Thursday, August 10, 2017

On Cameroon, UN's Mohammed Tells ICP Biya Trio Informed What's Not Kosher, Further Dialogue?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 10 – After a delegation from Cameroon's Paul Biya government met with UN Deputy Secretary General Amina J. Mohammed on August 8, Inner City Press waited in the UN lobby and asked them if for example the detention of former UN legal adviser Felix Agbor Balla had come up in the meeting. 

They said no - then the delegation led by Paul Ghogomu proceeded to a part of the UN building that they and other journalists, but not Inner City Press, could go.

On August 10, after managing to ask UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft about Deputy Secretary General Mohammed meeting (see here and below), Inner City Press waited again in the lobby to ask Mohammed herself.  

When she emerged from the elevator, near the UN's 7 pm “witching hour” for Inner City Press since the UN evicted it for pursuing the John Ashe / Ng Lap Seng corruption story, Inner City Press asked if she would answer one question. 

She said yes. So Inner City Press first asked about Agbor Balla, since he was a former UN legal adviser in Afghanistan and elsewhere, now imprisoned and facing the death penalty. 
Amina Mohammed replied, "All the issues came up in the context of why it was they were responding the way they were, whether it was heavy handed or otherwise. So it was a general bring-up, of those who were accused of human rights abuses, those who were burning flags." 

Inner City Press pointed out that even the country's former Supreme Court justice is imprisoned. 

Amina Mohammed continued, “For us, what was important was the delegation came, we engaged with them, and we told them where we were concerned about issues. Now we have a basis to open up further dialogue and push. And that's my approach. My approach is not to just whack them with a sledgehammer but it's to say firmly, this is not kosher. And so, how can we engage with you and continue to do the right thing.” We'll see - the answer was appreciated.

   As was UK Ambassador Rycroft's response, earlier on August 10, video here. Inner City Press: Amina Mohammed also on Tuesday met with this delegation from Cameroon. I just wanted to get your thoughts on whether the UN should be doing more, could be doing more? Have you seen a read out? 

Amb Rycroft: Obviously I wasn’t in the meeting myself but I was very glad to hear that the delegation were here and they had a meeting with Amina Mohammed. I think that demonstrates that the UN is keeping it on their radar as they should and I support that.  
Earlier in the year Inner City Press asked the International Monetary Fund, where it is also accredited and which unlike the UN allows it the same access as all other journalists there, about the impact of the Biya government's 94-day cut off of the Internet in the Anglophone regions of the country. The IMF said this was a financial risk factor. On IMF site, here, from 34:56. IMF transcript
It has been surprising that it took so long for the UN system, and its country team, to speak out even against the blatant censorship represented by the Internet cut off. But as Amina Mohammed and Secretary General Antonio Guterres, due back in the UN on August 14, have been informed in detail, the UN in 2016 without any hearing or appeal evicted Inner City Press, assigning its long time office to an Egyptian state media which rarely comes in, even during this month's Egyptian presidency of the UN Security Council, and never asks questions. 

Without its office, Inner City Press is unable to access much of the second floor of the UN, is unable to access the building after 7 pm, and is hindered from covering not only the Cameroon delegation but, for example, a meeting about Lebanon earlier on August 10. Inner City Press and the Free UN Coalition for Access have asked Mohammed, or Guterres upon his return, to reverse this censorship. 

There is a petition with over 2,000 signatures to this effect. FUNCA has offered to help find another more appropriate space for the rarely present Egyptian Akhbar al Yom, now in August, well before the UN General Assembly week and resolving the issue before the fresh-start arrival of new DPI chief Alison Smale. We are awaiting a response, and resolution. We'll have more on all this.