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In the UN, Of General Assembly Meetings Closed and Ethics Office Fixes Unclear at UNDP

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, September 20 -- As the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly starts up, with prefabricated "bilateral meeting" rooms sprouting up inside UN Headquarters and military radio trucks now parked out on First Avenue, it worth considering the General Assembly's rules on being open to the public and the press. These don't exist, as demonstrated this week when the meeting of the GA's General Committee was, without prior notice, closed to the press. After two days of questions, no reason has been given, and no one has even owned up to the decision. And on a simply UN reform that the previous General Assembly's President's spokesman said would require a GA vote, there is less and less clarity.

            On September 19, Inner City Press asked the new GA President Srgjan Kerim's spokesman:

Inner City Press: When you say Member States decided, did the General Committee vote to go into secrecy?  Who decided?

GA Spokesperson:  They... I will double check on the details of how this decision was taken and I will get back to you on that, Matthew.  I don't want to speculate.  I wasn't part of the meeting, I wasn't sitting in on it, but Ill let you know and check with the members of the Committee and with General Assembly Affairs how exactly that decision was taken.

            On September 20, having held the story for a day, Inner City Press followed up:

Inner City Press: One thing from yesterday, about the General Committee meeting yesterday.  Do we know who, the fact that it was a closed meeting, which, when we asked around, generally in the past few years...

Spokesperson:  Yes.  There was no vote taken on that.  In the preparations, in the consultation process for that General Committee meeting, it was decided by the members of the Committee to hold it as a closed meeting.  If we look at the procedures and the rules and regulations of the General Assembly, if you look at Rule 60 it clearly says that all meetings are supposed to be open except if there are other circumstances calling for it to be a closed meeting.  In this case and as I mentioned yesterday, it is up to the Member States to decide and in this case that is what they decided.  Nobody has to give a reason on that.  Why?  They just agreed on a consensual basis in the preparations leading up to the meeting that they will have it in the form of a closed session.  That's simply what happened.

Inner City Press: Not to be too, too ...  just if the President of the GA is the Chair of the Committee, can you say what his position on this was?  Did he want this to be closed?  Did he support that?  I mean, hes a part of the Committee, it's not like ... what was his position?

Spokesperson:  That is correct.  He's part of the Committee.  Hes basically driven by the wishes of the Member States on this.

Inner City Press: So is -- did he want it to be open?  Did they want it to be closed?  I mean, not to make too fine a point of it.

Spokesperson:  I don't seem to remember that there was any kind of a debate on this.  It was simply a consensual decision by the members of the General Committee to hold it as a closed session.  And if that is what they want, then the President is going to go along with it.

Question:  Well if 'he' is a part of 'they' or...

Spokesperson:  Of course he's part of them...

            Clearly. The hope here is that the incoming GA president increases, rather than further deceases, transparency. Given that his job before, and prospectively after, serving as GA president is in the media field, this is to be expected.

Srgjan Kerim on September 18, 2007, Rule 60 not shown

So far, even on the question of how to make double-sure that the UN Ethics Office covers retaliation by the UN funds and programs, notably UNDP, there is less clarity. On September 20, Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: On the Ethics Office, is there anything more you can say about what was actually discussed in terms of whether there will be a vote in the GA or what the next step is on having the Ethics Office cover UNDP and other agencies?

Spokesperson:  All I can say is that they both agreed to move on this issue forward and they're both looking for a system-wide code of ethics.

Question:  But a code or like coverage?  Meaning, could UNDP whistle-blowers, could they come to the UN Ethics Office or just be subject to the same principles?

Spokesperson:  I don't have the details on that.

            On Friday, UNDP has scheduled a rare press conference, ostensibly on climate change. There are, of course, many other questions from UNDP. Also on Friday, UNDP's Kemal Dervis previously promised that he will be urging the High Level Management group chaired by UNFPA's Thoraya Obaid to agree to all be covered by the Ethics Office. Will he? Developing...

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (which had to be finalized without the UN's DPA having responded.)  Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540