Friday, April 28, 2017

UN Refused Press Read-Out of Guterres' WIPO Meeting, Won't Confirm Staff Unions' Letter to Guterres

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive series, New platform
UNITED NATIONS, April 27 – What reforms or commitment to human rights or transparency, or even consistency or savings, has UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres shown in the 113 days he's been atop the UN, surrounded by officials and spokespeople from the previous Secretary General Ban Ki-moon? Inner City Press keeps asking Guterres' spokesman, but get no description or explanation of any reform, no action on UN retaliation, nothing. Inner City Press now publishes UN staff unions' letter to Guterres about retaliation by WIPO's Director General Francis Gurry, via Patreon here, a topic on which Inner City Press has repatedly asked Guterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric. But even though it's from the UN's main unions, on April 27 Guterres' spokesman told Inner City Press he was not aware the letter had been received. From the UN's transcript: Inner City Press: I’d asked about the meeting with WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), while he was there, the issues of retaliation.  There’s now a letter from all… or three of the UN staff unions that were directed to Secretary-General and… Guterres.  It’s dated the 24th.  It’s now the 27th.  Has he received that letter?  And what does he think of the issue of the entire… [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I have not… I’m not aware that he’s received the letter.  I’m going to take a break from you.
 On April 26 Inner City Press asked, UN transcript here: Inner City Press:
The question on CEB is… there’s many questions, but one… the only one I’ll ask today is this.  Is there a discussion… can you confirm a discussion by the Secretariat led by António Guterres to outsource some mixture of IT, finance and procurement from New York to Malaysia and other countries?  And, if so, what’s the status of the proposal?

Spokesman:  No.  I’m not aware.
Inner City Press:  And did… What is the agenda?  Can we get an agenda of the CEB meeting?

Spokesman:  The agenda is broad.  It’s on strengthening the UN system and improving coordination, and I think it’s an important meeting because it’s the Secretary-General’s first opportunity to address all the member… the heads of the UN system.

Inner City Press:  And when he met with Mr [Francis] Gurry at WIPO — I’d asked you this before — you’d said that everyone is aware of the charges of retaliation.  Did this come up at all?  I’ve seen a picture of him smiling on the podium.

Spokesman:  I have no readout of the meeting.
  And presumably, never. While on April 22 Guterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric issued a read out of Guterres and the World Bank, there is still no read-out of the "stop by" meeting on April 21 with US President Donald Trump. On April 24 Inner City Press asked Dujarric again for a read-out, and for a copy of the letter Guterres sent to Syria's Bashar al Assad. Video here, UN Transcript here: Inner City Press:  I want to follow up on the Washington or the Secretary-General.  He… I saw that he did an interview with Bloomberg television, and he said that… that, for example, climate change didn’t come up.  So I just wanted to ask you, what… it seemed like he didn’t have any aversion to doing a kind of a readout in that interview.  So can you give… what did come up and what didn’t come up?

Spokesman:  I can’t go any further than what I’ve said to you and what the Secretary-General said publicly.

Inner City Press:  And al… I guess, on one of the topics, he said that Syria did come up.  So just, as a matter of transparency, I wanted to ask, have you… I’m sure you’ve seen the stories that say that the Secretary-General wired a congratulatory cable to President [Bashar al-]Assad of Syria.  Is that true?  And, if so, did… what… is the text thus far quoted by… by Sana’a accurate and complete?  And will you release the letter?

Spokesman:  There was… it was not a letter… personalized letter that was signed.  As a matter of practice that has been going on for decades in this Organization, there is a message that goes out to every Member State on the occasion of their National Day.  It is the same message that goes out… so, in 2017, there’s a message that will go out… the same message will go out to every Member State.  There’s no reason why we can’t release the text of this generic letter.  It goes out through our protocol service to the Permanent Mission.  As I said, it’s not a signed letter.  It’s a generic message.  And I think it is about peace and, I think, you know, there… no one would disagree that, after more than six years of conflict, I think the Syrian people deserve peace.

Inner City Press:  So they’re not tailored in any way?  It’s not the complete…?

Spokesman:  They’re not tailored.  No, it’s a gen… as I said, I’ll release…  We’ll send out
  In fact, it was never sent to Inner City Press. Hours later Inner City Press, not even seeing it on the Spokesperson's Office counter, asked and there was a general letter, with not even the country name on it, behind the counter. Tweeted photo here. This is today's UN. Guterres, who rarely takes questions at the UN, sat down with Bloomberg and said it was only a "brief encounter" with Trump and that climate change did not even come up. (Dujarric told Inner City Press it was "15 to 20 minutes." Others say, "three minutes." Also, his rationale for no read-outs is eviscerated by Guterres' read out to Bloomberg, whose owner remains a UN official, like Jeffrey Sachs, under Guterres.) On April at 11:25 am  Inner City Press reported the stop by would happen. At the day's UN noon briefing after Dujarric pre-released adjectives spinning the meeting to his friendly scribes, Inner City Press asked him, from the UN transcript: Inner City Press: you said it was in the same meeting but Sean Spicer said at 11:25 that the Secretary-General had already met with McMaster and would be having a, quote, drop in in the Oval Office with President Trump?  So…

Spokesman:  The way I interpreted Evelyn’s question and the way I answered it is: Was General McMaster in the meeting with President Trump? Yes.

