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"Firing" of UN African Staff Attributed to Guterres & Groves, Harris, Jiang and Smale

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 2 – Today's UN of Antonio Guterres, who just met with ICC indictee Omar al Bashir, and his Deputy Amina J. Mohammed who has refused Press questions on her rosewood signatures and now the refoulement of 47 people to Cameroon from "her" Nigeria, has become a place of corruption and censorship. The censorship piece is implemented by the Department of Public Information, whose boss Alison Smale has refused Press petitions since September, not even acknowledging receipt. But the scam goes right to the top: Inner City Press, after reporting on Smale's disregard for the UN General Assembly resolutions on Kiswahili posts, has learned that Guterres himself is directly involved. Guterres wants UN social media to promote him; a team including Joachim Harris ("D-1 out of nowhere," whistleblowers say, linking it to the "firing" of African staff that the UN has typically tried to ascribe to contracts just happening to expire) and social media head Nancy Groves have convinced him they can raise his profile. So he didn't care, when Africans were let go. The social media unit was set up by three time loser Maher Nasser, thinking it would get him the top DPI job. It didn't, and he is now on a sabbatical not available to other UN staff. "The whole team is corrupt," as one DPI staffer put it, specifically naming Hua Jiang. These geniuses continue to give full access, ghoulishly, to a never seen Egyptian state journalist Sanaa Youssef, who hasn't asked a single question in ten years, while restricting Inner City Press without once describing what the rules are. It is a travesty - and it goes right to the top.  On January 30 as Inner City Press sought to complete its reporting for the day on Guterres' Bashir meeting and Mohammed's Cameroon no-answer, and ongoing dodges on Yemen and Myanmar, where Guterres still hasn't named the mandated envor, it had a problem. It was invited to the month's UN Security Council president's end of presidency reception, 6:30 to 8:30 - but with its accreditation reduced by censorship, it could not get back into the UN after 7 pm, to the already delayed UN video. It ran to at least enter the reception - but the elevator led to a jammed packed third floor, diplomats lined up to shake the outgoing UNSC president's hand. Inner City Press turn to turn tail back to the UN, passing on its way favored, pro-UN correspondents under no such restriction. Periscope here. Inner City Press has written about this to the head of the UN Department of Public Information Alison Smale, in Sepember 2017 - no answer but a new threat - and this month, when Smale's DPI it handing out full access passes to no-show state media. No answer at all: pure censorship. 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. 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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