and put back under DPKO…?

Spokesman:  As I said, this is where our focus is on and those are the instructions he gave.

Inner City Press:  And just something very specific.  You'd said a lot of the contracts run out in March.  And I wanted to know, I've heard that some USGs [Under-Secretaries-General] are lobbying to stay on until June.  So, just to know… Like I'd asked you yesterday about Mr. [Martin] Kobler.  You said you'd look into it.  Does it run out in March or is it June?  Mr. Ladsous, is it June…?

Spokesman:  As for Mr. Kobler, I don't have any update.  I think what you will see is… what we expect to see for most of the senior posts, including USGs, is vacancy announcements.  And I think that will give you an indication of when posts become vacant.
   So while Dujarric answered only two and a half of Inner City Press' 22 questions, here's another one: will the UN be publishing vacancy announcements for the Under Secretaries General of Peacekeeping? Of Political Affairs, seeming now extended? We'll have more on this.
Inner City Press:  And just finally, on the Jeff Sachs question, it's been about a week.  Is it permissible for a UN official to…?

Spokesman:  I owe you an answer on that.  I don't have anything.  
  Still no answer on Sachs. But on the "co-locating," Inner City Press is informed that on Mali, for example, there is substantial overlap and waste -- 40 people -- and so the Departments, as institutional protection, are pushing back. Guterres needs to reform now, or never, some say. Inner City Press asked specifically about Mali on January 13, without specific answer - yet.
  Inner City Press on January 11 asked Ban Ki-moon's holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric to confirm what P5 Ambassadors said, that the Libya Envoy Martin Kobler - whom we like, at least personally, in full disclosure -- will leave in March. Dujarric typically refused to answer or to follow up. But now we hear Kobler may stay until June.
   Several UN staff, from top to bottom, expressed frustration at Guterres keeping on at least for now such officials as Cristina Gallach, and for not yet providing leadership, rather saying he will listen. We are about to get slammed, one told Inner City Press. It's time for serious changes.  We agree.
When new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres held his first Town Hall meeting on January 9, Inner City Press went in early to stake it out - that is, stand in front and speak to attendees -- as it has in previous years.
   But this year, due to a retaliatory eviction by former Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's head of communications Cristina Gallach and Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric, Inner City Press could not pass through the turnstile on the UN's second floor. And there was no one in Gallach's Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit office. Inner City Press and its coverage were banned.
 But the Town Hall was on the UN's own external UN Webcast website, so Inner City Press from in front of MALU then the focus booth it has been reduced to working out of broadcast the screen by Periscope, with voiceover. 
  Three hours later, holdover spokesman Dujarric insisted in the day's UN noon briefing that it was only on the UN's "internal" website, to which Inner City Press does not have access. It's simple to check, but Dujarric didn't.  
  And here now some dispatches from the Town Hall meeting. A UN staff representative from Nairobi -- where Ban Ki-moon promoted his own son in law Siddharth Chatterjee to the top UN job -- complained of corruption and a lack of accountability.
  Guterres called the comments "tough" and pointed out that some say it is too hard in the UN to fire people for not working. It did not seem he meant Under Secretaries General like Cristina Gallach and Herve Ladsous, but rather lower level UN staff. He spoke about accountability. We'll see: those two particularly Gallach are litmus tests.
  A staff member from the UN Department of Management said that some 455 electronic questions or comments had been received. A speaker from the UN in Beirut said the online link should remain open. We agree - and note that one should be set up for the impacted public. Already people are asking Inner City Press and the Free UN Coalition For Access how to reach Guterres, like bkm [at]
  To a speaker from South Sudan, Guterres said that the country would be one of the topics at his lunch with members of the Security Council later in the day. (One wondered if Yemen and Burundi, even Western Sahara, will as well).
  UN Spokesperson Dujarric, who answers at best 10% of Press questions, late on Sunday highlight praise by British actor Tom Hiddleston at the Golden Globes award of aid workers in South Sudan. Fine, but why didn't the UN protect them at Terrain in Juba?
  As before, Dujarric seems to relish or benefit from absurd censorship threats hanging over the head of the Press. How long, in an ostenstibly new UN administration, will this be allowed?
  Inner City Press asked Dujarric at the noon briefing because another UN official came into the focus booth to order it to stop -- which it did -- and sent this:
"Dear Matthew,

Please note that the SG townhall meeting is for UN staff and is not an open meeting.

Therefore, broadcasting it is a breach of the guidelines.

With kind regards,

Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit "
   This is censorship: the meeting was on the UN's external website. Not a good start -- Gallach and Dujarric are leading even new SG Guterres down the garden path of censorship, at the world possible time for the UN. Watch this site.
The United Nations at the beginning of 2017 still has no Freedom of Information Act, no content neutral standards for media accreditation and no right to due process or appeal for journalists. This is UNacceptable.
New UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres should be expected to address these issues, and to hold at least monthly sit-down press conferences. On January 6 holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric indicated he would wait for something to announce. But Q&A should not be tied to a particular UN announcement.
   Downgrading to non-resident correspondent status, and eviction from UN work-space, is not a legitimate way to respond to coverage of UN irregularities and corruption such as that alleged in the ongoing Ng Lap Seng / John Ashe UN bribery case. It must be reversed, but also non-resident correspondents should not be restricted to minders or escorts to cover events on the Conference Building's second floor.
On January 6, Dujarric and DPI's Cristina Gallach led Guterres on a tour that implied that only those who pay money to a group which last month gave an award to anti-press Ban Ki-moon, and who are granted (and not evicted in retaliation from) UN office space are part of the UN press corps. Click here for Inner City Press' story, and YouTube video. This will ill-serve Guterres, and the UN.
  Beyond headquarters, the UN in the field must become more responsive to local journalists. A Free UN Coalition for Accessmember in Hargeisa, Somaliland complains that the UN in Mogadishu refuses to answer simple journalistic questions. The same has occurred in Colombia, while the UN's leadership in Kenya has informed staff not to speak to particular media. This is UNacceptable.
  That former Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, among his very first acts upon leaving the UN, took legal action against reports of possible corruption during his tenure reflects badly on the UN. 
FUNCA hopes for a better 2017, but hope is not enough. The UN needs a FOIA, a reversal of recent anti-press decisions and due process and content neutral standards, and at least monthly Secretary General press conferences, going forward. We will have more on this; watch this site.