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On Ethiopia, Inner City Press Asks UN About State of Emergency, UN Cites Itself, Which It Censored

By Matthew Russell Lee, Photos and video

UNITED NATIONS, February 19 – With a new state of emergency declared in Ethiopia, where the UN has a large regional office, Inner City Press on February 19 asked UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' spokesman Farhan Haq about it, and got a mere reference to other, hardly audible UN calls on the topic. From the UN transcript: Inner City Press: I wanted to ask about the six‑month state of emergency announced in Ethiopia and whether the UN, which has a major office there, what they think of recent developments there, if they're concerned, and what especially they think of this new state of emergency. Spokesman:  I mean, the basic point is, of course, we have concerns about basic freedoms, so we want to make sure that all of the freedoms of expression, of peaceful assembly, and others will continue to be respected.  Regard… you know, regarding the extension, you've seen what we've had to say about the situation in Ethiopia over the course of the previous months, and our concerns… our previously expressed concerns about the treatment of all communities still applies." In fact, far from speaking out the UN has even been censoring when the Press asks questions about Ethiopia, a Security Council member.  In September 2018 with the UN Security Council presidency for September being taken over by Ethiopia's Tekeda Alemu, Inner City Press on September 1 asked Ambassador Alemu four questions, including on Burundi (on the Council's agenda) and the Oromo Protests, a major human rights issue. Video here. But when the UN Department of Public Information wrote up the press conference, it did not even MENTION Burundi, much less the Oromo protests. See UN document here. What is wrong with UN DPI, a corrupt UN Department which spends $200 million a year in public funds, but doe not even has any rules, content neutral or otherwise, on how it accredits and/or restricts the independent press which covers the UN? Where is the new head of DPI, Alison Smale?   In response to Inner City Press asking why Burundi, where even the UN says there is a risk of genocide, is not on his September Program of Work nor on the agenda of the Council's visit to Addis Ababa, Alemu on September 1 - not covered by the UN - said that you can't compare Burundi to Central African Republic, that Burundi has “strong state institutions.” But it is that very “strength,” which some say the country shares with Ethiopia, and with until recently military-ruled Myanmar about which Inner City Press also asked, that has led to the human rights violations. In this context, Inner City Press asked Alemu about the Oromo protests - and crackdown - in his country. He diplomatically chided Inner City Press for not having asked in private, saying that social media has played a dangerous role.  Perhaps Haq was referring all the way back to October 2016, when Inner City Press also asked, under Guterres' predecessor. On October 17, 2016 when Inner City Press at the UN noon briefing asked Ban Ki-moon's then seemingly outgoing spokesman Stephane Dujarric about the widely reported restrictions on media and diplomats in Ethiopia, Dujarric had no comment. He told Inner City Press he might have something in the afternoon.
Then, after going out to lunch, Dujarric sent out this:

“In response to questions asked at the noon briefing on Ethiopia, the Spokesman said the following:

The Secretary-General has been following the developments in Ethiopia with concern, including the declaration of a state of emergency effective 8 October. We are aware of the latest reports about new measures being imposed and are looking at the available information. The Secretary-General urges the authorities to ensure the protection of fundamental human rights. He reiterates his call for calm and restraint and calls for inclusive dialogue to resolve all grievances.”

  Was this what Inner City Press was told to wait for? There weren't questionS - Inner City Press asked the only question on the topic at the noon briefing, as Dujarric repeatedly cut it off (after, along with Ban and his head of “Public Information” Cristina Gallach, ousting and evicting Inner City Press, and now confines it to minders preventing coverage of many UN meetings. Maybe this is one reason Ban's UN can't bring itself to criticize media crackdowns elsewhere. On October 18, Inner City Press asked again. Video here.


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