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After Cambodia Disbands Opposition, ICP Asks UN Again, Belated Comment, Guterres Doctrine

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 16 – The UN has been increasingly silent in the face of the "crackdowns" that Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged an end to in his World Press Freedom Day video. On October 6, Inner City Press asked Guterres' still-holdover spokesman Stephane Duajrric about Cambodia's Hun Sen moving to disband the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party after arresting its leader, Kem Sokha. The UN had no comment, not even four days after the question. On November 16, after the party was dissolved, Inner City Press asked Dujarric again, transcript here: Inner City Press: in Cambodia, the lead main opposition party, the CNRP, has been dissolved by the court.  And I know that the Secretary-General met with Hun Sen.  I don't know if this particular issue - Is there a UN response to the main, in fact, the only opposition party being dissolved…? Spokesman:  "The issue of the need for a democratic space in elections came up in the discussion, and it was underscored in the readout.  We're, obviously, following the developments in Cambodia closely.  I think the latest ones, including the ones you allude to, is one that raises great concern, to dissolve the main opposition party.  As the country heads to general election next year, it's incumbent upon the Government of Cambodia to secure an even ground for all political forces to compete and provide an environment free of fear and intimidation to enable all Cambodians to express their political preferences." A full month before on October 16, the US State Department through spokesperson Heather Nauert had this to say: "We are deeply concerned by the National Assembly’s passage of amendments to Cambodia’s Election Law today.  If ratified, these amendments, in conjunction with the lawsuit by the Cambodian Ministry of Interior to dissolve the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), would effectively disenfranchise the millions of people who voted for the CNRP in the 2013 and 2017 elections. Genuine competition is essential to democracy and to the legitimacy of the 2018 national elections.  History proves that suppressing legitimate political activity leads to more long-term instability, rather than less.  We urge government officials to consider the serious implications of their recent actions.
We renew our call that the leader of the CNRP—Kem Sokha—be released from prison." At the UN on October 10 Inner City Press asked again, yielding a canned comment. From the UN transcript: Inner City Press:  I'd asked you last week on Cambodia about this, the move to decertify and disband the opposition par… main opposition party, National Rescue Party.  Various other international actors have denounced it.  I'm wondering, given the UN's role in Cambodia, what is the UN's position on it? Spokesman:  "I think, as we've said, we have, we are concerned and we continue to be concerned about the, what you could call the narrowing of the democratic space in Cambodia for political parties, for media and others.  It's important that any, in any place where there's a preparation for elections, there is an environment that's free of intimidation and that is encouraging to political discourse." We'll have more on this. UN transcript of October 6 here: Inner City Press: Do you have any statement in your… in your book or binder or whatever it is that you have back there on Cambodia moving to… to… to decertify the main opposition party?  I know you’ve had other comments in the past. Spokesman:  "Not at this point, but I’ll get something." Eight hours later, nothing. Back on August 3, Inner City Press asked then-vacationing Guterres' spokesman Dujarric, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: Cambodia, I know that the UN has a, you know, has this Human Rights Office there, so I wanted to ask about… there’s a, there’s a minister there who has said publicly this week that people that, that oppose the vote in the upcoming year will be beaten with bamboo sticks and said that all civil servants must support the ruling party or lose their jobs.

There’s also an NGO called Agape has been ordered out of the country for reporting on human trafficking and… of, of child sex victims.  So, I wanted to know, what’s the UN thinking…?  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I’ll look into those reports.  Obviously, as a matter of principle, the Secretary-General very much supports the work of civil society.

  Seven hours later, nothing. On May 11, Inner City Press asked Guterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: In Cambodia, Hun Sen, in a speech to soldiers describing the peacekeepers' deaths in CAR, somehow said this would tie this to the idea of civil war in Cambodia.  And his quote… his direct quote was that… that his… his party should win all of the elections in 2017, 2018, and if you cr… if you protest the results, quote, “you will be cracked down on immediately by the armed forces; I don't care if war erupts”.  Given, one, just generally, what do you think of such a statement?  And number two, it's basically being tied… At least what’s been reported…

Spokesman:  I haven't seen the exact text of what the Prime Minister said.  What I can say is that we are extremely grateful for the presence of Cambodian peacekeepers, as we are with the Moroccans and all the others who provide peacekeepers, especially in a mission that is so fraught with danger as the Central African Republic.  And, from what we understand, Cambodia has said they would stand by its commitment and continue the… the Cambodian troops would stay in [the Central African Republic].  As for the speech, since I haven't read it, I'm not going to comment on it.

Inner City Press: Speaking of speeches, what happened with the Secretary-General's London UNA-UK [United Nations Association of the United Kingdom]…

Spokesman:  The video should be posted very shortly.  We had some technical issues with the organizers, but we're putting the video…

Inner City Press:  What about the tran… even just the transcript?

Spokesman:  No, we're not doing transcripts.  The Secretary-General spoke off the cuff.  We will provide the video, and you're free to listen to it, if you haven't already.

