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UN Center in Turkmenistan Cancels Briefing, Ashgabat-Like Access Fights

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 15 – In 2007 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his then head of Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe announced they'd open an office in reclusive Turkmenistan. Like the current leader of Turkmenistan it had a long name: the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, or UNRCCA.

  The head of UNRCCA Miroslav Jenca comes to meet with the UN Security Council in New York every six months but rarely speaks with the press afterward. Inner City Press was contacted by whistleblowers about the office, and after that it was even harder to get any question in to or about UNRCCA.

  When one goes to UNRCCA's web site, for example this morning, one find nothing from 2013. Clicking “Latest Developments,” the most recent is from 2010

  After Monday's Security Council session Inner City Press asked July's Council president Rosemary DiCarlo of the US if there had been discussion of the Rogun dam project in Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan's opposition, and that UNRCCA's and Jenca's role was.

  Inner City Press asked, "you referred to water resources. Was there any discussion of this dam dispute between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan? Seems to be like a big issue in the region, and I don’t know what UNRCCA’s role is in trying to resolve it."

  DiCarlo said that water resources issues were being looked at regionally, not just between two countries: "on the issue of water, one of the roles of this office is to bring the countries together to help resolve issues on this matter. And of course, it’s something that is done sort of region wide, not necessarily between the two countries."

  Back on July 10, an invitation from the Department of Public Information went out and was immediately accepted for one of DPI “brown bag” briefings, which Inner City Press and the Free UN Coalition for Access, which pushes for more information from the UN, have praised in the past.

  Jenca was to speak from 2 to 2:45 on Monday, after Jenca met the head of DPI: perhaps this way questions could be answered. But after 1 pm on Monday, Inner City Press and FUNCA were told that the briefing was canceled due to lack of interest. Only one other journalist, it seemed, had signed up.

  Still, why cancel it? While praising DPI for this attempt, we also note that its UN Regional Information Center conducted a faux interview with UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous.

  UNRIC allowed Ladsous to brag about meeting ICC indictee Bashir without asking him if it was appropriate, while DPI and the wider UN have not changed Ladsous' stance of refusing Press questions on cholera in Haiti, rape by the Congolese Army units the UN works with, and now the application of the Geneva Conventions.

FUNCA has been asked to be patient, and is trying. But while this goes on, DPI has yet to rescind a threat in late June to suspend or withdraw accreditation for merely hanging a sign of the Free UN Coalition for Access, while DPI's partner UNCA has two signs and much more.

  @FUNCA_Questions seeks information about the UN's work, then makes it available on @FUNCA_info, as a virtual briefing room open to all, while DPI gives its partner a room that is kept locked, for briefings of which non money paying journalists are not informed.

Attempting to hold brown bag briefings is laudable – but what about access for the press and public to the new General Assembly hall, where a session on migration Monday was not even in the DPI Media Alert, and from which groups were excluded. What about increased access? FUNCA will keep pushing. Watch this site.


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