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Inner City Press Got UN To Confirm Guterres Met Bashir, Asks Why Didn't Tell ICC 1st, Letter Withheld

By Matthew Russell Lee, Video; Video II, Vine

UNITED NATIONS, February 5 – Inner City Press on January 29 asked UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' deputy spokesman Farhan Haq to confirm or deny that Guterres over the weekend in Ethiopia met with International Criminal Court indictee Omar al Bashir of Sudan, and if so why Haq hadn't mentioned Sudan in the dozen Guterres meetings he mentioned at the beginning of the UN noon briefing. Video here, UN transcript here and below. Haq confirmed the meeting, then tried to justify it as being about "operational" issues. After UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres took three pre-picked media questions on February 2, Inner City Press audibly asked him if before he meet over the weekend with Darfur genocide indictee Omar al Bashir, he informed the International Criminal Court's Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda - in advance, as required. Guterres did not answer. On February 5, after more reporting, Inner City Press asked Guterres' lead spokesman Stephane Dujarric, video here, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you first to, I guess, try to close out the meeting that the Secretary-General had with ICC (International Criminal Court)-indicted Omar al-Bashir.  You said that he complied with all the rules.  Since you last said that and since he didn't answer on… on Friday, I've come to understand that the notice given to the ICC was after the fact and that, in fact, a notice was given to them prior, last year, for Amina J. Mohammed when she might have met… met Bashir, saying that it might happen, so they told it as they should have, as they… under the guidelines, in advance.  So, I'm wondering, how can you explain this?  Since it's said that he met with Bashir about South Sudan because he wanted to meet with all countries, it seems pretty clear that, at least as presented, he planned it in advance.  So, why didn't he tell the ICC in advance? Spokesman:  I think the ICC was notified of the meeting, and I'm going to leave it at that. Inner City Press:  Have you read the guidelines?  I mean, I read them out to you.  It says in advance. Spokesman:  I've… I understand what you've read, and I'm answering your questions to the best of my ability. Inner City Press: So, I guess my question is, the guidelines also say that there should be a letter to the I… to the ICC prosecutor and to the head of the state assembly… Assembly of States Parties, stating not only that the meeting is taking place but the reasons and the necessity for the meeting.  Can you release that letter? Spokesman:  No. Inner City Press: Why not? Spokesman:  Because it's a letter from the Legal Counsel to the Secretary-General and will not be released." That's not true: it's a letter from the Legal Counsel to the ICC Prosecutor, and another to the Assembly of State Parties. We'll have more on this. Here's from the UN Guidelines: "A procedure has been established whereby OLA [the Secretariat's Office of Legal Affairs] informs the Prosecutor of the Court and the President of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute in advance of such meetings.  The letter informs the Court of the meeting and explains why it is considered necessary." While Guterres refused to answer, Inner City Press is reliably informed that the ICC Prosecutor was NOT informed in advance. Tellingly, when in 2017 it was thought possible that Guterres' Deputy SG Amina J. Mohammed might run into Bashir at a summit, the ICC was told in advance of that possibility. On this and other matters such as the continuing lack of any content neutral rules for media accreditation and access, Guterres is more and more lawless. Now Radio Dabanga and AllAfrica have from afar picked up on Inner City Press' critique, and quoted ICC Prosecutor Bensouda that a number of States Parties to the Rome Statute have welcomed Mr Omar Al Bashir as an ICC suspect to their territories. These States Parties have failed to comply with the Court's requests for his arrest and surrender, despite a clear treaty obligation to do so. In most cases, a lack of legal clarity has been claimed to justify the failure to arrest and surrender Mr Al Bashir." On January 31, Inner City Press asked Bensouda's spokesperson, " to be informed if and WHEN the Office of the Prosecutor was informed that UNSG Guterres would be meeting, as he did, with indictee Omar al Bashir. To be clear: was any notification made before the meeting? What was the "strict necessity" of such a meeting? Who attended the meeting? Does the Prosecutor believe the meeting helped or hurt the Court?" On February 1, Bensouda's spokesperson wrote to Inner City Press, "This is to confirm receipt of your e-mail and queries. Please allow the office to revert shortly." Now, more than a full day later, no comment from Bensouda's office. The February 2 noon briefing was canceled in exchange for a stakeout by Guterres. The questions must be answered. Watch this site. Starting on January 29, Inner City Press asked, But why was it not disclosed? Haq said it was not a formal meeting. But then lead spokesman Dujarric told Inner City Press that the ICC *was* told about the meeting, which to comply with the rules as he claims would have to mean, in advance. So how then was it not a formal meeting? Could someone be lying? From the January 31 UN transcript: Inner City Press: the Foreign Minister of Sudan, since you were answering yesterday, has spoken.  And he said, of the meeting that Omar al-Bashir held with António Guterres “it is the most important meeting held by the President”.  He said, it's the first between a Sudanese President and a top-ranked international official since Mr. Bashir's accusation by the ICC [International Criminal Court] for war crimes and genocide.  He said, the Secretary-General praised the peace process in Sudan and various other things.  The thing was this.  You said it's not a formal meeting, and I guess people are free to disagree.  He said it's the most important meeting that Omar al-Bashir had.  But I… I still… given this, it seems like it should be possible for you to say whether António Guterres or his office told the Office of Legal Affairs prior to the meeting. Spokesman:  Yes, the Legal Counsel informed the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court that the meeting was taking place.  The receipt of the information… the ICC confirmed receipt of the information.  