Inner City Press: I understand it was for… it was a paid entrance speech, and I just wanted to know what are sort of the protocols for that?

Spokesman:  You know, it was a nominal fee.  I think it's completely appropriate for a charitable organization, a not-for-profit organization, such as UN… the UN Association of UK, to ask for nominal fee to recuperate the cost of getting the Westminster Hall and the organizational costs.  I know there were discounted tickets for students and others.

Another recent example is Thailand, on which Inner City Press put questions to Guterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric on May 3 and May 4. The May 5 answer, citing the UN human rights presence in Geneva, is below. From the May 3 transcript: Inner City Press: in Thailand, an event scheduled to be today was disallowed by the military junta.  Meanwhile, in Cameroon, there’s a journalist, Ahmed Abba, sentenced to 10 years for reporting on the Boko Haram conflict, and there’s an Amnesty International report on Nigeria.  And I’m just wondering, I did see António Guterres’ statement.  How is the UN actually following up on that to… on these three cases or anything else you say, to actually convey to Governments that, at least on one day a year, they shouldn’t disallow journalist events?

Spokesman:  I think on… at no time should Governments be putting any hindrance on the work of journalists.  I will look into the specific cases you mention, but I think our… the Secretary-General’s principled stand is elaborated in his statement, and some of these issues are being addressed with… addressed through more discreet channels and others are being taken up directly with Governments.

Inner City Press:  I guess in the… in the… in the question, for example, the Thailand one, it’s pretty widely… it’s been widely reported.  Is the Resident Coordinator there?  The, whoever… is the UN presence there in the country?  Do they have a response to it?

Spokesman:  In most of these countries, there’s also a human rights presence, and I would encourage you to check with them.

 Then on May 4, from the transcript: Inner City Press: In Thailand, there’s a well-known human rights lawyer, Mr. Prawet Prapanukul, who is now… who… first, he was missing.  I was going to ask you yesterday when he was missing.  He’s emerged, but he’s facing 150 years in jail for insulting the king.  And so I wondered both… there’s a specific case, but there’s a more general principle.  What does the UN and the Secretary-General think of people being… facing jail time of that length for insulting a Head of State?

Spokesman:  I will check with our human rights colleagues, see if they have anything on that case.

  Twenty four hours later, nothing. Then this, which we publish in full: "Regarding your question on Thailand, the UN Human Rights Office is concerned about continued tight restrictions on the media in Thailand following the 2014 coup. The Office has shared these concerns with the Government both privately and publicly. Most recently, on 1 May 2017, the military-appointed National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) approved a draft bill on media licensing which was criticised for a provision which stated that anyone operating without a licence could be jailed for up to three years. As a result of pressure from human rights groups and media organisations, the NRSA subsequently said it would consider removing this article. The UN Human Rights Office remains concerned about other elements of the bill which could infringe upon the media's ability to conduct their work in free and independent manner, without restrictions.
The UN Human Rights Committee, during the review of Thailand in March 2017, raised concerns on criminal defamation charges brought against human rights defenders, activists, and journalists. It urges Thailand to guarantee the enjoyment of freedom of expression in all forms. It also urges Thailand to decriminalise defamation and that the Government should take into account that imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty for defamation. The Committee also urge Thailand to take all measures to end prosecutions against those charged for exercising their freedom of expression and provide appropriate training to judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement personnel regarding protection of these freedoms."

  Back on March 30 after the UN's noon briefing with only three questioners (and without still-restricted Inner City Press) on March 30, the question again arises: what is the bare minimum a spokesperson should be expected to do, for an organization like the UN? Should it include at least providing some response to Press questions submitted? Despite only have to response to the three questioner, two hours after submission not one of these, or outstanding questions on Cameroon and Western Sahara, was answered: "These are four questions in advance of the noon briefing, to be answered at that time, thanks in advance:
1) In Cambodia, opposition leader Sam Rainsy has just been sentenced to one year and eight months in prison along paying a fine to Hun Sen on charges of “defamation.” This coincides with the 20th anniversary of the grenade attack on a rally led by Rainsy. What is the UN's comment, and separately what is it doing about this in Cambodia? 2) On the DRC Congo: 1. Who found the bodies of Sharp & Catalan? The UN or the DRC authorities? 2. How many bodies were found? Just 2, or 3? 3. Is the UN aware of the status of Betu Tshintela? Can the UN confirm that Betu's body was found along with Michael & Zaida? 4. How to explain this discrepancy? 5. Has the UN been to the site where the bodies were found, yes or no? 3) In light of recent criticism that the UN supports corrupt governments, please explain / amplify the UN's RC in Zimbabwe's statement that “'Our role is to support development in Zimbabwe in partnership with the government. We are behind government' ... He said all its efforts were done in agreement with President Robert Mugabe and his government.” 4) Also, please describe the vetting done in connection with Sri Lanka military deployments with UN Peacekeeping missions in Mali and elsewhere, given the UN's own reports on military abuses in Sri Lanka." We'll have more on this.

