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On Cameroon, 23 Hours of Questions Find US Is Open, UK Defensive As UN Ignores Q

By Matthew Russell Lee, Part of a Series

UNITED NATIONS, October 19 – From Southern Cameroons people are sending me photos of people shot by Paul Biya's forces; from Nigeria people send videos of refugees fleeing across the border to avoid that fate. When UK Ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft comes to the Security Council stakeout on October 17 I have a question for him: isn't it time to admit that this is a threat to international peace and security? Isn't it time for the UK, the former colonial power of the British Southern Cameroons, to call for a meeting in the Security Council?   [Tweeted video here.]

Rycroft looks annoyed. He says the UK is not the only one who could make the request - although it seems clear that they have the most duty. But nature abhors a vacuum. I've been sent a draft letter that two dozen US Congress members may deliver to US Ambassador Nikki Haley, Rycroft's higher-profile counterpart on the Council, urging her to get the meeting that the UK and of course France refuse to request. The press conference about the letter is supposed to be at 2 pm across the street from the UN.   

But when I get there, with my phone ready to live-stream Periscope and a still camera as well, there is only one protester. Only one, at least, about Cameroon. There's Haitian Adrian who helped me when I covered the UN from this part for three days in 2016, when the UN threw me out. And there's a Hispanic guy pacing around, muttering about the CIA and GPS. As I change batteries in my camera he confides in me, something about forced man on man sex in a jail in Connecticut. If the UN can't even accredit media fairly, I doubt they can solve this, any of this.   

The lone protester, Abu Fri from Southern Cameroons by way of Alabama, tells me that a group of UN officials came and told her to stop the protest, the issue was being handled. I ask her, What were their names? One was named Mohammed, she tells me. Another was a UN Security official.     

Just then Nikki Haley's Deputy Ambassador for now, Michele Sison, comes out of the UN and crosses First Avenue on her way to the UN mission. I tell Abu Fri who Sison is, and Abu goes after her. I film from a distance as they talk - Sison to her credit stops and listens - and then ask Abu when she returns what Sison said. She said she knows about Cameroon, was a diplomat in Douala as it turns out. But will the US do anything?  

 I get a message on my phone: the letter has gone in and here is a copy, the first one anyone in the media has seen. The letter is to Haley and was 24 sign-ones: Daniel Donovan, Peter King, Grace Meng, John Katko, Eliot Engel, Adriano Espaillat, Jose E. Serrano, Gregory Meeks, Carolyn Maloney, Thomas Suazzi, Joseph Crowley, Kathleen Rice, Sean Patrick Maloney, Hakeem, Jeffrey, Elise Stefanic, Yvette Clark, Lee Zeldin, Nita Lowey, Nydia Velazquez, Paul Tonko, Jerrold Nadler, Brian Higgins, Claudia Tenney and Louise Slaughter.     

It's 24 out of New York State's 27 Reps, and I'm told the story of the three who didn't sign. It's time to write the story, but my laptop is back in the UN, not in the locked office I used to have but eminently steal-able in the bullpen. I head to the tourists' entrance, asking Abu Fri to tell the others when they come that I'll be back.   

At the tourists' entrance there are hundreds of Asian students; the promised separate line for NGOs and non-resident and evicted journalists does not exist. It takes too long to get in and when I do I am singing again, The UN Is Corrupt. I ran for my laptop and stop to write the article in the only work space I have now, the small “focus booth” in front of the UN Spokesperson's Office. Often the booth is taken up, by Spokesperson's Office staff or people I don't recognize. I don't recognize their legitimacy either. But now I'll head out again.   

More people have arrived, including a guy who tells me he's from The Bronx and his nom de Ambazonia is Ray Baba. I interview him about the history of British Southern Cameroons, and German Kamerun before that; unfortunately my Periscope feed freezes up and I can't work with the video though it remains online.    

I see UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, who threw me out of the UN Press Briefing Room then the UN for covering corruption, coming out. I point him out to Abu Fri and she pursues. He backs away from her and into a taxi. But not, she says, before assuring her the situation is being handled. Handled how?   

We head down to the US Mission and during my interview there, US guards or police tell us we have to leave. Usually I make a scene but I want to get back in before the UN's censorship curfew - my pass stops working after 7 pm - and write another article. So I salute the flag and leave, to live to fight another day.   

The next day after another back and forth with Britain, this time about Myanmar, Nikki Haley comes along, and stops for a rare “drive by.” That's what Susan Rice and then Samantha Power called these brief question and answer session at the Security Council stakeout. Haley speaks about Syria, then is asked about Iran. As she turns to go I says, “And on Cameroon?”   

And Nikki Haley stops to listen. I asked her about the letter, saying hundreds have been killed in Cameroon, what about a meeting. I haven't seen the letter, she says, but I'm open to it.   

That's all I need. I upload the video, and prepare to ask UN Secretary General Guterres about it. He's doing a more formal stakeout at 1 pm, and nothing until then really matters, for now.   

When Guterres arrives with his entourage, and spokesman “Steph” Dujarric, his topic is the Central African Republic, a trip he will soon take there. But the questions Dujarric calls on are about Iran then North Korea. I glower at him and prepare to yell out my question, as I've done on Kenya and Cameroon once before. But Dujarric calls on me.   

I ask about UN sexual abuse in Central African Republic, and then about Cameroon. As I do the latter, there is a hissing from the far-side of the stakeout, from -- [continued here on Patreon, along with other pieces of this work-in-progress]


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