So, the procedures that are in place to allow for operational meetings was followed. Inner City Press: when you say "was taking place"… so this was done in advance of the meeting? Spokesman:  [I don't know if it was in advance - omitted from transcript, see video] The point is that the ICC was informed.  They accepted the information, and they said they were fine with the notification as it was given. Inner City Press: because if it was done before, then I don't know why it's not a formal thing, like if you knew it was taking place…? Spokesman:  "I'm just saying the rules of the procedures were followed." The transcript omits Inner City Press saying, So in advance. Video here. Further inquiry is ongoing in The Hague, watch this site. On January 30 Inner City Press asked Guterres' lead spokesman Stephane Dujarric if, as required, Guterres in advance told the UN Office of Legal Affairs and the ICC about the meeting. The requirement is online on the UN's website here, at the top of page 10. First Dujarric did not answer, then smugly said he is sure all guidelines were followed. Inner City Press asked him to get the answer, yes or no and he said he had nothing more to say. But we do: Guterres and his team are becoming less transparent and even more lawless by the day. An hour after the January 29 noon briefing, Inner City Press wrote to the International Criminal Court, spokesman then Public Affairs Unit, for their comment on Guterres' action, and if Guterres had conferred with them in advance, or even afterward. More than 18 hours later, the spokesman replied with this: "Dear Mr Lee, Thank you for your email and query. As you are aware, the UN Secretary-General issued guidelines in April 2013 on contact between UN officials and persons who are the subject of arrest warrants or summonses to appear issued by the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) . The Guidance was transmitted to the President of the General Assembly and to the President of the Security Council as document A/67/828 and S/2013/210, and forms part of the “Best Practices Manual for the UN-ICC cooperation” pursuant to The Relationship Agreement between the United Nations and the International Criminal Court.  These guidelines are in force and observed in the continued collaboration between the ICC and the UN. Kind regards, Fadi El Abdallah, Spokesperson, International Criminal Court." But even a quick read of those documents give rise to more questions. Inner City Press has now asked the ICC spokesperson: "Thanks - even on a first read of the cited documents, I have to ask - did OLA inform the Prosecutor's office in advance of this meeting? Separately, does the Prosecutor view the meeting as strictly necessary? Were others present? Does it help or hurt the ICC?" One of the provisions says, ""The Secretariat unit, office, fund or programme or peace operation should inform the Office of Legal
Affairs at the earliest possible time when a meeting with a person that is the subject of an ICC arrest warrant is scheduled to take place.  A procedure has been established whereby OLA informs the Prosecutor of the Court and the President of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute in advance of such meetings." Inner City Press awaits response. Some might still wonder, does the ICC share the UN-immunity bug of being reticent to criticize Guterres and his team? Are they conferring to cook up a response, to downplay Guterres failure to disclose his Bashir meeting? At the January 29 UN noon briefing, after another correspondent, from Associated Press, belatedly asked a follow up for more description of Guterres' meeting with Bashir, Inner City Press asked Haq about Sudan's foreign minister saying the meeting was positive and full of praise from Guterres. Haq dodged then said, accurately, that the UN doesn't give many read-outs today. Inner City Press asked, Isn't or wasn't there a UN policy to only meet with ICC indictees in absolutely necessary circumstance? We'll have more on this, even as Guterres and his "Global Communicator" Alison Smale continue to restrict Inner City Press. Typically, AP wrote it up without giving any credit, and worse making it look like the UN has unilaterally disclosed Guterres meeting with Bashir - it didn't. AP was the NYT's "coverage;" tellingly Reuters and AFP, both present in the UN on January 29, don't seem to have even reported that the UN Secretary General met with ICC indicted Bashir. This is now the UN works, or doesn't. The UN gives work space and full access to those who will twist things to make the UN look good, or who ask and write nothing like Akhbar al Yom. Here's from the UN transcript, in chronological order with AP's single belated question included: Deputy Spokesman Haq: The Secretary-General is on his way back from Addis Ababa, where he met with a number of Heads of State and Government and Foreign Ministers, including those from Ethiopia, Angola, Libya, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.  He also had bilateral meetings with leaders from Guinea, Somalia, Liberia, the Central African Republic, and South Africa.... Inner City Press:did he meet [Omar al] Bashir?  This reported… I heard your litany of countries and I couldn't quite keep up with them, and I didn't see a readout.  But, the Foreign Minister of Sudan has said that he met with Omar al-Bashir, who's indicted by the ICC [International Criminal Court], as you know, for genocide and war crimes.  Did he meet with him? And what… what… is this a change of policy? Deputy Spokesman:  It's not a change of policy.  They were both at the same summit.  In that context, they did meet with each other on the grounds of the sort of operational necessity that does allow the Secretary-General to meet from time to time with him.  That doesn't obviate the need, of course, for respect of the International Criminal Court. Inner City Press: But, was Sudan in the list of countries that you read out just at the top of the briefing?  And if not, why not? Deputy Spokesman:  It was not, because it was not a formal scheduled meeting.... AP: Thank you, Farhan.  On the Secretary-General's meeting with President al-Bashir, could you give us any more details on what was discussed? Deputy Spokesman:  No, I don't have anything further.  Discussions on operational necessities ultimately involve the sort of work that we need to accomplish on the ground.  So, obviously, as you know, we do have a presence on the ground with our various forces, including the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), and so it would be about… some of that would involve the work of those bodies. Inner City Press: Follow-up?  