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After Guterres' Budget Cuts Double Speak, ICP Asks & Spox Claims He Meant US Same %

By Matthew Russell Lee, photo, Periscope

UNITED NATIONS, January 17 – When UN Secretary General Antonio 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. So at the January 17 UN noon briefing Inner City Press asked Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: yesterday, the Secretary-General said, twice, in relation to budget cuts, first, there were no budget cuts in relation to the regular budget of the United Nations.  And I spent the morning speaking to some staff. What did he mean? Spokesman:  …because I replayed in my head the exchange.  I think he was referring to Edie's question on US budget cuts and the fact that there was no unilateral cut by the US contributions into the UN budget.  That's what he was referring to. There were obviously… the… the budget of the UN has gone down, so it's obviously been cut, but he was referring specifically to the fact that there was no unilateral cut by the US into the UN's regular budget." Really? Guterres' literal claim 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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