UNITED NATIONS, December 26 – Antonio Guterres’ year as UN Secretary General began by telling UN staff how much he respected them, but ended with Guterres on vacation while the UN budget was cut and staff oustedfrom their work-spaces, demoralized and disrespected.
In between Guterres delayed for months in responding to the slaughter of the Rohingya in Myanmar, out of too much deference to Aung San Suu Kyi. Guterres continued in Yemen with a Saudi-biased envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed as ports were closed, children starved and cholera spread. Pressured to respond to the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon, his response was a brief stop-over in Yaounde where he accepted a golden statue from 35-year president Paul Biya.
In November alone, Guterres ignored evidence that his Deputy Amina J. Mohammed undermined environmental protection, at a minimum, in signing 4000 certificates for endangered rosewoodexported from Nigeria and Cameroon to China, then ignored a UN bribery indictment in the courts of Lower Manhattan. Guterres’ UN used $1 million from the China Energy Fund Committee of indicted Patrick Ho even after the Press asked his spokesman about the indictment – and still no audit.
But little coverage either: Guterres eschewed press conference, holding none at the end of the year, but allowed himself to be sold for $1200 a pop at a fundraiser on Wall Street in mid-December. Inner City Press, which covered the event, is launching a series on Guterres’ performance as UN Secretary General, even as he and his head of “Global Communications” Alison Smale keep Inner City Press more restricted than no-show no-question state media like Egypt‘s Akhbar al Yom, assigned the work-space it long shared along with the alternative Free UN Coalition for Access, pushing for a UN Freedom of Information Act.
A spotlight must be shined on this UN. This is the beginning.
And this was the end of the year 2017: the UN’s more than five billion dollar budget was supposed to be adopted by the UN’s Fifth Committee on December 22 then, the Committee chairman told Inner City Press, noon on Saturday December 23. Ultimately the Committee approval didn’t finish until 2 in the morning on Christmas eve, with the ultimate approval postponed until 10 am on Christmas eve. Inner City Press, the only media covering it, was required to get a UN “minder” to access the General Assembly, unlike other no-show non-critical UN resident correspondents. From a booth about the GA it Periscoped the approval, and even an impromptu holiday carol. And holiday was the word. While in previous hears a colorful Christmas tree has been displayed on the GA Hall after the last session, this year it was a generic pine tree with no ornaments. In all other ways, it was routine: opposition to Responsibility to Protect and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to funding the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions 2231 (Iran) and 1559. Myanmar opposed any UN envoy being funded, but it passed 122 yes, 10 no, 24 abstaining.There was vague praise of reforms, even as absent S-G Guterres hasn’t even ordered an audit of the most recent UN bribery indictment, much less his own Deputy’s signing of 4000 rosewood certificates. Reform? And end of UN censorship of investigative Press? We will Press on this. On a document Inner City Press obtained, Speial Political Missions was blank. The Comptroller read it out orally, including $853,800 for the belated UN envoy to Myanmar. On a vote on R2P, Liberia spoke up and said having been asleep, an abstention was intended. There was laughter. It was after 1 am. Earlier Tommo Monthe confirmed Inner City Press’ reporting on constraints on freedoms the vacationing Secretary General Antonio Guterres had wanted, the overall $166 million budget cut figure including 15% and higher in human rights. (He smiled.) Others told Inner City Press about North Korean ships, here. Particular opprobrium was reserved for the Department of Public Information under Alison Smale. DPI had requested 18 new posts or jobs, all of which were rejected, with the word “abolished” reserved for (GS)OL and Public Information officer (Japan) and UNIC-DC (G77 and China). Quitting time? On the other hand, no thanks to Smale, the push continued for posts in the Kiswahili and Portuguese UN Radio units. 