Okay.  I wanted… because this is what the Foreign Minister of Sudan said about the meeting.  He described the meeting as… as extremely successful and positive.  He told reporters on Sunday, the UN Secretary-General hailed Sudan's Government's efforts to achieve peace in Darfur and its declaration of a ceasefire in the zones, and he went on… you know, it… basically, he… he kind of characterized it, not so much as operational, as being one of praise.  And I'm wondering, have you seen this readout?  And if so, is it true or not true?  And why didn't you do your own readout? Deputy Spokesman:  We are not really issuing a lot of readouts from any of these meetings.  We do provide certain details, as I've done here.  But, regarding that, it's typical for Member States to have their own characterizations of meetings.  When we talk about meetings, ultimately, the point that we give is that they are designed to achieve certain ends.  We… you know, we do them to make sure that crucial bits of work are achieved.  It's not about praise or about compliments.  It's about concrete results. Inner City Press: Was I wrong that there was… at least under Ban Ki-moon, there was a policy of keeping contacts with ICC-indicted individuals to an absolute minimum?  And how do you put that meeting in that context? Deputy Spokesman:  That remains the case.  The policy has not changed." This is a new low.
On January 30 Inner City Press asked the UN Ambassadors of Sweden and France, video here. Sweden's Olof B. Skoog, who has been to Sudan, said the EU has a policy on / against meeting ICC indictees. (So does the UN; it seems Guterres violated it). France's Francois Delattre refused to answer, video here. We'll continue to pursue this. When Guterres held a "Global Town Hall Meeting" on January 17, the meeting was closed but Inner City Press came in early to stake it out: to stand in front and ask the attendees what they think of Guterres' performance. Unlike other correspondents at the UN, Inner City Press is required to have a minder to do such stakeouts on the UN's second floor - and on January 17 at the appointed hour, 8:45 am, there was no minder available. Periscope video here. Finally it was possible, after Guterres passed by and started his pitch. At his press conference the day before he twice said, "there were no budget cuts in relation to the regular budget of the United Nations." This is contrary to what Inner City Press found when it, as the only media present, covered the UN budget endgame through 2 am on Christmas Eve. It is also contradicted by this statement exclusively to Inner City Press from staff, edited to preserve anonymity: "What I feel the public or even the missions themselves don't understand, are the repercussions of the proposed cuts. The Fifth Committee members slashed the budget left and right, without thinking for one second what it actually meant. The first thing to go as a result, is one of your favorite topics: transparency. Based on what has been said internally, they are looking to cut down on multilingualism and language accessibility within DPI production, leaving English as a lingua franca (!).  This means that missions interested in staying up to date on UN news and events will not be able to access information in their language, if that language is indeed French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese or Russian. Nor will the public. As you may imagine, this raises a serious issue in regards to transparency and multilingualism. The founding values of the UN were set in place in order to make the body a fair playing field for all. By making information available only in English, what message will that send? How will it affect the missions? How will the UN be able to forge a closer relationship with the public around the world? The bias will shift heavily in favor of developed countries, who will have the initial access to all information due to linguistic advantages. These talks on cuts are happening behind closed doors and only potentially affected employees are being informed. The missions and the public won't know until it's too late to do anything about it, unless somebody holds them accountable now. But now, you know. And I hope that disseminating this information and holding those in power at the higher echelons of DPI accountable, will help preserve access to information -- which is after all, a human right. We hope to see you there too." But the meeting was closed, and minder only belatedly available. We'll have more on this. The day before on January 16 when Guterres came to give his speech for 2018 to the UN General Assembly, the Press was blocked from staking it out by the censorship restricts he has in place. Periscope here, UNresponded to letter here. Once inside the Trusteeship Council Chamber, Guterres said he had 12 points. One was Myanmar, although he did not even mention the mandate on his to name an envoy to the country, which he has not done. Another was North Korea; he confirmed he will go to the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Olympics. He lumped all of Africa into just one of his 12 points, despite the Continent being 60% of the UN Security Council's agenda. He did not mention Cameroon or other long time family ruled countries like Togo and Gabon that his envoys are propping up. His Deputy Amina J. Mohammed, who is in “her” Nigeria silent on the abductions there, was not present; her chief staff was, but as before, no response to emails or questions about the 4000 rosewood signature. Guterres hasn't even started an audit of the UN bribery indictments of Patrick Ho and Cheikh Gadio and regarding China Energy Fund Committee brought November 20 in the Southern District of New York. Guterres said he has zero tolerance for sexual harassment but has done none, and his spokesman Stephane Dujarric hasn't even answered Inner City Press on, the case of Frank La Rule at UNESCO. The UN like UNESCO claims it is for free speech and press freedom, but no answer on The Rappler; nor has DPI chief Alison Smale even answered Inner City Press' and the Free UN Coalition for Access' three petitions about even handed media access and content neutral rules, or this petition. Guterres is slated to take, selected by Dujarric, questions at 12:45. Watch this site. The spring thaw in Antonio Guterres' first year as UN Secretary General, in March and April, began to reveal hypocrisy. A small but telling example was when, after Guterres called on people all over the world to turn off their lights for Earth Hour, Inner City Press found the lights on at the UN-owned mansion on Sutton Place where Guterres lives.