Inner City Press:  And was it a drop in?  And how long did the meeting take if it was described as a drop in?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General and General McMaster took, walked the Secretary-General to the Oval Office and they met, I think, for 15-20 minutes with the President.
  As to the World Bank, the UN said: "This framework, signed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, is in response to global calls for our institutions to work more closely together on prevention and reducing needs, risks, and vulnerability as the world faces a spike in violent conflict.. Under this framework, the UN and World Bank will work in complementary ways to:  reduce the multi-dimensional risks of crisis and help prevent violent conflict; develop joint analyses and tools for more effective solutions; coordinate support to address protracted crises including forced displacement; and scale up impact by leveraging financing."
On April 21 as Guterres prepared to fly again to Europe, to Geneva and then Montreux, he sent a letter to all UN staff, many of whom forwarded it, outraged, to Inner City Press. Guterres wrote, "I expect all of us to be frugal in the acquisition of supplies, materials, furniture and equipment." One staff member marveled, "Guterres, or The Goot as some now call him, is telling us to scrimp on office supplies while he's flying to Montreux and often Lisbon." Inner City Press pointed out that that Guterres has reduced his travel delegations and might merge the Department of Political Affairs out of existence, and might even - it's unclear why this hasn't happened yet - reverse indefensible decisions by the Department of Public Information, from the Smurfs to ongoing censorship and restrictions on the critical Press. On the response, we'll have more. Guterres put on his website job vacancy notices to the Department of Management (unfilled) and rector of UN-University and even deputy of UN HABITAT. But for Youth Envoy, an ostensibly important position, no notice was placed on Guterres' website. Instead, Maher Nasser the Officer of Charge of the Department of Public Information, which evicted and restricts Inner City Press which asks these questions, tweeted a link to a Survey Monkey site two days before the deadline. When Inner City Press asked about the disparity, and about why it is still restricted to minders 14 months after trying to covering the UN corruption story in the UN Press Briefing Room, Nasser replied "Matthew - This is same process through which first youth envoy nominations were solicited. U have same access as 3000 other journalists." The last is false - Inner City Press has minders while even other non resident correspondents walk down the hallway, and no-question state media from Egypt and Morocco have full access - and the former doesn't explain the disparity. On April 21 Inner City Press put the question in person to Maher Nasser, Periscope here - without answer. At the April 21 noon briefing, Guterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric would only defend the non-publication on the UNSG site of the Youth Envoy position by saying it was done that way in the past. Another correspondent mutter, Slavery. On April 20 Dujarric refused to confirm that for the position of Special Adviser on Children and Armed Conflict Guterres had chosen Virginia Gamba, without much background in human rights or child protection, over Canada's Allan Rock and Myanmar rights expert Yanghee Lee. Dujarric did not deny it, and typically did not explain it.  From the UN transcript: Inner City Press:  can you confirm that those considered for the [CAAC] position involved Yanghee Lee and also Allan Rock?  And how would you respond to the idea that Ms. Gamba, despite her work on the JIM [Joint Investigative Mechanism], is not really viewed as a child advocate?

Spokesman Dujarric:  I think Ms. Gamba will stay on at the JIM for another few weeks or couple of weeks.  I don't know the exact date of her start time.  In the meantime, the Secretary-General is… we're looking at people to succeed her.  The office… the Special Representative isn't alone in that office.  There is a Deputy Special Representative.  There's a Chief of Staff.  They're continuing their work, obviously, in preparation for the report, which will come out later this year.  And so she will be… as soon as she assumes her job, she will take over the position and assume that responsibility as the Secretary-General's principal adviser on issues of children and armed conflict.  I think Ms. Gamba is an extremely experienced and talented international civil servant who's had wide experience and I think will be a great leader to that office and a great advocate for children and for the protection of children.
  Also on April 20 Dujarric announced that Guterres wants a review of the UN's air travel costs; Dujarric also belatedly confirmed what Inner City Press asked the day before, about Guterres traveling to Switzlerland later this month from the UN Chief Executives Board meetings. Inner City Press asked for Guterres' view on retaliation by host WIPO's Gurry - again, no answer - and specifically what the costs of this CEB meeting, culminating in old haunt Montreux, will be. Dujarric did not provide any number, thinking that mentioning Swiss government support resolves it. It does not. For now, Inner City Press publishes this internal list of the possible Montreux topics: the UN common position on the admission of the State of Palestine to UN Specialized Agencies, Programs and Funds by Sept. 2107, how to thrive without UN/Western funding -  learn from the experience of UNIDO and UNESCO in this regard.  Better media relations, advocacy & fundraising to promote the SDGs, Agenda 2030, synergies with OBOR, BRICS Bank - and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, even Bill Gates. Watch this site. Also this week, Guterres has handed the UN Development Program to a German official, Achim Steiner, while also proposing a German as his Personal Envoy on Western Sahara, Horst Kohler. As Inner City Press reported, and holdover Spokesman Stephane Dujarric called "despicable," one of Guterres' closest aides is Katrin Hett, of Germany. She got the position through Jeffrey Feltman, appointed to the UN by the previous US administration. Sources tell Inner City Press that Germany was in the running to head the UN Department of Management too, for which Guterres pushed a vacancy notice. But even for more, another Germany USG would be too much. So Inner City Press is told that Guterres may offer the Department of Management to the United States, once his other "reform" merges Feltman's Department of Political Affairs out of existence. So, they tell Inner City Press, the affable Yukio Takasu has been extended atop Management for a year. How long can this lack of reform, and continued restrictions on the Press that covers it, continue? 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. And in fact, when Guterres did a rare Q&A at 1 pm, he did not answer the Cameroon Internet cut-off question Inner City Press three times audibly asked, after Guterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric picked on pre-arranged questioners, at least two not about Africa.
 At the 10 am meeting, 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?