18 posts or not, Smale or not, the UN and DPI must implement content neutral accreditation and access guidelines. We’ll have more on this. When Inner City Press came in through the tourists’ entrance Saturday at 2, nothing was moving except diplomats sleepwalking down in the 1B basement. One told Inner City Press the vote might not happen until 8 pm on Saturday; another gave it a copy of the “negotiators’ broad agreement” including 10% to 25% cuts in human rights. Exclusive photo here. (Inner City Press would scan the whole document, but its scanned was evicted from UN along with all in its office by UN Department of Public Information, run by Alison Smale.) Where was UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, with the reforms he ran on and supposedly cares about also getting bogged down? He was on vacation already, for the next ten days, leaving the investigative Press restricted and killings in Cameroon and elsewhere unaddressed. Among the parts of the UN facing budget cuts for waste is not only the Department of Public Information, increasingly a propaganda arm which, as if as a sidelight, engages in censorship of the investigative Press, but also the UN’s Regional Commissions, Budget Committee officials told Inner City Press on December 13. On December 21, as Inner City Press covered the process down in the UN basement past 11 pm, this was confirmed. The US wants to cut from Regional Commissions, the sources said, while others target “human rights” and DESA, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, respectively. Inner City Press asked the spokesman for the President of the General Assembly about it on December 22, then at 3 pm headed down to Conference Room 5. After other reporting, Inner City Press asked the chair, Saturday? He said, Yes, we’ll vote as the Fifth Committee plenary at noon on Saturday, then GA in the afternoon. During this, Secretary General Antonio Guterres is already on vacation, through January 3. The chair told Inner City Press, we’re just working through associated issues. These include the Group of 77 and China’s response to vacationing Antonio Guterres requesting more discretion. See G77 draft Combined Proposal as of 8 am on December 22, which for example “15. decides not to implement any changes at present regarding any expansion of exceptional budgetary authorities, unforeseen and extraordinary expenses, and the Secretary-General’s limited budgetary discretion.” Full draft here on Patreon. Late night on December 21-22 Paraguay bought in empanadas just before midnight; UK Deputy Jonathan Allen, who had spoken on Peacekeeping much earlier in the day, told Inner City Press, “Could be a long one.” It always is – and this year, there are more cuts publicly threatened… New DPI chief Alison Smale’s swearing in ceremony was closed to the Press; she has still not even responded to Inner City Press’ three petitions for review of its eviction and restriction for reporting on corruption at the UN. Meanwhile, the UN Budget Committee head for the year, the Cameroonian Ambassador who joined DPI in its censorship after Inner City Press asked about abuses by his president Paul Biya, told Inner City Press it will all be done by December 22. We’ll see. The UN delivered a threat to Inner City Press to “review” it accreditation on October 20 at 5 pm. The UN official who signed the letter, when Inner City Press went to ask about the undefined violation of live-streaming Periscope video at a photo op by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, had already left, minutes after sending the threat. This comes two days after Inner City Press asked Guterres about the UN inaction on threatened genocide in Cameroon, and the UN claimed Guterres hadn’t heard the 15-second long question.
It also comes after Alison Smale the head of the Department of Public Information which would “review” Inner City Press’ accreditation has ignored three separatepetitions from Inner City Press in the six weeks she has been in the job, urging her to remove restrictions on Inner City Press’ reporting which hinder its coverage of the UN’s performance in such crises as Yemen, Kenya,Myanmar, and the Central African Republic where Guterres travels next week, with Smale’s DPI saying its coverage of the trip will be a test of its public relations ability. But the UN official who triggered the complaint is Maher Nasser, who filled in for Smale before she arrived.
His complaint is that audio of what he said to Inner City Press as it staked out the elevators in the UN lobby openly recording, as it has for example with Cameroon’s Ambassador Tommo Monthe, here, was similarly published.
A UN “Public Information” official is complaining about an article, and abusing his position to threaten to review Inner City Press’ accreditation. The UN has previously been called out for targeting Inner City Press, and for having no rules or due process. But the UN is entirely UNaccountable, impunity on censorship as, bigger picture, on the cholera it brought to Haiti. And, it seems, Antonio Guterres has not reformed or reversed anything. This threat is from an official involved in the last round of retaliation who told Inner City Press on Twitter to be less “negative” about the UN – amid inaction on the mass killing in Cameroon – and who allowed pro-UN hecking of Inner City Press’ questions about the cholera the UN brought to Haiti and the Ng Lap Seng /John Ashe UN bribery scandal which resulted in six guilty verdicts. We’ll have more on this.