At first the UN refused to answer Inner City Press where Guterres was - Lisbon - then accused it of “monitoring the residence.” It's called journalism: with the UN refusing to disclose even what country Guterres is in, checking the residence is the only way. The UN also refuses to disclose how much these Lisbon trips cost the global taxpayers, for example how many UN Security officials are taken, where they stay and for how much.

Likewise Guterres' 2016 financial disclosure differed significantly from what he filed as head of UNHCR in 2013. This has yet to be explained. In April Guterres was petitioned to replace the UN's pro-Saudi Yemen envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. But when Inner City Press asked, Guterres' spokespeople refused to even confirm receipt of the letter.

This happened on a petition by staff too, about retaliation by Francis Gurry the head of the UN World Intellectual Property Organization, whose assistance to North Korea's cyanide patents Guterres did not act on.

In late April, Guterres did nothing as Tanzania expelled his resident coordinator, a far cry from his knee-jerk defense later in the year - continuing on December 27 - of the 4000 rosewood signatures by his Deputy SG Amina J. Mohammed. Sustainable development? Try hypocrisy, and censorship and restriction of the Press which covers it - and Cameroon, here. We'll have more on this.

In Antonio Guterres' first two months as UN Secretary General, the longstanding Cyprus talks began to fall apart, and Guterres stood silent as Burundi, for example, banned access by UN officials. Guterres ignored a protest by whistleblowers against Francis Gurry of the UN World Intellectual Property Organization, and that UN agency's work on North Korea's cyanide patents.

 He did nothing about a UN waste dump exposed by Inner City Press in the Central African Republic, despite his predecessor Ban Ki-moon's record with waste in Haiti and elsewhere. While he announced that Kenyan troops would head back to South Sudan to join UN Peacekeeping, he appointed the fifth Frenchman in a row to head this DPKO, Jean-Pierre Lacroix.

Meanwhile he was rebuffed in his attempt to appoint Fayyad to head the UN's Libya mission, perhaps explaining his refusal later in the year to take a single press question after reading out his canned statement on Jerusalem. In a harbinger of his approach to UN corruption and (non) reform, his UN was named as not providing requested documents in the first UN bribery case, of Ng Lap Seng. (In the second case, of Patrick Ho and Cheikh Gadio, Guterres has yet to even launch an audit).

February 2017 ended with a seeming second wind, the belated arrival of Guterres deputy Amina J. Mohammed. Inner City Press was throughout constructive; it would later emerge that during the delay Mohammed signed 4000 certificates for endangered Nigerian and Cameroonian rosewood already exported to China, something Guterres has refused to investigate despite a petition with 92,000 requests. 

Guterres' first interaction with UN staff was a Town Hall meeting on January 9. Even though it was on the UN's public website, when Inner City Press live-streamed it on Periscope for the impacted public to see it received a threat that this violated unspecified UN's guidelines. This has been a pattern in Guterres' first year: threats to Press for unspecified violations, such as that of Maher Nasser on October 20, and a total failure to respond or reform by Nasser's boss, Alison Smale. Ultimately, Guterres is responsible.


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