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UN Tells ICP to "Ask US" of Its Cuban Staff Restricted to 25 Miles From NYC

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 4 -- For years, the US has restricted to within 25 miles of New York City not only Cuban diplomats but also UN staff members who are Cuban nationals. Now amid the thaw in US-Cuba relations, on August 4 Inner City Press asked the UN's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq about it:

Inner City Press: On the host country agreement, I wanted to ask whether, given the new re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, whether Cuban nationals who work for the UN are still subject to a 25-mile restriction outside of New York.

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  Again, thatís a question to ask the US authorities.  This is not a restriction that is imposed by the United Nations.  Itís a question of the bilateral relations between those two countries.

Inner City Press:  Right.  But given the UN speaks up about restrictions on travel on its staff in countries likes Sudan and donít ask Sudan if theyíre restricting our staff, Iím asking you are UN staff members who are nationals of Cuba still restricted within 25 miles, as a UN question?

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  No, thatís a question actually of US policy.  Does the US policy make that restriction?  Please ask the US Government on that.  Thatís not something thatís put upon anyone by us.

  Again, this misses the point. When Sudan or other countries imposes restrictions on the movement of UN staff, the UN (sometimes) speaks up. To say, ask the country imposing the restriction on UN staff makes no sense, or is craven. We'll have more on this.


 Back on July 1, on the day the US' Jeffrey DeLaurentis handed President Barack Obama's letter to Raul Castro, setting July 20 for the re-opening of embassies, Inner City Press asked a Cuban diplomat in New York if the restrictions on him, and on Cuban UN staff, to stay within 25 miles of Columbus Circle would remain in place.

  Yes, was the reply, with a shaking of the head. How this is legal under the Host Country Agreement between the US and UN is not clear. But the UN says nothing about it.

  Later on July 1, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement welcoming the move, but saying nothing about the US' restrictions not only on Cuban diplomats but also on UN staff of Cuban nationality, who work for Ban. Ah, leadership. Ban said (with the bracketed word "more" crossed out) --

"The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement today that Cuba and the United States will reopen embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C.. The restoration of diplomatic ties is an important step on the path toward the normalization of relations.

"In keeping with the principles of its founding Charter, the United Nations supports efforts to promote [more] harmonious and good neighbourly relations among States. The Secretary-General hopes that this historic step will benefit the peoples of both countries."

  Back on April 1 as talks continued between Cuba and the US, including in Havana on telecommunications, Inner City Press on April 1 asked the UN to confirm that Cuban nationals who are UN staff members are for now required to seek prior approval before venturing more than 25 miles from Columbus Circle in Manhattan.

  While the UN openly complains when restricted in certain other countries, this restriction it refuses to confirm or discuss. From the UN's April 1 transcript:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about UN staff's ability to travel more than 25 miles outside of New York... I'd like you to comment on whether Cuban staff, i.e., employed by the UN, but from Cuba, are subject to that restriction, and what the Secretariat has done either historically or recently to oppose that, and your position on the legality of the host country limiting UN staff to a certain distance from Manhattan. 

Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq:  As you know, there's a Convention on the privileges and immunities of UN and associated staff, so I would just refer to you that.  So for any problems that we have in any of the countries where we operate, we take them up with the local authorities, and in this case, it would also be an issue for the Host Country Committee.

Inner City Press:  Right, but can we either now or later today just get an answer from the UN, maybe it's OHRM or OLA, are you aware, because I am, of restrictions imposed by the host country on UN staff members from particular countries, and what's your position on that?  [overlapping talking]

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  Like I said, our position is in line with the Convention on the privileges and immunities of the United Nations and associated staff.  So we have that as a clear point.  And then if we have concerns with any countries, we take them up at different levels.  And like I said, in this case, sometimes there would be issues for the Host Country Committee and we'd take it up there.

Inner City Press:  I'm just wondering, can the UN not say whether it has staff members based here in New York who are restricted from traveling?

Deputy Spokesman:  Whenever we have any concerns, we take them up with the authorities as need be, including with the Host Country Committee. 

   Back on March 26 Inner City Press asked US State Department spokesperson Jeff Rathke about US limitations on Cuban diplomats. From the State Department transcript:

Inner City Press:  Cuba has complained that its diplomats accredited to the UN in New York are not allowed to go more than 25 miles outside of the city or from Columbus Circle.  And I wanted to know whether this restriction is one of the things thatís being negotiated.  Is it considered being lifted?  Is it Ė where does it stand, and how do Ė and whatís the U.S. Ė given that generally people accredited to the UN can travel freely, how does the U.S. justify it?
 
MR. RATHKE:  Well, weíve said from the very start of our rounds of talks with the Cuban Government that one of the topics we want to discuss is the ability of American diplomats in Cuba to move around freely and, of course, the Cubans have a similar concern.  Iím not going to get into the state of those discussions, but thatís clearly a topic that weíve been talking about over the last few rounds.

  Rathke went on to say it is part of the negotiations.

 Back on March 13, after Cuba came out in strong defense of Venezuela after US President Obama's executive order, the US was disappointed but not surprised, a senior State Department official told reporters on a background call.

   Inner City Press wondered from the UN, what of the US' requirement that Cuban diplomats -- and even Cuban UN staff members -- must stay without 25 miles of Columbus Circle in Manhattan?

  Will that restriction, which seems contrary to the Host Country Agreement between the US and UN and the Vienna Conventions, be removed?

   Currently in charge of the US' ďinterest sectionĒ is Jeffrey Delaurentis, formerly with the US Mission to the UN. What does he say about the 25 mile restriction? And how might he fare in a nomination process in the US Senate? Watch this site.


 

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