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On S. Sudan, Ladsous Called Media UNacceptable, Now UN Spins

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 19 -- The UN says it is for press freedom, but on March 18, UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the Security Council of "unacceptable vilification of the UN by some... media articles." Inner City Press asked the UN's Office of the Spokesperson about it on March 19.

  After the March 18 meeting, while neither Ladsous nor the UN's envoy to South Sudan Hilde Johnson came to answer questions, the president of the Security Council for March, Sylvie Lucas of Luxembourg, did.
  Inner City Press asked her about Ladsous' line, and if the UN and Security Council were now in the business of critiquing articles in countries with peacekeeping missions.

   Lucas, who has held more stakeouts this month by far that recent presidencies, replied by citing a protest sign depicting Hilde Johnson and a revolver. Inner City Press has seen a picture of the sign - but it is well within the bounds of protected First Amendment speech and protest in the US.  Is the UN, or Ladsous and Johnson, promoting a lower standard?

  On March 19, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: On South Sudan, yesterday in the Security Council, Under-Secretary [Hervé] Ladsous said that — quote — there’s been an unacceptable vilification of the UN, and he mentioned media articles. And afterwards, the President of the Council said that in consultations, a protest sign that depicts Hilde Johnson with a revolver, clearly a spoof, but a protest sign was raised. And I wanted to know, how do these two, especially Mr. Ladsous’ comment, how does this mean that the UN is taking issues with articles published in South Sudan by South Sudanese media raising questions, for example, about the trucking of weapons to Bentiu. This seemed to be basically the UN… is the kind of thing that Governments say and then the UN criticizes them for… critiquing the media or critiquing the right to protest. How can you explain this disparity or discrepancy?

Deputy Spokesman: I can explain it by saying, first of all, that it’s clear that we respect the freedom of the press and freedom of expression. They are certainly entitled to express their views and their opinions, including in South Sudan. What we’ve tried to do is put out the facts concerning the work of the Mission, including the question of the ammunition in our investigation. And what we want to avoid is any misrepresentation that puts the UN Mission or our workers on the ground at harm. We have a mission to do. We’re trying to protect, as you know, tens of thousands of innocent people, and we don’t want people to spread false allegations that essentially incorrectly depict us as taking one side or another. We have not done so. We will not do so. And we want it to be very clear. So, we’re trying to get the facts out and the accurate facts out. But yes, of course, we always stand for freedom of expression and freedom of the media.

Inner City Press: But I guess you mean, for example… and I’ve seen this sign where it has Hilde Johnson and an enormous revolver, it’s clearly a spoof sign and it’s sort of in the nature of the kind of protest that take place here. And I’m just wondering, has the UN written letters to the editor to publications in South Sudan about the articles that Mr. Ladsous was referring to. I understand getting the facts out, but this seemed to be very much taking issues with a particular sign and a particular article. And I just wonder, where do you go with that?

Deputy Spokesman: For us, as was the case when Mr. Ladsous spoke to the Security Council yesterday, the important thing is getting the accurate facts out and to prevent any confusion about the Mission and its role. That’s what we’re trying to do. Of course, we know that there are different media outlets with different viewpoints, but we want to ensure accuracy, particularly when that accuracy directly affects the safety of our people on the ground.

  But Ladsous went beyond just trying to tell the UN's story -- in fact, if he'd wanted to do that, he would have done a question and answer stakeout.

  Rather, Ladsous denounced unnamed articles as vilification.

 On March 18 South Sudan's Permanent Representative Francis Deng, himself a former UN official, said that the government plans to "contain hostile publicity." So now if the Kiir government shuts down a newspaper, or beats protesters for holding "bad" signs, are the UN and its Security Council, or Ladsous and Johnson, complicit?

  Already, Ladsous refuses to answer Press questions on topics ranging from the introduction of cholera in Haiti to rapes by the UN's partners in the Congolese Army in Minova, video here.

  Now when the UN speaks on unacceptable media articles, what does it mean? Salva Kiir's information minister said that to broadcast interviews with rebels into South Sudan would be illegal. The UN had no comment

  A Kiir adviser admitted his government gives "advise" to journalists on what and what not to write -- just as Inner City Press has been told, in connection with UN Accreditation, how to write about Ladsous. This is called censorship.

  Now Ladsous explicitly joins the censors. Some say it's Ladsous who should be censured -- if, that is, the UN believes in free press.

  Though it was UN Peacekeeping own admitted "error" that gave rise to articles, Ladsous now blames the government for not agreeing to a joint investigation. He said, "We offered to the Government to conduct a joint investigation, to prove our good faith and provide full transparency. Unfortunately, the offer was declined."

  Back on March 6, the UN issued a rare admission of error, saying that contrary to policy weapons were moved by road, not air, in South Sudan for the Ghana peacekeepers recently arrived from Cote d'Ivoire.

The UN issued this:

Juba, 6 March 2014: It is the policy of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) that during the crisis in South Sudan all arms and ammunition for peacekeeping contingents are flown into respective areas of deployment and not taken by road. This is an important security measure.

In connection with the transport of cargo of general goods belonging to the Ghanaian battalion on its way to Bentiu, several containers were wrongly labelled and inadvertently contained weapons and ammunition. This is regrettable. The Ghanaian troops are part of the surge of UNMISS troops to assist South Sudan and the goods were en route to Bentiu, passing through Rumbek.

UN Headquarters intends to dispatch a high level investigation team to look into this matter on an urgent basis, in cooperation with the Government of South Sudan.

Pressed for more details, spokesperson Martin Nesirky declined. One wondered, if the UN can in essence apologize so quickly for weapons transport in South Sudan, why not for the 8,000 people killed by the cholera introduced into Haiti?

Then Inner City Press was sent links to the photos of the (UN) trucks, and of the weapons. Click here and here; h/t.

 Perhaps it's that the UN was caught red-handed, so to speak. So now what? Watch this site.


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