    On March 29, the UN was providing two responses to five Inner City Press question, simply ignoring questions on Cameroon, corruption and Western Sahara? Inner City Press on the morning of March 29 asked the UN's top three spokespeople "questions in advance of the noon briefing, to be answered at that time: 1) What is the Secretary General's comment on Jordan rolling out the red carpet for Sudan's Omar al Bashir, subject to an ICC arrest warrant for genocide? 2) Given that the UN Economic Commission for Africa has had to delay its meeting with African finance ministers at the Dakar meeting the 38th floor is tracking due to Morocco seeking to exclude the Polisario, does the SG / DPA think these developments move the situation in Western Sahara closer to a peaceful solution and referendum? 3) In one of two UN-related bribery prosecutions in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Ng Lap Seng's co-defendant Jeff C. Yin is now engaged in plea negotiations, as Ng Lap Seng's trial draws near. Will the UN be monitoring the trial as to what it shows of UN involvement, and what was done regarding the DGACM official who provided a falsified / amended for “technical” reasons document regarding the proposed Macau convention center? 4) 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? Also, yesterday your Office replied, regarding the USG of DPI, “We will announce arrivals and departures as they occur.” Now that your partner has arranged a farewell for this USG for March 30, what is the rationale for your Office refusing to confirm her departure and the status of recruiting a replacement? And the unanswered questions below."

  To those Inner City Press questions, the UN Spokesman provided, past 2:30 pm, only this -- "Regarding your question about Omar al-Bashir, our position on him remains unchanged.  We urge all States, including the States Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC, to abide by their obligations. Regarding the naming of senior officials, we have announced two appointments today (for the Executive Director of WFP and the High Commissioner for Disarmament Affairs).  Other announcements will be made in due course.  Regarding Under-Secretary-General Cristina Gallach, her position will be filled by an Officer-in-Charge upon her departure while the process to find a new Under-Secretary-General for Public Information continues." So, nothing on Cameroon or Morocco / Western Sahara / ECA, nor other questions on UN costs and corruption. We'll have more on this.

Again, what is the bare minimum a spokesperson should be expected to do, for an organization like the UN? Should it include, if a spokesperson has no answer to a journalist's questions at an in-person briefing, e-mailing an answer when it becomes available? Not in today's UN Spokesperson's office, at least not for Inner City Press which that Office evicted from the UN Press Briefing Room and then the UN, and still restricts. On March 7, holdover Deputy Spokesperson Haq wouldn't even explain why he had not provided available UN information, video here. On March 6, Inner City Press asked Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq about Nepal. From the UN transcript:

Inner City Press:  I know that the UN used to have a mission in Nepal, but there's been kind of increasing problems in the Madhesi and Tharu communities there, including now today people killed by security forces.  And it seems to be politically there are groups trying to mobilize.  So, I just wondered, since the Secretary-General talks about preventative diplomacy, is the UN actually looking at this growing problem in Nepal?  And does it have any idea of trying to somehow get involved as well as commenting on the killing of unarmed individuals by the security forces?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, of course, we want to make sure that any excessive use of force will be investigated.  Beyond that, we're monitoring the situation.  If there's anything further down the line, we'll let you know at that point.

   "We'll let you know." Well, the UN Office in Nepal put out a statement that it is "seriously concerned by the escalation of tensions in the lead-up to the local elections announced for May," which others (not in the UN) then sent to Inner City Press. From the UN's two holdover spokesmen, nothing. On March 7, Inner City Press asked Haq why he hadn't followed through on his "if there's anything further down the line, we'll let you know" line. From the March 7 transcript:

Inner City Press:  yesterday I’d asked you about Nepal, and you said, you know, “I’ll get back to you if something comes out”.  Something actually did come out from the office of Nepal.  So I… maybe you’ll read it from here, but, like… wasn’t that… when you say “I’m gonna get back to you”, does it mean I’m going to send you something if the UN system provides the information?  Like, what happened?

Deputy Spokesman:  It means exactly what it means.  We’ve been dealing with each other for years.  You’ll get answers down the line once we get them.

Inner City Press:  So do you have… you’re unaware that the office of Nepal has actually put out a statement about the incident I asked you about yesterday, or do you have that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m aware that they’ve put out a statement.  That was after I was at the briefing.  If it was before the briefing, we could have mentioned it then.

Inner City Press:  Right, but since… between the two briefings, like, once they put it out.

  Beckett. Or Pinter. This is similar to lead spokesman Stephane Dujarric, when Inner City Press asked last week about the abuse of Anglophones in Cameroon, not even asking or providing a response from the Department of Political Affairs, whose Jeffrey Feltman in a rare Q&A session on March 6 said that ONUCA's Francois Lonseny Fall had visited the region. Lazy spox, indeed. UNacceptable. We'll have more on this.

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